Four corners of the globe to escape the cold without running into peak season crowds or rainy season.
Words Gaynor Stanley
The song promises it never rains in California, but it must do sometimes to nurture Napa Valley’s 400 wineries. A visit during summer will have you enjoying one of the world’s most beautiful wine valleys in temperatures regularly tipping into the 30s, though perhaps not as many of its famed cabernet sauvignons as you’d like. Multi-faceted hedonism is in store with charming bed and breakfasts, poolside resorts, elite golf courses, hot springs, day spas and spa hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and an artisan food trail that will sate the most discerning gourmands. Fly into San Francisco and it’s a mere hour’s drive north to delicious drops like Mumm Napa, Robert Mondavi and Louis M. Martini Winery.
We’re so lucky to have the unspoiled islands of the Pacific in our backyard and thousands of Kiwis make like godwits on an annual pilgrimage to sunny Rarotonga as winter starts to bite. Far fewer though venture to its 14 sister islands, partly because Raro has so much to do, so easily, but partly because the inter-island flight prices deter them. But if there’s one island to empty the piggy bank for, make it Aitutaki. It doesn’t have the volcanic peaks and verdant rainforest of Rarotonga, nor as much choice of restaurants, activities and accommodation. What it does have is the same infectiously happy people and arguably the most beautiful lagoon on the planet. Cruise, kite board or kayak the clearest and most astoundingly turquoise waters you’ll ever see. The visibility and abundance of sea creatures make for unforgettable snorkeling and diving and a barefoot stroll along an uninhabited sand motu will put the spring back in your step.
Take the path less travelled by European summer vacationers and discover what many consider Eastern Europe’s most beautiful country. It’s definitely one of Europe’s least expensive (five star Grand Hotel Continental in peak season NZ$150 a night). In the bustling capital Bucharest, aka Little Paris, enjoy wide tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Epoque architecture and a plethora of museums, galleries and palaces. Cruise along the Romanian section of the Danube River to Roman ruins, the narrow Irongate gorge between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, and exquisite medieval cities and towns. Or drive the winding roads of Transylvania through dense, dark, ancient forests and over mountain passes on the trail of Dracula.
For a trans-Tasman sojourn with guaranteed temps in the high 20s you’ve got to head above the Tropic of Capricorn, so while the gorgeous Whitsundays and newly redeveloped Daydream Island Resort tempt, it may be too chilly for sunbaking until September. A few hundred kilometres further north, just 8km off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island may not be on your radar but it makes a compelling winter destination. This tropical beauty is two thirds national park with stunning beaches, cool cafes and a holiday vibe, especially in Horseshoe Bay at the northern end of the island. It’s home to 2500 residents, many of whom commute to the mainland on the 20-minute ferry. There are plenty of family-friendly attractions, including the must-do Forts Walk. This will have you climbing high to striking WWII fortifications with breathtaking coastal views, but it’s the readily spotted koalas snoozing in the gums along the track that really warm the heart.