As summer takes its final bow (or winter, depending on which end of the planet you’re standing), it’s easy to think of the months ahead as a bit of a barren travel wasteland. Please don’t! Not only are off-season holidays far from the madding crowd, more relaxed and easier on the wallet, but they take advantage of milder temperatures for outdoor pursuits that can be not all that fun when it’s just too darn hot… or cold! Here we put the ‘off’ season myth to bed with a selection of what to do and where after summer’s curtain call.
Leaf Peeping in South Korea
‘Leaf peepers’ have plenty of places from which to choose to lose themselves in a dazzling swirl of red and gold. Despite the name, this is not some seedy voyeuristic pastime; rather it’s the wholesome autumnal treat of checking out the colours of the changing leaves. The New England states of the USA are perhaps the most famous locale for spotting fall foliage, but there other notable places off the well-trodden leaf-peeping path. South Korea is quickly gaining a reputation for spectacular autumn colours that rival its more famous neighbour, Japan. Called danpoong in Korean, the annual September-to-November leaf season is a big draw for locals and visitors alike, and with regular danpoong updates from around the country made by the Korean Meteorological Administration, it’s easy not to miss the spectacle!
Leafy mountainous areas such as Mt. Halla on Cheju-do Island are the best places to get your fill of fall foliage, but even the capital, Seoul, with its tree-lined streets, has a fair share of wow factor. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Changdeokgung Palace boasts a number of beautiful landscaped gardens that are home to hundreds of varieties of trees. The autumnal explosion of colour makes for a very popular day trip, so be prepared to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with up to 3,500 other eager peepers a day.
Fungi Foraging in Belarus
Mushroom picking is very popular right across the European continent when the cooler, wetter autumn months see these tasty little fellas popping up all over the place like, well…like mushrooms. Hordes of pickers head out to the forests, wicker baskets in tow, to claim their bounty. Much like its neighbours of Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, the former Soviet state of Belarus is big on mushrooming and these fruits of the forest figure heavily in the local diet.
Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve, about 120 kilometres from the capital, Minsk, is one of five national parks in Belarus recognised and supported by UNESCO. Set up in 1925 to protect rare animal species in the north of the country, Berezinsky is a pristine environment of forests, bogs, reservoirs and meadows, as well as a fungi-foraging paradise. However, its special land status means that mushroom and berry picking are strictly limited to designated areas on the outer edges of the reserve, close to the villages. Day trips can easily be arranged from Minsk, but novice ‘shroomers should always go with an experienced local, or, at the very least, use a reference book for guidance.
Mountain Biking in Bolivia
The charmingly named Camino de la Muerte or ‘Road of Death’ links the Bolivian capital of La Paz with the small town of Coroico in Yungas, three hours away. The road has earned its cheery moniker on account of the huge vertical drops, hairpin bends, narrow passes and worryingly high number of fatalities that make it stand out in a country already not known for its road safety.
A rite of passage for cycling enthusiasts, backpackers and adrenaline junkies from all over the world, the route is now well served by tour companies that provide bikes, safety gear, guides, refreshments and lunch along the way. The five-hour tour begins at La Cumbre, 4,700 metres above sea level, before plunging down 1,200 metres along the cliff edge. At the bottom is some well-deserved R & R, as well as a souvenir T-shirt proudly stating ‘I Survived the Road of Death.’
The mellow colonial town of Coroico is welcome too as a place to unwind after the big-city bustle of La Paz. Coroico is situated on the outskirts of the Amazon rainforest and enjoys warm weather and clear blue skies in marked contrast to the harsher, chillier conditions of Bolivia’s Altiplano. A popular weekend getaway, Coroico is pleasantly quiet at other times, when bargain hunters can easily find discounted accommodation. In addition, September and October, when the weather is cool, dry and sunny, are ideal times to visit, sandwiched as they are between the peak-tourist and rainy seasons.
Whale Watching in the Cook Islands
The Cook Islands of Raratonga, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro are ideally situated in the path of migrating humpback whales headed to their summer feeding grounds off the coast of New Zealand and the Antarctic. In October it’s therefore possible to watch these majestic creatures breaching and cavorting at the reef’s edge. As the reef is often as close as 10 metres to shore, a beachside sun lounge may be the best viewing platform, thus leaving the animals undisturbed.
Also worth mention is Aitutaki Lagoon, 220 kilometres north of Raratonga on the island paradise of Aitutaki. The turquoise waters boast a rainbow display of fish, as well as eagle rays, giant clams and turtles. Day trips can be arranged from Raratonga on planes that depart several times a day.
Mountain Climbing in Tanzania
Flush against Tanzania‘s northern border with Kenya, just over 200 miles south of the equator, Mt. Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest peak and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world – is at its best in September and October. Temperatures are pleasantly warm, rain and cloud cover are minimal and the views are excellent as a result. Plus, the number of people attempting to scale the 5,895-metre peak becomes a mere trickle in October, which is great news for solitary soul-searchers. There are nine ways up the ‘Roof of Africa,’ with the Marangu Route offering the most in the way of comfort, including shops and sleeping huts. Hardcore climbers may prefer the Umbwe Route – no beds or beer on this path, but the overnights in caves will still seem pretty enticing after a hard day’s hike!
Tanzania has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve during September and October, with diving and sailing on Zanzibar, and game viewing on the mainland all at their best. The coastal winds taper off, which means it’s a good time to hit the beaches near Dar Es Salaam, and the drier weather means animals tend to congregate around water sources. To catch the latter, in addition to nearby game drives in the World Heritage-listed Selous Game Reserve (Africa’s largest protected game reserve) or the Mikumi and Udzungwa Mountain national parks, a definite must-see is the migration from the north of Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, when thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross the Mara River. One of the greatest wildlife shows on earth!