Pull on your boots and stretch your legs with these top treks through some of the finest scenery on earth.
For anyone who has ever pulled on a pair of walking boots, a trek to Everest Base Camp must sit on top of the ultimate must-do list. To stand in the shadow of the world’s tallest mountain and gaze upon its formidable, snow-capped pyramid is one of the most spine-tingling experiences in travel. The good news is that while you’ll be following the famous footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, this route in Nepal has become a welltrodden, moderate trail that’s well within the capabilities of most reasonably fit, regular walkers.
Highlights come thick and fast, beginning with a brief yet hair-raising flight across the Himalaya from Kathmandu to the trek’s starting point at Lukla. Then there’s the colourful Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, close-up views of the crashing Khumbu Icefall, and a chance to witness the classic view of Everest at dawn from the summit of Kalapatthar (5,545m). Encounters with the friendly Sherpa people and yak trains along the way also promise hugely enjoyable memories. To maximise your chances of reaching Everest Base Camp, pick a guided trek itinerary that spends at least a couple of days at the highest point of the trail; it’s a long way to come only to miss out on the climax because of a spell of bad weather. At these high altitudes, it’s also wise not to rush the trek, so go for an itinerary that promises a moderate pace with several acclimatisation days included en route.
Best time to go: Mar-May and Sep-Nov; www.welcome2nepal.com.cn
Situated in Sabah, Borneo, soaring Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia at 4,095m. Despite its size, trekking to its jagged summit can be achieved by any person of regular fitness and requires no mountaineering equipment. The climb starts in dense rainforest draped in creepers, strangling figs and spotted with orchids, gushing waterfalls and the whoops and trills of tropical birds such as barbets, hornbills and the Bornean blue flycatchers.
The path meanders through this exotic forest with handrails and steps to help along the way. Higher up the vegetation changes to conifers, oaks, and tree ferns, with rhododendrons blooming in wonderful shades of yellow and red. But once above the tree line, nothing grows and steps quickly give way to ropes to haul yourself up. A typical mountain climb takes two days – a first day trek to some huts about three-quarters of the way up, then a very early start the next day (around 3am) to begin the final steep ascent to the peak, in time for sunrise. Then, descend to the base camp in time for evening. You can’t begin an ascent without first confirming a reservation at Laban Rata, the mountain refuge at 3,273m. There’s also the permit to obtain plus a mountain guide – on average some 140 climbers a day are allowed up the mountain and back.
Best time to go: Feb-Aug, though a chance of rain all year; www.sabahtourism.com
Walk on the wild side
Established in 2006, Australia’s beautiful Great Ocean Walk weaves for 104km along a wild stretch of Victorian coastline via national parks and marine sanctuaries from the picturesque resort town of Apollo Bay to the awe-inspiring rock formations known as the Twelve Apostles. The bustling modern city of Melbourne is only a few hours’ drive to the north, but here you’ll feel transported to another era entirely. Come prepared for a mythic landscape of wide windswept beaches, the tallest sea cliffs in mainland Australia, and misty rainforests alive with exotic birdsong.
It’s the ever-changing visual treats that most appeal to walkers here, from hidden fern forests and valleys where dinosaurs once roamed, to ancient shipwrecks and the occasional glimpse of a passing southern right whale. It takes about seven days to complete this entire purpose-built trail, but it’s been cleverly designed with lots of access points so that you can choose to sample sections at a time. Seven eco-friendly campsites lie on the route (local operators can provide tents and provisions) but you must remember to obtain a camping permit at least two weeks before you start your hike. Alternatively, you can arrange a drop-off and pick-up service with bed and breakfast providers, or join a guided group trek.
Best time to go: Mar-Apr and Oct-Nov; www.visitvictoria.com
Scotch on the rocks
Tracing a leisurely 100-km path beside Scotland’s spectacular Cairngorm Mountains, the Speyside Way reveals one of the loveliest and most unspoilt parts of Britain. The route begins at the alpine-style ski resort of Aviemore, following the rushing waters of the River Spey down through heather-clad granite hills and ancient Caledonian forests, before reaching its conclusion at the historic fishing town of Buckie on the Moray coast. This landscape is dotted with pretty stone-built villages, cosy inns and grand country houses – don’t miss a visit to Ballindalloch Castle, known as the Pearl of the North, as this is one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland and home to the Macpherson-Grants family since 1546.
The trail also brings you to one of the premier whisky producing regions in the world. Speyside is home to many famous makers of single malt Scotch such as Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich, several of which are within easy walking distance of the Speyside Way. Some distilleries such as Aberlour and Macallan offer tours with tastings, and even for the non-drinker, they offer fascinating insights into the relationship between alcohol, the land and society.
Best time to go: Apr-Oct; www.moray.gov.uk/area/speyway/webpages