Category Archives: Nature

Penguin Spotting in South New Zealand

When the alarm went off I had already been awake for ten minutes, I always do that when I’m excited to wake up.  I slid off of the enormous bed and shuffled across the room with my arms stretched out out in front of me, searching for a wall in the pitch black room.  My fingers found a wall and I dragged my hand behind me as I walked in the direction of the bathroom.  I found the doorway, and then the light switch, illuminating the entire place enough for me to make my coffee.

I filled the electric kettle with water and turned it on, a routine that I had begun looking forward to.  I didn’t realize before traveling to New Zealand that none of the accommodations would have coffee makers, only electric kettles.  I found this to be especially surprising once I was there, due to the fact that they take their coffee very seriously. Luckily I had found a french press at one of the many great coffee shops along the way, and the process of making my coffee like this was really starting to grow on me.

After my morning coffee I hopped in the shower, eager to get on the road.  I knew that if I missed this there would be no second chance, and I had no idea exactly when it would happen, only that it was just before dawn.  I got out of the shower and fixed my hair as usual, even though I had to come back afterwards I didn’t want to waste a  moment of daylight in that beautiful place, not even on myself.

Once I was ready I gathered up the essentials; coffee, flashlight, my good camera, my not-so-good but waterproof camera, my cigarettes and my jacket.  It was March, which means fall in New Zealand, so the air was pretty chilly at night, and on top of that it was drizzling outside.  I kissed E on the cheek to say goodbye, and I left for my adventure.  I never really mind when E isn’t in to doing the same things as me, I’ve always been a solitary person and I cherish any alone time that I get.

I started up the car and slowly backed out of the driveway, very careful to stay on the left-hand side of the road.  Luckily I only had to go about 1/4 of a mile because I was a pretty nervous driver, partly because of the left side of the road thing but also because I live in Chicago and I hardly ever drive.

After my not so long drive I arrived to the parking lot to find no other cars.  No way, this is awesome I thought, excited to have the whole place to myself.  My excitement quickly turned to fear when I realized that I would be the only person, in the pitch black unfamiliar place, surrounded by unfamiliar sounds.  Man up, I told myself, tucking my camera into my hoodie to keep it dry, this is a once in a life time opportunity.

I clicked on my little flashlight and hopped out of the rental car. To get to the ground  there is a large staircase with multiple viewing areas and to get to the staircase I had to walk down a narrow path with tall plants on both sides.  I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the spiders that I saw the night before and I knew that this path was literally crawling with them.  I pulled the strings on my hood out as far as I could to tighten it around my face and I slowly crept forward, shining the flashlight every which way looking for a web to catch the light.  Once through the path I was careful not to touch the rail of the stairs, again because of the spiders.  There are only three species of spiders in New Zealand and I’m sure that they were all having a party on that staircase.

As I navigated my way down the staircase I was already wishing that I had brought more coffee, it was still pitch black and I had no idea how long I was going to have to wait.  Once at the bottom of the stairs I carefully made my way across the rocky terrain and over to the large flat rock that I had sat on the night before.  There is a rope around the perimeter of the viewing area so that people do not disturb the penguins and this particular rock was as close as I could get without going outside of the rope.

I got all of my things in order, made myself comfortable on my rock and settled in for a long wait. The air had dried up enough for me to have my nice camera out but without any light it was useless, so I turned my flashlight off to conserve the batteries and sat there among all of the things that go bump in the night.

There were strange noises everywhere and the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks made my hair stand on end; rouge waves happen all the time, I thought. All around me I could hear the rustling of what I hoped were crabs and birds.

Petrified Forest, Curio Bay, New Zealand.
Petrified Forest, Curio Bay, New Zealand.

The sun was not up yet but it was now  giving off enough residual light for me to make out shadows.  The birds were starting to call more, and I had no idea if this was the sound of penguins or one of the other many types of birds that came to feast on the breakfast buffet of marine life.  I started to hear more and more screeching in the direction of where the penguins nest and I got my camera ready for action, the anticipation was killing me.  And then, after an hour and a half of waiting there it was, the elusive Yellow Eyed Penguin.

 He (she?) hopped out from the bushes and tilted his head up to the sky to let out a series of screeches.  It was as if he was telling the entire group “It’s time to get up!!”  He hopped around the petrified obstacles, ruffling his feathers and lifting up his stubby little flippers like he was stretching out after a long sleep.  Not long after he made his appearance another little guy popped out, and another, and another!  About six penguins in total, all at different times, emerged from their nesting spots hidden in the bushes and stretched out their flippers in preparation for the day.

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Most of the other penguins made their way down to the ocean right away, hopping into the water one by one as I had seen them do so many times on The Discover Channel.  But the first penguin, my little guy, seemed to be sticking around just for me.  He was still stretching out, taking his time waddling down to the water, stopping frequently to ruffle his feathers and drink out of the puddles of rainwater that had accumulated between the rocks.

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After about thirty minutes of showing off, my penguin started to make his way for the ocean.  He held his flippers out as he hopped across the uneven terrain, like a tightrope walker putting their arms out for balance.  Once he got to the edge of the rocks, where the ocean was spilling up and over the headland, he paused; looking right and left as if checking for traffic, and then he was gone.  He disappearing into the ocean as if he was never there.

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The only time to spot the Yellow Eyed Penguins in Curio Bay is at dusk when they come in from the water and at dawn, when they go back out. We did try spotting them the night before but we only got to see one penguin from very far away, not to mention there were about twenty-five other people there.  I highly recommend going early in the morning for a better chance at spotting them and having the whole place to yourself.

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The reason that I chose to stay in Curio Bay for a night is because of all of the amazing and rare things that can be found in this one tiny part of the world .  The rough terrain that I was sitting on is actually a 180 million year old  petrified forest and the “rocks” are actually petrified tree stumps that were once covered in lava.  The yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest species of penguin in the world with only 5000 of them still in existence.*¹  The bay itself is home to the Hector’s Dolphin, the most rare, and one of the smallest of the dolphin species. Fur seals and sea lions can often be found basking in the sun on the beach or the rocks.*²  Unfortunately we did not get to see any dolphins, seals or sea lions, a storm had come through the night before and taken all of the usually plentiful fish in the bay back out to sea with it.  I’m not complaining though, because I know how lucky I am to be one of the few people in the world to get to wake up with the Yellow Eyed Penguins.

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Curio Bay is in the southern most part of New Zealand, part of the beautiful Catitlins Region. Besides Curio Bay, the Caitlins area has many other great beaches and hikes (my favorite water-fall is there, more on that to come). If you do plan on staying in Curio Bay, I highly recommend Curio Bay Accommodations. They have a few different options and they are all directly on the beach with amazing views. We stayed in a boutique studio, a large studio apartment with an enormous comfy bed, a great bathroom and a large deck facing the ocean. They also have boogie boards (maybe surf boards?) and wet suits for rent and a full washer/dryer at your disposal.  The prices are very reasonable for the quality and the location and the owners are very nice people who are just down the road if you need them.  This was hands down our favorite accommodations of the entire trip

Curio Bay Accommodations
Curio Bay

Getting to see these rare creatures in the wild was one of the most special things that I have ever experienced. That morning was surreal to say the least, and I feel humbled and blessed to have gotten to have it all to myself.  I can only hope that these amazing birds will grow in numbers and be around for generations to come.

– Team Lost

*Sources:

  1. http://www.newzealand.com/us/
  2. http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/southland/southland/curio-bay-porpoise-bay/features/wildlife/

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5 Tips for the Aspiring Traveler.

Whether you’re an aspiring or seasoned traveler, the fact is, travel planning takes a lot of work.  For me it’s something that I really enjoy doing, but it is work none the less.  Though it does take a lot of time, I actually get excited about the process; exploring different activities, researching the cheapest flights, finding the best places to stay, exhausting every resource searching for the best price on everything.   

Here I have listed a few pieces of advice for the person who is serious about wanting to travel but doesn’t know where to start.  These are just a few of the resources that I use, and ways that I always manage to have a trip on the books, even on a tight budget.  My 5 tips for the Aspiring Traveler can help you stop thinking about your next adventure, and be on your way to making it happen.

Bathway Beach, Grenada, West Indies

 1.  Be Flexible, But Don’t be Easy.

Almost every trip that I’ve ever taken has started with a great deal on a flight.  Now don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that you should go just anywhere because the price is right; no. This means keeping an eye out for airline specials departing from your closest airports and then doing your research on the destinations.  Instead of looking for a place to go and then planning your vacation around that, keep your options open and let the place find you.  You will be surprised at the beautiful places that you can discover when you step out of your comfort zone and go somewhere that you’ve never heard of before.  I knew absolutely nothing about Grenada, West Indies until last year when it came up on one of my travel alerts.  I did a little research (e.g. Is it safe?  What is the average cost of lodging?  What language do they speak? What is the weather like?  Where the hell is it!?), and a half an hour later I purchased my tickets.   Three months later I was on a secluded beach watching a 6 foot leatherback turtle give birth by moonlight. If you do your homework and keep an open mind you will be surprised at the things that you can discover. These are the memories that I am most thankful for.

Giant Leatherback Turtle, Levera Beach, Grenada, West Indies

2.  Sign up for Travel Alerts.

No one has the time to check every website for travel deals 24/7.  With the amount of travel sites nowadays you could spend every day-all day sorting through endless amounts of information and never even set foot outside of your own home.  The key is to find the resources that will narrow down your search and bring the information to you.  Signing up for travel alerts on a few different websites will save you time and can make an otherwise endless search much more productive.  My favorite site to use when signing up for flight specials is Airfarewatchdog.com.  This site lets you set up your specific search criteria and customize your e-mail alerts to your own needs. I like to have mine set up to alert me daily of every flight-deal departing from my home airport, and those within a 50 mile radius.  This way if I’m not sure about where I want to go next (which I’m usually not), I can get inspiration simply from the list of destinations that are on sale.  You can also set up your alert for specific destinations, dates, airlines; whatever you want.  Just keep in mind that the more you narrow down your options, the less options that you will have (duh).  Another great site that you can tailor to your own preferences is Travelzoo.com.  This site not only shows you great deals on flights, but also great deals on hotels and resorts, car rentals, activities and entertainment.    A few other sites that I feel are worth signing up for are Carrentals.com for deals on car rentals, Trivago.com for accommodations and Kayak.com for their flexible search options.

Grenada, West Indies

3.  Keep a travel stash, and don’t be afraid to use it!

Just like having children, you might find that there is never a right time to travel.  The two main excuses that I hear for why it is a bad time to travel are: (1) I’m too busy; and (2) I don’t have the money. These are both legitimate obstacles, but if you are diligent about saving and doing your research, they should not have to prevent you from doing what you love.  About 6 years ago I began keeping a travel fund, a separate savings account dedicated solely to funding my adventures.  Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that not everyone is in a position to do this.  But if you are able to put $50 per month away for travel, and maybe throw in a little bit extra from time to time (skip a latte once a week), then you should have no problem taking a small trip every year or a larger one every two years.  In addition to having a separate savings account, I also have a designated credit card that I use only for traveling.  This is a card that I earn airline points on, that way I am also earning points toward future travel while spending money on the trip at hand.   Most airline credit cards also give you double points when purchasing flights on their airline, which is also perfect if you see a great deal on a flight but don’t quite have enough saved yet.  This method should only be used if you are very responsible about paying your credit card bill each month and if you have a low-interest rate, it can be easy to get in over your head.  Two cards that I use and recommend are Citi/AAdvantage for American Airlines miles and the United Mileage Plus card for miles with United Airlines.  Both start you out with a good amount of bonus miles and they also save you money by getting you free checked baggage and priority boarding (when you are flying with their airline). The American Airlines card seems to have more opportunities to earn bonus miles and the United Airlines card doesn’t charge for foreign transactions.

Isla Marisol, Belize
Isla Marisol, Belize

4.  Pull the trigger.

This one goes back to excuse number one mentioned above “I don’t have time.”  While there is no real solution to this problem, I have found that if I don’t make time for the things that I love, then I will spend my entire life busy with other people’s moments.  I can’t tell you how many weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, etc., that I’ve missed while I was away on vacation.  But one thing I can say is that I don’t regret missing any of those things.  The really great deals, the ones that seem too good to be true; they are few and far between, and when they are around it’s not for long.  Four years ago I got round trip tickets for my friend and I from Chicago to Maui, HI for $450.  I saw the deal on Travelzoo.com, I called my friend to see if she was up for camping on the beach, and 15 minutes later we had two roundtrip tickets to Hawaii for about the price of one.  If you see a great deal, you need to snatch it up fast, so make sure that you have a travel stash saved up for just such occasions.  Just one thing to check before you pull the trigger, make sure that flights aren’t cheap because it’s a bad time to visit (e.g. monsoon season, or it’s known for having ungodly high or low temperatures that time of year).  Just be smart, hop on the interwebs for a second to check your “facts,” and then go for it, it’s now or never.

One Ali'i Beach Park, Molokai, Hawaii
One Ali’i Beach Park, Molokai, Hawaii

5.  Do your Homework.

Some of the most amazing things that I have seen in this world did not cost me a penny, and most of those places weren’t easy to find either.  The fact is that the best kept secrets are secrets for a reason.  The travel industry doesn’t want you to know that you can have fun without spending money, and the locals don’t want you knowing where they go to get away from the tourists.  This is why it’s important to do your homework when you are planning what to do and see on your trip.  Of coarse, look on all of the big guys like Tripadvisor and  LonelyPlanet, but also try digging a little deeper.  Look through blog posts and travel forums for topics on your location and talk to people who have been there recently.  Try to find books, blogs or articles written by someone who lives there and try to find a local newspaper on the web.  You will be surprised how much fun you can have when you really go off the beaten path and immerse yourself in a different culture, (it’s usually cheaper that way too).  Just remember when you’re in a different country to be courteous and respectful of other people’s beliefs.  I’ve been to over 12 countries in the past 6 years and one thing that I can say is that the people have all been very different.  Embrace it and learn from it, this is all part of the experience.

Grenada, West Indies
Grenada, West Indies

I am often asked how I am able to travel so much, and how I decide where I will go next.  My answer is usually met with the response “ooo…you’re sooo lucky!”  —sigh— While I certainly don’t find the term “lucky” to be offensive, I just don’t feel that it’s very accurate.  While I will admit that I do have great luck (that time I found a hundred-dollar bill before I left for Vegas, the fact that I was able to get tickets to that Foo Fighters show at Cubby Bear, nbd), I just don’t feel like my great vacations have anything to with good fortune.  I do realize that most of what I’ve mentioned is easier said than done, but when is there reward without a little hard work?  I feel that travel is so important in making this world a better place and molding who we are as human beings.   I hope that these 5 tips for the Aspiring Traveler can help you stop dreaming about a life of travel and start making it a reality.  Lets get lost.

-Team Lost

Grenada, West Indies
Grenada, West Indies

 

No. We Can’t Stop Here, This is Bat Country.

Earlier this year, while in Queensland, Australia, I was  lucky enough to come across one of the coolest creatures that I’ve ever seen first hand, the flying fox, aka fruit bat.  We were strolling down the main strip in Airlie Beach one evening at sunset, full from dinner and still foggy from the night before, when a large cat on a hang-glider flew right over our heads. “What the hell?!” we ducked and swatted at the air like we were being attacked by killer bees.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in bat country, fruit bat country.

Flying Fox a.k.a Fruit Bat

 

I only saw one fruit bat while in Airlie Beach but the closer we got to Cairns the more we saw.  They would come in flocks at dusk and if you didn’t look closely enough you might just think that they were crows.  You could hear them crashing into the trees as they landed and sometimes falling from the top to the middle until they found a branch to cling to.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

 

Where there was one, there were many.  You could hear them screeching and ticking, unclear whether they were having a conversation or warning each other to back up off my fruit yo.

Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia

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Sadly, I am not a photographer, and though I became slightly obsessed with trying to capture these guys on film, my efforts were futile.  The light (or lack thereof), and movement made it nearly impossible for a novice like me to get a shot.  So out of hundreds, I have only a few usable images, and even those are mediocre at best. Apologies for the lousy photos and HAPPY BAT WEEK!!

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-Team Lost