Thursday, September 25, 2008

Staff Trip Report: 5 - Chris Breen in Canada - Grizzly Bears, September 2008

I was gearing myself up to tell you that we didn’t see any Grizzlies from Tweedsmuir Lodge – it would have been disappointing but true. We had done one river ‘float’ on the Atnarko River, past all the best spots for bears, in fact we had seen one distant Grizzly (or ‘Grizz’ as the locals call them), and one good view of a Black Bear, but that was first thing in the morning.

We went back to the lodge to grab our lunch and headed straight out again, put the boat back in the river and paddled upstream. We stopped and had a picnic. The float began again in earnest. It was a slow and rather wonderful (second) journey down the same stretch of river, the sound of rushing water and the views of the gigantic mountains around us proved to be a somewhat mesmerising experience and I have to admit that I dozed off. A bad thing frankly as Simon’s spotting skills leave a little to be desired. Anyway, I can’t imagine a nicer place to doze!

We had to portage the boat over a few rocks so with a certain regret I woke up and jolted myself into action dragging the boat and re-floating it a little further downstream. Bald Eagles, Mergansers, Mew Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls we ever present but no Grizzlies.

We approached the final turn of the river before we had to jump out and return to the lodge…. And there they were, a mother and two cubs. They came striding out of the grass down to the riverside, they bowled into the water and started to catch fish right in front of us. They worked the river, gradually maing their way downstream to where we needed to get out. We watched them for 30 minutes or more, in the water, heads under pulling out fresh salmon and then sitting neck-high with salmon-in-paw as if it was a corn on the cob, tearing at the flesh until it was time to get a fresh one.
So, wildlife rewards the patient, our high hopes and low expectations were repaid many times by this encounter. We returned to the lodge and had a beer to celebrate our winnings.
There was an hour or so of light left and we toyed with the idea of going out again on foot to Old Smokehole, just about two minutes walk from the lodge. It was a good plan since who knows quite when we will be back. Was it worth it? Well, the first bear we saw there was a beautifully groomed Black Bear, strolling along the bank on the far side of the river, then there was the Black Bear a little closer slightly upstream. Then of course there was the Grizzly that made its way towards us from a distance of about 100 metres, working its way along the river bank until it was perhaps only 10 metres and the absence of a guide made us feel that it was probably time to retreat. The show was over and we began to head back to the lodge for a shower and dinner… but of course it wasn’t, we had to take time to look at yet another Black Bear and a brand new cub. What a day.

Can I top that? Probably not, but I did have a great morning today. Got up at 0630 to head out and have a quick look for bears before breakfast – failed miserably. Went back to the lodge for breakfast, packed and then headed out again, we were hoping to see just one more bear before we headed off to Vancouver. We stopped at various good bear spots along the river and at our final spot we were again rewarded. This time with a mother Grizzly and and young cub.
Superb end to a truly amazing trip….. bears live in Canada and you really need to get out here to see them!

Click here for Grizzly Bear Watching Holidays in Canada or
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Staff Trip Report: 4 - Chris Breen in Canada - Whale Watching, September 2008

Jannie and her partner Herman set up CetaceaLab seven years ago on Gill Island after seeking approval from the local Git Ga’at people. No one had ever studied the whales in this area until they came along, and now they go out daily in all weather to observe and record the comings and goings of the whales in the channels off the Great Bear Rainforest. They have set up a series of hydrophones in certain key locations and record all the calls, and are able to identify all the whales that pass through. There are two key species that come here, Orcas and Humpbacks.
The Orcas have generally left the channels by September but there are plenty of Humpbacks here. They travel up the Pacific coast from Hawaii where they spend the winter and have their young, and this is one of their key summer feeding grounds.

Yesterday Simon and I went out early with Jannie to join her on one of her daily whales surveys. It was freezing cold so we donned our Mustang floatation suits, and with thick gloves and woolly hats headed out in the channel. We went for 20 minutes or so and then stopped, shut down the engines and just listened for the blow of a Humpback and looked for the plume of its breath. The mist was clearing and the sun was beginning to creep above the mountains and it wasn’t long before we heard the loud exhalation of a Humpback. It is a haunting sound that when the air is still carries for miles. This Humpback was sleeping, just resting on the surface and breathing in a nice, slow, gentle rhythm, quite undisturbed by us. As we sat and watched we became aware of a second Humpback nearby, a little more active than the first, swimming a little faster, he was feeding and every now and again exhaled sharply and then gently dived, and as he did so flicked his tail into the air displaying the beautiful, iconic tail flukes.

We continued on through the spectacular channels but stopping every 15 or 20 minutes, cutting the engines to watch and listen… and of course keep and eye on Neekas, Jannie's dog who has a startling ability to see whales before anyone else! Over the course of our day we saw a total of 13 Humpbacks and got close enough to photograph and identify each one. Of the 13 there were two that Jannie said were new to the area and which neither she nor Herman had recorded as having seen here before.

Back then to the lodge to pack our bags, say our goodbyes and board the float plane to Bella Bella. From here we boarded another light aircraft and flew for 30 minutes or so eastwards to the Bella Coola Valley and then headed up to Tweedsmuir Lodge. Today, we are going to see if we can see some Grizzlies!
Click here for an article by Chris' travel companion Simon Barnes in The Times

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Staff Trip Report: 3 - Chris Breen in Canada - Bear Watching, September 2008

Yesterday really was one of the most amazing days of wildlife viewing I have ever had, and having taken a real interest in wildlife 20 or so years ago, this is quite a claim.

We headed out from King Pacific yesterday morning at around 9am on what was a misty and quite cold morning. We were aiming for one of the bear-viewing platforms at Riordan on
Gribbell Island, and were off with high hopes and low expectations as Simon so aptly put it. But, I had a good feeling about the day (this can be a dangerous thing to have!).

We whizzed past a Humpback Whale, but of a shame not to stop, but we were on a mission, there were bears to see. At Riordan we disembarked the boat and walked the short distance to the platforms. As a group of 15 or so we were split between the two platforms. Having been a couple of times in the past, my personal preference is for the furthest platform. Although they are only about 75 metres apart, the furthest of the two platforms has a slightly clearer view, and in my experience the bears have tended to appear from upstream, and the furthest hide is best placed for this.

We waited for 30 minutes or so and, not surprisingly, there was nothing immediately obvious - no bears. Archie (our Git Ga'at guide) suggested that we walk off the platform and go to see if we could see Beavers on the nearby 'pond'. I have never seen Beavers (but have made various previous attempts to do so), so I wasn't really expecting to be successful. Of course as we walked up to the pond there was one huge Beaver sat by the water just watching us. This was a good start, but it got better as we were treated to quite a display over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, not just from this Beaver, but from two others as well.

Back to the platform and 10 minutes later there was a Pine Marten.

Marven (the principal Git Ga'at guide) was chatting to us on the stand about bears, Black Bears and Spirit Bears, and without changing the pace of conversation said - "there's a Black Bear". All binoculars and cameras were focussed on the Black Bear, a particularly large one, that was working his way down stream towards us, fishing along the way. Good so far, but no Spirit Bears - but that was no problem as Marven said that in previous days the Spirit Bear hasn't appeared until much later in the day (that is, on the days that the Spirit Bear has appeared).

"There's a white bear", says Marven, "do you know, he has just been sleeping there and we didn't seen him, I think he must have just got up, I don't know how long he has been there". Just on the other side of the platform, in fact between the two platforms, a large Spirit Bear had clearly been asleep by the side of the river, just out of view. The attention and cameras immediately moved away from the Black Bear and over to the Spirit Bear. This most beautiful ginger-white bear was at this point no more than 30 metres away from us to our left, and a Black Bear no more than 30 metres away from us to our right. Once the excitement had settled (which took while!) - it was difficult to know where to turn!

Neither of the bears was at all concerned with our presence, and both spent the next three and a half hours fishing in front of us. The Spirit Bear (now known as Elvis as he has a twitch in his right lip) walked the river, searching for salmon and hauling them out, the Black Bear on the other hand found himself a shady spot on the river and, standing still, positioned his head to see into the river and then waited, patiently for the right salmon to appear and come close enough, before he just lifted it out and ate it. He pulled out quite a few over the course of the afternoon, and after eating each one, he returned to his favourite spot and just waited until the next really tasty salmon came along.

I was able to climb off the platform at one point and just sit under it (with our guide), the Spirit Bear walked within two metres of me, caught a fish, and then sat on log and ate it - perhaps three metres away from me. Isn't this what wildlife viewing is all about?

It really couldn't get any better than this… A female Black Bear appeared, with a most ridiculous method of hunting… sort of trying to bounce on the fish. It didn't really work, so she had to resort to eating the scraps that the other bears had left behind. The larger Black Bear took umbrage to the Spirit Bear being so close and chased him up river, and we simply got to a point in the day when we had to leave.

The sun came out and we headed off back to Barnhard Harbour and King Pacific- the days wildlife viewing concluded with Humpback Whales at various stages of the journey back - five in all.

It is virtually impossible to express in words what an amazing day this was - hopefully the photos will help to put this into perspective.

Click here for Bear Watching Wildlife Holidays in Canada or for

Whale-watching holidays worldwide - click here

Friday, September 19, 2008

Staff Trip Report: 2 - Chris Breen in Canada, September 2008

A morning walk along the waterfront and a breakfast visit to the rather amazing Pacific Yellowfin. This wonderful old wooden boat has been beautifully restored by its passionate owner to its former glory and is now offered for charter to people who would like to enjoy the BC coast from the comfort of a wonderful old boat. It accommodates four couples in fabulous rooms and works its way up the coast looking for bears, whales and dolphins. The food is well worth writing home about too.

So, as I type this, I am sat aboard a twin-engined Saab 340, heading north from Vancouver. We are flying over the snow-covered, sun-drenched Rocky Mountains, and I can see great rivers of glaciers below me. Between us and King Pacific Lodge, is a landing in Prince Rupert and a short float-plane flight.
The normal route to King Pacific from Vancouver is not actually via Prince Rupert, but via Bella Bella, but there were low clouds and rain in Bella Bella which prevented the float planes from taking off, hence having to fly quite a bit further north to then return south again to Barnard Harbour and King Pacific. It was well worth it though as we were flying at around 120 metres above ground and we managed to see not one, but two Humpback Whales from the air on our short flight – with any luck this is a good omen for the days to come!

We arrived into the lodge at around 18.30, the water was still and the lodge looked beautiful nestled into the trees at the end of the inlet. We were greeted with a glass of champagne as we stepped off the float plane and I was instantly made to feel at home by the many people who looked after us at Festival of Wildlife last year. Robert, Marlene, Nicki, Michelle, Tarron and a host of others all return to work and guide here year in year out.

Dinner was an event in itself as the chef (Max) is considered to be one of the top chefs in British Columbia. Oysters for starters and tuna for main course accompanied by some of BC’s very best wines.

Tomorrow we are heading off for a full day of bear-watching… so let’s hope there are some bears around to see!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Staff Trip Report 1: Chris Breen in Canada, September 2008

Arriving into Vancouver is always a pleasure. It is such a great airport – well organised, spacious, and amazingly for such a busy airport, efficient and quiet.

Within 30 minutes of arriving, Simon and I were jumping into a taxi and about 30 miutes later than that we were checking in at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Having been to Vancouver a few times in the past, I have visited a number of hotels here, and of them all my favourite in the Fairmont Waterfront. There can be few large hotels in the world that have a hotel dog that greets you on arrival – it is a friendly start to a trip to have a large golden labrador wagging his tail at you as you arrive. The foyer is gigantic and has an equally vast display of fresh flowers and the spacious rooms have huge picture windows offering views out over the water with Stanley Park beyond. There is never a dull moment, this is BCTV… floatplanes taking off and landing, helicopters coming in and out, gulls, cormorants, crows and pigeons all battling for controls of the sky – it is lovely to watch.

After freshening up and enjoying a beer in the bar, we made our way along the waterside path to the excellent Canderos restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink before retiring – it had been along day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Staff Trip Report: The Magic of Australian Wildlife - Part 2 - O'Reilly's Rainforest Resort, Lamington National Park - by Stewart Oak

After our exhilarating experience at Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, we had a brief overnight in Brisbane, before picking up our hire car, and making the very pleasant drive to Lamington National Park. Only about half an hour south of Brisbane, down the Pacific Highway, we turned inland and began to experience the Australian Wilderness with some stunning scenery.

As we got deeper into the National Park, we stopped when we spotted some wallabies on the road side. Nobody had told us to expect this, so it really was a great surprise.

When we arrived at O'Reilly's we were already in full 'Wildlife' mode. The sounds of the forest as we had driven in reached new highs when we parked up, and realised we were ready for a treat. The grounds of the beautifully manicured O'Reilly's were teaming with Wildlife, and from our balcony we could watch the Pademelon Wallabies enjoying the afternoon sun, as the ubiquitous Brush Turkeys roamed around looking for leftover food.

The rooms of O'Reilly's are both tastefully designed, comfortable, and perfect for feeling at one with the surrounding nature. It was tempting to just sit on the balcony and take it all in, but with the sunlight already fading, we wanted to explore. We immediately stumbled upon the 'bird feeding area', and before I knew what was happening I was surrounded by gorgeous Crimson Rosellas, and an Australian King Parrot.

Soon after this, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, and were amazed to see that we were being watched by the iconic, and aptly named, Regent Bower Bird. Lamington National Park is the only place you can find this Beauty!

An easy, short walk from the main reception area of O'Reilly's and you find the acclaimed Tree Tops Walk, where there's an opportunity to ascend right up into the canopy for a proper 'bird's eye' view. I didn't hesitate for a second, and it was worth the climb.

I would have stayed up there for ages, but there was soon as small queue forming at the foot of the tree, so reluctantly, and before I could see much in the way of the birdlife I had to come down. We thoroughly enjoyed the circular walk, and had already put the 'Birds of Lamington National Park' book to good use, spotting several of the resident species including Scrubwrens, and a Logrunner. Although we didn't capture them on camera, this picture gives a feeling of the atmosphere:After this walk, we tried out the 'Lost World Spa', and sat in the wonderfully appointed Jacuzzi watching the Rosellas and Wallabies, and listening to the mesmerising sounds of the forest. Back to the balcony, and the sunset was once again setting off the magnificent landscape in a distinctly Australian hue. At the crack of dawn the next day, we joined the superbly organised 'Explorer Programme' for the daily birding walk. Our bleary eyes were soon awoken in style, when right outside the meeting point, a small bowl of fruit was put out, and the Bowerbirds soon arrived en masse. The feeding followed strict hierarchical order, and it was really interesting to witness the pecking order of the Regent and Satin Bowerbirds, and the males and females respectively.

From the feed, we went to check out an actual Bower, to learn what gives these birds their moniker. I won't spoil it for you with a picture... but the story of how the males go about constructing their 'stage' in order to set themselves off most attractively to their potential partners is a true gem of the natural world. Moving on through the forest, we were entranced by the calls. We could hear the electrifying zaps of the Whipbirds, and strange sounds of Wonga Pigeons, and the Wompoo Fruit-Dove deep in the forest. Then we came across a sweet little Eastern Yellow Robin that came right close to the path:

We were hoping to see Albert's Lyrebird, and our excellent guide Jamie had picked out it's call a few times on the walk, but unfortunately that was as close as we came. Another highlight was when we saw the semi tame Great Eastern Whipbird which came very close to the path, and we heard it's shriek from right up close. Jamie said that we are only a very small portion of people that have visited Queensland's rainforest, to not only hear the characteristic call, but to see the surprisingly small creature that is responsible for it.

After a short break for Breakfast we joined the Discovery programme again, for the 3 hour morning walk to Moran's falls and back via the Wishing Tree. It was a very enjoyable stroll, and Jamie pointed out everything from the lairs of the trapdoor spiders to the legend of the wishing tree.

After our busy morning on foot, we had a relaxing afternoon around the room, and had some visitors to our balcony expecting us to perhaps leave some scraps? They didn't have any luck with us.

We enjoyed another spectacular sunset over drinks and a very nice meal at the Rainforest Bar, and headed off on our final excursion to see the Glow-worms. On the bank of the creek, they were there, like the sky on a clear night, twinkling away like distant stars. Strange to think that something as unglamorous as simple mosquito larvae are responsible for this phenomenon.

Early (yet again) the next morning, we sadly left the enchanting Lamington National Park, stopping again for Wallaby spotting on the way. When it came to the Kookaburra on the telegraph wire (which we had somehow not seen on this trip up until then), we just had time for a quick photo before we dropped off the car at Brisbane Airport (we used 'Thrifty' Car Hire). We were in good time for our Cathay Pacific flight back via Hong Kong.

All in all a trip of a life-time, and thoroughly re-kindled the love affair with Australian Wildlife.

You can visit O'Reilly's as part of our 'Queensland's Reef and Rainforest' tour, or ask one of our consultants for your own Tailor Made Australian Wildlife Tour.

Staff Trip Report: The Magic of Australian Wildlife - Part 1 - Sydney, Noosa, and Tangalooma Wild Dolphins - by Stewart Oak

Australia holds a special place in my heart, as it was there, on the East coast 8 years ago that I both met my wife, and simultaneously inflamed a passion for serious travel, that I have been expanding on ever since. My younger brother also arrived in Sydney 8 years ago, when I was first there, and he hasn't been back to live anywhere else ever since.
When my best friend Martin announced last year that he was to marry his girlfriend from Queensland, and that the wedding would be in Noosa, I knew we would be in for a treat. There are so many wonderful places in the world, that part of me does find it hard to go back to the same place, but Australia has so much to offer, and combining a chance to stay in Sydney with my brother, and be Best Man at the wedding in Noosa... with an opportunity to check out a couple of Wildlife Worldwide's Queensland hotspots... well this was to be a holiday of a lifetime!

I won't go into detail about Sydney, as the wildlife I experienced was mainly that which I encountered in the bars, especially on the stag drinks, or 'Bucks Party', as they call it down under. It all went very well, Bondi Beach is as beautiful as ever, and it was great to catch up with my Brother. We flew with Virgin Blue up from Sydney up to the Sunshine Coast airport (Maroochydore) and it was about a 25 minute drive to Noosa. The wedding in Noosa was perfect, and I even managed to do pretty well with my speech, which was a big relief. The actual ceremony was on a boat, and with a colourful sunset, and a Caribbean steel drum band aboard, it couldn't have been better.

Noosa, although a popular holiday hotspot amongst the Aussies, does have its own fair share of exciting wildlife... and I remember from my previous visit, walking for hours around the National Park in search of a wild Koala. After days of disappointment, I thought it was a local joke on the tourists that Koalas did indeed inhabit this forest, much as walking amongst the Eucalyptus trees, seeing the turquoise water, and glassy waves peeling into the shore is well worth the time spent there. So, you can imagine my delight, when this time, after a couple of hours of walking around arching our backs and looking up into the trees, we had just about given up, when we realised that we had walked straight past a lovely Koala sitting in a small tree right near the car park at the entrance to the Park!! We stood for ages watching as he posed for us. Brilliant.

After all the excitement of the wedding in Noosa, it was soon time for the 'work' part of the trip to begin, and it's a tough job, when it comes to sampling the products for Wildlife Worldwide, but someone has to do it! Our first stop was Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, which we got to by driving the couple of hours down to Brisbane, and catching the organised shuttle ferry to Moreton Island. It was an enjoyable hour or so aboard the speedy catamaran, and we spotted a few dolphins in the distance which whetted our appetite. We checked into our beautiful room in the Kookaburra wing of this 4 star resort, but as we saw the colours of a spectacular sunset were transforming the skyline, we went straight for the beach.

The main Raison d'ĂȘtre for the Tangalooma resort is the Wild Dolphin feeding that occurs predictably every evening. The dolphins here have been subjected to rigorous scientific study, and everything possible has been done to make sure that they do not become too dependent on the interaction with the humans. The relationship with the resident dolphins began with serendipity, when fisherman on the jetty noticed that large groups of fish were attracted to the jetty lights, which in turn attracted the dolphins. In the early 90's one of the dolphins took a fish that was discarded by the fisherman, and so began the feeding link between man and dolphin.

The whole evening was organised extremely well. The dolphins arrived on cue (as they apparently do very predictably), and although there was something obviously contrived about the whole thing, it was a fascinating way to observe these wonderful mammals, and it was a delightful experience to offer a fish and feel their gentle intelligence from so close. No matter how sceptical you may be, the child in everyone would love this experience, as we did, I am sure.

The following day, things got even better. We started off the morning with a sand dune safari (Moreton is one of the largest sand Islands in the world), and this also involved some 'sand tobogganing'. In the 4WD vehicle there was an interesting and informative commentary about the Island's eco-systems, and wildlife.

After this, we had about an hour window before the next organised excursion, so we sped off to the Dive Centre, and hired some wetsuits and snorkel equipment to check out the 'artificial reefs' that had been created just offshore. I have never done 'wreck diving' (as offered by our sister company Dive Worldwide), and I am not a qualified diver, so being able to snorkel amongst these wrecks was an amazing opportunity to sample the adrenalin rush that I can now understand the wreck divers must get! There were loads of fish of all shapes, colours and sizes, and it was nothing short of breath-taking to watch them weave in and out of the 9 sunken ships in the dedicated marine wildlife site.

After returning our snorkel gear, we rushed over to the jetty to board our 'Eco-Explorer Cruise', which is advertised to feature viewing of Dugongs, Sea Turtles and Dolphins. After a short ride across to the part of the bay that is an allocated 'go slow' zone for boats, we came across a big group of Dugongs (sometimes known as Sea Cows) grazing serenely in the shallow waters. We cut the boat engine, and bobbed about with them for a long time. From the front they look a bit like a seal as they come up for air, but their rear fin is more like a small whale. We loved them.

After the high of the Dugongs, we then cruised around the bay a bit more, and soon spotted a huge Green Sea Turtle. The photos didn't really work, but it was great fun cruising along beside him. We were amazed at the speed he generated, probably trying to get away from our boat! Then, on the way back to the resort, we were joined by some of the resident dolphins. I have always heard stories of how they love to play in the wake of larger boats, and have been in many places where this is supposed to be observed without any luck. It was such a thrill when we had 4 or 5 of them all playing around the waves, and it somehow felt much more organic than the previous evening's show when they were just in it for the food. We managed to get a couple of pretty good pictures too!

Fully satisfied, we arrived back at the Tangalooma jetty, and with regret, had to board our return Catamaran to go back to Brisbane.

Although we do not currently feature Tangalooma in our Brochure and website, we will be more than happy to Tailor Make your Australia Wildlife Holiday to include this. It makes an excellent extension to our: Queensland's Reefs and Rainforests Wildlife Holiday.

Customer Comments: Tanzania

"Just wanted to say myself and Karyn had a fantastic time in Tanzania. We will be sorting photos for weeks."

Steve Falls, September 2008

Click here for Safaris in Tanzania