From adrenalin-seekers to families on a budget, there is an adventure for every stage of life, writes Belinda Jackson.
You want to let off steam and lying by a pool doesn't cut the mustard? If you're more Fast and Furious than Driving Miss Daisy, adventures off the beaten track range from the blood-curdling to the deliciously remote, whether it's swimming with animals that want to eat you, ballooning above happy hippos or crawling through former guerilla warfare tunnels.
Sinkhole and shark diving, Belize
BEST FOR Terror-seeking 20s wanting to peer over the abyss.
No kids, no mortgage – the adventure world is your oyster. Discovered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who declared it one of the top 10 scuba-diving sites in the world, the UNESCO-listed Great Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, in the small Central American nation of Belize, is the stuff of divers' dreams and non-divers' nightmares.
It's the world's largest sinkhole, measuring 300 metres in diameter with sheer walls plunging 125 metres. The mysterious, dark blue circle is allegedly visible from space – certainly you can spot it on a flyover.
The gaping hole is spiked with ancient, 40-metre-long stalactites and patrolled by sharks, including nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks.
On full moons between February and May, you can dive or snorkel with whale sharks off the Gladden Spit. Other fish to keep an eye out for include hammerhead sharks and marlin.
Abercrombie & Kent has five-day Belize whale shark diving trips from $US2995 ($3600), air fares not included, and five-day Great Blue Hole diving tours from $US5485. See akextremeadventures.com.au and travelbelize.org.
Polar expedition, Norway
BEST FOR Thrill-seeking 30s balancing physical and mental adventure.
Office politics got you down and you want to step out of your life during your holidays? For Aussies brought up on holidays in the caravan by the beach, dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle is about as far away as it gets. It's where "mush!" is a shout of encouragement, not a description of your midweek cooking and icehouses have nothing to do with 1980s music but everything to do with where you're sleeping tonight.
Polar expeditions are the new darlings of the adventure world and can include snowmobile safaris and horse treks. Dog-sledding adventures in northern Norway are overseen by a renowned sledder who pairs you (aka a "musher") with your own dog team before dashing through the snowy Arctic wilderness, staying in mountain huts and an igloo hotel. You don't need to be a super athlete, just fit and up for it, travelling up to 40 kilometres a day behind the hounds, learning about Sami culture to boot.
Nordic Travel's seven-day dog-sledding tours run from December to May, from $1825 a person. Other options include trekking in Iceland and dog-sledding and snowmobile adventures in Swedish Lapland. See www.nordictravel.com.au.
You can also start four-day sledding trips 30 minutes from Tromso, in central Norway, with your own team of six, crossing the Swedish border. The season runs from March to April and costs 8000 Norwegian knoner ($1580), including food and equipment. See villmarkssenter.no and visitscandinavia.com.au.
Hiking the Himalayas, India
BEST FOR Fortysomething office rats seeking pure mountain air.
Spiritual enlightenment is surely found in the plateaus of India's northern province of Uttaranchal, on the Nepalese border. You could visit Rishikesh and find a guru to give you a personal mantra, a la the Beatles, or you could take to the hills.
The Roopkund hike is a medium to difficult trek that climbs from the base camp at 2520 metres to 5029 metres in four days, reaching the sacred lake Roopkund. This glacial tarn is full of skeletons dating from the ninth century; recent studies have revealed the people were killed by a sudden hailstorm, their bones preserved by the pure mountain landscape.
The best time to hike is in early June or August to the first week of October. The trek climbs gradually above the snowline, giving you time to adapt to the altitude, taking in views of the Himalayan peaks Trisul and Nandghungti. Indiahikes charges from 9750 Indian rupees ($240) a person for an eight-day trek. See roopkund.com.
World Expeditions' 21-day Nanda Devi Alpine Trek hikes up to the Kuari Pass (3640 metres) and across to Roopkund and includes all meals, guides, your hiking kit, permits and mules, priced from $2990 (excludes international fares). See worldexpeditions.com; incredibleindia.org.
Sailing the Mediterranean, Turkey
BEST FOR Fabulous 50s after sun, sea and ancient history.
Explore the Turkish Mediterranean from the deck of a gulet, a traditional, hand-built Turkish timber boat with sails and a motor. Launching points along Turkey's south-west coast include Marmaris, Bodrum and Fethiye. The region is dotted with Roman ruins, traditional villages and secluded coves where you can drop anchor for a swim. For mild days, opt for April, May and October; the temperature from June to August hits the high 30s.
Ranging from budget to luxe, most gulets come with a captain, deckhands and cook. Gulets come in various sizes, sleeping between four and 20 in double cabins, with timber decks designed for lounging. You can book a gulet for your exclusive use or take a cabin with ensuite, sharing the boat with others.
Blue Cruise, one of the biggest operators in Turkey, has cruises from three nights, sharing, from €225 ($385) a person. See bluecruise.org.
Icon Holidays specialises in luxury gulets patronised by the likes of the British royals. Each is kitted out with snorkelling gear and either sea kayaks or windsurfing boards. Seven days for four people starts at $8000. See iconholidays.com and www.tourismturkey.org.
Hot-air ballooning, Tanzania
BEST FOR Unstoppable 60s looking for an "out of Africa" experience.
Glide over Tanzania's Serengeti National Park at sunrise for a bird's-eye view of wildebeest on their annual migration. The trek to greener pastures in Kenya takes place in late July and August; the return migration takes place in October and November. Zebra, lion and antelope migrate, too.
Thanks to stable weather conditions, balloons fly across the Serengeti all year round and, from up there, you can sneak up on notoriously shy hippos.
Intrepid Travel has an eight-day Serengeti Trail starting from $1590 a person, with ballooning extra. See intrepidtravel.com.au.
Bench International's seven-night Tanzania Highlights costs from $3000 a person and includes picnic lunches on the plains. Ballooning is an optional extra. See benchinternational.com.au.
Expect to pay about $US500 for ballooning, including a bush breakfast and post-flight champagne. Independent travellers can book through Serengeti Balloon Safaris. See balloonsafaris.com and serengeti.org.
Non-stop adventure, Vietnam
BEST FOR Active families who want a culture hit to boot.
Vietnam is great for young families – it's full of colour and the fun is as simple and easy on the wallet as you want it to be, from zooming through the streets of Hanoi on a cyclo to staying on a houseboat in the Mekong Delta. Young children will love the water puppetry, crawling through the guerrilla Cu Chi tunnels or exploring eerie grottos on the islands of Halong Bay.
If international travel with kids sounds daunting, or single parents are looking for help, several tour companies now have family packages, travelling with other families or in your own group with child-friendly operators and options.
Travel Indochina has a 12-day Vietnamese Hotpot, priced from $2010 an adult and $1795 a child (excludes international flights). See travelindochina.com.au.
The Travel with Kidz network has a 15-day Vietnam by Bike trip with seven days' cycling from Hue to Nha Trang, great for blended families with energetic teenagers. Priced from $2540 a person, it includes accommodation, some meals, bikes and guides. Other options include tours for multi-generation families and trips for those with babies. See travelwithkidz.com.au; vietnamtourism.com.