Archive for Adventure Travel

Magnificent Frigates, Blue-Footed Boobies, Finches and More: A Birder’s Paradise in the Galápagos

Guest Post by Vickie Lillo

American Oystercathers on the beach

The sky overhead darkens momentarily as I take off my snorkeling fins, balancing myself against a protruding root from a manglar (mangrove tree). Darkens enough to cast a quick shadow.  Not from passing clouds or remnants of the garúa mist floating down from the highlands, but from a syncopated formation of turquoise webbed feet and azure beaks.  I feel like I’m in an exotic rendition of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, ‘The Birds’, as I watch blue-footed boobies dive bombing for fish off the cove at Tortuga Bay, here on Santa Cruz, the main isle of the Galápagosbirds. 

I’ve never considered myself a bird-watcher of any note before, but the extraordinary aviary on this archipelago 600 miles from South America has changed my perspective.  Wrapping a beach towel around my waist, I straddle a downed tree trunk, content to languish in the shade and watch the native fowl.  An American oystercatcher, orange bill and all, strolls across the sand, plucking microscopic specks of food from the muck.  A yellow warbler flitters amongst the foliage where I’m sitting, inches from my mask.  Unperturbed by my presence. Read More→

Kayaking the Florida Keys from Cow Key to Key Largo

The Florida Keys are made up of some 1,700 islands.  From Miami to Key West, this archipelago stretches over 150 miles alone.  It’s here where I found some unique saltwater kayaking opportunities stretching from the Cow Key to Key Largo.

Kayaking through the Cow Key Channel

Cow Key  - Lazy Dog KayakThe two hour, 1.5 mile roundtrip through the Cow Key Channel beginning at US Highway MM (mile marker) 4.1(just outside of Key West) with Lazy Dog Kayak Guides involved a steady current that’s heavily influenced by the two high and low tides coming from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean each day.  The firm breeze helped to counter the muggy conditions.  Bethany and her four-legged companion Tucker (a.k.a. “Mr. T”) served as our guides.

Through her guidance as we kayaked through open waters 2-10 foot deep, a natural mangrove creek and one “hurricane hole” (a pond surrounded by mangroves that offer more protection from hurricanes), I got an up close and personal view of primary Red Mangrove trees, whose prop roots filter out about 95 per cent of the saltwater while the trees leaves sacrifice themselves to filter out the rest of the salt so the trees can have “potable” water.   Their death means decomposition in the channel, which creates the soil ingredients to build up the small islands.

In my 12 foot Perception model, I heard the soundtrack of osprey, Great Blue and White Heron as I paddled through the waters, ranging in depth of two to ten feet.  Bethany often stopped alongside the mangrove growth to educate our group about the plant and animal life thriving here, letting us hold them.  Creatures like the prickly-feeling Florida Spiny Sea Star, and the Sea Cucumber, which has the feel of its vegetable counterpart.   She was excited when she came across a government-protected Queen Conch, a large creepy-looking snail that would make the subject of a good horror film.

Venturing to the Key with “No Name”

The Author paddling at "No Name"Just four miles off of US 1 at MM 30, I found a more isolated, off the beaten path world, where I kayaked roundtrip over a couple of hours in waters 1-18 feet in depth from Big Pine Key to the No Name Key (where the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was staged).   The winds whistled through the palms on a mostly cloudy morning and afternoon, helping to keep the heat and mugginess in check.   Our guide from Big Pine Kayak Adventures, was Bill Keogh.  He’s kayaked some 800 Florida Keys.

Like Bethany at Cow Key, Keogh’s four-footed friend joined, a friendly mixed breed named Scupper, who quickly won my fondness.  As we set off from Big Pine Key, the scent of sulfur permeated my nostrils because of the decomposing seagrass which this Key catches from Florida Bay.  Getting to the Key with “No Name” meant crossing the Bogie Channel’s choppy waters (about a 1/3 mile long) in a 12 foot Vapor that weighed 50 pounds.

When I looked down into the more shallow waters, I caught the sight of flat Turtle Grass, round Manatee Grass, and soft-looking Shoal Grass waving back and forth.   Being out in this wide channel heightened my sense of isolation from the hustle and bustle only a few miles away.  My eyes took in the sight of a kettle of Turkey Vultures heading south for winter.   Arriving at the No Name Key, we paddled into a deep mangrove forest via a very narrow creek, so narrow that I dismantled my paddle into halves, using one along with low-hanging branches to navigate hundreds of feet.  But awaiting my camera was a camouflaged Yellow-Crowned Night Heron bouncing around from tree to tree as well as a variety of crabs climbing the densely-packed branches. Read More→

Kuranda Scenic Railway – Timeless Scenery, An Engineering Marvel from a Bygone Era

by Keith Kellett

The Karunda Railway pulls into the town of Karunda

Long ago, back in the Dreamtime, say the Aborigines of the Atherton Tableland, the carpet snake, Buda-ji, used to frequently journey from the Tableland to the coast. Here, he would collect the beautiful nautilus shells, to barter for the things he needed. In his journeyings, he carved out the Barron Gorge and its tributary creeks, singing his song on the way.

Those who know the song can follow his trail even today. It’s doubtful, though, that John Robb, the engineer responsible for supervising the railway up here knew the song. But, by design or accident, he did approximately follow the path of Buda-ji, and the locomotives drawing the trains on what is now the Kuranda Scenic Railway are brightly painted with paintings telling his story, designed by Aboriginal artist George Riley.

The mountain town of Kuranda was founded in 1873 by miners in search of the gold that had been discovered in those thickly forested hills. Other valuable minerals were also found nearby. But, the town and the mines were served only by primitive tracks from the coast, which had to deal with thick rainforest and difficult terrain.

The winter of 1882 brought unprecedented heavy rain, rendering the tracks impassable, and the people of Kuranda and nearby settlements almost starved because essential supplies couldn’t get through.

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Polar Bear Safari – The Bears of Churchill

By Anne Gordon

At the “launch pad”, a brief bus ride from Churchill in northern Canada, tundra buggies, like over-sized moon vehicles, await the day’s explorers.
On arrival our driver warns us to stay seated while he checks the dark space beneath the pad for opportunistic polar bears. This elevated platform now used for boarding the buggies was named for the rockets that were launched from here in the 1950s to study the Northern Lights.

Pronounced safe …we disembark and board a massive vehicle, one of only 19 designed and built specifically for polar bear sightseers. Huge rubber wheels, almost five feet high, elevate the buggy cab sufficiently to avert a polar bear invasion. It’s cozy inside the 40-seat spacious interior.

Jarrett, our driver, reads us the Riot Act before we set out:

Don’t whistle at the bears. Nobody seems to have found the right tune anyway. The washroom is at the back of the buggy and you’ll notice the water is blue. If you don’t want a blue bum don’t use it while we’re in transit.” I understand his warning as soon as we hit the trail.

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Papua New Guinea: Land of the Last Frontier

Papua New Guinea

By Anne Gordon

Tell a North American fisherman that he can catch fish with a spider web and he’ll scoff at the idea.  Then tell him that a rattle made of coconut shell and bamboo is a sure thing for luring sharks and the response will be equally incredulous.

Papua New Guinea - stilt houseIn Papua New Guinea off the northern coast of Australia, fishermen gather spider webs from the forest at daybreak.  Attached to kite tails, trailing webs when skimming across the water lure drummer fish to the surface.  Then, tangled in the fine strands the fish are drawn in.

As for luring sharks, David Kirkland, an Australian photographer, had first-hand experience of that dangerous undertaking.  Joining what he thought was a seasoned “shark caller” he paddled out to sea in a flimsy outrigger canoe.  Lowering a coconut shell and bamboo rattle into the water his companion shook it.  Within minutes a curious shark emerged from the inky depths.  At the sight of the monster, the Papuan – obviously a novice – took fright.  Tipping the dugout, he unseated Kirkland who landed foursquare on top of the shark.  “I shot off that bloody shark like an Exocet” said Kirkland.  “My camera equipment … sank to the bottom.

Diving in Papua New GuineaIn the ocean surrounding Papua New Guinea, divers can expect to see scorpion fish, ghost pipe fish, pygmy sea horses swaying beside giant sea fans, Eagle Rays advancing like an army of predatory space-age birds and sinuous evil-eyed eels peering from cavities in the coral reef.

Schools of barracuda swirling in glittering funnels lit by a filtered sun sweep out of the blue, while silver tip sharks cruise by, slow and menacing.  From the daintiest sea slug to the gargantuan proportions of a gliding whale shark as it sups on masses of krill each time it opens its mouth, this ocean with its islands, atolls and coral reefs is ranked among the world’s finest diving destinations.

The color of the wild in Papua New GuineaLand exploration in Papua New Guinea is equally magical.  Western crowned pigeons and Birdwing butterflies live alongside jungle wallabies, possums, tree kangaroos and echidnas who at mating time link up with a train of other lovelorn males to pursue a single female for sometimes four weeks at a time.

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