Wondrous whale watching in the Azores
There are whales swimming all over the planet but seeing them can be difficult and/or expensive for several reasons, including small numbers (England) or iffy weather (Scotland), unsustainable numbers of tourists (Mexican Gulf) and long-haul flights (Argentina). The island of Faial in the Azores is a sure bet, year round, for seeing sperm whales as well as bottlenose, common and Risso’s dolphins. From March to May, blue, sei and fin baleen whales can also be spotted.
The Azores is also abound in great coastal and hill walking, innovative winemaking, with windbreaks built from volcanic stones, and lush subtropical vegetation. The beaches are beautiful, though best experienced in late summer when the ocean warms up.
From São Miguel or Faial – the latter is the ideal base – it’s easy enough to arrange a whalewatching outing to see sperm whales; the season is April-October as wintry weather makes boat trips unfeasible. Stay three days and your chances of seeing other species are much better. CW Azores (cwazores.com) has whale and dolphin-watching excursions from €69pp. Whale Watch Azores (whalewatchazores.com) has expert-led five-night tours from €1,175pp.
Where to stay
Airbnb and small hotels are readily available across the Azores. Horta is the main town in Faial.
Marvel at Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the oft-photographed icon of New Zealand’s South Island. All the elements that inspire travellers to make the long journey are focused in this pristine corner of Fiordland. Scenic backroads and well-marked trails, combined with pellucid waters, soaring mountains and temperate rainforests make it a peerless place to hike and bike. At the centre of it all is the majestic 5,560ft-high Mitre Peak (Rahotu in Maori), actually five separate peaks clustered around a single arrow-headed summit. While cruises and lodges are aimed at the luxury market, you can actually “do” Milford Sound for almost nothing, once you’re there.
Fly to Queenstown and hop on an InterCity bus (intercity.co.nz) to Milford Sound (around six hours). The 33-mile Milford Track hike has become almost too popular, but it’s still a great introduction for first-time visitors. A maximum of 90 walkers can start the trail per day. Sutherland Falls is a 90-minute (return) walk from Quintin Public Shelter on the Milford Track.
The track ends at Sandfly Point on the water’s edge, where there’s a 15-minute ferry ride to Milford Sound township. For details see newzealand.com.
Where to stay
Independent walkers must spend the night at one of three huts: Clinton, Mintaro and Dumpling Huts ($110pp per night in dorms). The season runs October to April (book at booking.doc.govt.nz). Camping is not permitted along the track.
Rock-hewn city of Petra
Petra is one of those places that is even more impressive in real life than in artfully composed photos. The Unesco-listed site is Jordan’s number-one tourist attraction, hitting 1 million visitors in 2019, but is big enough not to feel cramped. Tombs, temples and a Roman-style theatre evoke how important and affluent Petra was during its apogee between the 1st centuries BC and AD. The eastern entrance leads you through a narrow cleft in the rock known as the siq (the “shaft”). On exiting, you’re greeted by Petra’s centrepiece, the Treasury, with its elegant facade carved out of red sandstone.
Most people see Petra on a hurried day trip, but it’s worth a couple of days, and can be combined with Wadi Rum and Aqaba, or Amman, Jordan’s underrated capital. Avoid midsummer, when it is busiest.
Take a bus from Amman (148 miles) or Aqaba (80 miles). Local minibuses are cramped and slow, so opt for the air-conditioned JETT buses (jett.com.jo; JD10), departing Amman at 6.30am and reaching Petra in 3-4 hours. Catch the return bus at 5pm or, better still, stay a night or two. From Aqaba the JETT takes three hours (JD15 one way).
Where to stay
A hostel or hotel in Wadi Musa, the closest town. A twin room at the basic Rafiki hostel (via hostelworld.com), less than a mile from the site, costs from £32.81.
The Daily Telegraph