During her new three-park outdoor travel show, National Parks with Caroline Quentin (8pm, Tues 7 May on ITV), the actress escapes city life and visits three of Britain’s wildest spots – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs in Scotland, Snowdonia National Park in Wales and the New Forest in England. Here she swims in a 600 foot-deep loch, tosses the caber and removes honeycomb from a beehive. Tune in, then if you like what you see, start planning your visits to our top 10 national parks around the world…
1. Kakadu National Park, Australia
Keep your wits about you in this Northern Territory park near Darwin. It’s exotic, and many fiercely dangerous species rule the roost in these vast rivers and wetlands. Here you can cruise along the East Alligator River and watch as locals taunt the vicious alligators with lumps of meat on the end of fishing rods – and see them jump a few metres for them. Meanwhile, it’s possible to do a guided hike through the bush to some of the most spectacular waterfalls on the planet and meet lizards, spiders and possibly wild horses along the way.
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2. Yellowstone National Park, USA
This park’s main pull is its large collection of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mudpots. Old Faithful is one of the most spectacular geysers, and erupts every 70-80 minutes, shooting water into the air – a sight to behold. Meanwhile, Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the States. The striking 300-metre-wide lake is blue, green, yellow, orange, gold, red and brown, due to all the pigmented bacteria growing around the edges of the mineral-rich waters. In other areas of the park grizzly bears, wolves and elk roam free, so stay alert.
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3. Fiordland, New Zealand
Many scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy were shot in New Zealand’s largest national park. The atmospheric fantasy settings of Nen Hithoel, Silverlode River and Fangorn Forest were filmed around Milford Sound, Mitre Peak and Doubtful Sound. These dramatic forested, and snow-capped mountainous backdrops are also home to some fascinating residents – bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. There are many great walks to be had in the area, plus it’s possible to cruise or kayak along the fiords and go scuba diving in the nature-rich waters.
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4. Kruger, South Africa
The first national park in the country, established in 1926, is more than twice the size of Luxembourg, and one of the best places to spot the ‘big five’ (otherwise known as the most difficult animals to hunt on foot) – lions, African elephants, Cape buffalos, leopards and rhinoceroses. Today, of course, these species are protected. Depending on where you find yourself, it can be a touristy experience – the more jeeps you see, the fewer cheetahs. However, there are decent 4WD tracks, luxury camping spots and local guides that will lead you close to these powerful creatures.
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5. Banff, Canada
Located in the Rocky Mountains, you’ll find dense forests, glaciers, ice fields and a little town in this giant national park. This is home to grizzly bears, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, among other interesting species. It’s possible to gaze out over the scenery from a cable car scaling the summit of Sulphur Mountain. At the top, the incredible views continue – there’s even a warm restaurant with panoramic viewing space. Meanwhile, explorer tours go daily to the Columbia Icefield – where the ice is as thick as the Empire State Building is high (around 365 metres). A guide will drive you onto the 400-year-old glacier then let you step out onto it, if you dare.
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6. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, Scotland
On her new show, Caroline Quentin discovers some of the rivers, forests, mountains and lochs that make up this 720-square-mile park in northern Britain. These untamed scenes are home to black grouse, roe deer, ospreys, otters, red squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs and bats. At Loch Long and Loch Goil you may see seals and porpoises, and rock pools hiding lots of other creatures including crabs and sea anemones. The area has become an adventure playground for locals and tourists, who come to horse ride, cycle, play golf (at Loch Lomond Golf Club), go climbing on the Cobbler Mountain and kayak along the waterways.
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7. Yosemite, California, USA
This space is a whopping 1,193 acres, filled with plunging waterfalls, ancient Sequoia trees and weird rocks. Head to the Yosemite Valley for the famous El Capitan (a giant vertical rock formation) and Half Dome (a solid blob in the shape of a half dome). While the rock formations in the seven-mile valley are impressive, escape the hordes by going camping in the wilderness after an off-the-beaten-track hike.
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8. Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Home to the country’s largest national lake and its highest mountain (Snowdonia), visitors here can choose whether to walk along more than 30 miles of beautiful beaches, over the moors and wetlands or to the summit of one of its peaks. Nature-lovers will find rare flora and fauna here, including the arctic-alpine Snowdon Lily and the rainbow-coloured Snowdon beetle, plus roaming goats, polecats and otters.
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9. Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
As well as guanacos, foxes, pumas and obscure birds, an image of the breathtaking Andes will be imbedded in your mind forever. The rivers, lakes and glaciers are also worth a peek. The best way to reach them is to book a multi-day trek with a guide, then camp overnight in the wilderness.
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10. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
This small archipelago of islands in the eastern Pacific has evolved over millions of years in isolation; now its ecosystem is desperately fragile due to human development. While visitor numbers are restricted each year to protect the species living here, and trips to the area are expensive, those lucky enough may see exotic marine life such as giant tortoises, marine iguanas and sea lions. On land, there are birds of prey, frigate birds, penguins, and lizards to see, plus impressive volcanoes to hike.
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Images courtesy of Ba’Gamnan, Wiki Commons, Liam Quinn, Brocken Inaglory, Postdlf, D’Arcy Norman, Marc Mann, Tourism NT, Abubakr Hussain