Top 10 close encounter wildlife experiences
Story by Katy Pannell | Contributing Writer
For many travelers wildlife viewing will be included in their vacation plans in one form or another. For some travelers this is the sole reason for their trip.
There are endless opportunities to spot local wildlife and some allow you to get even closer to the action than you might have thought possible. Here are ten close encounter wildlife experiences that permit you to view some of the world’s most fascinating creatures up close on a wildlife holiday.
Stay at the Great Ocean Ecolodge in Australia
Situated on the edge of the Cape Otway National Park on the south coast of Australia, the Great Ocean Ecolodge is an award-winning property with a core focus on educating its visitors on the abundant wildlife that inhabits the surrounding area. This includes one of the largest populations of koalas in all of Victoria who spend most of their day lazing in eucalyptus trees, providing you with the perfect opportunity to snap these cute creatures up close. The property’s owners, Lizzie and Shayne, also tend to sick and orphaned animals, so you are likely to see kangaroos and koalas at close quarters as the couple nurse them back to health.
Visit Green Turtle Beach in Oman
Ras-al-Jinz in Oman is one of the best places in the world to witness green turtles in their natural habitat. Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide you will be taken to green turtle beach at night and, depending on the time of year, you might see turtles laying their eggs or even get to see young turtles hatching and making their way to the water. July is the best month to view turtles coming ashore whilst from September through to November you are likely to witness nesting and hatching. For those staying at the nearby Carapace Lodge, return to the beach in the early hours of the morning when this wonderful experience attracts less tourists.
Meet the snow monkeys in Japan
Japan is famous for many things, but the snow monkeys of Yudanaka are undeniably the cutest! In an area renowned for its natural hot spring baths, the snow monkeys have taken to copying their human counterparts and can often be found relaxing in the area’s soothing waters. Indeed, the monkeys’ presence is such that they now have a dedicated bath for their sole use – no people allowed. Despite being a bit of a trek to get to, Yudanaka offers a wonderfully unique wildlife experience, where you can view these creatures up close. Visit during the winter when delicate snowflakes sit atop the monkeys’ heads for a photographic opportunity unlike any other.
Encounter humpbacks in French Polynesia
During the migration season humpback whales migrate to the temperate waters off the coast of Rurutu in the South Pacific, where they reproduce. It’s during this migration that travelers have the opportunity to view these gentle giants up close, even joining them in the water if they so wish. Participants need to be confident swimmers as, understandably, they will be jumping into pretty deep waters, but professional divers are on hand to offer constant support and direction. Watching and listening to the humpbacks up close is an encounter unlike any other.
Stay at Giraffe Manor in Kenya
A night or two spent at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi offers a truly memorable wildlife experience and one that will be a hit with all the family. The current owner, Jock Leslie-Melville and his wife bought the property in 1974, founding the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) and moving five orphan and endangered Rothschild giraffe to the property. These magnificent creatures are very much the main attraction at Giraffe Manor and the opportunity to feed them in the conservatory during breakfast is undoubtedly one of the highlights. While away a few hours watching them amble around the lawn and keep your eyes peeled for the warthogs who also call Giraffe Manor home.
Swim with dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura, which lies on the north-eastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island, is a haven for dolphin pods and one of the best places in the world to swim with them in their natural environment. Present year-round, the dolphins are friendly and playful creatures that love to interact. Encounter Kaikoura is one of the best companies running this activity and their commitment to environmental improvement and sustainability is one of the many reason to use them. Their trips are also restricted to 13 swimmers, meaning a more personal experience for those taking part.
Explore the famous Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are perhaps the best place in the world to view wildlife up close. With no natural predators for centuries, the Islands’ inhabitants are remarkably fearless of humans, meaning visitors often come face to face with inquisitive locals.It’s quite common for humans to have to make way for a sea lion moving along the beach or to suddenly find themselves a few feet away from the nesting site of a blue-footed booby! The islands can be visited year-round; however, if your sea legs are not the best we would recommend avoiding August and September when the waters can be choppier.
Admire the penguins in Antarctica
Viewed in their thousands in and around Antarctica’s frozen waters, penguins in their many varieties pepper this crisp white landscape. If you are lucky enough to ever visit the Antarctic Peninsula, you may find yourself surrounded by these astonishing birds as they chatter animatedly to each other; with little or no interaction with humans, the penguins in Antarctica show no fear of man making for a truly unique wildlife experience. Although Antarctica can be visited between early November and late March, November is the courting season for penguins.
Learn to be a mahout in Thailand
There are a number of places in Thailand where you can get up close to the country’s most famous resident, but the Anantara Golden Triangle hotel in the north of the country offers the best and most authentic encounters. Approximately 160 acres of bamboo forest, rivers and nature trails make up the ideal habitat for around 30 elephants, many of which have been saved from a life of begging on Thailand’s busy city streets, and as a trainee you will learn how to train and care for the elephants with the help of a qualified mahout. The highlight for many people taking part in this training is taking the elephants for their daily bath. This activity is particularly well-suited to children who will revel in the opportunity to spend some time in the company of these gentle giants, and with the option of staying for one, two or three days it also offers a great degree of flexibility.
Meet the meerkats in South Africa
Meerkats are always a popular choice with children and adults alike, and one of the best places to watch them in their natural habitat is the 2000 hectare De Zeekoe estate just outside of Oudtshoorn in South Africa. Head out early in the morning towards the meerkat burrow with a cup of tea or coffee in hand and wait for these amusing animals to appear, foraging and frolicking as they go. It might be tempting to go in for a cuddle, but it’s worth remembering these animals are wild and never handled by humans, so keep a respectful distance. However, if you sit still, the meerkats often use you as a lookout if you offer a vantage point and it’s not unusual for them to climb on your head!
Are any of these wildlife encounters on your bucket list?