It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling you get swimming next to a sea lion, witnessing a ferocious lion pouncing on a zebra or observing a panda sleeping. It’s one of a kind. Wildlife experiences are emotional and inspiring, bringing out the subtle beauty of the animal species; yet they are rare gems these days, as human activities are taking away their natural habitats. These spots are definitely still the best-kept secrets around, but be sure to get there before it’s too late!
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
‘In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…’ Atop an open-roofed safari jeep, with the vast green lands and thousands of zebras ahead, you might just feel like you’re in heaven, wildlife’s heaven.
The Serengeti is home to Africa’s Big5: the lion, the African elephant, the leopard, the Cape buffalo, and the rare White rhinoceros. Spotting a lion hunting down its prey, or a cheetah running at full speed is almost always guaranteed. If you’re lucky, you might get to witness the majestic migration of tens of thousands of wildebeests amidst zebras, running across the plains as one.
Just 160km from the Serengeti lays the stunning Ngorongoro Crater, with the densest population of wildlife within its walls. Descending the walls at dawn, you can witness sunrise just as buffalos yawn and lions snarl sleepy-eyed. African Home Adventure organizes 4-day Camping Safaris catered to the budget backpackers at a price of US$700.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Lying in a splendid isolation in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands is a god-sent paradise for all nature lovers. With some wild and unspoiled landscape, Galapagos has an incredible abundance of wildlife, many of them unique both on land and underwater. You’ll easily find yourself zigzagging around fur seals and sea lions lying in your path, dinosaur-like marine lizards sun-baking on the rocks and cheeky dolphins leaping about in the phosphorescent water.
Diving in the Galapagos waters is like uncovering earth’s treasure – penguins swimming in equatorial water, manta rays gliding steadily past you and docile hammerhead sharks. Cruise the island on a budget yacht (with the price not so ´budgeted’ at US$735 for a 4-day cruise) with Columbus Travel.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Borneo
Borneo is the original home of the famous (or should I say, notorious) Asian ape, orangutan. In this sanctuary, young orangutans orphaned due to logging activities are raised and released into the jungle again. The great apes roam freely in the rainforest and come down for feedings once in a while. The mischievous lot might just sit right next to you; perhaps even steal a banana or two.
To catch a glimpse of Orangutans in the wild, trek though the jungles of Poring, located at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, where orangutans can be sighted, though not guaranteed.
Borneo is also the only place on earth where you can find the Proboscis Monkeys in action. These endangered flamboyant primates are famous for their big noses, and can be found in the swamps of the Bako National Park. Looking to volunteer and work with the apes? You can consider volunteering opportunities at the Matang Wildlife Center.
Otway National Park, Australia
Australia’s furry animals are perhaps some of the most extraordinary and divine creatures on earth, and nowhere else in the world can you find such unique wildlife – koalas, kangaroos, Tasmanian devils and wombats. There are tons of wildlife parks all over Australia, and all of them allow a genuinely face-to-face experience with the wildlife, where you could even cuddle a koala or feed a kangaroo.
To walk on the wild side and savor more of the Australian Outback, you could venture into the Otway National Park, along the renowned Great Ocean Road (near Melbourne). You might just find koalas snuggled high up in the eucalyptus trees, near the Grey River and Kennett River, although it is usually quite difficult to spot one hidden amidst the branches.
Stay at one of the holiday houses, and a koala might just hop on to the balcony for a morning visit!
Chengdu Panda Sanctuary, China
Like a home away from home, the pandas in the Chengdu Panda Sanctuary roll freely on the grass, chewing away on bamboo and teasing each other like toddlers.
Currently there are only 1596 pandas roaming in the wild, as the lives of these endangered animals are highly threatened. The gentle giants are conserved in this heavenly sanctuary where they are taken great care of, and bred under perfect conditions. The research base also puts in tremendous efforts in conserving wildlife and promoting awareness among the public.
Boasting of a museum detailing the panda’s evolution, habits, and habitats, the sanctuary enhances your wildlife experience as you get to know the pandas better. Just 30 minutes north of Chengdu central, it can easily be reached by bus.
Ranthambore National Park, India
Rajasthan, being a popular destination in India for its rich history and inspiring temples, also has the highest population of Bengal tigers in the world and definitely satiates your thirst for exotic wildlife. Spot a tiger or two sipping water of the lakes, or the slit eyes of the Marsh crocodiles, and don´t forget the mongoose and hyenas!
Besides the prolific wildlife, its backdrop of the Aravali Hill Ranges and the Vindyan Plateau create a feral and alluring environment to mingle with the intimidating wildlife. With massive rock formations and forests, juxtaposed against large areas of Savannah, Ranthambore is actually one of the best-kept secrets of India!
Tiger Trails Safaris can be arranged with Wildlife Tours India where overnight stay at a resort in the Park is recommended!
Knight Inlet, British Columbia
Vast unpopulated mountain ranges and deep fjords bestow upon Knight Inlet unparalleled raw beauty that adventure wildlife seekers adore. They create the perfect natural habitat for grizzly bears, eagles and Orcas (killer whales).
On the boat ride through the spectacular fjord, you can get remarkably close to the grizzly bears at eye level, where you can see them foraging for food or diving into the water to catch their prey. Don’t miss out on the Glendale River estuary that is perfect on a summer afternoon to relax and take in the nature’s purity.
Along the Johnson Strait, from July onwards, seals, sea lions and humpback whales come out and play. With the stunning setting, even the whales are cheering. Check out the Knight Inlet Lodge, accessible only by floating plane – there’s no better way to see the Inlet!
About the author
Nellie Huang is a worshipper of the sun, wild adventures, and new discoveries. As a teacher with compassion, she has taught in Spain and Tanzania and lived in Miami and London. Now back in Asia, she writes for interest on her website (www.wildjunket.com), works as a freelance translator, and continues exploring her thirst for the unknown.