Wulingyuan Scenic Area - HUNAN PROVINCE
If you’ve seen James Cameron’s Avatar, then the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, home to the floating stone pillars of Pandora, will be a familiar sight. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, the area saw a surge in visitors in 2009 after filming commenced, and has maintained its popularity today. Rivers of mist swirl and engulf trees below, leaving thousands of floating peaks visible in various postures.
BEST TIME TO VISIT March through to November
HOW TO GET THERE Wulingyuan Scenic Area is a one-hour drive from Zhangjiajie
TICKET PRICE From AUD $45 (ticket includes four days’ entry)
Jiuzhaigou National Park - SICHUAN PROVINCE
The fairytale landscapes of Jiuzhaigou National Park will leave you enchanted. Located 450 kilometres north of Chengdu, the UNESCO World Heritage site is renowned for its pristine network of lakes that are a kaleidoscope of colour worthy of a “no filter” hashtag. The untouched natural forest, as a whole, covers nearly 30,000 kilometres. Tourists are able to explore 600 square metres of the forest within the Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, where you’ll find highlights like Shuzheng Valley, Rize Valley and Zechawa Valley. There’s also Panda Lake Waterfall, the longest drop in Jiuzhai Valley, which completely freezes over throughout winter.
BEST TIME TO VISIT Autumn or spring, where temperatures are modest and comfortable to spend long days exploring
HOW TO GET THERE You can catch a 40-minute flight into Jiuhang Airport from Chengdu
TICKET PRICE From AUD $39 (depending on season)
Chengdu Panda Research Base - SICHUAN PROVINCE
While the physical structure of this tourist attraction isn’t classified as a natural wonder, what it is home to surely is. The Chengdu Panda Research Base is home to 90 successfully bred pandas that freely roam their natural, bamboo-covered enclosures. Far more than a zoo, since its inception researchers have made it their mission to increase the panda population and eventually reintroduce the endangered species into the wild. In fact, in 2016, the official status of the much-loved animal was changed from “endangered” to “vulnerable” following decades of work by conservationists. For those who simply can’t resist giving a panda a cuddle, there are tours to go behind the scenes to pat and feed infant pandas.
BEST TIME TO VISIT Any time of the year
HOW TO GET THERE Conveniently, the base is only a short 25-minute drive from the Chengdu city centre
TICKET PRICE AUD $11 (approx.)
Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area - SICHUAN PROVINCE
Made up of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, hot springs and more than 3,400 colourful ponds, Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area is a worthy competitor to its neighbouring and fellow UNESCO World Heritage site, Jiuzhaigou. At its lowest point, Huanglong sits 1,700 metres above sea level and its mountain soar up to 5,588 metres above sea level. The pristine condition of the natural site is thanks to the limited number of tourists that are allowed to pass through each year. Highlights within the park include Erdao Lake and Zhaga Waterfall. Both are accessible by purpose-built walkways, but take your time, as over-exerting yourself can contribute to altitude sickness.
BEST TIME TO VISIT April to November
HOW TO GET THERE You can take a bus from Chengdu city centre
TICKET PRICE From AUD $41 (depending on season)
Longji Rice Terrace - GUILIN PROVINCE
If you’ve ever seen a postcard of China’s famous rice terraces, this is the place. Rolling green hills are sculpted with coiling terraces from the riverside to the mountain peaks, rising to 800 metres above sea level. Throughout the year, the 66 square kilometres of terraced fields evolve from lush greens as the rice shoots in the summer, to layers of still water in spring, fully matured rice in the autumn and scales of frost in the winter. Any time of year yields spectacular views across the ranges, but we suggest a few return visits to see it in all its states. The Longji Rice Terrace (meaning Dragon’s Backbone) got its name because the summit of the mountain range resembles the curving arch of a dragon’s back. About 100 kilometres from Guilin, the Longji Rice Terrace originated roughly 650 years ago, and is one of the oldest terraced fields still in use in China.
BEST TIME TO VISIT If you want to see watery or rice-filled terraces, visit in May or October
HOW TO GET THERE It’s around a 2.5-hour drive from Guilin city
TICKET PRICE From AUD $20 (approx.)
Mount Sanqingshan National Park - JIANGXI PROVINCE
The beauty of this natural wonder is that it is still relatively unknown even though it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the last decade. The park itself is huge, covering 22,950 hectares. Thankfully, you don’t have to cover it all to see the wonders inside. There are fantastically shaped rugged pillars and peaks highlighted along the walkways formed by 1.4 billion years of geological movement. These giant, natural structures are juxtaposed with soft, green vegetation on the forest floor. If you’re a keen hiker there are waterfalls, lakes and springs to be discovered within the forest.
BEST TIME TO VISIT March to May and September to October
HOW TO GET THERE Take the highspeed train to reach Shangrao then transfer to Shangqingshan by bus
TICKET PRICE From AUD $31 (depending on season)
Li River - GUILIN PROVINCE
Meandering down the 83-kilometre Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo feels as though you’ve stepped straight into a watercolour painting. This four-hour river cruise (easily the best way to experience the area) sees the landscape morph from the mountain peaks of the Karst mountain range to picturesque villages surrounded by lush rice paddies. The verdant water is peppered with fisherman carrying cormorants floating by on bamboo rafts, often showing off for the camera. Kicking off at Liberation Bridge in downtown Guilin, the trip takes in the full spectrum of China’s most beautiful landscapes, including Elephant Trunk Hill to Crown Cave, an impressive rock formation tumbling into the river. You’ll be treated to the best the UNESCO-protected park has to offer. There’s also the Reed Flute Cave to be explored just off the river, which is a 180 million-year-old limestone cave that is lit with fluorescent lights.
BEST TIME TO VISIT It is clear and sunny from July through to October
HOW TO GET THERE Tour companies pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the wharf where the boat departs