5 Next-Level Nature Experiences You Can Have In China

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Thought China was all mega-cities and ancient monuments? Think again. From Huangshan, these five incredible wilderness experiences prove that the Middle Kingdom punches well above its weight when it comes to getting back to nature.

#1 Lake Gaze in Jiuzhaigou


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The first time you glimpse the lakes of Jiuzhaigou, you won’t quite believe they’re real. A national park in the north of Sichuan province, this World Heritage site is home to dozens of colourful waterways that appear like liquefied opals, a rainbow of blues and greens so calm that they act like mirrors for the surrounding mountains. Multi-level waterfalls tumble over ridges when the weather is warm, then freeze into fairytale icicles when winter arrives.

This part of the world is also a known habitat for giant pandas, although sightings in the park are few and far between.

Entry is Y220 (around AU$45) in high season (April to November), with an additional bus fee of Y90 (around AU$19) – the latter is compulsory, and you need it to travel the 30km from the entrance to the top of the park. When you arrive, most sights are easy to access on foot, but you can jump back on the bus at any time.

#2 River Raft, Yangshuo


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Yangshuo’s ethereal jungle-clad karst peaks have captured the imagination of poets and painters for centuries – for good reason. There are few other places in the country quite as otherworldly as this, the town’s limestone peaks appearing like giant cartoon characters beside the river. And the water is definitely the best way to take in the spectacle of this setting, around 80km south of Guilin in Guangxi province.

While you can jump on a boat and cruise the Li River, a more intimate and serene option is to hire a bamboo raft and glide along the Yulong River, a tributary of the Li. Most rafts only accommodate two plus the gondolier, who will row you past atmospheric mud-brick villages and countryside so pretty you’d swear postcards were invented just to show it off. If you’re sailing in the late afternoon, you’ll likely witness the region’s cormorant fishermen at work, not to mention buffalo herders taking their charge for a cool evening dip.

Rental rates vary but expect to pay around Y250 (around AU$52) for two hours.

#3 Find Zen in Zheijang


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While there’s a lot to love about Shanghai, the county’s biggest and brassiest city, once you tire of its skyscrapers and highway overpasses, a sprawling patch of serenity awaits nearby. One of eastern China’s last remaining bamboo groves, Anji Grand National Bamboo Forest is home to an incredible diversity of flora, including dozens of species of bamboo that are unique to China and are cultivated from rare plantings sourced from across the world.

Urbanites come here for a moment of Zen – and to glimpse the bamboo backdrop that Ang Lee chose when filming his 2001 blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. After paying the Y55 (AU$11) entrance fee, you can climb the low-slung hill for views over the sea of green, or head to the observation tower for a lofty lookout.

The park is also dotted with restaurants that dish up plates of spicy bamboo shoots, with a glass of bamboo wine on the side.

#4 Follow a Pilgrim Trail, Huangshan


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Apparently, Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is the most-painted subject in China. Ever. Which probably makes it the most painted subject in the world. A jagged range of more than 70 knifelike granite peaks in eastern Anhui province, Huangshan cuts a dramatic form against the skyline. It’s made even more alluring by low-hanging clouds and gnarly pine trees, which line trails leading to lofty summits.

You’ll need to hand over Y230 (around AU$48) for the pleasure of hiking for two to four hours, depending on the route, and you’ll be sharing the path with pilgrims and adventurers eager to experience one of the country’s five holy mountains – reach the top and you’re rewarded with jaw-dropping vistas over the range, which is said to have inspired James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster Avatar.

If you’re less inclined to expend energy but still want to see what all the fuss is about, there are cable cars that zip up to the top of several peaks, with plenty of viewpoints to take envy-inducing snaps.

#5 Riding a camel in Xinjiang

In the far west of China, Xinjiang is one of the country’s largest provinces, bordered by eight countries, including Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Phew! It’s vast and desolate, and home to the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts – the latter is the largest desert in China and second-largest shifting-sand desert in the world. It’s extremely hazardous to cross, given that there is little water available over its expanse. But that didn’t stop merchant caravans on the Silk Road, who would stop for respite at small oasis towns along the way.

Today, you can explore the Taklamakan’s breathtaking red sand dunes on the back of a camel for around Y200 (AU$41) a day, including a guide who will lead you to landscapes that look like they’ve slipped off the screen of One Thousand and One Nights.

(Lead image: Joshua Earle)

Fly Qantas from Sydney to Beijing or Shanghai five days a week. Qantas’ partnership with China Eastern also allows you to fly to Wuhan, Kunming, Hangzhou (Beijing) and Nanjing (Beijing) and 19 beyond points on a Qantas codeshare flight. Book now at*

Other benefits of the Qantas and China Eastern partnership include the ability to earn Qantas Points^ on more flights, shorter transit times, streamlined check-in facilities and access to China Eastern’s lounge facilities in China. 

Find out how you can easily transit between Australia and China and return with these simple steps outlined in the below video.

*Schedule correct at 25 March 2019

^^Lounge access eligibility is based on the class of travel, Qantas club membership or the Frequent Flyer Membership tier for your next onward flight. Qantas Points and status credits (where applicable) are earned on eligible Qantas or China Eastern flights with that airline’s flight number on your ticket. Qantas Points and Status Credits may not be earned on some fare types and booking classes. For full details, see terms and conditions and the Airline Earning Tables for details on the conditions for the applicable airline.