Croatia to Chernobyl: 10 adventure holidays for your bucket list!
Adventures in travel
The depth and breadth of modern adventure holidays is mind-blowing, says Pól Ó Conghaile. Here are 10 of the best for 2017.
Score home advantage in New Zealand
We’d all love to see the Lions play in New Zealand. Pay full whack, though? Not so much. Going to press, Rugby Travel Ireland (rugbytravelireland.com) tours started from €8,950pp. That includes flights, 18 nights’ on the ground and official tickets to all three test matches and the Hurricanes game, but still, it’s enough to make even the most grizzled prop’s eyes water.
Here’s a Plan B. Irish website Homestay.com is offering homestays in New Zealand from as little as NZ$40/€26 per night. Hotels will be squeezed during the tour (June 3-July 8), but a home from home will offer you the chance to live like (and with) a local for a fraction of the price… and often within walking distance of stadiums like Eden Park. You’d better book soon.
And the adventures? Erm, this is New Zealand. If ever you wanted to bungy jump, zorb, white-water raft and ski in one place, now’s your chance.
Details: homestay.com; flights and match tickets extra.
Take the nuclear option in Chernobyl
City break in Chernobyl, anyone?
Back in 1986, nuclear reactor No.4 exploded with catastrophic consequences, and an Exclusion Zone has been in place ever since. It’s not the first place you’ll see on Ryanair’s drop-down menu, but it is now possible to spend over 24 hours inside that no-go area.
Human beings are curious creatures, after all – and UK-based adventure travel experts Explore have a six-day trip that includes two nights within the Exclusion Zone. “We spend the maximum amount of time permitted exploring as many places are we are allowed to go,” they say, including the ghost town of Pripyat, the Red Forest and the shell around Reactor No.4.
And the remaining four days? The trip also includes time in Kiev (to which Ryanair will fly from London Stansted and Manchester this winter), bookending a Ukrainian odyssey you’ll be bragging about for years.
Details: explore.co.uk; from €989pp including flights.
On your bike in Majorca
30 years ago, Stephen Roche bagged the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Road Race Championship in a single year – a famous Triple Crown of victories that etched 1987 into memories as Ireland’s golden year of cycling.
Fast forward to 2017 and Stephen Roche Cycling offers a variety of demanding rides in Mallorca, thanks to the dramatic terrain of the Tramuntana mountains, as well as more leisurely options too. There are 15 planned routes in total and the Corniche ride, for example, is 85km of sweeping climbs and hair pin bends, as well as the most incredible views. Cycling holidays are available to June 4 and from September 16 to October 20, and you can join on any day and stay as long as you like, as they roll continuously throughout the season. An optional ride up to Puig Major and Sa Calobra, the island’s iconic climb, is €75pp.
Details: stephenrochecycling.com; three-night, half-board packages from €571pp, and seven-night, half-board packages from €770pp (flights extra).
Summer adventures in Switzerland
There’s more to Switzerland than ski slopes and Toblerone. Irish-run Adventure Holidays has a multi-activity Alpine adventure that proves the point, and could make the perfect summer weekend alternative to a boozy city break.
The village of Scuol boasts some of the best white water in Western Europe. In the same valley as the famed St Moritz, a few days here will give you the best river rapids but also downhill mountain biking and a high ropes course… Guides are on hand for all activities, and it won’t break the bank either.
Details: Four-day trips from €940pp including train transfers from Zurich, accommodation, some meals, biking and rafting gear (but not flights). See adventure-holidays.ie for more info.
Paddle your own canoe in Croatia
Croatia is a white hot destination for 2017, with a new Aer Lingus flight to Split taking off this month and sunseekers looking to escape more crowded resorts in Spain and Portugal. There’s a lot more to this cool country than Dubrovnik however… and that’s not even starting on Game of Thrones.
ITAA member The Travel Broker has a Dubrovnik and sea-kayaking trip this May including a four-night kayaking adventure along the coast from €989pp. Prefer bikes? It also has a nine-night cycling trip in Croatia’s national parks, including flights, hotel and transfers in May from €1,270pp.
Elsewhere, Croatia Tours has three days on the island of Korcula and four days sailing on a catamaran (with skipper included) from around €1,190 in May. It will take you along to the Elaphite Islands and Mljet… with kayaking along the way “occasionally escorted by friendly dolphins”. Nice.
Details: travelbroker.ie; itaa.ie/offers; croatia.ie.
Hike to Everest Base Camp
Climbing Everest is not for the faint-hearted. Trekking to base camp is another story, however – with the 12 or 13-day hike doable for most fitness levels (though you will have to prepare for some altitude sickness).
After landing in Kathmandu, you’ll transfer towards the Himalayas, spending 12 nights in teahouse lodges as you trek to the staging point for Everest ascents (base camp sits at 5,364m) and back. Along the way, you’ll land at one of the world’s scariest airports (Lukla, where the 500m landing strip literally runs out at the mountain face), pass Buddhist shrines, cross swaying suspension bridges and visit Sherpa villages, with stunning views around every corner.
Details: Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) has a 14-night trip including flights from Ireland, guides, porters and accommodation from €2,159pp. The trip departs on September 30, and should be booked by April 30.
Go fishing in Alaska
It’s all about the wildlife in Alaska. Brown bears catching salmon in their jaws? Check. Humpback whales practically waving to you with their tails? Check. Moose on the loose? Check. It’s even home to the Palin family.
Many visitors see Alaska from the confines of cruise ships, but this great American state is about so much more than picture-window views (it’s twice the size of Texas). Try a self-drive package, or why not get a group of buddies together to cast off with a bucket list fishing trip?
Fly-fishing in freshwater streams is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with wild salmon and rainbow trout just two of the species waiting for your attention. Sportquest Holidays has an epic, 12-day, full-board adventure based in Alaska Trophy Adventures Lodge in Katmai National Park… the only access to which is via bush plane. Oh, and there are fireside cocktails too.
Details: sportquestholidays.com; from £5,720/€6,635pp, including flights. Fly-fishing season is June-September in Alaska.
Be a lighthouse keeper for a night
“I just have this image, this dream of sitting atop of the lighthouse, looking out to sea, and how beautiful and peaceful that must be… I don’t know if you can buy those, wouldn’t they be State-owned? If you could, I’d do it.”
Those were the words of Matt Damon, speaking after visiting the west coast on a trip to Ireland with his family two years ago. The Jason Bourne star was so smitten with the Wild Atlantic Way, he wanted to buy a lighthouse.
Feel the same way? While actually purchasing a lighthouse may prove problematic (not least to your wallet), the Irish Landmark Trust recently added five new lighthouse properties to its line-up – including two houses each at St John’s Points in Co. Down and Co. Donegal, and a third at Blackhead, Co. Antrim, in partnership with the Great Lighthouses of Ireland.
It’s also got stays at Loop Head, Galley Head and Wicklow Head.
Details: greatlighthouses.com; irishlandmark.com; stays start from around €433 for two nights, sleeping up to five (based on Loop Head).
Go wild in Borneo, Rwanda and Uganda
Sick of the same old safari pics? Why not treat yourself to a destination with a difference, trekking to see gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, or venturing to see orangutans in the wild in Malaysian Borneo?
Intrepid Travel has a 12-day Sabah Adventure ranging from the unspoilt wilderness of Kinabalu National Park to the banks of the Kinabatangan River, with orangutans, giant green turtles and rare bachelor proboscis monkeys just some of the wildlife to watch out for along the way. A challenging, two-day Mount Kinabalu climb is included too… rising to 2,800m.
Meanwhile, Sunway has a 10-day, G Adventures ‘Culture and Wildlife of Rwanda and Uganda’ itinerary that culminates with a gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. The chimps at Kibale are a less-publicised highlight.
Details: Sabah Adventure from £1,435/€1,665pp (intrepidtravel.com); Rwanda & Uganda tour from €2,362 via Sunway (sunway.ie). Flights extra.
Heli-skiing and snowboarding in Whistler
Virgin snow can be an obsession. Heli-skiing is a genius solution. Hop on a ‘copter, follow a guide, and within minutes you’re carving up the slopes others can’t reach, without having to carry the gear to get there.
Whistler is tailor-made for the adventure. Pilots centre on a tight area of back country surrounding the Whistler Valley, giving skiers, snowboarders and their guides long runs through natural terrain, gnarly old tree glades and, of course, peerless ‘corn’ snow – the freshest, crunchiest powder around. Book now for the 2017/18 season – tours start from around CAN$989/€690pp.
Traditionally the best months to heli-ski are February and March so you have time to save and plan for early 2018. There are risks, of course, but if you dream of untracked powder and zero lift lines, there’s no better place.
Details: See whistler.com.
NB: All prices subject to availability. This feature originally appeared in Lineout magazine, published with The Irish Independent.