Woohoo! The end of 2016 is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to take a moment to sit back and reflect on all the amazing things that happened. I had more adventures than I thought possible in 2016 and managed to see beautiful places, eat delicious food and create some unforgettable memories in the process. Among all the beautiful moments, places and peoples I encountered this year, there are a few that really stand out.
The LGB Travel Awards are my way of celebrating the people, places, businesses and moments etched in my mind and heart. These are my 2016 highlights and the very best of the best. I hope they inspire a little (or a lot) of adventure in you, I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings our way! A huge congratulations to all the travel award winners below, thank you for being so wonderful I had to include you.
Of all the Aussie destinations I visited this year, it was the incredible little town of Berry, located on the New South Wales South Coast, that stole my heart. I fell in love with the charming little town, its fantastic views, nearby beaches, fabulous restaurants and the incredibly welcoming and entertaining locals. A huge thank you to Anthony and Louise at Mt Hay Retreat and all the lovely locals who made it such an unforgettable trip. 10/10 would Berry again!
As far as unforgettable destinations abroad, it was New Zealand that really took my breath away. I was lucky enough to work with a tour group in New Zealand and each day our tour drew closer and closer to the Otago Region in the South Island, my excitement grew. I’m usually a tropical-loving-gal, but there’s something ridiculously magical about New Zealand that I just can’t get enough of. Those mountains! That snow! Those picture-perfect views! It was the Otago region and places like Queenstown that really stood out as my favourite overseas destination in 2016.
If there was one place I hadn’t thought of visiting before I went there, it was Komodo National Park. For all the times I’ve been to Indonesia, I never thought to explore further and push myself out of my Bali comfort zone. Turns out, Komodo National Park is one of those most gorgeous places I’ve seen in Indonesia and wins the top spot for my favourite Under-The-Radar Destination of 2016! The best way to see it, of course, is by boat. Imagine days sailing along perfect blue water, the sun high in the sky, visiting hidden coves and spending hours swimming in cool water. Bliss.
My favourite luxury accommodation experience in 2016 has to be the unforgettable few nights we spent at the gorgeous Centara Grand Resort & Villas in Ao Nang. I had always dreamed of staying at a place like this, so when Matt and I arrived to the stunning resort, tucked in a hidden cove at Ao Nang, we couldn’t quite believe it. Our private villa, complete with plunge pool, was the kind of thing dreams are made of! We had an amazing stay and, to this day, keep talking about it how amazing it was. The views were amazing, the service top-notch and the food sensational. I can only hope we get to go back again sometime soon.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to travel we don’t always have a lot of cash to flash. Which is exactly how Matt and I found ourselves staying at the Desak Putu Putera Homestay in Ubud this year. This fantastic little spot is tucked down a long laneway, past a few chickens and local houses, opening up to a hidden spot with a great little pool. The service is fantastic, the breakfast delicious and location central. It was a really chilled out hideaway and wins our pick for the best budget accommodation experience of the year.
I won’t lie, I’ve visited my fair share of bars in 2016. The most memorable of those was the opening of Brisbane’s Sixteen Antlers. I absolutely loved this place! It offered up great views of Brisbane, fantastic drinks, delicious food and great music. There was also a fireworks display which I wasn’t expecting and, I think, made for some great viewing on my Insta-stories.
When it comes to the best airline experience of the year, there really isn’t any competition. I was so excited about being in the absolute luxury of Singapore Airline’s Business Class seats on their inaugural flight from Singapore to Dusseldorf, that I was unable to sleep. Yep, just like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I was abuzz! The food was exceptional, the seats comfortable and the service impeccable. It gave me a taste for the good life, you guys. I’m addicted! It was honestly the kind of thing I’ll never forget, it was exceptional.
Okay, so we don’t always have the money to fly Business Class, which is why we love our budget airlines. This pick is actually Matt’s! He took more than his fair share of flights from the Gold Coast to Singapore this year, flying with Scoot, and had nothing but great things to say about the experience each time. They often have great sale fares on a Tuesday, where you can scoop up one-way tickets from OOL to SIN for $129AU! What I love about that, is that it opens up the world for a lot of people who, like us, may not be flush with cash.
I saw the inside of a lot of airports in 2016, but there’s one that really stood out from the pack. Singapore’s Changi Airport really delivers when it comes to making your airport experience enjoyable. From the many delicious food options to the shops, little trolleys, bars and free movie and chill-out zones, they just know how to make you feel welcome. The free wifi is just the icing on the layover cake!
My favourite food experience from 2016 is a very simple one. Whenever I find myself in Bali, I always make a point to find the local food-cart guy selling freshly BBQ’d corn. Oh my gosh, this corn is the next level! Cooked on the cob over hot coals, with lots of charred bits all over, then slathered in the most divine concoction of butter, lemongrass, chilli, garlic and ginger. Matt and I love to grab a couple of cobs each and enjoy them with cold Bintangs on the beach.
If breakfast isn’t just the best dang meal of the day, I don’t know what is. The breakfast that stays with both Matt and I from 2016 is the insanely good meal we enjoyed at Burrows of Berry. Holy heck, words do not do this place justice. Not only is the fit-out amazing, the service is great and the breakfast is second to none! The menu here is really impressive, I can still taste the incredible waffles I enjoyed and Matt has not stopped raving about his perfectly cooked, gooey eggs. If you ever get the chance to eat here, do it!
Matt and I often talk about our favourite meals and places we’ve eaten. Whenever we talk about having the ability to teleport and show up at a restaurant anywhere in the world, we both always agree we’d go straight to Bumbu Bali in Indonesia. The food here is the NEXT LEVEL, man. I’m telling you! The flavours are out of this world, it’s traditional local food taking to the absolute max and it’s just the most unforgettably delicious food. The whole experience is awesome. If you find yourself in Bali, it’s worth making the trip to get there. I dream about their satay sauce.
My favourite unique experience of 2016 has to be waking up in the freezing cold, rugging up and heading down to the water’s edge to watch the sunrise at Lake Tekapo. I absolutely love New Zealand and Lake Tekapo is one of my favourite spots. It’s an unmissable sunrise and the sheer beauty and serenity of it all never ceases to amaze me.
I got the opportunity to take part in some incredible adventure experiences this year, but the one that really sticks with me is Heli-Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. I loved every moment of this experience, it was unlike anything else I’ve ever done! From the helicopter ride in, landing on the glacier, to learning about the Maori story of its creation than exploring the ice for ourselves. I had the best time and would absolutely recommend it to anybody visiting the area.
The festival I enjoyed most this year has to be the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers! I had the best time exploring Toowoomba, chowing down on insanely good food, sinking back top-notch wines, making flower crowns, dancing to live music and enjoying the company of wonderful people. It wasn’t a festival I’d thought of visiting before, now I can’t wait to go back next year and do it all over again.
My top pick for the best multi-day tour of 2016 has to go to Haka Tours. Oh my gosh, I don’t even know where to start. I spent my entire tour laughing like crazy, thanks to the fantastic people on my tour. Mine was the 24 day ‘Epic NZ’ tour and I loved every second of it. It took me to places I’d never seen before and was just so easy and fun. I loved the all-in group vibe of crashing at hostels, getting together for beers and dinner each evening and the constant bus banter. If you’re looking for a tour company in NZ, you can’t go past Haka.
I did quite a few day tours in 2016, but one stands head and shoulders above the pack. My adventure with AirMilford was totally unforgettable, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that stays with you forever. I got the chance to climb aboard a small plane and fly from Queenstown out to Milford Sound, soaring high above some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful mountains I have ever seen in my life. It was just a classy experience, perfectly planned and put together in a way that makes you feel really special. A huge thank you also to the team at Southern Discoveries who coordinate the cruise and fantastic lunch at Milford Sound!
I remember very clearly, before arriving at Stephanies Mountain Spa, that I hadn’t been sleeping very well. I think I was 3 or 4 days into a bad run of sleep, getting to that point where you start to feel very irritable. A few hours at Stephanies changed that. I was treated to an amazing steam room experience, complete with some special scrubs and muds to get the nasties out of my skin, followed by the best massage I’ve ever had and a glass of sparkling wine. That night I slept like a log, which is why Stephanies take out the best day-spa experience hands-down.
The second half of 2016 saw me put the spark back in my love affair with my GoPro and it has had a huge impact on my photography. I’ve suddenly fallen in love with the idea of capturing some really wild moments, which is exactly what the GoPro is perfect for. I know there are a lot of cheaper versions on the market, but nothing really compares to the original, authentic GoPro. Those crisp images, the great wide-angle lens and the ability to chuck it on a selfie stick and get some epic shots make it a winner for me this year.
One app changed my travel life this year… TripIt. It’s such a simple concept but it’s really made things much easier for me. Okay, so you know that thing where you book all your own travel and your inbox gets flooded with confirmation emails and you have to be your own PA and do up a travel itinerary in Word? Yeah, it sucks right? Well, TripIt is like your travel PA. You forward all your itineraries to it and it puts them together in an itinerary for you, with live updates, all your confirmation numbers, hotel addresses… the works! So good!
The unexpected winner of the best travel accessory of 2016 is the set of three Lojel Lumo suitcases I got my hands on this year. Holy heck, these things are amazing. It’s hard to describe why they’re so good, to be honest, I think it’s just that they’re such high-quality pieces. The wheels glide like a dream, the zips are reliable, the handles are comfy and never stick and you can fit all your crap in them with no fuss. I’ve fallen in love with them and they’ve become my go-to suitcase! #obsessed.
This was a very easy choice for me. My favourite travel blogger of 2016 has to go to the hard-working, dedicated and very talented Nicola of Polkadot Passport. Nicola has seen huge growth in her blog this year and it is so well-deserved. Not only is she incredibly hard-working, this girl boss is a positive beacon of light and love, she’s incredibly humble, funny and adorably cute too. I’m so happy the world has seen Nicola’s work with the love it deserves, at a young age she’s already well on the path to living an exceptional life and, honestly, it couldn’t be happening to a better person.
This one has to go to the very lovely Jackson Groves, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a media trip to Indonesia this year. If you haven’t met him, you’ll be pleased to know he’s a top bloke and a great photographer too! I fell in love with Jackson’s energetic photography style, full of vibrant colour, soul and movement. He captures beautiful people, moments and places so well and his constant push to create daring and energetic photos really inspired me to inject more heart into my own, which is why he takes out the top spot as the best travel Instagrammer of 2016.
This is a really special category for me! I had the opportunity to meet Matt Harrison after he fortuitously won a trip around part of Australia and showed up at my house to pick me up to join him on part of it. When I met him, I fell in love with his hilarious sense of humour, genuine love for the world, thirst for adventure and his view on the world. If you haven’t watched his videos, I suggest you do, he creates incredibly inspiring pieces and, together with his beautiful girlfriend Rosie, is currently converting a bus so they can explore the world together one adventure at a time. Seriously, he’s so inspiring, his videos will change your life.
Just a quick note to confirm the LGB Travel Awards are based solely on my experiences. None of these spots have been paid for or requested by any of those included, it’s all legit love for the homies!
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Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.