It has been a strange and uncertain year with travel opportunities few and far between. Still, we found ourselves with opportunities to explore our beautiful home state, Queensland, and take advantage of the New Zealand travel bubble while it was open. Honestly, it was a year that was far from ideal and one that presented a lot of challenges personally and professionally. But there’s so much to be grateful for.
The Little Grey Box Travel Awards are our way of showing our immense gratitude and a little extra love and support for the wonderful people who make the year’s best travel moments possible. We just want to say a huge thank you to each and every person we met and worked with this year. Without further ado, here are the Little Grey Box Travel Award Winners (and, I suppose, our travel highlights) for 2021!
Best Australian Destination
Winner: Rainbow Beach, Queensland
Rainbow Beach has been close to both our hearts for a very long time and, revisiting this year, we got the chance to enjoy it once more and see how much its grown! Boasting beautiful beaches, incredible 4WD-ing spots and some fantastic new eateries, this seaside spot is equal parts gorgeous, fun and relaxing.
Runner-up: Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland
Honourable mention: Noosa, Queensland
Best Overseas Destination
Winner: W?naka, New Zealand
It’s amazing we were able to get overseas this year and I still can’t believe how lucky we are that Australia and New Zealand are so close! Of all the spots we visited on our road trip through the north and south islands, W?naka stands out the most. It is, without hesitation, my favourite place in New Zealand. A place brimming with stunning scenery, incredible food, outdoor adventures and the loveliest locals.
Runner-up: West Auckland, New Zealand
Honourable mention: Mackenzie Region, New Zealand
Best Under-the-Radar Destination
Winner: West Auckland, New Zealand
Nothing quite prepared me for the raw and staggering beauty of the West Auckland coastline. Having been so travel starved for so long, the wild energy of Karekare Beach and Piha Beach took my breath away. We had an unforgettable day exploring coastal trails, visiting waterfalls, eating on the black sand beaches and rarely seeing another soul.
Runner-up: Kenilworth, Australia
Honourable mention: Tin Can Bay, Australia
Best Luxury Accommodation Experience
Our stay in a decadent Cross Hill Geo Dome was a travel dream come true! But it wasn’t just the unique and luxurious accommodation that made this stay so special. Set against spectacular Lake Hawea, it’s the sense of warmth and welcome that oozes through all the personal touches and moments of connection you experience during your stay. This is a spot that will stay with me for a long time to come!
Runner-up: Cordis Auckland, New Zealand
Honourable mention: Meriton Surfers Paradise, Australia
Best Budget Accommodation Experience
Every now and then you unearth a gem on Airbnb and, this year, we found the most incredible spot in Twizel. Set within the Dark Sky Reserve this affordable accommodation spot boasts an epic bathtub perfect for stargazing in freezing temperatures. Equipped with everything you could need for a relaxing, self-contained stay its also home to a number of friendly farm animals, offering plenty of fun things to do during your visit.
Runner-up: The ‘Old Glenroy Dairy’ (Airbnb), Australia
Honourable mention: Apartment 5 (Airbnb), New Zealand
Best Beach Experience
Winner: Piha Beach, New Zealand
Most years it’s a sun-drenched spot that takes the cake but I couldn’t help falling in love with wild Piha Beach. On a cool winter day we made our way across the sand, rain drizzling every so often, gazing at the rugged coastline while tucking into warm soup and toasty bread. It was totally different to what I usually visit the beach for and, somehow, so soul nourishing!
Runner-up: Rainbow Beach, Australia
Honourable mention: Kings Beach, Australia
Best Food Experience
We were thankful to experience some truly wonderful, local food in 2021 and one we won’t soon forget is Social Eating House + Bar. This understated spot delivers a true food experience combining fantastic service, great ambience, an exciting menu, beautiful plating and, most importantly, spectacular food. From start to finish it was pure perfection! We’re so lucky to have this spot within driving distance of home.
Runner-up: Edgewater Dining & Lounge, Australia
Honourable mentions: Amigos Wanaka, New Zealand
Best Breakfast Experience
Winner: Bumbles Cafe, Australia
I did not expect this humble Gold Coast cafe to throw down quite like it did, I have to be honest! A very cosy neighbourhood spot popular with locals, it served up the best coffee I had all year. The interior feels like a whimsical book store and the menu boasts a great mix of classics and creative bites to sample. I’m obsessed with crumpets and was blown away by the delicious sourdough crumpets and granola with ultra-wobbly pannacotta! YUM!
Runner-up: Morning After, Australia
Honourable mention: Relishes Cafe, New Zealand
Best Restaurant Experience
Winner: Etsu Izakaya, Australia
If you can’t tell already, the Gold Coast was the hero of our foodie adventures this year and Etsu Izakaya was a clear standout. True to the izakaya you’ll find in Japan, Etsu is totally understated from the outside and you could easily walk right past it. Venture inside and you’ll find a beautiful restaurant serving up the most delicious Japanese food I’ve experienced outside of Japan. Not to mention, the service is impeccable!
Runner-up: Margo’s Queenstown, New Zealand
Honourable mention: Social Eating House + Bar, Australia
Best Cafe Experience
Winner: Nodo, Australia
I live for breakfast and my favourite cafe of the year was Brisbane’s own local gem, Nodo. The fit-out of the Hawthorne cafe is just gorgeous with a menu that makes it hard to choose just one dish. In addition to their delicious food Nodo also boasts exceptional coffee and the best donuts in the game. An added bonus – the entire place is Gluten Free!
Runner-up: White Picket Fence, Australia
Honourable mention: No Name Lane, Australia
Best Bar/Drinks Experince
Another Gold Coast gem, Edgewater is perfectly positioned overlooking the glittering waterways around Surfers Paradise. The service here was a standout, reminding me of the kind of service you receive in a brasserie in Paris. Not only were the drinks here visually stunning, they were delicious too and perfectly accompanied by beautiful waterfront views. It’s just the icing on the cake that food is spectacular as well!
Runner-up: Granddad Jack’s Craft Distillery, Australia
Honourable mention: O.G.B, New Zealand
Best Adventure Experience
Every now and then you get the opportunity to do something you’ve never done before and it awakens something in you! For me, it was an unrealised love of climbing all thanks to Wildwire Wanaka. Hanging off the side of a cascading waterfall, soaking in views over Wanaka was absolutely magical. Getting outdoors and hands-on with the raw beauty of this region is the perfect way to experience it and I can’t wait to go back and do this one again.
Runner-up: Canyon Swing (with Shotover Canyon Swing), New Zealand
Honourable mention: The Mountain Experience (with The Cardrona), New Zealand
Best Unique Experience
Having lived close to the Gold Coast most of my life I was shocked to realise I’d been missing out on exploring the waterways! Turns out, it was worth the wait as we got the chance to do it for the first time in a Duffy boat with Duffy Down Under. Combining comfort, fun and beautiful scenery this experience is perfect for everyone! We spent a good few hours putting along gently, seeing the area from a new perspective and enjoying a waterfront lunch.
Runner-up: All Blacks Experience, New Zealand
Honourable mention: Mauao (Mount Maunganui) Summit Walk, New Zealand
Best Multi-Day Tour Experience
This year we got the chance to experience something we never have before – the caravanning lifestyle! Setting off with zero experience, the team at Outdoor Aussie Adventures taught us everything we needed to know, helped us settled in and hooked us up with the Jeep and the caravan and an incredible itinerary. It was so fun travelling in a new way and, if you saw my Insta-Stories, you’ll know Matt took to it like a duck to water and is officially ready to be a grey nomad.
Best Day-Tour Experience
While visiting Christchurch this year I wanted to try and find experiences to help me connect better with the city and ?miki Tours did just that. The Kai (food) Safari Tour takes you out into the heart of Maori culture, local history and exceptional food. It’s a chance to taste and experience the region in a very powerful way, expertly led by warm and welcoming locals. If you ever visit Christchurch a tour with ?miki is a must.
Runner-up: Cruise ‘n’ Canoe (with Everglades Eco Safaris), Australia
Honourable mention: Coldie on the Goldie Brewery Tour (with Hop On Brewery Tours), Australia
Best Airport Experience
Winner: Queenstown Airport, New Zealand
We were only inside a couple of airports this year but Queenstown easily takes the cake! Located a short drive from the heart of Queenstown you still get to enjoy the scenery from inside the terminal. There are great cafes, a lolly shop so you can stock up on fudge and sweets for the journey home and a great Japanese restaurant.
Best Airline Experience
Winner: Qantas, Economy Class
There was only one airline we flew with this year and I gotta say, we were grateful to even be able to fly!
Best Bucket List Moment
Having visited many times over the years the 4WD experiences of Rainbow Beach had always eluded us. But we finally got to tick it off our bucket lists and it was worth the wait! We loved driving through the lush rainforest then zooming along wide stretches of beach bordered by the ocean. Driving past the coloured sands, gazing up at the Carlo Sand Blow and stopping on an empty beach for a swim and a snack was the icing on top.
Best Travel Tech
Winner: Prepaid Travel Sim (from Simify)
This is one of those things I wish we’d started doing sooner! Before leaving for New Zealand we got prepaid local SIM cards from Simify and they made our entire trip easier. From looking up restaurants and cafes on the fly to finding directions, staying connected and changing flights at the last minute, they were invaluable.
Runner-up: Apple Watch
Honourable mention: Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones
Best Travel Accessory
Winner: Insulated Travel Flask
After talking about it all year we finally bought a travel flask/thermos and it has become the best thing ever! Perfect for any adventure on a cold day we became obsessed with filling ours with coffee or tea and stopping somewhere beautiful for a spot of morning tea, paired perfectly with goodies sourced from a local bakery.
Runner-up: The Comfy Original
Honourable mention: Allocacoc PowerCube
Best Travel Instagrammer
Winner: Cory & Charlotte (@cjexplores)
In a year where travel opportunities were limited, Cory and Charlotte of CJ Explores were a beacon of light and inspiration! Capturing beautiful photos for their Instagram and creating fantastic content for YouTube they spent the year exploring Queensland before setting off on their big lap around Australia. They’re wonderfully talented and truly lovely people so be sure to check them out!
Best Travel Vlogger
Winner: Beth and Paul (YouTube)
No other channel inspired joy for us in quite the same way as Beth and Paul’s. It’s like watching your best friend’s parents out in the world having a lovely time and I cannot get enough of them! They’re so sweet, genuine and entertaining and I find them so funny even when they’re not trying to be. They’re just a delight!
Just a quick note to confirm the Little Grey Box Travel Awards are based solely on our experiences. None of these spots has been paid for or requested by any of those included, it’s all legit love!
Best travel resources for your trip!
If you found this post useful, please use the affiliate links below. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the products and services I love and use. Read the disclaimer for more information. Thanks for your support! – Matt.
Agoda – hotels
Booking.com – hotels
Cover-More – insurance
Motorhome Republic – RVs
Discover Cars – rentals
Simify – SIM cards
Skyscanner – flights
Surfshark – VPN
TourRadar – tours
Welcome Pickups – transfers