Clean-Air Credentials: “The air in Tasmania is as clean as it is in Antarctica,” says Paul Fraser, an expert in ozone and climate change from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. “If you go further south in the Southern Hemisphere, the background concentrations of pollutants don’t change much.”
Take a Breather: In summer, when the roaring forties bring relief from the heat, hike the South Coast Track with Tasmania Walks on an epic eight-day odyssey among 600,000 acres of pristine coastal wilderness.
Clean-Air Credentials: According to Russell Schnell, Hawaii can receive significant pollution from China but still it manages to record the cleanest air on earth. How?By rising above it, literally. Pollution particles stop climbing when they meet the inversion layer, an atmospheric boundary of warmer air. At 11,145 feet, the Mauna Loa observatory is above the clouds and, therefore, virtually free of pollution.
Take a Breather: To sample the subtle difference, start at sea level, paddling a traditional outrigger canoe (the “Beachboy” program at the Fairmont Orchid has trained instructors). Next, hop in a car (a hybrid, of course) and go where the air is truly clear: the Mauna Loa scenic trail—one of the few locations on earth where it’s possible to drive above the inversion layer—and hike the six miles to the summit.
Clean-Air Credentials: “Air passing through Canada and Greenland is scrubbed free of particles by rain and clouds before it reaches Iceland,” says the NOAA’s Russell Schnell, explaining that, unfortunately, what gaseous pollution was there to start with is sure to remain. What makes Iceland unique (and worthy of inclusion) is the fact that the pristine air extends well beyond the measuring station. Iceland’s power and heat are generated almost entirely from clean, renewable hydroelectric and geothermal sources.
Take a Breather: Maintain the purity of this unspoiled land by exploring by horseback rather than horsepower. Purebred Icelandic horses are direct descendants of Viking livestock and renowned for their friendly nature—just ask Hróðmar Bjarnason. He cofounded Eldhestar riding tours and, rather appropriately, is also a direct Viking descendant.
Clean-Air Credentials:South Africa was a controversial entry in our list because of coal- and bio-mass burning, but Cape Point observatory, overlooking both the Indian and Atlantic oceans in Table Mountain National Park, still records some mighty pure air—especially in a southerly gale.
Take a Breather: Take a paragliding adventure with Parapax Tandem Paragliding Flights (South Africa’s most established paragliding tour company), and see for yourself if the two oceans are different colors, as rumored.
Clean-Air Credentials: Harvard University’s Daniel Jacob recommends Tahiti’s more remote lagoons and unpopulated motus as excellent destinations for clean air. Just don’t breathe the air in Papeete, which is rendered impure by the old cars and motorcycles.
Take a Breather: Championship kiteboarder Moehau Goold has traveled the world with his extreme sport and rates Bora Bora the best place on earth for kiteboarding. “It has the best kite spots because it’s so beautiful and clean and there are no big industries or boats to pollute the lagoon,” he says. Go fly with Kite Tahiti—the best time is June to September, when the trade winds blow. Locals head for Matria Point on the south side of Bora Bora in the middle of the most touristed area; with only 25 active kiteboarders on the island, you’re unlikely to get your lines crossed.
Clean-Air Credentials: Because of the sultry tropical climate and southern locale, the air that reaches the northern tip of Tutuila Island in American Samoa is as pristine as can be. Even the observatory there is eco-friendly, with 30 percent of its power generated by solar panels.
Take a Breather: Catch the wind before the scientists by taking a Wave Jumper beyond the lagoon and into the surf zone at Fagamalo break—as yet the meteorological instrumentation cannot measure fear.
Clean-Air Credentials: “In spite of the fact that Antarctica doesn’t get a lot of sun, it’s sufficiently remote to have clean air,” says Stanford’s Mark Jacobson. (The Arctic Circle, while also remote, is nowhere near as clean, receiving a cocktail of background pollution from Russia, Europe, and North America.)
Take a Breather: Strap on some skis and move like the wind with a new adventure sport, kite skiing. Patrick Woodhead, director of White Desert adventure camp (which offers the experience to guests) used it on recent expeditions to traverse 900 miles of wild terrain. “It’s the perfect way to travel in such an environment,” he says.
Clean-Air Credentials: Both Harvard University’s Daniel Jacob and the NOAA’s Russell Schnell agree that Easter Island is a good clean-air bet, but Schnell adds that there is a small problem with emissions from diesel generators.
Take a Breather: When the wind and waves are calm and airborne smells tend to linger, take clean air to-go by breathing it from a scuba tank. Dive operators like Mike Rapu Diving Center explore the cobalt seas, famous for 120-foot visibility, volcanic caverns, and locations where scuba divers can swim up close and personal with submerged Moai statues.
Clean-Air Credentials: “The southern tip of South America is really clean,” says Harvard University’s Daniel Jacob. It’s so clean, in fact, that the baseline air monitoring station located just three miles from the Argentinean city of Ushuaia still effectively records zero pollutants for much of the year. A combination of Southern Hemisphere advantage, remote location, and 160 rain days a year makes for a very breathable environment.
Take a Breather: Strap on some hiking boots and head for the lakes. Country Walkers conducts walking tours of Patagonia and Chile’s Lakes district, including Torres del Paine National Park, a mountainous glacial region declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978.
Clean-Air Credentials: The wind arriving at Baring Head meteorological station at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, under a chilly southerly airstream, originates from an area of almost no human activity whatsoever—the oceans around Antarctica. Drink it in on the South Island: with just 25 percent of the country’s population, there are fewer people upwind.
Take a Breather: Make doubly sure that every breath is pure by leaving the land and learning the fine art of mountain soaring. Glider pilots climb the mountain thermals to cruise at 12,313 feet over the snow-covered peak of Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest point. Go with Southern Soaring.