We're all able to name the world's highest place, but how many of us know where the coldest, remotest and wettest places on the planet are located? Even if we're told, we might have problems finding them on a map.
All the world's most extreme places are reachable by adventurous travellers, though few of us might have the skills or patience to get there. Many are a physical challenge, and nearly all are frustratingly located in obscure places that will never feature on mainstream tour itineraries.
But never fear. If you want a taste of the extreme without going the full hog, there are alternatives that will give you a fair taste of the experience.
WHERE Mount Everest, Nepal/China at 8848 metres above sea level.
EXTREME Several mountaineering companies take clients to Everest's summit, but you have to be experienced in high-altitude climbs and the use of crampons and climbing ropes, and enjoy peak physical fitness.
ALTERNATIVE Everest Base Camp (5364 metres) will get the reasonably fit trekker an up-close encounter with the world's highest mountain, and is featured on the itineraries of adventure companies such as World Expeditions. A slow ascent with two rest days lets you acclimatise to the altitude, and climbing or technical skills aren't required. Most trekkers take 14 days return from Lukla airstrip. Attractions include Nepalese villages, monasteries and Sagarmatha National Park.
Everest Base Camp. Photo: iStock
EVEN EASIER You can get almost as high sitting in a train on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in China, whose highest point is the Tanggula Pass (5072 metres). Extra oxygen is piped into the pressurised carriages.
Rock formations in Dasht-e Lut. Photo: iStock
WHERE Lut Desert, Iran where the highest temperature recorded was 70.7°C.
EXTREME The Dasht-e Lut of eastern Iran is a World Heritage-listed salt desert notable for its pinnacle rock formations, massive dunes, sinkholes and ruined castles. You can drive through the desert from Shahbad or visit with tour companies such as Surf Iran.
ALTERNATIVE Death Valley National Park in California is one of the world's hot spots, with temperatures that regularly top the high 40s. Furnace Creek is the tourist hub, surrounded by an extensive network of surfaced and dirt roads and scenic walking trails – though you have to come prepared. Mountains, eroded canyons, sand dunes and occasional oases provide scenic landscapes best showcased at Zabriskie Point.
EVEN EASIER Want to warm yourself over the Aussie winter? Drysdale River National Park in the Kimberley claims toasty average winter temperatures and is 150 kilometres west of Wyndham, which has Australia's hottest mean temperature (35.6°C).
The road to Oymyakon in eastern Siberia. Photo: iStock
WHERE Eastern Antarctic Plateau (-94°C), but Oymyakon in Russia is the world coldest permanently inhabited town, where the lowest recorded temperature is -67.7°C
EXTREME This eastern Siberian town (population of 500) has little of interest beyond its frigidity, though tours visit for ice fishing, encounters with reindeer herding and Lena Pillars Nature Park, World Heritage-listed for its frost-shattered rock formations.
ALTERNATIVE The still-icy city of Yakutsk, 1500 kilometres west, is a more comfortable base for excursions into the Siberian wilderness. The Melnikov Permafrost Institute provides insight into permanently frozen landscapes, while Permafrost Kingdom's underground tunnels feature giant ice sculptures.
EVEN EASIER The Bureau of Meteorology says Cooma at the foot of the Snowy Mountains in NSW is Australia's coldest town (-2.9°C winter average) beyond ski resorts. It's the gateway to Kosciuszko and Wadbilliga national parks as well as the ski fields of Perisher and Thredbo.
Iquitos, the gateway to the Amazon. Photo: iStock
WHERE Iquitos, Peru has a half-million population, making it the largest city not connected to the outside world by road.
EXTREME Iquitos flourished in the 19th-century rubber trade and is now a ramshackle city deep in the Amazon rainforest, and the Amazon River's last navigable port. The ocean is over 4000 kilometres downstream. Not much to see, but Iquitos is the start for Amazon river cruises.
ALTERNATIVE Thanks to the travel bubble, you can head to Auckland, which among million-population cities ranks as the furthest from another other million-strong city – Sydney is 2170 kilometres away. It doesn't just have a magnificent harbour setting but wilderness nearby, with ancient volcanoes, black-sand beaches and gorgeous coastlines.
EVEN EASIER Stay at home and get isolated in Perth, which is the biggest million-population city furthest from any other urban centre with a population over 100,000 (Adelaide, which is 2138 kilometres away).
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Photo: iStock
WHERE Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia is the world's largest salt flat at 12,000 square kilometres.
EXTREME These high-altitude saltpans are also perhaps the flattest place in the world. Stark, barren but weirdly beautiful, Salar de Uyuni is particularly stunning after rain, when surface water mirrors the clouds.
ALTERNATIVE The Dead Sea sandwiched between Israel, Palestine and Jordan is renowned for its buoyant salt water and is also another extreme - it's the lowest place on Earth (450 metres below sea level). Ein Bokek is a major resort town, but the Dead Sea can also be visited on an easy day trip from Jerusalem.
EVEN EASIER Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park in South Australia is our own vast below-sea-level salt lake, and sometimes takes on a spectacular pink hue as water evaporates. 4WD access is challenging, but Lake Eyre is easily admired on a scenic flight.
The Formula Rossa roller coaster. Photo: iStock
WHERE Formula Rossa, Abu Dhabi at 240kph.
EXTREME This rollercoaster at Ferrari World not only reaches top speeds of 240 km/h but accelerates from zero to this in less than five seconds, with forces similar to those pilots feel catapulting off an aircraft carrier. G-forces on the ride reach a maximum 4.8G. Goggles protect your eyeballs from popping.
ALTERNATIVE The rollercoaster feels extreme, but even the timid can journey at much greater speeds on the world's fastest scheduled train services in China, which have top speeds of 350 km/h. The thousand-kilometre Beijing-Nanjing route averages 318 km/h. You'll barely hear a sound, and feel only the slightest vibration.
EVEN EASIER The average cruise speed of a commercial passenger jet is 925 km/h. The zippiest is the Boeing 747-8i (1060 km/h) but you'll have to fly Air China, Korean Air or Lufthansa to get up to speed.
Steve Orfield, owner of Orfield Laboratories, inside the Anechoic Chamber. Photo: Alamy
WHERE Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, USA at -2.5 decibels.
EXTREME Tours of this research lab and digital recording studio include a brief time in the unnerving Anechoic Chamber, or you can cough up $US600 ($A798) an hour for a private session – although nobody has lasted more than 45 minutes. The only sounds are those made by your own body.
ALTERNATIVE A spot marked by a red stone and known as One Square Inch of Silence deep in the forest of Olympic National Park in Washington State claims to be the quietest (presumably outdoor) place in the USA. As a bonus, it has magnificent mountain scenery and almost untouched temperate rainforest.
EVEN EASIER Marramarra National Park is just over an hour's drive from Sydney's CBD yet gets few visitors. You can horse ride, cycle, bushwalk, camp and kayak on the Hawkesbury River and sometimes never hear a human-made sound.
MOST ISOLATED ISLANDS
Tristan da Cunha. Photo: iStock
WHERE Tristan da Cunha in the Atlantic Ocean at 2434 kilometres from the next permanently inhabited place (St Helena) and 2816 kilometres from the nearest continent (Africa).
EXTREME This 100-square-kilometre volcanic upthrust is rugged, old-fashioned and accessible only with a six-day sail by supply ship from Cape Town, although luxury cruise companies such as Ponant and Silversea occasionally visit. Isolation, hiking and boasting rights are the chief attractions.
ALTERNATIVE Our very own Cocos Keeling Islands lie in the Indian Ocean 2750 kilometres northwest of Perth, but can be reached by air. Only two of the 27 islands are inhabited. Great for tropical relaxation, water sports, superb coral reefs, outstanding beaches and Malay culture.
EVEN EASIER Get together 12 family members or mates and book out all-inclusive Haggerstone Island, accessible on a two-hour private charter flight from Cairns. You'll feel like a castaway without sacrificing luxury.
Nohsngithiang Falls in Meghalaya, India. Photo: iStock
WHERE Meghalaya State, India with annual rainfall of nearly 12,000mm – yes, that's 12 metres of rain.
EXTREME Mawsynram and Cherrapunji battle it out for world's wettest towns in this obscure northeast corner of India. During the wet season, it can rain for three weeks straight, though winters are dry. Mountain scenery, water-carved caves and waterfalls are big attractions.
ALTERNATIVE Emei Shan in China's Sichuan Province is the wettest place in China and one of the world's wettest. It provides spectacular landscapes of plunging cliffs, forest and clouds straight from a scroll painting and, as one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains, is dotted with temples and monasteries.
EVEN EASIER Simply fly to Cairns, Australia's wettest region. Bellenden Ker just south has recorded the highest annual rainfall (12,641mm) and highest median annual rainfall (7950mm), mostly falling between November and March. The well waterproofed can camp in Russell River National Park.