Our planet is covered in such an immense multitude of biodiversity. Lush rainforests dense in exotic flora, expansive arid deserts punctuated by what appears as only the occasional prickly cactus, soaring mountains deep in pines or cratered terrain that appears from Mars, add these amazing protected parks to your holiday bucket list.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
Established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park, the Volcanoes National Park (also known by its French name Parc National des Volcans) occupies 160 sq kms of jungle in northwestern Rwanda and garnered international attention stemming from the work of zoologist Dian Fossey on the area’s mountain gorilla. In addition to being a protected habitat for gorilla, it’s also home to a number of other wildlife such as the golden monkey, the spotted hyena, the black-fronted duiker, the bushbuck, elephants and 178 bird species. Due to its varying altitudes, it contains a vast array of flora spread across five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains.
Dian Fossey came to the Park in 1967 and consequently set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. She dedicated most of her time researching in the park and to saving the mountain gorilla from extinction. She was tragically murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, most likely by poachers. She is buried next to the research center beside the grave of her favorite gorilla, Digit.
Dian Fossey and her important work have been commemorated in the recently inaugurated Map Room at the Virunga Lodge. The excellent eco-luxury lodge in the collection of Volcanoes Safaris, who also led life-changing gorilla safaris at the park and elsewhere in Rwanda and Uganda.
The Lau Seascape, Fiji
Fiji is a nation of color, culture and remarkable biodiversity and the Fijian Archipelago encompasses one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world. Our local expert Jacqui Reyes from Vatuvara Private Islands gives us this further insight into this important protected natural site:
“In 2015, the Fijian government established a target to place 30% of Fijian waters under protected status by 2020. Fiji is leading the way in marine conservation in the Pacific. The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) has declared 2017 the Pacific Year of the Ocean. The Government of Fiji is co-hosting the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017, to support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
“One Marine Sanctuary targeted to make up Fiji’s 30% protected status is the blue-green jewel of forest and reef called the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape. It stretches across the channel that links Fiji’s two main islands, and comprises over 27,000 square kilometers of forests, mangroves, seagrass meadows, reefs, deep channels, and seamounts. It is one of the few remaining sanctuaries for the globally endangered humphead wrasse, there is abundant sea life and it’s one of the Pacific’s last great wild places.
“The Lau Seascape is also home to some of the most well-preserved reef systems in the world. The lagoons of Vatuvara Private Islands and their surrounding ocean provide varying ecosystems and safe havens for marine life. The Northern Lau group of islands is filled with a diversity of wildlife, these remote islands are breathtaking, filled with lush forests and fringed by spectacular beaches and azure waters. Inspired by the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape, Vatuvara Private Islands is committed to preserving the ridge to reef environments through establishing the new Vatuvara Foundation in Fiji. The Vatuvara Foundation is dedicated to protect and revive oceans in Northern Lau through a network of marine managed areas and provide innovative solutions to promote awareness that empowers local communities in order to sustain livelihoods from their natural resources.” – Jacqui Reyes, Vatuvara Private Islands
Where to stay in The Lau Seascape.
Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park
Hawaii evokes lush tropical forests and some of the chain of island’s most impressive forests and views can be savored in gorgeous Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. Located in the north of Kauai Island. Established in in 1983 it currently extends to over 3,578 acres (14.5 km2) and is lined with na pali (high cliffs) along the shoreline which can reach heights up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m). The best way to experience the park’s magnificent scenery is by hiking the Kalalau trail. Along this 18km coastal trail from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach you’ll be able to admire unspoilt stretch of cliffs and narrow valleys rising from the Pacific Ocean. On the way you can also observe stone walled terraces at the bottom of the valleys where Hawaiians once lived and cultivated taro.The trail takes between six and eight hours depending on your pace and requires good physical condition as it can often be muddy and slippery after rainfall. A permit is not needed to hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls, but anything after that requires a permit.
Where to Stay on Kauai Island.
Morne Seychellois National Park, The Seychelles
The Seychelles has become a frontrunner in sustainable tourism with almost half of its total landmass set aside in the form of protected areas ensuring that its incredible variety of indigenous flora (more than 250 native plant species) and fauna will survive for future generations. While there are official natural parks, there is much to explore beyond the borders of the parks, especially by foot.
“There are amazing nature trails on Mahe,” explains our local expert Karl Ammann, director of the Residence on the Rocks. “All easily reachable since the whole Island is only 30 kms long. The path up to the Residence is a nature trail in itself about one km from the villa property and all through indigenous forest and rock formations with a lot of bird life.”
The island’s best know official part, the Morne Seychellois National Park, is found on the northern side of Mahé. It covers about 20 percent of the total surface of the island and consists of mangroves, dense tropical forests and steep mountains. The more adventurous can scale its highest mountain, the namesake of the Park. Rising 900 metres (2,950 feet), it’s also the tallest mountain in the entire archipelago. A highlight is the Copolia trail, a relatively easy jungle pathway which begins at Chemin Foret Noire and features some amazing views across Victoria and Sainte Anne. Other notable trails are from Danzil to Anse Major, the Tea Factory to Morne Blanc, and the paths around the Trois Frères cliffs above Victoria. You can find more information on these trails here.
Where to stay in The Seychelles.
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
With its moonlike crater lakes and volcanic landscape New Zealand’s oldest national park is one of the most unique natural locations on earth. Only one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s one of the few in the world to have dual status, as a cultural and natural site due to the park’s importance to Maori cultural and spirituality. The breathtaking Tongariro National Park is situated near Lake Taupo in the center of New Zealand’s North Island. The best way to experience the park is to hike its Alpine Crossing along which you’ll be able to take in its different terrains and admire the unbelievable colors of the Emerald Lakes, straight out of a fantasy or sci-fi movie. The more active can push on a little further up Mount Ngauruhoe where you’ll be rewarded with even more spectacular views.
Where to stay near Tongariro National Park.
Gallatin National Forest, Montana, U.S.A.
Some of America’s most pristine nature and its most amazing views can be witnessed in Montana, known as the “Big Sky State” and home to the sublime of Gallatin National Forest. More visitors might make their way to nearby Yellowstone National Park, situated across the state line in Wyoming, however, you’ll find more peace and quiet to commune with nature at Gallatin, minus the flocks of crowds attracted to its more famous neighbor. The park offers world-class hiking where the only beings you might encounter are chirping birds, dashing foxes and slow-paced moose. The park also draws fly-fishermen who are equally spellbound in the meditative act of casting their line in the park’s pristine waters. The sound of the trickling streams, the whisper of the breeze through its ancient forests and the jaw-dropping panoramas of the mountains will be strongly etched in your mind, making your journey through Montana’s wilderness an unforgettable one.
Where to stay near Gallatin National Forest.
Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria
Creating a jagged border line between France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria, the Alps showcase some of Europe’s most awe-inspiring landscape. You can experience some of its most pristine and gorgeous natural settings in Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park. The largest natural park in all of the Alps, it spreads 1,856 km² over three Austrian provinces. Hikers delight in its 350 kilometers of marked paths and alpine trails which zigzag through the beautiful Rauris Valley into Taxenbach and the SalzburgerLand region. The Rauris Valley, dubbed the “Secret Jewel Hohe Tauern National Park,” is truly a must. Here you can venture deep into majestic green forests, past rushing rivers and waterfalls, observe powerful birds of prey in their nature environment and discover sites linked to the gold-mine era. Since most of the paths are manageable for inexperienced or casual hikers, it makes for the perfect place to take walkers of mixed levels or families; avid mountaineers and mountain-climbers can also satisfy their need for adrenaline on its higher peaks.
Where to stay near Hohe Tauern National Park.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Along with its neighbor the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, this is one of Africa’s most famous and one of the most beautiful, mesmerizing places on earth. Founded in 1961, the 1,500 km2 (580 sq mi) Maasai Mara National Reserve was named in honor of the Maasai people who have inhabitants the region for millennia. The plains of savanna are dotted with short trees and scrub and are the regular stomping ground for leopards, cheetahs, lions in addition to the annual Great Migration of zebra, Thompson’s gazelle, hyena, impala and wildebeest to and from the Serengeti which takes every July to October. During this period there can be as many as 1.5 million animals and around 90 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles and over 400 birds species on the reserve.
There are many ways to visit the park, and our local experts at Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp and Bush Villa offer unique opportunities to witness the wildlife in addition to a variety of cultural experiences with the local Maasai people, get a taste of some of them here.
Where to stay near The Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Pico das Prateleiras. Photo Credit: Edgar de Brito / Flickr
Itatiaia National Park, Brazil
Brazil’s nature dazzles the eyes and enlivens the spirit. There are so many exceptional natural places to explore across the country, one of the easiest for those on a short trip to the country is the this gorgeous park. The country’s oldest one, established in 1937, Itatiaia National Park is located three hours north of the picturesque colonial town of Paraty and four hours from Rio de Janeiro. It spreads over the Mantiqueira mountain range, where you can find some of Brazil’s highest mountains including Prateleiras and Agulhas Negras, ranging in altitude from 540 to 2,791 metres (1,772 to 9,157 ft). Casual and advanced hikers can enjoy a day (or more) discovering the lush vegetation, snaking rivers and cascading waterfalls of Prateleiras whereas more skilled mountaineers can take on the challenges of rockier Agulhas Negras. Of course, the higher you go, the better the views! The park is also very popular with bird watchers who can spot upwards of 350 different species.
Where to stay near Itatiaia National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park. Photo Credit: A Different Brian / Flickr
Joshua Tree National Park, California, U.S.A.
The desert usually sparks visions of the majestic dunes of the Sahara, however, the U.S. is actually home to one of the planet’s most unique deserts: The Joshua Tree National Park. Occupying a vast 800,000 acres of Southern California it is extremely variable with dramatic scenery of rugged mountains and wind torn plains. It features two distinct deserts with two large ecosystems roughly divided by elevation. The lower sector, the Colorado Desert, is the half of the park below 3,000 feet (910 m) and is found in the eastern side. This arid land is abundant in creosote bush as well as ocotillo and cholla cactus. The higher section is known as the Mojave Desert. It is slightly cooler and wetter and is the habitat of the peculiar Joshua tree, dominant in the park’s western half. Immortalized in the 1987 U2 album of the same name, the Irish pop stars were not the first to notice this unusual tree. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “… the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.” Alluring or vile, you’ll just have to visit the park to decide for yourself.
Where to stay near the Joshua Tree National Park:
Our global expert Sylvia Delvaille Jones of Villas and Apartments Abroad has the perfect base for exploring the region from the gorgeous Mirage Palm Springs villa, located only an hour drive from the park and with a stunning desert-like, red rocky backdrop. This luxurious 5,000+ sq ft home was completed in 2012 and consists of six bedrooms on a three-building private compound, including the main house, a casita, nanny’s quarters, plus the largest residential lap pool in the desert and an impressive home cinema. Enjoy the star-studded glamour of Palm Springs and the area’s spectacular nature by reaching out to Sylvia here.