It’s one of the ultimate travel goals: how to well and truly get away from it all. Here’s ten trips, selected by the writers and editors at Rough Guides, that offer true isolation and recuperation. Share your own below.
Sleep out in a remote bothy
Britain may be one of the most crowded islands on earth, but it’s nevertheless still possible to trek for days through some truly remote areas, mainly in the north of Scotland and the Welsh hills. Scattered across these moors and valleys are old stone bothies, once lived in by farm workers and estate staff. Nowadays they lie empty except for a supply of firewood, awaiting the next walkers keen to rest and warm themselves at the end of a long day’s ramble.
The Mountain Bothy Association maintains around a hundred of them across the British Isles. They are very simple places: no water, perhaps a wood-burning stove and at best a platform upon which to roll out a mat to sleep. There’s no booking system, no room key and no charge – you simply turn up, sleep the night, tidy up and move on.
Bothies are only to be used for short stays and are too small for groups any larger than six. The Mountain Bothy Association (www.mountainbothies.org.uk) offers members details of where the various huts are located.
Get out into the wilds of Scotland at Alladale
On a clear day, standing on top of Glen Alladale, you can see the east and west coasts of Scotland. This is the narrowest point in Britain and also one of its most remote: an hour and a half from Inverness, itself the northernmost city in the UK. But then, you don’t come to stay in the lodge and cottages of the 93-square-kilometre Glen Alladale Wilderness Reserve for the nightlife.
Wildlife, however, is another matter. You can watch (or catch) salmon as they swim and leap their way upstream to spawn. The sky is patrolled by buzzards, peregrine falcons, ospreys and even golden eagles. And amid the heather and pine-covered terrain, along with the many deer, there are wild boars, pine martens, otters and a couple of elk.
For more information on rates and activities see www.alladale.com.
Get away from the trail in Alaska
The whole point of walking in the designated wilderness area of Alaska’s Denali National Park is that you can make it up as you go along. Unlike the smooth, well-managed paths around the park’s entrance area, the backcountry has no managed trails, so you have to rely on good old-fashioned navigation and nous.
Occasionally you’ll come across “social trails” of footprints where others have gone before you, but to limit your impact on the fragile ecosystem it’s best to avoid these and forge your own route; negotiating the boggy tundra, traversing ridgelines and following the many rivers in this spectacular heartland of Alaska – home to wolves, Dall sheep, moose, caribou and bears.
The challenge of negotiating your way across the trackless tundra, camping out in the wild and pitting your wits against Alaska’s elements requires determination, flexibility and ingenuity, but your reward is hiking in true wilderness with only wild animals and wildflowers for company.
Reservations (only available one day in advance) are made at the Backcountry Information Center at the park’s Riley Creek entrance area. For a checklist of equipment and advice on low-impact hiking in Denali see alaska.org/denali/advice-denali-backcountry.htm.
Explore the Commander Islands, Russia
When people talk about the edge of the world, they’re probably thinking of places like this. Sailing among the seventeen treeless Commander Islands in the icy Bering sea, where the only settlement has a population of 750 people, is a journey into an extreme wilderness of volcanic plateaux and legendary summer fogs which can blanket out all around for miles.
This wilderness is far from empty though. Around 200,000 northern fur seals spend their summer here to mate and give birth and a million sea birds, including fulmars, guillemots, puffins and kittiwakes form huge colonies atop the coastal cliffs.
Dr Vladimir Sevostianov, a marine biologist with more than 25 years’ experience of fieldwork in the region, leads two-week trips to discover the islands by sea and on foot. One day you might be bathing in a hot spring, the next following migrating whales or training your binoculars on colonies of sea birds on the cliffs above. Guests stay in simple cabins in Nickolskoe, the only town on the islands, or on board the research vessel, part-funded through tourist fees. As time is also spent meeting the local Aleut people you’ll leave with some insight into the culture of those who make this inhospitable place their home.
For more on the people, art and fauna of the Commander Islands see home.comcast.net/~mishkabear/island.
Discover the island of Olkhon, Russia
When Lake Baikal freezes over, it’s possible to drive from the mainland 12km over the ice to Olkhon, one of the world’s largest lakebound islands. As you reach it (with a sense of relief that you didn’t sink into the icy depths) you’ll see the road’s edge coloured with wooden poles tacked with fluttering ribbons: shamanic totems where it’s customary to stop and make an offering of a few coins.
Jack Sheremetoff – a native of the nearby city of Irkutsk, where you can stay at his Baikaler Hostel – takes visitors from the hostel to explore this island, where you’ll peer over precipitous cliffs and shine your torch into icicle-filled caves. Accommodation is in the wooden home of one of Jack’s friends, where instead of running water there is a banya (a Russian sauna) to get clean. Dinners include omul, the salmon-like fish found only in these waters.
Three-night or four-night tours start from Irkutsk, a major stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, five days’ travel from Moscow. For more on Baikaler Hostel as well as tour details see www.baikaler.com.
Take the road least travelled in Bhutan
If any country in the world can lay claim to the word unique, it’s the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan. Where every other government in the world views economic growth, measured via Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as the indicator of its success, this landlocked region nestled between Tibet, Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim has declared that its yardstick is GNH, or Gross National Happiness.
Tourists are welcome as part of groups (or escorted individuals) and account for its second-largest industry – but they are still few and far between. All tourism must be approved by the government as being environmentally and socially sustainable, and as such the idyllic landscape – scattered villages surrounded by terraced paddy fields, soaring snow-covered peaks and stone mountain fortresses with foreboding iron doors – remains almost untouched by industrialization. The close familial bonds, religious devotion expressed publicly in an endless array of colourful festivals, and the shifting of the seasons all still define daily life for most of the people you’ll encounter.
Bhutan also has some of the best trekking in the world, from short visits to the villages in the sacred Bumthang Valley to the awesome Lunana Snowman trek – a 28-day high-altitude trek into the most inaccessible parts of the country, home to yaks, yeti legends and the vast mountain of Gangkar Punsum. Head off into the beautiful hills and you’ll probably come across more yaks than fellow walkers.
If you’re planning a trip, the national tourism website of Bhutan is a good place to start: www.tourism.gov.bt.
Visit Maria Island, Tasmania
“No cars, no shops, no worries” was how the flyer for Maria Island National Park read a few years ago. But it forgot to mention no people. If part of the park’s appeal is casting yourself adrift on an island that has barely changed since Europeans first waded through its aquamarine shallows around 250 years ago, another is that most tourists haven’t yet cottoned on that it’s there.
Because it’s 14km offshore – and only accessible by a small ferry – Maria (pronounced “Ma-rye-a”) remains a hauntingly beautiful Treasure Island while the much-lauded Freycinet National Park just up the coast is besieged by coach tours. And it is the isolation that saw it swing from convict sink of the British Empire to Victorian health retreat, preserving the wildlife in the eucalyptus rainforest and making it Tasmania’s very own Noah’s Ark for endangered species.
Take to any number of paths and Forester kangaroo, pademelons and Bennetts wallabies can be seen bouncing away into the bush. Cape Barren geese, a breed near extinction in the 1950s, trim the grass by the jetty – just one from a spotter’s book of rare birdlife – while in a marine park you can see dolphins, seals or even whales in season. Of course, you can also just loaf about on some spectacular sands such as Reidle Beach, the sort of improbably perfect arc you ache to tell friends about. Or on second thoughts, maybe not.
Maria Island Walk (www.mariaislandwalk.com.au provides four-day luxury treks on the island from October to April.
Walk the wild Tarkine, Tasmania
The little known Tarkine region in the remote northwest of Tasmania is almost certainly the next big thing in Australian wilderness. In 2004 the Worldwide Fund for Nature described the state’s last frontier as “a world beyond human memory, a living link to the primeval supercontinent of Gondwana”. Three years later Australian TV’s Channel Nine called it “the last unknown wilderness in Australia”.
Only on foot do you appreciate the epic quality of the Tarkine. To traverse the southern hemisphere’s largest temperate rainforest, camping beneath moss-bearded myrtles and bathing in waterfalls of chilled spring water, is to timewarp into a world of myth forged when mankind was just a glint in evolution’s eye. To hike 30km up its empty coastline is to be humbled, whether by evidence of tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal existence or by waves that travel unopposed from Patagonia.
Everyone loves a travel secret. Yet after a moratorium on logging was lifted in 2003, the Tarkine is “still wild, still threatened”, as the conservation slogan puts it. This may be one secret to shout about.
Tarkine Trails (www.tarkinetrails.com.au operates the six-day Rainforest Track and five-day Wild Coast trip from November to April.
Experience New Zealand’s best wilderness lodges
Tucked away in the middle of the 27,000-square-kilometre New Zealand World Heritage Area, 300km from Queenstown, Lake Moeraki Lodge is one of the great places to get away from it all. The light, airy rooms have views out to the surrounding rainforest, while four more luxurious suites overlook the churning rapids of the Moeraki River. From here you can kayak through orchid-filled rainforests, go on nocturnal hikes to look for glow-worms or make the short trek to Robinson Crusoe beach, a suitably deserted stretch of tree-fringed sand.
The lodge is one of two established by the former director of New Zealand’s Royal Forest and Bird Society – the other, Arthur’s Pass Wilderness Lodge, is 130km from Christchurch. Perched between the Waimakariri River Valley and the Southern Alps, the accommodation here has panoramas that are hard to beat. During the day guests can have a picnic on mountain meadows carpeted in subalpine flowers, or trek to the many waterfalls that cascade down Mount Arthur. The lodge even has a working merino-wool sheep farm, and depending on the time of year you can help out with the lambing, weaning or shearing.
Both lodges are open Aug–May; for rates, reservations and activities see www.wildernesslodge.co.nz.
Visit an uninhabited Solomon Island
The Solomon Islands is one of the least-visited nations in the world: as a consequence there is barely any tourism infrastructure and what exists is basic. But those adventurous enough to visit this scattering of tropical islands are guaranteed a memorable trip: with hardly anyone else around you can paddle in dug-out canoes, hike through virgin rainforest, dive some of the most spectacular reefs in the world and stay in simple village guesthouses, such as those built on stilts above the waters of the world’s longest lagoon, Marovo. Conservation organizations, such as WWF, have been working with village landowners to encourage them to start small tourism enterprises based around these activities, rather than give way to foreign logging companies intent on taking valuable and rare timber.
One of the islands under threat, Tetepare, is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific. Over 150 years ago its residents fled, for reasons unknown, but their descendants continue to visit the island to hunt and fish. Rare skinks, turtles and birds nest on this safe haven, where, so far, the loggers have not been welcome. Small numbers of hardy tourists can visit and stay overnight in a handful of simple palm-and-wood chalets, with visitor fees used to create jobs and provide improved healthcare for Solomon Islanders. You must be accompanied by a guide at all times, who will come across with you in the boat.
You can help the island’s wardens (who are also the resident chefs, making simple fish and rice suppers for guests) with scientific research like counting coconut crabs or monitoring turtles; snorkel over giant clams and coral gardens or hike through one of Earth’s last untouched island wildernesses. If you like your experiences removed from urban life, then this may be the perfect getaway.
For directions from Honiara, reservations, a list of what to bring and prices see www.tetepare.org.
Where do you head when you want to get away from it all? Share your top tips below.