Wildlife presenter and environmentalist Chris Packham, who has written the foreword to a new book, Natural Wonders Of The World, reveals five of his own favourites…
1. Yosemite’s El Capitan, California
“I went there in winter and it was extraordinarily beautiful. It’s one of those landscapes which has great depth to it, and you can position yourself where you don’t see any sign of human interference – except that when I was there, it was covered in people climbing it in red and orange jackets.
“I was travelling between jobs and did a fair bit of hiking. In summer, there are vast amounts of people, so the time to go is in winter when it’s snowy.
“For me, the American national parks symbolise the opportunity they took at the turn of the last century, to protect large swathes of North America. I can’t visit an American national park and not feel an enormous amount of envy.”
2. The Himalayas
“I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the region on several occasions for work. It’s simply awe-inspiring. I remember sitting on one peak in Nepal and a bearded vulture flew past me. It was so close. I was lying on a boulder and it flew past, about 10 metres away. It was the highlight of the trip.
“When you get to altitude, the air is extremely dry – and therefore extremely clear – and one of the biggest problems is perception of scale. I remember climbing and sitting down, and looking across and not being able to discern in any way how big a human might be on the peak opposite. The clarity of the air radically changes our ability to perceive the landscape. The shortage of oxygen plays havoc. It’s confusing.”
3. Skogafoss Waterfall, Iceland
“The last time I went to Skogafoss, we were filming. It was a hideous, rainy day and we had the whole place to ourselves. Normally I’m not one for waterfalls – you could turn a tap on and see water falling – and I’ve been to Niagara and Victoria and others. But the landscape at Skogafoss is so primal, so basic. It’s almost undecorated and simple. There’s a brutal charm to it. It’s not challenging visually to be there.
“I like Iceland because it’s probably the most accessible alien environment you can get to from the UK. You get on a plane at Stansted, fly for an hour-and-a-half and land on a landscape that is otherworldly.”
4. Lighthouse Reef, Belize
“I had only just qualified as a diver and I saw my first shark there, a bull shark, which are known to be quite bitey. We were diving at night and as we dropped out of the boat it was like being in space. You could see nothing except the shine of people’s torches.
“We dropped into a sink hole, where there was a pyramid of sand which had washed in, and the idea was that we would kneel on the sand. As we did, this large bull shark appeared out of the shadows and started circling around us. We were in the hole with nowhere to go but up. Fortunately, the shark had a quick look ’round, then disappeared out of the hole.”
5. Bialowieza Forest, Poland
“I’m choosing this one because I haven’t been there and it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. It’s legendary, the last piece of primal forest we have left in Europe and is famous for so many reasons – the species that live there, the bison, the wolves, the lynx, the boar and an enormous range of birds, from black woodpeckers to cranes and great snipes.
“It’s the holy grail in Europe as a repository for biodiversity, and lazily I’ve always been hoping I would be sent there to work. This year there has been huge controversy because the Polish government started to fell some of it, and the EU told them they must stop. It has the biggest deciduous trees in Europe.”
Natural Wonders Of The World, foreword by Chris Packham, is published by DK on October 5, priced £30.