Escape to Gili Eco Villas

Leave the cars and paved roads behind, and come to a place where horse carts and snorkeling fins are the best way to get around. Gili Trawangan is in a string of islands off of Lombok, Indonesia and a world away. To embrace its charms and create a true getaway for family and friends, the founders of Gili Eco Villas built seven sustainable houses tucked away on the sunset side of the isle. It offers all the amenities of a hotel (full-service restaurant, pool, concierge, etc.) and home (kitchen, multiple bedrooms, balconies, and utter privacy). We stayed here three nights soaking up the island life and are counting the days until our return.

Our horse cart left the port, cutting through the jungle and coconut groves, and emerged at Gili Eco Villas beach-side retreat. We were shown under the bougainvillea arches to our two-story Joglos-style home.


We entered our open-air living room, looking out to the gardens and sea, and felt completely at home. The mix of modern and Indonesian decor was perfect with comfy rattan sofas, a teak dining area, and a full kitchen (plus, room service to indulge our laziness.)

The Gili Islands are sunny and warm most of the year (best months to visit are April-November) and the villas are designed to embrace the outdoors. To get to the second floor, the staircase runs along the outside of the house and onto a sweeping patio with two more bedrooms. Though each of the seven villas are different so you can find the style and size that suits you.

Spoiled for choice, we had both the Gili Eco Villas private beach and a shaded pool for swimming and relaxing. The pool pump is actually one of the only things that uses outside energy at this eco-friendly resort. They use wind and solar power wherever possible for minimal environmental impact.


When we saw these charming tables set up along the beach, we had to book a sunset dinner for two. Grilled prawns, fish curry, jasmine rice, and home-grown vegetables were a culinary delight. The fish was caught by local fisherman and Gili Eco Villas grows their own organic vegetables either in their garden or greenhouse for a wider selection of produce.


The next day we took out bikes (the only other form of island transport after horse cart and boat) and cycled the four-mile circumference of this tiny island. “Downtown” is a lively place with a mix of posh restaurants, beach bars, adventure outfitters, and funky shops which quickly fades to pristine beaches, jungle, and local villages.

8Gili T Snorkel

The Gilis are known for excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. We took a boat trip out to the neighboring isle of Gili Meno and spotted sea turtles, lion fish, box fish, Nemos, and more along the coral reef.


Any bed would have looked amazing after a full day of activity but the fragrant flower petals and ocean breeze wafting through our window made it a slice of heaven.

10 Gili T HoneyTrek

Gili T is an up-and-coming destination with more people discovering Indonesia’s best kept secret. As it gains popularity, sustainability is key and accommodations like Gili Eco Villas are the type of place you want to enjoy and support to protect paradise.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Keys to New Zealand: Maui Motorhomes

Imagine arriving to the shore of a glacial lake, surrounded by yellow poplar trees and snow-capped mountains and saying, “We’re home.” This my friends, is campervanning in New Zealand, where each night you stop at an absurdly gorgeous place, make a gourmet meal, open a bottle of Marlborough wine, and then wake up to a million-dollar view, free of charge. We carried on like this for 10 glorious in our Maui Ultima campervan—our luxury studio apartment on wheels—exploring the South Island’s mountains, glaciers, fjords, colonial towns, beaches, and alpine villages. There are so many exquisite and remote places to experience in New Zealand, that a rental car and a few hotel stays wasn’t going to cut it. With the ability to move at our own pace, go wherever inspired us, and have the amenities of home on hand, we found the keys to total freedom and adventure.

We picked up our two-berth Mercedes Sprinter with its spacious living area, efficient kitchen, full bathroom, ingenious storage, and modern accents and couldn’t believe how posh a campervan could be. Watch this video for the full tour of our faithful steed and mobile palace.


Our 1472-mile route was ambitious but there isn’t a single place on this itinerary we’d cut on this crazy clockwise loop. Starting with Christchurch, Lake Alexandrina, Mount Cook/Tasman Glacier, Oamaru, Moeraki Boulders, Dunedin, Otago Peninsula, Curio Bay, Catlins Conservation Park, Invercargill, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Lake Wanaka, Haast, Franz Josef Glacier, Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch.


We left Christchurch way later than expected so the new plan was to get as close to the world heritage site of Mount Cook National Park as possible before dark. We zoomed into our trusty Maps With Me app, trying to survey the digital landscape for a pretty place to sleep and found a spot overlooking Lake Alexandrina. In New Zealand it’s legal to “Freedom Camp,” which means if your vehicle has its own bathroom (like our Maui) and the land isn’t signposted, you can overnight park on public land. Freedom camping allowed us to wake up to views like this every day.


After admiring the tallest mountain in Australasia, we headed south on Canterbury’s Highway 8 going from snowy mountains to teal seas to the stunning city of Dunedin. We were dazzled by the Victorian and Edwardian architecture and lively vibe of this university town.

The Otago Pennisula, a 20-km long finger of land jutting off Dunedin has some of the best marine life and bird watching in the world with the albatross colonies, endangered yellow eyed penguins, hooker sea lions, sea elephants and more. We pulled over to watch some seals and made a seafood dinner in our fully equipped kitchen.


Continuing along the southern coastal roads into the Catlins, there were not only gorgeous beaches but Lord-of-the-Ring style podocarp forests. We took a hike to a waterfall and I could have sworn we saw a few hobbits darting between the moss-encrusted trees.

Every visitor that comes to the South Island has Fjordland National Park and its world-famous Milford Sound on his list. There is no freedom camping in the park so we stopped at Deer Flat campground in the shadow of the 5,000-foot mountains and made ourselves a hearty meal before hiking and kayaking the day away.

Milford Sound is said to be an 8th Wonder of the World and after our four-hour kayak expedition between the majestic mountains, hanging glaciers, and gushing waterfalls…we’d have to agree. Fjordland National Park is a wildly popular place, attracting plenty of tour buses, but with our campervan we were able to zip to the lesser known vistas and trails without the crowds.

10 Nevis Gorge

Our whirlwind road-trip continued to the Adventure Capital of Queenstown and its adrenaline effects immediately took hold. Within an hour of our arrival to this alpine town, we signed up to bungee jump, jet boat the Shotover river, and ride the world’s largest gorge swing. Maybe its the town’s hundreds of adventure activities on offer or the seductive nature of the Remarkable Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, but Queenstown got our heart racing like no other.

11 Drive to Glenorchy

We couldn’t leave Queenstown without a stop at the famous Fergburger for a Bambi—venison burger with spicy mango chutney. With full bellies we started our drive to Glenorchy, the hippy town at the head of Lake Wakitipu. It should have taken us 40 minutes but add in 20 photo stops to document the coastal gorgeousness and it took us close to two hours.

12 Lake Wanaka

Cruising back through Queenstown with our mouths agape, we made our way north to Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. These sister lakes aren’t nearly as popular as Wakatipu, but dear lord are they spectacular. Glacier-cut mountains shoot from all sides of the deep waters and no matter how many panoramics you take, you can’t fit all the beauty in.


Over the waterfalls of Haas Pass and out to the West Coast, we made our way towards Franz Josef Glacier. We took a helicopter ride to the top to the pristine white peaks but by just pulling our camper over, we got this view.

14 Franz Josef camping-HoneyTrek (1)

A friend recommended a campsite near the glacier but with our gas kitchen, solar panels, kitchen, and bathroom, we had no reason or desire to use these shared facilities. Instead we found a quiet spot in line with Franz Josef, fired up our slide-out BBQ, and enjoyed grilled lamb and red wine at our private table for two.

15-Lake Wanaka Picnic -HoneyTrek

We made our way back to Christchurch via the stunning Arthur’s Pass and couldn’t stop marveling at how much we saw in ten days. Our campervan saved us from booking hotels, having to pack up each day, and staying on the tourist track. It allowed us to truly explore the pristine South Island and discover a whole new way to travel the world.

Touching Tibet: Songstam, Meili

As close as you can get to Tibet without a separate visa, Meili snow mountains feels like a piece of the heavens. Though we traveled three days deep into Deqin to get here, Meili’s beauty is so accessible it felt too good to be true. Mountains like this usually don’t come without porters and oxygen tanks and they definitely don’t come with luxury hotels at their base… unless they are Songtsam Meili. Sitting at 12,000 feet in a rural Tibetan village, the hotel (that dot in the valley above) faces the virgin Meili mountain range, slashing through the sky at heights as high as 22,110 feet. Our time at Songtsam Meili let us into the remote world of Tibetan life and snow-capped beauty that no other hotel could.


The roads seemed to twist into knots all the way from great Buddhist monastery town of Benzilan to the five-family village of Gujiunong. Curving around towering mountains and waiting to see what beauty was around the bend added to the excitement.


On the small road leading up to the hotel, we passed the neighboring Tibetan farmhouses, trimmed in a rainbow of color. With huge racks of drying wheat and yaks milling about the yard, each home looked storybook charming.


Built with local stones and inspiration from the Tibetan dwellings, the hotel blended beautifully into the surroundings. From the cliff-side location, huge patios, and bounty of windows, the Songtsam Meili was built to let the brilliance of the mountains shrine through.


Not wanting to waste a moment of daylight, we dropped off our bags and we quickly went back out to explore the neighborhood. We didn’t have to walk far before a farmer and father of one of the Meili staff invited us over. He was milking his dzo, a cattle-yak hybrid, and before you know it Mike was too.


After tending to the animals, we were invited inside for a pot of yak butter tea and traditional flatbread. Unlike any house we’d ever been in, the ground floor was actually the barn for the animals and the second a huge open kitchen and simple living space. Watching the lady of the house cook in her wood-powered kitchen, lined with copper pots and hand-thrown ceramics, felt like a window into another world.


We made it back to our luxurious room just before sunset and it took our breath away. The sky was getting dark but the snowy peaks stood brightly on the horizon. With two walls of windows, the peaks felt like they were inside with us.


The dining room was aglow with candles and the fire burners of Tibetan hot pot. These bronze cauldrons bring a delicious broth to a boil then couples cook their own vegetables and meat at the table. Not only was it scrumptious to eat, it was such fun to make!


None of the mountains in the Meili range have ever been summited do to their sheer verticality and holy status…so we opted to hike the foothills. Views to the snowy mountains were bound to be incredible but the colors and textures of the trail impressed us just as much. Traces of landslides from the rocky peaks cut through the red and yellow shrubs of fall keeping us in awe and on our toes.


In Tibetan Buddhism it seems that the hardest-to-reach cliffs with the most jaw-dropping views are the best places for worship. At the top of the one of our steepest climbs we stumbled upon this stupa in a tangled mess of prayer flags whipping in the breeze from the snowy pass.


We made it to the top for lunch at this old farmers cabin and soaked up the pure peace of this place.


The next morning we were exhausted from our 25-kilometer hike and decided to take in the mountain from the comforts of our window seat. (We’ve hiked for hours to get to great views during our trip but for this one we just had to roll out of bed.)


Before driving back to Shangri-la, we motivated to leave the glorious Songtsam Meili to check out the nearby (and only) town of Dechin. You know you’re getting close when white stupas line the road over the valley.


Between the Tibetan culture and the 20,000 foot mountains, Songtsam Meili was quite possibly our favorite hotel during our five-weeks in China. It’s as far-flung as it gets but for a setting this romantic, it’s worth the winding road to get there.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.