International travel is still off the cards for now but the world is still full of amazing sights. Here are the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to… so far.
Hard to believe it’s been about one year since Coronavirus shut down international borders. It’s amazing how much globalisation, the Internet, and fantastic airline services made the world so connected. Nowadays the digital highways are getting the most traffic but we still remember a time when travel was freely available and people were posting their great travel pics from different countries.
Unlike a lot of people, I never really had the travel bug. Whereas a number of people I’ve known spent their early adulthood travelling like they’d literally been bitten by something and the only cure was to go to every country their budget would allow, I went straight from school to uni, doing some extra subjects, and then from uni into work. It was as I got a bit more established in my career that I started travelling overseas. It’s definitely started to grow on me and I’ve enjoyed every trip I’ve done so far.
And I haven’t been to too many countries, especially not compared to some people I know – one person I know who is about the same age as me has been to (no joke) about 100 countries, including Antarctica. My country list has been steadily growing now and sitting around 10 which I’m pretty happy with so far. And amongst the travels I have done, I have seen quite a few absolutely brilliant places.
So I thought in the spirit of not being able to travel physically, I would share some of the brilliant places I’ve enjoyed. Here are the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to… so far.
Lake Baroon/Northbrook Parkway during winter – Queensland, Australia
Starting off this list with a few local spots for this Queenslander. Queensland and Australia has a number of wonderful places – I think of places like Darling Harbour in Sydney, the Great Ocean Road, the Blue Mountains and scenic cities like Toowoomba. The first and the last on that mini list almost made an appearance here.
But when I think about some places that truly take my breath away, I think of two places. First is the drive and tracks around the Northbrook Parkway beyond Mount Glorious. Between Mount Glorious and Wivenhoe is a super windy road that gorgeous at any time of the year, but during winter it is truly stunning. Fog permeates a thick canopy that makes you feel like you’ve entered a magical wooden realm, and the sunlight coming through the misty road is wonderful. Add to that the weather being ideal temperatures and you have one magical location.
And of course there’s Lake Baroon. Seated just behind Maleny and Montville, this lake is gorgeous. Also great at any time of the year, during winter it turns into an idyllic rest spot enshrouded with mist.
Maybe I just like mist in my Queensland but the Australian environment in that setting is breathtaking.
The amazing buildings of Macau
Some years ago now I went on what started during planning as a boys trip and turned into a proposal for some of my good friends. We went to Hong Kong and mainland China as part of the trip, and both of those are pretty great places. Hong Kong as many buildings but also a surprising number of villages and nature spots around the Sai Kung area, and Zhongshan in China is very very green and crisp. But I think the standout location for me from that trip was seeing the amazing buildings of Macau.
Macau was a region in Asia that was reached by the Portugese during their exploration, and the city itself is an amazing hybrid of two seemingly disparate cultures. I’m not aware of any other place on earth where Cantonese and Portugese are the main languages, but there you go.
I’m not a gambling man myself, but I must say the casinos and hotels of the city are phenomenal sites. Their designs are so interesting and on the inside you think you stepped into royalty. Having been to places like Hampton Court, the Greek and Roman leadership structures in Athens, and Versailles, I think even as grand as they were, the buildings of Macau stand out even more. A true modern marvel, and if you like the old stuff, there’s also the Ruins of St Paul with a centuries old ruin of a cathedral that burned down.
Plus the food in the city is unreal. Recommended.
The Cotswolds – England
The definition of quaint. There’s a lot of really pretty locations within Cotswolds, which is probably why England labelled the whole region an Area of Natural Beauty (AONB).
Stratford-upon-Avon (I wish Australia had more places with “upon” in their name) highlights exactly why England has so many great writers, including Shakespeare who is buried there. The River Avon is a wonderful passageway surrounded by constant green and swans, and the town itself merges city with classical England seamlessly. Then there’s multiple wonderful little towns around – Broadway, Long Compton, Oxfordshire, Evesham, and all the driveways in between. The on-again off-again rain makes it even more memorable and I realise why my country doesn’t have many stone houses – England must have used all the world’s stone to build their country.
The only thing to watch out for – pheasants. Two ran in front of the car and the speed limit is surprisingly high for somewhere so cute. Fortunately no one was behind us and we could go around them, but you’ve been warned.
St Pauls Cathedral/Basilica Sacre-Coeur – London, England and Paris, France
As a Christian, I do love visiting me a good church. I’ve been to quite a number around the world, but these two in particular made me cry from their overwhelming beauty.
I’m a believer that there can be physical locations which house great spiritual power, whether good or evil. It can be somewhere large or even just someone’s home. For these two churches, they were definitely strong in the best possible way. Even those who don’t believe in God or a higher power recognized the power of both places.
St Pauls has a history dating back 1500 years in London, with the cathedral itself being quite old as well. The artwork, the architecture, and the sheer reverence for the source material yield a place where I joined many, many people in awe of what the cathedral represents.
As Notre Dame was burned down when we went to France, we instead went to Basilica Sacre Coeur near where we were staying. Atop the Mount of Martyrs (Montmarte) in the heart of Paris, it was like the stronghold keeping watch over the whole city. And similarly with St Pauls, it was a stellar building with strong spiritual and historical significance to the Christian faith.
Galway Bay/Ashford Castle – Galway and Cong Regions, Ireland
I have Irish ancestry a few generations back, and being in Ireland was the first time I’ve ever felt “the call of home” anywhere outside of the city I live in so far. Ireland is a magical place and well earns the name the Emerald Isle. In truth there was something very familiar about it, even with its trees, roads, and layout – I think if Australia had as much rain as Ireland did, it would look almost the same.
Except two places in particular – Galway Bay, and Ashmore Castle.
Ashmore Castle is a castle converted into a $700 a night hotel, with amazing restaurants. I thought I’d be super romantic and while we didn’t budget for staying somewhere so expensive, I at least wanted to take my wife there for lunch. Unfortunately we discovered that unless you’re staying at the hotel you can’t go into the restaurants, but what we did get turned out even better – for a small fee you could come in and tour the entire grounds of the castle.
And it is the most stellar collection of gardens I’ve ever been to. The Cong River runs through, falcons fly around, holly grows like you’re in a perpetual Christmas, old monasteries and ruins lie throughout from 800-900 years ago, and the trees and atmosphere are wonderful. Definitely recommended.
Ah, and then there’s Galway Bay. Like many people, I have often heard the songs and the poetry about this majestic place, but to go there was a unique privlege in life. Even better than it had rained across the whole country on our drive over from Dublin, but there was no rain over Galway that day. We watched from Oranmore Castle as the sun took several hours to go down, jumping up and increasing in size as it kept hitting the Western horizon. Water running and birds flying, it was as if time itself was standing still.
Now I understand why the song writer asked to make their heaven in that dear land across the Irish sea. The colours, the atmosphere,
Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook – Canterbury Region, New Zealand
This was a total surprise. New Zealand is an amazing country both in the north and southern islands. But the south island for sure has a distinct beauty about it. Out of all the marvelous sights, I think Lake Pukaki and Mount Cook together is easily the second most amazing sight I’ve ever seen.
I heard heaps about Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd, but after being exposed to Pukaki and Mount Cook via the Hooker Valley Trail first, Tekapo seemed like a touristy puddle in comparison (although still very cute). Lake Pukaki is a huge lake fed by glacial waters from the Tasman Glacier. And by huge, I mean we thought it seemed a bit small until it took over 90 minutes to drive to Mount Cook around it.
I know Queenstown and Milford Sound get a lot of credit, but I would highly recommend this little trek a few hours from Christchurch near the town of Twizel.
And Mount Cook. Wow. A true marvel and fortunately much easier to get a good look at than the similarly sized Fuji (although Fuji is also very nice). Colourful, imposing, yet gracious, this is a wonderful sight – especially if you get on the various ridges where you can see Mount Cook reflected over the glacial waters of Pukaki.
Ah. Hokkaido. Cheating a bit because unlike the above, this is a much larger area.
When I was at Osaka Castle, I met an elder man named Takashi who wanted to practice his English with me and was surprised when I could keep up somewhat with his Japanese. He gave me a little painting of Hakodate, his home town, when he learned that I was planning to go up to Sapporo as part of my trip. He told me all about what a beautiful place it was and also that Hokkaido in general was also a beautiful place. I had seen photos but hearing it from a local was great to hear. Little did I know I still wasn’t ready for just how amazing this place is.
Hokkaido is the northern most island of Japan. As I wrote about I went to Japan for about a month with only my first week booked and a JR Pass to go anywhere I wanted. There’s a train that links the main island Honshuu to Hokkaido via a tunnel under the ocean between the two islands. When the train emerged from the tunnel, tears started streaming down my face straight away in pure awe.
What a sight this place is. All of it. Well I didn’t go to all of it, but I went to a lot of it. I went to Takashi’s home town Hakodate. I went to the capital Sapporo, where I sat under sakura trees that grew and bloomed over my head as I sat in a park reading in the shade of snowy mountains. In the span of hours, the trees that had been sticks that morning were flowing flowers in the breeze throughout the central park.
I went to Otaru, a seaside town, and had crab straight from the ocean. I was present for a tsunami warning. I walked the wave breakers and stared out into the sea of Japan.
I went up to the northernmost city, Wakkanai, and saw Sakahlin Island in Russia across the Soya Strait. I experienced the Siberian weather that still blew over the sea even in the final month of spring. I visited the statue of the Empress crying over her country.
I saw Mount Rishiri, a mountain that is frozen solid for most of the year, looking like a giant iceberg reflected on the sea. The Japanese refer to it as Rishiri Fuji given their similarities.
Unfortunately given the east of Hokkaido is subject to a *lot* of seismic activity I wasn’t game to head out that far (and my Kanji isn’t great meaning I would probably get really lost on that side) but maybe one day.
The snow. The colours. The mountains. The rivers and melting ice as the defiant cold of the great north finally started giving way to spring. The might of the Ring of Fire and the evidence of earthquakes and tsunami damage throughout contrasting against what a beautiful island this was. Oh yeah, and I got to do it all during Sakura season, experiencing multiple instances of what some refer to as a once in a lifetime event.
I stayed in 14 different cities during my stay in Japan and went through many more than that traveling around the place, and while I consider Osaka the summary of Japan, Hokkaido is definitely the jewel. As soon as travel opens up again, get yourself up there.
So there you have it. The most beautiful places I’ve ever been… so far. As the list continues to grow I may some alterations in the future, but for now I am very content to say these places are drop-dead gorgeous.
The world is a beautiful place. An absolute masterpiece of design. The most brilliant artwork of a master painter. These and so many other places remind me that a greater hand is always at work and remind me just how small but treasured I really am. Cherished beyond all words, this love never ends.
How about you? What are the most beautiful places you’ve ever been to? Have you been to any of these?