Monday 31 December 2018

And another one bites the dust

So that's 2018 over and done with. Yet another one that most people are glad to see the back of, for many good reasons, even though at least we lost fewer big names than recently - and, thank goodness, David Attenborough is still with us. 

Travel-wise, the year started brilliantly for me - but that did have its downside:

Glamorous scenery in Antarctica by Pamela Wade
Gentoo penguins are great for comic relief.

Gentoo penguins are great for comic relief.

The best day of 2018 for me was January 1. That did, inevitably, mean it was downhill for the rest of the year – but it was worth it to have had that one perfect, exciting, glorious, beautiful day. I was on a Silversea cruise to Antarctica and this was our last full day before heading back towards Ushuaia.
We began by cruising into Neko Harbour on the Antarctic Peninsula for a hike through knee-deep snow up to a view across to a crevasse-fissured glacier that calved with a low rumble as we watched it fall in slo-mo into the turquoise sea. Gentoo penguins provided comic relief in their rookery – waddling, squabbling and stealing pebbles from each other's nests. The Silver Explorer glided as we ate lunch on the deck, interrupted by an encounter with a pod of orcas hunting, a long-awaited first for me.
We arrived at magnificently spectacular Cuverville Island for another hike to the summit or, my choice, chilling out in the sunshine on the stony beach watching penguins clowning on dazzling icebergs: blue, white, striped, smooth, textured and sculpted, some draped with crab-eater seals. Later, the afternoon's lectures were interrupted by the captain's announcement about a pod of humpback whales bubble-net feeding, and we watched, fascinated, as he circled around them, the crew escorting us through their quarters for a lower, closer view.
That night butler Ivy served us dinner as we watched March of the Penguins in our suite, periodically pausing it to step outside on to our veranda to admire the icebergs, glaciers, mountains and deep blue sea, in the golden light of a slowly-setting sun. We drank Champagne. Nothing else would do.
- Sunday Star-Times 23/12/18
That's not to say there wasn't more good stuff to come, just not quite as uniquely, specially, fabulously spectacular. The sea seemed to be a common theme. I got to Iceland! Yay. And that was deeply satisfying, as well as fascinating. I also, having been to Antarctica, got up into the Arctic Circle, to North Cape on a Silversea Norway cruise. And that was lovely too, though it wasn't smooth sailing, either literally or figuratively (purely weather-related, not Silversea's fault).
Antarctica, the Arctic, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and the UK - that's not bad going, but I would have liked more. I had to turn down Denver, and Burma/Singapore/Indonesia; and didn't pursue as many other exotic destinations as I have previously, for boring domestic reasons. I did, on the other hand, see plenty of New Zealand: sea to mountains, islands and interiors, by boat, train, bus, bike, helicopter, horse, kayak, zipline and on foot. 
One of the things we Kiwis do like to boast about (in our signature, laid-back, yeah-nah way) is that our country is marvellously diverse, scenically (actually also population-wise too these days: we have over 200 ethnic groups represented here). We've got pretty much every sort of scenery you can name, except for the Outback, and it's all packed in close, conveniently accessible. So I saw a steaming volcano, turquoise sea, snowy mountains, deep gorges, sandy beaches, green farmland, forest and cities. I saw lots of birds both winged and flightless, some dolphins, a couple of deer and, naturally, sheep (but not as many as people think. Especially the Aussies, who loudly assume we Kiwis enjoy unhealthy ovine relationships).
So that's pretty good going, really. I shouldn't complain about having missed out on some things. There's always next year...

Monday 3 December 2018

I bless the dogs down in Africa

I've just been watching the latest - and I mean the latest: it's only just been shown in the UK - episode of the sainted David Attenborough's new series, Dynasties. This one was about two packs of African Wild Dogs, or painted wolves as he called them, whose territories are in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
Regular readers 😃 will remember that a couple of years ago I spent a few days just across the Zambezi River from Mana Pools, at Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia. One of the highlights (and there were SO MANY!) was on safari one day our coming across a small pack of these dogs in the national park alongside the lodge's grounds, and watching them devour the impala one of them had killed. Seeing these cute dogs on the screen, with their big round ears and mottled shaggy coats brought it all back - as did hearing the collared doves warbling in the background, and the distinctive squeaks of the dogs. We were so lucky to see the dogs - there are fewer than 7,000 left in the world, sadly. Usual reasons, sigh.

Naturally, the photography in the series is brilliantly done, and it looked just gorgeous, the colours so rich and the sun so golden and mellow in the hazy sky. I was thinking only yesterday about my African trips and what an edgy place Africa is, and how going there is simultaneously exciting and frightening. I was inclining towards thinking - such a wuss - that I was kind of relieved not to be contemplating another trip there in the foreseeable; but now I'm keen to go again. It certainly is a harsh and dangerous place - ask the wildlife, as well as the people - but it's truly a magical, super-special destination, and I'd go again tomorrow if I could.


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