Your guide to the best adventure documentaries: Part 1

By Justin Walker 14 April 2020
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In the first of a three-part series, Australian Geographic Adventure Editor Justin Walker reveals five of the best adventure films. Showcasing historic Aussie firsts, amazing personal achievements, and exploration of some of the most remote parts of the world, these epic documentaries will amaze and inspire you.

Everest: Sea to Summit

It is the first ‘complete’ ascent of Everest, from sea-level at India’s Bay of Bengal, to the 8848-metre summit of the world’s tallest peak. This documentary, filmed by acclaimed Australian filmmaker Michael Dillon, follows legendary Aussie mountaineer, Tim Macartney-Snape, as he achieves what no-one else had. During the epic 1200km-plus expedition, Tim trekked across countries, ran the equivalent of a marathon a day for five days (to beat a soon-to-close border into Nepal) and then summited the mighty mountain itself. It’s an amazing story, captured exceptionally well by Dillon (it has garnered numerous awards). 


More than a climbing film, this epic tells the story of three climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk – and their battle to climb the Shark’s Fin, on Meru Peak, in the Indian Himalaya. The peak is the most technically complicated and dangerous in the Himalaya and has never been climbed before; it took this team of experienced climbers and good mates two attempts – an unsuccessful one in 2008; the second in 2011 – to do the seemingly impossible. A great story about climbing but also about friendship and how its strength in the most demanding of situations can mean the difference between life and death.

Wheels Across A Wilderness 

In 1966, brothers Mike and Mal Leyland became the first to successfully cross Australia west-to-east, starting in Steep Point, WA and finishing at Cape Byron in NSW. The film of this epic journey showcases not only the amazing five-month adventure itself, but the brothers’ ‘light and fast’ approach to the expedition, with minimal filmmaking equipment, camping gear and supplies, all packed in two Land Rovers and a trailer. The resultant footage brought the ‘real’ Outback into Australian households for the first time and has since inspired generations of desert travellers. 

Nobody’s River
A four-woman team of kayakers (including acclaimed Aussie adventure photographer, Krystle Wright, her pic above) paddle one of the last wild rivers – the Amur; the world’s eighth-longest – which flows through Mongola, Siberia, Russia and China, on its way to the Sea of Okhotsk. The Chinese refer to it as the Black Dragon; the Russians, simply the Black River, but the allure for the team was that the the Amur is the third-longest free-flowing (not dammed) waterway in the world. What follows is a jaw-dropping journey, combining the huge physical challenge with cultural adventures and more personal discoveries. 

Into the Wild

A dramatised account of the short life of Christopher McCandless, based on the bestselling book of the same name (written by Jon Krakaeur of Into Thin Air fame), and directed by Sean Penn. The film captures the slightly naïve character that was McCandless as the young man leaves behind all his worldly possessions to try and forge a simple uncomplicated life in the wilds of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve. The film uses a flashback/flash forward narrative to reveal McCandless’s backstory and his eventual demise; a combo of naivety, ignorance and one simple, but fatal, mistake.\