Best holiday spot with teens

Bali

The island works well for all ages. We always book accommodation with pools, and we mix our stay between different parts of the island. We ease into things on the coast at Sanur; cycle rides and shopping for us, a diving trip and scooter hire for our teen. At bustling Ubud, a villa on the outskirts is more peaceful than staying in town but still within walking distance of everything. Canggu and Seminyak get the thumbs up with teens who like to be near the surf and night spots.

Inland and northern Bali also have lots to offer. Check out Sideman's paddy fields and climb Mt Batur. The north also offers treats such as dolphin-watching at Lovina and snorkelling at Menjangan Island. Magic.

— Donna McIntyre

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Best place to see the snow in Africa

Lesotho, via the Sani Pass

Ilona Hanne and her son Achim enjoy the novelty of snow in Africa. Photo / Ilona Hanne
Ilona Hanne and her son Achim enjoy the novelty of snow in Africa. Photo / Ilona Hanne

Forget the rain in Africa, try the snow for an unforgettable travel experience. The Sani Pass, connecting the Kingdom of Lesotho with South Africa, is a fun experience at any time, but driving it in August, with snow falling is unforgettable. Four-wheel-drive is a must and when you get to the border crossing you will be turned back if you don't have it. The road is suited to donkeys, and we pass several of them walking slowly between the two countries, carrying sticks and other cargo on their backs, followed by their owner, wrapped up against the biting mountain air. A quick stop at The Highest Pub in Africa (2873m above sea level) after you cross into Lesotho is a must but then carry on along the road to Sani Stone Lodge for a truly African experience. The road is a track across grass and mud to a hillside overlooking the Sani River. Someone will come and light the wood fire in your traditional style room — one large round space with a thatched roof. Sleeping family-style — with beds all around the fire, it is warm and cosy, and with no power, you can enjoy going to sleep when the sun goes down.

— Ilona Hanne

Best hot spring (international category)

Homestead Crater, Utah

After a day of skiing in Utah's magical powder snow, a warming dip in the bizarrely beautiful Homestead Crater will restore and revive. The geothermal spring, with a temperature sitting sweetly at around 32C-35C, is tucked away inside a 16m tall beehive-shaped limestone cone. The spring is 20m deep. Fresh air and sunlight come in via a hole at the top of the cone and there's paddleboard yoga, scuba diving and snorkelling if you're really keen, but this place is best observed by lying back and soaking.

— Winston Aldworth

Best B'n'B

Big Bird Bed & Breakfast, Waitomo Caves

We stayed at Big Bird a few summers ago, so whenever we're anywhere near the Waitomo Caves, we stop in to see what owner Ann has been up to. With a range of accommodation options, guests at Big Bird can also pat more than 50 animals, which makes it the perfect place for city slickers to enjoy a taste of country life. Big Bird is famous for large birds and small animals and you'll meet ponies, sheep, tortoises, goats, rabbits, ostriches, a donkey, emus, miniature cattle and horses. Ann is the perfect host, and if you have an ostrich omelette for breakfast, you'll be set for the day, because it's the equivalent of about two dozen hens' eggs. Heaven for animal lovers in a beautiful rural setting.

— Elisabeth Easther

Best place to zone out

Float Spa, Queenstown

Floating in the darkness, only your thoughts and softly playing music accompany you. Queenstown's Float Spa's "dream pods" dissolve 450kg of Epsom salts in 600 litres of 35C water to ease you into a sensory-deprived languor where your physical and mental selves simply melt away, along with the outside world. You float for about an hour in the dark, as soft music plays and your sensory deprived self bobs about in the pleasantly viscous water. You can fall asleep, roused only by the faint nudges from the edge of the tank. You're left refreshed, cleansed in mind and body, ready for the next sight in Queenstown.

— Helen van Berkel

Best small-town monument

Patea waka memorial

We know Australia loves its Big Things but we're rather fond of some of the smaller local landmarks in our towns and cities here in New Zealand. If you're travelling along State Highway 3 in the western part of the North Island, keep an eye out for Patea's amazing Aotea Waka Memorial, on Egmont St, which marks the arrival and settling of the area by Turi and his hapu in in the 15th century, following their journey from Hawaiki to New Zealand. The waka was unveiled in April 1933, although money had run out leaving enough for only four figures in its canoe. Another five were finally concreted in in 1956. — Shandelle Battersby

Best garden

Hamilton Gardens

I'm always surprised when I meet people who have never been to the Hamilton Gardens, because they are 54ha of the most extraordinary botanic spaces. Fields of roses, an expansive rhododendron lawn . . . nothing can quite prepare visitors for the imaginative horticultural fantasies they'll find there. The Italian Renaissance Garden, popular for weddings, takes people's breath away, the Japanese Garden of Contemplation is perfect for quiet reflection, or just watch the river from the Indian Char Bagh Garden. A former rubbish dump, this is now an internationally recognised visitor attraction, an ambitious green project that deserves all the accolades.

— Elisabeth Easther

Best place to remember

Arizona Memorial, Hawaii

Make sure you bring tissues to the deeply moving Arizona Memorial in Hawaii's Pearl Harbour. The loss of all those young lives — and the tragic futility of it — is brought home through a video and a sombre walk through the simple white memorial that straddles the great lost ship. Within moments, on a December morning in 1941, the war that already engulfed Europe and Asia dragged America in as well. But the 1102 young men remain entombed, killed as they slept in their beds on a day that "lives in infamy".

— Helen Van Berkel

The best elevator experience

Taipei 101

The experience begins in the queue, where your photo is taken and projected on to a big screen with Taipei 101 inserted into your picture. (A note from personal experience, prepare your pose beforehand or you will end up with an unflattering photo.) When the elevator doors close, you are embraced in darkness, with nothing but a sparkling scene of stars and comets on the ceiling. Blink a few times and you're arriving at the 89th floor observatory. Your pre-ride photo is available for purchase ... or not.

— Lucy Casley

Best hot springs (on a magical island category)

Kaitoke Hot Springs, Great Barrier Island

When my mates and I tested these hot springs two weekends ago, after a two-day walk on DoC's stunning Aotea track, we found the temperature perfect. Make them the final stop on your tramp of the Aotea Track, meaning you'll have just a half-hour stroll to the road. The islanders themselves are an added bonus. From the shuttle driver who preferred to give us a free lift on the back of his Land Rover than charge us to go in his van, to the golf club members who lent us their clubs for a ninth-hole chipping competition and served us beer that got cheaper with every round, the people of the Barrier are a joy.

— Winston Aldworth

Best Pacific Island

Niue

I visited Niue for the first time this year, and it astonished me with its otherworldliness. How had I not been there before? Just three and a half hours from Auckland, it's one of the largest raised coral atolls on Earth. It's also one of the smallest nations with a population of less than 2000. Visiting this lush paradise, I discovered many frisky short walks; everywhere you look the views are outstanding and there are plenty of swimming holes and magical grottos. You can go on fishing charters, take coconut crab safaris, there's whale watching or you can simply snorkel around at your leisure. And the food is amazing — obviously seafood is a big component. Whether you're hungry for traditional Niuean cuisine, sushi, pizza or Indian, your cravings will be satisfied. Compact, friendly, also perfect for cycling.

— Elisabeth Easther

Best small town market

The River Traders and Whanganui Farmers Market

This is an absolute delight on a sunny Saturday morning, with more than 100 stallholders setting up shop — as local Māori once did in times gone by — on the riverbank in the historic downtown area of this under-rated city. You'll find delicious food carts (keep an eye out for the ham on the bone and the pulled pork and crackling buns), fresh produce, artisan products, antiques and collectibles, fresh juices, great coffee and eclectic entertainment — including the occasional rower on the river. Note that trading is by cash only. Every Saturday, 9am-1pm, Moutoa Quay, Whanganui.

— Shandelle Battersby

Most unpredictable landscape

Big Island, Hawaii

The news from Hawaii this year was dominated by the Kilauea volcano, which spectacularly spread red-hot lava through residential neighbourhoods near Hilo this year. She was a thrilling red glow outside our hotel window when we visited only weeks before, although her previous activity was very obvious in the black lava fields that flowed to the coast of the Big Island. Kilauea isn't a cone volcano that we are familiar with but a shield volcano, which "leaks" lava rather than tossing it in the air. Still, Kilauea proved she was still a force to be reckoned with. Now that she seems to have settled again it's probably worth a visit to see the results of her handiwork.

— Helen van Berkel

Best short break for families

Paparoa, Kaipara

Lambs bleat at the farmers market. The pastries are crispy, the coffee is strong and the local hotel has had a makeover. There's a beautiful bay, Pahi Beach, to picnic at, a Kauri Museum to take in some history and, if you chat to the right people in town, you'll be invited all over the place. Like The Chapel, which makes artisan olive oil and has a busy collection of farm animals to enjoy. On Saturday you'll want to visit the Paparoa Hotel for dinner, a few drinks and a game of pool in the bar. Did we mention there's hardly anyone there? Paparoa is just 90 minutes north of Auckland, and, frankly, the fewer people know about this little slice of heaven, the better.

— Chris Schulz

Most fragrant foot massage experience

Pure Fiji headquarters, Suva

Spa experiences in Fiji tend to be synonymous with frangipani flowers, mango-infused candles and coconut milk baths. But at the HQ of the country's most famous beauty export — Pure Fiji — I experienced a new intoxicating aromatic combination of lime blossom and coconut, which sent me to foot spa nirvana. I felt terrible taking my shoes off, as I'd been walking around in the tropical heat for a few hours. Fortunately the heady aromas were strong enough to infiltrate deep into my sweat glands and I spent the rest of the day with lime blossom wafting upwards with every step.

— Juliette Sivertsen

Best holiday without leaving town

Omana

This is a stunning campground on a cliff in Auckland's east overlooking the Hauraki Gulf. It offers the chance of an inexpensive adventure within easy reach of home. Pack the tent, the kids, the kayak and enjoy a few days blissing out in the sun. Omana, in the eastern suburb of Maraetai, has a nice safe swimming beach, a rather cool Maori-themed playground, plenty of pohutukawa for shade, a pretty little boardwalk to the beach, and offers the opportunity for the legendary Dad joke: When the family asks "where's Maraetai?", answer, "Somewhere near ma left eye." There's a well-stocked shopping centre nearby. Bookings are advisable at this time of the year.

— Helen Van Berkel

Best cave

Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Caving is not usually my thing; I'm far more comfortable jaunting through the countryside or sipping a wine beachside. But on a recent trip to Sydney, the friend I was visiting said she simply had to take me to Jenolan. It's about two hours out of the city and it's something I'll never forget. It is nestled within the Blue Mountains and you can easily spend a few days wandering around. It has crystal-clear water, beautiful bush and extraordinary rock structures that make Waitomo look a little bit disappointing. If you can hire a car or drag a Sydney local along, I'd highly recommend visiting this astonishing destination.
— Stewart Sowman-Lund

Best hot spring (Coromandel category)

Whitianga

A coconut and lime cocktail in hand, soaking in a cave filled with crystal, warm water bubbling up from 660m below, looking through a fringe of ferns to the rainforest draped with gorgeous bright flowers . . . No, not Samoa, Thailand or the Caribbean. It's the Lost Spring, at Whitianga, boasting mineral-rich pools fed by hot springs, the 16,000-year old geothermal water is sterile after its long rise to the surface. The rather too obviously hand-hewn pools range from 30C to a warm 41C, the bar staff take drink orders from the side of the pools and there are no children allowed.

— Lindy Laird

Best place for reality TV star spotting

Sur restaurant, West Hollywood

If anyone's watched Bravo's Vanderpump Rules, you'll be familiar with all the drama that goes on with Jax and Brittany while they do their shifts at Sur and the neighbouring Pump nightclub, both owned by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump. For the set of a show in its sixth season, it was surprisingly easy to get a table and surprising how reasonably priced — and the food was delicious. Get the goat cheese balls, favoured by Stassi and Katie. We went on a Monday thinking that they were more likely to be there filming because it would be busier in the weekend. But we probably should have done the latter. We did manage to see Brittany's former crush, Adam. Before you leave, grab a photo in the restaurant's doorway, which is staged with lights, a couch and a selfie camera which you can use to email your photo to yourself.

— Alanah Eriksen

Best lesser-known religious statue

Cristo Rei, Lisbon

If you've always been awestruck by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, but can't bear the thought of the crowds or the crime, Lisbon's Cristo Rei statue offers the same "wow" factor. Inspired by its "big brother", the statue was built in the 1950s in gratitude for Portugal escaping the horrors of World War II. It can be reached via a ferry ride over the Tagus from downtown Lisbon to Almada and then a short bus ride. The chapel offers a beautiful, contemplative space, and the 80m-high viewing platform and panoramic views over Lisbon and its impressive suspension bridge can be enjoyed remarkably far from the madding crowds of the majestic city's other scenic highlights.

— Helen Speirs

Best sacrificial stopover

Yazd, Iran

Ruins of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in outskirts of Yazd, Iran. Photo / Getty Images
Ruins of the Zoroastrian Fire Temple in outskirts of Yazd, Iran. Photo / Getty Images

On the outskirts of the city of Yazd in Iran two circular landmarks sit atop a pair of adjacent low hills. These are the Towers of Silence, and they are all that remains of a sacred funeral rite conducted by Zoroastrians. This ancient faith holds that a corpse cannot be buried or cremated because that could contaminate the elements of earth and fire. The solution was excarnation atop the towers — leaving the body to be dealt to by birds of prey. When the towers were in full swing, bodies were arranged in circles inside the towers, with men furthest away and children closest to a pit in the centre. Once the vultures had stripped bones clean the skeleton could be tipped into the pit and eventually crumble away. The towers were last used 50 years ago. The best time to visit is late afternoon when the setting sun creates shadows and suitable light to capture the striking setting. But don't leave it too long to catch your taxi back to town — it would be an unsettling place to spend the night.

— Andrew Stone

Best parental help trip

Lake Manuwai

Why do I put my hand up for these things? It's one of the few days when going to work would have been a much easier option. Parental help days. I started by loading up the car with kids, then drove to an incredible part of the world I never knew existed. Lake Manuwai, 10 minutes from Kerikeri. We all hopped on paddleboards and spent the day paddling through the most incredible rock formations I've ever seen. If it was anywhere near Auckland it would be a theme park.

— Rob Cox

Best beanbag for blobbing out

Bali

When you've been rushing around shopping at boutiques and sampling buddha bowls in the epicentre of hip Seminyak with the hot sun beaming down, your legs can start to give out by the time you reach the beach. You're craving a place to blob out, to really relax, spread out and maybe nod off for a few minutes. The beanbags at Alila's Beach Bar will make you really feel you're on holiday. You can request an umbrella, take a dip in the pool to cool off and resume relaxation state with your feet buried in the sand and your eyes fixed on the pounding surf rolling in. An attentive waiter will come over with sunblock, cool hand towels, refreshing face mist with a fresh lemongrass scent, and a double-page menu with every frozen cocktail you can imagine. Go on, order the daiquiri and forget how hard it's going to be to get out of this beanbag.

— Sophie Ryan

Best people-watching

Las Vegas

Being in Las Vegas is to feel the city strain to part you from your money, but a stroll along its magnificent, tacky heart is entirely free. I take my first just before 11am. Two half-naked men in cowboy hats are holding out their Popeye arms to passing women. "Don't be shy, come get a photo, honey," one says, as a group of tourists swerves outwards like a school of fish. It hasn't struck midday but every fourth person holds an oversized alcoholic slushy. Pikachu and Buzz Lightyear stand passively in what must already be sweltering heat, while Mickey Mouse lurks upstream from some showgirls. He looks towards them while bending over a planter box, as if to throw up. I get closer and see he's actually lifted his head to light a cigarette.
— Nicholas Jones

Best (pretty much) deserted island

Pulau Tiga (Survivor Island), Malaysia

These days it can be tricky to find a deserted island with idyllic warm waters. Pulau Tiga in Malaysian Borneo fits the bill. Complete with all the characters of Finding Nemo in the ocean and relaxing sunsets, it is hard to believe it was once the location of the first Survivor reality series … until a lightning storm hits. You can stroll around to find the odd monkey looking for trouble and monitor lizard slowly moving by. Accommodation-wise Pulau Tiga has simple quaint huts dotted around the island in which you'll be sure to get decent sleep, even if you share it with the odd gecko.

— Ngaire Ackerley