Under the radar. Top travel destinations that are often overlooked. Part 2

We got out our trusty atlas and peered at it endlessly, furiously taking notes. We’ve since come to realize this series of related posts could reach at least Part 25.

That’s how many overlooked destinations lie out there.

For now though, we’ll keep it to Part 2.

New Orleans

The Big Easy is renowned for jazz, Mardi Gras hijinks, Cajun food and its French origins.

People know this and yet it struggles to make the top 10 for most visited US cities by overseas visitors. North Americans love the place for all the reasons listed above, but it’s on their doorstep.

International tourists tend to go for the big name glamour destinations – NYC, LA, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and so on.

Which is a pity, because New Orleans is arguably the most unique city in the USA.

The city was first founded by French settlers in the early 18th century, handed over to Spain then back to France before being sold to America in 1803.  

In the early 1800s Louisiana was a huge producer of cotton and sugar cane on the back of slave labor. By 1840 New Orleans was America’s third largest city.

The city has retained much of its original flavor and early origins. You forget you’re in America because it doesn’t feel like America.

First there’s the look of the place. French and Spanish high-walled courtyards and tiered balconies are unlike the architecture in any other modern city.

The French Quarter is the most famous neighborhood in New Orleans and home to the heaving Bourbon Street, where the annual Mardi Gras is centred.

New Orleans is known for putting on a good time, but in January Mardi Gras goes to a new level. It’s based on a medieval tradition of indulging before fasting for Lent, and indulging is the key word here.

A two week celebration of round-the-clock drinking, eating, dancing and loosely controlled chaotic fun. Fun for all the family!

In early May, the Jazz Festival brings people from all over the world to take part in a fantastic tribute to the music form that kicked off in New Orleans.

The selection of live music venues is jaw-dropping. Jazz and blues bars, cafes and live houses are pretty much everywhere, with world-class talent.

A major lure to New Orleans is the food. The rich mixture of cultures has produced Creole cuisine, which combines West African, French, Spanish and Native American influences.

New Orleans sits right on the Gulf of Mexico, so seafood dishes are aplenty. Then there’s the famous Gumbo. A generous serving of spicy soup, sausage, chicken, tomatoes and fish over rice.

New Orleans is one of those cities that doesn’t rely on monuments or sights as much as the experience itself. It’s about getting out onto the streets, meeting people and lapping up the food and music.

Get as loose as you want – the locals won’t even notice.

FIJI

Good enough for Tom Hanks in Castaway, good enough for us. Although Hanksy didn’t technically plan on going there, he certainly kept himself entertained on what was one of Fiji’s 330 islands.

Fiji is part of Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean and lies about 3 hours east of Australia. Several decent airlines fly directly to Fiji from major cities such as Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong.

Going to Fiji isn’t so much about what to do as what do you want to do most? The choices are overwhelming. Enjoying water activities helps.

Such antics include but are not limited to:

  • surfing
  • snorkeling / diving
  • kayaking
  • fishing
  • hiking
  • sky diving
  • cruising

…to name but a few.

Then you’ve got ample opportunities to mingle with the locals. Maybe try your hand at palm weaving, witness some fire walking or get glugging in a kava ceremony.

Kava is a traditional drink made from kava roots and is revered for its relaxing, anxiety-relieving effects. Not that you’d have much anxiety in a country surrounded by beaches with the coldest “winter” temperatures being around 22° C.

Better yet, rip into a lovo. A lovo is a traditional feast that’s like an underground barbecue.

First, they dig a hole or oven, then layer it with hot stones and leaves. Next is the fun part – throwing in all kinds of food. Pork, chicken, beef, sweet potatoes, yams, seafood and on and on. Lovos are very similar to a hangi in New Zealand culture.

Fiji’s underground oven – love the LOVO!

Fiji is a multicultural country of people descending from native iTaukei, Indians, Chinese and Europeans.

As a result, the food is an eclectic mix of a variety of cultures. It’s also very fresh and very healthy. Curries, fish soups, and stir fries are all very popular. Taro is a vegetable that pops up regularly. It’s a close cousin of the sweet potato or yam.

Saying, “stuff this, I’m going to do bugger all” is another fine plan. Simply plonk yourself down on the nearest beach, sip on some kava perhaps, and listen to the waves gently breaking.

That’s it…escape…you deserve it…escape

BERLIN

For some, Berlin conjures up images of a grey and gritty city with a Cold War cloud hanging over it.

Well sure – in 1958.

Since we said bye-bye to the Wall, Berlin has been rejuvenated like few other places in the world. It’s now one of Europe’s most innovative, energetic and progressive cities.

While it’s impossible to ignore the weight of history behind the city, there is so much to get up to that you won’t have time to ponder over grim old war statues.

You can of course, but you’d be missing out. Berlin exemplifies what can take place if the shackles are released.

It’s home to a seriously huge contemporary art scene, wild nightlife and high tech. It’s a global giant in energy and environmental technologies.

Plus the beer is so good you’ll weep for joy.

A great way to get a feeling for the city is to either rent a bike or jump on a Spree River cruise. A cruise gives you time to appreciate the scope of Berlin and get an idea of what areas you might like to swing by.

The bike option lets you mix in with the locals and the luxury of being able to stop off wherever you like. Something smell good? Perhaps it’s a schnitzel or roast beer sauerbraten. They taste even better with a cold Pilsner.

Berlin is one of Europe’s major cultural centers. Home to over 700 art galleries, artists, musicians and architects. David Bowie loved the place and spent a good chunk of the 70s there. He couldn’t remember much about it unfortunately, but loved it just the same.

If you’re pretty much over gazing at old buildings, there’s no shame. But at least force yourself to get down to the Brandenburg Gate – easily Berlin’s most famous landmark.

This monument has witnessed its fair share of moments over the years. Napoleon and the Nazis marched through it, while it now represents peace in a unified Europe.

This may well put you in a somber mood, so it’s as good a chance as any to take a peek at the Berlin Wall remnants. There are plenty of vantage points across the city. Some parts have preserved the wall in its original form while other sections are colorfully decorated with murals and graffiti.

That’s more than enough dwelling and heavy thinking. Time to “spass haben!” or have fun.

This is Berlin’s specialty.

A good sign of any city with half-decent night life is that Berlin doesn’t have a designated area. Rather, there are fantastic bars, pubs and clubs scattered all over the city. Dance music and metal/rock venues are huge in Berlin, with people literally coming from all over the world to partake.

Alternatively, you could just find a street-side bar and sip on a Berliner Weisse with your trusty bowl of currywurst sausage and watch the passersby.

Sometimes the simple pleasures are also the best.

DARWIN

Darwin is another city that doesn’t need flashy amusement parks or chest-beating monuments to excite visitors.

Why bother? Darwin’s attractions were there long before the city was built in the late nineteenth century. The indigenous Larrakia people had taken a shine to Darwin and decided to stay.

The city that’s closer to Bali than other Australian capitals.

It has stunning national parks and beaches. It’s a fantastic source of Indigenous Australian culture and art. Plus, there’s a huge array of wildlife, including a tour guide’s dream – a jumping crocodile tour, which just sells itself.

Most of Australia’s visitors come to visit the famous cities – Sydney, Melbourne or the Gold Coast, and squeeze in some natural sights. Uluru, Barrier Reef and so on.

Many tourists – Australians included – completely overlook Darwin.

It deserves more spotlight, although maybe Darwinians prefer it that way. Either way, it’s far more interesting and has a lot more life than your average city.

It’s not a big place and it’s not cold. Roughly 160,000 people live in Darwin and the coldest it gets is about 24°C.

This makes it easy to get around and there’s plenty to do.

Darwin lies in Australia’s Top End which also includes Kakadu National Park and the spectacular Katherine region. Both are well worth seeing.

Kakadu is a fully protected reserve covering almost 20,000 km². It is home to a wide variety of Indigenous Australian cultural sites such as rock paintings which date back at least 20,000 years. The incredible landscape is home to a plethora of wildlife ranging from wallabies to turtles, flying foxes and crocodiles.

Plus, if you go to Kakadu you can brag to anyone who’s interested that you went to the place where they filmed Crocodile Dundee. The first part, obviously.

The Adelaide River lies just north of Darwin and is home to real-life crocodiles. With big jaws and shiny teeth, the real deal. The crocs jump out of the water for food and they do it well.

Anyone too cool for school will grudgingly admit that this is pretty awesome. If they’re still not satisfied, coerce them into dangling a chunk of chicken from the boat until they get a bite.

Back into Darwin. If you’re after a peaceful afternoon the markets at Mindil Beach are recommended, invariably with a great sunset to finish.

For some good dumb fun there’s also the airboat tour. The airboats are V8 charged beasts that hurtle you around Darwin’s harbor. You won’t hear what the guide’s saying and won’t care. It’s just big, loud, fast and fun.

It’s bound to be warm in Darwin and it may soon occur to you that a beer would go down rather spendidly.

Boy, are you in the right place. Darwinians love a beer and so they drink it. Often.

Head for the harbour and find a place that suits you, or head anywhere. You won’t have to look for long.

And there we have it. As mentioned in Part 1, there’s nothing like a pandemic to make you appreciate the chance to travel.

There’s also nothing like a pandemic to turn you off travel for life.

So you can either vicariously through your friends’ incredible travel yarns or do the only sensible thing. That’s right – dust off the ole suitcase, it’s time to pack people.

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