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John Hurt explores the human planet

Humans are the ultimate animals – the most successful species on the planet. From the frozen Arctic to steamy rainforests, from tiny islands in vast oceans to parched deserts, people have found remarkable ways to adapt and survive in the harshest environments imaginable.

These stories of survival are the focus of ‘Human Planet’, an eight-part BBC Earth series following in the footsteps of ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Life’, that celebrates the challenging relationship between humankind and nature.

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Captivating Camdeboo

“Just one beep. That’s all we need,” says Jaco from the front of the Land Cruiser. “Just one beep.”

Standing up, antenna in hand, he surveys the plains around us, hoping for a sign of Sibella. But there’s nothing – just a ground layer of grass and a scattering of trees and shrubs, stretching towards an amphitheatre of mountains.

I’m in Samara – over 28 000 hectares of private game reserve in the Great Karoo, just 55 kilometres from Graaff Reinet. Addo Elephant Park and its endless procession of tourist buses is an hour’s drive to the south, and yet they feel half a world away, surrounded as I am by such silence, such stark beauty.

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Airs and graces

With towering white pillars and long palm-lined driveway, the Mount Nelson isn’t all that easy to miss. It’s pink for goodness sake. And the soaring column of steel and glass that is the Arabella Sheraton is about as inconspicuous as Table Mountain.

So in comparison The Cape Grace is virtually invisible, a discreet four-storey building that whispers seductively rather than screams for attention as you head for the perennially popular V&A Waterfront.

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Explore the Emerald Isle

There’s far more to Ireland than the Guinness factory, leprechauns and sheep. Like the breathtaking coastline with its tranquil villages and jagged cliffs. The stunning natural beauty, and even the way the lush green grass glistens after the rain. It’s not called the Emerald Isle for nothing.

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Easy does it in Ireland

Package tours are great. That is, if you don’t mind feeling like an animal – herded like cattle, with all the free-will of a sheep; or hanging out the bus window like a dog as the world whooshes by in a blur.

Really, the only way to experience a country properly is on foot or bicycle. Ireland is no different – you need to squelch through the boggy fields, feel the rain on your skin, smell the freshly cut grass and cowpats, dodge the cars in Belfast, feel the sea breeze, and pedal your way alongside the greenest fields imaginable to truly appreciate Ireland in all its guises.

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Wilderness wandering

We’re standing on a beach; fossilised sand dunes towering to the left, the clear water of the Indian Ocean lapping gently on our right. Looking ahead, there’s nothing but pristine white sand and the distant rocky outcrop of Gericke’s Point rising from the ocean spray.

“This,” says Mark Dixon, stretching out his arms, “is my office. And I love it.” Spend just an hour with Dixon and you’ll know that ‘love’ is something of a euphemism, and that the Garden Route is more playground than office.

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Travel

Qatar: land of the unknown

“Qatar,” says the Lonely Planet guide, “is best known for being unknown.” It’s a small consolation – I do feel slightly less like a geographically clueless American – but it doesn’t shake the sense I’m heading into the great unknown.

So I do some more reading. It’s small – a tiny peninsula (160 kilometres from north to south). It’s in the Middle East – on the Arabian Peninsula; crammed between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It’s hot – average summer temperatures of between 38 and 42. It’s got a real rags-to-riches story – once a rough backwater eking out an existence in the pearl and fishing industries, the discovery of oil and gas have made it ridiculously wealthy.

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A cutting-edge capital

There’s more to London than a giant clock, that bridge from the nursery rhyme, the Queen’s humble abode and a few famous churches. Home of the 2012 Olympics, London is one of the world’s most cutting-edge cities with a host of lesser-known attractions that are a great reflection of the city’s present – and future – rather than its illustrious, but very well-trodden, past.