Wildlife

Let’s start with the obvious: the Galapagos Islands are fabulous. Everyone who goes there knows of the creatures’ famed fearlessness, but nobody’s prepared for how extraordinary the animal encounters really are. Sunbathe with sea lions then swim with penguins, sit by giant tortoises then beach-walk with iguanas – on land and underwater, nowhere does wildlife like it. Last time I was in South America I visited Peru’s very own version of the Galapagos – the Ballesttas Islands. I was bowled over. We saw the slick grey back of a killer whale moving through the water right next to our boat – a thrilling moment. And the islands’ cacophonous bird life is amazing, definitely a must for any nature-lover thinking of heading to that part of the world. For any wildlife enthusiast, Africa is of course an essential destination. From close encounters with Ugandan gorillas to spotting the big five in no time in Kruger, every country around East and Southern Africa seems to have boundless riches to explore, and each park I’ve visited has their own identity. Highlights for me have to be the Okavanga delta – a safari on water, drifting past big game and amongst exuberant birdlife – and Zimbabwe’s Antelope Park, where you can wander the plains with lion cubs. Very different in approach, both these experiences share a unique, and thrilling, approach to interacting with wildlife, and made me feel closer to the land and its inhabitants. I’d also definitely recommend a hot air balloon flight – a quiet flight over the Serengeti, watching basking prides of lions and a congregation of antelopes is an unforgettable experience. It’s easy to forget home, but it only takes a brief trip into the bush and I never fail to be staggered by Australia’s rich biodiversity. Seeing Tasmanian devils are a highlight of any trip to the island, and the sight of kangaroos congregating around a waterhole in the evening sun is truly one of earth’s great wildlife moments. Plus, in the platypus, we’ve got prime contender for the titles of the world’s oddest and most loveable animal. On the to-do list: Antarctica for the penguins, and tigers in India. And the chimpanzee orphanage on Uganda’s Ngamba Island sounds like it might be as amazing as the silverback treks in the same country. But it’s not as easy as simply ticking off the animals I’ve seen – spotting wildlife in their natural habitat for me is about appreciating nature’s beauty and earth’s diversity. There’s no better confirmation that man is only a small part of the world than a plunge into the extraordinarily rich waters of Mozambique, or looking on to an Amazonian clay lick, or seeing a Botswana waterhole at sunset, the animals gathering for their evening sundowner, as they have done since time immemorial. Walking Gaze down from an Amalfi cliff-top trail on to Positano or up at the Alps from an ancient trail along Lake Como’s shores, then feast on a the perfect recharging plate of pasta afterwards, and there’s only one conclusion any sane person can reach – Italy was undoubtedly constructed with the walker in mind. The Lovers Lane that threads together the enchanting Cinque Terre, trails that open up the hidden heart of the Portofino peninsular, Umbrian routes that mix wild uplands with seductive terraced vineyards and olive groves – to travel by any other means in this country isn’t just unadventurous, it’s downright rude. Whether you’re in Italy, its neighbour France or elsewhere, the gentle rhythm of the walker on the trail chimes exactly with the land and its people. The steady labour of the vines being tended, the farmer making his way to market – walk among locals and you are immediately part of the fabric of a place. A ramble among Czech hillsides and valleys slows you down to truly revel in the gentle beauty of the central European landscapes, and gives you the time to appreciate where man has made his mark, such as the extraordinary Lednice–Valtice landscape. Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains are famous as a trekking destination, but a walk in the country’s lower reaches is equally spectacular, the utter silence of the valleys only punctuated by the conversations you strike up with the friendly berber people who live here. And it’s not just the landscape you move through that walking improves, it’s the experiences that come afterwards as well – the glass of wine as the sun sets, the piping hot bath, the warm welcome from the owner of the local restaurant. As much as anything else, walking reminds one that it’s the simple things in life that are often the finest: a blue sky above and a winding path ahead, the promise of a good meal in a fine old town or a quaint village at the day’s end; such are the pleasures of a walk.

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