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
A TROOP of bombastic baboons is bellowing at each other across this African afternoon, punctuating the sunset with screams. Were I back in Brisbane, I’d guess the sound was a bunch of hapless drunks staggering home from the pub. But out here, where the trees communicate with each other through the wind, it means there’s other wildlife around.
A short-tailed eagle soars through the picture-perfect blue winter sky and a thin layer of dust coats the roof of my mouth. Our safari truck drives past Acacia trees and bush willows and over dry river beds. I’m on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, perched on 6500ha within Sabi Sands where the landscape ranges from bush veld to savannah and is nestled adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
We pass bushbuck, wildebeest, waterbuck and a giraffe craning its impossibly long neck to feast on some bushes. There’s hungry, hungry hippos, an elegant eagle and a measly mongoose. That throaty sound in the distance turns out to be a community of impala. We pause for a zebra crossing, before stumbling across a pride of lions with a cub sleeping nearby. The languid lions are full and tired after feeding on last night’s buffalo kill, the remnants of which lay nearby. One lion cub practices its stalking skills on another in the same manner a domesticated cat would toy with its siblings. It’s a day of the jackals.
Day two and we observe rhino and buffalo. Guinea fowl flap about like pantomime characters on London’s West End and a woodpecker hammers in the distance like a Gold Coast tradie. We discover that animals have three modes – flight, fright or fight. And best of all, for this writer at least, we learn the collective nouns of the sights and sounds of safari.
We encounter a trumpet of elephants; a dazzle of zebra; a journey of giraffe; and a crash of rhino. Those garrulous guinea fowl are aptly called a “confusion”; one late afternoon we stumble across a leap of leopards with a baby cat waiting in the fork of a tree; and the impala are as consistent as their “consistency” suggests.
The parched African soil crunches underfoot on a walking safari with Sabi Sabi Ranger Lazarus, a member of the local Shangaan people. Lazarus, whose grandfather was a tracker, reminds us that we are “exposed” as the animals out here are accustomed to vehicles.
“We have to remain silent but we can talk very low and walk in single file. Don’t go ahead of me because I have the rifle. We are here to respect the animals,” he says.
“Being on foot is to learn about the small things that when we are on a drive we don’t talk about, like tracks and grass.”
We see kudu and warthog on the horizon. There’s a millipede blackened by the sun and a spider’s web which belongs to one of the six deadly spiders out here in the African bush. We learn that the lesser baboon spider is more hairy than a baboon itself and that all the deadly spiders are colourful. We pass hippo, rhino and impala tracks. There’s a tortoise shell which has been eaten by a red hornbill and a magic quarry bush used to divine water.
Back in the jeep on our last morning, we stumble across a clan of hyena and a venue of vultures feasting on a hippo believed to have died from natural causes the night before. Call me paranoid but I’m pretty sure there’s a conspiracy of ravens out there somewhere too. But there’s no evidence of a murder of crows.
It’s my first trip to Mother Africa and I am overwhelmed by both her beauty and contradictions. By her vast nothingness, and everything, all rolled into one. From the plane window it looks like the Australian outback but nothing like it, all in the same dusty breath. It’s corn-row braids, black shiny faces and deep, kind eyes. Dutch descendants with piercing blue eyes and fair hair and accents which sound like they’ve been clipped in a barber shop. It’s the cold kisses of a mid-winter morning, and a harsh African sun. As for those collective nouns, my favourite turns out to be the implausibility of wildebeest. For it’s entirely plausible that anything is possible out on safari in Africa. Little wonder the baboons are so excited.
The Global Goddess travelled a guest of 318 Africa – http://www.318africa.com.au and stayed in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve Bush and Earth Lodges. http://www.sabisabi.com