Travel

Why You Should Be Gifting Experiences This Year, Not Things

A gift they actually want.

best experience gifts
Photo: @ashleydobson

We won’t talk about the dumpster fire of a year (or two) we’ve had, but we will talk about all the things we’ve missed and can gift to a friend or family member this year. Let’s face it, we all have stuff. We all might have gone a little overboard on online shopping too, so why bother buying more stuff for someone. Instead, consider buying them an experience. If there was one thing we were deprived of the last two years, is experiences. The chance to travel interstate, to visit a winery, to partake in a cooking class. It’s the experiences we missed the most, and this Christmas we’re gifting experiences, not things. Still not convinced? Here are three reasons to gift an experience, and some ideas for every type of person in your life.

Experiences create memories

How many presents have you received that you’ve never used? Your kids probably have toy boxes overflowing with toys, so instead of giving yet another reason to buy more storage, opt-in for an animal experience at the zoo, or the chance to take them on a tall ship cruise. It’s these types of experiences that create memories that will last a lifetime.

Give the gift of time

Being unable to see the extended family has been hard for most, so why not give a gift that allows you to share an experience with others. Whether you want to gift a romantic experience for two, or an adventurous tour for four, there’s a gift for every thrill-seeker and food-loving member in your life. You can treat your mum to a seafood buffet, or take your auntie skydiving.

Give the gift of a lifetime

Speaking of skydiving, gifting experiences help your giftee tick off a bucket list item, whether it be driving a V8 car, swimming with sharks, or taking a hot air balloon ride. There is no better feeling than giving a gift that helps someone achieve a dream. After all, you might not be able to pay off their mortgage, but you can help them enjoy a helicopter ride over Uluru, or bungee jumping in New Zealand.

Here’s a gift idea for every type of person in your life from RedBalloon, where you can buy vouchers, which are valid for five years.

best experience gifts
Photo: @lorenarabbani

For the thrill-seeker

Warbird Aerobatic Flight
Strap in and feel the Gs, this supercharged aerobic flight experience is guaranteed to give the thrill-seeker In your life chills. Thye will take to the skies in an ex-military fighter plane just like in Top Gun. There is an expert pilot who will fly you over Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay, performing aerobatic manoeuvres at rapid speed. Buy here.

For the wine lover

Penfolds make your own wine
If you have a friend that is always picking the wine at dinner, why not give them a chance to blend their own wine. This interactive experience at Penfolds Barossa Valley allows them to blend their own delicious drop using grenache, shiraz, and Mataro, before bottling it to take home. Buy here.

For the foodie

Molecular Gastronomy Class
For that friend who is always ahead of the food game, gift them this three-hour gastronomy experience. The hands-on masterclass combines science and food to transform the tastes and textures of food. They will learn to make olive oil soil, coconut panna cotta, and more. Buy here.

For the extravagant friend

Rainforest retreat with breakfast and wine
Gift your boujee friends a two-night stay in a luxury retreat, complete with breakfast and wine. Nestled in the beautiful Tweed Valley, this creekside cabin is surrounded by pristine Australian rainforest. They will be welcomed by rose petals, 20 candles and a bottle of wine. Start each day with a delicious, hearty breakfast delivered straight to their door. Buy here.

For the stargazer

Pinnacles stargazing, sunset dinner and wildlife tour
For the friend who is always in the stars, gift them this extraordinary experience, stargazing in the Pinnacles Desert. The tour includes a picnic dinner by the limestone formations, and a visit to Yanchep National Park, where they will wander the gardens, and spot Australian wildlife. Buy here.

For the city dweller

Sydney Harbour helicopter flight
We all have that city dweller friend who refuses to leave their city, so why not gift them a new perspective. This helicopter flight will take them over the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Bondi Beach, and the cities spectacular skyline. Buy here.


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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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