Nature and outdoors

World’s Wildest Places

Heed the call of the wild by seeking out these remote places where nature is at its most breathtaking

Second Beach, US

The northwest tip of the US is a diverse collection of glaciated mountains, towering Douglas fir forests and rugged coastlines. The contrasting landscapes of Washington state’s Olympic National Park draw adventurous types from across the US and daytrippers from nearby Seattle. Wild beaches – like Rialto and Second Beach – are among the most popular excursions, famed for their crumbling sea stacks shrouded in mist, with plenty of secluded coves, tide pools, driftwood and caves to explore.

Cathay Pacific launches flights to Seattle from Hong Kong on 31 March, 2019. 

Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea

Wild place, Karkar Island, Papua New Guinea
Chris Caldicott

Rows of coconut palms and morning clouds create a dramatic foreground to Mount Uluman, an active volcano on Karkar Island, 30 kilometres off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. Photographer Chris Caldicott snapped this scene from the bridge of Coral Discoverer, an expedition vessel chartered to sail among the little-visited archipelagoes scattered across the Coral, Solomon and Bismarck Seas between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Bipeng Valley, China

Bipeng Valley, China

Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Bipeng Valley is an untamed area of natural beauty found 200 kilometres northwest of Chengdu. The U-shaped valley borders Mount Siguniang to the south, the highest peak in western China; the Tibetan Plateau to the west; and the giant panda corridors to the north. Adopting vivid characteristics for each of the four seasons, the valley has colourful alpine forests and waterfalls in the summer, with frozen lakes and vast glaciers in the winter. 

Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Wild place, Peru's Rainbow Mountain
Alexander Fuchs

Think of Vinicunca – Rainbow Mountain – as the product of a sort of vast open-air cement mixer. Tectonic plates beneath the Andes region of Peru heave up and down. Wind and rain oxidise exposed minerals. Goethite and limonite turn sandstone brown, iron sulphite adds a yellow hue, chlorite lends a shade of green. Hence Rainbow Mountain’s attraction to geologists; Peruvians, who worship the 5,200-metre edifice as the deity of Cusco, the nearest city; and an increasing number of trekkers who either make a day trip to fill their Instagram feeds, or include it as part of the 70-kilometre Ausangate circuit, rated as one of South America’s most challenging hikes.

Lake Toba, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Tumpal Hutagalung

Lake Toba is 100 kilometres long, up to 30 wide and 505 metres at its deepest. So ‘inland sea’ might be a better description.

It’s thought that the lake in North Sumatra, Indonesia, was created by the largest volcanic explosion in the past 25 million years, which spewed ash as far as Africa.

Around four hours’ drive from Medan, the lake is where you’ll also find the island of Samosir (which you can see in the distance), home to the local Batak people.

White Desert, Egypt

Wild place, Egypt, White desert
Stephen Belcher

These iceberg sculptures marooned in an ocean of sand are from Egypt’s White Desert national park, or Sahara el Beyda.

Located 600 kilometres southwest of Cairo, the desert’s chalky waves – which soar dozens of metres high – were once a continuous plateau of calcite.

But over millennia, the steady influence of sand and strong wind sculpted them into dunes and intriguing shapes resembling camels, chickens and mushrooms. Temperatures top 47°C in summer.

Shiprock Pinnacle, US

Wild Place - Mexico-Shiprock Pinnacle
Samuel Hesketh

For the Navajo people, the land is rich in legends. Shiprock Pinnacle, the rust-red remains of a volcanic plume formed 30 million years ago, is known to locals as Tsé Bit’a’í – ‘the rock with wings’.

One legend says it’s because the jagged 482-metre-tall rock was once a giant bird that carried the Navajo to New Mexico before turning to stone; another tells of two monstrous birds who lived on the rock and occasionally swooped down to feast on the natives.

You can glimpse the outcrop if you drive west on Highway 64 towards the Four Corners – where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet. 

Cirque de Mafate, Réunion Island

Landscape in Mafate Cirque, La Réunion
Simeon / Getty Images

Rising out of the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, Réunion Island is a continent and an ocean away from France – the country that put it on the map in the 17th century as a stopover on its East Indies trade routes.

Today, it’s a stopover for its natural beauty: white-sand beaches and wild landscapes like Cirque de Mafate. The only way in – or out – of this mountainous, rainforested caldera is via helicopter or trekking through its valleys, rivers and waterfalls.

County Galway, Ireland

Landscape Dogs Bay, Ireland
Janet Matthews

A rare habitat, the moody machair grasslands of western Ireland feel like a set of Game of Thrones. This raw landscape hugs the coastline, best known for Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Beach.

Just over the headland, travellers will find gin-clear waters and bleach-white sand, made of seashell fragments pummelled to powder by the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

Caddo Lake, US

Caddo Lake, United States

Caddo Lake gave up its secrets long ago. Almost as quickly as pearls were discovered in the 1910s, the rush fizzled out.

It was the same for oil when greater reserves were discovered elsewhere in the Lone Star state.

But take a slow, floating trip down the tangled waterways of the 10,300-hectare lake on the Texas-Louisiana border, and you’ll see there’s still plenty of Southern Gothic mystery lurking among the hulking cypresses, silvery mosses and occasional flashes of alligator tails.

Orkney Islands, Scotland

Orkney Islands, Scotland
Theasis/Getty Images

Found on one of the Orkney Islands, a cluster of 70 rocky outcrops off Scotland’s northern coast, the Standing Stones of Stenness on Mainland are one of the oldest stone circles in the British Isles. The stones were left by Stone Age settlers, used for ceremonies more than 5,000 years ago; then by Vikings to worship Norse gods 4,000 years later. Two hundred years ago this month, the Orkneys achieved a different kind of fame in the novel Frankenstein. Author Mary Shelley sent her man-made creature to this lonely land in search of a wife.

Cathay Pacific flies to destinations in Scotland from Hong Kong with its partner airlines

Lake Eyre, Australia

Shore line of Lake Eyre South, outback South Australia.
Excitations / Alamy Stock Photo / Argusphoto

Water is scarce in the Lake Eyre Basin. The lake, in the heart of South Australia, is the lowest point in the whole country – 15 metres below sea level. And while it spends the majority of the time as a dry, barren expanse covering more than one million hectares, on the rare occasions it floods it becomes the largest lake in Australia. A new book, Lake Eyre Basin Rivers, explores the basin, its rivers and the life it supports.

Cathay Pacific flies to Adelaide from Hong Kong five times a week

Mount Anne, Australia

Mount Anne, Tasmania, Australia
Tourism Tasmania

The South Coast Track was the route back to civilisation for 19th century sailors shipwrecked off Tasmania’s southern tip. Today the 85 kilometre bushwalk through Southwest National Park, Tasmania’s largest wilderness, is where hikers come to flee the modern world. You won’t find any lodges, luxury or otherwise (pack a tent). The reward: coastlines, ancient forests and lush mountains like Mount Anne; and weird and wild Tassie flora like these spiky, red-tinged pandani plants, only found on the island.

Hossa National Park, Finland

Hossa National Park, Aulanko, Finland
Teemu Tretjakov / EyeEm / Getty Images

Finland is sometimes called the Land of a Thousand Lakes, but it could easily be called the Land of a Thousand Forests: they cover almost 70 per cent of Europe’s least densely populated country. (A new national park, Hossa, was established to celebrate the country’s centenary.) In winter, its lakes and forests – like this one in Aulanko, in southern Finland’s Kanta-Häme region – turn into a frozen wilderness: pack your snowshoes.

Cumberland Island, US

Wild Horses in Cumberland Island, US
Anouk Krantz

If long walks through nature are your thing, you’ll love Cumberland Island, just off the coast of the US state of Georgia. You’ve got 28 kilometres of Atlantic-facing, white sand shoreline, ancient oak forests and abandoned historical sites to explore. And you’re more likely to bump into a wild horse than a person – they outnumber people four to one. Originally brought to the island by the Spanish in the 16th century, they’ve since been left to roam free (and reproduce: there are now more than 150). If you can’t visit them, pick up a copy of photographer Anouk Krantz’s book Wild Horses of Cumberland Island.

Sea Ranch, Hong Kong

Sea Ranch, Lantau island, Hong Kong
Gary Ng

At the end of the 1970s, Lantau Island’s Sea Ranch was a fantasy development complex with a helipad and a clubhouse; now it’s an (almost) abandoned beachside residence shut off from the rest of Hong Kong.

Only a handful of people call the development – accessible only by private boat from neighbouring Cheung Chau – home now. We commissioned local photographer Gary Ng to capture Sea Ranch by drone.

Tottori Sand Dunes, Japan

Tottori Sand Dunes Japan
Sean Pavone/Alamy Stock Photo/Argusphoto

Stretching 16 kilometres along the coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, is a sight that’s definitely more Sahara than Shinjuku – the Tottori sand dunes. This desert, half the size of Manhattan, sits at the edge of Tottori prefecture, three hours from Osaka. The dunes, some more than 50 metres high, were created over 100,000 years ago by the build up of sediment and volcanic ash from the Chugoku Mountains carried down to the Sea of Japan by the Sendai River.

Garajonay National Park, Spain

La Gomera island Canary islands Spain
Pixel 8 / Alamy / Argusphoto

You’ll have to go deep into the Garajonay National Park, on the island of La Gomera in Spain’s Canary Islands, to find this wilderness. Here, the island’s peaks funnel mist into the central valley of El Cedro – the heart of the evergreen laurel cloud forest that covers 70 per cent of the park – creating a landscape straight out of a Tolkien fantasy. Only problem is, it’s a trek to get there – you need to take a ferry from neighbouring island Tenerife.

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Canada

Horizons WWP / Alamy Stock Photo / Argusphoto

A day in the life of a glacier is pretty slow. Today, you might be a metre or so ahead of where you were a month ago. Life is even slower in the Kaskawulsh Glacier, in northwest Canada’s Yukon.

It’s so large – the glaciers, plural, cover more than 25,000 square kilometres – that it takes up to 7,000 years for the ice to travel the 70 kilometres through the St Elias Mountains to the rivers at its end. For scale, this junction where the arms meet is almost six kilometres wide.

Julian Alps, Slovenia

Ofis Winter Cabin in Slovenia

Perched precariously on Mount Kanin, in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, architectural firm OFIS’ Kanin Winter Cabin takes mountain accommodation to new extremes. And this is an extreme place: more than 2,000 metres high, dotted with caves, abysses and ravaged by extreme wind, rain and snowfall. Your reward for climbing through all that is the view across the Slovenian-Italian border from the snug 104-square-foot aluminium and timber cabin. The cabin is currently in its testing phase – so best to write to OFIS about snagging a bunk.

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