By Qi Siang Ng
This month, we share our carefully-curated selection of alternative experiences for the second half of 2020. Gasp at the primal grandeur of an East African safari as you stalk the Big Five and witness the great migration against the awe-inspiring stage of the African Savannah. Retreat into the mystical peaks of the Himalayas, where Buddhist monks guide you from the strife of the material world into an enlightened state of being. Or simply fling yourself headfirst off a suspension bridge and shock the cares of the world out of your system in New Zealand – home of Bungy Jumping.
Welcome to one of the greatest wildlife destinations on the planet. Against the vast plains of the Serengeti, nature reveals its mystery, power and beauty as the vast wildebeest herds of the savannah move Southwards in search of fresh pasture. Admire the awe-inspiring spectacle of a sea of wildebeest thundering in unison across the African plains, braving savage predators and fording mighty rivers in obedience to the primeval rhythms of survival.
Stay at the Singita Faru Faru Lodge on the banks of the Grumeti River. This small and intimate lodge has only eight beautiful rooms and is located straight in the path of the Great Migration with superior views of the wildebeest herds. Explore the village of Mto wa Mbu by Tuk Tuk and visit local rice paddies and banana plantations run by local residents. For those who long for a taste of nomadic life, the Serengeti Safari Camp is a mobile-tented camp that moves with the Great Migration to guarantee travellers the finest views of the herds.
Witness the great migration in the Maasai Mara – one of Africa’s most prominent wildlife reserves – and say hello to the last remaining Northern White Rhinos in the Olpejeda Conservancy. Visit a Maasai Village and interact with members of this well-known African tribe, recognisable by their iconic red shuka wraps and colourful beaded handicrafts. Meet a village elder who will introduce you to traditional Maasai culture – one that has been successfully preserved for centuries up to the present day.
Hemingways in Nairobi is the gold standard of luxury for travellers to Kenya. Beautiful in its symmetry and flooded with natural light, this plantation-style property overlooks the iconic silhouette of the Ngong Hills – a magical view of the hill can be enjoyed from your room or the Bar. The Solio Lodge in the Solio conservancy is renowned for being the most successful private rhino breeding reserve in Kenya, and it’s normal to see as many as 40 of these rare creatures walking past you during your stay.
Outside of the thrilling great migration, the raw beauty and incredible diversity of landscapes and cultures of Kenya and Tanzania are sure to enchant even the most worldly of travellers. The “short rains” low season brings a lusher quality to the savannah that is excellent for bird-watching, while heightened water levels result in more active river life such as hippopotami and crocodiles in East Africa’s many rivers. A year-round destination always full of life, the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti never disappoint.
New Zealand is a quixotic mix of action and relaxation. See your life flash before your eyes as you bungy jump off a suspension bridge, before soaking in the warm embrace of a natural geothermal pool in one of Aotearoa’s lush forests. Hike through spectacular landscapes on one of New Zealand’s “Nine Great Walks” and gasp in awe at gorgeous scenery such as the glacier-carved Milford Sound – hailed by Rudyard Kipling as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Catch the elusive Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) and plan your stargazing experiences in Tekapo and Mount Cook International Dark Sky Reserves. Engage in extreme sports such as snowboarding and heli-skiing or take it slow with more sedate activities such as snowshoeing. Nature lovers will delight in observing the migration of Humpback whales as they swim from the Antarctic to the tropics (New Zealand) to mate and give birth in winter. Visit the local Maori inhabitants and learn more about their distinct culture over a traditional Hangi meal cooke din the earth with hot stones.
Stay at Mahu Whenua, a luxury lodge located 30 minutes from the town of Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island. The boutique hotel has four suites with gorgeous views of the Motatapu Valley, Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains. A heated pool is at your disposal to relax in after a day of touring. Located near Lake Taupo, Huka Lodge is rated as one of the world’s top retreats. This heritage hotel dating back to the 1920s is fenced by lush, green grounds beside the Waikato River and the cascading Huka Falls. It makes a great base for skiing and snowshoeing in winter on the North Island’s premier slopes.
Say hello to the warm and friendly Nepalese people as you travel through fabled temples and embark on breath-taking treks through the world’s highest mountains. Meet local artisans at Bhaktapur Durbar Square, who have practiced traditional crafts such as wood-carving, stone masonry, pottery and thangka-painting for generations. Receive a blessing from the shamans – powerful conduits between the material and spiritual worlds – and learn how they help relieve mental tension and cure illnesses in their supplicants. Enjoy a delicious home-cooked Newari Meal with a local Newari family and experience a day in the life of ordinary folk in this highland country.
Stay at Dwarika’s Resort, a property built around respecting nature and oneself, taking inspiration from Hindu scriptures (vedas), Buddhist medicine and Himalayan folk knowledge. Only fresh, seasonal and local produce sourced from resort-owned eco-organic farms are used in the kitchen. Perched 1,000 feet above the Pokhara Valley with a spectacular view of the Himalayas, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge provides a tranquil Shangri-La for clients to take refuge from the cares of daily life. Take day walks exploring local villages and watch the rich birdlife flit across alpine trees or just relax and recharge against the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas.
A harmonious hideaway perched above Phewa Lake and surrounded by cascading rice fields; The Pavilions Himalayas Lake View offers a unique opportunity to reconnect with nature in the finest luxury. Sail in boats across the vast lake to reach your hotel (weather conditions permitting) before reveling in the laid-back charm of Pokhara in your tastefully-designed villa – designed to bring out the reviving powers of your spellbinding surroundings.
Bhutan is a treasure trove of nature with deep ravines and lush greenery. Eschewing conventional definitions of quality of life, the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon aspires to be the happiest society in the world through its concept of Gross National Happiness. Proudly preserving its traditional way of life, a soothing rhythm resonates throughout this peaceful land that calls all souls to rest in its verdant tranquility.
Learn to craft a sand mandala with Buddhist monks or spend the day with a young Buddhist master to learn the wisdom of Buddhist philosophy. For a truly novel experience, try your hand at brewing Araa – a locally brewed beverage – as our Bhutanese personality reveals the secrets behind Bhutan’s traditional brew of distilled rice. Hike through the unspoiled Himalayan mountains and admire fortified monasteries (dzong) such as the awe-inspiring Tiger’s Nest.
Rest from the day’s activities at Amankora Paro, which features 24 suites with walls clad in wood and black steel panelling. Amenities include king-size beds, traditional wood-fire stoves and banquette window-seats, while bathrooms feature luxurious terrazzo-clad bathtubs. Bask in the award-winning Gangtey Lodge perched over the spectacular Gangtey (Phobjikha) Valley. Its remote location and stunning design at the heart of Bhutan allows one to take a step back away from the chaos of life and just admire the beauty of the natural world. Zhiwa Ling Ascent, a contemporary Bhutanese hotel set amid 25 acres of lush parkland, is a tranquil haven offering unparalleled views over Thimphu – Bhutan’s quaint little capital city.