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Life-changing travel

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Feeling the earth move in New Zealand (Patrick Elligett, Night Editor)

Debris are piled up as the clean up operWithin 12 hours of arriving in Christchurch, my holiday plans came tumbling down around my ears – quite literally.

After a few hours’ shut-eye, I set off to get my bearings, memorising the local landmarks, before parking myself at a computer back at the hotel to book a few adventures.

First, the power went out. Then, the windows shattered as the earthquake shook the room. Still reeling, I eventually stumbled out of the hotel and saw the carnage that surrounded me. The cathedral tower I had climbed just 15 minutes earlier had collapsed.

Acts of kindness that would normally be considered exceptional were commonplace in Christchurch for the week after the earthquake. People fed lost tourists, welcomed displaced people into their own home, comforted distraught strangers.

When you’re forced to evacuate with nothing but the clothes on your back – as I was – every small act of generosity has a profound impact.

It restored a little bit of my faith in humanity.

Patrick’s tip: If you are faced with a travel crisis, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro completely unprepared (Gigi Silk, digital producer)

10433518_10152423539520851_1042891814_oLast year I decided to try climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. I’m the first to admit I was unprepared: my boots were leather lace-ups from Bendigo that had holes in the soles that I’d duct-taped two weeks beforehand and my jacket was from Country Road.

The first few days of the climb were straightforward with my guide and I just plodding up the mountain. I’ve done some rough and physically horrendous things in my life but the summit climb was something else: six hours of breathlessness at altitude, on a vertical sand trail or scrambling over rocks, all in the middle of the night while freezing in my Australian “winter” jacket, exhausted and starving.

When I reached that peak I realised two things: firstly that I had earned every moment of watching the sun rise over the Serengeti. And secondly that determination, pure stubbornness and not allowing yourself to even consider giving up will get you further than you ever thought.

Gigi’s tip: Plan, prepare and read some forums about the area before you leave.

Eating a meal that made me cry in Bali (Melissa Mack, reporter)

photoI love food. So when I kept reading about Cuca in Jimbaran Bay in Bali, I was intrigued. But nothing prepared me for what was to come when we left our dinner in the hands of the chef and the enigmatic “shared plates”. Each course nearly brought me to tears.

I can still taste the soft chargrilled octopus, the sharp sweetness of roast baby carrot with pickled strawberries. Somewhere around dessert, a sublime chocolate mousse and lemon curd meringue, I lost my cool.

Then I (only half-jokingly) proposed to Cuca on Instagram. It accepted, right before hosting the Obamas for lunch.

Melissa’s tip: Choose the chef’s tasting meal menu and let the restaurant pick for you. Then meet the chef and pay your respects.

Exploring Paleolithic cave art in France (Felicity Marshall, Money editor)

A picture taken on September 16, 2010 shIn my late 20s I was fortunate enough to spend a week exploring cave art in the Dordogne Valley in France’s south-west.

The experience of getting up close to picture of a mammoth – drawn by someone who actually SAW a mammoth – is literally breathtaking. Even though the cave paintings I saw are estimated to be around 20,000 years old, it is clear as soon as you see them that their creators are modern humans in every sense of the word.

The images aren’t just primitive scribbles on a cave wall – they’re art, drawn by people who wanted to leave their mark, make sense of the world around them and create something of beauty.

Pablo Picasso, on visiting the most famous of the caves, Lascaux, in the 1940s, is reported to have said, “We have invented nothing”.

Seeing the cave art leaves you in wonder about what it is to be human.

Felicity’s tip: While the original cave is now closed to the public, there is an amazing replica cave next door. The best bit, though, is that there are less famous caves dotted throughout the area that you can still get into. Go with a native French speaker (there is very little English signage) and do your research beforehand.

Seeing the sun set over the Taj Mahal in India (Ebony Bowden, reporter)

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 1.22.08 pmAs our plane started its descent into New Delhi, my best friends and I asked with sweaty palms what the hell we had gotten ourselves in for.

Everyone we spoke to – even locals – seemed to tell us that India was dangerous, dirty and no place for four young women.

But stepping in cow poo, getting food poisoning and being scammed more than I would like to count were all worth it as soon as I stepped into the view of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

More majestic than a sparkling Eiffel Tower, I stood marvelling at the beauty of this luminous monument to love for hours. I’m already planning to go back.

Ebony’s tip: Be respectful of the culture by dressing appropriately. Cover your shoulders and legs and don’t wear anything too ostentatious. Learning a few Hindi words will also go a long way and put a smile on the faces of the people you meet.

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