If you have the luxury of time, why not go the distance? Here’s our top five pick of faraway getaways
Tokyo is the obvious starting ground for most tourists, when in Japan. The metropolis boasts everything from imperial gardens to fantastic restaurants, high street fashion to traditional kabuki performances — so much so that it would be doing the city a grave injustice to just be ‘passing through’. Dedicate at least a couple of weeks here, if you can.
Up north, the Daisetsu-zan National Park in Hokkaido offers fantastic hiking trails. If you prefer something less adventurous, check out Hakodate, the island’s most historic city that is full of 19th century wooden houses and elaborate churches built by foreign traders. And if you’re lucky, you might also catch the country’s gorgeously famous cherry blossoms in bloom there till about late May.
To the south lie the other two of Japan’s four main islands: Shikoku and Kyushu. Little visited, with tranquil rural settings, Shikoku’s best offering is Matsuyama-jo, an impressive imperial castle built in 1602.
Kyushu has some incredible natural attractions that could just about make you forget its terrible past for a moment. But Japan’s third-largest island has rebuilt itself following the A-bomb disaster that it is best known for, and now offers a vibrant nightlife in addition to museums, ash-spewing volcanoes and islands boasting 1,000-year-old cedars.
Travel time: 9 hrs 45 mins on Emirates
If it’s an aesthetic experience you’re looking for, head straight for Cape Town in South Africa. The beautiful city’s most famous landmark, Table Mountain, offers beauty beyond compare in sweeping views of forested mountainsides, historic vineyards and sheer drops. Words can only paint the picture, however, and you’ll definitely want to get to the top to enjoy the view for yourself.
Of course, South Africa is also well known for a score of major parks, wherein you can indulge in the ‘proper’ African experience. May to October are the cooler months in Johannesburg — a welcome getaway from the merciless heat of Dubai and the entry point to said African experience. A happening street life, fantastic shopping opportunities and the sheer diversity of people from all walks of life make this city a must-visit. Exercise caution, however; Jo’burg is well known for its alarmingly high daily crime rate.
It’s a half day away by car to Kruger National Park nearby, where thousands of game animals — from elephants and lions to rhinos, cheetahs and elands — roam the savannahs freely. You can drive yourself around, if you wish to have the flexibility to do things at your pace. Book as much in advance as possible, however — accommodation is pricey and usually unavailable at short notice.
Travel time: 9 hrs 50 mins on Emirates
MexicoIt’s not all nachos and burritos at this North American country. Sure, you have the iconic cactus-strewn deserts made famous in Hollywood Westerns, but Mexico is also a vibrant mix of indigenous cultures and modern economy, with azure coastlines, colonial towns and big cities — in other words, plenty to explore! Getting around can be a bit trying, considering the vast distances you’ll need to cover. So, although their transport system is reasonably efficient, a domestic flight is sure to save you some time (and hair-pulling), if you can wrangle it!
Visit key attractions such as the Basílica de Guadalupe and the National Museum of Anthropology. Other gems are the pyramids of Tenayuca, Santa Cecilia Acatitlán and Cuicuilco, on the outskirts of the city. The more adventurous can drive through the picturesque Valley of Mexico and the Paso de Cortés then hike up to the top of the dormant Iztaccihuatl Volcano. Or fly east to Veracruz, along the Gulf of Mexico to indulge in delicious seafood specialities and catch the breath-taking Voladores de Papantla ritual, a cultural tradition of the Totonac people, in which ‘bird men’ launch themselves, upside down, from the top of a 150-ft pole and descend in circles, attached only by a rope around the waist.
Travel time: 19 hrs 30 mins via Amsterdam on Emirates
You could argue that the best way to see Alaska would be by sea. The famous Alaskan cruises, lasting from May to September, did not earn their high ranking in the popularity stakes for nothing. Most cruises are at least seven days long and a great way to catch some spectacular scenery, as it sails slowly up the Inside Passage, covering major towns (including the capital city Juneau and the Glacier Bay National Park).
Speaking of glaciers, Margerie Glacier is the chief of them — a 34 km-long mass of ice. You can hear the much-proclaimed effects of global warming here — through the cracks that ring out like rifle shots and result in calving, with walls of ice breaking off and dropping into the sea. If you’re lucky, you can also enjoy a spot of whale watching, as the sea creatures breach the surface and gulp fish — or take a ski plane to see bears catching their own breakfast in a river.
Food is served onboard at both formal and informal dos — you can take your pick. Don’t forget to dress warmly, of course, but you might want to pack a good pair of hiking boots if you’ve opted for a land tour of the Denali National Park or Canadian Rockies as well.
16 hrs 45 mins to Vancouver via Seattle on Emirates; you can get onto an Inside Passage cruise easily from the port here
Called ‘God’s own country’, you only need to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy to understand why. Towering mountains, vast plains, giant glaciers that you can walk on, beautiful stretches of beach and glorious coastlines — waking up to New Zealand’s spectacular vistas everyday will make it very hard for you to leave when it’s time to go home. In the meanwhile, however, there’s a tonne of exploring options for you.
Adrenaline junkies, you can well consider the land of the Kiwis paradise. Bungee jumping, scuba diving, canyon swinging, sky diving and jet boating — this is where you can do them all. Kawarau bridge in Queenstown is home of the world’s first commercial bungee — so you might want to start there! Alternatively, head to Taupo to check out its eerie limestone caves or canoe down the Whanganui River — an excellent paddling spot for newbies to the sport.
Travel time: 17-18 hrs 20 mins via Sydney on Emirates or Qantas