October is here and, with the changing of the season and the weather, Amal Sarhan looks towards three verdant corners of our planet. The destinations bathe you in natural wonder and tranquil scenery as she explores these cherished areas that will make you feel as one with the earth.
JASPER NATIONAL PARK, CANADA
Surrounding the town of Jasper is Canada’s Jasper National Park – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site – with glimmering glaciers, verdant forests, azure blue lakes, plentiful wildlife, high, crashing waterfalls, deep, yawning canyons and lofty mountains. With an area of 11,228sq/km, the park is the largest in the Rocky Mountains and the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. It offers unforgettable adventures, including alpine day hiking, mountain biking, skating and horseback riding. Visitors can also take scenic drives and picnic in the woods, as well as enjoy viewing the wildlife and learning about the surrounding habitat. For those who want to pamper themselves, don’t forget to visit The Spa at Fairmont Jasper Spa Lounge.
Perhaps Jasper’s most adored hidden gem is Spirit Island, a quaint and tiny island in Maligne Lake located off the beaten path and tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. The lake is surrounded by three peaks of the same mountain range, which is quite rare and offers the most beautiful, picturesque view. You can either paddle to the island, which takes about four hours from Home Bay, or take the cruise, which will get you there in about two hours.
The cruise will also take you through the Maligne Valley, which offers breathtaking scenery of the Rockies’ flora and fauna and abundant wildlife. You will stop at Maligne Canyon to embark on two famous bridges which look out onto majestic waterfalls that cascade onto ancient limestone found in the area.
FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK, NEW ZEALAND
This heavenly sanctuary is lined and dotted with towering mountain ranges, deep sounds, vast azure-blue lakes, colossal waterfalls and crowded forests. Home to three of New Zealand’s greatest hiking tracks, the park is located in the internationally celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site Te Wahipounamu, once called the eighth wonder of the world by renowned English poet Rudyard Kipling.
Perhaps the most treasured part of the national park is its fiords or ‘sounds’, of which Milford and Doubtful are the largest. The best way to explore these pockets of heaven and witness the beauty of the wildlife is by kayak, including shorter kayaking day trips or, if you feel more daring, multi-day kayaking trips where you get to camp in the wonderous wilderness of the park’s woods. You can additionally take the overnight cruise as you doze off to the tranquil soft splashes of the sounds. As you go deeper, look out for bottlenose dolphins and fur seals. When disembarking, take a kayak or small boat to explore the coastline. You’ll just be able to catch the native Fiordland Crested Penguin or Tawaki, whose breeding season ends in November, as well as the Kokora, known as the smallest penguins in the world. Don’t forget to visit the Punanga Manu o Te Anau Bird Sanctuary to meet some of the rarest native bird species, including the flightless Takahē and the Kākā, the native forest parrot.
Lake Te Anau is another prized spectacle of the park and is the largest in the world of the southern glacial lakes. Surrounded by fiords and high mountain ranges, its broad waters induce a great sense of calm. Take the scenic boat cruise across the lake and pass by the sculpted limestone, whirlpools and tumbling waterfalls before heading into the Glowworm Caves as you admire the glittering creatures overhead.
Lastly, a trip to Fiordland would not be complete without setting out on a hiking trail. The well-known Milford Track will usher you through dense beech and pod carp forests, snow-capped summits, magnificent waterfalls and deep green valleys.
FUJI HAKONE IZU NATIONAL PARK, JAPAN
Mount Fuji, the lone but sublime volcanic peak, has dominated Japan’s culture and history for centuries and is a symbol of Japanese beauty, identity and art, as seen in many of the renowned Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s works. The peak is adorned with snow for much of the year. As you wander through the evergreen forests and explore the surrounding regions of the marvel, all of which has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will feel both a sense of calm and overwhelming awe.
South of Mount Fuji are the Izu Islands, which harbour a curious natural charm seldom found anywhere else. The islands are home to a variety of unusual migratory birds and plant species, especially at the Hakone Botanical Gardens, which houses over 3,000 species. Grab the chance to swim with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins off the coast of the islands or snorkel to see the underwater lava formations. You can also explore the park’s many lava caves, bathe in its hot springs and admire the majesty of Shiraito Falls.
Stroll through the labyrinthine and luscious beech forests or hike the Odoriko Trail Road from the town of Kawazu until you come across seven lovely waterfalls known as Kawazu Nanadaru. Trek the paths that meander through the vast Aokigahara Jukai forest located on Mount Fuji’s slopes and revel in a few hours of ‘forest bathing’ or mindful walking among the trees, a scientifically proven Japanese therapy known as Shinrin-Yoku. Finally, walk up the Old Tokaido Road from Moto-Hakone to a 400-yearold teahouse called Amazake Chaya, where you can relish the traditional Japanese rice drink as well as some rice cakes.