From Latin America to the Antipodes, I’ve racked my memory for experiences that stand out to me as adventurous and unique. I’ve remembered times when I was either alone, or with a small group of people, working together to achieve a common goal. I’ve tried to cover different regions of the world and different kinds of activities – those on land, at sea, underground and in the air…
…and these are my top five…
5. Camping in swags in the Outback – Australia
While travelling in Australia, you can’t get more remote than the Outback. Journeying from one site of interest to the next can take days and your roadside view may change little along the way. Perhaps unwisely, I chose to visit the Northern Territory in December (the peak of the Australian summer), spending Christmas in a very wet and humid Darwin and New Year’s Eve near a very hot and dry Kings Creek.
We hiked in plus 40 degrees, passing signs for footpaths that had been closed off as they were deemed too dangerous for the weather conditions. Litres of water were consumed in minutes and we barely noticed ourselves sweat as the beads of perspiration would evapourate immediately.
That evening, after setting up swags – little more than sleeping bags made from tent-like material – our small group gathered around a camp fire with a few shiny hats and some glow sticks and sparklers. We didn’t meet another soul that night, but I’ll remember the intimacy of the experience far more vividly than any city-based celebrations I’ve had before or since.
4. Cruising the rough seas of the Galapagos Islands – Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are pretty remote. Located just over 900 km west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, they are only reachable by boat or plane. Strict rules on entering help regulate numbers of tourists and since there’s so much to see, those who do venture there tend to be fairly spread out.
I joined an eight-day cruise on a small catamaran with only five guests and those days were some of the most enjoyable and memorable of my life. The wildlife in the Galapagos is insane. From a vibrant underwater world of reef fish, sharks, whales, sea lions, turtles, penguins and iguanas, to a ridiculously diverse selection of birds, each and every animal acts as though humans are inconsequential.
To add to the excitement of my journey through these volcanic islands, I fell asleep one evening watching shooting stars through a porthole in the ceiling of my cabin, only to be woken by a sudden flood of saltwater hours later when a wave washed over the bow. It turned out that the captain had fallen asleep at the wheel and allowed a large wave to bash the side of our boat at an angle that could have sunk us.
Just two days after that, we were evacuated to a port on one of the larger islands after reports that an earthquake in Costa Rica could cause a tsunami! Thankfully, this precaution turned out to be a false alarm.
3. Flying a stunt plane in aerobatics – New Zealand
Although one of the more short-lived of my top five wild experiences, flying a stunt plane in aerobatics made the list because it’s just plain crazy. It’s hard to believe, but there’s a company in the north of New Zealand’s South Island that will take you up in the sky as a novice flier and allow you to take over as pilot. Not only that, but you can do loops and figure eights and fly upside down as your instructor waves his hands outside the plane to show the cameras who’s in charge of the joystick.
This experience takes exploring new terrain to a whole new level. You can reach g-forces between -2 and +4, leaving you straining against your harness one minute and unable to lift your palms from your knees the next.
2. Camping in the Serengeti – Tanzania
When I visited the Serengeti in Tanzania, we spent a night camping with nothing but the thin tarpaulin of our tents between us and the wildlife of the African Savanna.
In the night I heard the unmistakable bellow and hoof shuffling of a herd of wildebeest just metres away from where we lay and, in the distance, the roar of a lion.
The close encounters continued the next evening as we discovered wild elephants quenching their thirst with water stored as a supply for the campsite’s shower block. Armed park wardens gathered close by, ready to react should the elephants become startled and charge at us.
Before we shuffled into our sleeping bags, we witnessed a starry sky that has since been rivalled only by the Galapagos.
1. Diving the underwater rivers of the Mayan Riviera – Mexico
The underground rivers of the Mayan Riviera are both precious and fragile.
Sadly, they’re under threat due to large-scale development of hotels, golf courses and adventure parks in the region. Without action to convince worldwide organisations like UNESCO that they require protection, they could soon be nothing but a distant memory.
Cenotes are openings in these underground water sources, where the limestone roof has collapsed naturally, and it’s possible to access the fresh water as a swimmer, snorkeler or scuba diver.
Some of these pits are deeper than 100 m, with extraordinary natural geographical features. Layers of sulphur create underwater clouds from which trees protrude. Where fresh water meets salt water – otherwise known as a halocline – it creates an effect similar to mixing vinegar with olive oil, obscuring a diver’s view of their surroundings. Light from cenote openings pierces the chamber to unparalleled depths and further exploration of the cave systems reveals crystal clear mirrored surfaces caused by trapped air pockets in the ceiling. Among the stalactites, stalagmites and columns, the skeletal remains of ancient creatures have been found, including the complete remains of a giant sloth.
As I moved through this incredibly beautiful and unique underwater world, it was frequently pitch black, confined and silty, necessitating the use of torches, controlled buoyancy techniques and special finning methods. I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to explore this magical world, especially given how precariously its existence hangs in the balance.–