Adventure travel is not just for backpacking 20-something hostel dwellers. Check out these seven wonders of the world for adventure-seeking empty nesters.
The kids have flown the coop and your finances are sorted. It's time to embark on new adventures. David Hayward of Australian Air Holidays suggests seven of the world’s most fantastic destinations for the over 50s.
Cape York, Australia
Flying or driving to Cairns is just the start of this journey of a lifetime, which then involves an arduous 1,000km 4WD trek along a dirt road that will probably be remembered best for murdering your lower lumbar region. “You can avoid all that, however, by flying straight into Bamaga airport,” says David. Arriving fresh and ready to enjoy yourself, the rare spectacle of Australia’s most extreme Northern tip unfolds. Experience the culture of the area’s Traditional Land Owners, and the verdant marine wetlands, which are also home to the region's other native inhabitant, saltwater crocodiles. “Guided tours include travel by small bus through tropical rainforest, pristine beaches, and tidal walks,” David adds. Not many people can say they’ve made it to this part of Australia so pack your swag and blaze a trail.
Sand Dune Hiking, Sossusvlei, Namibia
The Namib desert is the closest you’ll probably get to visiting the red planet, Mars. David says, “At Sossusvlei, you’ll find the highest sand dunes on Earth, in shades of wild red and auburn, towering over dried salt pans.” In nearby Deadvlei, see the famous camel thorn trees, long dead due to drought. Scorched by the sun, their skeletal black remains reach dramatically for the sky, unable to decompose despite the intense heat. “You can also tackle the notorious Big Daddy dune, at a colossal height of 325 metres. Treks can be accomplished in a day, or over several days and nights, depending on your fondness for sand – in everything,” David adds.
Birdsville Races, Birdsville, Queensland
Uluru tends to hog all the glory when it comes to Outback must-see hotspots, but the Birdsville Races are one of Australia’s most iconic – and under-rated – events. This famous horse race has been held annually since 1882, but David says many people are put off by the scorching desert heat and the remote location with its dearth of services and luxuries. “Australian Air Holidays has managed to remove the tyranny of distance by offering services that swoop directly onto the Birdsville airstrip – conveniently located next door to the Birdsville Pub.” David laughs. Slake your thirst and immerse yourself in the carnival, full of colourful, friendly Aussies who all have a story to tell about their journey to this isolated pin prick on the map. Birdsville, as you may have guessed, was named for the prolific bird life in the area. Pack the binoculars.
Small Ship Cruising, Alaska
This gorgeous, green United States territory has always lured adventure seekers, but navigating the breathtaking but unforgiving wilderness is not for everyone. “Try instead a small ship cruise that runs through Alaska's inner passage. While most tourists opt for a cruise along the coast, the route less travelled passes through remote and scenic villages including Gustavas, Glacier Bay and, most notably, Wrangell - a tiny berg with a rich Native American, Gold Rush and fur trading history,” David suggests. With fewer passengers on smaller ships, there's more chance to relax and spot seals on ice floes or moose grazing along the shoreline. Some tours include kayaking, and fishing from the ship – and you can ask the chef to cook your catch of the day! For an adrenalin pumping side adventure, jump on an inflatable Zodiac speedboat for a rip roaring tour through Alaska's most unspoiled inlets and estuaries.
Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru
These iconic Incan ruins were built in the 1450s and mysteriously abandoned just over a century later. There are many theories as to the site’s purpose and subsequent desertion, but to this day no one really knows the reasons for either. The site was so well camouflaged that the invading Conquistadores never found it, and Machu Picchu was not rediscovered until 1911. The majesty of this ancient site is only slightly more awe-inspiring than the four-day, 43km Inca Trail trek you can undertake to get there. “This is an immensely popular adventure, so book early as tourist access to the area has been limited to lessen environmental impact. The mountainous terrain takes you past several other ancient ruins and up to 4,000 metres in altitude,” David reveals. Don’t worry though, you can set your own pace and the only extra weight you’ll have to struggle with is your own. Peruvian porters scramble ahead with all your gear to make sure that, by the time you arrive at camp, your next meal will be waiting. Still sound too rough? Some tours skip the whole walking bit and drive you directly to the base of the ruins.
Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
A tiny township located at the point where the Gulf of Carpentaria meets the Arafura Sea, Nhulunbuy is considered one of Australia’s last frontiers. The area has been home to the Yolngu Aboriginal people for at least 40,000 years, and has only opened up to tourism in recent years, following the 2013 closure of the aluminium mine. Gove Airport was initially built to service the mining operations, but now caters to travellers eager to explore this untouched land before everyone else finds out about it. “Spend time at the Walkabout Lodge exploring the local area, discovering its heritage and surprising WWII military significance, and enjoying cultural experiences including traditional yidaki (didgeridoo) performances,” is David’s hot tip.
Hot Air Ballooning, Bagan, Myanmar
Balloons over Bagan ‑ you've seen the images on screensavers everywhere, now savour this adventure of a lifetime in the real world as you float over this mystical, ancient city. “As the sun rises at dawn, you will rise aloft, taking in the breathtaking vista of Bagan’s ancient temples, stupas, and pagodas,” David says. The world as you know it will seem very far away as you drift through the sky in an untethered balloon. You will definitely remember the amazing view long after your smooth landing.
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