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In the Wild
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp, Jethro Wegener Creative Director Lynn Ooi
When it comes to adventures of a lifetime, few come close to experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife excursion. Whether you’re witnessing a wildebeest migration or red crab spawning, the sheer numbers can be overwhelming. But so can spotting an incredibly rare wildlife like polar bears. It all depends on your cup of tea. We kick off the issue with a visit to Taiwan, where the wildlife can be surprisingly plentiful. From butterfly migrations to its abundant colourful birdlife, there’s always something to look out for. We then head to Bolivia, where the high altitudes of the Altiplano may seem lifeless, but it is home to thousands of flamingoes, in addition to its llama species and other desert dwellers. Further north in Peru, the Amazon is home to a rich diversity of wildlife; from jaguars to capybaras and howler monkeys, there’s no shortage of wildlife to watch out for. In Ecuador, head to any of the wildlife lodges for a close encounter with its rainforest denizens. In South Africa, check out some marine action: from great white sharks to penguins and sardines, it’ll give you a different perspective of the country’s wildlife. If it’s classic safaris you’re looking for, check out Zambia for your Big 5 game watching, but minus the crowds and the 4WD. Closer to home in India, we look at some of the most interesting wildlife regions, from the desert regions of Gujarat (where lions and wild asses roam) to the wetlands of Keoladeo, which is known for its birdlife. Then we head to Christmas Island – it’s a great place to be at the end of the year for whale sharks and especially the red crab migration. Rounding up our creature feature, we head to Sarawak for an opportunity to spot orangutans, proboscis monkeys and other rare wildlife like flying frogs. We close the issue with a feature on Svalbard – no matter when you visit, there’s always something different to see. In winter, it’s the northern lights, and in summer polar bears and seals emerge from the pack ice. In addition, we have a 6-page special on Mauritius: more than pristine beaches and rum, this holiday island is a big name in the kitesurfing scene. Plus, in this issue, our Sports+ section features some off-roading travel tips. Do check our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
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Special Thanks Air Mauritius A2A Safaris Christmas Island Tourism Sarawak Tourism Board and many, many others!
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Taiwan may be famous for its mountainous landscape, friendly people, and cuisine, but there’s more to this small country than meets the eye. Wildlife-watching has never been part of Taiwan’s raison d’etre, but the keen-eyed will find more than a few surprises in the wild.
03 Taiwan Blue Magpie
Taiwan has one of the highest concentrations of endemic birds in Asia, in addition to the number of migratory species that congregate seasonally along its coasts. Endemics The best birding spots for endemic species are usually in the mountainous regions, including Yangminshan, Aowanda forest, and Wulai – all of which are equipped with birdwatching trails. You can often spot these year-round. Most of the endemic species feature striking plumage, including the Mikado Pheasant, the Formosan Magpie, and the Swinhoe’s Pheasant. The most soughtafter sighting is of the Mikado Pheasant,
with its red-ringed eye and long striped tail, which is depicted on the $1,000 bill of the New Taiwan dollar. Endemic to mountainous regions in the central part Taiwan (at elevations of 2,000m-3,000m), the elusive birds can sometimes be spotted amongst bamboo groves and dense shrubs. Another colourful resident is the Taiwan Blue Magpie (also known as the Formosan Magpie), which is far easier to spot (as it seems accustomed to people) if you head to Yangmingshan National Park, or other parts of Taiwan with elevations of 300 to 1,200m. This bright blue bird sports a black head, and a long eye-catching tail. Swinhoe’s Pheasant is another mountain dweller, found in forest habitats up to 2,300m in elevation. With a striking blue plumage and bright red wattle, these pheasants are regularly spotted along the roadsides at the Daxueshan National Forest Recreation Area.
Other rare endemic species include the black-and-white mottled Taiwan Partridge, as well as smaller arboreal species like the Taiwan Rosefinch, Alishan Bush Warbler, and Taiwan Barbet with its 5-coloured face. Migratory Migratory species of birds are normally found in coastal areas, particularly around the Yilan swamplands, Cigu marsh (Tainan), Kenting and the island of Penghu. Most of the wetlands will host a variety of waterfowl like ducks, cormorants, and spoonbills. In Kenting, up to 30,000 migrating hawks have been seen swarming the skies during the Pingtung Hawk Migration Festival in October. These include the Grey Frog Hawk and Grey-faced Buzzard Eagle, in addition to other birds of prey. September to May is the best period for migratory birds. For more on birding, visit www.birdingintaiwan.com.
WHALE AND DOLPHIN WATCHING
Just off the east coast of Taiwan, the nutrient-rich Black Current (kuroshio) and coastal rivers meet, bringing with it the migratory fish which attract whales and dolphins. This makes the coastal area from Turtle Island (just off Jiaoxi near Yilan city) to the south of Hualien city an ideal location to hop on whale- and dolphinwatching tours. The waters between the mainland and Turtle Island are an important fishing ground, thanks to the bubbling volcanic seabed that provides nutrients for marine life which in turn attract marine mammals like spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, pygmy killer whales and false killer whales that feed on them. Whale-watching tours from this area will also drop by Turtle Island – a protected island where only 250 visitors are allowed per day. Further south along the coast, several ports – like Shiti, Chenggong and Fugang – also offer whale- and dolphin-watching tours. A wide variety of dolphins and whales may be spotted here, including Wright’s dolphins, Freund’s dolphins, Spotted dolphins, as well as tiger whales, false killer whales and pygmy killer whales. During spring and summer, sperm whales,
killer whales and pilot whales are prevalent. If you’re lucky, you may catch sight of the rare fin whale (in spring) and the beaked whale. The best time to visit would be from April to the end of August, when the waves are calmer. For more info on whale watching, visit www.whalewatching.org.tw.
While Taiwan may not feature much on the dive scene, the island does have some interesting underwater life, ranging from easy shore dives (in Longdong Bay near Taipei) to exciting drift dives further south. Most of the best dive sites are scattered along the island’s southern coasts (Kenting), and at outlying islands like Green and Orchid which offer more pristine waters – and coral life – due to their distance from the mainland. Experienced divers come to Green Island especially to dive with hammerhead sharks, which can be found off the island’s southern tip. The hammerheads found here are mostly scalloped and smooth hammerheads that travel from the Philippines to Japan, congregating around Green Island as a rest stop from January to March every year. Large schools can sometimes be spotted.
As the dive depth is 30m-37m with strong currents, only advanced divers with 50+ advance-logged dives are allowed on the excursion with Green Island’s Blue Safari Diving Center (a National Geographic Dive Center). Both Orchid Island and Kenting are home to coral reefs, in addition to a couple of wrecks. Diving is possible year-round, with April to July being the flying fish season. The best visibility is during the dry season during the northeast monsoon (October to April). Closer to Taipei, the northeast coast around Longdong Bay is the most popular place for snorkelling and diving. Diveable year-round (except when waves come from the northeast), it can get crowded at weekends and in summer. There are reef formations just offshore where you can spot tropical fish like lionfish, sea urchins, puffer fish, and schools of minnows. A little further is the ‘squid nest’, where you may be able to spot hatching squid – there are also squid-fishing boats moored at the harbour here.
When the sun goes down, the forests around Alishan comes alive with the presence of fireflies. Active from spring to early summer (April to June), you can catch sight of these luminescent creatures at several viewing points, including Ruili, Guanghua and Fenqihu. During this time, you can also catch sight of blooming cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, and magnolias. Ruoh Lan Resort at Ruili has a firefly viewing area and trail, while at the scenic Guanghua-Yima Creek Recreational Farm (1,000m), large areas of bamboo and cedar forests attract plenty of fireflies. Another good place for fireflies is in Fenqihu, where you can see them until late autumn; the Cedar Wooden Plank Trail allows you to view these insects up to 9pm in summer, with appearances much shorter in late autumn.
Taiwan is home to over 400 species of butterfly, and in the 1960s used to export around 10 million of these winged creatures per year. These days, conservation efforts are in place to protect these butterflies; designated ‘butterfly valleys’ now attract butterflies by the millions, making for an amazing natural spectacle. One of only 2 species of winter migrating butterflies in the world is the Taiwanese Purple Crow (the other being the Mexican Monarch), and you can find them congregating in the gorges in Maolin District’s Purple Butterfly Valley – the butterflies’ winter home. Here, you can catch sight of many different species of Crow butterflies (Dwarf Crows, Striped Blue Crows, double-branded Black Crows, Chocolate Tigers, etc) in addition to 9 species of Milkweed butterflies. The best season to catch these butterflies
is between November and March (peaking from December to February). The other popular spot is the Yellow Butterfly Valley, home to over 100 species of butterfly including the namesake yellow emigrant butterfly, the most commonly seen species. Breeding in spring, the population explodes in summer (July) when half a million individuals can be seen swarming the surrounding forest and open riverbed. The valley is 7km northeast of the city of Meinong, where you can rent bicycles to the valley. Closer to Taipei, Yangmingshan National Park hosts the annual butterfly festival from May to June, when groups of mainly milkweed butterflies flutter about the Mt. Datun area.
While harder to spot, Taiwan does have native terrestrial wildlife like deer, bear, and martens. In terms of deer populations, the small Formosan serow (endemic to Taiwan) and Reeve’s muntjac (also known as the barking deer) can be found in mountainous regions (up to 2,000m) on the eastern half of the island. The latter can sometimes be heard by mountain trekkers thanks to their distinctive ‘bark’. Since their reintroduction over 30 years ago, Kenting National Park’s herd of sika deer now numbers between 1,000 and 2,000. Characterised by their spotted bodies and large antlers (males), these deer were once hunted for their velvet. Other rarer wildlife include the iconic Formosan black bear (the country’s only bear species) which can be found in the mountains, and the Formosan yellowthroated marten which can be spotted across a wide range of habitats.
This style of this Lowa Renegade Mid GTX is a classic amongst multi-functional boots, thanks to its stable upper waterrepellent nubuck leather and an innovative sole construction. Made in Europe, it suits a variety of needs, including hikes on groomed trailed. The Gore-Tex lining keeps the boot waterproof with temperature regulation, while Cordura nylon ankle bands provide comfort and flexibility. The Vibram outsoles deliver good traction on a wide variety of terrain, with support provided by the polyurethane frame. Available at Campers’ Corner at S$360.
SOCK IT RIGHT
These on-the-calf WrightSock CoolMesh II Crew socks offer great performance with their double layer design by maximising moisture management and minimising friction to reduce blisters. The inner layer – made with hydrophobic polyester, nylon and spandex – wicks moisture and keeps the feet dry and cool, while the openmesh weave structure outer layer maximises vaporisation and airflow. Available at Outdoor Life at S$23.90.
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This lightweight Outdoor Research Foray jacket has all-season features to provide complete protection during wet weather. While the Gore-Tex 2 layer shell fabric guarantees waterproofness and breathable protection, the hem-tobicep zippers allow you to vent out poncho-style when body heat needs to escape as well. Fully-taped seams, adjustable cuffs and a fully adjustable hood cinch down for a snug fit in gusty and/or wet weather. The entire jacket can be stuffed into its own front pocket. Available at Outdoor Life at S$387.
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Mammut Flexidown Jacket
The Montane Featherlite Micro Jacket uses the Pertex Quantum rip-stop nylon with a DWR finish on the outer shell. The inside is lined with ultra-soft PEAQ Down liner which is also breathable and fastdrying, while insulation is provided via the 750+ fillpower down. The ‘Active Mountain’ cut makes it versatile and ideal as either mid layer or outer insulation, and has an adjustable drop tail hem. The peaked hood fits over a climbing helmet and includes a velcro strap to roll it up when not needed. The jacket also packs down to its own stuff sack. Now available at S$320 via Gearaholic, with a 20% discount until 31 Dec.
The Mammut Flexidown Jacket provides cosiness with its wind- and water-resistant outer fabric, combined with a fleecy down filling of 65g 90/10 goose down with 750 cuin fill power. Cut with an athletic fit, it’s suited for ski-touring, backcountry skiing, as well as alpine skiing or snowboarding, as the stretch inserts on the side allow great freedom of movement when worn under a ski jacket. It can also be worn as a main jacket; this asymmetrical design features 2 zip pockets and weighs 380g. Available at Adventure 21 for S$399 (comes in male & female versions).
The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest non-polar desert in the world, covering a 1,000 km strip of land sandwiched between the Pacific coast and the Andes mountains; its jagged, rust-coloured ravines, volcano-topped horizons and vast salt pans often draw comparisons with Mars. In fact, this region is being used by NASA to test instruments for future Mars missions. Travellers to this high altitude, extremely dry desert usually come to view the astronomical wonders or spectacular scenery to be found there, and will not disappointed since the scenery highlights such as Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte, El Tatio Geysers, Lagunas Altiplanicas, and the Salar de Atacama are most certainly stunning, and the night skies are a wonderment to behold. But no matter how high and dry the desert may be, it is certainly not lifeless, and the opportunities for spotting its unique wildlife abound.
WILDLIFE IN THE ALTIPLANO CHILEAN ALTIPLANO
High on the Chilean Altiplano (Spanish for ‘High Plain’), an easy 90km drive from the tourist centre of San Pedro De Atacama, are the Altiplanic Lagoons (Lagunas Altiplanicas), perched at over 4,000m above sea level. Culpeo The flat, scrub covered desert is home to the culpeo (Andean Fox or Wolf) which are often seen travelling up to the high altitude lakes. These are the largest species of fox in South America, characterised by its a reddish brown coat (with grey on their backs), and a long, bushy tail. Keep an eye out for them on the roadside, as the culpeo tend to frequent the roadside, perhaps scavenging for road kill. Camelids Llamas, and the smaller-sized alpacas, can also be seen in small herds wandering and grazing the desert scrubland. While usually spotted from a distance, it is not uncommon for them to cross the road as a
herd, and once they start, they don’t want to stop. Keep alert for herds approaching the road or the local culpeo might be in for a feast. Llamas and alpacas have been domesticated since the time of the Incas thousands of years ago. While these two species may be the well known camelids of South America, they’re not the only ones to be found in this region. Family groups of the smaller vicuña are commonly seen grazing the shoreline grasses around the Altiplano lagoons. Vicuñas are related to llama, and are thought to be ancestors to the domesticated alpaca. Vicuña wool is exceptionally high quality, and extremely expensive since the vicuña live in the wild and are difficult to domesticate (they are also escape artists). They produce only a small amount of wool – about 0.5kg of wool per animal per year. You are only likely to see vicuñas from a distance, as they are very shy and skittish.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY Linda Cash
SALAR DE UYUNI
From San Pedro de Atacama and the Chilean Altiplano, the main transport route across to Bolivia crosses the Andes mountain range, taking you through mountain passes climbing as high as 5,700m – meaning the weather can get extremely cold. The main reason for taking this trip for most travellers is to cross the spectacular Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat – which is so large, it can be viewed from space. The trip is not all spectacularly desolate salt flats though, as even in this cold, high altitude, dry desert there is wildlife. Viscacha Here in the desert at elevations between 2,500m and 5,100m, you can find the awesomely cute viscacha sunning themselves on rock outcrops in the otherwise flat desert. The guides usually leave the viscacha “offerings” of fresh vegetable leaves to encourage them to remain approachable. Viscacha are a type of chinchilla and look like large bushy brown rabbits with long, coiled tails. Living in underground complexes, they feed on grasses, moss, and lichens, and spend most of the day perched on a rock sunbathing, grooming or resting . Flamingoes The wildlife stars of the Bolivian Altiplano are, of course, the bright pink flamingoes that are found around the Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon). Three of the six species of
flamingoes can be found in the Laguna Colorada area: Andean, Chilean, and the James’s which dominates the area. Laguna Colorado is located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, and is a RAMSAR Wetland-listed lagoon. Its shallow waters are tinted red by mineral sediments and red algae, and it is through eating the algae that the flamingoes gain their unique colouration. While flamingoes can be seen in large numbers at many of the Altiplano lakes in Bolivia and Chile, those lakes are totally eclipsed by the vast numbers of birds that congregate at Laguna Colorada. Not only are they there in vast numbers, but they appear almost oblivious to human presence, so you can get right up close and personal for that award-winning photo.
The best place to base yourself is from the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, which lies in northeastern Chile’s arid high plateau. From here, you can also explore the Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna) with its lunar-like landscape that becomes more striking as the sun sets and the crags turn a fiery hue. The spectacular Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte) is another attraction, where you can go sandboarding down 100m-high dunes amidst spectacular rock formations. Also in the vicinity are the El Tatio geysers, which at 4,300m is the highest geyser field in the world where you can walk among spurting geysers, or take a short dip in the thermal pool. By night, the nearby Space (spaceobs.com) offers stargazing tours with an astronomer as you peer at the skies through one of their 10 telescopes.
San Pedro de Atacama is located 106km southeast of Calama (the nearest airport) via the paved Chile 23. Regular buses connect this small town to the rest of Chile, as well as to Salta and Jujuy in Argentina.
Visitors to Peru are often focused on trekking to, or visiting Machu Picchu, yet Peru has plenty of variety to offer away from the high Andes mountains. In the tropical lowlands near its border with Brazil, the Amazon forest ignores country borders and spills into Peru. The confluence of the Rio Madre De Dios (which flows into the Rio Madeira and joins the Rio Amazonas at Manus in Brazil) and the Tambopata River meets at the city of Puerto Maldonado, the gateway into the squawking, screeching, chattering Tambopata National Reserve, and a trip up the Tambopata River takes visitors to the few wilderness lodges deeper in the jungle.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY Linda Cash
TAMBOPATA NATIONAL RESERVE
Tambopata National Reserve protects just over a million hectares of some of the wildest, least impacted habitats in the world, spread across dense rainforests, bird-filled marshes and tropical savannahs that have existed anywhere from 30 to 50 million years. In terms of wildlife, at least 670 bird species have been identified here, including exotic species like tinamous, macaws, and hoatzins. The mammal inhabitants include jaguars, giant anteaters and the Amazonian tapir, in addition to over 100 species of reptiles and amphibians. Lake Sandoval On a day trip from Puerto Maldonado you can visit Lake Sandoval, a pristine oxbow lake only 30 minutes by speedboat away. On arrival, the access track to the lake follows an easy 3km trail where you may encounter primates like squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys, brown capuchins, and saddle-backed tamarins. Following the 3km hike, you can board a canoe (provided free for visitors), and paddle yourself around the lake on the lookout for giant otters, caiman, proboscis long-nosed bats, freshwater turtles and a plethora of amazing birdlife.
Tambopata River A must-do is to stay at one of the wilderness lodges along the Tambopata River. As you board the riverboat for the approximate 4-hour journey up the Tambopata River into the primary rainforest of the Tambopata Reserve Zone, one of the first animals you will see along the river banks will be small family groups of capybara, the largest member of the rodent family – they look like huge, overweight guinea pigs. Their young are a favourite meal of the local jaguar population, which are somewhat reclusive, but are still seen by some lucky visitors. Vultures wheel overhead, but they are too far away for a good photo. The guides give plenty of sage advice about sunscreen, insect repellent, and hydration, along with, “Don’t worry about the piranha, they stay in the still backwaters; it’s the electric eels and stingrays you’ve got to watch out for”. Travelling up the river, you will encounter the small caiman which are prolific and easily seen basking along the shoreline or in the shallows. The smaller spectacled caiman and the much larger black caiman are the most commonly seen, but the rarer and much sought after anaconda are much more of a challenge to spot.
Bird life dominates the sky and trees, with flocks of mealy parrots taking over trees; pairs of scarlet macaw and blue-andyellow Macaw flashing colours in the sky; and toucans completing the exotic bird collection. At the El Chuncho Macaw Clay Lick, approximately 1 hour further up river from most lodges, is an area where the river bank is rich in mineral clay very much prized by the macaws and other parrots. At dawn, the birds descend on the clay bank, known as a “clay lick”, to eat the clay. Over a period of a couple of hours, thousands of parrots of all different kinds gather in the trees near the clay lick, waiting to be sure they’re safe from predators, before swooping in and landing on the cliff to eat their fill. It’s an early start, but well worth the extra trip up river. Jungle Walks Accommodation options in the Tambopata National Reserve are basic jungle lodges, with many providing walking tracks into the jungle, allowing you to explore on your own or take a guided walk. The guides know where to look and what to look for, so it’s a good idea to take a guided option to start with before you explore by yourself.
Red howler monkeys are heard long before you see them, if you see them at all. Their jet-engine-like howl is very distinctive, and will lead you to them. If you are lucky, you may find yourself between the alpha male and the rest of the band, who will have little fear of running and climbing right past you to reunite with the alpha male. After dark, the forest comes alive with creatures of the night, including huge tarantula spiders. Clinging to tree trunks near the bark under which they hide during the day, these amazing spiders are as big as a man’s hand, but quite shy and not in the least bit aggressive. Also be on the lookout for the large, bright green tree frogs (some of them poisonous) and the many large insects that inhabit this forest. Best Viewing Time Dawn and dusk are the great times of change in the forest, when day and night creatures change shift, when a great deal of feeding goes on, and when some of the more reclusive animals such as the sloth can be spotted moving about. This time of day is also ideal for spotting the many varieties of butterfly that inhabit the jungle, which often flutter about in large groups near the ground, sampling the mineral clays; or capturing the owls as they begin their hunting.
Tourism in the protected area is concentrated around the Tambopata River and the lower Madre de Dios. The capital of the Madre de Dios region is Puerto Maldonado – a short flight from the main tourist hub of Cuzco – which is the best access point to Tambopata National Reserve. Tambopata National Reserve is hot, humid rainforest, and sudden downpours are not uncommon. The best period of the year to visit it is between June and October, when the weather is drier.
Follow Me Japan
To travel is to live.
Feast your eyes on the essence of Hokkaido with Follow Me Japan this winter. Featuring dramatic events like the Sapporo Snow Festival and activities such as ice-breaking cruise, you will get to enjoy all Hokkaido has to offer! Well-appointed accommodation will also allow you to soak in luxurious outdoor onsen and tuck in to kaiseki dinners. For more information on Follow Me Japanâ€™s January and Februaryâ€™16 tours, please contact us at 6221 4250.
For enquiries and bookings, please call 6221 4250 or visit www.followmejapan.com.sg 16 Raffles Quay #B1-14D Hong Leong Building Singapore 048581
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
WATCHING GEAR A highlight of many a trip can be an encounter with wildlife, but they can be tricky to spot, so here are some tips to make spotting animals a little bit easier and make the most of the moments that you may have.
When looking at binoculars the first thing to know is what all of those numbers associated with them mean. If it’s 8 x 25, the first number (8 in this case) is the magnification. For wildlife viewing, an 8 or 9 magnification is fine; anything beyond becomes difficult to keep the image steady without a tripod. The second number (25 in the example) is the size of the objective lens. The larger the number, the brighter, sharper and easier it is to look through them (less eye fatigue). The downside to a large objective lens is that it gets heavier and bulkier. For smaller binoculars, an objective lens of around 21-25 should suffice, or ideally around the 40-42 range. The last number is the exit pupil – basically the size of the image. You want this to be comparable to the size of your pupil. In bright situations (or if you need light binoculars), exit pupil 2-3 mm is fine. For slightly darker settings or a more comfortable viewing, 4-5mm is great. Most binoculars over 6mm provide a great image but may be bulky. For a very basic pair that is lightweight and inexpensive, Bushnell Powerview 8 x 21 are a great option. For a high quality image in a small design, the Pentax UP 8x25 WP provides sharp images even in the edges, and is waterproof. The Nikon Action EX 8X40 is a great larger binoculars (855g); it’s waterproof, with a rubber housing shock absorber.
Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada’s premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it’s cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.
Choosing the right sunglasses will depend on the conditions you’ll be in and your activities. If you’re in bright conditions, polarized sunglasses cut down the glare, so they’re useful in snow and water settings. In cloudy or shady conditions, something with pink or orange lenses will help you see contrasts but will distort the true colour of things quite dramatically. The Suncloud Pursuit Polarized Sunglasses work for athletic pursuits as well as less sport-specific activities.
Getting a photo of your wildlife encounter can be quite a souvenir, so the first thing is to be ready. Many times when you see animals, you only have a few moments to get a shot before they scurry off. If using a DSLR, have your telephoto lens on and your camera set up for an action shot (either pick an appropriate shutter speed or have as low a number in aperture priority mode, set ISO for the lighting around 800). Few people can afford or want to lug around lenses beyond a focal length of 200mm. A solution is to get a lens extender. you’ll likely lose some sharpness but they will double your focal length at a fraction of the cost. All lens manufacturers offer some telephoto lenses that will work, including Canon’s 70-200 L series F4 lens.
SPOTTING WILDLIFE If you are looking to learn how to spot great wildlife, here are some basic tips.
Seeing the tides: Tides make a difference.
To see shorebirds, look out for high tides as the water forces them to rest on marshes. For tidepool creatures such as sea urchins and starfish, low tides are the best as they draw them into the intertidal zone.
Seeing the transition areas:
Transition areas like estuaries, river banks and shorelines are great spots for diverse wildlife viewing, as they allow access to food, water and protection from predators. For example, deer and zebras can be spotted at estuaries or river banks; follow animal tracks on wet ground.
Watch out for animal tracks: Land animal
tracks that are easily identifiable include deer, kudo and elephants, as they create runways through the brush. Feral hogs create trails through thick underbrush, while raccoons walk across fallen logs.
Right season, right time: Dry season is the
best period to see wildlife, as the water holes attract a wide variety of animals. Dawn and dusk, when it’s not too hot, is the most ideal time to spot game.
Staying downwind: Once you’ve spotted wildlife, it’s important to stay downwind so that they cannot detect your scent and won’t be startled by your presence or suddenly attack. Follow the Rivers: You’re likely to come across
a range of animals if you follow a river, including crocodiles, hippos and water monitors there; birds such as herons and kingfishers can also be spotted.
Located on South America’s west coast, Ecuador is certainly not the closest holiday destination to Singapore. Nor is it the biggest, being the smallest of the Andean nations. However, the country makes up for its small size with a huge range of things to see, from historic colonial cities, to the Amazonian rainforest, to the heights of the Andes Mountains. All of these sights are just a short drive away from the country’s pretty capital of Quito, with 17th century churches and monasteries as well as beautiful colonial mansions.
RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 7-10 DAYS
PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: WILDLIFE, HIKING, CULTURE
– an exposed clay bank where several species of brightly-coloured parrots gather in the early morning.
largest tract of tropical rainforest in Ecuador – the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Yasuni National Park – Napo is a luxury eco-hotel in the heart of the Amazonian jungle on the edge of the Anangucocha Lake.
Visitors reach the lodge by flying to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, from where staff bring guests by boat to the lodge 80km downriver.
> NAPO WILDLIFE CENTRE: Located in the
> HIKING IN THE ANDES: From the capital of Quito, several
The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and staying at Napo will give you access to an incredible array of creatures with a native Anangu guide. Visitors may see creatures like monkeys, alligators, frogs, or snakes on their treks along forest trails, or head into the trees on a 125-foot canopy tower which offers great views of the area’s birdlife, from large toucans to macaws and herons. Napo is a 30-minute flight from Quito to Puerto Francisco de Orellana airport, where Napo’s staff ferry guests for the 2-hour boat ride downriver to the centre.
> SACHA LODGE: A favourite destination for birdwatchers and ornithologists, Sacha Lodge is a 1,300ha. private reserve in the heart of the rainforest, and includes a 275m canopy walk and tower, where visitors can get close to the local bird life. There are over 500 species of birds in the area, including jays, boobies, owls and parakeets. Birds can be observed along the canopy walkways, from the 43m-tall observation tower. Also, a short distance from the lodge is one of Ecuador’s most accessible “parrot licks”
mountains below 5,000m are easily accessible, meaning most of the peaks can be scaled within a day. Some climbs will require high-altitude equipment, but for most, warm clothes and good hiking shoes are all you’ll need. Most of the climbs are considered fairly easy, so you can attempt them even if you’re not an experienced climber. Hiking is not only a good way to experience the natural beauty of Ecuador, but also a great way to see some unique wildlife. Hummingbirds, condors and spectacled bears may be spotted along the mountain trails. As the world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi National Park is a good option. Hares, fox, falcons and deer can all be seen along its slopes. Located 100km south of Quito, companies like Cotopaxi Tours and Gray Line Ecuador offer day tours to the park from S$122 per person. GETTING THERE From Singapore there will be at least 2 stopovers for flights to Quito, usually via the USA and taking over 24 hours.
PENGUINS When people think of South Africa, usually their first thoughts are of game drives and the ‘Big Five’, but the country also provides visitors with the opportunity to experience some of the most amazing aquatic wildlife displays in the world, allowing them to go on their own ‘marine safari’. © Wilderness Safaris
Located about 115km southeast of Cape Town, Hermanus is a good place to start, beginning with Betty’s Bay to see the Stoney Point Penguin Colony. It began in 1982 when a pair of penguins arrived in the bay and made it their home. The colony has since grown to include over 150 nests, with hundreds of the birds living in the abandoned Betty’s Bay Whaling Station. The African Penguin, also called the ‘Jackass’ Penguin because of their donkey-like bray, is an endangered species and Stoney Point is one of only three landbased penguin colonies in the whole of Africa. It is not as popular a destination as South Africa’s other land-based colony at Boulders Bay - making it likely that there will be less people there, so you can enjoy watching the birds with fewer interruptions. A wooden boardwalk allows visitors to get close to the nests without disturbing the habitat, meaning you can have some excellent, up-close encounters (and pictures) of these unique birds. African Penguins return to the same nesting sites for the entire 15 years of their breeding life. The female lays two eggs and the monogamous penguin partners take turns incubating them for up to 42 days; the birds breed throughout the year with the main breeding season being in February.
TEXT BY Jethro Wegener
The best times to see the penguins would be either in the early morning or late afternoon, when they return from their 20km fishing expeditions.
WILDLIFE CRUISES SOUTH AFRICA
Few things can compare to the awesome sight of a pod of whales frolicking in the water right in front of you, and Hermanus is considered South Africa’s premiere whale watching destination – it’s also one of the best places in the world to see these gentle giants up close. Each year, the whales make their way from the Antarctic to the relatively warmer waters of the south Atlantic to breed and calve. During this time, hundreds of Southern Right whales find their way to Walker’s Bay in Hermanus from June to December. Southern Rights got their name from whalers because they were considered the ‘right’ whales to pursue due to their slow swimming speed. Hunted almost to extinction, they are now a protected species and their numbers are steadily increasing, with a population growth rate of 7%-10% per year. Visitors to Hermanus during the season are in for a treat because that is when the whales are most active. It is common to see whales ‘breaching’ (jumping) clear out of the water to land with a terrific splash
– scientists are still unsure of the reasons behind this behavior. They’re also known to ‘sail’ by sticking their tails up out of the water and raising their massive heads, allowing onlookers to get a good look at these magnificent creatures. Due to the whales’ extremely close proximity to shore, you can watch them from either the beach or from one of the many seaside bars or restaurants – making Hermanus one of the best places in the world for land-based whale watching. There’s even a clifftop walk along the coast that will allow you to get a bird’s eye view of them, as they generally stay close to the shore. For those who want to get closer still, a number of local operators offer boat tours with specialist guides on board. Rides typically run from 1.5 to 3 hours (costing from S$70 to S$90), and have the advantage over shore-based watching by letting visitors get mere metres away from the gentle giants, which of course inevitably leads to the occasional soaking from a whale tail or nearby breaching.
© Wilderness Safaris
SHARK DIVING While not for everyone, for those seeking an adrenaline rush, there is the opportunity to see the fearsome Great White shark up close in Gansbaai. Located 160km southeast of Cape Town, it’s known as ‘the great white capital of the world’, and for good reason. Attracted by the large number of Cape Fur Seals that live on the islands off the coast, hundreds of sharks call these waters their home. This results in the largest known concentration of Great Whites in the world, making it incredibly easy for visitors to get to see them with just a mere 20-minute boat trip from shore. Various companies, such as Apex Shark Expeditions and White Shark Diving Company, provide visitors with the opportunity to not only see these creatures from a boat, but also to actually get in the water with them. Divers are lowered in an impenetrable floating cage, from where they get a (barred) window seat, watching as the sharks swim nearby, opening their mouths wide, exposing rows of razor sharp teeth. Even for non-divers, simply being on the boat also provides a fantastic experience. Great Whites are surface feeders and tour operators will use bait to lure the sharks right up to the boat, allowing for an incredible view of the animals as they glide past. Trips typically last from 3-5 hours with boats departing the harbour 7 days a week. The best time to go is during peak season, which lasts from April to
September, and gives you the best chance to see the sharks. Besides affording visitors a once-in-alifetime opportunity, shark tours such as these are critical to the general public’s broader understanding of what’s ultimately one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. Typically feared and reviled, they have a reputation for being mindless killing machines - something based far more on fiction than fact. Most sharks only attack humans by accident, mistaking them for a seal, their favourite food; in fact, more people are killed by chairs or electric toasters each year than sharks.
SARDINE RUN Each year, between the months of June and July, South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal coastline plays host to one of the most amazing sights in the world: the Sardine Run. Over 700 million sardines make the journey from the colder waters of their spawning grounds in the Cape to the warmer tides up the coast. Travelling en masse, there are so many fish that the water is actually coloured silver as they swim through. It is considered a seasonal peculiarity as no one knows exactly why the sardines do this. It happens every year and, following in the wake of all the fish, are all the predators that gather to gorge themselves on the abundant supply of food. Schools of sharks, seals, whales, as well as hundreds of dolphins and birds can all be found hot on the heels of the kilometres-long shoal of baitfish. Birds plummet out of the sky to pick off the fish that are close to the surface, whales breach with fish in their mouths amid giant sprays of water, and sharks glide through
the shoals picking their fill. Of particular note are the dolphins that ‘herd’ sections of the shoal into densely packed groups called ‘bait balls’ by working together, whirling and twisting around the sardines to get them to into clusters, which are then easily fed upon. Various companies offer both boat-based sardine safaris and dive trips out on the shoals, including Ocean Africa, Apex Shark Expeditions and Dive Discovery South Africa.
Although the peak seasons for penguins, whales, sharks and sardines don’t precisely coincide, they do overlap between June and July each year. With sufficient planning, visitors will be able to experience all four activities within a week, with the sardine run offering the chance to see a number of different animals at once. Ideally, visitors should base themselves out of somewhere like Hermanus, allowing them easy access to all the goings-on. Visit www.hermanus.co.za for more information.
ZAMBIA RIVER SAFARIS IN LOWER ZAMBEZI
Arising from its headwaters in the highlands of Zambia, the Zambezi is Africa’s fourth largest river system, running through six countries on its long, meandering journey across Africa. Stretching for 2,700km, it hosts some of the richest and most diverse wildlife in the world, with crocs, hippos, fish and all manner of land animals being sustained by its vast waters. For an intimate, close up look of the mighty Zambezi River – either from a boat or small canoe – one should consider the Lower Zambezi National Park. The Lower Zambezi actually flows within a massive rift in the earth’s crust. And over the years, lush vegetation has been nurtured by the deposits of mineral-rich volcanic soil carried by the waters, with tall Leadwoods, ebonies, acacias, fig trees and lush grassland combining to create a truly spectacular landscape that plays host to an abundance of wildlife.
© Wilderness Safaris
Often overlooked in the wake of better known neighbours like South Africa or Kenya, relatively unknown Zambia represents an unspoiled, more authentic corner of the continent. It is one of the least visited countries in Africa and relatively new to tourism, with its game parks only having been set up in the late 80s and early 90s. Add to that an extraordinarily low population for its massive size and Zambia conjures an image of the Africa of old; undiscovered, mysterious and remote. WALKING SAFARIS IN SOUTH LUANGWA
One of the best ways to experience animal life in the African bush, walking safaris offer an unforgettable and unique experience, with one of the best places to go being South Luangwa National Park. Located in the heart of the pristine Luangwa Valley, the park is sometimes referred to as Africa’s last great wilderness. It is bordered by the Luangwa River and is well known for its predators, which include lion, leopard, hyena and the endangered African wild dog. The park is nicknamed ‘The Valley of the Leopard’ as it is one of the best parks in Africa in which to see them. Elephants, giraffes and large hippos are also equally plentiful within the park and even visit the camps from time to time; it’s not uncommon for campers to wake in
Buffalo and elephant are common here, as they regularly move between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and are often seen grazing on
the many small islands in the middle of the river. Along the river’s shores impala, kudu, eland, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck and bushbuck are all in abundance, although giraffe, cheetah and black rhino (unfortunately because of poaching) are not seen here. In the water, it’s easy to spot crocs basking onshore along with omnipresent hippos. Meanwhile lion, leopard and hyena make up the main predators of the area. As well as boat rides and game drives, the Lower Zambezi Park also offers an incredible experience with their canoebased safaris. These make an ideal way to explore the river’s backwaters with a high chance to spot game, while meandering slowly down the river and drifting between remote islands. The best way to get to the park is to fly in and land on one of the valley’s small airstrips. Once there you’ll be met by a guide and driven via 4WD to your camp. Flights can be organised from Lusaka, Livingstone or South Luangwa’s Mfuwe Airport.
TEXT BY Jethro Wegener
SAFARI IN ZAMBIA & MALAWI
the morning to elephant ambling past their window as they graze nearby. Offering an amazing way to experience the bush and wildlife, it’s reasonably certain visitors will see these magnificent creatures up close as South Luangwa is famous as a pioneer in walking safari; the activity originated here in the 1960s. Lasting about 3 hours, walking groups set out from camp either in the early morning or mid-afternoon with an armed scout and a guide; common sightings include elephants, tracking a lion as it stalks its prey, or leopards lazing in trees. More than just the animals, guides also teach visitors about the various plants, point out different insects and even teach the basics about tracking animals.
© Wilderness Safaris
International visitors generally fly in via Mfuwe Airport, and are driven into their lodge, while it’s also possible to self-drive into the park by 4WD from Chipata in Eastern Zambia.
MALAWI After the excitement of walking safaris in Zambia, the broad, calm waters of Lake Malawi gives travellers an entirely different side of the African bush. Spanning the borders of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, Lake Malawi is one of Africa’s Great Lakes. Not only is it Africa’s third largest and second deepest, it’s also the ninth biggest lake in the world, with over a thousand species of fish living beneath its waters – more than any other lake on earth. It is also known as the ‘Lake of Stars’ because of how the water shimmers when the sun reflects off of it. The lake covers a third of Malawi and is considered the country’s backbone, providing many of the locals with both food and a livelihood. While Malawi itself is a small country on the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, it is also one of the most densely populated countries on the continent. Famous, too for its incredibly friendly people, it’s not unheard of for visitors to be invited into local homes for a meal.
Not surprisingly, Lake Malawi is probably the country’s biggest drawcard for visitors. And within it, the little island of Likoma is one of the most unique destinations in Malawi. Lying off the eastern shore, it’s actually within Mozambique’s territorial waters, but belongs to Malawi. At only 17 sq. km., it is a tiny island with one road where the locals survive by fishing and rice farming. Its natural attractions include hundreds of huge baobab trees, idyllic sandy beaches and rocky coves. The most famous manmade attraction on the island is St Peter’s Cathedral, a massive structure that has been there since 1903 and is roughly the same size as Winchester Cathedral in England. The best place to stay on the island is Kaya Mawa, a lodge set on a rocky outcrop on Likoma’s southern tip. With a name meaning ‘maybe tomorrow’, it is surrounded by year-round clear waters and, with water activities like wakeboarding on offer, it is a good spot to relax. The
massive variety of fish also mean that the lake has some of the best freshwater diving and snorkelling in the world. Divers will be treated to the sight of hundreds of brightly coloured, beautiful fish including species like Mbenji, Lwanda Black and Red Fin. Another great place to go on Lake Malawi is Mumbo Island, off the Maclear Peninsula. At a mere 1km in diametre and with accommodation for a maximum of only 14 guests at a time, the island is ideal for people who want to experience what a deserted island feels like. The island’s camp is eco friendly, made out of timber, thatch and canvas, with power supplied by solar panels. It is perched on high rocks among the foliage, giving guests a beautiful view of Lake Malawi from their decks. The diving around the island is excellent as well, with the area being proclaimed the world’s first freshwater national park.
© Wilderness Safaris
© Central African Wilderness Safaris
© Central African Wilderness Safaris
A2A Safaris, run by Kim Nixon who has been a professional guide for over a decade, specialises in tailor made African safaris in remote destinations across the continent, such as Zambia and Malawi. Check www.a2asafaris.com/africa.
Travellers going to Lake Malawi can either fly in directly to Lilongwe, Malawi from other regional destinations including Johannesburg or Mfuwe Airport, or arrange for an overland drive in from Zambia via a local operator. For travellers going on to Likoma, you’ll then board a light aircraft that will take you straight to the island.
Nestled in the verdant Virunga Mountains on the tri-country border of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo is the Volcanoes National Park, made famous by Dian Fossey who spent 18 years in the region documenting the rare mountain gorillas. Today, the park is a sanctuary for these endangered great apes, and the best place to access them is in Rwanda.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Located in the northern region of Rwanda, the rich mountain ecosystem contains everything from bamboo forests to open grasslands, swamps and heaths, supporting a wide variety of wildlife including golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, and elephants in addition to mountain gorillas.
GORILLAS IN RWANDA
Most gorillas tend to inhabit the higher grounds of the Virunga range, and the only way to see them is via an organised trek for which permits must be arranged before arrival. Groups of park rangers are normally assigned full-time to the various gorilla family groups within Virunga to protect these endangered animals from poachers.
Trekkers assemble at 7am at the park headquarters for a briefing where they’re split into groups. The trekking can take all day from start to finish, and trekkers are allotted 1 hour to be around the apes once they are located. Each trekking party – up to a maximum of 8 people per group – is assigned to track one of the 10 habituated families of gorillas within the park. In addition to guides and trackers, porters are also available (at an extra charge) to carry daypacks and help you on the odd tricky sections of the trek. The Susa, with 38 members, is the largest group with plenty of young gorillas, including the only known surviving pair of twins. They are one of the hardest groups to track, unlike the 17-member Sabyinyo, which can usually found on the gentler slopes closer to the park entrance, and has 2 silverbacks. The 19-member Amahoro,
accessible via a steep track, is noted for its gentle silverback leader. Other groups include Kwitonda, Agashya, Umubano, and the recently-formed 18-member Hirwa group. Being in such close proximity to gorillas (they’ve sometimes been known to approach and touch visitors), you may be able to witness gorillas charging, tending to wounds, making their nests out of twigs, or more often than not, eating bamboos. The treks vary in difficulty and length; there are no trails (a fresh one is hacked with each trek) and the gorillas tend to move around a lot, so tracking them may take some time – usually taking 2 hours one way. Most of the trek is through hilly, muddy terrain (often lined with stinging nettles), but gorillas are usually found in thick groves of bamboo – their favourite food.
The closest town is Musanze/Ruhengeri, which is a 2-hour drive from Kigali; there are accommodation options here. Visitors are advised to book trekking permits (US$750) in advance in order to secure places. The 2 annual dry seasons (Dec-Mar, Jun-Sep) are the best times to visit, when temperatures are mild. Rain gear is advisable, and the area can get chilly due to its elevation.
Complementing the habitats of Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe National Park, Akagera National Park is the only protected savannah in Rwanda. Bordered along Lake Ihema, the park consists of scattered grassland, swampfringed lake, and rolling hills of acacia and woodland.
While Rwanda’s poster child may be the majestic mountain gorilla, this small landlocked country is also home to a rich variety of African wildlife as well, making it a very convenient place to spot more animals in a smaller land area. In addition to Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda has 2 other excellent areas for wildlife spotting: Nyungwe National Park, which is home to chimpanzees and colobus monkeys; and Akagera National Park, a classic safari park.
The park is the only refuge for plains game, including the savanna elephant, zebra, giraffe, impala, topi, oribi, and eland. Primates like olive baboons and vervet monkeys are common, while the blue monkey is more secretive. Night drives yield sightings of bushbabies, and boat trips take you past hippos and large waterbird colonies (Rwanda is home to almost 500 species of birds). Wildlife Watching There are 2 main ways to explore the park: a game drive and a boat trip. The game drive will take you across the park, crossing a variety of habitats where you can catch sight of a number of antelope species, as well as zebras and elephants. Birding safaris as well as night drives are also available. A boat trip is the best way to view the park’s plentiful waterfowl, including cormorants, maribou storks, cranes, and fishing eagles. You may also spot hippos taking a dip along the lakeshore.
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
RWANDA’S NATIONAL PARKS
Nyungwe Forest National Park is a vast tropical rainforest that includes the largest swathe of remaining montane forest in East and Central Africa. This dense forest is filled with tall mahoganies, ebonies and giant ferns harbouring a spectacular biodiversity including hundreds of bird species, and over 75 different species of mammals – including 13 primates (about a quarter of all Africa’s primates). The Canopy Walk (the highest in East Africa), suspended 50m above the sprawling forest, is a great way to get an overview of the park. Primate Safari While there are 13 species of primates here, the most popular are the chimpanzee. Tours start very early, with chimps tracked in groups of 8 hikers, and
one hour is allotted with these primates once they’re found. Chimps are harder to track than gorillas, as they often remain in dense forest. Other primates include the l’Hoest’s monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and the Rwenzori colobus monkeys which can be found in troops of hundreds. Forest Hiking The Park has over 130km of hiking trails, ranging from the 1-hour Igishigishigi Trail, leading to the Canopy Walk, to the 6-hour long Bigugu Trail that leads you to the park’s highest mountain at 2,950m. Birdwatching With over 300 species, it’s not too difficult to spot the park’s birdlife, including giant hornbills, great blue turacos, and the redbreasted sparrowhawks.
From the the capital, Kigali which is located in the centre of Rwanda, Nyungwe is about a 3-hour drive southwest at Cyangugu, while Akagera is a 2-3 hour drive heading east. Both areas offer accommodation. Visit www.rwandatourism.com for more information on all the parks.
Adventure Sports Supplement
Issue 05: Off-roading
OTHER OFF-ROAD ACTIVITIES
Another advantage of 4WD is getting access to campsites deep in the forests of national parks for a spot of wildlife watching or even an adventure challenge. 4WD Adventures in Johor Since there are no places left in Singapore to do vehicle camping, 4WD enthusiasts can travel to Malaysia – with the nearest campsites being only a short drive across the Second Link in Johor at Endau Rompin Selai National Park. Crossing into Malaysia via Tuas, the town of Yong Peng (150km, 1.5 hours drive) is the gateway to Endau Rompin Selai National Park’s Lubuk Merekek campsite; camping at the National Park requires registration for a permit at the park site office at the Bekok entrance – with all vehicles and passengers entering the park being registered for safety reasons. Insurance is a compulsory purchase at the ranger office when buying the entrance permit.
After the registration is complete, it takes about an hour to drive through primary rainforest tracks to reach the site. Among the numerous camps in the park, Lubuk Merekek is considered a relatively comfortable one with basic amenities such as male and female toilets with shower facilities. It is large enough to hold over 30 campers. Native wildlife in the area include tapirs, deer and wild boars, with locals claiming to regularly spot elephants in the park. Endau Rompin is also home to at least six species of primates with the most commonly seen being the white-handed gibbon and banded leaf monkey. In addition, at least seven species of hornbills reside in the park, with the rhinoceros hornbill (the second-largest of all hornbill species) more often heard than seen, due to its distinctive call which can be heard over an extremely long distance. Some off-road or 4WD interest groups organise regular trips into the jungles of Malaysia
TNP SUVival Challenge The New Paper SUVival Challenge is open to all SUV owners, and is a 2D1N weekend getaway to Malaysia. Participants can drive through a variety of terrain from country road to rugged trails, with prizes awarded for winners of various challenges. It is held annually in April.
Terrainware specialises in a range of products, including Lynxhooks, Power Pot and Poler Camping Stuffs, which are ideal for vehicle camping as well as outdoor activities like hiking, climbing and trail running. Their full range of products is available online at www.terrainware.com.
Brian Skerry is one of National Geographic’s most seasoned explorers and he has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater just to capture some of the ocean’s most elusive inhabitants. He is a passionate spokesman for the oceans he loves to photograph and his mission is to inspire people to understand more about the world’s oceans through his work. Here are some photography tips from Brian on some of his best works.
with BRIAN SKERRY LOGGERHEAD TURTLE
In the shallow water of this seagrass bed in Belize I photographed this Loggerhead Turtle using an 18mm lens and two strobes. I framed the subject a little offcentre, allowing the picture to show the dust in the background from where the turtle had been feeding. I waited until he looked up at me to capture the photo. A little flash brought colour to the image.
This manatee photo was taken using a 14mm lens. I selected a very wideangle so that I could see not only the entire animal, but also some of the surrounding habitat. I noticed that manatees here in Florida often moved into this secluded pool late in the day and would spend the night here. So I quietly swam in on this evening and waited patiently for a manatee to approach me, as this one did. I loved the way the fish surrounded its body and even ate the algae growing on it. I metered for the ambient exposure, then used a tiny amount of fill flash to bring detail to the skin.
CARIBBEAN REEF SHARK
This image of several Caribbean Reef sharks in the Bahamas was taken using a 16mm fisheye lens, however is was shot on a DX format camera, which has a 1.5 crop so the fisheye properties of bent corners does not show due to the DX format. There were a lot of sharks around on this dive and I wanted a picture that showed this abundance. I worked very close to the sharks and wanted to have a somewhat ‘messy’ image much in the way a street photographer might shoot people in a city scene. I metered for the ambient light and used some flash to bring out the colour and detail of the sharks and the coral reef.
Brian Skerry will be in Singapore for a one night only live show titled “Ocean Wild with Brian Skerry”, to be held at the Esplanade Theatres on 24 January 2016.
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Situated along Africa’s east coast in the vast Indian Ocean, Mauritius is often compared to other islands like Seychelles, Reunion Island and Maldives when it comes to luxury beach getaways. While all these islands – collectively marketed as the ‘Vanilla Islands’ – have very similar weather and beaches, Mauritius is the only country that isn’t made up of a collection of small, scattered islands. This means that getting around Mauritius is far easier – you don’t need to hop onto planes or ferries to get around the country. Much of Mauritius is a highland plateau ringed with the jagged edges of a long-gone volcano cone, while its white-sand beaches are fringed by shallow lagoons thanks to the surrounding barrier reef. The most dramatic area is the country’s southwest, which is home to dramatic gorges, waterfalls, and the country’s last bastion of virgin forest.
The main draw of Mauritius is undoubtedly its beaches. These are generally classified into 2 areas: the north (around Grand Baie) and the east (around Belle Mare). Other pockets of beaches include Le Morne (southwest), Bel Ombre (south), and Flic en Flac/Tamarin (west), each with a different personality. Thanks to the island’s surrounding reef, the beaches are sheltered from waves. All beaches in Mauritius are public, with the best ones staked out by resorts dotted along the coast. North Stretching from Pointe Aux Piments to Grand Baie, the beaches of the north have more nearby amenities, being closer to the capital of Port Louis. The beaches are also protected from ocean winds that come from the east,
meaning that the waters here are generally calmer than on the east coast year round. The sheltered bays are great for watersports, ranging from diving and deep-sea fishing to a range of unique underwater activities like sub-scooters, and submarine safaris. East The 10km-long stretch of white sand beach on the east coast feels more secluded, and houses a collection of more luxurious hotels. The area is known locally as La Côte Sauvage (The Wild Coast), as it does get pounded with strong winds (as evidenced by the local trees that lean permanently) especially during the winter months and if there’s a cyclone. This makes the east preferable during the hot summer months, as well as for those coming for some windsurfing or kitesurfing action.
Other Beaches Other famous beaches include Le Morne, renowned for its dramatic seascape and the iconic – and World Heritage-listed – Morne Mountain (556m). The peninsula here is lined with an immaculate 3-mile long beach that is famous for its established kitesurfing scene thanks to its calm waters and steady wind conditions. The stretch from Flic en Flac to Tamarin is another popular beach resort area, where you may see dolphins that come to these waters to rest and breed.
While its white sandy beaches are the draw for many visitors, it’s the number of water-related activities that makes Mauritius a more exciting destination for those seeking an adrenalin rush. Whether you prefer exploring an underwater world on a diving excursion, or heading out into the open ocean for some big game fishing, there is no shortage of operators. Mauritius has also made a name for itself as one of the top kitesurfing locations in the world, thanks to its shallow reef and steady wind conditions. The island is also home to some of the world’s quirkiest water attractions; you can dine underwater in a submarine, or explore the reef on an underwater scooter.
OCEAN ACTIVITIES KITESURFING
As an island surrounded by a reef, Mauritius has plenty of lagoons protected from large crashing waves, creating large areas of flat water that are ideal for kitesurfing. In addition, some resorts identify themselves as ‘kitesurf-friendly’, and kitesurf operators usually offer a short, 2-hour session for a taster, or full 6-hour lessons for those more serious about the sport. The most exciting time for kitesurfing is during winter (May to November), when the consistent trade winds from the east reach 15-30 knots, making it an ideal destination for kite freestyle and wave enthusiasts. Coincidentally, the winter season is also when most resorts have their ‘low season’. Due to the favourable southeast winds, most of the kitesurf areas are located on Mauritius’s south and east coast.
Locations When it comes to the best kitesurfing spot, most Mauritians will point to Le Morne, located on the island’s southwestern tip. Club Mistral, right on the beach, offers kitesurfing lessons, rentals and also rescues. The large, shallow lagoon has a white sandy bottom with some seagrass patches, with a water level that varies from ankle-deep to chest-deep depending on weather (tides are usually higher in summer). There is plenty of space for beginners to practise in the Le Morne Lagoon, although the reef and rocks to the right of the lagoon should be avoided. For more experienced kiters, Le Morne offers world-class waves just beyond the reef that are great for practising and learning new tricks. From the water, one can enjoy a scenery of the turquoise water, white sand, and the backdrop of
Morne Mountain. Also in the south is Bel Ombre, where there’s a shallow lagoon for about 500m to the reef, making it ideal for beginners. The reef breaks are only for experts, with waves getting up to 4m in height. Kitesurfing can also be done in the east thanks to the large lagoons here, but only during winter. Locations include Trou d’Eau Douce with its kiteable beachfront, and Poste Lafayette which is ideal for beginners thanks to its easy launch and safe currents. For those visiting in July/August, there’s the annual Kiteival – a week-long kitesurfing event that allows every level of rider to kite on the best spots on the island alongside some professional kiters. The €200 entry fee includes riding tips, transport, meals and more. Visit www.kiteivalmauritius.com for more.
Mauritius is encircled by a barrier reef, meaning you can find a huge variety of diving here: coral reefs with abundant marine life, drop-offs decorated with gorgonian fans, unique rock formations, underwater caverns, as well as 18th century shipwrecks. In addition to tropical fishes, divers can spot pelagic species, in addition to sharks, dolphins and sperm whales. There are about 30 famous dive sites around Mauritius, all up to a depth of 40m. The diving areas include the northwest (Tombeau Bay and beyond), southwest (Le Morne to Flic en Flac), and the east (Belle Mare to Mahebourg). The area in the southwest is the most
popular area, home to abundant marine life, caverns, and wrecks (Kei Sei 113 and Tug II). The dive site of Rempart Serpent, home to scorpion fish, stone fish, etc, is not to be missed, while the area around Tamarin Bay and Black River are shelters for dolphins. Due to strong currents, dive sites in the southeast are drift dives, and boast a number of coral canyons, including The Cathedral with its dramatic terrain of caves, arches and tunnels that attract pelagic creatures. The sandy valleys are patrolled by bull and grey sharks. To the north, the La Fosse aux Requins is a bowl-shaped basin that’s home to black tip reef sharks, while the Shark Pit (near Flat Island) sees a significant number of black-tailed sharks from November to
There are plenty of dive shops all over Mauritius, most of them located within resorts.
For those who aren’t interested in kitesurfing or diving, Mauritius does have a handful of quirky water-related activities. If you fancy diving but don’t want to get wet, you can book a seat on the Blue Safari, a small 10-seater submarine. The 2-hour tour (of which 40 minutes are underwater) takes you down to a depth of 35m to the wreck of the Star Hope, where zebra fish, eels and other sea creatures congregate. For a stranger experience, Blue Safari has subscooters. These are technically
May. In addition, there are the wrecks of Hassen Mian and the beautiful Stella Maru. While it’s possible to dive year round – especially in the north which is protected from prevailing winds – the summer months (November to March) are considered ideal when the warm waters attract an abundance of marine life ranging from groupers to wrasses, and angelfish to parrot fish. There may be cyclones between January and February, while strong winds in July and August can make the sea rough (and visibility bad).
underwater scooters (which you ride either solo or in pairs) with a built-in ‘bubble’ space where your head goes, so that you can breathe naturally underwater as you ride around the lagoon. The bubble offers a 360º view of the surrounding ocean, where you can see colourful fish flitting about as you travel at a leisurely 3km/h at a depth of 3m. Check out www.bluesafari.com for more info. Thanks to the relatively flat and calm lagoons, Mauritius is also an ideal location for stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding. These boards allow you to paddle on calm waters, or even ride the waves. Plenty of kitesurf schools also offer SUP tours in case of low winds, where you can explore turquoise lagoons, mangroves, as well as rivers at a leisurely pace.
While most visitors tend to congregate around Mauritius’ coastline, there’s plenty to see and do away from the shores. The island’s core is a highland plateau located about 600m above sea level, which is surrounded by a broken ring of mountain ranges that are home to the mountains of Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire (828m) and Pieter Both (823m). To the north, this plateau slopes towards the coast from 300m high, while in the southwest, it’s about 600m, creating a dramatic series of gorges that hide several streams and rivers.
FUN ON THE GROUND
For those who want to get away from the beaches, there are a number of good hiking destinations, including the Moka range (near Port Louis), the Grand Port (southeast), and the Black River range (southwest). Peaks range from 480m to 828m, with a mix of easy and challenging trails. Some favourites include Le Pouce (811m), a relatively easy hike which offers spectacular views of Port Louis. There’s also Lion Mountain (480m) in the southeast, which is a half-day trek with stunning lagoon views from the summit. The wild expanse of rolling hills, gorges, and thick forest of Black River Gorges National Park is the country’s biggest and best, located in the country’s southwest. Covering only 2% of Mauritius, it’s the last stand for the island’s indigenous forest where many native species still survive – these include over 300 species of flowering plants and large swathes of oldgrowth ebony, in addition to endemic bird
species (including the Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet, Mauritius cuckoo shrike, and pink pigeon) and giant flying foxes. Most of the park is designated for hikers, with 60km of hiking trails varying in length and difficulty snaking through the landscape. For an easy hike, the boardwalk near Le Petrin visitor centre leads you deep into marshy, plant-rich heathland. From Alexandra Falls, there’s also a trail that leads into dwarf forests that is the habitat of the lime-green echo parakeet. Hiking boots are required for the 9km climb to the top of Black River Peak (Petite Rivière Noire), the highest point in Mauritius, where you’ll be rewarded with an amazing 360 view of the island, with L’ile aux Benitier island on the horizon. Other trails include the easy Macchabees Trail (10km) which leads to a viewpoint overlooking the gorges and Tamarin Bay; many trails lead to waterfalls, including the Cascade des Galets Trail (3km) and the Mare aux Joncs Trail (4km).
Dodo Trail Established in 2011, the annual Dodo Trail is a mountain race that passes over the highest, most spectacular peaks and lands of the south west of Mauritius, passing the forests of the Black River Gorge. The trail is split into 4 categories: the Xtreme Dodo Trail (50km), Ti Dodo Trail (25km), and the Mini Dodo Trail (10km). The Xtreme Dodo Trail climbs 5 peaks, totalling 3,500m in ascent, passing several private hunting grounds. The Ti Dodo Trail, with 1,500m in ascent, features 2 major climbs that are highly technical, while the Mini Dodo Trail includes dirt roads, single tracks and lots of nature. Normally held in July, check out www.dodo-trail.com for the upcoming dates.
Situated near Tamarin is the huge Casela Nature Park (covering 14 ha.), which can be loosely categorised into 3 areas: a zoo, a safari park, and an adventure zone, and one can easily spend an entire day here. Closest to the entrance is the zoo area, which is home to wildlife like primates, hippos and giant tortoises, in addition to a walk-through aviary. The park is famous for its wildlife interactions, where you can spend 15 minutes with lions or cheetahs in their enclosure (armed with nothing more than a large stick), or spend an hour ‘walking with lions’ in a much larger area.
Much of Mauritius is carpeted by sugar cane plantations, representing about 85% of its arable land. Here and there, you’ll find old stone chimneys sticking out in random locations across the country – these are the last remnants of sugar cane factories of the 19th century. While most of the cane sugar is exported to Europe, these days the Mauritians are doing something very different to their cash crop.
The adjacent Yemen Reserve is a huge landscape that is home to free-roaming wildlife including zebras, antelopes, monkeys and ostriches where you can opt for 1-2 hour off-road quad biking safaris for a close encounter with the animals.
Rum Trail Mauritius is one of a few countries that produce both industrial/traditional rum (made with molasses) and agricultural rum (made with fresh cane juice). The latter is appreciated much like whisky, with a number of boutique distilleries producing an ‘island recipe rum’ which uses artisanal processes to add flavours – like tropical fruits and spices – to the drink.
Another portion of the park is the ‘rando fun’, which offers a mix of hiking, climbing and adventure. Here, you can walk along suspension bridges, climb via ferrata routes, and go canyoning in hidden swimming spots. Casela boasts the longest zip line circuit in the Indian Ocean, and on a ziplining tour you get to go on single and double ziplines – the longest is the 400m-long line lasting 22 seconds – that pass over dramatic canyons.
Mauritius is currently home to 6 distillers (the oldest dates back to 1926), of which Rhumerie de Chamarel, Rhumerie de Mascareignes, and St Aubin are authorised to produce agricultural rum. All three offer distillery tours and tasting; Chamarel is a newlybuilt facility, while both St Aubin and Rhumerie de Mascareignes (producer of Labourdonnais rum) are much older, featuring 19th century family-owned plantation houses as part of their estates.
Tea Trail Most Mauritians tend to be tea drinkers, and the country does produce its own tea which is usually served flavoured with a hint of vanilla. The tea-growing region is located in the southern part of the island where the elevation is a bit higher. The ‘tea trail’ takes you to the tea plantation of the Boi Cheri Company (established in the 19th century) for tastings, along with a visit to 2 colonial plantation houses, and the rum factory of St. Aubin.
As the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis is a bustling city that’s home to ethnic quarters, some well-preserved colonial buildings, and the modern Le Caudan Waterfront. Here, you can see European influences, along with a mix of African and Chinese cultures. It’s also a good place to try some local Creole food, that consists of mainly curries and spicy chutneys. Check out the lively Central Market (which has been here since Victorian times) and the Natural History Museum which displays a stuffed dodo.
What is it like to encounter a whale shark in the deep blue? There are a few (just a few) places around the world where you can have an encounter of this kind. Lonely Planet lists the top places to go diving with whale sharks as Isla Holbox, Mexico, Utila in Honduras, WA’s Ningaloo Reef, Gladden Spit in Belize, Donsol Bay, Philippines, Tofo Beach in Mozambique, South Mahé, Seychelles, South Ari Atoll, Maldives and Koh Tao in Thailand. They missed a spot. Christmas Island.
© Gunter Noack
UNDERWATER CHRISTMAS ISLAND
TEXT BY Simon Mallender IMAGES BY Christmas Island Tourism
A DIVING PARADISE
Whale sharks frequent the reefs surrounding Christmas Island between November and April to feast on the red crab larvae that enters the water each year during the annual great red crab migration. But it’s not the only reason to dive here and it’s certainly not the only wildlife encounter that people visit Christmas Island to experience. The island is the tip of an extinct volcano that emerges from the edge of the Java trench some three thousand metres deep. It’s a lonely, rocky outcrop in the northern Indian Ocean about 2,500km north west of Perth. Upwellings from the surrounding deep waters and abundant sunlight provide the corals the rich nutrients and energy
required to thrive. The narrow fringing reef provides a home to millions of reef dwelling fish, and in the deeper water, large pelagics and trevally can be found very close to the shore. The narrow fringing reef supports bountiful marine life, including 88 coral species and more than 650 species of fish. Reef fish common to the island include surgeonfish and unicorn fish, toadfish and puffers, damsels, angels, Moorish idols, barracudas, moray eels, wrasses, butterfly fish, parrotfish, triggerfish, leatherjackets and at least 11 different hybrid species. The Cocos Angelfish is a particularly prized angel for underwater photographers, found only at Christmas and Cocos Islands as is the endemic subspecies of the lemonpeel angelfish.
The unique location and geology of Christmas Island delivers corals that are twice the size and extent that anyone would expect, and because there is so little fishing in these waters, the marine life is as abundant as it is diverse. There are not many places in the world that a diver can see such numbers and variety in any other one place. More than 100 species of coral are found in the island’s warm tropical waters, providing habitat for all coral reef species. Pelagic species include tuna, wahoo, barracuda, rainbow runners, mackerel scad, sailfishes, marlin, swordfish, trevallies, eagle rays, manta rays, reef sharks, the occasional hammerhead and tiger shark, and… whale sharks.
The whale shark is the largest living fish on the planet and completely harmless and to be engaged by such a creature leaves an impression that will never wash off. Every wet season they congregate at Christmas Island, with juveniles (3-7m) the most common. Whale sharks feed primarily on plankton and their arrival at Christmas Island coincides with the annual spawning of red crabs and corals, whose larvae they presumably feed on. As an ocean going filter feeder, we know very little about their movements and
behaviour. There are a few places where encounters with divers and snorkellers are almost guaranteed. At Christmas Island, encounters are not exactly common, but when they do occur they are completely natural, and very special. The whale sharks are often sighted around the time of the annual red crab migration, when the red crabs release their eggs into the ocean to spawn, which in itself is one of the most amazing wonders of the natural world.
© Justin Gilligan
The red crab, (population 60 million) is the island’s (population 1,200) endemic land crab, and every wet season if the conditions are right, they all come down to the beach to fulfill an annual reproduction ceremony. The males head off first, and dig a cosy little burrow near the shoreline. The females arrive a few days later, having made the 5km trek at an average speed of 4km per day. The whole exercise is dependent on there being enough rain to keep the crabs moist on their epic journey, and, on the phase of the moon. The crabs only release their eggs just after the turn of the high tide when the moon is in its final quarter and the waves are at their lowest. This gives them the best chance of standing in the shallows on the shoreline without being
washed away by waves, and shimmying their precious payload of eggs into the outgoing waters where they will be carried by the out-going tide to spawn in the waters off Christmas Island.
Turning from eggs to larvae to tiny red crabs (about the size of your pinkie fingernail), they return 6 weeks later to make the 5km journey back into the wet interior on their own. Other delights on the average Christmas Island dive day include the possibility of swimming with a school of sharks cruising around 10m below you or the opportunity to jump in the water between dives and swim with a pod of spinner dolphins. And maybe, just maybe, if the rains are right, and the moon is waning, an encounter with the largest, gentlest giant anyone could hope to meet.
You can fly into Christmas Island via Perth on Virgin Australia, with a flight time of just under 3 hours. There are also charter flights from Jakarta via Christmas Island Air, which is only operational on certain days in the year. Visit www.christmas.net.au for more.
From Singapore, there are direct flights via Silkair and AirAsia, with a flight time of about 1.5 hours. For more information on Sarawak visit www.sarawaktourism.com.
THE THRIVING TUNDRA
PHOTOS BY Visit Svalbard
Located halfway between the North Pole and Norway, Svalbard (meaning ‘the cold rim’) consists of numerous islands – the largest of which is Spitzbergen – that was settled in the last 200 years when mining and whaling drew settlers to this remote part of the world. Today, the main town, Longyearbean, is great jumping-off point for those looking for an Arctic adventure like no other. Plus, this is probably the world’s northernmost place where you can get wifi connection.
This part of the Arctic is governed by the extremes – the Polar Night and the Midnight Sun which cloak the landscape in darkness and light 24 hours a day. While the Midnight Sun is the best time to go to spot wildlife, the Polar Night brings with it the spectacle of the Northern Lights. As desolate as it seems, the amount of wildlife that thrives here makes it worth the extra mile.
Characterised by circular markings on its body, the Ringed Seal is relatively small compared to the Bearded Seal, and occurs almost everywhere in the Arctic, and can be spotted near drift ice or fjord ice, where they can stay in quite large numbers. They moult in June and July, and retreat to open waters near the ice edge. Ringed seals often end up as meals for polar bears, and occasionally walruses and Greenland sharks. They’re also sometimes hunted by humans, although the meat is usually fed to sled dogs.
© Roy Mangersnes - wildphoto.no/www.nordnorge.com © Marcela Cardenas/www.nordnorge.com
An unexpected surprise for most visitors is the sighting of walruses, which inhabit shallow coastal waters. Growing between 3-4m in length and weighing in at 1,500kg, these mollusc eaters can be spotted hauling themselves up onto shores or ice using their large canine teeth. Walrus numbers are on an increase – now estimated to be around 2,000 individuals – thanks to conservation efforts. One of the most known colonies close to Longyearbyen is on “Prince Karl’s Forland”.
The highlight of any Svalbard trip is the sighting of a polar bear. These Kings of the Arctic scour the icy tundra looking for their favourite food source of bearded seals. About 3,000 of these bears are estimated to inhabit the Svalbard area (with numbers steadily increasing over the past few decades), meaning an encounter with one can be high since it is relatively fearless of humans. The polar bear spotting season is between July and August when the waters are navigable by boat and you may see the bears hunting on the pack ice.
© Roy Mangersnes - wildphoto.no/www.nordnorge.com
NORWAY’S SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO WILDLIFE SPOTTING OPTIONS
There are a number of options available for exploring wildlife in the area around Svalbard. Trips depart from Longyearbyen, with most land-based trips accompanied by guides armed with rifles (for polar bear protection). Boat expeditions The best way to spot most of the wildlife Svalbard has to offer is on wildlife cruises – possible only during summer when the pack ice break up. A number of
Dog sledging (sledding) Dog sledging is normally done during winter/spring (Nov-May) when there is snow cover. This is a good time to encounter the Northern Lights and a crystalclear sky full of stars, in addition to some wildlife like foxes and reindeer. Visitors are expected to drive their own sleds, and will be instructed on how to handle one (tethered to up to a dozen dogs), with two people per sled. It’s also possible to sled outside the winter season, although the sleds will be equipped with wheels. options are available, ranging from day trips to multi-day expeditions, offering opportunities to catch polar bears, walruses or seals perched on ice floes. You may also catch a blue whale or a humpback whale as they play around the boats. Some of these cruises also include time spent on the ground to be closer to wildlife like walruses, while others have inflatable Zodiac boats that cruise along towering sea cliffs, home to tens of thousands of raucous seabirds.
Kayaking & Hiking During summer, you can also go kayaking and/or hiking. A hiking trip to Fuglefjella takes you cliffsides that are home to nesting seabirds including the little auk, guillemots, fulmars and maybe even the Svalbard Ptarmigan. Kayaking trips can bring you close to nesting bird colonies, and you may share a beach with walruses, arctic foxes, and reindeer or even catch whales (like mink or beluga) while in the water.
© Marcela Cardenas/www.nordnorge.com
With their short snout, short ears and body size close to the red fox, the Arctic fox has a winter fur (white) and a thinner summer fur (brown/ grey with hints of white). Arctic foxes have 2 distinct colour morphs – white and blue, with most in Svalbard possessing the white coat. They can be spotted almost anywhere in Svalbard, and can be seen stalking smaller rodents on inland areas, or even feasting on marine creatures at sea.
A relatively easy creature to spot is the endemic Svalbard reindeer, which can be even be seen in downtown Longyearbyen in small herds of 3 to 5 individuals (and they’re relatively fearless of humans) during summer when they feed on the lowland plateaus. Smaller than other reindeer species, the males grow their fuzzy antlers between April and July before shedding their velvet in August, whilst the females’ antlers grow in June and maintain throughout the year.
© Roy Mangersnes - wildphoto.no/www.nordnorge.com
© Roy Mangersnes - wildphoto.no/www.nordnorge.com
One of the most colourful birds in Svalbard is the puffin – they are instantly recognisable and are unique in a way that they have huge, colourful bills and a peculiar walk. There are an estimated 10,000 nesting pairs in accessible spots along the cliffs and they can often be spotted if you’re sailing in the area near Spitzbergen. Puffins return early to their breeding sites in early or mid May and stay well into August.
The fastest way to Svalbard is by plane, with scheduled daily flights most of the year from Oslo (flight time of 3 hours) and Tromsø (flight time of 1 hr 50 mins) to Longyearbyen. Getting around the small town of Longyearbyen is easy, as there are few roads. Beyond that, transport is by snowmobile (winter) or boat (summer). There are about 17 lodges on Svalbard, ranging from hostels to 5-star hotels. For more, visit visitsvalbard.com.