The Sierra de Gredos is a mountain range - part of the Sistema Central - that offers a fantastic walking experience in one of Spain's most overlooked areas. Just a couple of hours drive west from Madrid, it provides well signposted walks, many of which begin on the Platforma, an access road into the range itself. Abundant fauna - ibex, lizards, vultures - and glorious fauna, particularly refreshing stone plunge pools punctuating the 'gargantas' streams, make for a glorious hiking experience. Base yourself in Avila and you can enjoy cracking walks rewarded by chuleta, the region's stunning steaks!
Google map: bit.ly/14is02x
If you have your own car, could head into the range south from Ávila along the N502.
Stop off at any one of the villages on the north side of the range, along the Tormes valley, such as Hoyos del Espino or Navarredonda.
When I was in Stockholm I found a great wildlife safari just two hours from Stockholm! On one moose safari we saw about 10 moose! It was really great.
Karmansbo 18b, S-73115 Kolsva, Sweden
+46 70 6106150
The moose is a majestic creature and one of Sweden's wildlife icons. They're quite hard to observe by default but there's a wonderful tour company based two hours outside of Stockholm who run trips to observe them in their natural habitat. To add to the pleasure of these trips they have an amazing campsite/eco lodge where you can stay in the Swedish forest by a lake for a few days, chop wood and listen to the sounds of nature.
Actual location / station: Skinnskatteberg
This is one of the best 4WD trips in the country, a landrover tour through an historic high country station that ranges up into the mountains high above Lake Wanaka. The numbers were small, and we got to see a real working farm. This is not a farm tour, but you do explore a 12,000 acre property with deer, sheep and cattle. Enjoyed outstanding views, one of the most beautiful deserted beaches anywhere, a great guide, a glimpse of early settler history in New Zealand, and of course, a cup of tea or coffee and a cookie.
Wanaka, Southern Lakes, New Zealand
+64 27 602 4018
Craig Smith runs Hatch Fly Fishing and is one of Wanaka's best guides. He puts in an extra effort to take you away from the crowds (not that New Zealand has crowds), to remote streams in beautiful landscapes that best suit the conditions on the day. Patient and fun to be with, he is excellent both with experienced and passionate fly fishers and with total novices.
Wanaka and Hawea, New Zealand
+64 3 443 8446
In April I travelled to Belize with my four year-old son. We drove north and on the outskirts of Sarteneja is Shipstern Nature Reserve where we spent two nights staying in the guesthouse that the reserve built in 2012. The guesthouse is clean and comfortable, the food is great and most importantly it is right next to the forest. Morning bird walks can be conducted straight from the guesthouse front door and the observation tower, that gives views from above the tree canopy, is 50 metres away. Tourism revenue helps finance the reserve and also the co-management of other protected areas in Belize that Shipstern are work in. The relative isolation of Sarteneja limits the numbers of tourists to Shipstern Nature Reserve, a shame for the reserve and also for tourists missing out on a great wildlife experience. The wonderful team of rangers and guides led by Heron Moreno, offer an array of interesting walks and tours and some exciting trips such as the night tour of the lagoon, spotting Morelet’s crocodiles by lamplight from a canoe and climbing into bat caves as the winged mammals zipped past our heads. Both father and son were enthralled.
One of the projects that the team at Shipstern are focussing on is the planting of tree species that are affected by illegal logging. The reserve has a nursery for mahogany and they plant within the reserve and at schools to raise awareness of the issue. My son had the opportunity to plant one of the saplings and a plaque now announces his contribution to the reforestation.
I've been with Sanjaya who drives for Yala safari Jeeps, four times now. He's a great driver who takes time to point out wildlife as you go rather than driving hell for leather through the park. He loves the park and the creatures and this shines through.
He'll pick you up from your hotel/ guesthouse, or meet you at prearranged place although he's based at Tissamaharama. We stayed at Richard's Cabanas while there.
The camp was situated at one of the most scenic locations, just at the banks of cauvery. Although booze is not allowed in the forest region, we did have some good mocktails and snacks with the campfire. The early morning trek to tower was great and the experience was top notch.
+91 968 602 0000
Google map: bit.ly/14TqJSL
A one hour cruise around Taiaroa Head. See three species of albatross, spoonbills, petrels, shearwaters soaring around the boat. It was almost as if the birds were choreographed. Excellent commentary from two very friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Hire a bicycle and cycle east along Oriental Parade, past the airport on the west side, cutting down to Lyall bay then on round to Owhiro Bay. Here the tarmac road ends but if you have a mountain bike you can proceed along the coast towards the Red Rocks seal colony.
Start from Oriental Parade on the Wellington waterfront.
Google map: bit.ly/13SPgXB
Sit on the terrace at sunset above the Metate restaurant at the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park, and you could be forgiven for thinking you have died and gone to heaven. The view is as far as the eye can see, and as the sun goes down the day-trippers leave the park to the wildlife and those few lucky enough to be staying the night at the lodge or nearby campsite. The rooftop bar serves unusual cocktails, including a delicious Prickly Pear Margherita. Liberally apply mosquito repellant and sit outside to watch the elk walking by almost close enough to touch. Sheer bliss.
It's a change from the city and great for children. You can see rescued brown bears - some have been used for entertainment and maltreated - and feed them honey from wooden spoons! There are also wolves. Regular trains from Nyugati Station to Ivacs take about an hour, then follow the signs two km to the sanctuary. It's popular with Hungarian families and there's also a restaurant. Admission is 300 Ft [about 87p] per person. Hours are March to September 8am to 7pm. October to February 9am to dark.
I prompted my parents to take me here aged fourteen due to an interest in Eastern Europe. Unsure we arrived to gorgeous rolling country side, with great wildlife including gold oriole and eagles. This Saxon/Romanian village was friendly and tranquil, and Vala Verde was run on an easy going, helpful basis that helped to support the community. The food was excellent especially the veranda breakfast. The Carpathian Mountains have ancient thatched farm houses and incredible vistas. The traditional ways, the solid churches and castles were a fascinating contrasts to the relics of communism. A very memorable adventure.
This rescue bear centre is a a wonderful experience. It is 5km outside a town called Zarnesti which is easily reached by train from Brasov, you will need a taxi from Zarnesti as the sanctuary is down a lot of country roads. It's not unwalkable - I walked back, but you would need to know where you were going. It's not obvious.
You need to book in advance by email or phone (a day or so) as it is not designed as a 'drop in centre' for animal lovers, but a real working santuary (hint - go to the bathroom before you get there, there is a visitor centre but as they are a bit out in the sticks they have limited facilities). They need a mimimun of 10 visitors to make it worthwhile for them and it's $25 a head. Note, that doesn't mean that you have to be in a group of 10, just that there has to be other people booking on the same day.
You will see bears (60 to 70 ) that have had awful histories and it is very moving to see them living in a safe and happy environment.
Romania does have the largest bear population in Europe, and in suburbs of Brasov there is a documented bear issue, so it's very much a part of the culture. (Someone offered me bear paw pate to eat - rebuffed by me!)
Take the train from Brasov to Zarnesti (one every hour or so- costs about a £1, then a taxi to the sanctuary. The tours run to time, so book your pickup for two hours later.
We trekked 16km on Christmas Eve, along the Brahmagiri Hills, through jungle and open savannah to the boulder caves of Pakshipathalam. Here we climbed to the top, and at 1740m our home-made lunch was served on an "ela" (banana leaf). We ate with our hands, and washed down the coconut curry and tapioca curry bread with ice-cold water we'd collected from the mountain streams on our way up. Ashraf (our driver) carried lunch with him, and Manny (our local tribal guide) carried his machete (just in case some of the more frightening local wild inhabitants made an appearance). They both made the trip in flip flops, while I was still nursing my bruised toes a day later, despite being kitted out in waterproof walking boots.
Remote Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Western Ghats of Kerala, borders Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and is part of the UNESCO trans-state Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Tholpetty has one of the two entrances into the sanctuary area (the other is in Muthanga). The ride in a closed Jeep allows for little visibility and is bumpy and uncomfortable. A breakneck tour of the forest along beaten tracks took just over an hour. We screeched to a halt to admire some langur monkeys, watched the colourful flash of exotic birds (but didn't stop to identify them) and gazed through the low, narrow windows at munching spotted deer as we sped past. Much better, were the leisurely drives in our hired car along public roads, from where we saw wild elephant and, on Christmas Day, a tiger. Tholpetty was a let-down, but Wayanad has to be one of the most beautiful and un-touched areas of India.
By journeying as far north-west as you can on the British mainland you will arrive at the village of Durness and on its western edge is the magnificent beach of Balnakeil Bay – which itself is but part of the fascinating promontory of Farhaid Head. Facing westward towards Cape Wrath and the towering sea-cliffs of Clo Mor, the beach and extensive sand dunes are wonderfully devoid of any detracting 'tourist infrastructure'; so this will appeal to the more active/outdoor visitor. The nearby rocky shoreline abounds with a great diversity of sea-birds - Puffins, Terns, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets. The underwater scenery is equally mesmerising and the clarity of the water compares with the Caribbean. For good measure, don't miss a visit to the massive Smoo Cave on the eastern seashore of Durness. Accommodation in Durness includes the Youth Hostel (SYHA) and the Lazy Crofter Bunkhouse.
It's a safari park in Puncak. The animals are well treated and you are able to get close up to the Indonesian wildlife. It's a very good place to take children - mine are seven and five and it's a good day out.
You can have mixed feelings about zoos but I thought its animal welfare was similar to western zoos. I suggest you buy the bananas and carrots before you get to the park from the street vendors and maybe take the free safari bus.
Autumn is definitely the best time to visit this woodland park, a short train ride from Osaka. As you walk up the gently sloping path alongside a stream, look out for monkeys climbing among maple trees which are a blaze of red and yellow in the autumn months. You pass temples and shrines before reaching a waterfall.
Along the path, stalls sell maple leaves deep-fried in a sweet batter.
Take the Hankyu Railway to Minoh. 30 minutes from Umeda Station in Central Osaka.
Google map: bit.ly/SjQzWQ
Europe's last primeval forest. The innermost sanctuary of the national park is reserved for guided visits with one of the rangers. Wonder at ancient trees taller than cathedrals, then visit the Bisons’ Reserve, where as well as bisons, you can see lynxes, wolves, elks, wild boar, and deer. Stay at the cosy and clean Camping Grudki and warm up any cold evenings with some delicious Zubrowka bison grass vodka.
Bialowieza, Zachodnio-Pomorskie, North
+48 (0)85 6812484
Google map: bit.ly/TXfL9R
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