The world’s best adventure destinations

Sometimes, you feel the urge. It’s the need to break free from the everyday, to challenge yourself, to see a part of the world or engage in a certain activity that might have your friends questioning your grip on sanity. Maybe it’s spending the night in a yurt in the wilderness of the Mongolian steppe. Maybe it’s trekking through the jungle to watch a tribal rite in Papua New Guinea. Maybe it’s jumping off a bridge in New Zealand, or viewing the “Big 5” in Botswana. Whatever you choose, there’s something thrilling about adventure travel, something that sets it apart from your everyday “fly and flop”. And these are the best places in the world to do it, writes Ben Groundwater.

Best for surfers: Sumba

Those surfers who have begun to tire of Australia’s increasingly crowded breaks will instantly fall in love with Sumba, an Indonesian island that’s big on experience and small on development. There’s a rough charm to Sumba, which can be appreciated equally from a beachside bungalow, or from a barreling left-hander that you have pretty much all to yourself. The locals are friendly here and the prices are cheap. What’s not to love?


Best for adrenalin: New Zealand

If you want to jump off a bridge with an elastic band tied around your ankles, you can do it in New Zealand. If you want to swing across a high gorge, you can do it in New Zealand. If you want to raft a river, or leap out of a plane, or ski down a steep mountain, or hike on a glacier, or pretty much any other activity you can think of that sounds scary or adrenalin fuelled, then look no further: you can do it in New Zealand.


Best for hikers: Chile

If you love to explore the great outdoors on foot, then there’s perhaps no more spectacular location in which to do it than Patagonia. This is a land of extremes, of towering, jagged mountain peaks, of desolate high plains, and of huge glaciers ever so slowly crumbling into the sea below. A multi-day hiking adventure in Patagonia is one of the world’s great experiences — however, do save time for the rest of Chile, which boasts volcanic peaks, rolling wine-country hills, and the high-altitude Atacama.


Best for animal lovers: Botswana

There are many African countries in which to view the “Big 5”, but very few that offer the sort of wild experience that Botswana does. Whether you’re in the famous Okavango Delta, with its huge plethora of game, or up north in Chobe National Park, with its population of more than 50,000 elephants, or even hanging out with the meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, the Botswana wildlife viewing experience is one of no fences, no rules, and no safety net.


Best for culture: PNG

You want adventure? Try trekking deep into the jungle in the hills above Rabaul, waiting in a dark clearing in the middle of the night, and then watching as a huge bonfire is set. Suddenly masked figures appear out of the jungle, running through the flames, stamping on embers, kicking burning logs. This is a Baining Fire Dance, and it’s a tribal ritual that intrepid travellers have the chance to witness in PNG. This is a country of hundreds of fascinating cultures that remain largely undiscovered.


Best for skiers: Japan

There is a place where the snow falls so heavily that you almost get sick of it. There is a place where the lift-pass prices are low, where the accommodation is affordable, where the food is good and the people are friendly. That place? Japan. Japan is a wonderland for skiers, thanks to its enormous, reliable snowfalls and the surprisingly low costs involved. Check out popular Niseko resort, but also don’t miss Hakuba on the main island, and Nozawa, which has some of the country’s best hot springs.


Best for road-trippers: USA

If “adventure” for you means four wheels and a full tank of petrol, then there’s only one country you need to consider: the USA. This is a nation of highways and byways, of busy city streets and empty country roads. It’s a land of arrow-straight tarmac shooting through quiet deserts, and of winding tracks that lead up towards snowy mountaintops. There’s never a dull moment on a US road trip, whether you’re tackling the full Route 66, or just spending a day seeing the sights from the window of a big old American cruiser.


Best for getting away from it all: Mongolia

If it’s isolation you crave, then Mongolia is for you. This is a country that’s almost the same size as Queensland, yet with a population of only 3 million — half of whom live in the capital, Ulan Baator. So that’s a whole lot of empty space that’s occupied by little more than a scattering of nomadic families who still live in traditional yurts, or “gers”. To spend a few nights with one of these families on the windswept Mongolian steppe is to truly appreciate the meaning of “alone”.