Travel News

Catriona Rowntree: how I travel

The host of Australia’s longest-running travel show on serendipity and a life spent in perpetual motion.

By Helen Anderson
Just back from… a family trip to Byron Bay. At the last moment we decided to wing it on a road trip down the coast rather than flying home – hopping between beaches, surfing and eating oysters on the beach. We had the best time.
Next up… a wedding at Lake Como – I'll be showing my husband Italy for the first time. Then we're joining Jane Webster's "The French Table" experience at Chateau Bosgouet in Normandy.
I'm from a long line of travellers. My great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Stephenson Rowntree, was a ship captain who brought the first paying (as opposed to penal) customers to Australia. I think he'd look at me – I've been travelling professionally for 23 years, can you believe – and think: chip off the old block. My Scottish grandfather, Andrew, was a world traveller. I can't recall a childhood holiday spent at home – Mum and Dad would hire a Halvorsen each Easter, a beach house each summer, or take the four kids on epic drives.
My parents' perpetual motion and sense of adventure set me up beautifully for this way of life. There's no airs or graces behind the scenes at Getaway. I'm often changing in bathrooms at petrol stations or in the back of a car. My needs are pretty simple – I need clean, yes, but I don't need anything too flash.
I travel constantly and always to vastly different places, but if there's a theme to my best trips it's always about the people I meet, those who've thrown out the rule book and are living life on their own terms, whether it's a salmon fisherman in Ketchikan or the woman I met in the Cook Islands running a stand-up paddleboarding business. That's the real joy of my job.
I think the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan changed me as a traveller and as a person, if only to wholeheartedly understand that what you put into your life is what you'll get back. I can honestly say I came back a better person. And I have to sing the praises of the Kimberley region in Western Australia. I took my two sons on a Top End cruise for my new book. The beauty of the Kimberley brought me to tears: so many stories, so much history, so worth the effort.
The boys travel with me all the time. One loves activities and being busy; the younger is much like me – he loves art and is happy exploring quietly. My job is to help them find what makes their hearts sing.
I'm often woken between 2am and 4am – it might be the bush turkey outside my room, or a taxi downstairs, so I always pack an eye mask and ear plugs. And my driver's licence, so I'm good to go anywhere in the world; Wet Ones – I'll always drop something on my clothes; an Anlaby woollen wrap, because I freeze on planes and I'm married to a wool grower; and a fold-out bag for extra shopping. And I take my vitamins, but I'm armour-plated. I never get sick on the road.
I'd love to go to Chile. I don't know the Scandinavian countries very well. And I've never been to Japan. The most annoying thing, as any passionate traveller knows, is that the bucket list is never ending.
I love the fact that Australians around the world have a reputation, certainly in the cruise industry, as innovators and game-changers. Australian companies really have changed the way the world cruises, and our love affair with the cruise holiday is incredible – Australia is the biggest per-capita cruise market in the world.
I'm always hopeful for what the year ahead holds but I generally don't know what's ahead of me until the last moment. I love the serendipity of that.
The Best of World Cruising by Catriona Rowntree (Hardie Grant Books, $35) is out 1 March. Getaway is on Nine.