BEST RISQUE NIGHT OUT
Moulin Rouge, Paris
It might be on your bucket list, or too "touristy" to bother, but Moulin Rouge should be a Paris must-do. Don't be fooled by the average cabaret couple singing standards as you enter the slightly tacky red velvet interior. Suddenly there are dancers and singers — the Doriss Girls and Boys (some could be either) — some of the best in the world, who compete for a coveted spot. These immaculate dancers are inches from your face and topless. There's French cancan, snakes in a water tank that appears soundlessly through the floor, a woman swimming with them, an incredible juggler, Cossacks, acrobats and horses, oh my. No photos allowed — use your imagination.
- Linda Thompson
MOST PICTURESQUE AURORA EXPERIENCE
Utsjoki sits in Finnish Lapland on the side of the Teno River, which marks the border between Finland and Norway. High above the Arctic Circle, the aurora activity is strong and the night sky dark and unpolluted. Aurora Holidays owns several private cottages on the fringe of the river, including one down by the water's edge, which gives a focal point for aurora photography. Rocks spill out from the river bank into the water, the Milky Way rises above the mountains and Lady Aurora dances across the sky, reflecting off the water. Once you're done for the night, toddle back into your wooden cottage, and warm up in your own private Finnish sauna inside the cabin.
- Juliette Sivertsen
BEST DESERT CAMPING EXPERIENCE
I've never been much of a camper, but I couldn't turn down an invitation to cover the self-described "Most Remote Music Festival In The World". Named the Big Red Bash, this is a family-friendly event that's happened every year for the past half a-dozen years on the edge of the Simpson Desert in the depths of the Queensland Outback. With John Farnham as the headline act, I couldn't say no. Sure enough, this was a rollicking adventure and one for which I'm very grateful, but yikes, that Queensland desert can get crazy cold at night. As in, minus 2C kind of cold. So cold I slept in woollen socks, track-pants, a thermal, a T-shirt, a jumper, two jackets, a beanie, my towel and my supposedly Arctic-ready sleeping blanket. But all of it worth it to by surrounded by towering red sanddunes, 9000 true-blue Aussies and The Voice as he belted out his hits.
- Tim Roxborogh
BEST AMERICAN CITY YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO VISIT
It's a city Rocky and most recently Super Bowl champs the Eagles made famous, but I'm often met with a blank stare when I tell people here about Philadelphia. It's often overshadowed by nearby New York but this is a city second to none when it comes to hospitality, great food, history, sports and a jaw-dropping array of fine art. Its famed Museum Mile has the Rodin Museum, the Barnes Foundation (chocka with $25 billion worth of modern art) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's a town where you can go from eating a cheese-steak to viewing a Cezanne in minutes. Check out Parc a stunning French-style bistro that rivals any in Paris, while Reading Terminal Market one of America's oldest and largest — is a foodie's paradise. Philly's flat, contained and easy to walk around and you'll be made to feel welcome wherever you go. Best way to get there is catch the direct from Auckland to Chicago, then it's just a 90-minute flight to the City of Brotherly Love.
- Greg Fleming
BEST TOILET-DOOR-LESS HOTEL SUITE
Bubu Resort, Malaysia
The younger version of myself would've never coped: a hotel suite sans toilet door. It's a marker of how strong my marriage is that we overcame this hurdle to the extent that we'd recommend this resort to anyone. Anyone, that is, who can handle WC visits that aren't entirely enclosed, nor entirely sound- or smell-proof. In fairness to the otherwise glorious Babu Resort in Malaysia's Perhentian Islands, there's a partial wall that hides the toilet. And then there's a door sized gap. Ha! It took a bit of getting used to, but given we also had a private garden Adam and Eve would've been proud of, it was easy enough to either turn the stereo up a little louder or just go the whole hog and banish your other half to the foliage.
- Tim Roxborogh
THE BEST FREE SHOW IN NEW ZEALAND
Pack a picnic and a couple of extra layers of clothing, and drive out to Otago Peninsula in the late afternoon — or early evening — they have real twilight times here. Take time to stroll down to sandy beaches where your path may be blocked by a snoozing sea lion; keep an eye out for spoonbills — the "bitsa bird" constructed from ill-fitting parts of other avians — fishing in lagoons. Find a convenient spot for your snack and settle down, as dusk turns to night, to the most glorious free show in town: the stars and constellations appearing in the heavens, pitch-black with virtually no light pollution, less than 30 minutes from Dunedin CBD.
- Ewan McDonald
BEST MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY
Saint-Paul de Mausole, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Ordinarily, an asylum wouldn't feature on a tourist's must-do list. But this former monastery, just south of Avignon, is no ordinary institution. Saint-Paul is where artist Vincent van Gogh committed himself for a year in 1889-1890 and where he completed more than 140 paintings, including some of his best-known works like Starry Night and Irises, in what may have been the first example of art therapy. Saint-Paul still functions as a psychiatric hospital today (and you can buy works from some of its patients), but it's sitting in the recreation of Vincent's bedroom that packs the biggest emotional punch.
- Lorna Subritsky
BEST WEDDING CHAPEL
Alamanda Great Barrier Reef Chapel
I've been married twice and the latter husband is a keeper, which is great news, save for the fact I won't be able to get hitched in the only purpose-built beachfront wedding chapel in Australia. Set in the beautiful grounds of the Alamanda Palm Cove resort, it features high vaulted ceilings and a polished timber dais, with retractable glass bi-fold doors that allow stunning 180 degree views across the tropical gardens to the golden sand and azure seas beyond. The only drawback? You can't have a post-nuptials dip in those sparkling waters — not unless you want a croc attack to feature on your wedding video.
- Lorna Subritsky
BEST PLACE TO BE PRESSURED INTO SINGING LIVE ON STAGE
House of Blues
I normally don't need too much coercion to get up onstage for a bit of karaoke, indeed I was once such a regular of a certain Auckland karaoke bar that the staff knew me by name and would give me special discounts. I think that was the indication I was possibly attending a little too often… I digress, the point being, I love singing. But at California's famed House Of Blues in Anaheim? I was verrrry nervous. It was open-mic night where the karaoke was to a live band and my American host wasn't letting me leave without opening my lungs. However, I'm so pleased my protestations failed. The feeling of busting out The Weight by The Band ("take a load off Fanny" etc) at such an iconic live venue was exhilarating. It even pipped that Korean karaoke bar on Queen Street.
- Tim Roxborogh
BEST TATTOO PARLOUR
Shamrock Social Club, West Hollywood
On LA's famed Sunset Strip, Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Social Club calls itself "a place where the elite and the underworld meet". An unassuming street frontage has all the hallmarks of tattoo parlours the world over, but set among Hollywood history in every direction, the parlour's straight-up approach and lack of fakery is appealing. While some of LA's street gangs have frequented the place, a host of stars and celebrities have been inked here too. In the early days, Sid Vicious, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG were clients, and more recently Cate Blanchett and Johnny Depp are among those who have visited. Depp got a sparrow on his arm after playing Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. This intrepid writer can now also be named amongst the illustrious clientele, having been offered a seat on a battered up leather bar stool and a complimentary shot of tequila served unpretentiously in a polystyrene cup, to (successfully) calm her nerves beforehand.
- Sadie Beckman
Every sunrise is pretty special, but when you awake in your rock-hard teahouse bed, put extra layers on top of your thermals, and creep outside to see the sun rise over the peaks of the Himalayas, a special occasion turns into a magical (and somewhat surreal) one. Even the most cynical of atheists would find it hard not to feel a sense of spirituality as the day's first rays strike the earthquake-ravaged ruins of this tiny village. Worth every step of the six hour trek from Kathmandu.
- Lorna Subritsky