Let a local expert show you around these wild and wonderful adventures, writes Jessica Wynne Lockhart
Not interested in being just another bum in a seat? We don't blame you. Luckily, guided holidays aren't limited to sightseeing tours. Today's active holidays see travellers getting off the beaten track — often quite literally, even if it means having to snowshoe, swim or run to their next destination. Here are nine ways to get your blood pumping on your next adventure abroad.
Hike Scotland's famed West Highland Way
Running for 154 kilometres from Milngavie to Fort William just outside Glasgow, the West Highland Way is Scotland's most famous long-distance tramping route. Following ancient pathways — including old coach roads and trails that date back to the Jacobite uprisings — the track is not technically difficult, but doing it on a guided trip allows you to learn more about the area's history and ecology.
While the trail can be completed in as little as five days, award-winning tour operator Wilderness Scotland slows the pace down in its eight-day itinerary (from $3,607 inclusive of meals and accommodation), so you can soak it all in. Best of all, your gear is transported for you, so instead of watching your feet, you can focus on the scenery around you.
Horseback ride through Iceland's Golden Circle
Icelandic horses may be diminutive in size but make no mistake — they aren't "ponies". Brought to Iceland by Nordic settlers more than 1,000 years ago, these equine companions have two unique gaits not typically exhibited by other breeds: their signature tolt (an ambling gait) and flying pace (which allows horses to reach peak speeds of up to 48km/hour). You'll experience both on Wild Women Expeditions' Golden Circle Riding Expedition, a weeklong women's-only retreat that includes visits to Thingvellir National Park, a protected area rich in geological and human history, and Gullfoss, one of the country's most iconic waterfalls.
Suitable for novice and experienced riders, this trip will see you traversing across a dramatic volcanic landscape, staying as a guest at local farms, and soaking in hot springs. It starts from $7,067 and is fully inclusive of meals, accommodation, and riding gear.
Kayak with the orcas off British Columbia's coast
For serious paddlers, Spirit of the West Adventures offers multi-destination kayaking expeditions off Canada's West Coast. But if you're looking for a package that feels like more of a holiday, then the five-day Whales and Wilderness Glamping itinerary ($3,347) is for you. You'll spend each day paddling as little or as much as you like throughout the waters of Blackfish Sound.
Sandwiched between the mountains of mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, the area is known for its small passages, islands, and abundant wildlife. In addition to orcas, you have the chance to see humpback whales, bears, cougars, river otters and porpoises. Then, at night, you'll retire to your luxurious canvas tent on an exclusive island, where a real bed and open-air dining area awaits, alongside a wood-fired spa overlooking the ocean.
Swim along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast
Pioneered by tour operator SwimTrek, swim holidays see travellers spending their days perfecting their breaststroke as they propel themselves through the water to their next destination. And with more than 1,000 islands to explore, there no better place to dive in than in Croatia, one of the first destinations to put the concept on the map 20 years ago.
Today, SwimTrek offers week-long itineraries for beginners (where the average daily swim distance is 3km, split up over two swims) and those looking to spend more time in the water (an average daily of 8km). Both will take you to some of the Dalmatian Coast's most isolated islands, including some that are entirely uninhabited and others that have withstood the test of time, including Zlarin, where cars have never been legalised. The trips depart in June through August, starting at $2,533.
Trek the newly opened Trans-Bhutan Trail
Named by TIME Magazine as one of the World's Greatest Places in 2022, few long-distance hiking trails have garnered as much publicity as the Trans-Bhutan Trail has. But it's rightfully deserving of all the attention. Used for centuries as a pilgrimage route by Buddhists and once the only way to travel across the country, it fell into disrepair when major motorways were constructed.
September 2022 marked the first time it's been open in 60 years, thanks to the addition of 18 major bridges, 10,000 stairs and hundreds of new miles of pathways. Visitors can hike the 400km trail in its entirety, or just a portion of it on a guided trip with operators G Adventures or Intrepid Travel. Along the way, you'll see fortified buildings, lush and mountainous valleys, and Paro Taktsang (Tiger's Nest), the country's most famous monastery, which hangs off the edges of the surrounding cliffs.
Experience a winter multisport wonderland in Finland
A winter ski holiday? We can do that here in New Zealand. But here's what we can't do: Snowshoe, downhill ski, cross-country ski, dogsled, and ice climb, all in the duration of a week — and that's just the tip of the iceberg of activities during Finnish Wilderness Week.
In addition to exploring the tundra just south of the Arctic Circle, you'll also spend a day learning winter wilderness survival skills, including how to build a quinzee (a shelter made from snow), followed by the opportunity to sleep in it overnight. (They're surprisingly warm, we promise!) The trip is operated by Exodus Travels, an award-winning tour operator known for its commitment to sustainable tourism, including rewilding 100 square metres per passenger. Packages start from $4,549, with departures in December, January, and February.
Whitewater raft down the Grand Canyon
What's a more quintessentially American adventure holiday than whitewater rafting through northern Arizona's Grand Canyon? Revealing millions of years of geological history, the natural phenomenon was carved out by the Colorado River—which today has become a bucket list trip for paddlers, with its Class I through Class V rapids. A wild ride punctuated by the opportunity to hike through beautiful side canyons and swim in rock pools, Holiday River Expeditions' Upper Grand Canyon Rafting Trips (starting from $3,335) depart in May through September and last for between five and seven days. But if you're looking for even bigger water, eight to nine-day departures on the Lower Canyon (known for its massive rapids) are also available.
Run through Morocco's Sahara Desert
In March 2012, Allison Macsas (a semi-pro marathon runner) and Gabe Steger (an outdoor adventure guide) were on holiday in Morocco when they realized what an ideal environment the Sahara Desert was for running through. Over the next 10 years, they became regional experts through their company, Rogue Expeditions.
Today, they offer running adventures around the world, including to where it all began. Starting from Marrakech, runners can choose to either spend 10 days running through the Sahara (which provides the opportunity to see village life not visible from the highway) or along the backroads of the Atlas Mountains, home to an ancient network of rugged shepherd's passes. Pricing starts at $5,657, inclusive of accommodation, meals, and support vehicles.
Take part in the Coast to Coast race without the timer
In the 40 years since its inception, the legendary multisport Coast to Coast race — which sees competitors traverse the width of the South Island — has attracted over 20,000 hardcore multisport athletes. If you've always been curious about the race, but would prefer to complete it in a more leisurely fashion, then AdventureSouth NZ's Coast to Coast NZ itinerary (from $2,095) might be the answer.
Over four days, you'll make your way from the West Coast to Christchurch's New Brighton Beach, including cycling along the West Coast Wilderness Trail, hiking across the challenging Goat Pass, and rafting down the Waimakariri River. Although a support vehicle is never far away, this is one of AdventureSouth's more challenging itineraries, where you'll be deeply immersed in some of Aotearoa's most remote wilderness.