Never smile at a crocodile … or an alligator

Over the next few days I will be starting a series of blogs about my three weeks in Florida, Atlanta, and California. The first one will be about Myakka River State Park (Florida) where I saw this fella while on a boat cruise!

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Meeting the world’s biggest flower … the rafflesia

Although I had this plant in my Borneo bucket- list, I knew there was no guarantee I’d see one.

In Sarawak I could have seen one but I had a booking to go to Bako National Park and the flower was already on day three (jt only lasts 3 or 4 days) when I saw the Forestry announcement about the bloom. I also heard it was a two-hour hike to get to that flower, so in the heat I was sort of relieved I couldn’t go.

These flowers are not something you can grow in your garden, unless your garden is a tropical rainforest in Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, or the Philippines, or here on Borneo. It also needs to be near the Tetra Stigma vine which, as a parasitic plant, it attaches it’s self to. I didn’t know all this, I just knew I’d seen photos of it, and heard Sir David Attenborough talk in awe of it in his Borneo adventures. And, let’s face it, this is an awe inspiring island.

So it was in Sabah, on a day trip to Kinabalu National Park and Poring Hot Springs that our guide said a flower was able to be seen in Poring. I immediately sais yes and while the others were in the pools, I went on private trip, through a local tribes orchard, past durian, star fruit, ginger, and more of my favourite fruits to arrive at a crudely formed pathdown a bank to the fenced-in, protected plant.

As this one was in local tribal lands it meant the fee went directly to them, not the tour company, which of course is one of the ways to be an eco-traveller: leave as much money as possible in the communities you visit.

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Hokianga – take a twilight trip to see largest kauri tree

Perched right on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour, The Copthorne Hotel & Resort Hokianga is a beautiful old style kauri villa has stunning views of the massive sand dunes across the bay. After checking in it’s not long before I’m in the warm water – I rarely get into cool or cold  sea but this road trip in Northland has reintroduced me to salt water bathing. This  4-star hotel also has a fresh-water swimming pool.

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Back in my room, in the newer building, I watch as a fishing group returns and excitedly weighs, and photographs, a large fish. Before long I’m back in the hotels foyer as I’m meeting my guide there for a trip called Footprints Waipoua – a guided evening walk into the Waipoua Forest. (Twitter @hokimustdos)

We meet in the Copthorne Hokianga foyer
We meet in the Copthorne Hokianga foyer
Koro explains our route
Koro explains our route

My guide, Koro, from the local Maori tribe, picks me up and I meet the other couples, from Canada and Australia, who are on the walk too. He tells us he will introduce us to the locals’ relationship with nature, spiritually and culturally as we meet the trees many of whom have names.

One of them, Tane Mahutu, Lord of the Forest, belongs to the ‘family of ancient trees’ along with a Japanese tree, Jōmon Sugi – a similar forest chief on Yakushima Island off the coast of Japan. Both are celebrities in their own country and have twin tales of cultural significance.

The natural environment of Waipoua Forest provides a natural stage for our walk to see some of the largest kauri trees in the world. Koro also gives us a mythological interpretation of life in the forest and it feels really spiritual and a privilege to be in the forest in the dark.  It’s quite different during the day when I revisit the next afternoon with buses of tourists also there – no sounds of silence then!

An impressive trunk!
An impressive trunk!

We  meet the Four Sisters, ‘working together in competition’ and  the mighty Te Matua Ngahere, Father of the Forest, estimated to be 4,000 years old, “older than Jesus” Koro tells us,  and Tane Mahutu who is, impressively, 51 metres tall. Unfortunately, kauri have a disease, kauri dieback that’s proving a relentless killer and scientists are desperately seeking a way to stop the spread so please, please, stay on the walkways and clean your footwear to help stop the spread.

???????????????????????????????I recommend that while in the Hokianga, make sure you take the Footprints guided tour and learn about these special trees through song, history, and the Maori creation story. As Koro reminds us, “we are only alive when we are conscious of our treasures.”

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clean your footwear .. PLEASE
Breakfast at the Copthorne before I head off on a water taxi (see the next blog)
Next morning I breakfast at the Copthorne before I head off on a water taxi (see the next blog)

My 2-week  trip around Northland was taken in my favourite car rental company NZ Rent A Car!

 

Hokianga Harbour: blue skies, sand dunes & ancient trees

The Hokianga is not just blue skies, massive sand dunes and ancient trees – it’s also the cradle of not only Ngapuhi, but also of the European settlers in the early 1800s.

I have done too much in the last 24, or so, hours for a little blog, but there are plenty of stories to come out of this area from my pen and camera.  Lonely Planet raved about Footprints Waipoua  (@hokimustdos) and so will I! I took the evening guided walk – with 6 others from Canada, USA, and the Bahamas’ – and we all voted it fabulous. Our local Maori guide, Koro, really did guide us through the forest and introduced us to the biggest, and oldest of the kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest, and more. I don’t want to spoil the story now – book mark this blog and come back for more. (Or watch the airline magazines for this one!)

Another one that’s worthy of a bigger audience than this blog  – although my numbers of readers have gone up while I’ve been travelling Northland, so welcome to you who are just discovering  NZ and my travels – next overseas trip will be Turkey hopefully and, absolutely, Borneo later this year. But back to the story that deserves a post and printed article is Sandtrails Hokianga which i went on this am.

See the photo of the sun just hitting the sand dunes (taken from my room at the Copthorne Hotel &Resort Hokianga) well that was just the start of an adventure, great scenery, and an introduction to Andrew Kendall’s tribal history – including the arrival of Kupe. Like our guide last night, he is a really nice guy: what even better, this tour is an exclusive, limited to three people! I suggest you book in advance if you can.

Some photos as a taste of what’s to come  . . .

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and more. . .

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Sason Gir: home to the Asiatic lions

Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (Gujarat) is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries of India. It’s also the only known home of the world-famous Asiatic Lions in Asia.

It covers some 1,412 sq km, and in November 2010 I had the privilege of being hosted by Gujarat Tourism  to their first International Bird Convention,  (search for ‘Gujarat’ to see other blogs I’ve  and written about this fabulous State) and after that, thanks to RAO Tours I explored parts of Gujarat I hadn’t seen such as the Sasan Gir

Mainly made up of dry deciduous forests with short and gnarled teak trees, thorn bushes and grassland, it’s obviously a perfect home to its (approx.) 360 lions.

During the jeep tour, my guide tells me there are some 450 plant species, 32 mammals, 310 birds, 24 reptiles and over 2,000 species of insects. It also has nearly 300 Leopards , 30,000 Spotted Deer, Antelopes, Striped Hyenas, Jackals, Nilgai, Sambar, Wild Boar, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cats, Indian Porcupine, Gazelles and Crocodiles to name a few. Most of these provide the meals for the carnivores!

The birders in the group were thrilled with the bird population, (see Alan McBride ‘s diary) and even I, a non-birder could tick off a number in my book of lists!

The jeep safari’s almost guarantees a lion sighting – although, as I was in the last jeep, I was upset not to get good lion photos. However, like many missed photos, the image of the original remains firm in my memory.

I stayed at the Vanvaso Resortand loved it so can well recommend them: it has been built with care and attention to detail – combining nature with luxury accommodation . I loved my bedroom and the bathroom was a combo  of indulgence and the jungle ambiance.

I also visited the Lion Safari Camp where I had a tasty BBQ meal and was fascinated with the Siddis who trace their ancestry to Africa. They are believed to have come to India as mercenaries, slaves and labour. Here in Gir, there are villages of the Siddis, who are well-known for their dances and ability to live with the lions.

Ranjit Sinh Parmer ( CEO Palaces of India) joins us on the jeep

Enjoy this slide show of some of my photos from the area: as always, copyright to all my photos are owned by me

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Another new book for nature lovers – all homes should have a copy

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE                       by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris

Here is another new book for nature lovers and with many oddities in New Zealand’s fauna all kiwi homes should have a copy.

  • Did you know there are no island groups anywhere in the world comparable to New Zealand in size, latitude, climate and isolation.
  • And, of the world’s total land area, only about 0.17 per cent lies under the New Zealand flag, but about one per cent of all known land animals in the world live within our borders.
  • This is made up of around 10,000 species of insects, 2000 spiders, nearly 300 snails, and perhaps a further couple of thousand of all other groups combined.

This book is a completely updated edition and an extensive guide to well over 400 species of New Zealand fauna, including both native and  introduced species.

Each entry succinctly describes both habits and habitats, distribution, classification, breeding patterns, food and recognition tips to aid amateurs – like me – with identifying a creature.  It also includes the latest research findings and changes in classification and nomenclature that have occurred in the past 10 years, along with many new photographs.

It seems to me, far too few people — New Zealanders and ‘foreigners’ alike — are aware of just how extraordinary New Zealand wildlife is. For any animal enthusiast with a global perspective, it’s right up there on the billboard with its name in lights along with Hawaii, the Galapagos and Madagascar.” says Terrence Lindsay (Zoologist and ornithologist) 

Rod Morris’s stunning photographic work has also received widespread international acclaim. Previously a producer with Wild South, he is now a freelance natural history photographer.

I know I will spend a lot of time with this book and am sure you will too – all NZ homes need a copy of this!

(See  this post – in this blog – for a new travellers guide  for NZ birds too)

great new book for bird and nature lovers

Birds of New Zealand by Julian Fitter and Don Merton

Sad facts for New Zealand, and the world, is that since the arrival of  people in New Zealand (about 800 years ago), some 41 species of bird have become extinct.

Today several species are only surviving thanks to intensive conversation measures and thanks for people such as Don Merton QSM – who unfortunately died in April 2011 before this book was published. I only met him once, but I, and other NZers value the work he did for us and our wildlife.

While we have lost many species and the forest no longer echoes with wonderful birdsong, the bird life in New Zealand is still remarkable with much of it being not just endemic, but unlike anything elsewhere.

The Kakapo, the world’s largest parrot, and the Takahe, the largest member of the Rail family, are two flightless examples of birds unlike anything else in the world. Other good examples are the two wattlebirds, the Saddleback and Kokako.  All of these would probably be extinct by now were it not for recent intervention by dedicated conservationists, by people such the authors of this new book, Birds of New Zealand.

Takahe - at Zealandia Wellington

 

Birds of New Zealand (ISBN 1869508513)

is a beautiful photographic guide featuring all 350 species of bird you can possibly see in New Zealand, illustrated with over 600 full colour photographs with full descriptions of all native species and the regular visitors: it is a wonderfully practical book that no bird spotter or nature enthusiast should be without.

This book is not just a guide to identifying the native birds: it is also a wake-up call to look after them, to appreciate and protect them. As Julian says in his acknowledgements, ‘the real thank you has to go to the amazing native bird life of Aotearoa New Zealand, for being so special, and so different. My one hope is that this book will do just a little bit to help you survive and prosper. You have had a rough 800 years and you deserve better.’ 

Julian Fitter is a conservationist, naturalist and writer with a special interest in island ecosystems. He spent 15 years in the Galapagos Islands where he established and ran the islands’ first yacht charter business. In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up the Galapagos Conservation Trust which has grown to be a significant supporter of conservation programmes in Galapagos. He is the author of a number of books on birds and wildlife, including most recently, New Zealand Wildlife and Bateman’s Field Guide to Wild New Zealand.

Don Merton is a name that is synonymous with bird conversation, worldwide.  He started work with the New Zealand Wildlife Service in 1957 and retired from the Department of Conservation in 2005.  The survival of several species, including the South Island Saddleback, Kakapo and Black Robin owe a lot to Don.  The techniques he and his colleagues used to ensure their survival, are now in use around the world and have helped countless other species in the fight to prevent their extinction.

NOTE: Another new book worth checking out by nature lovers is the  COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE Terrence Lindsay and Rod Morris 

Five top tips for while in Wellington: New Zealand’s capital of cool.

Here are my five top tips for outdoor activity in Wellington – New Zealand’s capital of cool.