Travel tales: Michael Klim on Bali, Noosa and embracing the unexpected

The Australian swimming legend dives into his long-time holiday favourites and new discoveries.

By Chris Ashton, May 16 2024
Travel tales: Michael Klim on Bali, Noosa and embracing the unexpected

Olympic Gold medallist swimmer, former world record holder and Order of Australia recipient Michael Klim is no stranger to the global stage (or indeed the airport).

The son of a Polish diplomat, Klim had lived in four countries by the age of 11 – Poland, India, Germany and Canada before settling in Australia, where his sporting career began. He credits this with inspiring his world view and enduring travel bug.

Though now residing in Bali, Australia not only holds a special place in his heart but remains a frequent fixture in his travel habits, with an annual trip to Noosa always on the cards.

What is it about travel that inspires you?

It’s that sense of discovery. For me, it’s about experiencing new things all the time, finding something new or unexpected and learning from it. I think it’s the best form of education, and I’m lucky to have been given that gift from my parents at an early age.

An aerial view of Noosa.. Tourism and Events Queensland
An aerial view of Noosa.
Tourism and Events Queensland

The discovery of food is a big part of it too. I think not being too fussy as an eater can make the whole experience of travel even more enjoyable, especially when you visit places like France and South Korea.

You realise how small of a speck Australia is and how much there is to discover.

What are some of your fondest travel memories?

There was a time I was in Tokyo with some locals, walking down these quaint alleyways with no signage or restaurant names. They opened this unremarkable door and behind it was the most incredible sashimi bar.

I’ve never been to anything like it since, where it’s just so traditional and the food is second to none, but you’d never know from the street. I think that’s what travel’s all about – embracing it, being adventurous and living like a local.

Where have you travelled recently and what surprised you about the trip?

It’s really tricky these days, because you see so many places covered so thoroughly on Instagram but experiencing it for yourself with your naked eye is something special.

Most recently we went to Zermatt and Chamonix. I was working in Europe and we added these two places as last-minute stops before my work commitments.

The ski mecca of Zermatt, Switzerland.
The ski mecca of Zermatt, Switzerland.

We got to Zermatt and this little boutique hotel – finding little hotels off the beaten path is something I always do. Standing there on the balcony the first day and it just started snowing. This was at the end of April and we woke up the next morning to a beautiful winter wonderland.

We went to the Matterhorn and even though we didn’t ski, just watching others was amazing.

Sometimes the best experiences happen by accident. Do any come to mind?

Occasionally you get an upgrade that always makes the holiday. That happened to me once at The Savoy in London, where I was upgraded to the presidential suite, which obviously had an amazing amount of history.

There I was thinking ‘You know, every president has been in this room prior to me.’ I think the guy at the desk was an Australian and recognised me. 

The Royal Suite is the pinnacle of The Savoy London's offering.
The Royal Suite is the pinnacle of The Savoy London's offering.

For me though, it’s not always about the hotels, but the experience. Like a time I was Guatemala, where I was involved with a health and wellness retreat at Lake Atitlán.

We stayed at a villa, which was only accessible by boat or helicopter, and just immersed ourselves in the wellness experience, from hiking to yoga. While swimming in the lake, this amazing golden retriever – one of the local’s dogs – just jumped in and met me about a hundred metres out from shore.

So here I am, just swimming with this dog in Guatemala. It’s these things you can’t script.

You currently reside in Bali. What are some of your favourite parts of the island?

Bali has so much to offer. It’s obviously renowned with Aussies, but it’s got such a diverse population. It’s also constantly evolving. Bali doesn’t sit still as a destination.

It’s one of the wellness meccas of the world, but it’s also like the Ibiza of the southern hemisphere with some amazing musical acts that come through. Bulgari Hotel and Potato Head are a couple of my favourites.

Bulgari Bali is home to 59 beautifully-styled villas.
Bulgari Bali is home to 59 beautifully-styled villas.

But at the same time, you can immerse yourself in wellness and mindfulness. There are over 250 surf breaks too, which is why so many people keep coming back. You can’t see it all in one trip.

My partner Michelle and I live in Berawa, which is smack bang in the middle of the tourist area, and we get to walk the beach between Breawa and Seminyak every day.

You’re going to be at the Noosa Eat & Drink Festival. What can visitors expect?

It’s great to have Noosa Eat & Drink back, and I know the locals have really been waiting for this. It’s 75 events spread across four days. It’s got beach and restaurant events, local chefs and some great personalities from the rest of Australia.

I’ll be taking part in a cook-off, paired up with a professional chef and we’ll be taking on another chef and personality. I must say I’ve been a bit spoiled here in Bali and been off the tools, so I’ve been trying to get back in the kitchen in readiness.

[Noosa Eat & Drink runs from May 30 to June 2.]

Which is your favourite Australian destination and why?

Absolutely Noosa. It’s my favourite Aussie destination and has been for many years. I think I’ve been going for around 13 years now. The town has not only embraced me; we’ve got the World Series Swims that take place the first weekend of February. It really offers a lot. 

The World Series Swims descends on Noosa every February.. Tourism and Events Queensland
The World Series Swims descends on Noosa every February.
Tourism and Events Queensland

Even just walking in the national park or until recently having a surf, it’s been my favourite Aussie destination for many years. There aren’t many places I like going more than once, but this is one of them.

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