Fiordland National Park's West Cape
WHERE THE HELL? New Zealand's South Island, 44 miles southwest of Queenstown. WHAT IN THE WORLD? "Fiordland?" the jaded traveler scoffs. "The place is riddled with cruise ships and Handycam-toting day hikers." Fair enough, but the park's well-known tourist trapsmajestic Milford Sound and hut-to-hut hiking on the Milford Trackovershadow a far different reality: Head west of these attractions and you'll find a giant peninsula completely up for grabs. Why? Annual rainfall west of Lake Te Anau is 350 inches, and with no trails, the tangles of moss-cloaked beeches, podocarp trunks, vines, and rotting branches will impede your every move. Try hiking overland from the park's Lake Manapouri to West Cape on the coast, a distance of 105 miles that requires three rigorous weeks to cover. If you can follow the red-deer tracks to ascend ridgeswhich offer more reasonable freedom of movementthe reward at West Cape is your own delectably forlorn beach, pinned to the mainland by giant swells cruising in from the empty Southern Ocean. ACCESS: From Queenstown, a two-hour bus and one-hour boat ride brings you to Lake Manapouri. From there, hike the Dusky Sound Track to Loch Maree and then head west. Arrange for a pick-up with Southern Lakes Helicopters ($831; 011-64-3-249-7167; www.slhqt.com) and a guide ($215 per day) with New Zealand Encounters (011-64-7866-2250; www.nzen counters.co.nz). RISKS: Exceedingly rugged terrain, with sheer bluffs and crevasses. ESSENTIAL: Fungicide to ward off trench foot; expert compass skills to avoid having these words uttered after your name: "was never seen again."
The Canning Stock Route
WHERE THE HELL? Western Australia, 450 miles northeast of Perth. WHAT IN THE WORLD? To truly appreciate the intimidating scope of the outback, consider a two-week four-wheel-drive rampage through its core via the Canning Stock Route, a 1,240-mile cattle trail etched out in 1906 by drilling 51 watering holes in a line through the Little Sandy, Great Sandy, and Gibson Deserts. Stockmen, long since turned off by the region's sparse vegetation and lifeless sand expanses, wisely ceased cattle drives here by 1960, but the route can still be covered with a well-provisioned vehicle. According to Dutchman Cees Broekhuizen, who's braved several of the outback's toughest driving challenges, the Canning most poignantly embraces its emptiness at trailside campsites between Well 5 and Well 9: "It is so quiet, you hear the slight movement of a lizard." Which, along with kangaroos, feral camels, and scorpions, are the only living creatures within miles. ACCESS: For well-appointed vehicles with experienced drivers, check with Diamantina ($3,300; 011-61-357-770-681; www.diamantina-tour.com.au) in Alice Springs. RISKS: Mechanical troubles are likely, but extra provisions will render death a negligible possibility. ESSENTIAL: Nine spare tires, a rehydration kit, 67 gallons of water, and wallaby repellent.
WHERE THE HELL? French Polynesia, about 1,000 miles southeast of Tahiti. WHAT IN THE WORLD? If Tom Hanks's relationship with his volleyball in Cast Away left you somewhat envious, try reaching the reef-encircled Gambier Islands. Guidebooks mention them only in passing, likely because (a) there are no hotels or resorts, and (b) French nuclear testing on the nearby Mururoa atoll kept them off-limits until just after 1996. Begin at the largest of the Gambiers, Mangareva, a five-mile-long island with twin 1,400-foot volcanic peaks, trees with ripe mangoes, breadfruits, and guavas, and a perimeter of pristine white-sand beaches ignored by the few hundred affable locals, many of whom farm black pearls. Once you've adjusted to the laid-back lifestyle (which takes about four seconds), hire a local fisherman to haul you out to one of several smaller islandsTaravai, Akamaru, Aukenawhere you can snorkel in the undisturbed coral reefs, king of your own paradise. ACCESS: From Tahiti, Air Tahiti makes weekly 3.5-hour flights ($204) that land you on Mangareva's sole airstrip. Book your first few nights at Mangareva's lone pension, through Iaora Tahiti Ecotours (011-689-48-31-69; www.iaora.com). RISKS: Don't eat fish you catch inside the atolla poisonous alga infesting the lagoon has rendered many of them toxic. ESSENTIAL: A volleyball.
Fiordland National Park's West Cape