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Robert Glazier Content Writer 7 months, 3 weeks ago

10 Amazing Natural Sites & National Parks

  • Overlooking Merzouga Desert

Our world is full of wonders and the best ones are quite often simply provided by nature. We are blessed with an abundance of outstanding and many times dramatic landscapes and scenery. With that in mind, here are 10 natural sites and national parks you should really consider visiting.

The South Pacific

1. The Australian Outback

Uluru/Ayers Rock in the Outback

First of all, what exactly is the Outback and where would you find it because it is not exactly a strict geographical area? An interesting fact is that it spreads into every state of Australia. So with limited time on an Australian vacation, it is highly recommended you start your visit in Alice Springs, which is in many ways the epicentre of the Outback and a destination well worth spending time in. While here, you should visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which flies to patients living in remote areas, and the School of Air. You should also check out local galleries displaying Aboriginal art. From here, you should next head to Kings Canyon with its high walls. Parts of it are sacred to local Aboriginal people. The best way to experience its natural beauty is to take an amazing walk along the bottom, even if only for a short time. If you have the time, you can walk to the very end (the round trip is 6km/3.5mi). Think of it as a less-forbidding Grand Canyon experience. Continuing your Outback visit, the next stop should be Uluru/Ayers Rock. This enormous red rock edifice appears to soar above the landscape, changing colour depending on the time of day and year. This is, once again, very sacred to local Aboriginals and because of this fact, it is no longer possible to climb the rock. Nevertheless, you will be in awe of it just by viewing it from its base. Sunrise and sunset are especially magical times to view Uluru as it reflects a violet/blueish tinge. We recommend you also take in the Outback highlight of the Olgas, a group of large and ancient (hundreds of million years old) rock formations in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. There are as many as 36 domes spread over more than 20 square miles. Now, you can see all of this wonderful scenery from Alice Springs, but it would really enhance your Outback experience if you included overnight accommodation at Uluru/Ayers Rock. After all this, your camera will have been very active!

2. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

You are vacationing on the South Island of New Zealand and want to see some of the spectacular scenery for which this destination is famous. You will find it in Fiordland, New Zealand’s largest national park. You can easily reach it on a day tour from either Queenstown or Invercargill. What you will see here are dramatic fjords, spectacular waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, ancient rainforests clinging to the mountainsides, and shimmering lakes. A leisurely way to enjoy the spectacular scenery is a cruise along the Milford Sound, which will allow you to enjoy the exceptional beauty of the region. It has dramatic sheer cliffs, massive waterfalls, glaciers, and rainforest all in one place. You can see dolphins putting on a show for you and penguins waddling across rocks. These cruises usually last around 90 minutes. If you want to be more energetic, there is a 500km/310mi network of walking trails, which enable you to explore the mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and moss-carpeted valleys. You can find three of these walks in Fiordland National Park, the best-known being the Milford Track, which takes five days to complete. A less-strenuous walk is on the dramatic Hollyford Track, which goes through undisturbed and exceptional scenery. This can be undertaken with an expert guide. Another way to view this amazing region on a New Zealand vacation is to take the three-hour cruise on Lake Te Anau, the largest of the southern glacial lakes with its three large fjords. Whatever you decide to do, you will see nature at its best.

Africa

3. The Garden Route, South Africa

Knysna Lagoon from above

If you have spent time in Cape Town and are next off to another fascinating part of South Africa, don’t overlook the Garden Route, a beautiful stretch of coastal scenery between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. A few days travelling in this region will fit nicely into your travel itinerary, especially as it is probably en route to your next destination. The Garden Route stretches between Mossel Bay in the west and Plettenberg Bay in the east and covers a total distance of 300km/185mi. You will experience an exceptionally scenic coastline, excellent beaches, attractive lakes and lagoons, dense forests, dramatic ravines, and deep gorges. And that’s not all. There are top-rated golf courses, artists’ colonies, bungee jumping sites, and attractive resorts. Travelling west to east, you first reach Mossel Bay, a resort with safe swimming beaches where you can go cage diving with great white sharks and visit a nearby private wildlife reserve. Herold’s Bay is beautiful and secluded and a good place to see whales and dolphins, as well as play golf. George is known for its golf courses and hiking trails in the Outeniqua Mountains. You should consider a side trip from George to nearby Oudtshoorn where you can visit a fun ostrich farm (try having an ostrich steak for lunch) and the impressive Cango Caves with its stalagmites and stalactites. Wilderness is the appropriate name for more dramatic scenery where you can walk along the beach with towering cliffs in the background. It is a paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers. Knysna is known for its lagoon and protected marine reserve. While there, it’s a must that you take a cruise to the Heads, two brightly-coloured cliffs at the mouth of the lagoon. The Tsitsikamma National Park offers dramatic coastal scenery, reefs, rivers, and lush forest offering hiking trails and nature walks. Finally, Plettenberg Bay is a resort, one of the country’s top tourist destinations, and a place to relax. You will definitely enjoy all or part of it depending on the time available.

4. The Sahara Desert

Your school geography probably taught you that the Sahara is the largest sand desert in the world, occupies roughly 30 percent of the African continent, and spreads through all or parts of 10 North African countries. Well, a desert can be more than miles and miles of sand. If you’re in Morocco, you can access the desert from Marrakech. Consider taking the 3-day, 2-night tour, which heads first through the High Atlas Mountains to the desert town of Ouarzazate. You will never forget spending the night here under an amazing starlit sky, which is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Your accommodation will be in a traditional desert camp where you will learn about the way of life of the nomadic Berbers. A highlight has to be the sun rising over the sand dunes in the desert. If you’re in Tunisia, take a tour to the Sahara from any of the following resorts: Hammamet, Sousse, Port El Kantaoui, Monastir, and Skanes. None are very far away on a Tunisia vacation. You can choose from a half-day in the desert or multi-day tours that include overnight camping. It’s best to take at least a 2-day tour with overnight accommodation to do justice to your desert experience. When you reach the desert, you visit a Bedouin nomadic tribe. You’d overnight in the desert at Tozeur, an oasis town. The next day brings a tour into the Atlas Mountains before returning to your resort. Consider two forms of transportation available on these tours—one by jeep and the other by camel. Guess which one will bring back more memories?

South America

5. Torres del Paine

View of Torres del Paine National Park

Patagonia is a region shared by Argentina and Chile and includes parts of the Andes mountain range, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Tierra del Fuego peninsula. If you’re on an Argentine vacation, you can visit the Perito Moreno Glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park, which is extremely large at approximately 30km/19mi in length. Unbelievably, the ice field is the world's third-largest reserve of freshwater. You can reach it by a bus ride from El Calafate, where your tour starts. The visitor centre features a walking circuit, which allows you to view the southern flank and the east-facing edge of the glacier. If in Chile, head to Torres del Paine National Park, one of Chile’s largest and most important national parks offering outstanding scenic beauty with glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and lagoons. The terrain consists of shrubland, forest, and desert, all of which provides a unique habitat for wildlife. Activities here can include trekking, horseback riding, climbing, and fishing, and there are eco-lodges in which you can stay. Tierra del Fuego is a landmass at the bottom of South America shared by both Argentina and Chile and separated by the Straits of Magellan. The capital, Ushuaia in Argentina, is the cruise gateway to the Antarctic and the southernmost city in the world. From Ushuaia, you can walk up to Glacier Martial just outside the city, visit the Harberton Ranch, an 1886 missionary pioneer home housing a laboratory for the study of sea mammals and birds, and take a boat ride across the Beagle Channel to the Isla Martillo to view the large penguin colony.

6. The Pantanal, Brazil

Where is the world’s largest wetland? The Pantanal in Brazil, where forests, lakes, and grasslands make up the terrain. Translated, Pantanal means swamp and is primarily situated in Brazil, but also spreads over into Paraguay and Bolivia. Besides the Galapagos Islands, it is South America’s most popular wildlife viewing centre. Because of a network of winding rivers and oxbow lakes, which flood in the rainy season, you need to take a boat through the forest. It is home to around 3,500-known plant species with more being discovered all the time. The extensive flooded marshlands teem with everything from piranhas to jaguars to Yacare caiman crocodiles with over 200 mammals and 1,000 bird species. The region’s protected areas include the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park and three private nature reserves where you have opportunities to indulge in wildlife safaris and canoe trips. You would stay at lodges and travel in 4x4 safari vehicles to see all the wildlife and natural sights.

Europe

7. The Norwegian Fjords

Geirangerfjord in Norway

The Norwegian fjords are absolutely spectacular and the west Norwegian coastline has more than 1,000 of them. Just to clarify, a fjord is a long, deep, narrow body of water that starts on the coast and travels inland, usually with very steep towering walls of rock on both sides. Here are three fjords to include in your Norway vacation. The Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord with a depth of 1,300m/4,225ft and extends just north of Bergen to the Jotunheimen National Park. There is an arm, the Naeroyfjord, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you will find the highest mountains in Norway. The Hardangerfjord, just south of Bergen, is the world’s fourth-largest fjord and the second-longest in Norway, stretching 179km/111mi. There you’ll find Norway’s third-largest glacier. The Geirangerfjord is surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks as well as lush, green vegetation. It stretches for 15km/9.3mi and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by some of the steepest mountains on the west coast of the country. The sides rise almost vertically out of the fjord with dramatic waterfalls plunging down into the fjord. We recommend you take the train journey from Oslo to Flam, enjoy a stop here exploring the fjords, and then continue to Bergen. While in Bergen, make sure to take a tour to at least one of the above-mentioned fjords.

8. Cappadocia, Turkey

If you’re on a Turkey vacation, try to visit Cappadocia. This is a very unusual place and not easy to describe in a few words. Located in the centre of the country, it is a natural wonder, which has been enhanced by humans. It is a mixture of fantastic landscapes and underground features. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else that I have ever seen. Cappadocia consists of windswept rock formations, which are bizarre in shape. From these, fresco-adorned rock-cut churches and subterranean tunnels have been developed. Make sure to visit the Goreme Open-Air Museum, the country’s largest open-air museum with its subterranean passages. Also make time to view the fairytale chimneys, the underground cities, and the long deep gorges that were once used by Christians fleeing from Roman soldiers. You can visit the cave houses, but, better still, stay at one of the cave hotels hewn out of rock, which are just as comfortable as any usual hotel. A popular thing to do here is to take a hot-air balloon ride over this phenomenal landscape.

Asia

9. Chitwan National Park, Nepal

On the river in Chitwan National Park

Animal safaris are synonymous with Africa. But if you find yourself in Asia and are an aficionado of wildlife viewing, don’t fret; you’ll find safari options here too. The Chitwan National Park is the perfect place to enjoy a safari while on a Nepal vacation. It should be noted it has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and is considered to be one of the best wildlife viewing parks in the whole of Asia. It is located roughly in the middle of Nepal. What will you see? Quite a lot of animals, including rhinoceros, leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears, hyenas, wild dogs, mongoose, deer, monkeys, and the Royal Bengal tiger. There are approximately 70 different species of land animals, plus the park contains over 500 different bird species. There is actually no accommodation inside the park itself but there are luxury lodges just outside the park boundaries with less expensive accommodations a little further away. Due to the dense jungle and the tall grass, your wildlife viewing could be limiting. However, the answer is to literally rise above the grassland by taking a safari on the back of an elephant: a very popular way to go.

10. The Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Did you know that the Gobi Desert, which covers parts of northern and northwestern China as well as southern Mongolia, is the largest desert in Asia and is the location of several important cities along the Silk Road? Don’t just think of sand stretching on forever. This desert has a varied landscape, with high mountains and forests. You can climb sand dunes—the Khongor Sand Dunes are the biggest and most impressive in the world, with stunning panoramic views of the desert below. This was a land where dinosaurs roamed. The region around Bayanza was excavated and dinosaur bones, fossils, and eggs a million-years-old were found. The Flaming Cliffs have an eerie beauty and are thus named due to their colour when the sun shines on them. They are also home to wildlife, which includes mountain goats, gazelles, vultures, and wolves. You can visit a national park on a Mongolia vacation near Khalzan Uul, which means “bald mountain,” where ancient burial grounds were found. The springs here are considered therapeutic, curing everything from hangovers to common diseases. Arrange to stay in a yurt, a dome-shaped tent, which the local inhabitants use as their home. As you can see, the Gobi Desert is so much more than just a desert.

4 Mar 2020, 6:30 p.m.

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