Adventures: The World's Last Great Adventures

David McGonigal delves into the realm of near-fantasy to find the wildest adventure holidays in the world today.

My guess is that there would have been someone in Captain Cook's village who wanted to be an explorer, too. However, he didn't never left home because "since Marco Polo there's nowhere left in the world to discover. It's all been done and I'm too late."

More than two centuries later would-be adventurers still raise the same lament. In one way, they are correct: the highest mountain has been climbed and the furthest ends of the world are regularly visited. We are in the era of Guinness-book bizarre when those who took Andy Warhol seriously try for their 15 minutes of fame by being the first to ride a unicycle around the world or the first to walk backwards across the Sahara.

However, for those who are after sensation rather than immortality, this is a golden age. Just a decade or so ago, you had to have a wealthy sponsor and a big reputation to do the things that are now accessible to anyone who can find the money and time. And there are many wild and wonderful trips that don't require very much money at all.

Here are some ideas for those who think that adventure travel is merely about walking well-trod trails in the Andes or Himalayas or travelling an outback track in a 4WD bus. All of them have some degree of exclusiveness because they require a strong sense of adventure or the ability to embrace personal danger.

Let's start with the most extreme. In adventure circles, the unanimous verdict is that ultimate adrenalin rush was Dr Glenn Singleman's and Nick Fetteris' base jump from Trango Towers in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan. If you would like to emulate them, you can base jump Angel Falls, the highest waterfall on earth that plunges almost 1000 metres into the jungle of Venezuela. Very experienced parachutists only need apply. (*1)

Keen surfers are drawn to Waimea Bay on the north coast of Oahu, Hawaii for its huge waves. For extra excitement try boogie boarding the four metre shore break that drops into less than a metre of water. A recent development are Zodiac inflatables that will tow you and your board into offshore waves that are too big to catch by mere paddling. Ask the Hawaii Visitors Bureau (*2) for details.

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro so you can walk through snow on the equator isn't too difficult for any fairly fit person and it's easy to organise (*3). For upwardly mobile joggers, the great challenge is the annual run to the top of Mt Kinabalu in Borneo, the highest peak in SE Asia. Trekkers do the round trip in two days - the winners complete the 21 kilometres in under three hours. Don't expect to win until locals are banned. (*4)

If you'd like to do one of the hardest walks in the world, try the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. Over three weeks you cross the spine of the Himalayas and scale 12 passes averaging 4250 metres yet you never sleep above 3450 metres. A feature of this trek is that every valley is quite different from the next. (*5)

Inevitably, the edges are being knocked off Antarctic travel. So full points to Australian polar mountaineer, Greg Mortimer, for putting together some easy Antarctic climbs for his clients next summer. A highlight of these is that you camp ashore, rather than stay on the vessel. (*6)

The ultimate for experienced mountaineers remains Mt Everest. The 1995 commercial climb of Everest has already departed but there will be another one next year. So if you can climb, have $US25,000 and want to stand on top of the world, call Peregrine. (*3) Climbers on tighter budgets will be glad to hear that, in December World Expeditions is climbing Aconcagua in the Andes - the highest peak outside Central Asia. (*6)

I've walked and hitched the track to the Tibetan side of Mt Everest and I advise those who goes on the mountain bike ride along it scheduled for this October to prepare for a rough ride. But the view of most of the world's 8000 metre peaks from the pass near Shekar Dzong - and the vista of the top 5000 metres of Everest rising sheer from the end of the Rombok Valley - will make it all worthwhile. (*6)

After I did aerobatics in a MiG-21 jet fighter in Slovakia last year, it took ages for the excitement to subside. $10,500 for an hour in a subsonic trainer then a half hour MiG flight is expensive. However, amortise that over the three months it takes for the adrenalin to clear your system and it becomes good value. (*7)

Last year, a helicopter company in New Zealand developed a harness so you can fly suspended 15 metres below the helicopter. (*8)

A cheaper option is to forego aircraft altogether. The Sydney Skydiving Centre gives you the option of either going tandem with your instructor or going solo on your first freefall - with two instructors accompanying you. (*9)

Alternatively, forget about the engine. Flying a high performance sailplane is as close as you can get to pure flight. Contact the Gliding Federation of Australia on (03) 379 7411 for a list of clubs. For experienced glider pilots, the ultimate thrill in Australia is "surfing" the cloud know as the "Morning Glory" that rolls across the Gulf of Carpentaria each dawn in October.

Janne - can you please add:

If you find speed to be the great adventure, the Jim Murcott/Peter Brock Advanced Driving Centre, tel. 558 5082, offers race driving tuition or, for $135, the chance to experience some high speed laps around Sandown as passenger with an experienced race driver.

A significant element of adventure has always been the grand journey. As you read this, people are travelling across Asia, down through Africa, along the world's highest road in Ladakh or through the Himalayas into western China on the Karakoram Highway. Adventure operators run commercial trips along these routes but it's much more of an experience if you just throw some clothes in a backpack and go.

Motorcyclists may be interested to know that there is a company in Kathmandu that operates tours of the subcontinent on Indian Enfields. (*10)

On the aquatic front, you can now sea kayak around Fiordland, New Zealand (*11) or with killer whales along Canada's Inside Passage. (*12) Regulations now permit you to kayak the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, too. (*13) Kayaking Tasmania's tricky Franklin River would be a thrill, too - it's exciting enough in a raft. (*3) or (*6).

For more basic canoeing, take a tour in a dugout mekora through the reeds and wildlife of Botswana's Okavango Delta. The most adrenalin-rich African whitewater rafting is across the border on the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls. (*4)

A week on a dive boat cruising north from Cairns is a journey into wonderland. However, if you're looking for a shot of adrenalin with your bottled air, try swimming with whale sharks off Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. (*14) Or Santo in Vanuatu offers the experience of diving the world's biggest accessible wreck - the President Coolidge. By the time you reach the propellers you've down below 65 metres. (*15)

You can be dropped from a helicopter to dive the sink holes of PNG, heliski the crags of New Zealand, cycle across the Tanami Desert, or ride a camel across the Sahara or India's Thar deserts. Perhaps you'd prefer to horse ride around Iceland or Ireland, or journey to Timbuctoo or Samarkand? It's now possible to paraglide around Mt Cook or hang glide over Maui's volcano, too. Personally, I'm drawn to taking a helicopter tour across the Top End in the wet season, when all the waterfalls are in full torrent.

Or you can just opt for pure danger. How about swimming with the white pointer sharks of Port Lincoln? A ramble through Cambodia? Cycling across Afghanistan?

There's something about snow and ice that adds an intensity to being alive. Just outside Vancouver, Shannon Falls is a high waterfall that freezes solid in winter - that's when it becomes a venue for ice climbers. (*16) Further north in Alaska, you can take a nine day trip dog sledding through the Gates of Arctic National Park (*17) And I've heard of commercial snowmobile expeditions to the North Magnetic Pole - but can't find out more about them.

Next year I'm riding a motorcycle around the world - repeating a journey I made 20 years ago. I thought that was pretty wild and crazy until I started making this list of adventure opportunities.

There are rare adventures so incongruous they induce an involuntary smile. I found one in a dive magazine last year. Canada's eastern Arctic is best known as the place to observe polar bears and large pods of snowy white beluga whales. A group aptly named Mad Dog Expeditions conducts ice diving trips out of Resolute. (*18) You wear a dry suit and explore the caverns at the bottom of icebergs. Now that's a holiday few people will ever match.

Adventure Contacts

If there's anything in this article that made you think "now that's a good idea", there is a remarkable American book called "the Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook". It is - and you'll find it at Patagonia shops.

(1) contact Tom Saunders or Jan Davis in California on (805) 966 1230.

(2) c/o Walshes World, tel (02) 232 7499 or (008) 227 122.

(3) Peregrine Adventures, 258 Lonsdale St, tel 663 8611, fax 663 8618.

(4) Malaysian Tourist Promotion Board, tel (02) 299 4441.

(5) Tenzing Himalayan Expeditions, tel (02) 437 5399.

(6) World Expeditions, 393 Little Bourke St, tel 670 8400, fax 670 7474.

(7) International Fighter Pilots Academy c/o George Bick Travel, UK, telephone (44-116) 254-0588 or fax (44-116) 247-0834.

(8) Helistar Helicopters, Taupo, (64-7) 374 8405.

(9) Sydney Skydiving Centre, tel (1800) 805 997 or (02) 791 9155.

(10) Himalayan Roadrunners, Nepal, tel (977-1) 419 986, fax (977-1) 415 357.

(11) Southern Sea Ventures, tel (066) 561 907 or fax (066) 562 109.

(12) Tofino Expeditions, Canada, tel (604) 737 2030, fax (604) 737-7348.

(13) Nantahala Outdoor Center, USA, tel (704) 488 2175, fax (704) 488 2498.

(14) Exmouth Diving Centre, tel (099) 491 201, fax (099) 491 680

(15) Exploration Diving, Vanuatu, tel (678) 36638, fax (678) 36101 or Pro Dive 882 7970.

(16) check with Tourism Vancouver, Canada, tel (604) 682 2222, fax (604) 682-1717.

(17) Sourdough Outfitters, Alaska, tel (907) 692 5252.

(18) Mad Dog Expeditions, New York, tel (212) 744 6763, fax (212) 744 6568.

David McGonigal © David McGonigal Pty Ltd