I’VE been incredibly fortunate in the past few years, in the course of my travel writing adventures, to indulge in some of the most amazing experiences that exist between humans and animals. Here’s 8 I’ve done that I’ll reckon you’ll love.
1. Walk with the Polar Bears
To be utterly honest, I was more frightened of how cold I expected it to be up in arctic Canada, than being eaten by a polar bear, and I was right. This trip-of-a-lifetime sees you fly into Winnipeg, where you will overnight and be fitted with your polar gear (which assists greatly with minus 14 degree Celsius temperatures). The next day you’ll fly to Churchill, and then board a tiny plane out to Seal River Heritage Lodge. Here, Churchill Wild runs “walk with the polar bear” safaris out on the arctic tundra framing wild and remote Hudson Bay. So unthreatened are these beautiful animals by this tour, one 400kg male came within 10 metres of our group. Sublime.
2. Snorkel with Salmon
In this instance, I WAS frightened of bears, but I had no real reason. On this adventure, you fly out of Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and Campbell River. Here, you can join an eclectic journey with Destiny River Adventures where you will board a raft and paddle down Campbell River, before plunging into 14 degree waters. Yes, chilly, but worth it, as you plummet down the rapids, dodging rocks and snorkelling with salmon. There’s three pools to experience here (in pool two you are advised to fly like a super hero to avoid being shredded to bits by the rocks). And no, there are no grizzly bears waiting by the shoreline to feast on salmon, or you, as it’s the wrong season. What you will experience is a thrill of a lifetime, and come face-to-face with some friendly seals as well.
3. Sail to see the Komodo Dragons
I LOVE lizards and any reptile for that matter, and had always longed to see the komodo dragons. But arriving at Komodo National Park is not as simple as it seems. However, there exists an incredible adventure which makes the journey a dream. Head out with Indonesian Island Sail on its traditional timber boat, and you can spend 14 glorious days sailing from Bali to Komodo and back. Along the way you’ll feast on fabulous food, snorkel some of the clearest waters in the region, swim with manta rays and turtles, and arrive at Komodo National Park where you can snatch a selfie with those gorgeous giants.
4. Float with the Manta Rays
Did someone mention manta rays? A few years ago, while staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the fabulous fortune of a night float with the manta rays. Courtesy of Manta Ray Advocates, at Kona, after dark you are taken out into the bay on an outrigger canoe. Then, when the conditions are just right, you are invited to slip into the ocean. Holding on to a surf board with handles, and sporting a snorkel and mask, you are invited to plunge your face into the ocean and watch as the magnificent mantas swim right up to you. If you are lucky, they will eye-ball you before they perform a tumble turn.
5. Drive a Reindeer or Husky Sleigh
They are hard-core up in Finnish Lapland and it’s easy to see why. When you have months of darkness during winter, and the temperature plummets to minus 40 degrees Celsius, you tend to be made of serious stuff. Up at Beana Laponia Wilderness Boutique Hotel, a working husky farm, you are invited to not only join a husky safari, but are taught how to drive the team. Yes, you can become a musher. And it is seriously great fun as you fly through snowy trails in a pure-white winter wonderland. For those looking for something a little more sedate, the hotel can also arrange for you to do a reindeer safari. Not as fast or as fun as the huskies, but if Santa is your thing, this might be right up your alley.
6. Meditate with a Horse
If only the horse could talk. One of my craziest animal experiences to date, this one occurred in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Sure, you can do yoga, tai-chi or go bushwalking, or, if you’re like me, you can indulge in a one-hour meditation session with a horse. At first I was dubious, but it became very obvious during this session that Jack knew far more than I realised. Horses are used for therapy as it is believed they can pick up on human emotions (without any of the bullshit) and from my experience, Jack was spot on. When I was nervous, Jack was skittish. When I lost confidence leading him around the ring, so, too, did Jack. By the end of this session I was able to command Jack to gallop, and stop, purely by using my breath.
7. Witness hatching Turtles
There’s few nicer things in nature than watching an animal begin its life journey and at Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, you can do just that. Between November and January, head to Mon Repos Beach and watch the lady loggerhead turtles lay their eggs, and then, between January and March, you can encounter the hatchlings as they erupt from the nests. Carefully managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, join a ranger on a guided tour at night on the beach and your life will never quite be the same again. https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter
8. Hang out with some cool Cats
If you’ve ever wanted to witness Africa’s Big Five, this is your chance. And at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges, you can do this in style. Plonked within South Africa’s Kruger National Park, each day you’ll head out on two safaris, one before dawn and the other before dusk, for your best chances of seeing animals in their wild habitat. Again, I was initially worried about being mauled by a lion, but you are in a four-wheel drive with a ranger and a spotter who are fastidious about safety. And, by the end of my trip, I was even going on walking safaris, out in the open, with the exceptional guides who will explain animal tracks and the stories behind them.
AND ONE I CAN’T WAIT TO DO
9. Swim with the Whales
Last year, I was all set to slip into the Pacific Ocean off of the Sunshine Coast and swim with the whales, but wild weather prevented that adventure. But each year, between July and October, when the humpback whales are migrating from Antarctica to breed and play in Queensland’s warm waters, visitors have the opportunity to go out with Sunreef Mooloolaba to get wet with the whales. You hold onto a floating line attached to the boat, and then it’s up to these mammoth mammals as to how close they wish to get to you. Watch this space…
What animal experiences have you done that you’ve loved or want to do? My list doesn’t end. At number 10, I want to swim with the whale sharks and do a shark cage dive
I REALLY should have written this tale days and days ago, but there were other forces at play. I’m standing by the Hawaiian ocean, listening to Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit talk about her heritage, when I get “chicken arms” as the locals like to call goose bumps. Lily has just mentioned the Menehune (pronounced Men-ay Hoon-ay) and I’m instantly intrigued.
“Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour,” she says.
“There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree.
“They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.”
I’m on Hawaii’s Big Island and the thought that I could be sharing space with a bunch of mischievous, mysterious men is nothing short of exciting. Sure, they’re apparently red and short, but beggars can’t be choosers. Lily’s also let slip that the Menehune like to eat Manju – a type of biscuit full of red beans – and so that night for good measure I leave two, as well as a beer, figuring if it’s good enough for Santa and the Tooth Fairy, it might just be enough to entice the Menehune to my boudoir.
I wake up disappointed but determined. The beer’s still there and so are the biscuits. But I remain as fascinated to meet a Menehune as I am to encounter a decent Brisbane bloke. Yes, because I believe in miracles. The next day I meet Nancy Erger, my tour guide and a local location scout for the film industry. Given her role, I ask her what she can tell me about the Menehune.
She laughs and tells me they turn up when “generally something needs fixing.” I pause and ponder this. Does this mean I am fixed? Or I need more fixing? And why didn’t they drink that beer? What kind of man doesn’t like beer?
Pretty soon our conversation turns to other men, as Nancy reveals she was a location scout in the latest series of Hawaii Five-O starring that big hunk of spunk Australia’s Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett. I’m so excited I want to lick her arm. Curiously, when researching locations, Nancy happened across the original series and by chance realised her grandmother was an extra in the old show, sneaking out of the house and catching a bus down to location without her husband’s permission. When Nancy reveals she was involved in shooting the commercial Liquid Aloha for the Hawaii’s Longboard Lager I have so come to love, I realise we will be friends for life. We pause for a shaved ice and in deference to the Goddess of Fire Pele, who is spraying volanco lava languidly around the island, I choose a Lava Flow concoction of coconut, strawberry and mango.
Two hours later Nancy deposits me at Lokahi Garden Sanctuary, a sustainable organic farm and botanical sanctuary run by Richard Liebmann and his wife Natalie Young. Richard and Natalie prepare lunch plucked straight from their garden, starting with a mocktail of fresh ginger, turmeric, honey, coconut oil, peppercorns, lemon juice and aloe vera. Natalie, who also delivers natural therapies using herbs, flowers and fruit and vegetables from the garden, asks me what I think I need for my treatment.
“I’m looking for love,” I say for the hundredth time this year on a trip.
She dashes back to the lemon myrtle and lavender plants, picking flowers and leaves like her life depends on it. We sit on her front deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and she soaks my feet in the flowers. I close my eyes and she performs a healing “for your traveller’s feet,” she says gently. A few minutes later she asks me what thoughts have come to my mind.
I tell her I had a flashback to being a backpacker in Rome, 22 years ago, when I was 22. And it’s been exactly 22 years since I’ve been to Hawaii.
“The Aloha spirit is alive and well, you really can feel that here,” Natalie says.
“A lot of Hawaiians view you from where you are in your heart. When you come with an open heart they are very welcoming.”
Days later, still frustrated about not seeing any Menehune, I sit down to write this story. Inexplicably, my computer is completely dead and I’m forced to soak up Hawaii instead. I swim, do a stand-up paddleboard lesson, and partake in a sunset yoga class by the ocean, instead of working. I remain baffled by this technological glitch until I remember those little red men. Back home in Brisbane my computer works beautifully. Maybe the Menehune found me after all.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Hawaii Tourism. To book your own escape go to http://www.gohawaii.com/au; stay on the Big Island at The Sheraton Kona http://www.sheratonkeauhou.com; and take a retreat at Lokahi Garden Sanctuary http://www.lokahigardensanctuary.com