large gorilla sits at edge of river looking into the distance surrounded by lush jungle

Gabon is one of the few countries on this planet that is still relatively untouched by tourism, says Geoffrey Kent, it’s also where you can find mountain gorillas

In his latest column, Abercrombie & Kent Founder Geoffrey Kent considers the difficulties of discovering new destinations and crossing frontiers – from space travel to Gabon’s national reserves

In the noughties, I decided that having explored every continent in the world, I would set myself a new challenge: to add space travel to the range of tours offered by my company. Space is the ultimate unexplored destination.

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In South Africa, at a place called Thunder City – at the time, the site in Cape Town for ex-military jet flights – I boarded an English Electric Lightning plane, captained by a pilot named David Stock. We took off and went from zero to 40,000ft in one minute. We levelled out at 65,000ft and accelerated to full speed (Mach 2.2) whilst looking at the purple curvature of the earth. After I landed back on earth having taken on 5.5 GS, with my feet firmly back on the ground, I called the head scientist and engineer on my A&K Space team and asked about the chances of accidents occurring during space travel. He replied: “There’s a 100 percent chance we will have an accident”. I quickly took stock and decided to cancel the whole thing. It was too risky.

Omo valley tribesmen dressed in bright blue cloth holding wooden sticks and standing against a red mud wall

Suri tribesmen waiting for a stick fight (donga) to commence in the village of Kibbish in the North Western Omo valley, Ethiopia. Image by Trevor Cole.

It was one of my most audacious exploits, but a good entrepreneur knows to pull the plug when all the odds are against you. I may be a risk-taker in my personal life but when it comes to travel and my clients, safety is paramount. When some holidays have been dismissed by A&K staff as unfeasible, I have undertaken them myself to ensure they can be offered safely to travellers. This has involved travelling from the source of the Upper Amazon in Peru to where it enters the Atlantic Ocean – a hairy experience with a swift current and moving sandbanks – and cruising to the North Pole.

Colourful skyline of Tbilisi in Geogia

The colourful skyline of Tbilisi and Narikala Castle, Tbilisi, Georgia

It’s true that the world is well-travelled, but there are still unexplored spots. The limitation is that in these places there is no hospitality infrastructure, and few have a desire to really rough it like explorers of old. I launched my eponymous Inspiring Expeditions with Geoffrey Kent based on the question: why not take people to spots of immense beauty and interest, but where others rarely venture? I lead every expedition and if required, we bring in everything required: beds, Michelin-starred chefs, specialist guides, and even espresso machines.

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I’ll be at the South Pole with my guests this December. Next year on various voyages, we’ll travel by private jet to lesser-visited places like Georgia – that great cultural crossroads; Kamchatka, Russia’s last wilderness; the Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia; and West Papua in Indonesia.

barren lake landscape of the Danakil depression in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression has one of the most extreme climates found on Earth

These Inspiring Expeditions are all about where I haven’t been. I’m mildly obsessed with an app called Been, in which I list all the countries to which I have travelled – around 140, which equates to 70 per cent. In a decade, I want that figure to be at 100 per cent.

One country to which I’d never been before but had the privilege to travel to recently is Gabon. An impressive 11 per cent of this unexplored part of Africa is designated as national reserves and, in this parkland, mountain gorillas can be found. From a luxury executive Puma Helicopter, I cruised the coast and flew over forests, the sand cliffs and Kongou and Djidji Falls. I fell in love with Loango National Park where I spotted elephant, hippos and buffaloes. One group of elephant were swimming off the beach with their trunks raised out of the water like snorkels. Tourism is still a fledgling industry in Gabon, but I predict it will take off in a big way and very soon, and I hope A&K can be at the forefront of that.

Find out more about Abercrombie & Kent’s ‘Inspiring Expeditions with Geoffrey Kent’: abercrombiekent.com/small-group-journeys/inspiring-expeditions-by-geoffrey-kent