Charity begins away


It’s supposed to begin at home but charity can also take you abroad to some of the world’s most exciting places. It’s the ultimate win-win so SANDRA O’CONNELLrounds up some great holidays for worthy causes

Walk the Great Wall

Easily one of the wonders of the world, the 6,400km Great Wall of China stretches from the Gobi Desert to the mountains of Korea. Happily, you’ll only be taking in a tiny bit of it.

Fly to Beijing before transferring to the Badaling section of the wall, ready for challenging treks of up to seven hours a day, with some very steep and uneven steps to traverse.

This includes a hike along Mutianyu, one of the first sections of the wall to be recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage site and wonderfully preserved.

Subsequent treks take in Black Dragon Pool Park and Gubeikou, an ancient pass through the Yanshen mountain range.

Once you’re off the wall there is a guided tour of Beijing, including Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Park and the Silk Market, as well as free time to undertake your own excursions.

* Charity:Irish Cancer Society. Event: Great Wall of China Trek. Date: October 14th to 23rd, 2011. Sponsorship required: €4,500.

Walk the ‘Way’

Since the 9th century discovery of the tomb of St James the Apostle, pilgrims have undertaken the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Regardless of religion, the scenery is divine.

This particular eight-day trip (in late May) for Croí West of Ireland Cardiac Foundation, is unusual in that with it you approach Santiago de Compostela not from the traditional east side, but from the western, Portuguese side.

Your route starts in Tui, Portugal, and winds gently northward traversing woodlands, farmlands, villages, towns and historic cities, getting your pilgrim’s passport stamped along the way. The walk takes in the Louro Valley, Arcade, Pontevedera and Caldas de Rei, with around three to six hours walking each day with statues of St James pointing the way with his cane as you go.

If May is too soon for you, be aware that you can also walk the final 112km to Santiago de Compostela for the charity Aware ( from June 4th to 11th and for CASA (, which provides respite care to people with disabilities, from August 6th to 13th.

Charity:Croí. Event: Croí Camino Trek. Date: May 21st to 28th, 2011. Sponsorship required: €2,200.


Grand Canyon trek

Children’s charity Barnardos already has a full quota for its big trip this year but if you fancy giving yourself plenty of fund raising time for next year, check out its Grand Canyon Trek which takes place in June 2012.

Fly to Las Vegas, transfer over the Hoover Dam into the Lake Mead National Park for an acclimatising walk. By day three you’ll be spending your first full day on the trails, with an early start into the Hualapai Indian reserve and a trailhead that overlooks the Grand Canyon.

From there you begin your descent along remote paths past waterfalls with the Colorado River snaking far below. You continue down the canyon, crossing creeks and waterfalls and pitching your tent at night.

Expect to walk around 15km a day, taking in highlights such as the “wet route” to Beaver Falls, swimming through to a subterranean cavern under the first tier of the waterfall, before jumping 5m into a frothy pool below. Just don’t watch 127 Hoursfirst.

Charity:Barnardos. Event: Grand Canyon Trek. Date: June 2nd to 9th, 2012. Sponsorship required: €4,600.


Hike for Hospice

The rugged Tatras Mountains, the highest part of the Carpathians, make up the range that forms the natural border between Poland and Slovakia. The terrain is challenging but the scenery is so-worth-it, not to mention the cause.

You start off gently enough with a walk along the Kondratowa Valley, through Kalatowki Meadow. Next up is a hike along the border of the national park through Mietusi Pass (1,189m) while the following day sees you transfer to the Slovakian Tatras, where a funicular rail, mercifully, brings you up to the start making it downhill all the way from there.

There are guided excursions too, including to a local salt mine now listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, plus a chance to return to Krakow for some sightseeing.

Charity: Our Lady’s Hospice. Event: Tatra Mountains Challenge. Date: August 22nd to 28th, 2011. Sponsorship required: €3,250.


Kenya challenge

As fund-raisers go this one is a little different. Moving Mountains Trust is a charity set up by UK mountaineer Gavin Bate, a man who has climbed Everest five times and now has his own adventure travel company.

The charity supports projects in Kenya and Nepal, and this year is organising a trip to Kenya to conquer the snow-capped peak of Mount Kenya. Not the main summit, Batian, or the second summit Nelion, in case you were worried – both of which are technical climbs – but a third peak, Lenana (4,985m) which is much more accessible.

On the way up there are elephant, black rhino, monkeys and antelope to spot in the foothills of Mount Kenya National Park. Expect a range of terrain, too, from lower forests of bamboo to high altitude equatorial vegetation followed, nearer the top again, by scree slopes.

The highlight is a 2am scramble to the summit in time for sunrise at 6.30am. Given that you’re expected to be moving for up to 16 hours that day, you’d want to be fit to attempt this one.

Once you’ve completed your descent you spend three days working on a development project supported by Moving Mountains Trust, working with local people and helping to complete houses, classrooms and latrines.

Charity: Moving Mountains Trust. Event: Mount Kenya Solio Challenge. Date: October 1st to 11th, 2011. Cost: £790 (excluding flights to/from Nairobi).


Everest adventure

If you fancy taking on Everest yourself, or at least the lower bits, check out this 13-day trek in aid of the charity Fighting Blindness, which takes you from 2,800m to a pretty impressive 5,545m. A once in a lifetime opportunity to take in some of the most breathtaking, literally, scenery on earth, you’d want to be fit to attempt this because the going is pretty tough. Happily, training support is provided by the charity, alongside tips to help you meet your fundraising target.

One of the world’s classic treks, it takes you through picturesque Sherpa villages, past ancient Buddhist monasteries, glaciers, dramatic cliffs and valleys. Among the highlights along the way is the chance to see sunrise on the snow-capped peaks above the Khumbu Glacier from the summit of Kala Pattar.

Charity: Fighting Blindness. Event: Everest Base Camp Trek.

Date: October 16th to November 6th, 2011. Sponsorship required: €5,695.


Make for the Cape

A much gentler option open to volunteers of all fitness levels is a nine-day meander through South Africa, helping to raise funds for people with disabilities back home.

The walking tour of Cape Town and the surrounding countryside includes treks through the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens and the Silvermine Nature Reserve, enjoying views out over both the Atlantic and Indian oceans on the Cape of Good Hope peninsula.

Equally unmissable is the panoramic views of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, a visit to the penguin colony at Boulders Beach and an exploration of Stellenbosch in the country’s winelands.

You’ll also get to take a boat over to Robben Island for a guided tour of the former prison Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in, now a Unesco World Heritage site.

Charity: Rehab. Event: South African Challenge. Date: November 2011. Sponsorship required: €4,950.


Bike, hike and paddle

For total adrenaline addicts, this epic journey is hard to beat, and for a good cause too.

Based in Ladakh, India, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the entire trip is at high altitude, with a low point of 2,940m and topping out at 4,960m. A demanding challenge for the very fit, the expedition is divided into three sections: mountain biking, trekking and rafting.

The four-day bike section covers 150km starting at Leh and following the Indus for most of the journey, an area considered the birth place of civilisation.

The route has terrific views of the surrounding landscape, with the opportunity to stop off at Basgo Monastery and Alchi village, two of the most historically significant locations in Ladakh.

Follow this up with a four-day trek on foot over 70km in one of the most remote regions of the Himalayas.

You’ll have the trail almost entirely to yourself (amazing for India) as you walk into the heart of Zanskar, fording rivers and traversing four mountain passes with amazing views, before descending the Grand Canyon of Asia to reach the Zanskar River.

Finally, paddle the last stretch down the Canyon in a raft, with no turning back once you start – bound as you are by 1,000m walls and no road access all the way until you meet the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers.

Charity: Concern. Event: Tri-Adventure Challenge. Date: August 20th to September 4th, 2011. Sponsorship required: €5,500.


Ride across India

This year Bóthar, the charity that supplies livestock to families in the developing world, is organising a challenging horse trek across Rajasthan.

As well as giving participants the chance to see at first hand the impact of the charity’s work in Sitarganj, it will give horse lovers a once in a lifetime trail ride across 150km of stunning landscape.

Riders start at remote and beautiful Castle Bijaipur for a fast-paced trek through forests and along farmlands, staying in a colourful mix of hotels, castles, safari tents and luxury camps.

The horses used are pure Marwari, forward going and spirited, so you can just sit back and, literally, enjoy the ride.

Charity: Bóthar. Event: Horse Trek in India. Date: November 11th to 22nd, 2011. Sponsorship required: €3,000.


Saddle safari

Finally, and on a similarly equestrian theme, the Irish Horse Welfare Trust – the Wicklow charity that saves and re-homes neglected horses nationwide – is this year launching its first African Horse-Riding Safari, in South Africa.

In an itinerary put together by horsey holidays specialist Zara’s Planet, the adventure break will see participants track “big five” game across several game reserves, muster cattle on a Bonsmara stud farm and undertake a high speed polocrosse challenge.

Unusually, with this fund-raiser non-riding partners are also well catered for and in all cases 30 per cent of the ticket price goes to the charity.

Charity: Irish Horse Welfare Trust. Event: African Adventure. Date: November 12th to 21st, 2011. Cost: €3,500.