When used together, the words ‘health’ and ‘holiday’ might conjure up images of an isolated retreat where no calorie goes uncounted and a request for a glass of wine will get you nothing but a cup of green tea and a dirty look. But there are plenty of vacation destinations where being active is just a welcome bonus on top of going on an adventure, getting cultural or just having a really good time.
Whether you’re a dedicated yogi, addicted to the adrenalin rush, or love that #cleaneating life, there’s a holiday that won’t leave you five kilos heavier or undo months of hard work in the gym – and you can still enjoy a glass of wine after the day’s activities, no judgement.
Budget: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
This one-day hike in New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park is challenging but definitely doable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. Located on the North Island just south of Lake Taupo, the 20-kilometre trail will take you through the craggy peaks and crater lakes of a volcanic, almost other-worldly landscape.
Mid-range: The Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
The Kalalau Trail on the island of Kauai, which goes through five lush, tropical valleys along the Na Pali coast might be the most breathtaking of all Hawaii’s hiking trails. It’s possible to complete the 35-kilometre trip in one day, but most choose to camp overnight (you’ll need a permit). You can also do a shorter version, hiking the first three kilometres of the track to end at Hanakapi’ai Beach, and if you like, you can push on for a further three kilometres to take a dip in Hanakapi’ai waterfall.
Blow out: Tour du Mont Blanc, France, Switzerland and Italy
Don’t be intimidated that this long-distance trail – which circles the Mont Blanc massif mountain range – is 170 kilometres long, takes nine to 14 days and passes through France, Switzerland and Italy. While it is an epic undertaking, you can stay in towns along the route each night and enjoy comfortable accommodation and gourmet meals, so you don’t need to carry a tent or food, or go without a shower.
Budget: Om Ham Resort & Retreat, Ubud, Bali
With its slow pace and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder Ubud has become a hub for yoga, meditation and detox retreats. But the area’s popularity has also pushed costs up. Om Ham offers reasonably priced retreats, with a three-night stay for as little as $400, which includes accommodation, all meals, yoga classes and a spa treatment.
Mid-range: Purple Valley Yoga, Goa, India
India is mecca for any yogi, but the amount of schools and retreats differing in style and price can be overwhelming. Purple Valley Yoga in Goa on the beaches of the country’s stunning west coast welcomes both beginners and advanced practitioners, and has fast Wi-Fi, detox juices and ayurvedic spa treatments. Prices vary depending on the teacher and time of year, but expect to pay around $1000 a week, which includes accommodation, all classes and three vegetarian meals a day.
Blow out: Miraval Resort & Spa, Arizona, USA
Constantly rated as one of the world’s best spa properties, guests are said to leave Miraval in the Santa Catalina Mountains outside Tuscon, Arizona feeling like a new person. The rates might make you wince, but the all-inclusive packages include unlimited, expertly prepared healthy cuisine, an array of activities including horse riding, hiking, yoga and meditation, and exquisite spa treatments are also available.
Budget: Queenstown, New Zealand
Frequent, affordable flights across the ditch mean what you save on airfare by visiting New Zealand instead of destinations further afar, you can spend on activities such as skydiving, mountaineering, or white-water rafting. You’ll be having so much fun – or maybe be so terrified – that you’ll barely notice you’re on an active holiday.
Mid-range: Patagonia, Chile
Qantas’ Sydney – Santiago direct flight has made Chile a far more realistic holiday destination for Australians. Take a three-hour flight from Santiago down to Punta Arenas and you’re on the doorstep of Patagonia. Torres del Paine national park is the must-see spot, with its crystal-clear lakes and snow-capped peaks. There’s a guided tour on offer for every budget, amount of time and fitness level.
Blow out: Greenland
Visiting Greenland and the arctic ice sheet is easier than ever thanks to companies like Natural Habitat Tours. Stay in their luxury, eco campsite to explore the surrounds via all-day hikes through the tundras, kayaking on the inlets (a humpback whale might even pass by) and visit Inuit villages. A rare experience worth every cent.
Vietnamese cuisine is not only light (most of the time) and flavour-packed, but arguably the most wallet-friendly foodie destination around. You’ll find delicious fare throughout the country, but northern city Hanoi and coastal town Hoi An are considered the food capitals. A steaming hot bowl of pho topped with fresh herbs is Hanoi’s speciality, meanwhile in Hoi An, the seafood is plentiful, and the Banh Bao Vac (also called ‘white rose dumplings’) is a spiritual experience for your taste buds.
All Japanese cuisine isn’t waistline-friendly (looking at you, gyoza), but the population has one of the world’s longest life expectancies for a reason. Japan is a favourite of clean eaters thanks to nutritious menu mainstays sashimi, broths and hiyayakko, which is tofu typically topped with daikon, grated ginger or mustard.
Blow out: Greece
Greece is a dream for those that love to eat clean. Whether you head to the Cyclades islands – home to Santorini and Mykonos among many others – or the Ionian Sea where popular spots include Corfu and Paxos, you can bet on more fresh seafood than you can handle, salad with every meal, mouth-watering olives and the richest, creamiest Greek yoghurt you’ve ever tasted.
Budget: San Francisco, USA
San Fran isn’t normally what you’d call a budget destination, but the incredible NFC Court public workout station overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge is free to use. This enormous outdoor gym has over 30 pieces of equipment and shock-resistant floors, and did we mention the view? It should be on any gym junkie’s bucket list.
Mid-range: Tokyo, Japan
Is it any wonder the Japanese have mastered high-tech fitness? The biggest workout trend in Tokyo right now is bouldering, and there are many futuristic rock-climbing venues to try. The wall at Illoiha Omotesando Fitness Gym is a surreal space that looks like something out of Alice In Wonderland, while B-Pump, with its dark rooms lit with neon is akin to a spaceship. Toning up has never been so strange (or fun).
Blow out: New York City, USA
New York is home to some of the world’s most innovative workouts. From Soul Cycle, a spin-class-meets-Pentecostal-church-sermon, to Asphalt Green, which offers circuit classes in a high-tech room where the walls respond to touch and timed lights act as visual cues that participants have to keep up with, the Big Apple is an opportunity to experience the forefront of fitness tech (and burn off all that pizza).
On two wheels
Budget: Qinghai Lake, China
Spend four to seven days cycling at an easy pace around Qinghai Lake in China, close geographically and culturally to Tibet. Qinghai is said to change colour depending on the time of day and weather conditions. The total route is 350 kilometres, and the well-maintained asphalt track makes for a smooth ride.
Mid-range: Blue Ridge Parkway, East Coast, USA
This 750-kilometre stretch of road begins in the state of Virginia and finishes in North Carolina. It was designed as a scenic highway for motorists but is also popular with experienced cyclists. The route takes you past national parks such as the Pisgah National Forest (with camping, waterfalls and hikes), and North Carolina city Asheville shouldn’t be missed – it has one of the country’s best craft beer scenes and plenty of southern, farm-to-table cuisine.
Blow out: Colle del Nivolet, French-Italian border
If you’ve fallen in love with the Alps after watching the Tour de France, cycling this picturesque area should be on your bucket list. There are countless roads and routes to choose from here, but the 50-kilometre stretch called Colle del Nivolet on the French-Italian border, at an altitude of 2,641 at its highest point, might offer the most stunning views. A challenging ride best for experienced cyclists only, it’s often closed due to weather conditions depending on the time of year, so check before you go.
Budget: Lake Tahoe, California, USA
Just a four-hour flight from Los Angeles, winter ski spot Lake Tahoe is a little closer for Australians than Utah or Colorado. Diamond Peak Resort’s all-day lift passes are a little more affordable than other spots, and the accommodation at iconic The Tahoe Biltmore hotel is reasonably priced, with rooms starting at $60 a night.
Mid-range: Niseko, Japan
Hitting the slopes in Japan is a fantastic opportunity to experience a new culture, all while hounding the powder. Niseko, on the northern Hokkaido island, has slopes for all ability levels and is known for its friendly hospitality. Hop an internal flight from Tokyo to Sapporo’s Chitose Airport (90 minutes) or the bullet train (eight hours).
Blow-out: Aspen, Colorado
If you want to ski or snowboard in style, Aspen is the place to do it. Not only does it offer world-class facilities and plenty of variety in terrain across its four mountains, but the apres ski scene – that is, the social scene after a day on the slopes – is one of the most glamorous around: think sipping champagne in a hot tub and probably finding someone famous sitting next to you. Aspen also offers hot air ballooning, day spas and a historic downtown to explore, as well as top-notch restaurants and bars.
Budget: Sri Lanka
Travellers are returning to Sri Lanka after the decades of war that once made it unsafe to visit came to end in 2009. Its emerging tourism scene means it’s still a relatively affordable holiday destination, and the country is becoming known for its wildlife experiences. After flying into Colombo, go on leopard safari in Yala National Park, see elephants being rehabilitated at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home and spot whales off the coast of Weligama from the end of December throughout the first half of April.
Medium-range: The Amazon, Peru
Ticking this one off the bucket list doesn’t have to be as expensive or complicated as you might think. Fly to Lima, Peru and take an internal flight to Iquitos or Tarapoto, which both serve as gateways to the Amazon. Journeys into the jungle can range from staying at an eco-resort for a few days and taking day trips in to explore, or weeks-long voyages deep inside. Either way, you’re likely to spot sloths, monkeys, and if you’re lucky – the unique pink river dolphin.
Blow out: South African safari
For animal lovers, seeing elephants, leopards, lions and more in their natural habitat on a South African safari has to be as good as it gets. It’s one of those special experiences that’s difficult to do on a budget given the distance and nature of the trip, so you might as well splurge. Kruger National Park has the greatest concentration of luxury lodges, most of which you can reach by flying to Johannesburg and then organising a private flight through your accommodation that will bring you to the nearest – a warning, probably tiny – airstrip.
Master martial arts
Budget: Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat, Thailand
Learn martial arts, including Chinese Kung Fu and self-defense, as well as meditation from Shaolin monks at Nam Yang Kung Fu Retreat in the mountains outside the town of Pai in northern Thailand. Courses range from intensive introductory programs in small groups to private tuition, and prices start from as little as $100 a day.
Mid-range: Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, China
If Tai-Chi and meditation is more your thing, a stay at Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy in Xinyi City in southern China will give you the foundation for learning the ancient exercise practice – and maintaining it once you get home. You’d better be dedicated, though; the minimum recommended stay is one month.
Blow out: Capoeira in Salvador, Brazil
There are schools teaching the Brazilian movement and dance discipline of capoeira all over the country, but the best place is where the tradition began – Salvador in the state of Bahia, a little over two hours flight north of Rio. It’s recommended to visit different schools and decide which to study with once you get there, as there’s nothing worse than being scammed, or turning up to realise it’s not right for you.
On your feet
Budget: Salsa and flamenco in Barcelona
A flight to Spain is a little hard on the hip pocket, but once you arrive prices can be reasonable, especially when it comes to the competitive market of dance schools. In Barcelona, organisations such as Camino Barcelona combine dance classes with Spanish language lessons, since you might want to be able to say something to your partner after hitting the dancefloor with them all night. Prices start at $400 a week.
Mid-range: Step dancing in Ireland
Traditional Irish step dancing is a one way to burn some calories, to be sure, to be sure. There are classes held across the country through local organisation Ceili, or US-based tour company Bare Feet Tours offers a dance-focused trip to Ireland.
Blow out: African dancing and drumming in Ghana
Fitness meets a life-changing cultural hit on an African dance and drumming tour, such as the one to Ghana by Australian company African Drumming. Located a couple of hours’ drive outside the capital, Accra, you’ll stay in a seaside eco-lodge and dance for at least four-and-a-half hours a day, as well as learn how to drum. Cultural excursion and volunteering opportunities are also available.
Qantas Assure is an insurance membership with access to a wellness program that allows you to track your activity, challenge your friends and be rewarded for being active, like walking. Earn up to 15,000 Qantas Points p.a. through the Qantas Assure App when you take out an Eligible Qantas Assure Product. Click here for more information.
Erin is a freelance writer currently travelling the world. Right now, she’s in the USA drinking too many free refills of Dr Pepper. She has edited the websites of magazines DOLLY, CLEO, Shop ‘Til You Drop and NW, and written for Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Dailymail.com and News.com.au. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @erinvandermeer