Adventure Travel: South America Africa Australia
Difficulty: Trips are rated from 1 (easy) to 5 (difficult)
DIY Potential: Use this itinerary as inspiration for planning a do-it-yourself trip
First Ever: Exploratory trips, undiscovered places
Overland Sahara Desert Crossing >>
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks, Australia >>
Island-Hopping Easter Island, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn, Tahiti >>
Diving Madagascar >>
Viewing a Solar Eclipse, Ghana >>
Skiing in the Andes, Chile >>
Grand Desert Crossing
The Sahara 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions (www.geoex.com) Editor's Pick
Length: 30 days
Because the Sahara stretches more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometer) east-to-west, most desert-traversing expeditions cross along shorter, north-to-south routes—the desert is, after all, only 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometer) at its widest longitudinal point. Not Geographic Expeditions. In 2006 the outfitter offers a 30-day epic that takes in all of the desert's landscapes and cultures from Egypt through Libya and Algeria to Morocco. "It's a real desert camping experience, one that follows the path that Alexander the Great took in 332 B.C.," says Jim Sano, president of Geographic Expeditions. "We'll explore archaeological ruins, desert oases—the major thing, of course, is the traverse east to west over the Sahara. We'll travel the entire route by four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser, which has never before been offered by a U.S. outfitter."
The expedition route passes through the date palms surrounding Sîwa, one of few places in Egypt dominated by Berber culture, before crossing into the signature black volcanic terrain of Libya's Waw Al-Kabir. You'll enter Algeria at Gha¯t, stop at Tamanrasset (the cultural center of the Tuareg people) and drive across the Ahaggar plateau and up the Ziz Oued valley to your final destination, Fès. But even trip designer Carolyn McIntyre acknowledges that there's an improvisational element to this exploratory itinerary. "One never knows what's going to happen with the Sahara weather. And though travel will often be on flat desert terrain, the Land Cruisers could on occasion get stuck," says McIntyre. "It's a tougher trip than others because we don't know where we're going to end up each day. But that's part of the excitement, isn't it?"
Pick This If: You're after the thrill of being along on a Seven Pillars of Wisdomscale epic.
Giants of the Ocean
Australia 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Wilderness Travel (www.wildernesstravel.com)
Length: 11 days
Every April and May, off the coast of Western Australia, dozens of elusive whale sharks gather at Ningaloo Reef to feast on plankton and other small fish. "Ningaloo is the absolute best place in the world to see whale sharks, and very few Americans know about it," says Barbara Banks, director of new trip development for Wilderness Travel, a Berkeley, Californiabased outfitter that is putting together a 2006 trip to the region. "It's the only easily accessible place on Earth where the animals return at a predictable time." An important point, since scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science recently used a satellite tagging experiment to show that whale sharks—the ocean's largest fish at 30 feet (9 meters) in length—show few predictable travel habits.
Luckily you won't have to worry about tracking them in the enchanting shallows of Ningaloo Reef. At nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) long, the reef harbors a gleaming white-sand lagoon and is flanked by blooming coral gardens (more than 250 species are on record) that are, in places, just a hundred yards from shore. You'll snorkel alongside whale sharks as they suck down massive amounts of plankton and krill (no Jaws paranoia here; the sharks are filter-feeders). When not in the water, you'll spend afternoons hiking past lagoons filled with native honeyeaters and long-billed black cockatoos and gaping at bizarre rock formations that house some of the largest stromatolite fossils in the world.
Pick This If: You want your swimming with giant sharks to be cage free.
The Moon and Six Pence
Easter Island, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Tahiti 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Lindblad Expeditions (www.expeditions.com)
Length: 7 to 18 days
On the South Pacific's Pitcairn Island, population around 50, live the descendants of the mutineers from the infamous HMS Bounty, including citizens who bear the surname of captain's mate Fletcher Christian. Next April, Lindblad Expeditions will send its newly christened MS National Geographic Endeavour to the island as a part of a six-month journey through the South Pacific, offering passengers the chance to see what Captain Bligh missed by not going native like his crew. Starting on Easter Island and cruising by Tahiti and Fiji to Papua New Guinea, the Endeavour is part of a partnership between Lindblad and the National Geographic Society; Society experts, such as acclaimed geneticist Spencer Wells, and photographers will join guests aboard the ship, using it as a base for conducting cutting-edge research.
You don't have to sign on for the full six months to ship out: The Endeavour's South Pacific tour is broken into five distinct itineraries, one as short as seven days. Passengers aboard the first, 19-day segment will start by exploring the iconic, prehistoric moai statues of Easter Island, spending two days among the isolated isle's archaeological burial sites and craggy lava fields. Throughout the trip, naturalists will keep watch for birds endemic to the region, including the vividly colored Stephen's lorikeet and the flightless Henderson rail (two of four bird species found only on Henderson Island, an uninhabited UNESCO World Heritage site where experts and guests disembark for observational day hikes). Other stops include Mangareva, famous for snorkeling, diving, and iridescent black pearls; Raroia, where Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki balsa raft made landfall in 1947; and Papeete, where the museums house Tahitian paintings of Paul Gauguin.
Pick This If: You have a bit of noble savage in you.
A Revolution You Can Dance To
Madagascar 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Blue Ventures (www.blueventures.org)
Length: 6 weeks
Founded by three young Britons—Alasdair Harris, Rob Conway, and Tom Savage—Blue Ventures runs dive expeditions from far-flung Andavadoaka, Madagascar, where the nonprofit organization has spent the past two years helping to create a protected marine area for the region's expansive network of barrier and fringing coral reefs. Because of population increases and local fishing pressures, the area's delicate and little studied marine ecosystems are under considerable threat. "Farther south along the same barrier reef, the underwater life has been completely decimated," says Savage. "We aim to develop management plans that will protect the region's unique marine ecosystems and the local communities that rely on them."
Dazzling Andavadoaka, rarely visited by tourists, is about as far off the map as you can get. According to Savage, the site is a two-hour drive from the nearest large town, "depending on flat tires and getting stuck." As a Blue Ventures volunteer, you'll learn to dive and conduct research on the coral reefs with Malagasy locals, measuring fish populations, examining bleaching effects on the reef, and monitoring mangrove swamp ecology, all against an exquisite backdrop of wild palms, blue lagoons, and white-sand beaches. On a 5:30 a.m. research dive, you'll run into pods of dolphins and swarms of butterfly fish, as well as fishermen who will already be out on the water in their
pirogues. Cultural exchange is a hallmark of the Andavadoaka experience: You're likely to find yourself caught up in an impromptu Malagasy dancing lesson or teaching English to locals. Expedition costs vary by qualifications; shorter-term commitments are available.
Pick This If: You have a passion for marine biology and zeal for emerging places.
Departs: Year-round, on a rolling basis
Ghana 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Tusker Trail (www.tusker.com)
Length: 9 days
"With any eclipse experience, totality is the best part," says Tusker Trail founder Eddie Frank, who will lead the outfitter's solar eclipse expedition to Ghana in March. What he means: The solar corona, the scintillating aura that surrounds the sun, is only visible to the naked eye during a total solar eclipse, when the moon completely blocks the sun's light. "It will only last for about two minutes," says Frank, "but the light is like just after the sun goes down. The birds start nesting because they think it's the end of the day. It's a fantastic natural event."
Tusker specializes in guiding climbs of Mount Kilimanjaro but has also run successful eclipse excursions to Zambia and Australia. South Africaborn, Frank has led a whopping 26 Kili summit bids and has a flair for the celestial: In 1983 he helped NASA astronomer Laurance Doyle, Ph.D., discover an ancient stone observatory in northern Kenya. Along with Doyle and native guide Paul Agboglo, an expert on Ghanaian history and culture, Frank will lead the nine-day expedition along Ghana's coast and into the interior, exploring local villages, volcanic lakes, and rain forests. The trip culminates at an eclipse viewing site atop a 670-foot (204-meter) hill. There, joined by elders from the nearby village of Abutia Teti, you'll have 360-degree views of the twilight-tinged horizon. "The Abutia Teti tribes attach a lot of significance to eclipses," says Frank. "The tribe's traditional healer, who will be with us on the hilltop, saw the last eclipse that was visible in Ghana—during World War II."
Pick This If: You've never seen a solar eclipse. You should.
Spring Skiing In the Andes
Chile 1 2 3 4 5
Outfitter: Whitney & Smith Legendary Expeditions (www.legendaryex.com)
Length: 21 days
Along the western foot of the Andes runs a string of perfect volcanic cones virtually undiscovered by backcountry skiers. And each October in Chile, springtime brings clear skies and dreamy hike-up, ski-down corn snow to these snowcapped summits. Next year, Patagonia destination specialist Whitney & Smith offers a three-week ski touring expedition to five of the rugged peaks along this chain, setting out from Santiago and heading south to the 8,725-foot (2,659-meter) Osorno, Chile's Mount Fuji. "In some instances, you'll access the snow by horse, with your skis tied to the back," says co-founder Jane Whitney, who scouted the route this fall.
Whitney is careful to add that the itinerary isn't for the faint of heart: Participants must be able to climb and ski at least 4,600 vertical feet (1,402 meters) each day. The trip begins with five days at Las Mulas, a secluded mountain ranch south of Santiago, from which you'll ascend the first peak, Nevado Longaví (10,600 feet or 3,231 meters). Then, you'll continue south to Manzanares, home to Chile's famous monkey-puzzle forests, and up for the views atop Lonquimay Volcano (9,480 feet or 2,890 meters), which last erupted in 1988. In between summiting 10,040-foot (3,060 meter) Llaima, still-active Villarrica, and Osorno, you'll drop down to tiny villages and soak in the hot springs near Chilean adventure-capital Pucón. And if the weather doesn't hold up for skiing on any given day—volcanoes tend to generate their own weather. After all—hiking, mountain biking, and fly-fishing the Lake District's glassy waters ain't a bad
Pick This If: Tahoe, Whistler, and Jackson are all old hat.
Explore the world over with our guide to the best in adventure travel for 2006:
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