When you imagine the best wildlife vacations in the world, it’s difficult to begin anywhere other than the Galapagos Islands. Located over 900 kilometres off the west coast of Ecuador, the archipelago of volcanic islands is not an easy place to reach, a factor that merely adds to its lure. Described by Charles Darwin as ‘a little world in itself’, the Galapagos is home to some of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife – from blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas to endemic Floreana mockingbirds and flightless cormorants.
With such an array of astounding animals residing on the Galapagos, the possibilities for wildlife encounters are endless: snorkel with majestic sea turtles as penguins and their string of trailing bubbles zip by, or venture landwards to see the rock-loving Galapagos fur seal, unique to the islands and the smallest eared seal in the world. Yet, even with all of this incredible wildlife, your trip to the islands is not complete without meeting its most iconic animal, the Galapagos Tortoise. As the largest species of the world’s tortoise family, these giants can sometimes exceed 150 years of age and weigh as much as 250 kilograms. Indeed, the reptiles are so emblematic that the Galapagos (Islands) – meaning ‘tortoise’ in Spanish – were named after them.
For those of you with a passion for adrenaline, perhaps better referred to as mind-bending fear, head to the Neptune Islands in South Australia and take a swim with one of the ocean’s most legendary predators, the Great White Shark. Great whites are the largest predatory fish on the planet, and it wouldn’t be foolish of you to question why a swim in their hunting grounds would be an encounter worth perusing. However, long thought to be fearsome killing machines, scientific research is increasingly snuffing the unjust reputation of the great white.
That said, don’t be expected to be thrown into the ocean with a snorkel and mask and left to swim ashore. Tour operators are kind enough to provide their customers with a shark cage from which to view the animals. Drop beneath the surface and gaze into the deep for the wildlife encounter of your lifetime, waiting as the sharks slowly begin to appear. Whether you are after a thrill, or simply want to admire the breathtaking design of the elusive great white, cage diving in the Neptune Islands is the perfect place for you.
Watching an enormous whale breach from the ocean, twisting joyously in the air, before crashing back to the surface is a sight not to be missed for all wildlife enthusiasts. And, whilst there are a number of spectacular spots around the world from which to view such displays, little are more worthy of recognition than Kaikoura, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. With warm, nutrient-rich waters and deep marine canyons lying just off of New Zealand’s east coast, the Pacific shoreline around Kaikoura is a haven for feeding giants, not least Sperm Whales which frequent the area year-round.
Returning for air after feeding on giant squid from the subterranean ravines, you are more likely to see sperm whales in Kaikoura than you are anywhere else in the world. You’ll also have the chance to spot pods of orca, dolphin and pilot whales, along with the barnacled skin of the humpback as it leaps from the water. And, if luck is on your side, you may even glimpse the fanned tail of a blue whale as it dives beneath the waves for its next meal.
Whale Watching boat and Sperm whales off Kaikoura, New Zealand Shutterstock/Shaun JeffersSperm Whales
Every autumn, millions of salmon defy the odds as they leave the comfort of the Pacific Ocean for the struggles of British Columbia’s western river systems to spawn. Seeking out the very stream bed in which they hatched, the Salmon endure a journey perhaps greater than that of any other species on the planet. Canada Fisheries estimate the amount of salmon making the journey is upwards of 20 million and the spectacle can be viewed from Goldstream National Park all the way to Kamloops and Salmon Arm in the interior of BC.
Congregating in huge mass, and with deteriorating bodies, the fish battle for the best spots to spawn, after which their journey comes to an end. But, like all natural events, the sacrifice of one individual benefits another. Dippers can be seen foraging the shallows for eggs, whilst bald eagles swoop down to feed on the fish carcasses washed up on the river’s shore. At dawn and dusk, racoons and otters join the feast, along with the striding steps of a curious black bear. The salmon run across British Columbia is an incredible example of endurance, migration and the circle of life, making it one of the world’s best wildlife vacations.
Brown Bear feasts on Salmon Flickr: jitze1942
Eagle fishing for Salmon Flickr: leeanncafferata
Often found in groups of up to 30, the Mountain Gorillas of the Virunga in Central Africa are an elusive species. Muscular and proud-looking, they are the largest primates on the planet, but so too amongst the most endangered, with about 880 individuals remaining in the wild. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and strict ecotourism practices, their numbers are now increasing. In spite of their rarity, with the aid of local guides the gorillas can be seen in their natural environment, chewing on wild celery and fruit in the dense, forested highlands of the Virunga mountains.
With each bands’ movements dictated by a silverback male, the gorillas inhabit a relatively small range, stopping to allow the adults a chance to groom one another, as the young scramble about in the trees. The Virunga National Park contains more mammal and bird species than any other protected area in Africa. From chimpanzees and forest elephants to the electric-green of the black-collared lovebird, a visit to the Virunga region not only gifts the once in a life time opportunity to observe the majestic mountain gorillas, but a wealth of other wildlife too.
Have you been on any awesome wildlife vacations recently? Let us know where you have been in the comments section below.