New Zealand is the adrenaline capital of the world, but thrill-seekers can have a rare bit of adventure by zipping across the sea to Wales
Spark up a conversation with anybody about the most adventurous, outdoor-friendly country in the world and the chances are New Zealand will be mentioned four times out of five.
The southern-hemisphere nation has built a big tourist trade around its natural beauty and the abundance of hair-raising activities on its shores.
Credit where it’s due, the country does offer a huge amount of outdoor adventures and its reputation is well deserved. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that representatives from the Welsh Tourist Board are planning to market their country as the “New Zealand of the northern hemisphere”, because of the abundance of outdoor activities available for adventure lovers. A pretty tall order, if you ask me.
As a keen mountain biker and hiker, I have visited Wales a handful of times. It pains me to admit it, but Britain offers something that Ireland just can’t match, in its “freedom to roam” policies.
In the Republic you run the risk of being chased off a field by a furious farmer should you dare to set foot on private land, while Britain has opened up thousands of kilometres of bridleway which pass through forests, over mountains and through farmland. That is all well and good, but New Zealand has so much more to offer than biking and hiking, with an endless list of adventure activities available.
Could Wales compete?
Full of scepticism but eager to be proved wrong, I embarked on a tour of the top outdoor adventures in Wales to see if we should be taking the short trip across the Irish Sea for our adrenaline fix, rather than the vastly more expensive option of travelling to New Zealand.
Based on the following findings, I have to admit that the Welsh have built a strong case.
Who knew that flying through the air at speeds of 100mph would be such good fun? Home to the fastest zip line in the world and the longest in Europe, Zip World doesn’t disappoint. Nestled within Snowdonia National Park, the zip line is in what was once Wales’s largest quarry — and the drive up to the attraction is an adventure in itself.
In addition to the big daddy of zip lines, otherwise known as Velocity, which is in Bethesda, Zip World has the Titan in Blaenau Ffestiniog. It is the first four-person zip line in Europe. With three lines positioned side by side, teams of four can fly down in unison as they compete for the accolade of loudest scream. zipworld.co.uk
Where to stay Bwthyn Wnion is a cracking two-bedroom cottage nestled in the north Wales countryside. With gorgeous views and a log fire, it is the perfect place for a relaxing getaway and an ideal launching pad for Snowdonia National Park. Prices start at €500 for seven nights.
Don’t miss The welsh cakes at Cwmni Cacen Gri bakery in Betws-y-Coed are to die for. cwmnicacengri.co.uk
Wales does have one notable downside, its unpredictable weather. You may want to take shelter should the gods be feeling particularly irate, but a day indoors does not mean you will be stuck in a full-blown feud over the Monopoly board.
Bounce Below, part of the Zip World Titan site, is the world’s largest underground trampoline attraction. Located in an old slate cavern twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral, the park features an epic web of trampolines and via ferrata routes, all of which are begging to explored. I’ve never seen anything like it.
The trampolines are hung within two of the vast chambers at different levels, the highest being 180ft off the ground. The cave itself is reached by a five-minute train journey, which transports you 100ft below ground. zipworld.co.uk/adventure/detail/bounce-below
Where to stay The Bryn Dinas camping pods are a great compromise for those who want to be close to nature but can’t be bothered to put up a tent. The pods are six miles from Bounce Below and just 300 metres from the start of the Watkin Path to the top of Snowdon. From €45 per night. bryndinascampingpods.co.uk
Don’t miss The food at Hebog in Beddgelert, Caernarfon, is scrumptious. But be sure to book ahead as I am not the only one who thinks so. hebog-beddgelert.co.uk
Unlikely as it may sound, you can find world-class surfing conditions in a landlocked village in the heart of Snowdonia. The small hamlet of Dolgarrog, about 16km from the coast, has one of the world’s most ambitious wave gardens.
Surf Snowdonia is a man-made lagoon the size of six football pitches, with two-metre-high waves that rise and fall from one side to the other. The speed and size of the waves can also be altered to match the ability of the surfers at any given time — a magnificent feat of engineering. surfsnowdonia.co.uk
Where to stay Surf Snowdonia is also home to luxury camping pods where you can rest your head for the night before hitting the surf again the next day. From €90 per night.
Don’t miss A trip to the imposing Conwy Castle is a must when in the area. cadw.gov.wales/daysout/conwycastle
Pembrokeshire in southwest Wales is famous for its crystal-clear waters and white-sand beaches, but it also has some impressive cliffs along its imposing coastline. It hosts the Red Bull cliff diving competition where competitors jump from a 25-metre platform into the turquoise waters below.
I don’t recommend you try that but there are plenty of other opportunities to explore the area from less daunting heights. Suitable for people of all ages, coasteering gives you a new perspective of the coastline as you navigate your way along a stretch of rocky coast at sea level, using a mixture of rock climbing, scrambling, sea swimming and cliff jumping.
There are numerous providers all offering similar tours, although I can recommend Celtic Quest Coasteering. Departing from Abereiddy, which is a short drive from the cathedral town of St Davids, these guys will ensure you experience the best of what the Welsh coastline has to offer. celticquestcoasteering.com
Where to stay Chapel House, a converted church in St Davids, is finished to a high spec and offers incredible views over the Pembrokeshire coastline. The only downside is that it is not within walking distance of the town itself. You may find you are more eager to eat in, however, when you have those incredible views on your doorstep. tinyurl.com/zvptgtv
Don’t miss Cwtch in St Davids serves up top-notch food and a warm welcome.
Even Cardiff has decided to hop on the adventure bandwagon. Nestled among two of the city’s finest contemporary buildings — the National Assembly for Wales and the Wales Millennium Centre — is the Cardiff International White Water centre. Offering white-water rafting, kayaking and indoor surfing, it has become a popular destination for watersports fans.
If the idea of a city activity doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other white-water rafting locations dotted around the Welsh countryside. The most popular is the National White Water Centre on the River Tryweryn in Snowdonia. This wild mountain river is dam-controlled, which means you are guaranteed fast-flowing water all year around. ciww.com; canoewales.com/national-white-water-rafting-centre
Where to stay Jolyon’s boutique hotel is ideally located in Cardiff Bay. This small establishment has six beautiful rooms and fantastic views across the water. jolyons.co.uk
Don’t miss If you are in town during rugby season, try to see a game at the Millennium Stadium. The atmosphere always guarantees a good day out.
Whether you’re a fan of purpose-built trail centres or prefer getting off the beaten track, you will be spoilt for choice in Wales. From epic natural routes such as the Black Mountains Classic in the Brecon Beacons and the Marin Trail in north Wales, to world-class trail centres in Coed-y-Brenin and Afan, you can spend weeks travelling around the country in search of new riding routes and leave still feeling that there is so much more to be explored.
Those looking to explore natural routes should buy the Wales Mountain Biking book, one of the best resources for discovering the country’s most secluded trails. The Mountain Bike Wales website also has a wealth of information on trail centres. mbwales.com/mountain-bike-centres
Where to stay Abergavenny is a good base for exploring the Brecon Beacons. The Angel hotel is a medium-sized establishment with nice rooms and a good restaurant. From €120 per night. angelabergavenny.com
Don’t miss On a hot day there is nothing better than plunging into the crystal-clear waters under the arched medieval bridge of Crickhowell, a short distance from Abergavenny. There is a large pool two-metres deep and several shallower pools, which are perfect for paddling.
In 2012, an 870-mile coastal path was opened in Wales. It is the world’s first uninterrupted route along a national coast, weaving its way across some of the country’s finest beaches, estuaries and cliffs. I am not suggesting you down tools and take on the entire trail in one go. However, it does serve up an endless supply of coastal walking routes that are begging to be explored.
The Wales Coast app is an invaluable resource for anybody wishing to explore the coastal path.
Those who favour summit views are also well catered for. Snowdonia is home to nine mountain ranges and 15 peaks over 900 metres high. Elsewhere, the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales and the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons also offer some world-class hiking. Honestly, you will be hard-pressed to find better views anywhere in the world. The best thing of all is that, aside from Snowdon, you will generally have the views all to yourself without another soul as far as the eye can see.
Check out the Visit Wales website for further details. visitwales.com/explore/mountains/ranges
Where to stay The island of Anglesey is the perfect place to kick-start your holiday as you can roll off the ferry and let the fun and games begin.
Anglesey is one of the most popular sections of the Welsh coast, and for good reason — the scenery is incredible. The pretty little town of Beaumaris is a good place to stay. It is home to an impressive castle and hosts regular plays and events.
Offering a warm welcome, sea views and a slap-up breakfast, Cleifiog bed and breakfast is a great choice if you are looking for accommodation in the area. Rooms start at €130 per night. cleifiogbandb.co.uk
Don’t miss Red Boat ice cream parlour down by the pier serves up delicious ice creams and sorbets.
The Gower peninsula is definitely worth a visit. Offering everything from mountain biking to hiking and surfing, you could choose to stay here the whole holiday and not get bored. If you’ve a head for heights, why not kick off your journey of discovery in Wales by jumping out of a plane at 12,000ft? You won’t get a better view of the peninsula. skydiveswansea.co.uk
Where to stay Blas Gwyr in the small seaside town of Llangennith is a perfect base for a few days of adventure on the Gower peninsula. Each room has a private courtyard, and you will be guaranteed a slap-up breakfast, too. Rooms start at €150. blasgwyr.co.uk
Don’t miss The Kings Head in Llangennith has everything you want from a village pub — good food, a turf fire and friendly locals.