Exciting Nautical Adventures Every Aquaphile Should Experience

There’s nothing quite like getting out to sea and sailing the mighty waters and if you’ve ever experienced it, there’s a good chance you’re hooked. For some, sailing around the world is a dream but for others, a blithe reality. Whether it’s your first time sailing or you’re an accomplished ocean master, the spray of the sea and the feel of the salty wind in your hair never gets old. Moorings and anchorages are easy to find alongside dynamic coastal destinations, from classic sailing points such as the British Virgin Islands to exotic stops like Zanzibar.

7. Galápagos Islands | Ecuador

Sailing in the Galapagos Islands is like cruising through one of the world’s most magical places filled with so many different species it’s literally a wild kingdom. Sailing around the volcanic peninsula, the name Galapagos conjures images of some of the world’s most important wildlife but it’s also a lesser known yet equally thrilling sailing destination. A live-aboard boat is one of the best ways to experience sailing throughout the area–take a week-long cruise aboard a yacht (but don’t worry, there’s usually a motor just incase the wind’s not sufficient). The days can be wiled away diving or snorkeling or just relaxing offshore or head to land and cavort–while treading carefully ofcourse–among the vast numbers of giant tortoises, playful sea lions, emerald iguanas, and bounty of bird species in this ecological Eden. Get there on any of the daily flights leaving Quito, Ecuador’s capital, via Guayaquil.

6. Bay of Islands | New Zealand

Over the last decade, there have been an abundance of cruising boats around the Bay Islands in Honduras–spectacular scenery and world-class worthy diving and snorkeling are easy guesses for why this small island region has been named one of the largest per-population estimated rates of boat ownership around the globe. From 25km to 50 km off the northern mainland coast, Honduras’s three main islands–Guanaja, Roatan, and Utila–are home to barrier reefs that are the world’s second largest, churning with fish, sea turtles, sponges, whale sharks, coral, and rays. Dozens of coves make for an interesting nautical adventure, where clear waters beckon into the cool, refreshing turquoise depths. Most of the other islands, numbering around 150, are free of the advancing development found on the three favourites, making it a choice area for exploring. Anchor offshore and spend weeks discovering some of nature’s finest, uninhabited islands.

5. French Riviera

The glitz, the glamour…the sailing! Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Monaco, Nice–this revered coastline is brimming with myths and legends and scandals of the rich and famous. This is where ultra-luxurious yachts host some of the most enduring, hedonistic lifestyles in the world but not to fret, there’s still room for the average sailor swapping the sometimes-pretentious coast for offshore pursuits. You don’t need a monumental yacht–you can hire a classic sail boat and crew for a trip around the Cote D’Azur–or if you’re a greenhorn, take an independent journey around the calm waters. One of the best places to avoid the crowds is to sail to Port Cros and I_le de Porquerolle, a beautiful, pristine paradise several nautical miles from the Cote-D’Azur’s stratospheric indulgences. These unspoilt islands are the best place to be unseen, showcasing the pretty, rocky inlets, rugged shorelines, and some of the riviera’s finest stretches of sand.

4. British Virgin Islands

The name British Virgin Islands swiftly brings to mind nature’s most unsullied landscapes and one of the best-known destinations for getting your sails wet, whether as an experienced captain or complete novice. Stretched out in front, like in a sailor’s most vivid dream, is the Sir Frances Drake Channel, the main focus of the nautical crowd. The trade winds are so beautifully consistent, the sun shines almost every day, cerulean water is all about, and most surrounding islands are so close they’re navigated by eye alone. The total navigating area in the British Virgin Islands is a broad 51 x 24 kilometers, a perfect amount of space for an easygoing journey. With hundreds of anchorages across more than 40 islands, this is one easy place to sail. With hundreds upon hundreds of protected bays ideal for mooring for a day–or days on end–and such tame currents there’s virtually never a cause for concern, the BVIs are seafarer’s Shangri-la.

3. Croatia

Croatia has headed in one direction only when it comes to the travel world, and that is up-way up. Called the “new Tuscany,” and reminiscent of both the Riviera and the Greek Islands, Croatia has gained substantial attention from the sailing world. The in-crowd is here, taking full advantage of the incredible conditions and lower costs of sailing in the Adriatic. Less trend-setting and more timeless, Croatia’s 1777km coastline and no less than 1184 islands practically begs to be discovered and there’s really no better way to achieve that then by sailing. It puts you in the perfect position for all the best places. Dubrovnik, Kornati, Split, Zadar, Skradin, and countless other coastal cities keep sailors tied up for weeks, even months. Traditional fishing villages, clandestine coves, and remote islands like Elafiti make the decision between land and water difficult but the clear choice is both. Gateway cities like famed and stunning Dubrovnik are history-filled, landmark dotted travel havens–be sure to set your feet on dry land, even if just for a while.

2. Nile River | Egypt

One of the most relaxing and euphoric experiences in Egypt is sailing up the Nile River on a traditional Felucca boat, a wood vessel used in calmer waters of the Nile and rigged with one, and sometimes two, canvas lateen sails. Crewed by two or three people and taking up to ten passengers, a Felucca is still a great way to slow-travel outside of the popular and most frequented ferries and motorboats. Feluccas are more than just budget-friendly, but that’s one of the great things about them. You can hardly believe how inexpensive a journey up the Nile can be–a fraction of the cost of sailing on a dahabiyya, extravagant houseboats that have become the Nile’s version of a Rolls Royce. Following a millennia of transportation over one of the world’s oldest trade routes, a sailing journey will take you deep into nautical history and tradition. Start in Aswan and take the well-sailed route to Edfu, stopping at landmarks and smaller islands en route.

1. Zanzibar

Arty, edgy, and historically rich, Zanzibar is a proper archipelago off Tanzania’s east coast in the Indian Ocean. It’s a destination ideal for stepping off Tanzania’s beaten path–in fact, get right off any path and onto the waters surrounding Zanzibar and the area’s wild, raw backdrop will take your breath away. It’s not hard to feel as if you’ve slipped back a century or two, as the flat-topped, low-rise buildings in Stone Town’s (a World Heritage accredited town) come into view off the ocean, laid out along the coast while the Muslim call to prayer reproduces itself endlessly across the water. Old town, with it’s twisting, narrow streets and fabulously adorned doors evoke memories of a Persia lost, ancient kingdom, sultans, and caliphs. If you’re not up for manning a boat yourself, hire a dhow, an ancient traditional Arabic vessel, to whisk you off into the distance where snorkeling and diving are first-rate and the beaches are stunning.

The Easiest Places on Earth to Learn How to Surf

So you want to learn how to surf? Let us be the first to tell you that it probably isn’t going to be easy, especially if you make the rookie mistake of heading to some famous beach known for its huge swells. But learning this incredible sport doesn’t have to be that hard, as long as you know where to go. In this increasingly busy world, surfing is providing people with the chance to get back to nature, challenge themselves against the ocean and have a lot of fun. Heading to one of these 12 places will ensure that you are setting yourself up for success as they are among the easiest places on earth to learn how to surf.

12. Frank Island, Tofino, British Columbia

Tofino and beginners don’t often go hand in hand, especially in the winter season when the storms send huge waves crashing in, but head to Frank Island and you will understand why it’s the perfect place to learn. Frank Island is situated on the south end of Chesterman Beach and manages to knock down any powerful breaks and creates little baby waves perfect for learning. The water is cold, year round, after all this is Canada, so expect to wear a wetsuit here no matter what season you are surfing in. It is easy to find board rentals along with lessons in the town of Tofino as it is known as being the surfing capital of Canada. Snow covered glaciers, thousand year old trees, wandering black bears and bald eagles overhead complete this stellar location.

Surfing Tofino

11. Lagos, Portugal

You may not find any waves in the actual town of Lagos itself but a slew of opportunities await beginners with a 30 minute drive. This Algarve town is the base for many surf schools and it has long been know that surfing in Portugal is something to check off your bucket list. Surf Experience is the longest running surf school in the area, operating since 1992 and offers superior instruction and amazing accommodations. Beginner surfers often head to the protected break at Arrifana, a favorite for learning at low tide. In the downtime make sure to explore the town’s delicious eats, cheap cocktails and electric clubs that come alive after 10pm. Avoid traveling here during summertime when it is often crowded and prices are significantly higher.

Arrifana Portugal surfing

10. Taghazoute, Morocco

Since the 1970’s Europeans have been flocking to this destination in the wintertime to get their surfing in. VW campervans used to be parked beside the breaks as hardcore surfers took to the waters. Nowadays though, anyone can learn how to surf here, thanks to the abundance of surf schools that have popped up. Beginners should actually head here in early autumn as the weather is warmed and the swells are smaller. Head to the south where the surf camps almost outnumber the surf breaks for a variety of different options and budgets. Hash Point and the beaches around Agadir put up a good gentle learner wave and offer incredible surf camps. To the most out of your experience here we recommend joining a surf camp for at least 3 days and discovering the multitude of sandy beaches all within a 15 minutes drive.

Taghazoute, Morocco surfing

9. Bundoran, Ireland

Bundoran is known as the surf capital of Ireland and boasts some of the best surf schools in the entire country, making this destination an easy choice for learning how to surf. These waters aren’t for surfers who are looking to get a tan though and hailstorms are known to pummel riders out in the waves. There are a number of beach breaks that are perfect for beginners and hooking up with a local surf camp is the best to discover all of them. Visit here from September to November when the tourists have gone home and the water is warm(ish). Make sure to head to The Bridge Bar, situated overlooking the Peak—Ireland’s most famous reef break. This local hangout is a mix of old-school Ireland and surf culture, making it warm, friendly and a great place to meet locals and surfers.

Bundoran, Ireland surfing

8. Waikiki, Hawaii

It wouldn’t be a list of learning surfing spots without including the home of surfing itself. The ancient kings of Hawaii rode these waves themselves, on crude wooden boards, back before the 19th century missionaries frowned upon the sport. What you will find in Waikiki are gentle rolling waves littered with other beginner riders. For the most part these waves offer long rides and the atmosphere here is easy going and relaxed; something that can’t be said for all of the waters in this state. Canoes, an easy right break near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is the most popular beginner spot and can become quite crowded, although you are amongst beginners so catching a wave is quite easy. Warm sunny weather, warm water temperature and an “aloha” lifestyle makes this an excellent place to learn.

Waikiki, Hawaii

7. Byron Bay, Australia

It is easily one of the most iconic places to surf in the world, and one of the best places to learn. This sleepy dairy town was turned into a classic surf town in the 1960’s and surfers from all over the world travel here to surf in the legendary waters. The best time to visit is from March to May as the weather is warm and the swell is consistent. Beginners will likely want to head to Watego beach where because of its north facing direction; it’s completely protected from the big south swells and almost always has gently breaking waves. Make sure to check out Byron Bay Surf School for all your lessons and rental needs. They are one of the few companies licensed to teach on all the beaches in the area and will get you up and riding waves in no time.

Byron Bay, Australia

6. Nosara, Costa Rica

The town of Nosara is a little more protected than other popular surf spots in Costa Rica and beginners will find the laid back local vibe welcoming and accommodating. There are a number of accessible beach breaks just a short walk from town which are perfect for beginners. Add in year round warm waters, beautiful weather and incredible scenery and you will wonder why you are the only one on the beach. Finding someone to teach you how to surf is easy around here as there are many excellent surf schools and instructors lining the town. On down days make sure to check out the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, which is famous for its olive ridley and leatherback sea turtle populations.

Playa Avellanas Costa Rica

5. The Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area, Otter Rock, Oregon

Although you will have to squeeze your way into a wetsuit and booties, this sandy beach is the perfect location to learn to surf, especially if you are looking to stay in North America. Unlike the rest of the coast which is full of jagged rocks and high winds; this beach is protected by a huge headland. Known as the “Waikiki of Oregon”, everyone from this state who surfs has probably learned here and the locals are well used to beginners in their waters. The vibe is a mix of tourists, families, body boarders and beginners with no bad vibes to be seen. There are a number of surf shops in the area to rent a board or pick up a few lessons. Just make sure you are ready for the water temperature as it ranges between 48 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of the year.

The Devil's Punchbowl Oregon

4. Inch Marlow, Barbados

If you have never thought of Barbados as a surf destination, you would be highly misinformed as the protected southern side of the island offers incredible year round waves, and some of them just happen to be perfect for beginners. What makes this location so special is the consistent trade wind which makes for long clean waves, perfect for beginners. Zed’s Surfing Adventures is where most people head to learn as it is run by former competitive surfer Zed Layson and offers both private and group lessons, designed to get you up and riding waves in no time. Along with excellent instructors there is a photographer on hand that will capture all you special moments. Rates are cheaper in the summer, alas it is the rainy season but if you don’t mind not getting a tan, there are great deals to be found.

Barbados beach

3. Playa El Sunzal, El Salvador

There is a lot of resistance in visiting El Salvador as it isn’t known to be the safest country in the world, but if you can get past the dangerous and violent crimes that often happen here, it’s an awesome place to learn how to surf. There are 300 days of surfable waves here, water temperature that stays in the 80’s and waves that roll on for hundreds of feet. It is the perfect place to learn with a longboard and learning, eating, drinking and lodging are incredibly cheap. You will have to be careful here of the rock bottom and paddling out can be long in the rainy season as currents pick up. Playa San Diego is another beach to hit for some beginner waves and features a huge sandy beach and very few people. Choice of accommodation is limited here but if you can rent a board and find room at the one hostel, you will find peace in the desertedness of this beach.

Playa El Sunzal, El Salvador

2. Piha Beach, Auckland, New Zealand

The awesome weather, the warm water temperature and the lagoon-like setup makes this an awesome spot to learn how to surf. The scenery isn’t too bad either with stunning black sand beaches. What makes this location so unique is the lagoon-like setup inside the beach’s outer sandbank. It allows beginners to stand in chest-deep water and catch “reform” waves—whitewash surf that has reformed into a second, mellower wave. It is entirely normal for complete beginners to catch 70- to 80-meter rides from the get-go, something entirely unheard of anywhere else. There are a number of surf schools around to get you up and on your way, or join a surf tour. If you want to avoid wearing a wetsuit make sure you visit between December and April. The best part about this beach, there are never any crowds to contend with, making your learning experience that much better.

Piha Beach, Auckland, New Zealand

1. Bali, Indonesia

From March to July, Bali is the number one best spot to learn the sport of surfing. The combination of warm weather, warm water and consistent waves makes this the ultimate spot for beginners. If you are learning you will want to head to Kuta Beach where there is a soft sandy bottom and small waves ranging from two to six feet. Although it can be a bit crowded at times, it is easy to hire a private instructor or join a surf school, for half of what it costs at home. If you want to stay away from Kuta Beach make sure to head over to Nusa Dua, which features a protective reef and good beginner waves. Seminyak is another good option if you are learning and offers many options for schools.

Bali, Indonesia beach

The 7 Best Wineries on Waiheke Island, NZ

In the past two decades New Zealand’s Waiheke Island has gained recognition in terms of a top producing wine region. At less than 100 square kilometers, calling it a region may be far fetched but this island is literally blanketed in vineyards. So what is the secret in terms of producing some of the best wines in all of New Zealand? The subtropical marine climate, favorable soil structure and protective topography combined with incredible wine makers and enthusiasts have turned this island into a haven for lovers of all types of wine. Discover wineries that feature award-winning restaurants, incredible venues for weddings and some of the best glasses of wine you will ever taste. Here are the best 7 wineries to visit on this island.

7. Cable Bay Vineyards

Nn the last few years Cable Bay Vineyards  has skyrocketed to the top of the list of wineries to visit and dine at while on Waiheke Island. This is much in part due to the extensive transformation is has gone through. Visitors here have their choice of two-award winning restaurants on-site, the dining room which boasts floor to ceiling windows and incredible views or The Verandah. The Verandah is one of the most loved places in this vineyard, especially the outdoor lounge where a sunken garden sits under a huge canopy and bean bags are strewn across the lawn. Let’s not forget about the incredible wines this vineyard produces as well and visitors can sample them at the Cable Bay Cellar Door which is open daily from 11 am-5 pm and boasts views of the working winery through its full length windows.

Photo by: Cable Bay Vineyard & Restaurant
Photo by: Cable Bay Vineyard & Restaurant

6. Passage Rock Wines

It is the islands most awarded winery, capturing over 18 gold medals and 6 trophies and is an absolute must visit. As if the wines weren’t enough to lull you over to this winery, the outside bistro will be. Set amongst the vines this bistro offers spectacular views over the stunning bay and offers the best wood fired pizza on the island. This winery also happens to be incredibly family friendly, boasting a kids corner complete with trampoline, sandpits and bikes; enough activities to keep the young ones busy while the adults enjoy their terrific food. The tasting bar is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11-4 with the bistro being open Thursdays through Sundays, we suggest you come and experience both. Spectacular wine, delicious food and excellent service awaits visitors here.

Photo by: Passage Rock Wines
Photo by: Passage Rock Wines

5. Te Whau Vineyard

This out of the way vineyard is worth taking the extra effort to get to, especially considering the out of this world food and wine they offer. The views from the tasting room and restaurant are simply to die for as this vineyard is perched high up on a cliff, and owner Tony is one of the most passionate and energetic people you will meet. Reservations are highly recommended if you want to eat at the fabulous restaurant boasting fresh New Zealand/Pacific Rim cuisine. Guided tours of the winery are only available to larger groups and must be made in advance. Already an award-winning restaurant and winery, this hidden gem will not remain hidden for much longer.

Photo by: Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant
Photo by: Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant

4. Man O’ War Vineyards

There are only two ways to reach this incredible winery, the first is a half an hour drive on a dirt road through lush forests and hills, and the other is to arrive by boat. The tasting room here is the only beach-front cellar door location on Waiheke Island and tastings are complimentary. This is yet another family friendly winery with activities such as swingball and lawn cricket on-site. Sustainability is a key factor at this winery and is front and center, from the bar made of locally sourced wood to the tree perimeter that produces delicious honey. There is limited indoor seating here but they make up for it with their large lawn full of picnic tables right on the beach. One of the best things about this vineyard is their fabulous platters of food are to die for, so don’t leave without sharing at least one with new friends.

Photo by: Man O' War Vineyards
Photo by: Man O’ War Vineyards

3. Mudbrick Vineyard

It is considered one of the most beautiful vineyards on the Island, set amongst lavender bushes and vines, boasting views of Auckland in the distance. This Italian-inspired rustic vineyard oozes with charm, complete with perfectly manicured gardens. There are a variety of ways to explore this incredible vineyard, from tastings at the cellar door to tours to simply relaxing on the front veranda with a bottle of wine. Choose to dine inside at one of the fancy tables or sit under one of the umbrellas in front of the tasting room. With both adult and kid options, this winery is the perfect choice if you are looking to splurge.

Photo by: Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant
Photo by: Mudbrick Vineyard & Restaurant

2. Obsidian

Simplicity is the driving factor behind this winery and they focus on uncomplicated methods that produce consistent superb wines for drinking and cellaring. Like the prized smoky-black glass stone this winery is named after, Obsidian wines are both timeless and full of intrigue. The facilities here stand true to this method of simplicity and tastings are done in an amphitheater setting amongst the vines. Situated right next to a wetland area and vines, the cellar door offers tastings in a relaxed and friendly environment. Make sure to try their Syrahs, voted as some of the best on the island and we can assure you, one glass wont suffice.

Photo by: Obsidian Vineyard
Photo by: Obsidian Vineyard

1. Stonyridge

It is internationally one of New Zealand’s most respected wineries and not only boasts a beautiful vineyard but an adjoining yoga deck as well. The Veranda Café is most likely where visitors will find themselves, whether just tasting their incredible wines or staying for lunch. Nestled in a shimmering valley of olive trees and vines, it is perhaps one of the most exquisite and romantic venues on the island. Tours of the cellar, vineyard and own personal olive grove are available on Saturdays and Sundays starting at 11:30 am. This winery just also happens to have the country’s most expensive bottle of red wine.

Photo by: Stonyridge Vineyard
Photo by: Stonyridge Vineyard

Kid-Friendly New Zealand: 6 Things to See and Do

New Zealand isn’t the first place you think of when you think about vacationing with the kids. It’s more often than not a really long flight, as well many families just can’t see themselves trekking up active craters and through fjords with babies in tow. Luckily New Zealand doesn’t have to be all outdoor extreme adventures and there is in fact plenty of things to see and do that will cater to all types of families. Here are our picks for the six best things to do with kids in NZ, both indoors and out.

6. Hit the Beach

It may seem obvious but that doesn’t mean we should exclude it from this list as hitting the beach is one of the best family friendly activities in New Zealand. It doesn’t matter what season you visit; the beaches here are always beautiful. If you happen to be visiting in the summer head to the golden east coast beaches near Auckland or the Coromandel Peninsula where families can swim, paddle, camp and play. If you are here in the wintertime the best places are on the west coast where volcanic black sand and driftwood awaits you. Sun, sand, waves, a picnic lunch and a couple bathing suits are all you need to enjoy this awesome activity.

Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand

5. Visit the Aquarium

Head to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium located in Auckland for a fun-filled day of underwater discovery. This aquarium showcases over 30 live animal exhibits in habitat displays including the worlds largest Antarctic penguin colony exhibit. Kids will love the underwater viewing areas where they can come face to face with exciting creatures such as mammoth sharks. One of the most popular activities here is the shark cage snorkel experience where visitors can enter a cage that is submerged into the predator shark tank, filled with a variety of sharks. Through the cage’s Plexiglas floor, you can marvel at the sharks, stingrays and other fish that are just mere inches away. With plenty of interactive zones, an awesome new kids play zone and an abundance of sea life to discover, it is easy to spend the whole day here.

Photo by: Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium
Photo by: Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium

4. Attend the Chocolate Carnival

Yes, there is such thing as a Chocolate Carnival and it is hosted by none other than Cadbury, one of the most well-known chocolate brands around the world. This annual event is held every summer and for one week this carnival delights chocolate lovers of all ages with its tours, chocolate decorations, painting and the ultimate Cadbury Crunchie Train. The carnival is also host to the famous Cadbury Jaffa Race, where balls of orange sugar-coated chocolate are rolled down the world’s steepest street, in one weird race. There are ice skating events, chocolate demonstrations, guided kids activities and more. The Crunchie Train ride alone is enough to entice visitors though, where visitors hop on board to discover the fantastic scenery between Dunedin and Hindon on the Taieri Gorge Railway, where suspicious characters are on board looking to steal the loot and where children’s stories are read aloud by staff.

Photo by: Event Carnival
Photo by: Event Carnival

3. Experience Lord of the Rings

It would be a shame to visit New Zealand and not experience the sites where the famous Lord of the Rings Trilogy was filmed, especially when you have the kids in tow. There are over 150 locations used in the films and much of the film was shot near major landmarks and tourist centers, so visiting them is quite easy. The biggest decision you have is deciding whether to take a self-guided tour or joining a tour group. Many of the tour groups offer the chance to visit both the Waitomo Glowworm Caves and the Hobbiton Movie Set in one day. The caves will enchant visitors with the thousands of twinkling lights in the glowworm grotto while the movie set lets you pose for pictures in front of the hobbit holes, the pond and the Green Dragon Inn. Whether it is the dramatic scenery you are after, or the movie sets, there is a tour for you here.

Hobbiton New Zealand

2. Swim with the Dolphins

New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to swim with dolphins, for a few good reasons. First off these waters are home to the common dolphin, bottle-nosed dolphin, dusky dolphin and the smallest and rarest of all dolphins- the Hector dolphin- found only in these waters. Another reason this is a great place to swim with the dolphins is that the tour operators take extraordinary care to ensure the dolphins are not harmed and in many operations part of the tour price goes toward dolphin conversation. Akaroa Harbour is the only place on the entire planet where you can swim with the playful Hector dolphins and children as young as eight are invited to be a part of the experience, provided they can swim and are in good shape. Spend two hours on and in the water getting to know these playful creatures.

Akaroa dolphin tours new zealand

1. See the Kiwi Bird

There are a total of five species of Kiwi and all are endangered with only about 70,000 left in New Zealand. The chance to come up close and personal with them is something to experience here, especially considering they are a significant national icon, cherished by all cultures in New Zealand. One of the best places to see them is the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. This bird barn has a nocturnal enclosure where you can see active kiwi energetically digging with their long beaks, searching for food. It is the only place in NZ where you can see a great spotted kiwi, the biggest of the species. Feeding times are at 10 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm for the kiwi, although there is more to see than just this elusive species such as native parrots, parakeets, long fish eels and blue ducks. Keeper talks happen throughout the day, the largest dome aviary is here in all of NZ and they are open daily throughout the year.

kiwi bird

Top 10 Badlands Around the World

When you imagine badlands, the mind goes to alien looking formations, minimal vegetations, fascinating colors and other geological forms. Badlands are actually a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. These badlands can be found all over the world, from Canada to the United States and all the way to New Zealand. What fascinates people most about these landscapes are the incredible formations that look as they have come from another planet. They may be designated as parks, hidden along deserted roads or turned into tourist destinations but one thing remains the same; these badlands are “badass.”

10. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883, he was just a young guy from New York. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that he experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today. During his administration his conservation efforts led to the founding of the National Park Service, established to protect and preserve unspoiled places, just like his beloved North Dakota Badlands. Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be done year round and visitors have their choice of seeing the North and/or South Unit of the park. In the north visitors will be treated to an abundance of wildlife, along with deep gorges, and colorful badlands; making this sweeping vista absolutely incredible. The South Unit offers the chance for visitors to see the badlands that have been shaped from millions of years of wind, rain, erosion and fire. The Painted Canyon Visitor Center is also a stop along the way, giving you a first glimpse of the badlands from above.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

9. Hell’s Half-Acre – Natrona County, Wyoming

Years ago this badland was a tourist stop, famous for its place in the 1997 Starship Troopers movie. At one point the canyon rim held a restaurant, campground and small motel but for years the landscape has been deserted. Although not as big as other badlands on this list, the sheer remoteness and desolation of Hell’s Half-Acre makes it unique. The history behind this canyon can be found on an interpretative sign stating that Native American tribes used the ravines to drive bison to their death during their hunts. Today it stands as a geological wonder, deep ravines and caves, colorful rock formations and alien looking columns that rise above the clay. Bands of yellow, pink, white and orange stripe the canyon walls. For now, this abandoned badland sits deserted, in the middle of nowhere but perhaps that’s just what makes it so intriguing.

Hell's Half-Acre, Wyoming

8. Caoshan, Taiwan

Taiwan’s badlands are unique, and unlike any other in the world, seeing as they are the only badland formation on the face of this earth in a tropical area with good rainfall. The Taiwanese refer to these badlands as “moon world” and although these areas are slowly being turned into tourist destinations, complete with walkways and buildings, there are still a few places to go that remain untouched. Head to Caoshan, where some the of largest and most expansive of badlands are found. Start at 308 Viewpoint where you can get birds eye views of the surrounding landscape and then head to the “Grand Canyon”. As you walk photogenic pinnacles of earth start to loom above the road on either side like miniature mountain ranges. A little further along the ground suddenly falls away and the ‘Grand Canyon’ is revealed, the countless formations of the rain- and wind-carved ravine walls. It is impressive, exquisite, delicate, and appears to defy gravity.

Caoshan, Taiwan

7. Cheltenham Badlands, Ontario

It is one of the most striking geological features in the province of Ontario and these badlands are a brilliant red in color. At one point this area was actually occupied by a river and the hills at this site signify the riverbed. Thousands of years ago the lake dried out and the badlands were created. The red color is due to iron oxide deposits and features faint green streaks. Visitors come from all over the province to walk among the badlands here but unfortunately all the visiting is causing accelerated soil erosion. In 2015 the site was closed to visitors, although they can still be seen from the viewpoint at the top of the badlands slope. Conservationists will be spending the next few years trying to come up with a plan for these colorful and unique badlands.

Cheltenham Badlands, Ontario

6. Putangirua Pinnacles, New Zealand

This geological formation is best known for its appearances in the Lord of the Rings movies and is one of New Zealand’s best examples of badland erosion. These amazing rock formations, called Hoodoos are essentially hundreds of eroded pillars that form a quiet and eerie atmosphere, transforming you into what feels like a different world. Here you will find a total of two walking trails to choose from and allow yourself 2-4 hours for a round trip. The Walking tracks into the Putangirua Pinnacles generally follow the river bed into the valley and do change with river flows. This makes the tracks rough but easy enough to get deep into the rock formations. Pack plenty of water, snacks and don’t forget your camera as you travel into this incredible landscape.

Putangirua Pinnacles, New Zealand

5. Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska

It’s a known fact that the badlands in South Dakota are incredible but what about the ones that start in the northwestern corner of Nebraska. This geological park provides excellent sneak previews of what you may be in for if you are traveling onwards to South Dakota. Park in the lot at the entrance of the park and make sure to pick up a guide pamphlet at the start of the trail. A one-mile loop will take you around the park and past all the incredible formations. The trail starts off slow at first taking you past a few eroded hills, quite beautiful and striking. The flat part of the trail takes you through angled rocks of varying height and size but the real adventure begins when the trail starts to climb. This is where you will get to see many of the formations that resemble toadstools; hence the name of the park. You get an impressive view over the site at the top of the loop and it’s easy to imagine why large prehistoric animals used to wander these grounds.

Toadstool Geologic Park, Nebraska

4. Makoshika State Park, Montana

At over 11,000 acres this state park is the largest in Montana and protects 20% of Montana’s continuous badlands topography. Not only will you get to experience some incredible badland formations but also found here are the fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops and more. There are several trails throughout the park, introducing visitors to different kinds of topography as well as a campground if you plan on staying for a few nights. Cap Rock Trail is a one-mile loop that allows hikers to get up close and personal with the smaller, delicate features such as pinnacles and caprocks. The Diane Gabriel Trail on the other hand shows visitors the bigger features such as sinkhole caves and sod tabletops. The highlight of the trail is a climb up to a series of Hadrosaur vertebrae left partially exposed in the hillside so visitors can see what it is like to find and excavate fossils.

Makoshika State Park, Montana

3. Red Deer River, Alberta

The badlands here cut a swatch through southeastern Alberta, and is a fossil hotbed since the 19th century with no signs of slowing down. There are multiple ways to experience these badlands, whether you want to join one of many guided tours or take a self-guided road trip. Start in the town of Drumheller smack in the middle of the Badlands, and well known for its rich fossil beds and mining industry. Want to see the town from a different vantage point? Climb into the mouth of the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex. Other stops along the way include Horsethief Canyon and Midland Provincial Park. Cross the Red Deer River on the Bleriot Ferry and reach the Hoodoo Trail which takes you to the Hoodoos site and the Rosedale Suspension Bridge. Make sure to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Red Deer River, Alberta

2. Big Muddy Badlands, Saskatchewan

The Big Muddy Badlands have one of the best names in our opinion and offer up amazing architecture that transports your mind back to the times of the “Wild West.” These remote badlands have a fascinating history and once were a hideout for famed bandits such as Sam Kelly, Dutch Henry, and the Sundance Kid. The valley also is dotted with strange ancient aboriginal stone effigies with names such as Minton Turtle and the Big Beaver Buffalo, which add to the mystery and magic of the landscape. From early May to September is the best time to head here as guided tours operate on a daily basis. Because much of these badlands are on private property, it is imperative you use a guide.  Tours range from four hours to eight hours and cover sites such as Castle Butte, the Sam Kelly Caves and the Ceremonials Circles. Come play where the bandits played and you will understand why they were drawn to this particular landscape.

Big Muddy Badlands, Saskatchewan

1. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This unique region has been ravaged by water and wind, resulting in a scenic wonderland, begging to be explored. The badlands region sprawls over thousands of square miles and includes vast prairies, grasslands with sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. Visitors here can expect some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world, along with viewing millions of stars at night. In order to get the best views of the badlands head to Badlands Loop Road where you can hike along scenic nature trails among spectacular formations. Badlands National Park has two campgrounds for overnight stays and we highly suggest spending at least a few days in the park as the opportunities for exploration are endless.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Extreme Sports Guide: 10 Best Spots in the World for Insane Stunts

From base-jumping and snowboarding to canyoning and bouldering, check out these beautiful natural spots where adrenaline junkies get their daily fix of death-defying stunts. Ranging from extreme to family friendly, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime at the 10 best spots around the world.

10. Underground Tubing

Also called blackwater rafting, get ready for the underground adventure of a lifetime at the Waitomo caves in New Zealand, a major tourist attraction in the North Island. Cave tubing is a great way to see up close the glowworms and ancient rock formations in a series of caves found in the northern King Country region. Formed on Oligocene limestone, the caves are an exciting family friendly activity that will make unforgettable memories. For the more adventurous, specialized tourism companies can take you on an extreme cave crawl that leads to spots rarely seen by the crowds.

Waitomo caves NZ

9. Zip Lining

With the popularity of eco-tourism in Costa Rica, zip lining is often included as part of the tour. Traversing a treetop incline by a pulley is also a great way to see the lush rainforest. Feel like a bird gliding along the horizon as you make your way across Selvatura Park. The zip tour is full of lush, breathtaking scenery, but adrenaline junkies should head to Sun City, South Africa for the world’s longest, fasted zip-line. The Zip 2000 is an intoxicating thrill ride blasting across the safari at 100 mph. It might seem dangerous but Zip 2000 (www.zip2000.co.za) has boasted a 100% safety record since it opened in 2004. It’s also open to kids 12 and up, making it a thrilling family adventure. Zip-lining enthusiasts claim that it feels just like flying, not freefalling like on bungees and parachutes.  

zip line

8. Coasteering

With coasteering, thrill seekers can get their fix of adrenaline on the edge of the world, literally. Head to Pembrokeshire, Wales, the rocky and precarious coastal cliff that is a top spot for extreme outdoor adventures. In a series of swimming, diving, and climbing trails, coasteering involves traversing the rocky coastline on foot and without the aid of watercraft. There are several coasteering outfits that offer guided tours across the windswept coastline, so get ready for a day full of cliff jumping, rock climbing, and swimming in the waves. Coasteering may seem like a sport for daredevils, but with the proper safety equipment and expert guides leading the way, even kids can do it, making it ideal for an outdoor family adventure against a backdrop of breathtaking coastal cliffs.

Coasteering

7. Canyoning

Also called river trekking, this rugged outdoor sport encourages the use of climbing techniques and equipment to rappel and climb rugged canyon terrain. The best places for canyoning are mountains with flowing water like The Grand Canyon in Arizona, which contains breathtaking scenery and some of the steepest canyons in the world. A good place to start is on a mountain with flowing water where you can follow a local expert through a tour of cascading waterfalls, windswept boulders, and trickling streams. Another popular spot for canyoning is in Norway and its Scandinavian fjord country. Armed with a wetsuit, helmet, and climbing gear, get an up close look at the Jostedal glacier as you swim, climb, and rappel your way across the Sognefjord, one of nature’s best obstacle courses.

Jostedal glacier

6. Bouldering

Bouldering, also known as climbing without safety equipment, can be as daring or dangerous as you want it. For thrill-seekers, it’s just you and thousands of feet below, so one wrong move and game over. Even so, that hasn’t stopped this popular sport from becoming a possible competition in the 2020 Olympics. Ranging from 10 to 25 feet, the boulders are quite a challenge, especially without any ropes or safety nets. Instead, climbers must rely on their skills and fearlessness to conquer the boulders one precarious step at a time. Popular spots for extreme bouldering is the lower Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Bishop, California, the giant Rocklands of South Africa, and the forests of Fontainebleau in France.

bouldering

5. Ice-climbing

If you have nerves of steel, get ready for the ultimate thrill as you ascend ice formations with nothing more than an ice pick and a will to live. Adrenaline junkies use Colorado’s Ouray Ice Park (www.ourayicepark.com), the world’s only park devoted to this extreme winter sport. Situated within walking distance of the town of Ouray, the ice park is a man-made climbing area in a natural gorge. Free and open to the public, the park also offers a range of climbs from easy and moderate to high-level. Depending on experience and skill level, there are many climbs to choose from, including the Kids Climbing Park and the Scottish Gullies for the more advanced ice-climber. So, get your axe in gear and head to the San Juan mountain range and the spectacular, rugged terrain of the Rockies. 

Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com
Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com

4. Bungee Jumping

Bungee jumping is a classic adrenaline rush go-to because if it’s a bridge and it’s high up, why not jump off it? Plus, even the craziest daredevils feel somewhat protected by the bungee cord, the only thing between a stunt of a lifetime and certain death. One of the most popular jumps is at Macau Tower, the highest commercial jump established by Kiwi entrepreneur and professional daredevil AJ Hackett. Since the 90s, adventure seekers have traveled to this adrenaline-making mecca for the thrill of their lives. Located on the mainland of China in Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia, the 765-ft jump is in the Guinness World Records as the Highest Commercial Bungee Jump in the world.

nikitabuida / Shutterstock.com
nikitabuida / Shutterstock.com

3. Cave Diving

If you can handle the real dangers of freshwater cave diving, get ready to dive deep into an underwater hole in the earth for an up close look at ancient stalactites in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, an area known for containing the world’s largest concentration of sinkholes. Surrounded by a lush tropical rainforest, plunge into the dark inner depths of crystal-clear turquoise waters. Another popular spot for thrill-seekers is Ginny Springs State Park in High Springs, Florida, one of the most dangerous cave dives in the world. On the way to the network of caves, some as big as two football fields, there are signs covered in skull and crossbones and with the ominous warning, “People have died here.” Even so, it’s one of the top cave diving destinations in the world for its extensive system of caves and caverns.

cave diving

2. Sky Jumping

Popularized by Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, sky jumping is the ultimate thrill. Instead of jumping out of a plane, adrenaline junkies head to the nearest giant cliff and jump off, gliding into the air with the help of a winged bird-like suit. A favorite spot for this extreme sport is the mountains of New Zealand, a region known for its large population of extreme sports enthusiasts. The sport involves a wing suit, which is designed to help you glide through the air in a death-defying free fall and then finally the deployment of a parachute. This activity is perfect for sky divers who want to take the next step in their daily adrenaline fix. Only the most experience skydivers should attempt this. In fact, it is recommended that participants have at least 200 free fall sky dives under their belt before they take the plunge.

sky jumping

1. Heli-skiing

Heli-skiing is so dangerous it’s outlawed throughout Europe, but for the extreme adrenaline junkie, Alaska and the wild frontier of the Chugach Mountains is a popular spot for one of the most daring stunts. Considered to have the world’s deepest, softest powder, the Chugach peaks are an ideal spot to reach treacherous skiing slopes, ones that are so high and rugged that they can only be reached by helicopter. Only advanced skiers and snowboarders should try it, but for those looking for the ultimate thrill, there are several local outfits that can get you to the colossal vertical gorges and inspiring snow-capped peaks. Now is the time to channel your inner Bodhi from Point Break because “If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.” No pressure.

heli ski

10 Ecotourism Hotspots for 2016

Eco-tourism has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Some might be quick to write it off as nothing more than fancy marketing, but the trend toward “green” travel has stayed strong through 2015, with 53% of Americans looking to book green hotels, and interest in environmentally viable and sustainable tourism is likely to grow in 2016 as talks around climate change continue. So where can we expect green travelers to head off to in 2016? Here are our 10 picks for the year ahead.

10. Costa Rica

Let’s start with the tried-but-true Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a recognized leader in ecotourism, often considered a pioneer. The country’s focus on sustainability makes sense because Costa Rica’s tourism industry is heavily centered on its natural resources, including its abundant wildlife, lush mountain ecosystems and its “cloud forests.” Costa Rica’s commitment to green extends outside of the tourism industry, however; in 2007, the country committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021 and, as of 2015, 93% of the country’s energy needs are met by renewable sources. Environmental taxes act as disincentives to polluting businesses and laws such as the 1996 Forest Law have helped reorient other industries to sustainable development. All of this means that tourists traveling to Costa Rica can feel secure knowing they’ve made an environmentally sound choice.

costa rica

9. Laos

Two decades ago, Laos was relatively low on the list of international destinations; since the 1990s, however, tourism has grown explosively, from under 100,000 visitors annually to nearly 2 million tourists every year. The relatively quick growth of the industry might lead to concerns about exploitative development and destructive mass tourism, but Laos has also developed a strong orientation toward ecotourism—perhaps fitting for a country that has adopted the slogan “Simply Beautiful.” Luang Namtha, the northernmost province in Laos, is one of the best areas for tourists looking for a trip focused on sustainability: local villages earn alternate income from offering trekking and rafting tours through the biodiverse region around the Nam Ha Protected Area and the Namtha River, which encourages preservation of the environment as an attraction for continued tourism.

Laos

8. Cambodia

Tourism in Cambodia has long been overshadowed by violence in the country. Nonetheless, tourism is the second-most important industry in the self-proclaimed “Kingdom of Wonder,” and is based on 3 key elements. One of those elements is an embarrassment of natural attractions, and nowhere is that more evident than in Koh Kong, the country’s southwestern most province. Located near the border with Thailand, the region embraces part of the Cardamom Mountains and boasts 1 of the largest forests in Southeast Asia. The area also features untouched beaches and pristine waters along its undeveloped coastline. Cambodia’s largest national park, Botum Sakor National Park, is also located in Koh Kong, along with part of the Kirirom National Park. The rugged terrain along the Tatai River has been perfect for developing sustainable tourism aimed at keeping the natural wonders of Koh Kong intact for future generations.

Cambodia

7. Greenland

There’s been plenty of discussion about Greenland lately: the country has been named one of Lonely Planet’s top travel destinations for 2016, and much of the country’s frozen landscape seems to be melting at an alarming rate. While that might seem to be a call to travelers to see Greenland before it’s “too late,” Greenland has been working on a better plan: a sustainable tourism industry. Since much of the country’s young tourism industry focuses on experiences like dog-sledding, hiking along glaciers and whale-watching, ensuring that tourism in Greenland is eco-friendly is a must. Natural Habitat’s Base Camp Greenland is one recent eco-friendly initiative; the small-group excursion takes adventurers to a carbon-neutral expedition camp at the eastern edge of Greenland’s ice sheet. While 2016 promises to be a big year for Greenland tourism, that doesn’t mean it can’t be kept green.

Greenland

6. Norway

While it might be eco-conscious Western tourists who have been a driving force in the development of sustainable tourism, the tourist industries of most Western economies are run on less eco-friendly initiatives. One country that’s pushing toward an increasingly green tourism industry is the Scandinavian country of Norway. One of Norway’s top attractions has always been its environment, most particularly its rugged mountains and stunning fjords. While the remoteness of the fjords has kept them well-protected, so too have Norway’s strict environmental regulations played a role in keeping the iconic Norwegian landscapes pristine. Ensuring a healthy environment extends outside the realm of the tourism industry, and Norway is considered a leader in environmental policy in other industries as well. That means that scenic boat tours, biking through rugged mountain terrain and wondering at the snow-capped mountain vistas of the Norwegian fjords will be activities for future tourists as well.

Norway

5. Botswana

Botswana gets the short end of the stick when it comes to African tourism; the southern African country is bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. In the ecotourism industry, Botswana is often overlooked for Kenya. Botswana, however, has its own charms: about 70% of the country is covered by the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta, 1 of the 7 Natural Wonders of Africa and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also located in the country. The Chobe Game Reserve is home to a large herd of free-ranging elephants and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary offers guided trekking experiences, while the Central Game Reserve offers up some of southern Africa’s most unspoiled wilderness. In terms of tourism, the industry is small, but growing in Botswana, which means that the country has had time to focus on developing sustainable initiatives.

Botswana

4. Maldives

The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is a chain of 26 atolls that is threatened by rising sea levels. With this in mind, the country has been a leader in green industries, including ecotourism. The government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2019. The islands rely heavily on tourism, which is the largest sector of the economy. Most tourism is driven by the Maldives’ natural beauty, including extraordinary diving opportunities in clear blue waters. The islands are often promoted as a tropical resort getaway, and white sand beaches and sports like surfing and scuba diving are popular. Government policies have aimed to reduce damage to sensitive coral reefs and to make stricter laws for waste disposal, while resorts themselves have focused on recapturing wasted energy and recycling heat.

Maldives

3. Seychelles

The Seychelles is a 115-island country located off the east coast of the African continent. Tourism is the primary industry in the economy and has been since the late 20th century. Since the mid-1990s, however, the government has moved to ensure that tourist development doesn’t come at the expense of the islands’ natural environment. This has included capping the number of beds in some of the most popular destinations, such as La Digue. The islands contain a number of unique ecosystems and are home to a host of diverse plants and animals, some of which live on only 1 or 2 islands. While Seychellois culture is coming to value environmental protection, the nation is not currently committed to clean energy or a carbon-neutral plan; time will tell if the environmental conscience of the tourism industry spreads to other sectors of the economy.

Seychelles

2. Kenya

Tourism in Kenya has always been driven by its natural attractions; in recent years, visitors have been attracted to coastal beaches and game reserves, such as the expansive East and West Tsavo National Park. The country boasts 19 such national parks and game reserves, the Great Rift Valley and a stunning view of Mount Kilimanjaro. Best known for its savannas, Kenya is still most popular for safaris, but you can also visit coral reefs on the coast, along with rainforests and deserts. Ecotourism Kenya, a watchdog organization, keeps an eye on tourism and rates accommodations based on their environmental policies. Most safari outfitters now offer eco-friendly options for visitors, and many of them ensure they give back to or work on behalf of the local people, thus working toward sustainability in the industry.

Mount Kilimanjaro

1. New Zealand

New Zealand is a major destination for travelers who seek adventure; the wild, untamed and often rugged landscape offers excellent opportunities for almost all outdoor activities, from hiking to trekking to mountain climbing to surfing and diving. Given that tourism focuses largely on the natural environment, it’s little wonder that New Zealand is also invested in protecting its natural assets—the country has committed to becoming carbon neutral and markets itself as a “clean, green” playground for adventurers. The country has developed numerous walking and hiking trails, such as the internationally recognized Milford Track and the Te Araroa Trail, which spans the country. In line with the country’s presentation of itself, ecotourism initiatives have been on the rise, although there is some concern about tourism being a carbon-intensive industry, as many visitors travel huge distances to reach this remote country.

Milford Track NZ

The 7 Best Stargazing Spots in the Southern Hemisphere

If there’s one thing humans across the globe have been doing since time immemorial, it’s looking up at the dark night sky and feeling awe. The movements of celestial bodies in the heavens have filled us with both curiosity and a sense of beauty, sometimes coupled with insignificance and loneliness. Gazing up at the stars can be a humbling, mystifying experience and the southern hemisphere is actually better situated to gaze into our home galaxy, the Milky Way. These 7 destinations provide some of the best stargazing experiences in the southern half of the globe:

7. Wiruna -Australia

Wiruna isn’t an International Dark-Sky Association-certified site, but it is an area in New South Wales that has been specifically designated for stargazers. Since 1993, in May of each year, astronomers of all stripes, from professionals to amateurs, gather here amid the eucalyptus to celebrate the South Pacific Star Party. The Astronomical Society of New South Wales owns the land and provides observation facilities, as well as accommodations for stargazers from around the world. Wiruna is near Ilford, about 220 kilometers northwest of Sydney. The area is considered one of the premier stargazing sites in Australia and, indeed, the world over. Although the ASNSW does hold some open nights, Wiruna is generally open only to ASNSW members, members of other astronomical societies and their guests. The society also has an observatory nearby, where they hold some of their public open nights.

Photo by: Marriott
Photo by: Marriott

6. Cape Town -South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa, is the home of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). Founded in 1972 and operated by the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the SAAO has a number of telescopes and serves as a link for global scientific and technological collaboration. The primary telescopes, including the South African Large Telescope (SALT), are located at the Sutherland site, some 370 kilometers from the Cape Town site. While the SAAO may seem like it’s too technical for amateur astronomers, it hosts open nights throughout the year when visitors can talk to scientists. Open nights are held twice monthly, on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month, beginning at 8 p.m. Guided tours through the facility’s museums are also available. Here, you can see the Crux constellation and in April 2015, the SAAO discovered the first comet in South Africa in 35 years.

Photo by: SAAO
Photo by: SAAO

5. NambiRand Nature Reserve -Nambia

The NambiRand Nature Reserve in Nambia is one of the southern hemisphere’s few certified Dark Sky reserves and the only one in Africa. It was officially designated by the IDA in 2012. The park is a large private preserve, one of the largest in Africa, that operates primarily on the proceeds of low-impact tourism. Run by the Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust Centre, the reserve was established to protect and conserve the unique ecology of the Namib Desert. The NaDEET Centre runs programs to educate guests about the environment, including the sky. Overnight programs give visitors the opportunity to sleep in open-air units at the Soussusvlei Desert Lodge where they can view the stunning night sky in one of the darkest locations on the planet. Trail guides are trained in aspects of astronomy, which they share with guests as they take in views of the night sky.

Photo by: FramePool
Photo by: FramePool

4. Uluru -Australia

While Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) isn’t designated as a Dark Sky Reserve by the IDA, it is undoubtedly one of the best stargazing spots in Australia. While the inselberg is stunning by day and most famous for its red glow at dawn and dusk, stick around after hours to witness an amazing display across the nighttime canopy. Part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and a scared place for the Anangu people, Uluru lies more than 300 kilometers from the nearest large town, Alice Springs. That means the surrounding area is relatively free of light pollution. The area is easily accessible by highway. Uluru rises to a height of 863 m (2,831 ft), meaning that you can get above any potential light from vehicles along the highway—and get just a little bit closer to the stars. Look for the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and the aurora australis.

Photo by: Ayers Rock Resort
Photo by: Ayers Rock Resort

3. Kruger National Park -South Africa

One of the largest game reserves on the African continent is also one of the best places to view the southern night skies. The park is home to 9 different trails, some of which require overnight stays in the park to traverse. There are several camps and lodges in the park as well, where visitors can rest up overnight before heading out again. The wilderness areas of the park are virtually untouched by humans. Kruger also connects with parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Much of Kruger’s landscape is flat savannah and bushveld, and the park is remote enough that light pollution isn’t a concern here. At dusk each day, astronomy tours depart from Singita Game Reserves in the far east end of the park. Visitors should look for the Southern Cross, Scorpio and, if you’re lucky, the rings of Saturn.

Photo by: Amazing Telescopes
Photo by: Amazing Telescopes

2. Atacama Desert -Chile

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is world-renowned for how dry it is; it’s reportedly the driest place on earth. People have compared parts of it to Mars, leading to film producers filming scenes set on Mars in this location and even NASA using it as a test site for eventual Mars missions. But the Atacama’s unique landscape also make it one of the best stargazing locations in the world. The harsh climate has discouraged people from settling in the desert, meaning there’s little threat of light pollution. The desert’s elevation and its location in the rainshadow of not 1, but 2 mountain chains mean it doesn’t even have clouds on most nights, leaving the sky clear and bright. Add in the fact that the Atacama is located in the southern hemisphere and you have a winning combination that draws astronomers from around the world.

Atacama Desert Chile Telescopes

1. Aoraki Mackenzie -New Zealand

Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Aoraki Mackenzie is another IDA-certified Dark Sky Reserve comprising Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin. Lighting control started in the 1980s to minimize light pollution experienced by Mt. John Observatory. Since then, lighting control has been used to protect wildlife, promote nightsky tourism and even preserve Maori culture, as the indigenous peoples of the island used the stars to navigate the island and incorporated them in their lore. Since 2012, Aoraki has been a Dark Sky Reserve, but it has long been recognized as one of the best stargazing places on earth—turning the area into a reserve ensures that Aoraki stays that way for future generations. The Hillary Deck offers telescopes for visitors, allowing a more up-close look at the heavenly bodies. Big Sky Stargazing offers an orientation at the Digital Dome Planetarium, introducing features of the southern night sky.

Photo by: Rob Dickinson
Photo by: Rob Dickinson

10 Waterfalls to See Before You Die

Thundering water, “smoking” water—these are just a couple of the ways people around the world have conceptualized waterfalls. No matter where in the world you live, you have a good idea of what a waterfall is. In all shapes and sizes, these landmarks and their majesty have captured the imagination of generations. The world is filled with amazing waterfalls and while picking a waterfall destination is never the wrong choice, there are some that are must-see locations—like the ones on this list. From highest to largest to widest, you should put the waterfalls down on your bucket list.

10. Ebor Falls, Australia

Named for a nearby town, Ebor Falls are a cascade-type waterfall formation on the Guy Fawkes River in the New England area of New South Wales, Australia. They are situated about 23 miles northeast of Wollomombi on the Waterfall Way, one of Australia’s most scenic drives. The upper falls plummet 115 meters in 2 cascades, while the lower falls, about 600 meters downstream, plunge into a steep, forested gorge. The falls are located in Guy Fawkes River National Park, and are popular with tourists, with nearly 80,000 people visiting in 2008. Viewing platforms, as well as rest areas and walking trails, are available. Camping is available at the nearby Cathedral Rock National Park, home of Round Mountain, about 6 kilometers west of Ebor. Ebor Falls have longer been recognized as a site for recreation and preservation; they were first protected in 1895.

Ebor Falls, Australia

9. Gocta Cataracts, Peru

We like to think that there’s nothing left to discover on this planet of ours, but as the case of the Gocta Cataracts proves, nothing could be further from the truth. The Gocta Cataracts, about 430 miles northwest of Lima, the Peruvian capital, were a well-kept secret until 2005 when an expedition by Stefan Ziemendorff brought the falls onto the world stage. Ziemendorff convinced the Peruvian government to measure the falls’ height—a staggering 2,530 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world (although its exact ranking is disputed). Since discovery, the Peruvian government has developed the waterfall as a tourist attraction, building a hotel 6 miles from the base of the falls. Hiking trails and horse paths allow tourists to access the falls—which are said to be haunted by a beautiful mermaid. Given the falls’ altitude, at over 7,000 feet, clouds sometimes obscure the view.

Catarata de Gocta

8. Humboldt Falls, New Zealand

New Zealand’s mountains are now famous, and where there are mountains, there’s a good chance you’ll find waterfalls. That holds true in the island-nation: in Hollyford Valley, in Fiordland, you’ll find the spectacular Humboldt Falls. The falls are nearly 1,000 feet high, with the water cascading down the rock face in 3 distinct steps. The largest of the 3 drops is 440 feet, almost 50% of the falls’ total height. The falls are a horsetail-type waterfall, and, despite their height, are relatively easy to reach. The trail from the falls, along Hollyford Road, is about 600 meters long and will take you about half-an-hour to navigate. The grade is relatively easy, allowing visitors to get close enough to glimpse some spectacular views of the waters of the Hollyford River rushing into the gorge below.

"Humboldt Falls" by Karora - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Humboldt Falls” by KaroraOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

7. Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

Where there are mountains, there are waterfalls. Nowhere is that more true than in the soaring heights of the Alps. As snow and glaciers melt, the resulting water flows down the steep inclines, resulting in some spectacular feats of nature. The Trümmelbach is one of those feats: it drains the glacier defiles of Switzerland’s 3 most famous mountains, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Up to 20,000 liters of water pass through the falls per second. The Trümmelbach is a series of 10 falls and they are actually located within the mountain, twisting and turning through the rockface as they rush to lower ground. The falls have been made accessible to tourists by tunnel-lift and they are illuminated for viewing. Viewing the glacial water plunging through the “Corkscrew Chute” is a glimpse into some of nature’s most secretive workings.

Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

6. Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

The name of this stunning Chinese waterfall means “Yellow-fruit Tree Waterfalls.” Located on the Baishui River, it is one of the largest waterfalls in the whole country and in East Asia. It stands 255 feet high, with the main fall boasting a 220-foot drop. The falls span a width of approximately 330 feet. They are an example of a segmented block waterfall formation. The falls are considered a natural tourist draw and have been rated as an AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration. Tourism is served by a special line of buses and 3 viewing platforms offering different views of the falls. Another attraction is Shuliandong, the Water-Curtain cave, a 440-foot cave that formed naturally at the back of the falls. There are several other waterfalls in the area, about 28 miles southwest of Anshun city.

Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

5. Dettifoss, Iceland

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Iceland, which says something as this island-nation is a place of many waterfalls. It’s also reputed to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, with an average flow of 193 cubic meters per second. The falls are 330 feet wide and plunge 150 feet into the Jökulsárglijúfur canyon. Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the northeast of the island, Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, whose waters originate at the Vatnajökull glacier. A new road, finished in 2011, allows better visitor access. The waterfall is located on Iceland’s popular Diamond Circle tourist route, which also includes Húsavík and Lake Myvatn. The falls are a multi-step formation, which is a series of waterfalls of roughly the same size, each with its own sunken plunge pool.

Dettifoss, Iceland

4. Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

Located along the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguazu Falls are a sight to behold as they stretch along for more than 1.5 miles. Depending on the water level, there may be between 150 and 300 smaller waterfalls, most of them on the Argentine side of the border, with plunges between 197 and 269 feet. The main attraction is the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped waterfall that spans nearly 3,000 feet. Perhaps the best feature of Iguzau’s structure is that it allows visitors to be surrounded by waterfalls up to 260 degrees at a time—not quite encircled, but close. Iguazu is wider and discharges more water than the equally impressive Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Tourism in the area is well developed, and the falls can be reached from either the Brazilian or Argentine side, as well as from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.

Iguazu Falls - Iguazu National Park

3. Angel Falls, Venezuela

If you’ve seen Pixar’s Up, you’ve seen Angel Falls. The Venezuelan waterfall is well known to people around the world. Part of its fame comes from the fact that it is indeed the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall—the plunge is an astounding 2,648 feet. The official height given by the Venezuelan state and UNESCO is 3,212 feet, which includes sloped cascades, rapids below the drop and another plunge downstream. The falls were given their current name in honor of Jimmie Angel, an American aviator. In 2009, the Venezuelan president indicated his intention to give the indigenous name to official status. Although the indigenous people were aware of the falls before Angel’s 1933 flight, they did not visit the area and it was not known to the outside world. Today, the falls are a popular tourist attraction, despite the difficulty in reaching them through isolated stretches of jungle.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

2. Niagara Falls, Canada/USA

Along the Canadian-American border lies Niagara Falls, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, named for their shape, are larger and more renowned than the (still impressive) American falls. The distinctive color of the water flowing over the drop is a by-product of finely ground rock dust and dissolved salts, which occur in the water because of the erosive power of the Niagara River and the falls. Currently, erosion moves the falls back about 1 foot per year. The falls were already a huge tourist attraction in the late 19th century, and they continue to be a popular attraction today, with many hotels, casinos and excursions available to visitors. It is also a popular location for honeymooners and for film and television.

Niagara Falls

1. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

Located near the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, Victoria Falls is the widest waterfall in the world, which results in the largest sheet of falling water. While other falls may be wider, many of these actually contain several distinct falls; Victoria Falls is a single flow. The falls are viewable from both the Zambian side and the Zimbabwean side; traditionally, the Zimbabwean side was more popular with tourists, but recently the number of visitors to the Zambian side has been increasing. The Zimbabwean government has considered renaming the falls to Mosi-oa-Tonya, the indigenous name for the formation. The name means “the smoke that thunders.” The falls are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although extensive tourist development in the area has led the UN to reconsider this designation. Nonetheless, the falls remain majestic to see at peak flow in April. In the dry season, it is possible to walk through the First Gorge.

Victoria Falls, Zambia Zimbabwe

 

8 Destinations with Surprising Natural Phenomena

There are some destinations that call to us for their rich history and ancient landmarks, others that beckon with the promise of delicious food and easygoing café culture, and others still so enticing for their mountains, lakes, and other adventure-ridden natural backdrops but these destinations are best known for their wow factors. Natural phenomena around the world draw visitors from far and wide, itching to catch a glimpse of something so rare and mysterious that even if there is an explanation, it’s hard to fathom nature can work such wondrous sights.

8. Hierapolis‑Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale city is also called Cotton Castle, a perfect name for the magnificent site in southwestern Turkey. Terraces, travertine, and hot springs were created by carbonate minerals over centuries, leftover by streaming, calcite-weighty waters derived from a nearly 700-foot cliff overlooking the plain. The landscape is unreal, almost unfathomable in its purity and intense whiteness. Terraced basins, mineral forests, and a collection of petrified waterfalls blanket the terrain, creating the look that spawned its name. The Hierapolis thermal spas, part of this natural phenomenon, were created when the 2nd century BC came to a close during the Attalids dynasty. The Byzantine and Roman spa city, Hieropolis is one of the most fascinating ruins in Turkey, well protected and preserved by its UNESCO status. The ruins of the Greek monuments, baths, and temples are located at the UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Though visitors cannot walk directly on terraces, the small, cerulean pools are open for dips. Dodge the crowds, stay overnight, and visit at sunset for an exceptional experience.

Pamukkale Travertines Turkey

7. Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Guided tours have been happening at the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand’s Waitomo region since the 1800s and there’s little wonder why. Within the caves, the magical spot known as the Glowworm Grotto has received attention from around the world and is an iconic attraction in New Zealand. Across the walls and ceilings of the caves, a starry glow is ignited by innumerable glowworms, a species exclusive to New Zealand and measuring the size of a regular mosquito. Over 30 millions years ago, the Waitomo legend started with the formation of limestone in the ocean’s deepest reaches. Now, these limestone creations have become known as one of the most inspirational and incredible natural wonders on the planet. Professional guides lead trips through the cave, where visitors are guided silently across cave waters where the sight comes into full view. The glowworms dot the caves while their silks hang down from the ceilings like stringy luminous decorations.

Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit
Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit

6. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

One of the world’s most famous outdoor alleys, the Avenue of the Baobabs is Madagascar’s most prevailing natural wonder. The fairytale trees are found in the Menabe region, lining an old dirt road, and are one of the continent’s most impressive sights. Madagascar, one of Africa’s island countries, place laden with rainforest and featuring deserts, beaches, and fantastic wildlife–getting there is half the fun. Best known as the “upside down tree,” baobabs are also called bottle trees, boab trees, and boaboa trees, some of which are more than 800 years old. The circumference of the baobab can reach around 160 feet and the diameter of larger specimens near 40 feet, making them some of the biggest in Africa. Though most of the largest baobabs are located in Madagascar, they can also be found in other parts of the continent though Madagascar’s are the remarkable.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

5. Wisteria Tunnel, Japan

 Just six hours travel from Tokyo is the city of Kitakyushu where the Kawachi Fuji Garden wows visitors. Swaths of gorgeous Wisteria, spanning more than 20 unique species, flower here between April and May. This is one of the only places you can stroll through fabulous gardens and then move on to stroll through a tunnel of variegated purples, plums, whites, and lilacs, all vibrantly bursting with colour, creating a spectacular natural setting. The dreamlike setting hits its peak in April, the best time to go, but it’s still extraordinary anytime during season (the garden itself is private and does require a fee for entry). The tunnel is blanketed in the different Wisteria species, which are trained over a large, arching trellis while underneath the grass is a lush emerald, creating a passage completely enveloped in flora. I this doesn’t feel like a fairytale setting, nothing will.

Wisteria Tunnel, Japan

4. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Most would gawk at the size of Niagara Falls on either the Canadian or American side of the cascading giant but there’s a waterfall even more immense than Niagara–Angel Falls in Venezuela located in Canaima National Park. At more than 14 times the size of Niagara Falls, it comes thundering off of Auyantepui, a tabletop mountain. The falls commemorate the first person to fly over them, U.S. aviator Jimmy Angel. The falls take the record as the world’s highest continual waterfall, cascading without one single interruption. Stretching skyward more than 3,200 feet, the total measured height consists mainly of the main plunge but also includes sloping cascades, the whitewater rapids found below, and an almost 100-foot plunge ensuing at the talus rapids. Getting there is feat: ride the Rio Churun and El Rio Carrao (rivers) for four hours, cross a broad stream, and take a 90-minute climb to the vantage point. The journey is a bonafide Venezuelan adventure and well worth any struggle.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

3. Cave of the Crystals, Mexico

Located 980 feet below the Chihuahua Desert, the enormous Cave of Crystals is home to the largest formations discovered on Earth, formed over millennia, and the biggest being 39 feet long and 55 tons in weight. Massive beams of selenite dwarf human explorers in Mexico’s Cave of Crystals, deep below the Chihuahuan Desert. In 2000, two brothers were drilling deep in the mines of Naica, one of the country’s most profitable mines yielding tons of silver and lead each year. They happened upon the Cave of Crystals. At first glimpse, it was nothing they had never seen before as the silver and lead present the raw materials necessary to form crystals and several smaller crystals had previously been discovered throughout the mines. Upon closer inspection, drilling farther and farther, the brothers unearthed the geological wonder and cracked one of Mexico’s largest attractions wide open-quite literally. The 20-minute approach via a meandering mine shaft in the heat and darkness is worth every minute.

"Cristales cueva de Naica" by Alexander Van Driessche - Gaianauta received this from Alexander Van Driessche via Email.. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.
Cristales cueva de Naica” by Alexander Van Driessche – Gaianauta received this from Alexander Van Driessche via Email.. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

2. Sea of Stars -Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

The Maldives is home to one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful islands known in the world, Vaadhoo Island. Located on the Raa Atoll, this natural phenomena is known to the world as the Sea of Stars because of the way the luminescent blue waves drift across the water. The natural phenomenon originates from bioluminescence, a naturally occurring chemical reaction which happens when oxygen disturbs a microorganism in the water. Phytoplankton is what these marine microbes are called and they live all around the world–Vaadhoo Island is not the only place you’ll catch the vibrant show. Bioluminescence occurs in many other places (but not nearly as intensely) including Australia, Jamaica, and parts of the United States. Within the Maldives, bioluminescence also happens in Rangali and Mudhdhoo. Seeing the radiant occurrence ablaze under a sea of stars might just be one of the best ways in the world to spend an evening.

Sea of Stars, Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

1. Dark Hedges, Ireland

If you’ve ever seen a Tim Burton movie, you might just feel like you stepped right inside one of his marvels when walking through the Dark Hedges in Armoy, Ireland. The twisted, gnarled, and massive row of beeches lining Armoy’s Bregagh Road, with their incredibly thick, barked-caked trunks create one of the most bizarre and eerie sights in the country. The Dark Hedges were planted in the 1900s by a family named Stuart as an impressive vision along the road to their estate, Gracehill House (now a golf club), up the road. Rumors of the Grey Lady, a ghost that presumably haunts the road, are ripe and word is she frequently travels the road after dusk.  Ghost stories aside, 300 years after the planting of the beech trees, they have gown so much they’ve reached several hundred feet up and crossed the road, growing into each other creating an intertwined and unearthly tunnel where lights and shadows play through entangled branches. This is Northern Ireland’s most photographed site and one to have appeared in movies and TV series including Game of Thrones.

Dark Hedges Ireland