Best hikes

 

 

A multi-day hike is for many people the highlight of their visit to a particular country. It offers a chance to slow down, soak up the scenery and in most cases get to know at close quarters a little of the local culture and cuisine. So where are the world’s best hikes? Here are six strong candidates among the many that lay claim to this title:

 

Australia - Overland Track

While millions of visitors may flock to Australia’s East Coast relatively few make it down to Tasmania. Yet for unique wildlife, stunning landscapes and outdoor adventure Tassie is hard to beat. The island is criss-crossed with great hiking trails and the most well-known is the Overland Track, taking in some of the island’s most outstanding natural wonders including Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair.  You should allow 7 days for the full hike in order to explore the many side trails leading from the main 65km route.

 

New Zealand – Milford Track

Choosing one hike ahead of others is tough in a country that boasts so many spectacular trails. The best known and most popular is the Milford Track, a 4 day/3 night trek through the South Island’s beautiful Fiordland National Park. There are three conveniently found huts on the trail that provide comfortable overnight accommodation and the finish at the Sound itself is a just reward for the exertion of the hike. Advanced booking to hike the trail is essential.

 

Nepal – Annapurna Circuit

Of all the many Nepalese trails perhaps the Annapurna Circuit is the most attractive option. The route can take up to 3 weeks to complete if taking it gently and with the highest pass on the route at 5416m this is not a trek to be taken lightly. What makes this trail so appealing is the tea houses en route that offer relatively comfortable overnight stops with surprisingly good facilities and hot home-cooked meals. Needless to say the Himalayan scenery is breathtaking.

 

Tanzania – Mount Kilimanjaro

The world’s highest free-standing mountain and one of Africa’s most recognisable symbols, snow-capped Kilimanjaro attracts thousands of eager hikers each year, keen to test their own physical and mental strength in conquering its seen and unseen challenges. If you make it to the 5896m summit you’ll stand as high as you can be anywhere in the world on a hike (without climbing ropes and technical gear).  Most people book their hike before arriving in Africa and there is a wide selection of operators to choose from. It is essential to research the dangers and requirements for hiking Kilimanjaro before you go as it is likely to be one of the most demanding physical and mental feats you will ever attempt.

 

Peru – Inca Trail

Perhaps the world’s best-known trail, this well-worn path takes visitors through spectacular scenery and past several ancient Inca sites before arriving at the celebrated ruins of Machu Picchu. Typically a four day hike that must be booked well in advance, porters can be hired to carry rucksacks and cook meals at the designated campsites.  As a more challenging alternative to the Inca Trail the Salcantay trail crosses the sacred Salcantay mountain before also arriving at Machu Picchu.

 

China – Tiger Leaping Gorge

This well-known hike offers stunning scenery on relatively quiet paths along the upper walls of the Yangtze River gorge. Hiking the High Trail (there is now a road running parallel to the trail closer to the river level) is easy and well signposted. The peaks above the gorge reach heights of almost 6000m while the vertical cliffs tower an incredible 2000m from the floor of the gorge.  Most hikers will take 3-4 days to cover the Tiger Leaping Gorge although there are many different route options varying from 2 to 7 days.

 

 

Adrenalin

 


 

A round the world trip is the chance of a lifetime for many travellers. And if you’re going to take the plunge for such a holiday, then you may as well push yourself further to take on something you’ve never tried before. And there’s more than one way to get the heart going and the adrenalin pumping – as these potential adventures on popular RTW routes show... 

Mountain bike down a volcano...
 

There’s a world of difference between a leisurely pootle around country roads and hurtling down hills on a dirt track, desperately hoping that your brakes are in full working order. But that’s all part of the thrill. 

Top spots for fearsome freewheeling include Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa and Skipper’s Canyon near Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. However, for cool factor, you’d be hard-pushed to beat cycling down an enormous volcano. And on the Hawai’ian island of Maui, you can do just that, dropping down 900m over the course of a ten mile, twisting ride through the Haleakala National Park.

... Or hike up a live one
 

Of course, a volcano that hasn’t gone off for a long time is essentially just a mountain covered in funny-looking rock. It only starts to get properly scary once you’re next to scorching-hot lava. And, believe it or not, there are a few places where it’s possible to hike up through the lava fields and get so close to the fiery, gloopy stuff that you can poke it with a stick. Classic examples include Volcan Pacaya near Antigua in Guatemala and the fireworks-prone Yasur volcano on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.

A common theme with such volcano climbs is lots of eager locals wishing to guide you up, coupled with a nagging doubt that safety precautions aren’t quite what they could be...

Dive with great white sharks...
 

The reputation given to Great Whites by the Jaws movies wasn’t entirely unwarranted, you know. They have evolved over the years to be ruthless rulers of the sea, and those teeth ain’t for decorative purposes. Getting in the water where hundreds prowl for food (ie seals) isn’t necessarily a good idea, therefore. But with only a cage for protection as the shark butts against it, scenting blood, there are few greater thrills. 

Cage dives can be done all over the world (notably off the Californian coast and from Adelaide in South Australia) but the biggest shark dive industry is in Gansbaai, South Africa. There’s a massive shark population off the coast, and it’s easily doable as a day trip from Cape Town.

... Or swim with saltwater crocodiles
 

Head to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory and you can experience a novel take on the whole shark diving thing. There it has been decided that the ideal place to house five metre-plus saltwater crocodiles is on the main street. And at Crocosaurus Cove, it is possible to experience ‘The Cage Of Death’. In a nutshell, this sees you stripping down to your swimwear and climbing into a transparent plastic box. Said box is then lowered into the enclosure of possibly the only animal that could have a great white in a fight. Usually the killer reptiles are content to just sit there and watch, but if they get annoyed at their territory being invaded, prepare to be launched at.

Climb a tree
 

Think that sounds a bit wussy? Well, it all depends on the tree, doesn’t it? In the Pemberton forest area of south-west Western Australia, there are three ‘climbing trees’ that were originally used as fire lookouts. Pegs have been placed in a spiral around the trunks, and the only support is a single wire step, plus more of the same as a hand-rail. And when you’re climbing up to a 60m platform, constantly looking at thin air beneath your feet, you’ll soon change your tune on climbing trees being solely for little kids. 

If you’re driving, it’s possible to top all three – the Gloucester Tree, Diamond Tree and Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – in a day.

Jump out of a plane
 

Skydiving has almost become the extreme sport that others are measured by, and it’s possible to jump out of a plane pretty much anywhere in the world these days. Good options include mountain backdrops in New Zealand, the desert landscapes in Las Vegas and Arizona or landing on an Australian beach in Wollongong (near Sydney) or Mission Beach (near Cairns).

For the uninitiated, the fear and the pleasure come in distinct stages. Arguably the greatest terror is in the plane on the way up to the right height – the tension just increases. Once there, you and the instructor you’re strapped to lean forward out of the plane, and the freefall commences. This is where the rush comes in (and any photos taken make you look like a flappy-cheeked hamster), but it all changes again once the parachute opens. From this point on, it’s a gentle float towards the ground, and it’s a great chance to take a bird’s eye view of the landscape.

Take the ultimate leap of faith
 

In many ways, bungy jumping is far more terrifying than skydiving. The most obvious problem is that you’re hurtling to a possible death with only an elastic cord tied around your ankles, but it’s also a case of willpower – you have to make the call to jump.

It all kicked off on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, where chaps would try to impress the ladies by leaping from cliffs with vines strapped around their ankles. This particular brand of insanity can still be watched today, although it’s done for the benefit of tourists rather than comely young females.

If wanting a go yourself, Queenstown in New Zealand is the sport’s spiritual home, and there are numerous bungy sites around the town. To go for the biggest heights, however, you need to head to the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa (216m) or take the short ferry ride from Hong Kong to Macau in order to leap 233m from the Macau Tower.

Swing for it
 

Only marginally less terrifying than a bungy jump is a bungy swing (called ‘The Swoop’ in Rotorua, New Zealand and ‘The Minjin Swing’ in Cairns, Australia). In this take on brown pants height-mastery, you’re shunted into a glorified sleeping bag and told to pull a toggle. Once released, you swing down to earth from 40m or so in the air, experiencing brief freefall and plenty of abject terror on the way.

Tame the white water
 

Raging torrents, disturbingly high waterfalls and a big plastic dinghy. What’s not to like about white-water rafting (aside from the distinct possibility of blood, drowning and broken limbs)?

Avoiding the bad stuff is generally a case of working together as a team, leaning the right way, following instructions and sticking to the right route. Oh, and bit of luck helps too.

Top spots include the Tully River in Queensland, Australia, the Kaituna River near Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island and the Cagayan de Oro River in the Philippines. That said, it’s hard to top rafting along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the United States...

Take on the canyons
 

Canyoning is a fairly loosely defined sport that generally involves following a river through a canyon or cave system. Of course, rivers don’t follow nice, neat, flat paths – and taking them on can involve anything from fun little rock slides and jumps into pools to abseiling, underwater swimming and enormous 20-metre plus leaps around overhanging cliffs. Excellent canyoning locations include Cape Town in South Africa (where it’s called kloofing), Patagonia in Argentina, Waitomo in New Zealand and the Wollemi National Park near Australia’s Blue Mountains.

 

More photos here

 

Beaten track

 


 

Nowhere in the world that cannot be explored with the help of reliable local guides. Livingstone might have become the greatest name in the history of exploration but he would not have been able to do what he did without the help of his unshakable guides Chuma and Susi. Where would Hillary have been without Sherpa Tenzing or Lewis and Clarke without the fearless Indian woman Sacajawea?     



I’ve mounted more than a dozen solo or team expeditions into uncharted (or barely explored) parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. In areas with at least some tourist infrastructure there will be national park authorities or tourist information offices that can recommend guides. The following tips however relate to more off-the-beaten-track locations where you’ll have to find your own expedition crew.

The following tips could prove invaluable in finding the perfect guides and, perhaps, to mounting an expedition that could very well turn out to be the highlight of your round the world trip.  

1. The police force hasn’t been formed that is more effective than community or tribal law. There are few better ways to find reliable guides that to ask a village headman to hand-pick them for you. A guide who is aware that he is custodian of the honour of his village – and that he will have to answer to tribal law should anything happen to you – is likely to be the most helpful and trustworthy you’ll ever find.

 


2. If you want to get from A to B with a minimum of delay arrange to pay for the trip rather than by the day. This can work best if, for example, provisions might be in short supply on the trail and you need to make the journey before food or water runs out. You might be surprised, however, to realise just how fast local people can move even in dense jungle. You could be in for quite a race!


3. If, on the other hand, soaking up the experience is more of a priority, arrange to pay by the day. This way your guides will be in no hurry and (as long as you have provisions) you can even extend the stay longer or make detours. Be ready however for unreasonable excuses for early stops to camp or seemingly unnecessary rest days. Make sure that your provisioning plans take into account a longer stay than you originally envisaged.  


4. If re-provisioning is likely to be needed part way through the trek take extra guides. Few guides will agree to walk solo through the jungle to carry provisions back from a village. Recently I lead an expedition in Chiapas. We were trekking through an unexplored part of Monte Azul Bio-reserve and, because of the area’s protected status, would not be able to hunt for meat. We took extra guide/porters in case a re-provisioning run back to a village was necessary...and we also took several live hens for fresh meat.


5. On longer expeditions it can be necessary to take a hunter with a gun. But if you really want him to be able to bring in meat you must be prepared to travel slower, allowing enough time for him to be able to hunt in the evenings or early morning. With a long, noisy column crashing through the bush don’t expect wildlife to be easily visible. Most important, give strict guidelines as to what can and cannot be shot: I had to convince my Kuna guides in Panama that under no circumstances were they to shoot jaguar for meat and in Borneo I was not sorry to arrive in a hunters camp too late to partake of their meal of orang utan!


6. Before departure try to research the community obligations of your guides. Few pastoral people will be prepared to guide you (whatever incentive you are offering) during one of those crucial periods of the year when the herds need to be moved. This was a lesson that I learned the hard way when I arrived in central Borneo just as the rice was being harvested...and spent three fruitless weeks travelling between various jungle villages and longhouses, unable to entice anyone into an expedition.    

     
7. Don’t skimp on porters. These days most backpackers are aware of the plight of the overworked, overloaded and underpaid porters who used to suffer in great numbers in trekking destinations as far apart as the Annapurna Circuit, Kilimanjaro or the Inca Trail. Hire enough guides, porters and camp assistants (or cooks) for your needs.


8. Listen to your guides when they advise what provisions are needed. In Asia few guides will be willing to travel without their pre-requisite ration of rice (frequently three plates each per day). In parts of Africa it might be mealie-meal/sadza/fufu. In the Andes you will have little chance of getting together a team of mountain guides unless you make an allowance for a sack of coca leaves. Unhappy and disgruntled guides will not add to the experience on any expedition...and, in the worst scenarios, an expedition that is not functioning well as a team could potentially be dangerous. In almost all areas a few cartons of imported cigarettes do wonders for team morale.


9. Don’t rush the delicate period of haggling. In many traditional communities it is considered the height of bad manners to launch straight into business without the prerequisite period of chit-chat. Haggle reasonably hard (but always with good humour and a smile) to fix the rate but make it clear that a good bonus will be offered on arrival if you are thoroughly happy with how the trip has gone. You will get a gut-feel about how to handle the payments from your guide’s personalities. If alcohol seems to be a problem within the community, perhaps offer half payment upfront the morning of departure – the rest on completion of the trek. This way there is a better chance that at least some of the money will make it into the households rather than be frittered away in bars on return from a long, thirsty trek.


10. Don’t skimp on porters out of some obscure obligation that you must carry your own pack: the last person who will thank you for this is the poor soul who loses a good pay-packet because of your - albeit laudable - scruples. For many years I refused to let a porter carry my kit...until at some point when I was already working as a professional photographer (I’m no longer sure but think it was somewhere in the jungles of Sumatra) I realised that for a few extra dollars – which some local guy was extremely grateful for – I was freed to move with so much more agility. Loaded only with my camera equipment I was able to chase the shots and angles that I was supposed to be there to get. I was freer to do my job effectively and he could do his.

 

 

By Mark Eveleigh

Africa Overlanding

 

 we rolled out of Nairobi, on a crisp and clear Kenyan morning, even the diesel fumes and bleating taxi horns on the Uhuru Highway seemed to be full of good cheer. There were none of those usual feelings of trepidation and nerves that I was used to on the first morning of a ‘big trip.’ For years I had been travelling under my own steam - frequently alone and almost always by public transport. Now I had been lured back to the Dark Continent on a road-trip of a very different sort: in a huge, wallowing yellow truck that was known in villages and backpacker lodges all over East Africa as ‘The Whale.’ 

Far from travelling on a wing-and-a-prayer, our itinerary had been carefully worked out to fit in most of the must-see sights of the four countries that separated Nairobi from Victoria Falls. The vague worry about where I would spend my first African night had been lifted from my shoulders onto those of Paul and Lisa, the driver and tour leader who would be responsible for finding us secure campsites during the next twenty-one nights. I was free to sit back and watch the world go by.

The overlanding brochures had all offered the chance to become part of a wonderfully balanced group of ‘like-minded fellow-travellers’ - in blind optimism I imagined a secret clique of world-wise souls who had learned invaluable lessons that were beyond the grasp of independent travellers. But the crates that were stacked in The Whale’s belly made me think that it was more likely that I was joining a gang of crazed 20-something Aussies who were intent on fuelling the entire trip on bottles of chilled Tusker beer. It was a love of wildlife and wide-open spaces that had brought me to Africa but as we rolled towards the Tanzanian border I was already asking myself whether the most fascinating wildlife activity might be that outside the truck or in it.

Of course, it takes all sorts and the stereotypical overlander no longer exists. There were Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and even four Argentines, from all walks of life among The Whale’s cargo. Two out of three passengers were females and the average age (about 28) testified to the fact that increasing numbers of ‘career-gappers’ now see overlanding as an opportunity to fit in the maximum amount of experiences before responsibility stakes its claim once again. What we had in common was a shared optimism for the 4,000 miles of African highways and dirt-tracks that lay ahead and a secret hope that not quite everything would go according to plan. This was Africa after all and we wanted a little bit of ‘rough’ to be taken with the ‘smooth’. An African overland trip is not for people who believe that the destination is more important than the journey - the days on the road can be long, hot and dusty - or for those who do not want to spend night after night with just a few millimetres of nylon between themselves and the African wildlife. This is not a guided package tour either and everybody had to be prepared to do their share of shopping, cooking…or digging The Whale out of mud-holes. 

Our journey led us through Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti where we off-loaded into a convoy of Land Rovers and were lucky enough to witness the great migration with a level of exclusivity (3 people to a Land Rover) that even the best lodges cannot always guarantee. Then, onward to Zanzibar (via Kilimanjaro), through the vast savannah of southern Tanzania and down the ragged strip of tarmac that follows the shore of Lake Malawi. Overland crews are constantly testing out new routes and searching out the best campsites, and being able to reap the fruits of the overlanding grapevine is one of the less obvious advantages of a trip like this. You camp in picturesque valleys you would never have found alone; you cross remote wildernesses where no local bus could have taken you; you feast in local villages where your crew are already long-term friends with the headmen. 

In a couple of short weeks we were entering what had become my favourite African country. I had travelled in Zimbabwe on other, more stressful, occasions (covering the aftermath of a particularly tense election) but I knew that, under more relaxed circumstances, this beautiful and hospitable country would be a highlight of the trip. By the time we arrived at Vic Falls - to raft the Zambezi and hurl ourselves off the bridge into ‘111-metres of Big African Air’ - we had tracked white and black rhinos on foot, celebrated sunrise over Great Zimbabwe Ruins, watched wildlife in several of Africa’s most impressive national parks, swam with horses across a crocodile-infested river (having been assured that their thrashing hooves keep the crocs back) and partied the night away on the old colonial Vic Falls Express.

It had been frustrating at times to be part of the great touring circus and we frequently wished we could stay for longer but many of us had made lasting friendships and we had all stacked up more than a few once-in-a-lifetime memories. Still the overlanding faith had failed to convert me entirely. I knew I would never totally give up the freedom and uncertainty of backpacking. Then, a few months later, I began planning a return to some old South American haunts…and overlanding snared me for the second time. 

I just had to accept once again that I could never see all I wanted to see if I insisted on following Kipling’s advice that ‘he travels the fastest who travels alone’.

 

roundtheworldflights.com have great deals on almost all of the Africa Overland companies, and offer discounted IT airfares and RTWs via Africa. Just give us a call to book them here

 

 

By Mark Eveleigh

Endangered

 

 

The Bali tiger and the Tasmanian wolf has gone the way of the dodo. The mountain gorillas, Sumatran rhino and Bengal tiger are not be far behind and unless we, as travellers, are all prepared to take a responsibility in their welfare many more will follow.

 

1. When you hire guides or arrange a trip with a trekking operator you take a responsibility for their behaviour. As the client you have the right (and the moral obligation) to complain if an operator is not working in as environmentally sound a way as possible. Coming from a paying client a sensitively worded complaint (along with an explanation) could have some lasting effect.  

 

2. Don’t buy crafts made of animal parts or made from sensitive natural habitat. Few sensible travellers these days would buy souvenirs made from turtle-shell or ivory. On the spur of the moment an impulse purchase of a shell necklace or a coral bracelet can seem completely ok however...until you give it a moment’s thought later and realise that these things were harvested from sensitive environments that were established long before the first human city.

 

3. Don’t make the mistake of buying animals from local people in a well-meaning effort to free them. It can be heart-rending to turn your back on wild animals that are sure to die in a local village but buying them only leads to an increase of trapping or hunting when word gets around that tourists will pay good money for these pitiful creatures. 

 

4. Consider working as a volunteer on an environmental (or social) study during your RTW. Helping to protect rhinos in Kenya or jaguars in Costa Rica could turn out to be the highlight of your trip and will often give you an insight into an area that you could never hope to acquire as a ‘mere tourist.’ Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org) are looking for volunteers on more than 100 wildlife projects in locations all over the world. 

 

5. In most countries national park fees are not excessively expensive yet many travellers feel that it is perfectly ok to find a back way in to avoid those costs if it can easily be done. The few dollars extra you are paying is crucial to the existence of the park...and without the park there will be no animals.

 

6. Support good, well-run zoos that are active in conservation...but condemn and boycott badly run zoos. These sorry institutions can only exist through public admission fees and it is preferable even that the animals starve (or, hopefully, are relocated) than that these zoos continue to operate.

 

7. As a traveller you are able to report on situations that many people will not be aware of. If you find a worthy cause or a wonderful wildlife trip that seems to be making changes for the good then tell your friends and sing some praises (on Facebook, Twitter etc). If you come across a bad situation that needs to be exposed...then you too are in a position to do it. Tell the world what you saw.