Interview: Getaway’s Catriona Rowntree talks underrated destinations, TravelCard and more

It’s safe to say that when it comes to travel Catriona Rowntree, rightfully referred to as the country’s “Most Travelled Woman” and famed as the bubbly presenter of Getaway, is an authority. She’s been leaping from country to country for years now, and so an opportunity to pick her brain about travel isn’t to be taken lightly. The AU Review recently had a chance to discuss some modern travel trends with Rowntree, who has just come on board as the ambassador for intriguing new real-time travel insurance company TravelCard and was happy to shed some light on a few lesser known destinations, both domestic and abroad, that we should all be paying more attention to as we move into 2019.

Time and time again research has been showing just how adventurous Australians are when it comes to travel, compared to those from other countries, what do you think are the main reasons for this from what you’ve seen and experienced?

Too much Vitamin D! We can’t help ourselves, being from an island nation with so much sun we are natural optimists, with a curiosity for anything beyond our backyard. We’ve never been told we cannot do something, so we’ve no reason to hold back, we are so blessed. I’ve never gone anywhere in the world and not been recognised by Aussies. From Base Camp Everest, to The North Pole: ‘Hi Catriona, I always knew I’d run into you here.’ It’s a common line for me to hear and it just makes me think, ‘us Aussies are just passionate about travel.’

And of course, Aussies are always looking for slightly offbeat experiences. What are some in particular that you think are absolutely essential for Aussies to seek out?

The Kimberley had me in tears earlier this year, just so naturally beautiful, The Tarkine in Tassie had the same effect on me and then I’d encourage everyone to jump in the car and explore our regional towns. The moment you leave the city, you’re enveloped by optimism, fresh air does that to you and we just have so much to offer in our country towns.

There’s always so much debate other what is the next “it” destination. Which destination(s) do you think should be at the top of that argument?

I do think the wilderness regions of The Yukon in Canada, and Alaska are having a moment. This is facilitated by reality shows like Alaskan Bush People and Ice Road Truckers. Having just been there, it’s real, it’s fascinating and they’ve got their heads around tourism. We are experiencing an era of ‘the cultural explorer’ where people are searching for authenticity. I spoke about this on camera while in Whitehorse, and just after I said my piece a Mumma bear and her two cubs rolled (literally) out of the woods. I loved it!

A big interest here at the AU review is how much cities change each year. From your experience, what cities have changed the most every time you return?

New York has had a big Wet One wipe its way through the city, you can’t even toot a horn here without getting in trouble. Melbourne has the opposite problem. I’m sad to say that I’ve seen some South American cities like Buenos Aires, Rio and Acapulco ebb and flow, but history shows us they will bounce back. Hobart is just kicking butt big time; Hobartians are on a roll with thanks to MONA, just don’t try and buy bargain real estate there – that ship has sailed.

And you’ve recently come on board as Brand Ambassador for TravelCard, which seems like a significant disruption to the travel insurance industry. What attracted you to the idea and how will it be particularly valuable for Aussie travellers?

Because I’ve been in the situation of ‘I need help and I need it now, no I don’t have my receipts from 3 years ago and I can’t wait for help until l return from my trip and have to prove my innocence to the company I’ve paid to help me.’ Yep, travel insurance can get us quite emotional and we need ‘real time’ help from people who are supportive, not judgmental. I like their sense of kindness, I like that they can help me immediately – I can speak to someone on the phone who is supportive and not dodging my phone call. I just really like their style.

And why do you think it’s taken this long for something like this, which is vastly different to the usual insurance process, to come along?

The company began from a real-life experience from the owner being treated very badly whilst ill overseas. He vowed to make it easier for others, for no one to ever experience what he had and that drive for authenticity has led to success for this new form of Travel Insurance. Personally, I’ve been on both sides, where I’ve also been treated badly by other travel insurance companies, and I’ve found Travel Card to be a refreshing change when I was ‘in a spot of bother’ recently. I welcome the supportive treatment of their customers.

Finally, all this talk about international travel sometimes overshadows just how much we have in our own backyard. What destinations in Australia do you think deserve more attention?

My family and I are always planning our next trip, though always local and for Australia you really don’t need to plan too much. Phillip Island has us excited for next school holidays, with all its penguins and great fishing; we cannot wait to head to Darwin for the heat (and markets), I loved the night-time markets in Broome earlier this year too after our trip to The Kimberley; we spent Australia Day in Hay and Deniliquin (I love a regional town for Australia Day as they are so appreciative of their community and backyard). We leave for Hamilton Island soon where we are so excited by all the activities and hope to hire a boat. Last Easter we hired a Halvorsen on The Hawkesbury – we really do have an embarrassment of riches right here in our own backyard.

Feature image: The Yukon, Canada.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.