10 places to visit before they're gone

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 08:54 02/10/2013
Opinion poll

Which place is your top choice?

Patagonia

The Amazon

Mountain Gorillas, Rwanda and Uganda

The Arctic

Galapagos

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Big Five Safari, Africa

Maldives

Dead Sea

Madagascar

Vote Result

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Kiwi travellers are an intrepid bunch. We've been to most places around the globe and have long and extensive 'bucket lists'. Many times though, life gets in the way of travel plans and our holiday dreams remain dreams. There are a few places though, which we may not have lifetimes to explore.

These beautiful and rare destinations may not be around much longer, and even those that survive will be drastically different to their current state. So if these are on your list, we'd suggest you turn your dreams into reality as soon as possible.

1. Patagonia

The untouched region of Patagonia spans the lower sections of both Argentina and Chile.

Renowned for its untouched landscape - alpine meadows, glacier fields, and turquoise lakes - options to venture through Patagonia are as varied as the countryside itself.

World-class hiking and glacier trekking through the intense rugged beauty of the terrain are both available, as is a motor yacht exploration through the fjords, or a tour to check out dolphins and whales.

The bottom of South America is also the closest landmass to Antarctica (with New Zealand being the second closest), so it provides a convenient jumping off point for Antarctic voyages and cruises.

Patagonian cuisine is similar to that of Buenos Aires - grilled meats and pasta, with lamb over an open fire considered the regional speciality.

The threat to Patagonia from global warming could be great. Increasing temperatures and precipitation declines mean many of its glaciers are already retreating. While the region won't disappear completely, the landscape will soon be changed to the extent it will be unrecognisable due to the effects of climate change.

2. The Amazon - Brazil and Ecuador

One of the true wonders of the world, the Amazon rainforest is over five million square kilometres and home to over two and a half million different species of insect, more than forty thousand varieties of plant, one and a half thousand bird species and over two thousand fish species.

The largest rainforest in the world is still as popular as ever as a travel destination, but is under threat from climate change, deforestation, and the effects of El Nino.

The impact on the Amazon forest and river is such that it could be a dry and desert-like savannah by 2050.

The loss of 17 per cent of the Amazon forest in the last 50 years has already resulted in a loss of habitat and a reduction in the biodiversity of the area.

3. Mountain Gorillas - Rwanda and Uganda

David Attenborough himself claimed trekking to the mountain gorillas was the greatest wildlife encounter possible for nature lovers.

Found in the Virunga Mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a smaller number living in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda, mountain gorillas share up to 98 per cent of their DNA with humans.

But due to increasing human populations, loss of habitat is putting the gorillas under threat. Climate change also has the potential to impact the gorillas' habitat further indirectly by affecting agriculture yields in nearby communities, which then puts pressure on the remaining gorilla environment.

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The areas where the mountain gorillas live are virtual islands in one of the most densely populated regions of Africa.

Gorilla-watching holidays in Rwanda and Uganda contributes significantly to the conservation of the species - gorilla tourism provides funds for conservation projects and brings other benefits to local communities living near gorillas.

Less than 900 remain in the wild, and that small remaining number is constantly under threat. They live far from human reach, but a handful of groups have been habituated and can be tracked and observed by visitors under supervision from the park scouts.

The permits to go gorilla tracking may seem high but the money generated from them is used to further conserve the forests and habitats of the gorillas, as well as the primates themselves.

4. The Arctic

Tourism activities in the Arctic over the last 15 years have experienced an unrivalled growth as nearly a million people flock to the region every year to experience its wildlife, landscape, and local cultures.

Global warming is resulting in the Arctic sea ice melting, threatening the habitat of wildlife in the area as the ice melts too quickly for the animals to react.

The region is further under threat from the region opening up to shipping and oil development, which needs to be appropriately managed to reduce the environmental impact.

Responsible tourism options are available for those wanting to visit the Arctic, which allow visitors to appreciate and respect the nature in an eco-friendly way, while providing additional income to local communities and traditional lifestyles within the region.

5. Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands, visited by Charles Darwin and known as the site of his ground-breaking research on the theory of evolution, are a fast-changing landscape.

The Islands have had a recent surge in population which is putting pressure on the environment and ecosystems.

Commercialisation has resulted in pollution and illegal fishing, as well as the introduction of invasive species, which are all having a negative impact on the environment.

Located at the meeting point of three ocean currents, the Galapagos Islands are a melting pot of marine life.

Volcanic activity and the extreme isolation of the island have led to the development of unusual animal life such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise, and many types of finch.

6. Kilimanjaro - Tanzania

It is best to climb snow-capped Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest free-standing mountain, in the next few years.

Already, 85 per cent of the ice caps on the mountain have melted due to climate change effects, and they could disappear completely within 20 years.

Kilimanjaro is also one of the few places in the world where a unique combination of zones exist to support ecosystems ranging from the equator to the Arctic.

The trek up Kilimanjaro is non-technical and suitable for any fit person, and people aged 11 to 85 have all successfully made it to the Roof of Africa. Tour operators with professional mountain crews are available and small groups sizes are recommended to ensure personal attention from crew members.

7. Big Five Safari

Tens of thousands of eager tourists descend upon Africa each year for the opportunity to sight the Big Five on safari.

The members of the Big Five - elephants, buffalos, leopards, lions and rhinos - were chosen for the difficulty big-game hunters experienced hunting them on foot.

Kenya's Maasai Mara is one of the most popular destinations for a Big Five safari, but the effects on the wildlife in the area are mixed.

Two members of the exclusive Big Five are particularly vulnerable, with the black rhino and the African bush elephant under increasing threat.

A spike in poaching, related to the high demand for horn and ivory, has seen population numbers dwindle dramatically in the last two years.

Climate change is also thought to be responsible for increasingly frequent droughts which are forcing the animals into areas inhabited by humans. This can lead to what environmental activists call "revenge killings" - where elephants go out raiding crops and kill people, and the people retaliate by killing the elephants involved.

The opportunity of a Big Five safari could soon be a thing of the past if the poaching and hunting practices are not stopped. An increased global effort in the promotion of responsible tourism that is eco-friendly is helping, as the funds generated from it can be poured into conservation in the area.

If you can't make it to Africa, here are some other destinations to spot the Big Five in.

8. Maldives

The Maldives has become one of the world's premier scuba diving destinations due to the abundance of marine life and stretches of white sand that set the small country apart.

But the options of diving, windsurfing, or fishing on the island nation might soon be a thing of the past.

The Maldives is one of the most climate vulnerable nations in the world. With more than 80 per cent of the islands making up the Maldives sitting less than one metre above sea level, climate change is a stark reality for the country.

Communities are already experiencing water shortages, damage to homes and infrastructure, saltwater damage to food crops and an increase in epidemic outbreaks linked to climate-related hazards.

With sea levels rising due to the melting polar ice caps, the island nation could soon be underwater. It might be quite the journey to get there, but it would be worth the trip.

9. Dead Sea

The lowest point on Earth also boasts some of the most amazing geographical elements in the world. No marine life can exist in the rich salty water, the density of which is so high is makes swimming similar to floating.

Adventurers wanting to experience the unique feeling of natural buoyancy in the giant lake are urged to go now - the water level has sunk more than 25 metres in the last 40 years due to water diversion.

Middle Eastern countries cut off the River Jordan's supply to the Dead Sea to gain drinking water in the 1950s, which severely lowered the lake's water level, and the loss continues by up to a metre a year.

10. Madagascar

Madagascar is a unique location in the Indian Ocean world-famous for its lemurs that are found nowhere else in the world. The same is true of more than 80 per cent of the wildlife and plants found in Madagascar, but the ecosystem is under threat.

Poaching, logging and burning for subsistence farms have all placed pressure on the already fragile ecosystem of the island country. Only 50,000 square kilometres of rainforest the original 300,000 are left.

Diving the depths of the warm tropical waters, visiting the National Parks, and hiking to the top of lemur-filled mountains are all popular adventure options in Madagascar. But the island itself is under threat, and if nothing is done to save Madagascar, it will disappear completely in 35 years.

Do any of these destinations feature on your 'bucket list'? Is there an endangered destination that you're keen to get to? Leave a comment below.

- Stuff

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