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Overland Track Permits: what you need to know

Did you know less than 60 permits* are available a day to trekkers on Australia's Overland Track during the summer season? Here's what you need to know about securing your permits to walk Tasmania's world-renowned trail.

If you have your sights set on completing the Overland Track in Tasmania but are unsure how the permit system works, we have you covered. This guide will give you the ins and outs of obtaining a permit for guided and self-guided walks on the track, what it covers, why they are necessary, when the permits are released and what options you have if you miss out.

Organising your Overland Track permits

You are required to have a permit pass when walking the Overland Track, however, choosing a trusted company to guide you on the trail takes the hassle out of organising this with the permit and the Cradle-Mountain-St Clair National Park pass covered.

As an Australian operator on the trail since 1989, World Expeditions secures the National Park passes and associated track passes each year for all their trekkers. It is a process that takes place well in advance before the season commences to ensure that when you want to go, you can get them locked in. 

However, permits and passes are issued in limited supply, so booking in early is your best shot at securing them. This is especially the case if opting for a self-guided walk. These permits are released from July 1 and tend to sell out within days during the peak season.

*Note: limited permits are available a day to trekkers on the track during the summer season (October to May) – 34 of which are for independent walkers. You can visit the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Services website for the latest information.

RELATED: Walking the Overland Track FAQs

 

Why do I need a permit to walk the Overland Track?

An Overland Track permit helps avoid overcrowding on the track and the fee contributes to the sustainable management of the track.

As most of the track is not serviceable by road, the permits manage the record of walkers entering the fragile environment to account for the impact of the track and surrounding wilderness. The preservation of the wilderness is essential to safeguard the area for its flora and fauna and for people to experience the beauty of Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Everyone who walks the Overland Track will need to purchase an Overland Track Permit if planning to do it from October to May. However, for the months of June to September, while no permit is needed, you do need to register.

What about the National Parks pass?

All walkers are also required to possess a current Tasmanian National Parks Pass regardless of the time of year.

What happens if I miss out on a self-guided permit?

Trying to secure permits for a self-guided walk on the Overland Track is like booking tickets for the footy grand final, it's either get in quick or miss out. Luckily, you won't have the same problem with our guided walks. So if you missed out on a permit on your preferred date, don't stress! You can jump onto our guided Overland Track where we have permits secured in advance.

If you prefer a self-guided walk, you can explore the Overland Track's underrated neighbour, Walls of Jerusalem. This more remote World Heritage alpine wilderness of Tasmania does not require the purchase of permits, with equally spectacular natural landscapes that are only accessible on foot.

Plus, it attracts far fewer visitors than the Overland Track making it very alluring for those who want to get away from it all. Read more about the Walls of Jerusalem walk versus the Overland Track in this blog post.

Does my Overland Track permit confirm a spot in the huts on the track?

While your booking confirms your place and date of departure, when walking self-guided, this does not guarantee a place in the huts along the track.

The public huts cannot be booked and are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, therefore walkers are required to carry a tent if a hut is full. But rest assured that when travelling with Tasmanian Expeditions, quality gear use is part of the package so you aren't caught out in bad weather.

If camping-based trekking isn't your thing, you can experience a private luxury hut stay on the Cradle Huts Overland Track trip to add a little more comfort to your walking holiday. The exclusive huts are well hidden away from the public huts and campsites with the luxury of returning to a hot shower, a potbelly heater, comfy beds and a Tassie wine after each day's walk on the Overland Track.

Does my permit include transport transfer to and from the track?

If you purchase your permit independently, the Overland Track permit fee does not include transport to/from the track, or the privately-owned Lake St Clair Ferry. It would be your responsibility to organise these transport links. However, if travelling with an experienced operator, like World Expeditions, transfers can easily be organised.

Ways to experience the Overland Track & Cradle Mountain area

The Overland Track is internationally renowned, home to the famous Cradle Mountain and Tasmania’s highest mountain Mt Ossa at 1617 metres. The 65-kilometre trail begins at Ronny Creek with the majestic Cradle Mountain towering in the distance. Winding through ancient rainforests, alpine meadows, waterfalls and mountain ranges leading to the summit. Viewing the native endemic flora and wildlife the track ends at scenic Lake St Clair.

The track can be experienced in the main season with our guides or self-guided where all the logistics, food (you get to choose from a menu!), equipment, support and passes are included. You can choose from camping or use private huts along the track. It can also be explored in the winter for a guided walk into a white snowy wonderland where you can try out snowshoeing. View our range of trips.

Whichever walking experience on the Overland Track you choose – guided, self-guided, in summer or winter, staying in tents or private huts, rest assured your National Park passes will be provided to you when booking with us in advance. But don't leave your decision too long as they do sell out!

Last updated 7 June 2022.

Transcaucasian Trail: the next BIG thing in trekking

If a trek in Georgia or Armenia isn't currently on your radar, then get ready to update it because the Transcaucasian Trail is slowly becoming trekking's next big thing.

On the borderlands between Europe and Asia, the new Transcaucasian Trail will extend more than 3000km. It will connect more than 20 national parks, endless UNESCO listed sites and protected areas in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, collectively known as the Southern Caucasus.

"Svaneti is at the centre of a Caucasus-wide experiment in sustainable tourism to see whether slow, self-guided tourism can preserve these fragile environments and cultures, rather than erode them." - BBC Travel in A new hiking route between Europe and Asia.

While the full route is still being developed, you can now trek sections of this biodiversity hotspot with World Expeditions in both Armenia and Georgia – the first two countries that were adequately mapped.

You can combine both hikes, completing the Armenia segment first and then continuing the trail in Georgia, as an 18-day adventure full of history, incredible scenery and with few trekkers in sight.

Georgian Transcaucasian Trail

Views of Upper Svaneti region in Ushguli, Georgia Caucasus Mountains Walking into Georgia's dramatic Caucasus Mountains Hiking to Ushguli in the Svaneti Valley |  <i>Julie Haber</i>

Hike along varied and fascinating landscapes – from floral meadows and mountainous backdrops, to cascading waterfalls and glacial scenery.

The highlights:

  Visit the charming city of Tbilisi – a beautiful blend of nature and crumbling art nouveau architecture.
  Take in enthralling views from Svaneti, which is nestled on the southern slopes of the central Caucasus Mountains and surrounded by 3000 to 5000-metre snow-capped peaks. Four of the 10 highest mountains of the Caucasus are in the region.
  Explore 3000-year-old Mtskheta – the ancient capital and religious centre of Georgia, as well as the historic cave town of Uplistsikhe.
  Walk to the foot of Mount Ushba's system of stunning waterfalls and to its breathtaking glacier before enjoying a scenic picnic.
  Marvel at the huge collection of permanent glaciers at Mount Tetnuli and ascend Chkhutnieri Pass (2730m) for spectacular views of Tetnuli (4800m).
  Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Jvari church (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century).

 

TIME Magazine listed the trail through the Caucasus Mountains as one of the world's 100 greatest places in 2019, with Forbes placing the Armenian hike in the limelight as a must-do experience.

Armenian Transcaucasian Trail

9th century Apostolic Tatev monastery stands on the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River. Wilderness hiking along paths less trodden, Transcaucasian Trail, Armenia |  <i>Breanna Wilson</i> A local lady makes lavash, a flatbread eaten throughout the South Caucasus |  <i>Breanna Wilson</i>

Home to ancient churches and monasteries, beautiful lakes and countless UNESCO World Heritage Sites, trace parts of the Caucasian Silk route in Armenia that's overflowing with history and scenic brilliance.

The highlights:

  Hike to the picturesque 1st century A.D. Garni Temple which overlooks a deep canyon before heading to the Garni gorge to admire volcanic basalt formations called “the symphony of stones”.
  Stand in awe of Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world located at 1900m, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Known as the “blue eye of Armenia” or the “Pearl of Armenia”, the freshwater lake of volcanic origin changes colour several times during the day – turquoise in direct sunlight, then turns a greenish shade, and grey by the evening.
  Soak up with medieval Armenian architecture of the Geghard Cave Monastery. The cave enclosures of this cultural and architectural wonder are notable for amazing acoustics where some of its chambers, carved from solid rock, possess exceptional acoustics.
  Experience scenic Dilijan “Little Switzerland”.
  Pass through Armenian colourful villages, enjoying the peace and magnificent scenes of a remote mountainous villages such as Hahgpat and Akner.

The Transcaucasian Trail have the hardiest trekkers in our team brimming with excitement. Why not be one of the first to experience it?

 

Interested in the cities and historical sights of the region? Join this adventure touring trip in Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia that is a fascinating journey from Baku to Yerevan. 

 

Top 5 Springtime Cultural Festivals

The spring season sees a lot of cultural festivals being celebrated around the world. We collected the most colourful ones that are a privilege to take part in at least once in your life. 

Travel to Paro in Bhutan for the Paro Tshechu festival or reach higher spheres during the Hemis festival in Ladakh. Then there are the Buddhist Pi Mai (New Year) in Laos; Mongolia’s annual sporting event, Naadam Festival; and Cusco’s vibrant Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun), all of which are colourful celebrations that are attended by locals and visitors alike.

Inti Raymi in Peru

What is it? The Festival of the Sun

Inti Raymi celebrations |  <i>Nigel Leadbitter</i>

The event traditionally involved the sacrifice of an animal to ensure healthy crops. The sacrifice was banned by the Spaniards, and today the festival involves a procession through the streets with music, prayers, dancing, and scattered flowers. 

The Inti Raymi Festival or "sun festival" is a religious ceremony that dates back 500 years to the Incan Empire’s heyday. The festival honours one of the most venerated gods in the Inca Empire: Inti. 

Women with brooms sweep away the evil spirits plus you will see priests and participants dressed as snakes, condors and pumas. It’s the second largest festival in South America with hundreds of thousands of people travelling to Cusco to celebrate the weeklong event.

Local enjoying Inti Raymi Festival in the streets of Cusco |  <i>Heike Krumm</i>

When is it? It is celebrated on the shortest day of the year, also known as the Winter Solstice, which is generally around June. 

Want to join? Time your visit to Peru around June when the festival is set to occur. It's a great way to add more cultural elements while incorporating the magnificent sights of places like Machu Picchu.

Hemis Festival in India

What is it? Celebrating the Birth of Guru Rinpoche (or Lord Padmasambhava)

Gathered men at the festival at Hemis, Ladakh |  <i>Adam Mussolum</i>

Observed at the Hemis Monastery, the festival is situated in a gorge in the north-Indian province of Ladakh and is a colourful celebration in honour of Lord Padmasambhava. 

The festival is famous for the masked dances that represent the good prevailing over evil and is performed by gompas that follow tantric traditions. 

The festival is said to originate in the 8th Century and other activities include the offering of food, playing traditional music (think cymbals, trumpets and drums), and performing spiritual ceremonies. Joining the festival is believed to give spiritual strength and good health.

Colourful costumes at the Hemis Festival |  <i>Brad Atwal</i> Several hundred Ladakhi villagers from throughout the Indus Valley attend the Hemis festival. |  <i>Adam Mussolum</i> Hemis Festival |  <i>Adam Mussolum</i> The traditions of the two-day festival at Hemis, Ladakh |  <i>Adam Mussolum</i> Traditional and elaborate masked dancer at the Hemis Festival |  <i>Adam Mussolum</i>
 

When is it? The Hemis Festival is celebrated annually in the month of June or July.

Want to join? You can visit the beautiful Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh in June or July. We often offer special itineraries centred around the festival.

Naadam Festival in Mongolia

What is it? It is locally known as the 'Three Games of Men Festival'

Spectators looking on during the Naadam festivities

The festival is an ancient cultural spectacle that combines colourful costumes and performances with an exciting tournament of three traditional sports: archery, wrestling and bareback horse riding. 

Travel to Chandman village to experience the festival in a setting of nomadic life. In the capital of Ulaanbaatar, visitors are presented with an incredible opportunity to experience the culture and people of this amazing land.

Locals in the Naadam Festival opening ceremony |  <i>Fiona Windon</i> Wrestling, archery and horse riding are the three competitions of Naadam Festival Spectators looking on during a provincial Naadam archery competition Naadam Festival opening ceremony |  <i>Fiona Windon</i> Wrestlers at the Naadam Festival in Mongolia |  <i>Caroline Mongrain</i> Locals at Naadam Festival |  <i>Caroline Mongrain</i> Naadam Festival in the Mongolian steppe |  <i>Caroline Mongrain</i>
 

When is it? This is the biggest festival of the year in Mongolia and is held throughout the country in midsummer from July 11-15. 

Want to join? You have several opportunities to visit the Naadam Festival when travelling on our Mongolia trips in early July. Get in touch with our team for ideas on the best trips that include the Naadam Festival. 

Pi Mai in Laos

What is it? Buddhist New Year

Photographer capturing the History and art at a temple in Luang Prabang |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

Like its neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, celebrations for the new Buddhist year are important for locals. 

Expect to be celebrating alongside them towards the last days of the festival. Usually, days at the start of the festival are set aside to clean homes and temples and to spend with family. A traditional ceremony is for women to pour on men a cup of perfumed water with flowers. 

Today, this transformed into a carnivalesque water festival in places like Luang Prabang.

When is it? Celebrations are from 13 or 14 April to 15 or 16 April.

Want to join? Book an April departure to join in on the festivities in Luang Prabang.

Paro Tshechu in Bhutan

What is it? The Festival of Paro

The magnificent colours of Tatksang Monastery in Bhutan |  <i>Liz Light</i>

A tshechu is a religious and cultural festival in Bhutan and, according to the Lunar Tibetan calendar, throughout the year many are held. 

One of the most popular ones is in Paro valley: Paro Tshechu. Experience the living Bhutanese culture when the local people celebrate Guru Rimpoche who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. 

Festivities include masked dances, drums, trumpets, ceremonies and people wearing their beautiful, colourful costumes. One of the highlights of the festival is the unfolding of the thangka, named ‘thnongdroel’ in Bhutan.

When is it? The Paro Tshechu Festival is generally held in March or April.

Want to join? Tie in an exploration of Bhutan with a Paro Valley visit. We incorporate various cultural journeys into our Bhutan itineraries.

The ‘Adventure Mindset’: the path to health and happiness

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” – Oprah

I often feel frantic and frazzled getting ready for a weekend adventure. Projects pile up and I wonder what on earth I was thinking about adding extra challenges to an already busy life.

But when I stand on that summit overlooking the vast wilderness of rich emerald forest or gaze across snow-capped peaks or feel the sun warm our skin as it pops over the horizon, a weight lifts off my shoulders and the whole world glows.

When we take the call to adventure, our upcoming exotic challenge often motivates and excites us as we gather skills, fitness and gear to prepare for the journey. Life takes on a whole new dimension of happiness and fulfilment.

Wild Women in the Bungles |  <i>Di Westaway</i>

When we’re immersed in a real adventure with friends we feel natural exhilaration. We share magic moments. We feel the wonder of awe.

Doctors call it 'lifestyle medicine'. We call it adventure.

Neuroscience shows that adventure is really good for us. It connects all our happy hormones into one harmonious heaven of pleasure. Millions of people around the world now get to feel the health benefits of adventure by choosing to book a trip to an exotic land. But when you choose an active adventure, you get the magic motivation of the team challenge to lift your health and fitness to another level.

Adventure is a state of mind. Active adventure is a state of mind, body and spirit.

There are many paths to health and happiness. I am only an expert in one: the adventure goddess journey. Adventure goddesses live natural exhilaration because we reconnect with nature and design a lifestyle that synchs with our ancient origins. And Wild Women On Top has helped nearly 20,000 of them feel better.

During the past 35 years of seeking health and fitness, I discovered the healing powers of adventure through adversity. When I was tired, miserable, wrung out and fighting forty, I faced a mid-life crisis. I overcame it by embarking on a real adventure with friends. And now I help other women do the same.

Many women today are exhausted. We are overworked and run-ragged. We are insanely busy bees, rushing around madly with no time to nurture ourselves, working long hours for lifestyles that don’t bring us real happiness.

We have been seduced by a first-world culture that tells us Botox, thigh gaps, acrylic nails, and Brazilians bring happiness and that the doctor will fix us when we get sick.

We’ve lost our way.

But psychiatrists say three things make us happy: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to: adventure. But I want more than just happiness. I want natural exhilaration.  And to get natural exhilaration, we need nature.

Tramping the Routeburn Track |  <i>Julianne Ly</i>

Nature brings sustainable happiness and fulfilment. It helps us thrive. In nature, we find real health and power. Nature energises mind, body and spirit, creates healthy food and provides action.

As I soar to sixty with a fit, healthy, resilient body and mind, leading a business that supports a family of four, I feel not just happy, but fulfilled. I can still do handstands, climb trees, bounce on beds, out-ski my kidults (not bragging, just saying) and dance about. And so can you.

Remarkable Rocks jump |  <i>Di Westaway</i>

Why an 'Adventure Mindset' is good for you

Adventure is a metaphor for life. There’s the thrill of the planning, the excitement of the challenge, the freedom of the hills, the meditation of movement and the exhilaration of overcoming the odds.

The 'Adventure Mindset' is a recipe to help us feel natural exhilaration. It is a thought tool that adapts the lessons of wild adventure to life. It teaches mental toughness, builds confidence and helps you kick-arse at work, home and in life. When you experience a challenging adventure in the wilderness you experience a journey that gives you a skill-set that can directly impact the way you manage your day to day life.  It gives you an ‘Adventure Mindset”.

The mindset starts with a purpose. When you add people and a plan you get pleasure and power. And when you add nature, you get natural exhilaration.

Life can be tough. Hardships hurt. But with the adventure mindset when life whacks you in the face, you’ll whack it right back.

Words by Di Westaway

Feeling inspired? Find your inner goddess on our Women's Adventures →

7 other reasons to visit Africa

Usually, the number one reason for travellers visiting Africa is to embark on a wildlife safari or climb Kilimanjaro. While Africa certainly has some of the most extensive wildlife viewing opportunities and one of the seven summits, there are many other reasons to travel to Africa.

The African continent teems with unique landscapes, ancient history, geographical wonders and active adventures.

Check out the other reasons to visit Africa that will make this incredible continent jump to the number one spot on your adventure list.

1. Tropical beaches that rival some of the world’s best

Africa certainly has a lot of beaches, making it impossible to choose the absolute best. However, a top pick would be the beaches on the small island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam.

This small island boasts clear azure waters, white coral sand and plenty of diving and snorkelling opportunities, making it the perfect place to relax after a safari or trek up Africa’s highest peaks, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.

Pristine beaches of Zanzibar
 

2. Vibrant cities

Africa is a melting pot of ancient and cosmopolitan cities.

Explore Morocco’s Marrakesh, a densely packed, medieval city that dates back to the Berber empire. The maze of alleys and thriving markets evokes images of Disney’s Aladdin, and you’ll be hard-pressed to shake the image of a magic carpet from your mind as you browse hundreds of intricately hand-woven rugs from the eclectic souks.

In contrast, South Africa’s Cape Town is a modern cosmopolitan city that boasts a spectacular coastline and rich cultural heritage and history. The city is undeniably beautiful both for its setting against one of the new seven wonders of nature, Table Mountain, and its regeneration of industrial districts, Dutch, Malay and British influenced architecture, and historic buildings.

 

3. Geological wonders

Visit the world’s highest sand dunes in the Namib desert, witness the world’s largest and most powerful waterfall, Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, and explore the lush water world of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Discover Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of the world’s largest unbroken, un-flooded volcanic caldera, or even stopover at Fish River Canyon, the second largest river canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon).

With a wonderful variety of wildlife, culture and adventure, the African continent will deliver truly unforgettable experiences.

 

4. Camping, glamping, and everything in between

Camping in Africa is an invigorating experience; it offers a close connection to the land, nature and wildlife (we’re talking birds and beetles – not buffalo and lions). So, what better way to experience Africa?

The best thing about camping in Africa is that there are many grades of camping, so it’s not all bush tents and bare essentials – though there is that too! Whether you’re keen on pitching a tent to experience the outdoors first-hand, want that little bit of luxury, like bush showers attached to your campsite and fully serviced camping, or high-end camping in luxurious dome tents with full bedding and an ensuite, Africa offers it all.

 

5. Head to the waters for a different safari experience

Though not commonly associated with the country’s dry landscape, there are exciting water-based activities, including exploring the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta by mokoro, and canoeing down Manambolo River in Madagascar brimming with endemic birds. Enter the spectacular and little-visited Manambolo Gorge through a limestone plateau. It's a great alternative to the usual game drive safari experience.

If your inner water-child calls for a trip with water activities, Africa has all you need and more.

 

6. It's brimming full of BIG things

As the second biggest continent in the world, Africa is jam-packed with some of the world’s biggest things:

• The largest desert in the world, the Sahara Desert (explore it on our Morocco itineraries).

• The longest river in the world, the Nile River, runs for 6,853km (4,258mi).

• The world’s biggest inland delta, Okavango Delta (see it on our Botswana itineraries).

• Highest freestanding mountain in the world (and one of the Seven Summits), Mount Kilimanjaro (climb it on our Kilimanjaro treks).

• The world’s oldest desert – the Namib desert in Namibia (see it on our Namibia adventures).

• The world’s largest wildlife migration on Earth occurs in The Serengeti in Tanzania, with over 750,000 zebra marching ahead of 1.2 million wildebeest as they cross this unique landscape (experience it on our Serengeti Explorer).

• It's the home of the largest living land animal, the African elephant, which can weigh up to seven tons.

• You'll also find four of the five fastest land animals here – the cheetah (70 mph), wildebeest, lion, and Thomson’s gazelle (all about 50 mph).

• It has the world's most extensive outdoor art galleries with more rock art sites than any other continent. Large amounts have been found in the Sahara Desert, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kalahari and Botswana. However, many remain undiscovered because they are situated in remote areas of the desert or are rarely visited by humans. The oldest known art found has been estimated to be between 27,000 – 40,000 years old, offering an insight into the ancient people’s beliefs, way of life and stories.

 

7. Over 3000 fascinating tribes and cultures

Africa is home to over 3000 tribes, each with incredibly different languages, cultures, and traditions.

Some of the tribes are well known: the Zulu, which also happens to be Africa’s largest ethnic group of 11 million people; the Masai, who have deeply rooted traditions and culture and are known for living a nomadic lifestyle and herding cattle for a living; and the San and Batswana people of the Eastern Kalahari, with a cultural heritage that is over 20,000 years old.

While thousands more exist, each has equally fascinating communities and traditions that forever captivate the modern world.

  

Ready to travel to Africa? Explore our wide range of African adventure tours.


 

Traveller stories: What to expect when rafting Tasmania's Franklin River

Too much water and you can be marooned for days and with too little water, well, the journey becomes an exhausting experience. The tradeoff, however, is unique wilderness, incredible outdoor camping and an adrenaline-rushing rafting journey that's to be expected from one of the top five rafting experiences in the world. Read a past rafter's account paddling down one of Australia's most famous and wildest rivers, the Franklin.

Reflections on the last 10 days on the Franklin River are many and varied but it was everything we had hoped it would be. 

The rafting was more than a chance to revisit a cause long forgotten in the annals of time, it was an experience for the ages, a true wilderness adventure superbly, and energetically guided, managed, organized and supported.  

Adrenaline rushing rapids, solitude and untold beauty among the majesty of Frenchmans Cap and its surrounding ranges left an indelible imprint. 

We dined like kings; paddled like dervishes; climbed like monkeys, as we hauled the boats and our gear over boulders the size of houses; and we soothed our bruised bodies each evening in the sparkling chilled waters of the river. 

Challenging? Yes. Safe? Always. Tiring? Certainly. 

Although, we didn't push the trip as some brave souls do for reasons which allude me. Why rush to get out of Paradise and an adventure for the ages? Savour the moment. 

In hindsight, it was an exhilarating adventure with just the right balance between a unique wilderness and outdoor camping experience and an adrenaline-rushing rafting journey that's to be expected from one of the top five rafting experiences in the world. It didn't disappoint.

Riding the rapids: be prepared to put in the hard work

You have to work or should I say paddle to enjoy it, with the ever-present commands ringing in your ears as the guides pushed pulled and paddled us down the river.

What we didn't appreciate was that the experience very much depends on water level and flow which ultimately are derivatives of the weather. 

Good weather and the water level tends to be lower than ideal with more portaging and mind-boggling hauling of boats and gear across boulders the size of houses; bad weather and the water height tend to be higher and closer to that necessary for that ideal adrenaline rushing experience. 

As they say, it's a matter of balance but with too much water and you can be marooned for days and too little water, well, the journey becomes an exhausting experience.

Our weather was perfect with little or no rain, a unique first for southwest Tasmania which meant that we perhaps did a little bit more hauling heaving and portaging than otherwise would be necessary.

But the tradeoff was clear skies, good swimming in water you can drink straight from the river all day every day and the benefits that come from seeing no one, hearing no one and leaving no footprints.

Only about 800 people do the Franklin each year now and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say there's not a scrap of paper, bottle or can to show that civilisation has entered the Franklin valley. 

No lifeline to civilisation

It's undisturbed like the silent hand of some ghostly apparition reaching out across the valley – a mysterious but beautiful spectre than only amplifies what becomes the perfect isolation experience. 

We were totally alone with only the sounds of the rhythmic beat of our paddles as they cut through the rushing waters and the bark of the guides with their incessant “left side", "right side", "hard", "forward", "fall back” to break the silence. 

There was no mobile coverage, no other paddlers, and no sign of wildlife except for the odd trout, one brave platypus and a lonely quoll over 120 kilometres, but felt entirely safe on the water and under the stars.

Dining like kings

The amount of food the guides sport was limited only by the space on the boat, which was a pleasant change from the South Coast Track where weight was the big obstacle. 

So there were pan-fried scallops, fillet steaks, chicken Kyiv and other luxuries ever-present on the Franklin.

The bottom line: should you raft the Franklin?

If you want total isolation, an outdoor adventure, that little extra dash of adrenaline to make you feel younger, to enjoy the company of like-minded friends in some stunning country, and aren't afraid of some hard work, then the Franklin is for you and World Expeditions is the perfect host for the experience.

There was nothing but extreme natural beauty, stillness and solitude to embrace each morning as the long fingers of mountain mist crept up the valley and the paddlers emerged from yet another blissful night under the stars.

Truly magical. A trip for the ages. 

Words by fellow rafter, Roger Davis, who paddled the rapids of the famous Franklin River in March 2022 and has set his sights on his next adventure in Tasmania: the Walls of Jerusalem in winter.

When is the best time to visit Antarctica?

So you've decided to take the great adventure voyage to the south, but which month is the ‘best’ time to visit Antarctica

The answer really depends on what you are looking for! There are three distinct Antarctica cruise seasons, and each has its own special highlights to experience. 

Whether you plan on photographing the stunning wildlife or want to witness new penguin hatchlings, this handy guide will help you decide which cruise is right for you.

November: for adventurers

Kayaking the tranquil waters in Antarctica |  <i>Justin Walker</i>


At the beginning of the season, November is the most adventurous time to visit. Penguins and fur seals are actively courting, coming out of winter to forage for food and participate in spectacular courtship rituals. The spring flowers are in bloom in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, while the snow and ice are at their most pristine levels. The winter ice begins to melt, creating magnificent landscapes of sculpted ice.

Plan your Antarctica cruise for November if you're fascinated by the early Antarctic explorers such as Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Mawson and looking to experience that sense of discovery. 

December to January: for wildlife photographers

South Georgia's breathtaking scenery and huge numbers of wildlife make it a 'must see' |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i>


As the temperatures rise to the warmest months of the year, so does animal activity. The first penguin chicks are hatched, seal pups are visible and a growing number of whales can be seen in the Antarctic waters. With around 22 hours of sunlight, the conditions are incredible for photo opportunities.

Plan your Antarctica cruise for December or January if you fancy yourself the next Wildlife Photographer of the Year!

February to March: for whale watchers

A Whale Cruise in Antarctica


Late summer is prime whale-watching season, including both humpback and minke whales. Penguins are in various stages of undress, with young chicks fledging as they shed their fluff for new waterproof feathers to catch fish at sea. Young fur seals are at their most playful and are commonly spotted along the Antarctic Peninsula. With more distinction between day and night, the sunsets and sunrises are also spectacular.

Plan your Antarctica cruise for February to March if you hope to see gentle giants playing in their southern habitat.

Ready for a voyage of a lifetime?

Berths on our Antarctica expeditions are filling fast, view our full range of expeditions and use our advanced search finder to tailor your preferences on activities, dates, price and more.

If you travelled to Antarctica what would you most look forward to seeing and doing? Let us know in the comments below.


Antarctica: where to find the best wildlife encounters

Where else in the world can you experience the dramatic extremes of a frozen continent? Holding the title of the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth, it may surprise some that Antarctica is also one of the most wildlife-rich continents in the world.

Encounter king penguins on a day trek, paddle alongside whales in your kayak, catch sightings of leopard seals, orcas, crab-eater and minke in the waters, as well as albatross, kelp gulls, petrels and blue-eyed cormorants in the sky.

Here's a quick guide on where you need to go to get up close and personal with the Antarctic's greatest wildlife.

Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands have an abundance of wildlife, including Antarctic terns, chinstrap and Adélie penguins, blue-eyed shags and southern giant petrels. Venturing to the Shetland Islands will take you across the Drake Passage, justifiably famous for its cetaceans, large flights of albatrosses, as well as whales and dolphins that frolic in the waters.

A humpback whale prepares to fluke in Antarctica |  <i>Holger Leue</i>

If your idea of a good time includes encountering huge penguin colonies; viewing seabirds soaring overhead; or perhaps spotting whales and seals that frequent the icy polar waters, then a visit to the Shetland Islands is a must!

Take me there

Our range of Antarctic voyages cruise to the magnificent South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula will make the voyage one to remember.

Passing through the Drake Passage, you’ll be accompanied by an expert crew and experienced naturalists, so you can fully appreciate this unique region whilst receiving great value for money. 

And if you're strapped for time, jump on the shorter 10-day Taste of Antarctica trip for an equally immersive voyage with two days of experiencing the Shetland Islands.

Prolific birdlife including Atlantic puffins are found on Fair Isle in the Shetlands |  <i>Olga Parshina</i> A giant petrel soars alongside a boat in Antarctica |  <i>Eve Ollington</i> A leopard seal sees the funny side of life! |  <i>Eve Ollington</i>
 

South Georgia

The sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia is blessed with huge glaciers and a profusion of wildlife. With over 45 species of birds including seabirds, albatrosses and many more, there’s no shortage of wildlife if you’re looking to the skies.

You’ll also catch sightings of the world’s only meat-eating duck, the pintail, as well as Antarctica’s famous songbird, the popit. Not to mention literally thousands of king, macaroni and rockhopper penguins. 

Spend time in South Georgia to visit rockeries and view the diverse wildlife that resides on the island, and kayakers can paddle the coastline’s nooks and crannies with the company of playful seals. 

The kelp-strewn beaches of South Georgia are cluttered with basking elephant seals, feisty fur seals and a plethora of penguins.

King penguins adorn in thousands, South Georgia |  <i>Peter Walton</i> A curious King Penguin comes in for a closer inspection on South Georgia |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i> A young fur seal basks in the sun in South Georgia |  <i>Peter Walton</i> Elephant Seal on South Georgia |  <i>Peter Walton</i> A penguin rookery in Antarctica |  <i>Kieren Lawton</i> One young amongst the old King Penguins, South Georgia |  <i>Peter Walton</i>
  

The Falkland Islands 

Tie your voyage with a visit to the Falkland Islands for the ultimate prolific birding experience, habitat to some of the world’s rarest and most enchanting feathered friends residing within the archipelago.

Find a plethora of birds such as thrushes, finches, tussac birds and Megallenic penguins inhabit its tussac grasslands. Pods of orcas, Peale's dolphins and leopard seals are also regularly seen in the waters around the island.

Young fur seal |  <i>Peter Walton</i>
 

Take me there

You'll want to spend close to at least three weeks exploring the wildlife havens of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Georgia region and the Falkland Islands and there are a number of cruises that combine these three destinations – view them all.

Exploring the flanks of the Antarctic Peninsula, you'll also cross the fabled Drake Passage where you'll encounter an abundance of seabirds, including the majestic albatross and giant petrels.

The Antarctic is home to a vast number of bird species, including the Black-browed Albatross |  <i>Anne Clark</i>

Macquarie Island

Listed as a World Heritage area in 1997, Macquarie Island is a wildlife haven located 1,500km southeast of Tasmania. The island is recognised for its rich and diverse wildlife, designated as one of 'the most important and significant natural habitats on the planet'. The cool temperate climate creates prime conditions to support a vast array of wildlife including albatross, penguins, petrels, prions, shearwaters and marine mammals like sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals.

Macquarie Island is the only breeding ground in the world for the beautiful royal penguin, and large colonies of king, gentoo and rockhopper penguins are also found here.

Gentoo Penguins make their way to the rookery |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Curious Royal Penguin on Macquarie Island |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Lazy juvenile elephant seals laying on the beach at Sandy Bay |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Royal Penguin colony at Sandy Bay |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Sleepy elephant seal pup lounging in the grass |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Juvenile elephant seals having a little dispute |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> 

Take me there

Journey to the Macquarie Islands, as well as the three unique sub-antarctic islands: the Snares, Aucklands, and Campbell, to witness one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

Megaherb field descending from Mount Honey, Campbell Island

When to go: the best times to spot wildlife in Antarctica

Witness courtship rituals among penguin colonies and fur seals during November, or explore the frozen continent in December and be accompanied by Antarctica wildlife including sea birds, seals and whales as they make their migration south for the summer.

January is great for seeing penguin hatchlings and seal pups, or voyage here during February and March for ideal whale watching time and to see penguin colonies in animation with baby seals at their most playful.

View all Antarctic expeditions and use our advanced search to filter dates and activities >

Choosing your Antarctica expedition: compare cruises

When it comes to planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Antarctica, the plethora of choices can be a bit overwhelming. Our adventure experts are only a phone call away to help you out, but in the meantime, here are some tips to help you narrow down your Antarctic expedition choices.

Best for adventure: Basecamp Antarctic Peninsula

If you’re looking for the ultimate adventure then look no further than any of our Basecamp Antarctic Peninsula trips, which offer a range of adventurous activities, including camping, kayaking, mountaineering, rock climbing, hiking, snowshoeing or even scuba diving. Your vessel will become your floating basecamp allowing you to explore a pocket of the peninsula on numerous shore excursions. 

View active basecamp expeditions >

A leopard seal takes a break on the ice |  <i>John Bozinov</i>

Best on a budget: Highlights of the Antarctic

Travelling to the end of the earth doesn’t have to cost the earth! The 10-day Antarctic voyage showcases the wildlife haven of the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula where you are accompanied by our experienced naturalists and expert crew. Getting to Antarctica has never been more affordable.

View Antarctic voyages ranked from the cheapest >

 

Best for wildlife: South Georgia

South Georgia is a rare jewel, blessed with huge glaciers, a profusion of wildlife and rich in Antarctic history. From the old whaling station at Grytviken, the burial place of Ernest Shackleton, to the enormous King, Macaroni and Rockhopper Penguins, the island provides visitors with an unforgettable Antarctic experience. 

View South Georgia cruises >

King Penguins on South Georgia |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

Best for comfort: Sea Spirit cruise

After a little luxury on your Antarctic expedition? Hop aboard the upmarket MV Sea Spirit ship. Choose from a range of spacious, well-appointed suites that offer a lavish and comfortable stay out at sea.

Onboard are experienced naturalists onboard, exceptional dining experiences, a fleet of Zodiac landing craft, ample deck space for wildlife viewing, a hot tub, and state-of-the-art fin stabilisers for smooth sailing. 

View Antarctica voyages with Sea Spirit >

Make the most of the outdoor bistro |  <i>John Bozinov</i>

Best for absolute wilderness: Ross Sea

If you’re looking to really encompass the spirit of early Antarctic explorers and enjoy abundant wildlife encounters – including King, Gentoo and Southern Rockhopper penguin rookeries, along with Minke and Orca whale sightings – our extensive Ross Sea explorations offer the ultimate Antarctic odyssey.

Sailing into the Antarctic Circle, this journey will take you far beyond what most people see, all the way around the Antarctic coast while following in the footsteps of the famous explorers of Scott and Shackleton.

View Ross Sea expedition cruises >

 

Feeling inspired?

Tick off an Antarctic voyage from your bucket list – view our full range of expeditions. Use our advanced search finder to tailor your preferences on activities, dates, price and more.

Which Antarctic trip appeals to you most? Let us know in the comments below.

A Visual Journey: In the Footsteps of Mongolian Nomads with Tim Cope

Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world's last remaining nomadic cultures. Despite the draw of modern life and the city, hundreds of thousands of Mongolians continue to live a nomadic way of life that goes back at least a millennium.

In 2004, Australian adventurer and author Tim Cope set off on an epic 10,000 km journey from Mongolia to Hungry by horse. This journey took him three years and led him on a profound journey through the heart of nomad society on the Eurasian Steppe. 

Since his return, he has written a film series and book titled On The Trail of Genghis Khan. Tim has also led several guided trips with World Expeditions through remote western Mongolia. He has been named Australian Adventurer of the Year. He is the recipient of the Mongolian Tourism Excellency Medal and the Nairamdal' Peace' Medal, the highest honour the Mongolian government bestowed upon a foreign citizen.

Join adventurer and author Tim Cope for an exploratory journey through Western Mongolia's Altai Mountains |  <i>Cam Cope</i> Tim Cope with one of our local Mongolian staff |  <i>Tim Cope</i> Tim Cope |  <i>Tim Cope</i>
 

Tim reflects that the sense of harmony and sustainability with which the nomads live with the land holds a valuable lesson for us all.

They live within the limitations and the confines of the environment that they were born into,” says Tim Cope. “It’s an extremely different way of life to what most of us live, where we’ve basically molded the land for our own convenience.

(South China Morning Post magazine, 2016)

But what does the future hold for the next generation of nomads? Tim believes the future of Mongolia's nomads is in the younger generations' hands. As Tim told Tessa Chan, South China Morning Post, Mongolia is at a crossroads.

"For the first time in thousands of years, the young generation of Mongolians have a choice, to be a herder or to pursue studies in the cities and towns and perhaps have a very different way of life." (Tim Cope, SCMP magazine, 2016)

We invite you to get a taste of the life of a Mongolian nomad on this extraordinary photographic journey thanks to Tessa Chan who joined Tim on a trip to Mongolia - In the Footsteps of the Nomad with Tim Cope.

Chief herdsman Myagaa (C) and his friends live much the same lifestyle as their ancestors did 5,000 years ago.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

During a nomadic family migration, camels can carry loads up to 300kg. These camels dutifully wait to be loaded up with trekking gear as support for the tour.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Most children here will master horse riding from the age of four or five.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

The spectacular landscape of western Mongolia.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

A well-earned rest after a challenging day's trek in western Mongolia.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Young nomad girl, western Mongolia.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Trekkers visit a glacial lake on the high pass between the Turgen and Kharkhiraa ranges.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

A view to wake up to: horses graze by the frozen Shivreen River, Western Mongolia.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Three young nomads (L-R) Otga, Nana and Choinum sit by the Shivreen River.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Young child in western Mongolia.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

Racing for glory at Naadam: young jockeys stand by their horses before the race starts.

Image credit: SCMP/Tessa Chan (scmp.com/nomads)

 

5 reasons to visit Flinders Island in Australia

Flinders Island's history is almost as raw and rugged as its weathered coast and its remoteness enhances its uniqueness and charm, making it a wonderful walking destination for those who choose to explore it this way.

Combined with its natural beauty, its peaceful and isolated location, exotic wildlife and fresh seafood delights, Flinders offers the ultimate escape for such a tiny island.

Here are five reasons to add Flinders Island to your must-visit places in Australia.

It’s one of the best islands to explore on foot

From conquering Mt Strzelecki, Flinders Island’s highest peak that offers some of the most awe-inspiring views on the island, to trekking along the rolling green pastures with sparkling coastal vistas, walking Flinders Island gives you a chance to experience the highlights of the island at a relaxed pace.

You have more time to stop and take photos, marvel at the views and enjoy the island in all its facets than a bus tour ever could.

Although a small island of only 1,333 square kilometres, Flinders Island hosts an amazing array of ecosystems from dunes and lagoons to woodland and mountainous granite ridges, which produce spectacular and unique species of flora and fauna. 

Spectacular coastal walking on Flinders Island |  <i>Andrew Bain</i>

It has a rich history

Flinders Island has a rich history that dates back more than 35,000 years. The original inhabitants of the island survived on its ample natural resources until about 4,500 years ago when an acute El Nino climate shift affected their ability to source food and fresh water and the population died out.

It stretches from the first European discovery of the island in 1773 by Tobias Furneaux to the first settlement sites of Tasman Aborigines, exiled to the island in 1833, to the present day.

The graveyard near Wybalenna Chapel contains unmarked Aboriginal graves. Around 300 Aboriginals were ‘delivered’ there during its time as a mission. |  <i>Dietmar Kahles</i>

A visit to the fascinating Flinders Island Museum is recommended as well as the Wybalenna ‘Aboriginal Settlement’ site, a historically significant place to learn about.

Wybalenna echoes a sad history of the indigenous resettlement scheme back in 1834 where Tasmanian Aborigines were transported after the mission to round up and remove Aboriginal people from mainland Tasmania.

With a knowledgeable guide at hand, you are given the chance to learn more about what happened there.

You'll encounter unique and abundant wildlife

Bird watchers, rejoice! Flinders Island is home to an abundant and diverse range of birds. From albatross to mutton-birds, pacific gulls, wedge-tailed eagles, sea eagles and Cape Barren Geese, there’s no shortage of winged wildlife circling overhead.

Keep an eagle eye out for the endangered forty-spotted pardolate (one of the smallest birds in Australia). Plus, more than 200,000 Tasmanian pademelons and red-necked wallabies roam the island.

You may even be lucky enough to spot a long-nosed potoroo (part of the rat-kangaroo family). If you have time, visit the volunteer conservation venture, Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary, and enjoy the chance to get up close to some of the island’s native animals.

Savour delicious local food and wine

Flinders Island is well known for its fresh seafood and famous meat – and there are few better places to experience the culinary delights than Lady Barron, a small seaside township that is the base for many fishing charters.

Dine on fish, crayfish, some of the world’s finest organic beef and lamb, as well as locally produced honey, fruit and vegetables... the list goes on!

Head to Furneaux Tavern for a cold Tasmanian beer, meet some of the colourful characters of the island and hear their yarns about island life.

Sleep under the stars

Take your Flinders Island visit to the next level and immerse yourself in nature by sleeping under the stars. Falling asleep to the sounds of nature does wonders for the soul, not to mention the forced digital detox that allows you to reclaim your spare time!

Instead of finishing your evenings in a hotel and watching television, spending your nights camping comfortably under the stars gives you a chance to ponder, chat with other travellers, read that book you've been telling yourself to make time for or simply recount the day's experiences in your mind.

Experience it

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, jump on our island walking adventures to Flinders and experience a week of rugged ranges, sparkling beaches, clear sapphire waters, abundant wildlife and fresh, locally produced meals. View trips >

Travel quiz: New Zealand's famous cycle trails

New Zealand features an incredible network of dedicated cycle trails, taking you to some of the most stunning and remote locations across the North and South Islands. But how well do you know NZ's Ngā Haerenga Cycle Trail network?

Test your knowledge with these 12 quick questions and see which ones to put next on your adventure list.


Want to know more about New Zealand's top cycle trails? View our top picks across the North and South Islands →

How'd you score? Let us know in the comments below.

A Tibetan Trek of Faith: Lhasa to Kathmandu

In 1992, Brandon Wilson and his wife Cheryl were the first Western couple to complete the 1100-kilometre pilgrim trail from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu. Here is how it began.

Maybe we approached the journey all wrong from the very start, gulping in its challenge in one gigantic breath, like diving headfirst off a cliff into some mirrored pool of unknown depth.

It was bound to be a great adventure, we argued, a chance to prove something to ourselves—especially to those who vowed it couldn’t be done. But any Western sense of toughing things out, of muscling our way across a land as complex as utter darkness, soon fell by the wayside like exhausted matchsticks.

Survival has somehow become mysteriously linked with the uneasy idea of letting go. Perhaps it always has been. But leaps of faith have never given me much personal comfort. Still, this is Tibet; it’s unsettling, yet reassuring.

When life is bleakest, magic appears, tenuous at first. It’s a strange, exhilarating force, a peace. Obstacles vanish and hurdles disappear. We find water where there is none. Someone arrives out of nowhere offering shelter. Another shares his meagre food. Another, his love.

At those moments we have a gnawing suspicion that there is something more to our thousand-kilometre trek, something more than just two weary travellers tracing an ancient pilgrim’s path from Lhasa to Kathmandu across the Himalayas.

And that sense of greater purpose, more than any personal tenacity or courage, ultimately keeps us moving.  

Never Say "Impossible"

It all started innocently enough. Sure, my wife Cheryl and I had heard about “Shangri-La,” that legendary Himalayan paradise. Who hadn’t grown up with the fable? Then, one snowy morning, snuggled deep in a cozy leather armchair beside a library’s crackling fire, I became intrigued while reading about an ancient trail once walked by pilgrims from Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet, home of the Dalai Lamas.

According to this account, no foreigners had seen the “forbidden” city until 1903. Borders were sealed after the 1950 Chinese invasion until 1979, only opening for brief periods since.

At that time, only 1200 foreigners had ever seen Lhasa, let alone the rest of Tibet, and half of those were with an English army campaign. Most of the others were on more recent, tightly controlled Chinese propaganda tours. Considering all that, I thought that maybe no Westerner had ever trekked this unexplored path. This was the challenge that initially convinced me to write to the Chinese authorities.

The same motivator that has sent other madmen traipsing off to some of the highest, least travelled, most remote corners of a shrinking planet.

Other folks I guess might have been content to stay in Colorado, especially at that time of year. After all, it was a cloudless afternoon. The type of day where the spruce trees, God’s own sweet air fresheners, scent the rarefied air with a promise of perennial hope.

Besides, who could have guessed such a simple action as opening a mailbox could change one’s life forever? Tearing open an envelope, not from the embassy but from China’s “authorized” travel agent, I eagerly read:

It is impossible to independently travel from Kathmandu into Tibetan Province, nor from Lhasa into Nepal on foot. As far as we know, it is impossible to get the permit to stay in Tibet for 60 or 90 days on your own. It is impossible to buy local food or find simple guesthouses every 300 km., let alone 30-km. You could hardly come across a soul within a couple of days, if you go on foot… Conditions in those high and deep mountains of Tibet are beyond your imaginations.

I was thrilled. Its string of impossibilities just made me more determined, especially their bullheaded insistence that it couldn’t be done. Still, we prepared for the worse.

“Look, if the Chinese refuse to give us visas,” I cautioned Cheryl, my wife and naive accomplice, “we’ll be forced to sneak in or bribe our way across the border from Nepal. We’ll have to hide in the mountains and slip from village to village.” Plus, I neglected to add, rely on the kindness of strangers.

By the time we’d committed to the challenge, there was so little time to prepare for something so unknown. We feverishly scoured bookshops and found a Lonely Planet Tibet Guide. But the book contained no topographical maps, no details on food or shelter, and it was anyone’s guess what the Communists would do if they caught us without papers. Then, unexpectedly, doors began to open.

The chance to become among the first Westerners to capture a bit of history, while beating the Chinese at their own bureaucratic game, convinced us. We’d give it our best shot.

Looking back, we should have taken a year to plan for our harrowing journey. There was equipment to buy, test and break-in; food and supplies to order; maps to study; lives to put in order; physical conditioning to achieve. But we knew if we were to complete our trek before the ominous November snows, we had only three months to prepare.

If we wait until next year, I figured, good sense will probably prevail. Physically, we’re in good shape, but we’re far from being mountaineers, I thought.

Still, when you get right down to it, there’s little we can do now to prepare for a 35-kilometre (22-mile) hike each day—which is exactly what we need to cover if we hope to make it to Kathmandu before the last 5182 metres (17,000 foot) pass is hopelessly blocked by a ton of snow and we’re stranded until May.

Kathmandu, Nepal: October 7-12

It’s easy to forget the subtleties of a place like Kathmandu. But, like meeting an old lover on the street, those exhilarating sensations and musky memories quickly stir and reawaken.

It begins with an on-rush of a dozen desperate urchins with their frantic curbside hustle, screeching, “Taxi, Misstah! Taxi, Sir?” Then there’s the ritual cramming of two size ten bags into a size five trunk. Once loaded, those taxis take off and swarm with all the frenzy and heated determination of wasps in a jar. Incessant bleats, peals and joy buzzer rasps of ten thousand horns punctuate fits of starts, stops and swerves. It’s an intricate ballet.

Motorized tuk-tuks, hand-pulled rickshaws and dilapidated heaps careen down crowded streets, blaring at gawking tourists, persistent hawkers and wayward cows. They follow a well-practised weave, fake and swerve through an orchestra of sheer chaos and overpowering odours. All that’s missing is a conductor’s baton to direct the symphony of shit.

The official trekking season attracts those who dream of Himalayan quests, like vultures to African roadkill. The French roam murky alleys, narrowly skirting ambushes by mock-gracious merchants. Brits scour streets in search of legendary cakes, while Americans suck cold brews to tunes from pizza joint jukeboxes.

Now, as if that wasn’t already enough to throw the typical traveller off balance, a two-week Nepalese religious festival added to the madness. Dasain, the most lavish of Hindu holidays, spilled frenzied throngs into already undulating streets.

During our last visit after a month spent roasting in Rajasthan’s summer desert, Kathmandu was an oasis fulfilling fantasies of food, comfort and relaxation. Yet, even then she was enigmatic. Her face changed like masks in a Balinese barong: one moment beautiful and enchanting, the next bizarre and revolting.

Unfortunately, since then, fame aged her more than centuries past, and her virginal innocence, an honest wanderer’s welcome, was deflowered. We were saddened by the loss, but this time Kathmandu was just a staging area. Its score of trekking supply shops, groceries, banks and one-star (or falling-star) hotels only promised to hasten our departure.

We needed all the help we could get since everything was uncertain. All except our steadfast determination. All we can do is have faith, I kept reminding myself.

Yet, at that point in my life, the concept of faith was abstract to me, ethereal, best relegated to love, religion and the life hereafter.

The travel agency that was recommended was set among a hundred other one-person shops in Kathmandu’s teeming Thamel district. We approached it reluctantly since after flying halfway around the world we arrived to find our hotel hopelessly filled. He had never reserved our room. Still, he was our only contact. Perhaps our last hope.

“Narayan suggested we see you when we arrived... We’re planning a special trip and your brother thought you could help.” N.D. grinned while his head bobbed back and forth in that unmistakable Nepalese wobble—like a plastic dog in the rear window of a ‘65 Chevy.

“Not to worry,” he chirped, already mentally tallying commission from another lucrative Nepal trek. “I will try.”

At this mere mention of business, our host sent the “boy” scurrying for more tea then leaned back with a confident smirk.

“Can we speak frankly?” I whispered, after turning to confirm the door was closed. Our plans had been shrouded in secrecy since that first meeting. Narayan’s hushed tones and wary glances made it seem like Chinese spies lurked right beneath his desk. Since then, we were extremely cautious about sharing our plan with anyone for fear the Chinese would catch wind and refuse us entry.

“Of c-c-course,” he stuttered, now becoming intrigued by his mysterious strangers. Exasperated by our laboured ritual, Cheryl impatiently blurted out, “We want to go to Tibet.” “We want to fly to Lhasa,” I added, “then, trek back to Kathmandu.”

“Trek back?” he clucked, shaking his head. “Nooo… Impossible!” After travelling so far, I refused to accept impossible as an excuse anymore.

“Why? Buddhist pilgrims have done it for centuries.” “But no Western couple ever has that I know of,” he replied, snickering at the prospect. “Do you know how far it is?”

“Over a thousand kilometres (621 miles),” Cheryl deadpanned, used to that tired old argument.

“Yes and it’s a long way between villages,” he reminded us, as cautious or frightened as his brother.

“We know,” my partner assured him, “but we have plenty of dehydrated food.” I nodded in agreement, although plenty was certainly stretching it. Actually, hoping to lessen the weight in our packs, we had foil packets for ten meagre meals.

“And we have maps, too,” I added, having picked up the 'very latest' showing the thin, ragged route from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Although the kid hawking them on the street promised it was “just five days old,” I had my doubts since travellers are expected to be mighty gullible in Kathmandu.

“Hey, maybe we can buy a yak or burro in Lhasa,” Cheryl suggested, figuring that hiking that far was hard enough without lugging forty-pound packs. “Or we can even hire a guide to lead us from one village to the next.”

Although N.D. was fascinated, his practical nature (or daily experience with the Chinese) warned him that our scheme was pure craziness. It took several glasses of creamy tea to finally convince him it was worth at least one phone call to China’s “official” travel agent.

One call and he could prove us wrong, get rid of us, and get back to his newspaper. As he slowly dialled the number, I almost stopped him. Reluctant to reveal our plans, especially to the Chinese, I was afraid we’d never get in.

“It’s still not too late to hop an organised tour,” I figured, “then disappear into the Himalayas.” But to be honest, I wasn’t anxious to run into some overzealous, pubescent Chinese soldier waving an Uzi, eager to shoot “spies.” While all those doubts crossed my mind, N.D. reached the airline office. Although neither of us speaks Nepali, it was easy to decipher his conversation with China South West Airlines.

“I have a couple who want to trek from Lhasa to Kathmandu,” he started. Then in a patronizing tone, he snickered, “I told them it was impossible, but…” He suddenly stopped. Our hearts raced. Were we finished? Did they just flatly refuse? “Yes, they know they’ll have to book a Lhasa tour, but… What? You’ll consider it?” Stunned, he shot us a quizzical glance. Then he apologetically blubbered, “Why, yes, yes, I’ll send them over right away.”

The staff at CSWA was surprisingly cooperative and more than surprised that two Americans were serious about trekking through Tibet. “Your timing is fortunate. Most fortunate,” the slight supervisor pronounced, sizing us up with wide-eyed curiosity. “You see, the border officially opened just yesterday... however,” he continued, “it is only open from the Tibetan side. You must first fly to Lhasa on our mandatory five-day tour.” Cheryl and I shot each other incredulous looks. Grins started to surface. “Afterwards, you can continue on your own.”

On our own? We nearly leapt from his sofa. Then, reluctant to let him glimpse our explosive, hallelujah-excitement, we calmly asked that one question, one last time. “Has this ever been done before?”

The pensive supervisor hesitated only a second, assuring us, “No. To my knowledge, no Western couple has ever walked Lhasa to Kathmandu.”

There, we’ve heard it three times, I thought. It must be true. But does that only mean that no one’s been so mad?

“It just hasn’t been possible,” he added, de-emphasising our luck. “The border’s been closed many years now.” Although he promised to send our request to the Chinese Embassy, we remained sceptical that they would issue visas for the sixty days we needed. Or that they’d allow two unsupervised Americans free rein to trek across “their” Tibet. That was unheard of.

Then, as if to allay all those unspoken fears, a displaced Tibetan clerk secretively shared something with us, a truth which eased our minds. “Why worry?” he asked, with a cryptic smile. “If it is meant to be, if Lord Buddha wills it, it will be.”

And so it was. One telephone call, a change in policy one day earlier, the unlikely consent of a few officials, and suddenly it was willed. It was pure synchronicity. If we had never stumbled into that Tibetan shop or had arrived in Kathmandu one week earlier, or never dared to chase our outlandish dream, our lives would be different now.

This is an edited extract from 'Yak Butter Blues: A Tibetan Trek of Faith' by Brandon Wilson. His other books in this series include: 'Along the Templar Trail', a Lowell Thomas Gold Award-winner for Best Travel Book, 'Yak Butter Blues', an IPPY award-winner, and 'Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa'. Purchase a copy on Amazon or your favourite online seller or bookshop.


About the author

Brandon Wilson is an author and photographer, explorer and adventure travel writer. Brandon has travelled to nearly one hundred countries and has trekked many long-distance trails, including the Camino de Santiago, Camino Catalan, Camino Aragones and Via de la Plata across Spain, and twice the St. Olav’s Way across Norway and Sweden.

As well as being, the first Western couple to complete the 1100-kilometre pilgrim trail from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Brandon was the first American to traverse the 1850-kilometre Via Francigena from England to Rome. In 2006, he and his French friend re-blazed the 4500-kilometre route of the First Crusades from France to Jerusalem, naming it the Templar Trail, to establish it as a path of peace. Follow his adventures on facebook.com/BrandonWilsonauthorexplorer

Inspired to explore the Himalaya backed by 45+ years of experience pioneering treks? View our range of Himalaya treks >

On the couch with Angel Armesto

As one of the most experienced guides on Argentina’s 6962m Aconcagua, Angel Armesto is wired for the outdoors. He lives and breathes nature, having summited Mount Everest twice and climbed South America's highest mountain a dizzying 80+ times!

We had a chat with the climbing enthusiast who shared some of his treasured moments on a mountain, how he tackles fear and what he does to stay fit and healthy.

“Among my friends, some call me "The Oracle"… but in a few words I can say, I love mountain guiding as it offers me an incomparable opportunity to meet outstanding people and provides a source of an unbelievable wisdom you can’t get from books.” 

Based in Argentina, Angel lives in the charming wine capital city of Mendoza, so it may not come as a surprise that he’s also a bit of a culinary connoisseur – he's known for cooking up a mean meal on his expeditions!

Celebrating on the summit of Aconcagua |  <i>Angel Armesto</i>

With over 20 years of climbing experience under his climbing belt, the professional mountaineer has led expeditions to some of the world’s most remote peaks, like Vinson Massif in Antarctica, which has seen him engineer very complex logistics. Spending hours and hours studying and researching every aspect related to expeditions to ensure participants' safety, it’s no wonder he holds an outstanding summit success rate and safety record.

Angel is one of our most popular expedition leaders thanks to his vast knowledge. He can offer a world of wisdom on what it’s like to climb Aconcagua, and discuss on end about gut biology, world macroeconomics and even quantum physics.

What first inspired you to pursue a career in mountaineering?

I first looked to the mountains when I was five and growing up on the edge of a countryside town I was connected to nature all the time; so mountains were only another exotic playground to explore. My first climb was at the age of 14 and it was since then that I realised I was born for it.

How do you think trekking and climbing help people grow or evolve on other levels?

Mountaineering requires us to be introspective. Walking on a snow-covered mountain and watching the horizon turning from dark blue to the golden glow of the sun in absolute silence on a summit day is the closest environment I can compare to meditation in a gompa.

Today’s lifestyle pollutes our minds with information and noise and does not allow us much space to "self-think". Mountaineering does.

Trekking is the best way to understand a new culture; learning folklore from a book is like trying to study love from watching a wedding film.

I've collected some of the best treasures in the form of a huge smile and a cup of tea in a remote village, and these treasures cannot be exchanged, traded or even pictured. It's the eye-to-eye experience that turns a moment into a magical one.

Amazing scenery as travellers ascend Aconcagua.

Have there been instances where you’ve felt vulnerable when trying to make a summit and disaster struck? How did you cope in those situations?

Yes, I've been dealing with a too close to call named Cancer, just before my first Everest climb as expedition leader. I cope with it the same way mountaineering taught me. If you fall, get up, wipe out the dust and keep ongoing. Life has so much in common with mountaineering, but whilst at altitude, everything is more intense and clear.

Is fear something that’s ever been an issue?

My good friend Fear; it’s been with me since I remember. I feared clowns, thunder and tax.

Sometimes I ask Fear if he likes me or despises me. He loves me so much that he can't live without me, and I without him, as he helps me to live healthily. Fear does come along with me to the mountain, but Knowledge is my closest climbing partner and because he is on my side, Fear never, ever tried to interrupt me.

Journey to the summit of Aconcagua.

Having guided over 80 expeditions to Aconcagua, what makes you continually return to this mountainscape?

After 84 trips to Aconcagua, the reason I still like to return is simple: there are few landscapes like this in this planet. So, taking the time to appreciate the outdoors – getting your head out of the tent, taking your tinted glasses off and watching everything around you, like when the sun is about to break away from the horizon – is why I continue being a guide.

You’ll be leading the Aconcagua Expedition with World Expeditions this year and in 2021. What tips would you suggest to someone who is keen on taking on this challenging climb?

My advice for everyone aiming to climb Aconcagua is to join a respected company. Much of the success from big projects in life is due to the quality of the leaders and a good team will get the best choices when the leader is motivated. Good operators always choose motivated crews.

What’s your regular fitness/training routine like?

I live a life of outdoors. My favourite training is to get a pack and go bushwalking with friends, and bringing along a huge sandwich, some fresh fruit and a bottle of wine.

Laughing with friends keeps my abdominal and facial muscles strong, and cycling is my favourite transport. Anyone having a life like this will have enough fitness to climb Aconcagua.

Trekkers at the beginning of the trail towards Aconcagua and they're already welcomed by magnificent vistas.

What’s your favourite gear/equipment when going on an expedition?

Whatever makes a climb safer is my favourite piece of gear. Safe in a way that protects one’s health, not just as life-survival equipment.

In high altitude environments, a must in my gear list are mittens. I don’t let any member come with gloves, regardless of how good the salesmen at the shop might advise they are. To me, a summit is not worth a single fingertip of frostbite because an injury is not a sign of bravery, but a sign of something not well made.

Another piece of gear I love is my notepad, a book to read at base camp and, of course, a picture of some of the best looking girls on earth – my beautiful daughter and wife. I always have a portrait of my daughter Sara, who reminds me every day what true love means and the many things the low land has waiting for me on my return.

Mountains are not my entire life, as I’ve heard others say, they are a big part of mine.

Want to conquer one of the Seven Summits? Join Angel Armesto on the Aconcagua Expedition to climb the highest point in the Americas or explore the incredible Karakoram ranges with him on the Ultimate K2 trek in 2022.

Prelude: An Excerpt from Victor Saunders’s Newest Book, Structured Chaos

 

In July, famed British mountaineer Victor Saunders will be leading a World Expeditions trek to the base camp at K2, the second highest mountain on earth. This spectacular trek will follow winding trails along the roiling Braldu River before trekking up the Baltoro Glacier. From a high camp Victor will lead us up the Godwin Austen Glacier to K2 base camp. From here, you’ll be able to see many of the wildly difficult summit climbing routes that make K2 “the Savage Mountain.”

Victor is a special leader. After a career as a London architect, he became a certified mountain guide. He has been pushing a now-common elite style of alpine climbing since the 1980s. Some of his climbs are true markers in the history of mountaineering.

Victor Saunders

He’s done new routes ranging from monstrous high-altitude granite walls like the Golden Pillar of Spantik to the well-known Seven Summits, and Everest, which he climbed six times between 2004 and 2012. He’s also climbed the Great Trango Tower as well as Manaslu and Cho Oyu, two of the world’s 8,000-metre peaks.

Victor is also an outstanding writer. His first book, Elusive Summits, won the Boardman–Tasker, the most prestigious award in world mountaineering literature. Here he offers trekkers and other interested readers an excerpt from the beginning of his latest book, Structured Chaos.


PRELUDE

Mountains have given structure to my adult life. I suppose they have also given me purpose, though I still can’t guess what that purpose might be. And although I have glimpsed the view from the mountaintop and I still have some memory of what direction life is meant to be going in, I usually lose sight of the wood for the trees. In other words, I, like most of us, have lived a life of structured chaos.

A mountaineer’s life is not without risk. Although that’s rather obvious, isn’t it? And anyway, all lives contain risk. As for managing those risks, we like to think that’s all about making good decisions, in day-to-day life as well as in the mountains. Even though good decisions are based on experience, which in turn is gathered from the consequences of bad ones.

Well, perhaps. We tell ourselves, this way lies truth and that way lies ... well, just that: lies. We try to look ahead, to envision the destination, as we stagger, sometimes knowingly, more often blindly, through the dark forest of decision trees that make up our existence.

On this confusing journey, this wandering through the woods, my best guides have been my unspeakable friends with their incomprehensible ideas and impossible beliefs. Decisions are made difficult because I believe, like most of my friends, in many contradictory things.

Here’s an example: the Sybarite’s Creed and the Climber’s Creed.

Sybarite’s Creed: Never bivouac if you can camp. Never camp if there is a hut. Never sleep in a hut if you can book a hotel.

Climber’s Creed: If you were not cold, you had too many clothes. If you were not hungry, you carried too much food. If you were not frightened, you had too much equipment. If you got up the climb, well, it was too easy.

I believe in both creeds, wholeheartedly and without reservation.
I got to be this way not through design or planning, but through Brownian motion, following an erratic path, knocked this way and that by people, mostly those self-same unspeakable friends.

It has taken me a lifetime to realise that, all the while, it was people and not places I valued most. I have now been on more than ninety expeditions, accumulating seven years under canvas. I have climbed on all continents, many of the trips involving big adventures and occasional first ascents.

And yet it is not the mountains that remain with me but the friendships. In 1940 Colin Kirkus said: ‘going to the right place, at the right time, with the right people is all that really matters. What one does is purely incidental.’ This book is about what really matters.


To learn more about Victor’s fantastic trip and to book your place, go here.

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