PHOTOS: (AUCKLAND) CHRIS MCLENNAN; (DUBAI) VLAD IVANOV; (DOHA) COURTESY OF QATAR TOURISM; (ALL OTHERS) ISTOCKPHOTO
Epic Outdoor Adventure
Auckland, New Zealand
8,184 miles (15 hours) on Air New Zealand
WHAT’S NEWLaunching November 30 on slick Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, Air New Zealand’s nonstop flight to Auckland (from $1,492) marks the first-ever direct route from the Midwest to Australasia.
WHAT TO DONew Zealand’s biggest city is the perfect jumping-off point for adventures on the country’s North Island. Surf the waves at Raglan’s famed Ngarunui Beach, cycle the mostly off-road loop connecting over a dozen wineries on the Hawke’s Bay Wine Trail, and ogle the stars at Great Barrier Island, an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Splurge on a night or two at the ultraluxe Helena Bay Lodge (from $1,835), tucked into a dreamy stretch of shoreline on the island’s northern coast; starting in February, the hotel will offer private dives and sunset views from a yacht. If wanderlust still beckons, hop a ferry from Wellington to the wild and mountainous South Island. New Zealand may claim to be the birthplace of bungee jumping, but the newest thrill is the Nevis Catapult, which launches you in a pod 492 feet over the Nevis Valley floor.
WHEN TO GOMarch through May, or October through November, for mild to warm weather, fewer crowds, and better round-trip fares
City in a Garden
Hong Kong, China
7,794 miles (16 hours) on Cathay Pacific and United
WHAT’S NEWCathay Pacific ($622) opened a plush teak-and-bamboo-accented lounge called the Deck at Hong Kong International Airport in March.
WHAT TO DOHere’s something you seldom hear about this famously dense and cosmopolitan city: It’s loaded with beaches, jungle-covered hills , and county parks, which cover 40 percent of the territory. Start with a scenic hike up Victoria Peak, which offers commanding views of the city, or a walk along the mountainous Dragon’s Back trail, with its breathtaking panorama of Big Wave Bay. A prime sea-level pleasure is hiring a junk — a traditional Chinese sailboat — for a ride to beach-fringed Lantau Island, where you can embark on an excursion to see pink dolphins. Imbibe Hong Kong’s more urbane refinements in the evening: The boutique hotel Ovolo Southside (from $118) boasts a new rooftop bar and rises above the restaurants and shops of the burgeoning Wong Chuk Hang neighborhood.
WHEN TO GOOctober through March, when pleasant weather meets reasonable room rates
Tracing Roots of Mankind
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
7,577 miles (14 hours) on Ethiopian
WHAT’S NEWEthiopian Airlines (from $1,100) inaugurated Chicago’s first-ever direct flight to Africa in June. One small catch: The return flight isn’t technically nonstop; the 787-8 makes a quick touchdown in Dublin to refuel.
WHAT TO DOThis East African country is a cradle not just of early Christianity but of the human race itself. Let Illinois-based luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent lead the way on its 11-day Historic Route & Simien Mountains tour (from $7,495). You’ll visit the source of the Blue Nile, the 3.2-million-year-old bones of the famed Australopithecus known as Lucy, the Simien Mountains (a World Heritage Site), and the range’s fantastic gelada baboons (found nowhere else on earth). The tour also includes castles, palaces, and early Christian churches, including one rumored to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. The all-inclusive, 18-person tour starts and ends in Addis Ababa, one of Africa’s most dynamic cities.
WHEN TO GOOctober, for the still-green start of dry season
7,484 miles (14.5 hours) on Air India
WHAT’S NEWNot a lot — yet. Air India (from $1,030) is Chicago’s sole nonstop carrier, but newly improved pricing agreements for U.S. airlines give reason to hope for more options.
WHAT TO DOIndia’s capital — especially the old city — offers a feast of historical and cultural treasures. Get a feel for the place with a rickshaw ride through the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk and a visit to the massive Jama Masjid mosque and the Mughal Empire’s 17th-century Red Fort. In New Delhi — as the capital district is often called — check out Humayun’s Tomb, which is said to have inspired the Taj Mahal; behold the tallest brick minaret in the world at the Qutab Minar mosque; or linger in the public esplanades surrounding the British-designed India Gate, perhaps the city’s most visible vestige of India’s colonial era. Want to feel comfortably ensconced in modernity? Book a room at the freshly refurbished Oberoi, New Delhi (from $157).
WHEN TO GOMarch through April, for lighter crowds, lower humidity, and spring blossoms
7,457 miles (15 hours) on EVA
WHAT’S NEWEVA recently boosted frequency during selected months to five flights weekly (from $1,280); the carrier has also introduced Hello Kitty–branded luggage tags, pillows, cutlery — even air-sickness bags.
WHAT TO DOA popular Taiwanese saying is “Eat often and eat well.” And indeed the city is a street-eats paradise, with some 20 thoroughfares given over to food stalls and cheap restaurants. Must-dos include Yong Kang Street for bubble tea and mango shaved ice, the handmade soup dumplings from the original Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road, and the Tonghua Night Market in the Da’an District, which makes for a comparatively relaxed and less claustrophobic experience (an adventurous highlight there is ordering the long-fermented “stinky” tofu at Ya Kou). The Grand Hyatt Taipei (from $213) offers a comfortable respite from the cacophony, and it’s connected via an outdoor walkway to the Taipei 101 Observatory and its skyline panoramas.
WHEN TO GODecember, when temperatures hover in the 60s and the weather is dry
Abu Dhabi, UAE
7,276 miles (13.5 hours) on Etihad
WHAT’S NEWEtihad’s economy cabin (from $1,084) can feel special with recently added options like a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne for $8 and Omorovicza skin care kits for $22.
WHAT TO DOThe United Arab Emirates has poured immense resources into upping its capital city’s cultural cachet. The pièce de résistance is the shimmery, Jean Nouvel–designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, which mimics overlapping desert palm trees to create a sheltering dome. Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi — the highest-priced artwork ever to sell at auction, at $450.3 million — was unveiled at the museum in September and joins another permanent piece by Leonardo, La Belle Ferronnière. For an equally impressive — and more locally rooted — cultural experience, visit the gleaming white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a massive place of worship with 82 domes and chandeliers gilded in 24-karat gold.
WHEN TO GOApril through May, or September; shoulder seasons bring fewer crowds and manageable temps.
7,246 miles (13.5 hours) on Emirates
WHAT’S NEWByredo skin care products, Bowers & Wilkins noise-canceling headphones, and Bulgari perfume are the latest perks for passengers in Emirates’ first and business classes (from $6,036 for business, $1,251 for economy).
WHAT TO DOHome to the tallest building in the world, one of the world’s largest indoor malls, and a towering indoor ski slope, this desert metropolis trades in superlatives. The latest competitors in this luxe arms race? Hotels. The brand-new Al Seef Hotel by Jumeirah was built within a souk-like market along a series of interconnected rooftops and courtyards (from $68). Drift, a beach club at One&Only Royal Mirage (from $1,263), brings Beverly Hills glamour to the doorstep of 10 ultrafancy poolside suites. And at Atlantis the Palm (from $345), perched at the edge of Dubai’s eye-popping manmade archipelago, you can practice hatha yoga amid the rays and sharks in the Lost Chambers Aquarium.
WHEN TO GOJanuary through February, for nonscorching temps
7,133 miles (13 hours) on Qatar
WHAT’S NEWIn April, Qatar Airways (from $800) revealed its new Qsuite business-class seat featuring an onboard double bed, a first, as well as private cabins for four (from $4,000).
WHAT TO DOLike Dubai and Abu Dhabi, its Persian Gulf neighbors, Doha is a glittering desert playground frequented by expats. But in this case, the experience offered by the city connects better to its roots. The Souq Waqif market abounds with hand-painted textiles, noisily bartering merchants, and — in a country where falconry is practically a national sport — a falcon hospital. You can also book camel rides in the desert, take dune buggy rides (think high speeds and white knuckles), and puff on a hookah alongside Qatar’s inland sea, the UNESCO-listed Khor Al Adaid (excursions start at $85 with Arabian Adventures Qatar). You can even sleep like a Bedouin (sort of) in an exceedingly comfortable tent at the five-star Regency Sealine Camp (from $220).
WHEN TO GOJanuary through February, for constant yet tolerable sunshine
7,057 miles (14.5 hours) on China Eastern and United
WHAT’S NEWUnited (from $1,160) introduced its Polaris business class (from $3,477), with sleek, pod-like seats, for long-haul flights in 2016.
WHAT TO DOOver the past couple of decades, the growth and urbanization of this city of 24 million — China’s economic juggernaut — has been staggering. There may be no better place to witness its results than from the Peninsula Shanghai (from $625), a hotel that stands directly across the river from the sparkling skyscrapers of the Lujiazui financial district. You can trace Shanghai’s fascinating development at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a five-story museum devoted entirely to the city’s construction and expansion, from ancient times to present. Want to get a visceral sense of the speed of change in Shanghai? Ride the city’s maglev commuter rail system, the world’s fastest electric train, which reaches 268 miles per hour.
WHEN TO GOOctober through November, to experience the region’s brief but beautiful autumn
6,579 miles (13.5 hours) on Hainan and United
WHAT’S NEWThe number of carriers to the Chinese capital is dropping from three to two (American discontinues its route in October), but Hainan (from $1,134) now offers more capacity thanks to a recent upgrade from a 213-seat 787-8 to a 288-seat 787-9.
WHAT TO DOTiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City: Experiencing these three iconic destinations on a single trip can be life changing. Start with a visit to the famed site of the 1989 crackdown, a locale that remains in many ways a living symbol of government control: Uniformed guards patrol the area, watching for unauthorized photography and listening for subversive talk. By contrast, the Forbidden City, a vast palace complex dating to the 15th century, evinces the serene yet voluptuous sensibilities of the Qing dynasty. And just an hour-and-a-half drive from Beijing stands one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall. Called Mutianyu, it arches dramatically over the rolling landscape, becoming luminescent at sunset. Make the Opposite House (from $334), in the Sanlitun shopping and dining district, your home base; the hotel offers a mod, minimalist sanctuary from the noisy, vehicle-choked streets.
WHEN TO GOSeptember through November, for clearer skies and pleasant fall temps topping out in the 70s