World's most exhilarating hikes
Via ferrata, Borneo, Malaysia. A most thrilling way for ordinary folk to gain access to areas once reserved for mountaineers. The via ferrata of south-east Asia's highest mountain, the 4095-metre Mount Kinabalu, is not for travellers who have trouble approaching the windows at Centrepoint Tower.
Flip Byrnes advises walking this way to experience some of the least-known yet most exhilarating hikes from the Northern Territory to Nepal.
THE world is a labyrinth of trails and destinations. Once you've completed one extensive trek, new and unheralded hikes and adventures beckon. If you've had a holiday at a resort or two, the idea of getting right off the beaten track next time you have a holiday has a sweet appeal. So grab your day pack, sunblock and boots and head off to unique parts of the world.
The Great Himalaya Trail, Nepal
In a region already charted like a train map, the anticipation of new terrain has trekkers frothing into their granola. If you're planning just one trek next year, this should be it. The longest and highest walking trail in the world, the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) covers more than 4500 kilometres, from Namche Barwa in Tibet to Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.
It has been walked once, by adventurer and trail architect Robin Boustead. As of last month, only the Bhutan and Nepal sections were mapped - the other countries are still being researched. The beauty of the 157-day east-west Nepal traverse is that, if you're time-poor, you can undertake treks in up to seven sections, over several years.
World Expeditions will have guided treks on the inaugural walk in February next year. Hikers will pass a scroll (as in a relay) that will travel the trail's length. Four intrepid walkers have already signed up for the Full Monty; get in quick if you want to help make history. 1300 720 000, worldexpeditions.com.
Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
In Thailand, travellers seeking adventure score brilliant bang for their buck; beauty here is almost free. One of the more unusual treks is in Khao Sok National Park, in southern Thailand, where the accommodation is an experience in itself. Fast-track to Putawan floating huts, 32 simple and comfortable bamboo huts floating on the waters of the Ratchaprapha Dam. There's no electricity but diving from your balcony into the lake for a morning wake-up makes up for that. A hut costs 600 baht (about $20) a night, making it a bargain stay-and-play site for travellers.
Limestone cliffs ring the lake and trails weave their way through the park, which is home to about 180 bird species, serow, banteng, dusky langurs and Malaysian sun bears. Khao Sok Nature Resort, also in the national park, is where 10 delightful tree houses await, literally in the treetops. Prices start at 700 baht a night but lash out and spend 1200 baht if you want the romantic Tarzan and Jane tree house, complete with outdoor "jungle" waterfall-shower. Then tear yourself away to hike nine kilometres to Tan Sawan waterfall. Putawanrafthouse.com; khaosoknatureresort.com.
Via ferrata, Borneo, Malaysia
Via ferrata, Italian for "iron way", is a mountain path consisting of a series of rungs, rails and cables embracing the rock face. Developed in the Dolomites during World War I to help with troop mobilisation, they are a most thrilling way for ordinary folk to gain access to areas once reserved for mountaineers.
The via ferrata of south-east Asia's highest mountain, the 4095-metre Mount Kinabalu, is not for travellers who have trouble approaching the windows at Centrepoint Tower. Otherwise, it's climbing that's open to people aged 10 to 70. Seven Skies offers trips that include tropical sea kayaking followed by a summit climb and via ferrata experience on the descent - for those who appreciate the mix of perspiration by day and good wine with dinner. (07) 3160 5484, sevenskies.com.au.
Ticino/Lake Maggiore, Switzerland
Switzerland boasts 60,000 kilometres of marked hiking trails and is celebrating the Year of Walking. The sunniest section is considered to be Ticino, tucked up near Lake Maggiore and the Italian border. This Italian-speaking corner of Switzerland is often overlooked (only 8 per cent of Swiss are Italian speakers) but don't let that slow you down.
Start in the foothills of the Alps, in the Bavona Valley, where picturesque stone villages such as Foroglio are to be found. Wander down to the inland Riviera around glamorous Lake Maggiore, where speedboats cut swathes across the waters and palm trees dot the floating gardens of the Brissago Islands. +41 78 891 2041, alpsandbeyond.com.
The Jatbula Trail, Northern Territory
Last year, the Jatbula Trail, which is in the south-western corner of Nitmiluk National Park, underwent extensive track work. The trail, meandering along stone country (the Arnhem Land escarpment from Katherine Gorge to Edith Falls), has fallen under the radar of many travellers and is now set to emerge as one of Australia's iconic trails.
The 58-kilometre, mostly flat five-day trail is managed jointly by the Jawoyn Aboriginal Association and the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. It showcases diverse landscape - from lush monsoonal rainforest to savannah grasslands and waterfalls tumbling into rocky gorges - so make sure you bring your swimmers.
Fascinating Aboriginal rock art by the Jawoyn people, who have used this track for thousands of years, can be found in many caves and overhangs you come across along the way. The ideal time to hike in this area is between May and September, before the arrival of the monsoon season. 1800 634 319, geckocanoeing.com.au.
The Lost Coast, USA
The Pacific Coast (State 1) Highway, a 1000-kilometre strip of black ribbon hugging the California coast from Capistrano Beach to Leggett, is a road trip known more for viewing stunning scenery than for getting from A to B. In the 1920s, when road crews were building the highway, the steepness of coastal mountains resulted in the highway swinging inland around Mendocino, north of San Francisco.
This left 128 kilometres of pristine shoreline and rugged mountains - King Range National Conservation Area. Head here and you'll wind up in a forgotten pocket of the US's most populous state, elegantly named the Lost Coast. Drive coastal back roads, then camp, surf, check out the beach and get on the mountain bike.
The 56-kilometre, three-day Lost Coast Trail follows the wild Pacific's edge from the Mattole trail head to Black Sands beach. The trail weaves through redwood and fir forests, navigates coastal canyons and emerges into poppy-filled meadows and on to lonely beaches. See blm.gov/ca for maps, camping grounds and ranger-guided hikes.
Your say: What are some of your favourite treks?