a green hills with a body of water and a small island
Scenic panorama of Cape Brett lighthouse on the coast of New Zealand during sunset. Located in Bay of Islands, popular tourist destination for its natural beauty.

Grab a nice glass of wine, a cold water or a good snack and settle in. GSTP presents part two of our “we’re bored out of our minds at home” travel retrospective series, looking back at some pivotal travel moments which shaped the creation of GSTP, and above all – brought happy travels…

Some of you may know that I was a fairly competitive tennis player as a kid, and it’s part of the reason I was so fortunate to explore far reaching parts of the world at a young age. For the second installment of the happy travel retrospective series, I wanted to reminisce about a trip to Australia and New Zealand, with many elements that can’t ever be reproduced…

The year was 1999, I was 12, I think, maybe 13 – who cares, and I was invited to play in Australia and New Zealand as part of a US delegation of players.

With great excitement, I boarded a flight from Newark to Los Angeles and in short order, found myself on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 Queen of The Skies bound from Los Angeles to Auckland, sans parents!

Economy? Who cares!

Sunset aerial view through airplane window over wings. Flying at sunset and looking out of the window and enjoying the panoramic view. Travel and transportation conceptsIn 1999, the world was care free, and though I have no recollection of how, a cabin crew member asked me if I’d love to visit the flight deck. I was seated in economy, had never seen an international premium cabin, and I’ll never forget the utter bewilderment as I climbed the stairs up into the 747 upper deck bubble.

My first impression, in retrospect, was like walking into an Austin Powers movie.

I walked past people happily drinking, laughing, or just passed out in a relatively comfortable position and though… wow, must be nice. It all felt very social and upper class.

But then moments later, I felt like the lucky one. I was introduced to the team on the flight deck by the incredible cabin crew member, and invited to take a seat. We were somewhere in the 30,000’s of feet and making our way circa Fiji, which the pilot noted we were swerving due to unrest there.

All I could do was just stare at the instrument panels.

It was everything I’d ever dreamed of as a plane geek from my earliest days. I asked every question I could and the flight deck crew were just so inspiring – and in retrospect – too kid. It probably played some formative part of my obsession now, it must have.

To think that kids now will never really get to experience that thrill of looking forward at the world from above through the eyes of the flight deck makes me sad.

In what felt like no time, I was in New Zealand. I just couldn’t believe it.

Road along Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New ZealandThough I’ve done my best to fog my memory for decades now, some things are still crystal. I was instantly blown away by the coast, the surf and an early team bonding session via ocean kayaking.

Note to anyone unfamiliar – you will flip over and probably a few times.

This is a land of boundless natural beauty and with so much greenery, it’s everywhere.

I loved the NZ accent – who doesn’t? – and I was fascinated by Māori people. I even bought some tourist tat because I thought it made me one with them. Who knows. We made our way around the North Island and Waiheke I’ll always remember being blown away by the amount of actual sheep.

Yes, that old chestnut is true.

Above all else, there was something so surreal about being all the way on the other side of the world at that age, doing something you love and taking it all in. When I think about my work today, it’s not all that different. The Hobbit made New Zealand Hollywood famous, but it’s been beautiful as long as time, and it was such a privilege to take it in first hand. Photos do very little justice.

And then came Australia.

a row of colorful beach hutsPeople often ask what the “big deal” with Australia and New Zealand is, since it’s just another culture of English speaking people with cities and beaches, and the answer is everything.

Australia does so many things from breakfast to barbecues unlike anywhere else in the world, and I say with great affection that the country cherry picks all the best of the world and makes it theirs. As a new parent, they even do baby clothes better!

I live to eat and chat in Australia, and I find it to be more eye opening and inspiring than some cultures with different languages.

After a legitimate bludgeoning by the Australia team at a tennis club in New South Wales, a barbie was put on for all participants and it’s where I first received an appreciation for how laid back, fun, genuine and often completely full of sh*t my favorite Australians are.

I’ve returned to Australia and New Zealand as much as often, ever since, and I can’t wait to do so again when the world returns to normal.

For anyone planning future trips, I highly recommend seeing Queenstown and other South Island areas of New Zealand, as well as spanning out and tackling Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane, not just Sydney. There’s fun everywhere in this magical part of the world.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Another great retrospective! All this rings true to me, living in Australia and Queenstown being one of my favourite places in NZ…also having recently (last month) flown on a QF 747 on a domestic route (QF439), which was one of those moments which brought back the magic of flying to me – almost everyone on the flight was so happy to be there, even the crew, and sitting upstairs in the bubble (for the first time on a 747) we got to visit the flight deck too (crew were very accommodating, and the entire upper deck was avgeek!), even having a seat in Captain’s seat.

  2. Just a note about where to visit in Australia: don’t forget Perth-Fremantle! Journey by train from the East to see the Outback up close and personal; by air if time doesn’t permit land travel. Sailing is big on the western coast, and you’ll see plenty of America’s Cup yachts “working out” after passing through the mouth of the Swan River…oh yeah, don’t ask for a Foster’s at the barbie: ask for a Swan Lager (delicioso!)

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