Living in: Great cities for outdoor adventures

Adrenaline seekers and nature lovers alike will find something to love in these five cities, all of which are located in or near some of the planet’s finest wildernesses.

There are places where locals generally love being waist-deep in powder or flinging themselves off a canyon rim whenever the notion takes them. Not surprisingly, many of these destinations below also rate highly on lists of the world’s most liveable cities, which credit their proximity to the great outdoors and the active lifestyle their residents enjoy.

Vancouver, British Columbia
This Canadian city is a playground for those who love the outdoors, with its superb waterfront and 30km of beaches backed by snow-capped peaks and verdant forests. In winter, there is excellent downhill and cross-country skiing on the nearby peaks of Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour, and the world-class skiing resort Whistler Blackcomb is only a 115km drive north. Halfway between Whistler and Vancouver, the town of Squamish is a favourite with mountain climbers, and mountain bikers love the rainforest trails of Vancouver’s North Shore area. Across the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island is a top spot for bear spotting and whale watching, and the island’s Tofino district, close to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is a beloved spot for surfers.

North Vancouver, the wider North Shore area and the West Vancouver district are very desirable for families. “If you are an outdoorsy type, you want the North Shore of Vancouver, [which has] skiing in winter, and in summer lots of ziplining and mountain biking,” said Sandra Wyant, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. About 45km east of the city, the town of Maple Ridge is home to Golden Ears Provincial Park and the stunning Alouette Lake, great for hiking, horseback riding, canoeing and windsurfing. A two-bedroom condo in North Vancouver sells for around 840,000 Canadian dollars and houses can reach into the millions, while a similar property in Maple Ridge goes for C$230,000 and a single-family home costs around C$360,000. A two-bedroom flat in the city rents for about C$1,850.

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town’s blessed natural setting between sweeping beaches and forest-covered mountains means almost any outdoor sport is within reach. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans on either side of Cape Point attract world-class surfers who are looking to conquer the pipeline. Up on Table Mountain, there are endless hiking trails and opportunities for winter skiing and kloofing (canyoning through river gorges). Adrenaline lovers can get their juices flowing by skydiving from 3,000m, abseiling down Table Mountain or cage diving in False Bay, which is one of the world’s top places to see a great white shark.

Cape Town attracts buyers who are looking for a particular lifestyle. “Most of our buyers are from the UK and Germany,” said Lanice Steward, managing director of Anne Porter Properties. “Cape Town offers surfing and mountain biking and there is a strong set of buyers who enjoy horseback riding.” The large homes and luxury apartments in the popular west coast enclaves of Atlantic Seaboard, such as Bantry Bay and Llandudno, are perennially in demand, and nearby Hout Bay has horse farms and sea views. The southern suburbs of Constantia, Bishopscourt, Newlands, Claremont and Rondebosch are also very desirable. “It’s a suburban lifestyle with good schools that still allows you to be on Table Mountain in a few minutes,” Steward said. A more rural setting can be found in the towns of Somerset West on False Bay and Franschoek, nestled in a green valley in the Winelands, about 45km and 75km east from Cape Town respectively. The average rent of a two-bedroom property in the desirable southern suburbs and the Atlantic Seaboard is 30,000 to 35,000 rand per month, while the average price of a house is five million rand.

Queenstown, New Zealand
This resort town has good reason to bill itself as the adventure capital of the world. Situated on the shores of blue Lake Wakatipu with the 1,748m Ben Lomond mountain towering above, this high-octane and high-altitude mecca is a prime jumping-off point for exploring the South Island’s natural wonders. Not to mention Queenstown is also where the bungee jump was invented in 1988, and you can still take the 43m-plunge at Kawarau Bridge. Year round, travellers come from around the world for skiing, snowboarding, whitewater rafting, skydiving, hang gliding, abseiling and rock climbing. Plus, hiking and biking trails abound throughout the local mountains and valleys.

Queenstown is a two to three hour flight from many Australian cities, and as such, many buyers are Australian. “They want a holiday home in the winter and the rental income during the summer,” said Stacy Coburn, partner at Locations Realty. The neighbourhood of Queenstown Hill, just minutes from the town’s centre, has spectacular views of the lake and mountain peaks, and is especially popular for domestic and international buyers looking for an investment property. The Kelvin Heights suburbs are in demand for their lakefront views and proximity to the scenic Queenstown Trail, a 110km biking trail that loops from the lake to nearby towns, beauty spots and wineries. Away from the lake, the suburbs of Dalefield and Lower Shotover are in demand for their rural homes with lots of acreage.

Currently, the average house price in Queenstown is 568,250 New Zealand dollars, which is one of the highest median prices in the country. A two-bedroom property in the above neighbourhoods costs around NZ$400,000 to NZ$500,000, although luxury homes can cost NZ$1,000,000  and up. The average rent is between NZ$350 to NZ$450 a week, depending on the condition of the property and its proximity to town and other amenities.

Aspen, Colorado
Queenstown’s sister city is the Colorado town of Aspen, named for the quivering trees that blanket the slopes around the ski resort’s four mountains. Schussing your way through the sparkling powder is the premiere reason both outdoor types and the glitterati descend every winter, but Aspen has plenty of all-season activities on hand, from fly-fishing to mountain biking to kayaking in areas such as Snowmass Lake and the Maroon Bells peaks. In summer, fields of wildflowers and crystal-clear rivers are almost as intoxicating as the black diamond trails on Aspen Mountain or the hard-earned majesty of the Highland Bowl in winter. Aspen’s cultural events also draw crowds, including the Aspen Ideas Festival and Jazz Aspen Snowmass in the summer (not to mention John Denver Week every October).

Glamorous Aspen has long since left behind its humble mining town roots, and housing prices reflect the influx of CEOs, Hollywood stars and wealthy jetsetters. It has the most expensive real estate in the US due in large part to the restrictive zoning laws that mean only 13% of available land is allowed to be developed. This has maintained much of downtown’s  appeal and drives demand even higher. “The quality of life here is very unique and unmatched anywhere else in the US,” said Tim Estin, author of The Estin Report, which follows the Aspen real estate market. “It attracts sophisticated and athletic-minded people who want world-class sports and an outdoor lifestyle.” The city’s downtown core is close to skiing, and homes in the historic West End neighbourhood are very popular with families. The community of Meadowood has one-acre lots within walking distance to excellent schools, while Red Mountain is a wealthy enclave with views of the aspen-covered peaks. A two- to three-bedroom condo costs around $1.5 to $2.5 million, while a four-bedroom home averages around $3 to $5 million – but the sky is the limit here. Rent for a two- to three-bedroom condo is between $2,500 and $4,000 a month, while an average updated house rents for between $8,000 and $12,000 a month.

Interlaken, Switzerland
The sound of cow bells tinkling across Interlaken’s alpine meadows is almost as soothing as hiking up or skiing down the nearby mountains: the peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are about 25km south. Located in a gorgeous setting between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, the town of Interlaken is also close to the alpine villages of Grindelwald, Wengen, Mürren and Meiringen. “The outdoor possibilities around Interlaken are endless in summer and winter – they range from sailing, hiking, biking, gliding, skiing, sledging and climbing or just relaxing in a spa,” said Beat Hartmann, founder of Hartmann Singleton. “A lot of people want the dual resort effect, with golf and boating in the summer and skiing in the winter.” Whether its ice climbing or zorbing (rolling down hill inside a plastic ball), this mountainous region covers nearly everyone’s adventure needs.

Foreign nationals are not allowed to purchase property in Interlaken itself, but can buy second homes in nearby ski resort villages such as Wengen, Grindelwald, Mürren and Beatenberg. “Meiringen at the end of Lake Brienz is also popular and it has its own smaller ski and summer area called Hasliberg,” said Hartmann. “People who want to retire to the area most often settle on the shores of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.” A two-bedroom, 80sqm flat in the bigger resort of Grindelwald starts from around 800,000 Swiss francs, and a three bedroom, 120sqm flat starts around 1,300,000 francs. A four-bedroom luxury chalet in Grindelwald would cost around three million. Keep in mind that foreign nationals need a permit to purchase property in Switzerland and they only give out 1,500 per year countrywide. Rentals tend to be holiday properties, and the starting price per week for an upscale two-bedroom property is about 1,000 francs.