Ireland will welcome the Adventure Travel World Summit 2014 in Killarney in October, a gathering of some 600 plus tour operators, destination specialists, journalists and others in the world of adventure travel. I will be attending but I had a chance this week to ask Rob Rankin, founder and owner of Vagabond Tours of Ireland, one of the country’s leading adventure tour companies, about the evolution of active travel in Ireland.
EP: Why do you think it took a while for Ireland to wake up to the fact that it’s a country with lots of potential for adventure travel?
RR: I think there are two main reasons. Ireland always had a strong brand for visitors, but it was an image built on history, heritage, culture, people, music and a gentle scenic image – and golf! With such a strong brand the tourism industry didn’t need to look at diversifying. The perception and perhaps definition of adventure travel has also widened and developed. Nowadays adventure travel is not just climbing or jumping off mountains or extreme sports. There is the realization that most adventure travel is ‘soft adventure’ such as walking, cycling, kayaking, and this is the type of adventure that Ireland is so well suited for. We don’t have massive mountains, but Ireland’s coastline is spectacular and perfect for watersports and the scale and topography on land is great for hiking, walking and other activities.
EP: How has adventure travel changed in Ireland since you began Vagabond?
RR: It has changed hugely in terms of opportunity and infrastructure and to a lesser extent awareness and perception. Since we established Vagabond in 2002 there has been a huge growth in local activity providers such as watersports and cycling operators. In addition there have also been large steps forward in the infrastructure, such as walking trails and cycling routes made possible by tourist board investment and local community involvement. It gives us a lot more opportunities for walks and activities on tour, which is great. I suppose it can also mean more competition, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. The more adventure operators, the higher the profile for Ireland as an adventure travel destination.
EP: Do you get returning Americans rediscovering Ireland through adventure experiences?
RR: Yes indeed we do, sometime customers come back with family or friends who didn’t visit with them first time round but more often it is customers who covered one part of the country on their first visit and now want to see another part. Usually they visit the south west and west of Ireland to begin with and then come to join a tour that includes Northern Ireland. It’s like the ‘advanced’ tour. Last week an American lady finished her third tour with us, all of which covered the same area. But because of the evolving nature of the tours, all of which them were different.
EP: Is Ireland still under the radar in terms of adventure travel?
RR: Yes I think so, both at home and abroad. For example, a recent survey of Irish people who visited the Glendalough Monastic Site in County Wicklow, had not visited anywhere else in Wicklow. This is Ireland’s largest single area of upland wilderness, with excellent walking, superb scenery and plenty of activity options. But awareness of the options still seems low.
Having said that, Ireland’s blip on the adventure radar screen is growing. When Vagabond started we often used to get asked if it was possible to do an adventure tour in Ireland, but with the growth of the industry here, it has given more credibility to Ireland as an adventurous travel destination. Hopefully the ATWS with help build on this growing perception and it will be a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase Ireland
EP: What’s new for Vagabond in the coming year?
RR: A few years ago we branched out from our original Vagabond adventure tours into our more leisurely ‘Driftwood Irish Journeys of Discovery’ to suit our less adventurous customers. Our next step is to develop new routes and experiences to entice past customers back again. It’s interesting how different a visitor experience can be by using different overnight locations within the same general area. We do have a few other plans up our sleeves but they are top secret at the moment, but you will be the first to know.
In less than two months, the Adventure Travel World Summit 2014 kicks off in Killarney, Ireland. The country has exploded with adventure travel opportunities and one of the best of the newer companies is Vagabond Ireland, which offers a great way to get out and sea kayak, hike, bike and explore this remarkable and beautiful country. Here’s a great video showing just what they can do. I’m excited to view it, since I’m heading off with them for four days of adventure in Kerry and Cork before the Summit begins.
Visit Ireland.com to learn more about all of the adventures that Ireland has to offer
In the past decade, Ireland has become synonymous with adventure in Europe. I suspect my grandmother would find it hard to believe that her native Donegal is now the location of some of the best surfing on some of the biggest waves in the world. No doubt my grandfather would find it amusing that his native Mayo is now a part of what is called The Wild Atlantic Way and that people are hiking, riding mountain bikes and abseiling down cliffs. The entire West Coast of the country has been recognized for the wild, natural playground that it is.
So it’s no surprise that the Adventure Travel World Summit 2014 will be held in Killarney, Ireland in October 2014.
Watch the video for the Delphi Adventure Resort in Connemara and then visit Ireland.com to learn more about all of the adventures that Ireland has to offer
What’s the Deal: Epic Private Journeys offers a range of small, handcrafted guided and self-guided journeys in the American West, such as Best of the Southwest. This seven-day itinerary includes a private guided tour of Zion National Park, guided walking in Bryce Canyon National Park, a private float trip down the Colorado River through Marble Canyon as well as kayaking, hiking, rappelling and a boat tour on Lake Powell. Accommodations include Zion Mountain Ranch, a Desert View Suite at Amangiri and two nights of luxury safari-style camping on Lake Powell.
Why this Trip: “On the Lake Powell part of the trip, we offer safari-style camping in canvas tents,” explains Kevin Jackson, director of Epic’s American operations. “For two nights, we sacrifice the luxury of a hotel so we can go over and above on the experience level. You’re taking great hikes, rappelling and kayaking in remote parts of Lake Powell, and looking up at the Milky Way at night. We have the permits to stay in the most isolated parts of this 1.2 million acre recreational area, which ensures an experience that’s out of the ordinary.”
Background: Epic Private Journeys,has been hand crafting trips for discerning travelers to Africa, Australia, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, North America and Papua New Guinea. Operating ground offices in the U.S., Australia, South Africa and Tanzania, and working with an enviable network of the best operators in each destination.
Details: Priced from $6,990 per person based on four people traveling.
Booking: Epic Private Journeys
Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater, owners of Mahoosuc Guide Service have chosen a good base for their dogsledding operations. They live on the outskirts of Grafton Notch State Park in the heart of the Maine woods. Almost every weekend in winter, the couple, with 15 of their dogs, drive some 30 miles to the remote shores of Umbagog Lake. Here, guests learn the basics of the sport: standing on the back of the sled and shouting the magic words “Let’s go!” to see the dogs romp through the snow or yelling “Whoa!” to slow them down. You’ll take turns dogsledding and cross-country skiing on iced-over lakes, fringed by mountains of pines. At night, you’ll sleep in heated tents on a floor of cushiony fir needles, only to awaken to the sounds of the dogs howling in the predawn hours.
The Deal: What do you get when you combine a love of adventure with a love of free trade coffee? Adventurous Joe, a new Maine-based company started by John Connolly, former manager of L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools. Connolly not only imports coffees from Costa Rica and Peru under the Adventurous Joe label but showcase it with his background in adventure. The first departure, Costa Rica Multi-Sport and Coffee Farm Adventure, runs April 26 to May 5, 2012
What’s the Deal: The trip includes kayaking through Tortuguero National Park among howler and spider monkeys and a spectacular array of birds, staying at Mawumba eco-lodge, whitewater rafting the Pacuare River Gorge, exploring the Rios Tropicales rainforest eco-lodge where you can experience touring and zip lining through the canopy, as well as a coffee farm tour
Details: $1,950.00 per person, based on double occupancy, land-only.
Contact: Adventurous Joe
By Steve Jermanok
The small strip of pavement forms a straight line into the horizon like an express route to freedom. Astride my bike, I zip over bridges and through tunnels, past large ponds, salt marshes and cranberry bogs, all while breathing in the sweet smell of spring wildflowers and the far more potent brine of the sea. The hum of traffic is gone, replaced by the call of the red-winged blackbird and the yellow warbler. The only obstacles before me are runners, clumsy rollerbladers and other leisurely bikers. In the Cape Cod town of Orleans, I hop off my bike for a few minutes and take that quintessential New England snapshot of fishing boats bobbing in the harbor. Soon after, I’m in the shade of Nickerson State Park, pedaling straight through Brewster to a series of swimming holes that reward bikers with a refreshing dip.
Such is a ride on the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail on a corridor that, until 1937, was used to ship cranberries the Cape to Boston aboard the Old Colony Railroad. Today, the relatively level rail trail is a placid retreat that has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast for biking, hiking, strolling, jogging and in-line skating.
Like so many of these paths proliferating across the US—from the 225-mile Katy Trail that stretches across most of Missouri to the 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that snakes through the heart of Chicago’s suburbs—the Cape Cod Rail Trail was for many decades an abandoned railroad line. Far away from maddening congestion on city streets and the noise of rural highways, rail trails are beloved by outdoor enthusiasts and a focal point of renewal across the country. From 1965 to 1985, only 1,000 miles of trail were opened. Today, there are currently more than 15,000 miles of rail trails open across the country.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail takes you through the interior of the Cape from South Dennis to Wellfleet, or vice-versa. The salty air is a pleasant reminder that the Cape Cod National Seashore and its 40-mile stretch of pounding Atlantic surf is never far away. At the visitors’ center in Eastham, you can veer off the CCRT for two miles on a separate trail to lounge on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. Continue on to Brewster to cool off in a series of kettle ponds (swimming holes). Nearby, a favorite picnic spot, the Pleasant Lake General Store in Harwich, was once a popular stop on the Old Colony Railroad Line.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World, due out late 2010. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.