Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Great Outdoors

Executive summary by darmansjah

Dragons, volcanoes, and the Garden of Eden are more than mere myths at these national parks

Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

Within Sagarmatha National Park are some of the tallest and most dramatic peaks in the world, seven of those rising over 7,000 metres. Among them is Mount Sagarmatha, more commonly known as Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres, the highest peak in the world. Sagarmatha is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘sky-head’, providing a clue on its exotic location.

The park’s landscape is not only restricted to mountains. In fact, the range of altitudes within the park is so extreme that four different climates zones exist here. These zones include a forested lower zone, a zone of alpine scrub, the upper alpine zone where the upper limit of vegetation growth is, and the arctic zone where no plants can grow. As with the flora, species of wildlife, which include snow leopard, black bears, red pandas, yaks, wolves and foxes, are distributed according to the elevation.

The local residents, the Sherpa, are known for their friendliness and hospitality. Many Sherpas speak conversational English and are happy to point you in the right direction should you lose your way.

The park’s visitors centre is located at the top of a hill in Namche Bazaar, the gateway to the park. Lodgings and stores that cater to visitors can be found in this town, which is also a popular stop for altitude acclimatization.and comfortable rooms and friendly owners provide a warm homely atmosphere (hoteltophill,webs.com).

There are a few ways to get to the park, and almost all require walking. A popular way is to takre a flilght from Katmandu to Lukla followed by a two day hike to Namche Bazaar.

Alternatively, take a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri followed by a 10 day hike to the park.

Kakadu National Park, Australia

The scale of Australia’s largest national park is an impressive one – it is nearly half the size of Switzerland! Located in the Northern Territory of Australia, 170 kilometres southeast of Darwin, Kakadu covers an area of close to 20,000 square kilometers.

Waterfalls, aboriginal rock art, vertical cliffs, chasms and gorges make up the landscape of the park but perhaps what it is most famous for is its crocodiles. Small freshwater and the larger saltwater or estuarine crocodiles, whether sleeping on the banks of billabongs or floating in rivers, are a common sight in the park. Little wonder as Kakadu is after all. Crocodile Dundee’s territory.

The park’s wetlands are beautiful are beautiful all year round, especially during the dry season as the diminishing supply of water leads to the congregation of an incredible number of birds.

The town of Jabiru is located inside the park and acts as the strategic centre of Kakadu, with accommodation options, a service station, a supermarket, a medical clinic and a shopping centre. Visit the Bowali Visitor Centre a short drive away to get maps and learn more about Kakadu. Scenic flights take off from an airstrip in Jabiru if you want a quick overview of the park.

Day tours inside the park taking you to well known spots like Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls cab be booked but a rental vehicle, especially a 4WD, will give you the flexibility to explore the massive park on you own and those who have been there know the best way of truly discovering Kakadu is taking your time.

Aurora kakadu Hotel is the first property inside the national park from Darwin on the Arnheim Highgway and is set in lush tropical surroundings. The hotel provides immediately access to wildlife and is a good base from which to explore the park (from US$110; auroraresorts.com.au)


Shikotsu-Toya National Park is located in the southwest part of Hokkaido and features  lakes and volcanoes as part of its vast landscape. The most active volcano is the 73 metres hgh Mount Usu, which has erupted four times over the last 100 years, the most recent in 2000, when it showered the nearby Toyako Onsen with ash and debris. Next to Mount Usu is Showashinzan, a freak of nature that popped out one day in 1943 following an earthquake and grew over 400 metres in a mere two years.

The Usuzan Gondola beside the mountains brings visitors to an observation deck with a view of the mountains and Lake Toya. From a second observation deck a short walk away, you can see Mount Usu’s largest crater, which was formed by an eruption in 1977.

Just north of both mountains is the iconic Lake Toya, an almost circular caldera lake that has a diameter of 10 kilometres . because of the geothermal activity in the area, the lake never freezes over, even during winter.

The Noboribetsu region lies within the boundaries of the park and is a popular destination for hot springs. Hotels here are geared towards this and provide an atmosphere of relaxation for their guests. Of course, it isn’t that difficult considering the stunning back drop of the area.

The closest airport is a Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport. Hop on a train the airport to Minami-Chitose Station and transfer to a limited express train bound for Hakodate. Get off at Toya station about 70 minutes later. Driving from the airport to Lake Toya along the Doo Expressway takes about 100 minutes and costs US$38 in tolls. Get off at Abuta-Toyako Interchange.

Surrounded in the beautiful natural Hot Springs region, Noboribetsu Grand Hotel provides luxurious accommodation complete with both outdoor and indoor Hot Springs facilities (from US$420; nobogura.co.jp).

Gunung Mulu, Malaysia

With an estimated 3,500 plant species and tens of thousands of different animal species, you can’t get any closer nature than at Sarawak’s Gunung Mulu National Park.

Despite its thriving wildlife, the park is famous for its limestone karst formations and its humongous caves. To date, close to 300 kilometres of caves have been discovered by explorers. One of the most spectacular sights is the Sarawak Chamber. Measuring 700 metres long, 400 metres wide and at least 70metres high. It is the largest known enclosed space in the world. For an idea of how massive this, picture 40 Boing 747s lining up wingtip to wingtip.

The nearby Deer Cave, was until recently, considered  the largest of its kind in the world. The cave is home to millions of bats that roost in the day and emerge at dusk. Camp around the entrance of the cave between 5 to 7 pm and you’ll witness a half hour long procession of bats leaving the cave in a strangely organized and continuous serpentine aerial formation.

Walking through the Deer Cave eventually leads you to the aptly named Garden of Eden, a textbook example of a karst collapse. The shaft of light coming in through the collapsed roof illuminating the lush green garden is a scene right out of a Willard Price novel. “Cave Adventure” does have a nice ring to it.
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Possible to travel to the area by riverboat, the easiest way to the park is by air. Gunung Mulu National Park has a small airport that lies just outside the park. From the airport, tour operators provide shuttle service to accommodations. Daily direct flights to the airport via MASWings from Miri and Kota Kinabalu are available (maswings.com.my)

The royal Mulu Resort is located adjacent to the park and is a five minute away. The resort is built on longhouses held three metres above the ground by stilts and is linked by a series of wooden walkways (from US$90; royalmuluresort.com

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Dragons are not entirely mythical. In Komodo National Park, they really exist. Named after the fearsome giant lizard it shelters, Komodo National Park was founded in 1980. The park is a collective of 29 islands-the three largest being Komodo. Padar and Rincah – and stretches over an area of 1,733 square kilometers. In 1991, the park was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

At least 2,500 Komodo Dragons roam the islands. Many grow to about three metres in length and weigh up to 90 kilograms. Because of their aize, Komodos are powerful predators and dominate the eco-system in which they live and feed on various prey including invertebrates, mammals and birds.

The park is not all just about the legendary komodos though. With about two thirds of its area comprising water, the park is absolutely thriving with marine life. White beaches, clear blue water and beautiful corals provide excellent diving spots. The nutrient rich waters contribute to the fantastic under waters scenery and high species diversity – over 1,000 different species of fish swim in these waters. Other notable marine wildlife include turtles, dugongs, sharks, stringrays, and blue and sperm whales.

The gateway to Komodo is the popular tourist destination Bali. From Bali’s Denpasar International Airport, a 90 minutes flight brings you to Komodo Airport near the city of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. An information centre and travel agents where transportation to and from the park can be arranged also found in Labuan Bajo.

The Bajo Komodo Eco Lodge offers beachside accommodation in Flores, though you are advised against swimming and snorkeling there. Tours to Komodo National Park can be arranged through the hotel (from US$60; ecolodgesindonesia.com).

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