Travel

Why Santa Fe Is the Perfect Repeat Vacation Destination

One travel writer's case for visiting a favorite city again and again, when you just can't get enough.

DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images
DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images
DenisTangneyJr/E+/Getty Images

Swapping gas station protein bars for the green chiles and blue corn of Santa Fe was a very necessary decision. After half a year on the road, travelling full-time in an RV, I needed to pull over. A lifestyle that once felt freeing can, at times, become suffocating and lonely. But Santa Fe emerged ahead of me like an adobe-clad mirage in the sun-scorched desert of New Mexico. The city felt like a refreshing sanctuary against a backdrop of rugged solitude.

Santa Fe was the right place to hit the brakes-and it became a place to reroute to many times over the years. Some destinations aren’t meant for just a passing glance, some places become a home away from home: a vacation you can put on repeat.

It seems more people are falling in love with vacation spots they can return to again and again, whether in a big city on another coast, a tropical island swathed in sunshine and sea air, or a cozy cottage in a forest. For me, it’s a desert city. I’d travelled much of the USA in my RV since 2018, falling in love with national parks, Disney World, and unexpected cities from coast to coast. But few places connected with me like Santa Fe.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

The New Mexican city has so many huge and tiny discoveries that take time to explore. Pint-sized doughnut shops serve up green chile fritters and lavender-glazed blue corn. Generations-old turquoise and leather boot shops fill the historic adobe buildings of downtown, preserved in time thanks to strict architectural codes. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum puts the modernist artist’s love for New Mexico on full floral display. Meow Wolf looms like an otherworldly labyrinth that feels part escape room, part Wonderland, and part haunted house, where laundry machines turn into slides and treehouses glow with plants that look straight out of Avatar. Gnarly, cacti-strewn deserts are surrounded by the types of dusty communities you typically only hear about on true crime podcasts. Panoramic hiking trails wind through the piñon-scented Santa Fe National Forest. And views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains hover above it all. Whether it’s your first time or your whole lifetime, Santa Fe has an undeniable shimmer.

Appreciation for vacation spots like these only increases over time, which was exactly my experience. In some ways, it was lucky I was already in my RV when, a few years later, the COVID pandemic hit. When I slammed the brakes on my road trip plans to hunker down someplace that felt comfortable and safe, there was Santa Fe again. While I couldn’t go out to restaurants or museums, I could hole up for a couple months in my favourite RV park, binge Agatha Christie books in my hammock, or hike up Atalaya Peak, whose arduous ascent never ceases to culminate with jaw-dropping views of the adobe-filled valley. The city was ready to be my refuge during uncertain times.

Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico
Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico

That protective feeling isn’t just pandemic related-it’s a sentiment that often resonates in deeper ways for queer people, who’ve historically struggled to find a sense of home. More than bare-minimum comforts and inclusion, the urge to connect with a place that feels as safe as it does inspiring becomes pivotal.

As a gay man who wears his Pride on his sleeve (and in his pink-dyed hair), this urge for homey sanctuary has been a struggle as long as I can remember, driving through rural settings that made me feel like I was wearing a bullseye simply by being me. But with its inclusive community, where even non-queer-centric spaces like the El Rey Court motel feature recurring Pride events, it’s clear that The City Different indeed hits different.

My repeat vacation spot was a thrill as a rosy-eyed tourist, a reprieve from long travel days spent white-knuckling an RV I barely learned how to drive, a much-needed siesta from weary road trips, then a refuge during the pandemic, and eventually a city that’s held me through my eventual divorce.

Unsplash/Maddy Baker
Unsplash/Maddy Baker
Unsplash/Maddy Baker

Many of my initial memories here were connected to my ex-husband. Some were glossy and unvarnished, others were hard. But the city goes on, and shows me how to as well. I’ve since been able to return anew, creating my own memories and feeling rejuvenated as someone who has not only survived in Santa Fe, but thrived.

Santa Fe nourished me during solo travels, soothing wounds and connecting me to myself-and now it’s a place to celebrate new moments of my life with my new fiance. Future Santa Fe is now a place for my mini-honeymoon, horseback riding, sharing green chile and bison meatballs, and basking by the fire pits, beckoning a beautiful new era for a place I can continue to share with my soon-to-be husband.

Repeat vacation destinations transcend mere R&R or bucket-list goals. They’re places that feel both nostalgic and exciting, at once providing heart-warming routine while being refreshingly faraway, where you can feel like a part-time resident and someone looking to break new boundaries. There’s always room to create new memories, to grow with the city. Repeat vacation destinations like this, when they continue to inspire and comfort through all of life’s journeys, just hit different.

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Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He’s the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog, podcast, and app. Follow him on Instagram.

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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