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8 Trips of a Lifetime for Your Dream Vacation

If you consider yourself plucky and outdoorsy, you MUST add these destinations to your bucket list for once-in-a-lifetime experiences and bragging rights!

1. Snorkel with manta rays in Bali


Manta rays are some of the most majestic sea creatures. And there are few places in the world where you can watch these ocean giants as you snorkel. Also, as they are extremely fast swimmers, a blink is enough to miss one as it passes under you. 

Thankfully, a cleaning station (a place on the coral reef where certain fish and shrimp, known as cleaners, pick parasites and dead skin off other creatures) in Nusa Penida, an island south-east of Bali, draws them to the shallows. Here you can get a good, long look at them as they circle the rocks beneath you.  For the best view, dip your head below the surface to admire their slow graceful movements. The reef mantas found here may not be the biggest in the world but their impressive size (at least 4m across) and proximity will leave you mesmerised. 

Getting there 

Manta Point, off Nusa Penida, is an hour away (by boat) from Sanur in Bali. Transfers from your hotel in Sanur can be arranged. Tip: A transfer can be quite choppy so be prepared if you’re prone to seasickness.  

Why you must try it 

Coming face to face with a gentle giant of the sea is humbling and unforgettable. For more info www.balidiving.com


2. Explore Antarctica 


There is nowhere else quite like Antarctica on the planet. If you have the chance to go, grab it with both hands. The seventh continent is rugged and inhospitable — a place that has to be seen to be believed. For those willing to step out of their comfort zone, an adventure that will forever linger in your mind lies ahead. 

The expedition boat that will bring you to Antarctica from South America is stable enough to safely pass through some of the roughest seas on earth,  and amply comfortable to serve as your base for the entire trip. Your first sights of this final frontier will be imposing mountains and spectacular icebergs. Put on your hiking shoes and venture out onto the ice to encounter huge colonies of penguins so curious about humans that they’ll waddle right up to you. You’ll also appreciate the tranquillity that comes from exploring the coast by sea kayak as you come face to face with whales, penguins, seals and icebergs. For those brave enough to plunge into the freezing waters in scuba gear, you will be rewarded with views of the ice from below and the chance to see the leopard seal, one of Antarctica’s top predators, on the hunt.  

Getting there 

Trips to Antarctica depart from South America between December and March. Antarctic Peninsula trips usually start from Ushuaia in Argentina. The southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia is served by regular flights from Buenos Aires and Santiago in Chile. If you’re driving, Ushuaia also marks the end of the Pan-American Highway.  

Why you must try it 

Bragging rights. If you love the outdoors and are passionate about exploration and wildlife, this has to be one of the most exhilarating destinations in the world – and probably one of the most rewarding adventures you’ll ever have! For more info www.rowadventures, www.southernseaventures.com, www.adventurehigh.com, www.aqua-firma.co.uk


[Related: The Ultimate Travel Bucket List]


3. Cycling in Yangshuo 


There is simply no better way to explore a new area than with your own pedal power. You have the freedom to escape crowded tourist sites, stumble across little gems and view magnificent panoramas at your own pace. Yangshuo’s countryside is a cycling paradise with some of the most amazing and unique scenery Southern China has to offer. The limestone pinnacles surrounding the small town of Yangshuo create the perfect backdrop as you explore the area. 

Cycling through the countryside, you will pass farmers using buffaloes to plough their fields, picturesque rice plantations, the ancient Dragon Bridge, and small villages where you become the tourist attraction. If you tire of pedalling, you can always take a bamboo raft back down the river towards town and watch the traditional cormorant fisherman work on the banks of the river.

Getting there 

Yangshuo is a small town in the South of China about an hour away from the international airport in Guilin.  

Why you must try it 

The beautiful and unique natural landscape makes for an inspiring and memorable visit. For more info www.worldexpeditions.com/au/index.php?id=76 


4. Canyoning and white water rafting in Kitulgala 

The sight and sound of thousands of gallons of water thundering through the gorge is enough to raise anyone’s heart rate. The Kelani River begins its journey to the sea high up in the mountains in Kitulgala, one of the wettest areas of Sri Lanka. Carving its way through the lush forest and crashing over huge rocks, the river has created a natural playground best explored by getting wet. 

Experience the thrill of canyoning: slide your way down the rocks, abseil down a waterfall, jump into plunge pools, and wade through water as you head down the gentler sections on foot. Then, where the river’s power increases, experience an exhilarating white water ride as you negotiate your way down the rapids in a raft.  

Getting there 

The small town of Kitulagala can be reached in an hour and a half by cab from Colombo. Alternatively, the bus takes about two and a half hours. Situated in the wet zone on the bank of the river and surrounded by lush forests, the town creates a great base to explore the region.

Why you must try it 

For the adrenaline rush of navigating the rapids through a beautiful area of the country. For more info www.ruchitours.com, www.discoverborderlands.com, www.myceylonadventures.com, www.kitulgalaadventures.com


 [Related: Exotic Family Vacations for Outdoorsy Adventures]


5. Kayaking with orcas and humpback whales around Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island

The beautiful surrounds of Vancouver Island are a great place to view some of the giants of the sea in their natural environment. During the annual salmon migration, the waters teem with life, attracting whales, dolphins and sea lions to feed. On land, brown bears and eagles hunt at the water’s edge. 

Venture out into the sea, silently paddling your kayak from one uninhabited bay to the next. Wait for the excitement to grow as a black fin emerges from the deep. Then another and another, and soon you are surrounded by a pod of orcas, one of the ocean’s most powerful predators. Watch as they hunt and travel in family groups, only to be disturbed by the acrobatic display of a passing humpback whale. As they jump, spin and splash their tails in this grand spectacle you will realise just how small you really are.  

Getting there 

Kayaking tours depart from Port McNeill or Telegraph Cove on Northern Vancouver Island, which can be reached from Vancouver by ferry and then a six-hour drive. Another option is to fly into Port Hardy, a 30-minute taxi ride away. Go during the annual salmon migration (June to September), when killer whales and humpbacks congregate in the Johnstone Strait off the north-east corner of Vancouver Island. 

Why you must try it 

For that exhilarating moment an enormous whale breaks the surface next to your kayak. For more info www.kayakingtours.com, www.kingfisher.ca, www.kayakbc.ca


6. Live like a nomad in Mongolia


In a place where the land seems to touch the sky, be awestruck by the vast, stark, rugged and unspoilt beauty of one of the highest countries in the world. Step back in time and become part of the wilderness as you explore a nation with few roads by horseback. Given its sparse population, you could be forgiven for thinking you are the only person on earth as you gallop beneath the beautiful blue skies. 

It’s a real adventure as you ride through valleys, mountains and the Gobi desert to reach the ruins of Genghis Khan’s Great Mongol Empire. To fully experience the native’s nomadic life, try your hand at archery, watch the eagles hunt, sleep in a traditional Ger (Mongolian mobile home), and cheer on the warriors in the local Naadam Festival as they compete in wrestling, archery and horse riding.

Getting there 

Landlocked between China and Russia, the Mongolian capital of Ulaan Baatar is where most exploits begin and end. If you consider the journey a part of the adventure, you can also reach the capital from Beijing via the Trans-Siberian railway. Travel in August to catch the Naadam festival. 

Why you must try it 

Feel the wind in your hair as you ride for days in awe of the unique Mongolian scenery. For more info www.discovermongolia.mn, www.horsetrailsmongolia.com/index.php/en


[Related: 4 Beach Vacations Off the Beaten Path for Any Budget]


7. Scuba diving around the Galapagos 

The Galapagos Islands rank among the most pristine parts on the planet, with such wildlife diversity that the mere mention of its name excites any nature lover. Consistently voted one of the top dive destinations in the world, a trip is a must for any scuba diver. More than 28 species of sharks can be found here; even whale sharks pass by the islands. Plus, the Wolf & Darwin dive sites are universally acclaimed as two of the best on the planet because of the abundance of pelagic life.  

Getting there 

Flights to the Galapagos Islands are only from Ecuador. You can explore the islands from a live-aboard boat. But with limited spaces and hordes of divers arriving from around the world, book early to ensure there is space.  

Why you must try it

Diving with animals as curious about you as you are about them doesn’t get any better than this. Fearless marine animals will come and greet you as you explore this wonderful aquatic playground. Also feel the rush of excitement as sea lions and dolphins play nearby, and watch in amazement as a school of hammerhead sharks passes beneath you or a marine iguana eats the sea grass right before your eyes. For more info www.divethegalapagos.com


8. Climb glaciers in New Zealand 

Enjoy a spectacular view of the Southern Alps as a helicopter carries you up onto the glacial ice. Strap on your crampons and have your ice picks in hand to try the exhilarating sport of ice or glacier climbing. Explore the gullies, caves and pinnacles created by the glacier as it slowly moves towards the sea. 

Challenge yourself to scale the steep vertical ice walls using your ice climbing tools. As your confidence grows, push yourself to climb higher and steeper walls of ice. You’ll be amazed by the brilliant blue glacial ice visible in the cracks and caves. Then, from high up on the ice, relax while taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains – a sight that will stay with you forever.

Getting there 

Ice Climbing is available at both Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Both are approximately a six-hour drive across the mountains from Christchurch. Each glacier has its own charm; Fox is longer while Franz Joseph is steeper.   

Why you must try it 

For the heady experience of hanging from a vertical ice wall high up in the Southern Alps while taking in spectacular views. For more info www.franzjosefglacier.com, www.foxguides.co.nz

By Gemma Thomas, Shape, November 2015

Photos: 123rf.com

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