They’ll test your stamina and mental endurance. From trudging through golden deserts and scaling dazzling peaks to exploring the vast abandonment and attaining nirvana, these are some journeys that every traveler must undertake – at least once, if not more. The expeditions are arduous, but the rewards are well worth it.
Most bucket lists – apart from wishing for true love and other variables – always contain a few exotic travels. Not just gilt-edged luxury jaunts and VIP cruises, but feet-numbing, mind-boggling journeys that pit you against nature. These are the journeys that you will recall with pride in your sunset years; the kind of journeys that will turn you from corporate yuppie or housewife into a swashbuckling hero and campfire superstar. However, don’t write that resignation letter or book the next available ticket and dash off recklessly just yet. All these expeditions require steely strength, meticulous preparation and financial grounding.
1. Grand Heights – GR 20 TREK, CORSICA
With more than 20 summits rising over 6,600 ft, Corsica, France’s Isle of Beauty is very glamorous like its sybaritic locals. However, the Corsica GR 20 Trek, or GR for ‘grande randonnee’, which means great trek, is anything but glamorous; it has a fearsome reputation of being Europe’s finest mountain trek, a rite of passage for serial hikers. The trail starts either in Calenzana in the north or Conca in the south. Approximately 15 days and 180 km through tricky terrain brings you to the end of the line (and also your stamina!). You’ll occasionally fit through a Lariccio pine forest or circumvent a glacial lake, then scale a snow-capped peak only to gasp at the island’s dramatic coastline. The highlight is at Cirque de la Solitude, where you’ll need to cross sheer cliffs while holding a chain bolted to the wall. Travel with a group will be a lot more fun.
Key to killing it: Agility and endurance are a must. But so is a relaxing break with some wine and cheese. After all, just because you’re having the most scenic adventure of your life, doesn’t mean you should slum it out.
Red alert: Like to take this already tough hike up a notch? All we can say is that it’s been done before, so don’t let your apprehensions stop you. You need to be a professional athlete though. Time to walk faster, harder, longer.
Best time to go: From late May to September.
2. The Great Outback – CANNING STOCK ROUTE
The Canning Stock Route in Western Australia spans 2,000 km from Wiluna (near Perth) to Hall’s Creek, and crosses some of the harshest and most beautiful desert country in the world. Over a couple of weeks, you’ll meet emus, kangaroos, goannas, bush turkeys lurking around creeks, rocky ranges, gravel rises, sand dunes, springs, clay pans, and salt lakes. Among the biogeographically vital wetlands, look out for Windich Springs, Pools of the Durba Hills, Lake Dora, Rock Pools of the Breadon Hills and Lake Disappointment. Other high points include driving (with permits) into native title lands – a great opportunity to experience the life and art of indigenous inhabitants. Must-do stopovers include the Tjukurba Art Gallery in Wiluna and the Warlayirti Artists in Balgo. But the real juice is bumping and scratching through sand, rock and shrub. Night time means welcome breaks and campfires, and gazing at star constellations wondering how the world is so beautiful.
Key to killing it: Self reliance, especially if you’re traveling in a single vehicle instead of a convoy. Thorough planning down to the last detail helps. Do not travel through the area unless you have made arrangements to cope with your vehicle breakdowns or personal emergencies.
Red alert: Parts of the track are only suitable for high clearance four-wheel drives vehicles and should only be attempted by tough confident drivers. Whatever you do, do not underestimate this terrain.
Best time to go: Between May and September when temperatures are relatively mild. Nevertheless, be prepared for zero degree evenings and keep a watch on rain forecasts.