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
AS a travel writer, it’s natural for me to focus on the destinations in which I find myself, but for my last blog of 2017, I wish to highlight the people behind those places I was incredibly fortunate to visit this year. When you’re out in the world, hunting and gathering stories and photographs, it can be a bit of a lonely place, particularly if you’re travelling alone, as has been my strategy in recent years. Until you meet your guide. This year, I was blessed to have the most generous souls cross my path as I wandered around the planet, people who went above and beyond their roles as tour guides or tourism staff, many of whom became friends.
My travels started in February, at beautiful Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. It was as hot as hell that weekend, where I partook in my first mountain bike tour with Bike On Australia. The next day, I kayaked the Noosa Everglades with Kanu Kapers Australia and both of my female guides were encouraging and taught me new techniques in both adventures, but above all, were the strong, smart women I so admire. Later that same month, I visited the remote Australian territory of Norfolk Island. Here, I met Tania from Norfolk Island Tourism, who introduced me to this destination’s incredible history, local food and wine, and the rugged landscape. I don’t have a snap of Tania, but I took plenty of the cows which inhabit this place, and which outnumber residents.
March was devoted to my home-state of Queensland, firstly visiting Tropical North Queensland’s Port Douglas and the Daintree. Here I ambled among the world’s oldest rainforest, Mother Nature being a particularly good guide on this trip, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, reminding me of why I love living in this part of the world so much. Two weeks later I was in Bundaberg for a series of stories, where among my great guides, I met Suzie from Bundy Food Tours. Mother Nature made another big impact on this trip, introducing me for the first time to her turtle hatchlings on Mon Repos beach. It was so beautiful, I cried.
I encountered one of my favourite guides all year in the Cook Islands, when I met Aunty Nane. Aunty’s laugh was a cross between a gecko and an erupting volcano, and epitomised the soul and spirit of these proud Pacific Islanders. Aunty loved to eat and talk, and we spent 10 days doing just that, enjoying the spoils of the tropics. Aunty was convinced I would find a husband if I accompanied her to church, so off we trotted. I never found a bloke, but the singing gave me goose bumps. On an outlying island I also met Aunty Mii, who told me she spent her days trying to avoid her husband because he was “stupid”. You can’t win ‘em all.
In May, I was in Fiji for the wedding of my beautiful friend Saskia who married her Fijian warrior Pauliasi. The Fijians are great and gentle guides, who teach you much without even knowing it. It’s all about Fiji time up here, learning to slow down, that things don’t always go to plan, but you can always find a reason to smile. It’s a lesson which was carried into later that month when I visited the Whitsundays, which was rebuilding after Cyclone Debbie. Resilience? These people have it in shades, and again, amid the destruction, there were still smiles.
In June, I was up at Noosa again, gathering some last-minute stories for an urgent deadline, but my biggest teacher in both June and July was my wild eastern Australian carpet python, Sylvia. For a few weeks every winter, if the stars align, I try to slow down, stay home, go to yoga and try to find some balance. It’s not an easy fit for someone like me with such an active mind, but it’s crucial if I am to continue a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. Sylvia, my beloved snake, taught me the importance of hibernation, to follow the natural rhythms of the seasons, and to just be, at least for a few weeks. And so I did.
By August I was ready to go again, and after a brief trip to northern New South Wales, I attended the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ annual convention, which was this time held on the Sunshine Coast. On a beautiful winter day, while cycling along Caloundra, I bumped into these bathing beauties, who taught me you’re never too old and it’s never too cold, to swim, or laugh.
September was hectic, but also delicious. First, I flew to Canada where I fulfilled a story wish to snorkel with the salmon over at Vancouver Island on the Campbell River. My guide, Jamie, from Destiny River Adventures, was a little hard core, and proved to be scarier than the unexpected rapids into which I was flung and told to “fly like a superhero” to avoid being injured by rocks. But in the end, Jamie and I became friends, particularly when I emerged from the 14 degree rapids, smiling and shouting “that was awesome.” I was back in Brisbane for only four nights before it was off to Hong Kong, where I met another of my favourite guides, Vivian. I was hunting a story about fortune tellers, and Vivian and I trekked the streets of Hong Kong, while I indulged in “villain hitting” (to banish former boyfriends) and having everything from my face to my tarot read. I also popped over to Macau on this trip, where the guide really understood my need, mid-tour, to pop into the local bottle shop to pick up a drop of the local Portuguese wine.
I spent two weeks in October in Morocco where I was fortunate to have Khaled as my guide as we trekked, on an Intrepid Tour with 13 others, across this incredible country. It was here that I really sat back and observed how tough it is to be a guide, dealing with 13 different personalities, three distinct nationalities, long distances and tiring days. But Khaled never faltered, always finding the positive in every situation, doing his best to secure a glass of wine for us at the end of the day, and at one point, turning up at my door with a can of cold Casablanca beer after listening to my endless observations about how warm the beer was in Morocco.
In November, it was off to Bawah Island, a luxury new destination half way between Malaysia and Borneo, and three hours from Singapore. In terms of guides, it was an unusual week for me, as I spent it with a group of men, mostly part of the management team from Singapore, who were putting the final touches on this beautiful resort. With five men from different destinations, all of whom spoke at least two languages, conversations were colourful and entertaining. One of my favourite guides was the Italian dive instructor Paulo, with whom I would book in a morning snorkel straight after breakfast, and whose enthusiasm for Bawah’s underwater beauty was infectious.
Which brings me to December where I have just returned from a trip to the North Pole to interview Santa. I’d love to say Santa was my best guide, but he was hugely overshadowed by the kind and eccentric Irene, an artist who makes amazing things out of reindeer parts. Irene also talks to her house elves (one of which is currently being naughty and getting naked while Irene is in her studio), which made her one of the most interesting interviews I had all year. I headed further north in Lapland and stayed at Beana Lapponia Wilderness Lodge, where I met Tony, the husky handler, and he was also an incredible guide, teaching me not only how to harness huskies, but how to drive the husky sled through the snow.
It’s been another incredible year and I’d like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who I met on this incredible journey that was 2017. See you out there in 2018.
And to my beloved readers, thank you for supporting me. Wishing you peace on earth.
AMERICAN actor Vince Vaughn is slouching in the lobby of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, clutching a cup of coffee and a wearing face full of pain. Vince looks like he’s had a big night and I know how he feels. I’ve flown some 13 hours from Brisbane to arrive in these palatial surrounds and about the only two things that aren’t elegant in this gracious hotel lobby this morning are Vince and me. Vince is in town to film the movie Deadpool but I’m here for another pool…of fish. I have bigger fish to fry than Vince.
This is a story about fish and fear. About how three years ago when I was up in Canada on another assignment I’d heard of an amazing adventure where you can snorkel with the salmon. I’ll take any chance to snorkel or swim anywhere in the world and this story angle had me hook, line and sinker. And so late last week I found myself in Vancouver, preparing to fly over to Campbell River and the Salmon Capital of the World, to try my luck on yet another jaunty journey.
As per usual, all sorts of irrational thoughts cross my mind. Last year, when I was in Canada, I went on a walking safari with the polar bears up in Churchill but I was more frightened of the minus 14 degree temperatures than those gentle giants out on the arctic tundra. But grizzly and black bears? They seriously scare me. I’ve seen all sorts of nature documentaries where the bears wait for the salmon run and stand on the edge of the river and pluck them straight out of the water. So how, exactly, would I fit into this equation? In terms of Mother Nature’s mathematics, surely I would be more filling and tasty than a salmon?
My Campbell River cab driver Winston Pittendrigh, 76, picks me up at the airport and tells me snorkelling is not his “cup of tea”. (As a curious aside, there doesn’t appear to be a taxi driver in the Salmon Capital of the World who is under 75, so ladies, if you’re looking for love, this may not be the place for you). But I digress.
“I don’t mind the water but I’m not too keen about going underwater,” Winston says.
“There are lots of black bears around these parts. I’ve seen enough whales and bears, I don’t need to go on a tour.
“I’ve been as close as that door (he points to the passenger door) to a bear. The hair rose on the back of my neck. I opened the door and there was a bear looking at me. He looked at me for four or five seconds and then he went back to eating.
“Bears even wander into our homes of the morning. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen one of my neighbour’s porch.”
The next day, Destiny River Adventures owner and tour guide Jamie Turko, who runs the Snorkelling with the Salmon experience, warns us not to wee in his wetsuits or they will become ours, at a price. I’m a little worried, this is a three-hour tour during which we will spend a good part of the time in crisp 14 degree waters. I can’t guarantee anything and hope if I do pee myself, Jamie can’t spot it from the boat. I suspect Jamie sees everything.
Jamie gives us an extensive safety briefing and then asks us “who is responsible for your safety?”.
“You!” I respond, enthusiastically and incorrectly.
“No,” Jamie says, with a dash of disdain, “you are”.
So, I am the only thing between me and a bear. I will definitely wee in my wetsuit.
“It’s important to lay with your face in the water and to keep an eye on the river hazards, such as the many rocks you’ll dodge along the way,” Jamie says.
“The number one hazard is river rocks. You need to fly like Superman or Wonder Woman. At this water level it’s like a giant game of pinball and you are the ball.
“The number two hazard is wood. There are also lots of fisher people in the river and you don’t want to be their next catch.”
This was not in the brochure, I want to protest, but instead, I take the plunge, flying down the river like a super hero in a four-inch wetsuit, salmon whizzing past my face. At one point, caught in some whirling rapids, I think I may die, or at the very least, get hit in the head by a rock as it’s all just white water like I’m in a washing machine spin cycle. Then fear turns to bravado. How cool, I think, if I survive this, imagine explaining the gash and bruises back in Brisbane. I realise this is my very own dead pool. Perhaps Vince Vaughn needs an extra in his movie? I exit the rapids with a huge smile on my face. Jamie is sitting in the river raft grinning at me.
“That was awesome,” I yell across the river.
And I didn’t wee myself once.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Destination British Columbia http://www.HelloBC.com.au
For all the exciting details of this entire Snorkelling with the Salmon adventure, and other fishy “tails” to have in British Columbia, keep an eye out for Vacations and Travel Magazine. For a poetic version about the symmetry of salmon snorkelling on the Campbell River, keep an eye out for Senior Traveller. Both stories appearing soon.