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Extreme getaways

More people are using holiday time to chase thrills over the edge of a cliff or deep underwater, flirting with danger for a rush of endorphins like no other. Here we suggest some unusual sports to push this summer’s holiday to the extreme


Cave diving | Peacock Springs State Park
Vacations in Florida generally evoke images of Mickey Mouse and rollercoasters packed with screaming kids. But further north, in the picturesque Peacock Springs State Park, a serene wooded area hides an exciting secret just below its surface. In addition to a spring run, two major springs and six sinkholes, the park is home to one of the longest underwater cave systems in the US, with a labyrinth of over 33,000ft of underwater passages waiting to be explored.

Due to the complex nature of this activity, only certified scuba divers can partake in the sport, but there are numerous dive centres that provide training for those who want to specialise in cave diving. A novice cavern course, requiring 25 logged dives, usually takes two days, so it makes a unique long weekend getaway for keen adventurers. Local dive shops can take care of park entry fees and give guided tours, as well as providing equipment to hire.

Thanks to the work of preservationists and park regulations banning underwater population vehicles, the passages open to the public are maintained to a high standard, complete with safety ropes to guide experienced divers who just want to explore with a buddy.

The Peacock and Orange Grove underwater caves offer a vastly different experience to open-water diving. Navigating tight twists and turns in poor visibility and swimming through narrow crevices can trigger a bout of claustrophobia in even the most competent scuba enthusiasts.

But the spectacular limestone cave formations that open up at the end of the tunnels are well worth the squeeze. Some say the zero-gravity feeling that comes from floating through water in this unique underwater landscape makes cave diving the closest most people will come to an extra-terrestrial experience.

Base Jumping | Norway
Leaping off a cliff may seem like a quick route to death, but base jumpers say nothing makes them feel more alive than somersaulting their way down a cliff face at 80mph. A true daredevil sport, base jumping is the shorter but more dangerous sibling of skydiving and is named after the platforms jumpers leap from: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and natural ‘earth’ sites. A high number of fatalities and injuries from thrill-seekers jumping from unregulated spots have earned the fringe sport a bad reputation. However, thorough regulation in Norway ensures many legal jump spots with a dramatic backdrop of cliffs and fjords.

The mountainous Norwegian Lysefjorden region is recognised as one of the best places in the world for adrenaline-fuelled sport. But it’s not as simple as taking a leap of faith into the abyss; base jumpers are highly trained professionals. For first-timers, tandem jumps are available from the Karlsgratind cliff, allowing novices to forget the safety technicalities and just enjoy the rush of a 1,000m fall.

The nearby Preikestolen (Preacher’s Pulpit) is another famed base spot, hosting more than 30,000 jumps in the last 20 years, in addition to many hikers who trek to the precipice just to take in the beautiful views. The 25sq m rock formation stands 604m above beautiful blue waters, with the shorter height making this more suitable for experienced base jumpers who can deploy their parachutes in safe time. Lysefjorden is only a two-hour drive from the picturesque town of Stavanger, the European Capital of Culture 2008, providing the perfect place for some after-jump down time.

Shark Fishing | Namibia
A popular sport for both novice anglers and more experienced fisherman looking for a meatier catch on their line, shark fishing has fast become a popular sport along the Namibian coastline.

A true battle of man versus beast, few activities make participants feel more powerful than reeling in a 400lb shark straight from the sea. But those worried about sustainability needn’t be: Namibia operates a national preservation policy of catch and release, with the majority of national parks stipulating that all anglers acquire permits and use the correct bait, lines and equipment.

Namibia’s fishing coastline is over 300 miles long with shark territory starting at Sandwich Bay in the north of the country, then running south through to the Skeleton Coast National Park. Terrence Bay, within the park, is a very sought-after area for those serious about shark fishing, only catering for 40 fishermen at a time, so it is vital to book well in advance to secure a spot. As unpredictable weather massively impacts results, a ten-day trip is recommended to ensure the biggest possible haul.

As any good angler knows, local knowledge of where to get the best bites is invaluable, so enrolling with an angling guide is a must. There are numerous travel groups offering different packages, with a choice of single-site holidays and fishing safaris. For those who fancy a more rough-and-ready experience, Torra Bay is strictly camping only. The site is only open to tourists in December and January to keep the copper and cow sharks biting for the lucky few that get a chance to grapple with the 100lb fish. For shark-fishers who prefer a more relaxing experience when away from the beach, glamorous guesthouses are available in Henties Bay.

Bouldering | Colorado
Bouldering requires strength, agility and quick thinking, testing the climber mentally and physically. The fact that boulder routes are called puzzles is testament to how brain-taxing the sport can be. It’s a good mountaineering alternative for those who don’t have a head for heights, as climbs rarely exceed ten feet. Unlike flat-face mountain climbing, bouldering requires minimal equipment: no harness or safety lines, just the boulderer’s bare hands and a safety mat on the ground in case of falls.

Home to the eponymous town of Boulder at the foot of the Rockies, north-central Colorado has become the number one destination for this unusual sport. The Poudre Canyon in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park has puzzles a-plenty and many well-established mountaineering groups to guide novices on how to exercise nerves of steel and an iron grip to cling to the rock face. The rural setting makes popular sites like the 50/50 boulder peaceful retreats, with log cabin accommodation completing the country feel.

For those who would rather rest up in more luxurious conditions, the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is another popular bouldering destination. The hotels and ranch houses surrounding the park’s iconic central Twin Spires provide a welcome five-star service after tackling the boulders and blowouts surrounding the towering rock formations. The area attracts 7,500 technical climbers annually to clamber the indigenous rustic red rocks that have made the area so iconic in the mountaineering world.

Heli-skiing | British Columbia
Many of the world’s most sought-after ski resorts are almost always overrun, lifts rammed and slopes dotted with tourists. A lack of fresh snow and highly manipulated terrain has forced keen skiers to seek more natural areas off-piste, boasting wider runs and deeper drifts.

Heli-skiing forgoes ski lifts entirely; helicopters transport groups above the clouds to the most undisturbed slopes on earth. It’s the perfect solution for relentless skiers who are too impatient to wait in numerous queues only to be slowly dragged to the peak of disappointingly mediocre slopes. Plus, jumping out of a helicopter before bombing down the mountainside really adds to the thrill of the whole experience.

The Canadian province of British Columbia has become a haven for heli-skiing, taking a staggering 90 percent share of the global market. It is little wonder why: the skiable areas cover millions of hectares and numerous prolific travel operators provide guided tours for groups of four to twelve people throughout the district.

Wide open glacier skiing is great for a fast thrill, while tree skiing routes are available for those who would rather test how nimble they can be on their skis. The Columbia Mountains, Mount Whistler in particular, are world-famous for their challenging skiing routes and excellent conditions — the reported annual snowfall is an impressive 12-15m. The area’s proximity to luxury ski resorts is also a big draw, providing a range of accommodation for skiers to rest in between their intrepid mountain adventures.

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