I love animals, and nature. Through my travels, I always try to visit parks and wildlife sanctuaries or to participate in any sort of animal encounter. So I decided to give you the run down of my best moments with nature – in no specific order.
- 1. Swimming with the humpback whales in Tonga
- 2. Great White Wall in Fiji
- 3. The Penguin Parade on Philip Island – Australia
- 4. Echidna experience at Healesville, Australia
- 5. The shark and the turtle – American Samoa
- 6. Sipadan Jackfish Tornado – Malaysia
- 7. Lions mating in Kenya
- 8. Koalas and kangaroos in Australia
- 9. The Great Migration in Kenya
- 10. Gorillas in Uganda
1. Swimming with the humpback whales in Tonga
I’m speechless. I was in such awe that I forget how scared I was. Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga is one of the most amazing ways to get up and close with wildlife.
This is how close you get to the humpback whales that come to breed in the warmer waters of the South Pacific during the months between June and September. Slip on your mask and snorkel and just jump in if you dare! Read more about my experience here.
2. Great White Wall in Fiji
After diving in Fiji, diving anywhere else will never be the same again. I spent a week off Taveuni island, one of the smaller islands in Fiji. I was on a boat with both divers and non-divers, so there were a lot of other water activities too. There were underwater excursions, island cultural meet-ups with Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian tribes. There was also trekking, kayaking and other land-based activities. Unfortunately, that Read more here.
3. The Penguin Parade on Philip Island – Australia
Phillip Island is off the coast of Melbourne, about 2h drive from downtown. There are a few activities available on the island, but the most famous is a visit to the Penguin centre to watch the penguin parade. This is when hundreds of penguins come out of the water and onto the beaches to feed their little ones – every morning. Penguin nests dot the island as there are more than 30,000 of them, so your chance of seeing them is 100%.
Sadly, in order to preserve their safety, you are not allowed to take any photos. The one above is from Sydney’s Aquarium where they have all the different species of penguins. Phillip Island penguins are about a foot long and they are the cutest animals.
Apart from the parade, which basically involves sitting at a stadium like area to watch them come out, there are more personalised options like the one we chose. You can join a smaller group of a maximum of 10 people on what is called the Explorer eco experience to go on a remote beach. You then sit down on the sand and watch them come out. The difference is that there are no floodlights illuminating the beach and you are in complete darkness. You get given infrared goggles to see them and they may walk quite close to you. On the way back to the main building you can see them everywhere – only a meter away. We must have seen thousands on that one evening.
It was very endearing to see them come out the water. All of a sudden you see a wave of penguins in the water which slowly makes it to the beach shore. From there, they first assess whether it is safe to get out of the water before they make a move to quickly cross the beach. If they feel that it is not safe they may return to the water to take a second chance at approaching the beach. At times, some were at the shore between water and sand and shake their heads up and down as if discussing internally whether it was a good idea to come out or not. If threatened, they plunge belly first onto the sand to hide. It was pretty hilarious to see them do that James Bond style.
4. Echidna experience at Healesville, Australia
Australia is just an extremely rich country for wildlife. At every zoo or park there is some new, fascinating animal to take a look at and, in some cases, you can cuddle or feed them. In this case, we got to feed and touch the echidnas.
Echidnas are very strange looking animals, part anteater, part hedgehog, part dinosaur, they look very prehistorical. On our trip to Tasmania we saw them in the wild and went up to pat them. But as soon as you get near them they turn into a ball and are all spikes.
In the zoo however they were habituated to humans and allowed us to feed and pat them without getting scared. Together with the fascinating platypus, they are the only mammals that lay eggs. They eat ants with their very long and thin tongue and curl up into a ball when threatened. However, they have very poor eyesight. So if you sit down next to them and stay quiet, they quickly come out of their hiding spot and don’t even notice you are still there. We found this quite an entertaining game when we met them in the wild.
Echidnas lay eggs directly into their pouches and the little ones suck milk from the mother’s pores, they have no nipples.
5. The shark and the turtle – American Samoa
The turtle: The legend says that during a time of famine, a grandmother and granddaughter were rejected by their families as they were too burdensome. So they threw themselves into the ocean to cast their fates upon the whimsy of the life-giving sea. Transformed through magic into a turtle and shark, the grandmother and granddaughter sought out a new home. Long did they travel and many times were they turned away until they arrived on the shores of Vaitogi.
Defined by high cliffs and a rough coastline, the inhospitable shores were inhabited by a compassionate and generous people, and the old woman and her granddaughter, transformed back into their human form. They were welcomed, fed and made this village their new home. Moved by the unexpected generosity, the old woman agreed, but she still heard the call of the sea as well. Unable to stay on land, she informed her hosts that she and her granddaughter must return to the sea, where they would make the village waters their permanent home. She gave the villagers a song to sing from the rocks and a promised that when they sang the song she and her granddaughter would come.
When I was there with my new found friend from the tourism office she called the locals to come sing for us. And to my incredible and skeptical surprise, as the song went on and on and more villagers joined in, the turtle and the shark came to the surface, no joke! Imagine my face struck with amazement when I saw first the turtle and then the shark appear on the surface. The locals looked at me and smiled. It was quite a moment. And they did it just to show me.
6. Sipadan Jackfish Tornado – Malaysia
The Jackfish Tornado in Sipadan is seen by many as one of the best dive experiences in the world, yet I was quite disappointed.
This was a combination of terrible service at the resort, a feeling of being taken advantage of and also a sense that although diving was good, it was by no means better than Fiji. I felt that I had been terribly oversold by the place. But perhaps I was unlucky. This is not to discourage anyone from going but to manage expectations.
The fact that the daily number of divers is limited means that even if you go there you may only, if lucky, dive Sipadan once. Just to get there you have to take at least 2 to 3 flights. So once you arrive, you expect something truly life changing and Sipadan just didn’t cut it for me.
This is also partially my fault and my very high expectations. I am truly spoilt and I have seen too many white powder beaches to be blown away by yet another beautiful one. I still enjoy it very much and still can’t have enough of it, but I am also increasingly looking for the unexplored and new. Sipadan felt very much over exploited and too used to squeezing money out of tourists at every occasion. I did not enjoy the poor accommodation (our room did not even have shower curtains and we were paying USD1,500 for 4 days, 3 nights for 3 people sharing). The food was terrible and repetitive – consisting of cabbage, carrots and some random meat. The were extra charges for everything and the dive masters looked like they were bored of taking tourists, underwhelmed and no longer passionate about their job or the incredible waters of Sipadan. I had read a lot of bad and mediocre reviews about the accommodation but I chose to ignore them.
Not to make this a negative review, it is in this list because the diving also had a couple of magical moments. The dives are more to see big fish and lots of them, rather than for beautiful corals, or at least that was the case for us. That being said, there are hundreds of diving sites in the area, so there must be something for everyone.
One of our finest moments which made the entire trip, the effort, the long journey (despite living nearby in Singapore) and putting up with bad service worth it was the jackfish tornado at Barracuda Point. We did not see the barracuda tornado, which made the dive spot famous, but we had the jackfish instead and that was also quite incredible. I could have stayed there, surrounded by thousands of jack fish forever. They were calm, slow-moving in circles and not scared at all. Nor did they mind us entering the eye of the tornado or staying inside. It was very humbling to see so many fish allowing us to be a part of their show.
7. Lions mating in Kenya
When you are going on a safari in Kenya you know you are up for great wildlife viewing. But in this case I was extra lucky to witness lions not only mating, but also coming up to the car to say hi. Truly magical and scary!
8. Koalas and kangaroos in Australia
Australia is by all standards the place for wildlife fanatics. Everywhere you go there is a park or something similar where you can get up and close to the animals. In this case, I was in Adelaide where you can pat and feed kangaroos and where, more importantly, you can hold and hug a koala. Amazingly furry, soft and nice. So exciting!
Where can this be done? At Cleland Park. At first, feeding the large kangaroos can be a bit daunting, they are quite big animals after all, but after a while and after seeing the little kids doing it, I felt too ashamed to be scared. Apart from the larger kangaroos I enjoyed feeding the wallabies more, as they are smaller and much cuter.
You can buy ice cream cones full of food or even simple cookies which almost all the animals in the park eat. It may not seem like the most balanced diet, but it surely gets them interested to get close to you, although you may have to chase a few of them because, with so many visitors, they are pretty well fed!
And the star of the park? The koalas. Different from most other parks, you can actually not only pat but also hold and cuddle them at Cleland. That was truly the highlight of my visit. The queue was not even long and you didn’t have to pay extra. At certain times the koalas come out. They are placed on a small tree branch and then you get a couple of minutes to hold them and take photos. It was so cool!
9. The Great Migration in Kenya
One of the most impressive, breathtaking and simply awe-striking spectacles of nature is The Great Migration. This is a phenomenon that happens every year in the Masai Mara and Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania respectively, between June and September. In that period, thousands of wildebeest and zebra cross the various rivers in search of greener pastures, several times. At every crossing, dozens of thousands of animals will attempt the crossing and often die, either from drowning, exhaustion or eaten by crocs in what is a genuine National Geographic worthy scene.
10. Gorillas in Uganda
It is a pity that I have lost all the original high res photos of that experience and I am now only left with Facebook’s update, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Trekking Bwindi National Park in Uganda in search of gorillas was one of the most incredible wildlife encounters.