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Posts tagged ‘wildlife’

Tour on the Firth of Forth

This tour sounded interesting and was a good opportunity to get a little bit out of the city. From the same departure point on Waverley Bridge it was a 45 minute bus ride out to South Queensferry.

I didn’t delve into much pre-reading about the tour other than to grasp there was a boat ride and there was something about bridges across the Forth River.

As we neared South Queensferry suddenly this big red metal structure loomed. This was the rail bridge and it was immediately clear why they make a big deal of it. We pulled up near the pier and I then saw the big road bridge, a little further to the west. It was quite a striking sight.

To the right the rail bridge, to the left the road bridge, and straight ahead our tour boat

The rail bridge

The bridges play a major role in joining north and south Scotland on the east coast. The cantilevered rail bridge came first in 1890 and is 2.5km long. 70 years later the road bridge was opened. This tour would travel under both bridges and further out into the Firth of Forth – where the Forth River meets the North Sea.

The dozen or so of us on the tour shuffled from the bus down the pier to the boat.

Table top inside the boat!

We circuited under the road bridge first, then the rail bridge and beyond.

The road bridge

Cold? Yes just a teensy bit

The firth has a number of islands, two of which we saw fairly close up. This was the first.

The tiny island of Inchgarvie, below the rail bridge, has fortifications from a long long long time ago. In its day its position was very strategic. In the 1500s it was used to quarantine people with certain diseases

And this was the second. Inchcolm Island looked fascinating and if I could’ve jumped off for an hour I would’ve. It has a mix of ruins from several centuries ago to World War II.

Inchcolm has a fabulous 12th century abbey

Observation post from WWII on Inchcolm Island.

Rear view of the abbey

Other firth features…

The very large oil delivery platform called Hound Point. Crude oil is piped to here from the North Sea

Lighthouse in the Firth of Forth with Edinburgh behind

Grey seals taking it easy

As well as seals we were told to keep an eye out for puffins. Which I did, though didn’t really know what I was supposed to be looking for. As it turned out they were feeling a bit shy on this day.

We headed back. The tour commentary said that there were estimates of around 500 wrecks lying at the bottom of those waters. 500!

On the return run from Inchcolm to South Queensferry

Houses in South Queensferry near the tour departure point. Across the river is North Queensferry. Coming from NZ, this is an excellent naming scheme

All in all, worthwhile. And I didn’t connect the dots but I would be travelling across the rail bridge the next day when I was to catch a train to head north.

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New Year Trip: 9~Dolphin delight on the way to White

(Surely a contender for cheesiest title!)

A new day dawned and we were relieved to hear that the tours were running. During peak season they run three per day and we were on the last tour, leaving around midday. The peak season for White Island Tours is only a couple of weeks long, coinciding with the main holiday period, and they must have been gutted to lose several days because of the storm. We went down to check on the river at the time the day’s middle tour was heading out.

The largest of the PeeJay boats negotiating the standard reverse turn before heading down the river and out to sea

Now to kill some time before our turn...

What’s the big deal with visiting White Island? It’s a volcano! More precisely, it’s the summit of a submarine volcano, maybe 2,000 centuries old and with over half its height submerged. New Zealand’s most active volcano, it normally ‘rests’ at alert level one. Things got a bit more exciting in 2000 when it rose to level two and did in fact erupt.

But mid-morning plans were suddenly thrown into disarray. Back at the motel I was contacted by reception, asking if we were still checking out. Huh??? No I said, we organised yesterday to rebook on a tour today and to keep our room for another night. She hung up to investigate. It wasn’t sounding good so I went along in person. Amazingly we were neither booked onto a tour, nor booked into the motel that night. Argh!

Luckily there was still room on the midday tour. Phew. Our room wasn’t available but there was one room left – a villa next door – and they agreed we could have that at the same rate. Disaster averted! After what was a bit of a cock up they really made amends.

Having to pack up made the rest of the time fly and it was soon time to check in and board. We were joined by about 30 other tour-goers, mostly foreign I think, and half a dozen staff. The boat manoeuvred away and headed down the river. It was great getting a perspective from the water.

Boats moored along Whakatane River

On a rock at the mouth of the Whakatane River is a statue of Wairaka

The story of Wairaka is from the 12th century. She saw a waka drifting out to sea shortly after her family landed from Polynesia during the Great Migration. Although women were not supposed to handle waka, she shouted “Kia whakatane au I ahau” (“I will be bold and act as a man") and paddled it back to shore. And that is how Whakatane got its name.

White Island is 49km away which takes about 80 minutes to reach by water. We settled in for the ride.

The very clear separation between deep sea water and the mud-tainted water caused by the floods

My er windswept look

This is probably about as windswept as Mike gets

While overcast, it wasn't raining or particularly cold so we enjoyed the fresh air and views from the back of PeeJay IV

At one point Whale Island was neatly positioned in front of Mt Edgecumbe back on the mainland

Whale Island, named partly for its silhouette likeness to you-can-guess-what, is a wildlife sanctuary. Tours there offer sightings of dolphins, whales, penguins, seals, seabirds, as well as diving and snorkelling. May have to come back for a closer look one day.

Back to the tour at hand, the captain had mentioned that it might be possible to come across either whales or dolphins. I forgot about this until there was a flurry of excitement and it was announced that we’d come across a pod of dolphins (or, they’d come across us). Already being outside gave us an advantage to those inside, and we scurried to the front of the boat. From there we had a fantastic view of these amazing creatures.

After a few minutes we parted company. It was an unexpected bonus, and a privilege, to have seen them.

White Island wasn’t far away.

Some wee island rock things just to the left (north I guess) of White Island

Not too far away now

Manitoba beaches and other stuff

One day we grabbed our winter woollies and bundled into Angela and Adam’s car for a day trip to see what else Manitoba has to offer.

Lake Winnipeg was first up, the southern end being some 55kms north of the city. It is a massive body of water: about 24,500 square kilometres. In comparison, Lake Taupo, NZ’s largest lake by surface area, is just a wee drop at only 616 square kms!

We stopped for gas at an interesting place called Sherwood Forest. Luckily not a long stop – I’m sure I heard duelling banjos in the distance…

Grand Beach is one of several communities round the lake and a popular destination in summer. But this was the latter half of October and I was getting an early taste of how cold it gets in these parts during winter.

Clearly not a summer visit to Lake Winnipeg

We had passed bits of snow on the roadside on the way up and around the lake ice was beginning to form.

The bonus of this unbeachy weather is that we basically had the place to ourselves.

Although there were definitely creatures around.

Who needs a chainsaw when you have a beaver

This is what they call cottage country, with many houses being more holiday cottages than year round residences. The little nearby settlement was quiet but pleasant.

On the way back to Winnipeg we detoured for a quick look at Springhill, a small ski field only 15 minutes from downtown. It’s just off the highway which is visible in the background.

Waiting for snow

Another detour took us to the Fort Whyte Centre, a bit of a wild life and bird life reserve. A couple of hours were easily spent walking the trails and looking through the facilities.

Geese doing what geese do

With a bison at the visitor centre. Still cuddly even though he was a bit dead.

Soon enough my week in Winnipeg drew to a close. I’m sure I’ll return one day if Angela is still there when I next get back to Canada. As I was leaving another North American tradition was on the horizon: Halloween.

Ange started the Halloween adornments before I left

I was also nearing the end of this trip and about to get my final dose of Greyhound. Toronto was a mere 30 hours away.

Close encounter with polar bears

I’m now getting back to the latter part of my Canadian trip in 2004. My last post saw me in Churchill, northern Manitoba, a remote place famous for big white bears. And big white bears was my reason for being there.

I booked a polar bear tour before I left home and seeing this threatened species in their natural environment was to be one of the highlights of the trip.

It was fairly early in the morning when the mini bus picked me up from the b&b. With just eight of us heading out it was a nice small group – I imagine when the season gets cranking these tours are well subscribed. We went out of town 20km or so to the tundra buggy depot where we transferred into one of these odd looking vehicles. It came complete with furnace so we were nice and cosy as we slowly crawled and bumped around the sub-arctic tundra.

Our tour vehicle, the tundra buggy

The first stop was near the tour company’s mobile lodge located near a polar bear nesting area. There was to be no getting out of the vehicle on this tour and the buggy was high enough off the ground to be out of reach for inquisitive (or hungry) bears.

Next to the lodge – which was basically a couple of long rooms on wheels – was a female bear with cubs.

Mumma bear and cubs, roughly 1yo

We watched them for a long time. Initially they were sleeping, all curled up together, but they eventually started to get a bit restless. The bears are not fed as that would create all sorts of problems, but food smells from the lodge are perhaps inevitable.

After sniffing around the lodge for a while, one of the cubs came over to our buggy. He/she was bold, standing on hind legs up to the windows and under the grated platform at the rear. We were thrilled at being able to inspect a polar bear so closely.

We then saw another female adult bear which had wandered into the area.

However, mumma bear wasn’t having a bar of that and chased her away under the lodge.

We left the nesting area to drive further afield, stopping for lunch overlooking the coast. Winds from the north made it a bitterly cold day but the furnace was brilliant. A couple more bear sightings during the afternoon helped round out the day until it was time to head back to base.

Nice place for an afternoon nap

We interrupted this fella in the middle of having a scratch against the rock

Crossing part of the frozen Hudson Bay

Bear on the tundra

I would love to return to Churchill one day but it is not to be taken for granted that the bears will always be accessible. Climate change is slowly reducing the duration and intensity with which the Hudson Bay freezes over each year and this threatens the bear population as they have a shorter period of time in which to hunt. I’m glad I took the chance to see them when I did.

Not your average small town

I was in Churchill for 2.5 days so couldn’t dilly dally about. My b&b was in town and being a small place it was easy to cover on foot. Provided I did so during daylight hours and didn’t venture down to the bay. So with these words of caution from my hosts I spent the first afternoon walking around, doing a spot of shopping and looking through the museum.

This is the b&b. All of the buildings are built for the unique climate and are mainly wooden and weathered looking.

Their scary looking but lovely three-legged dog.

It is quite a sparse and barren looking place.

The next day I went on a long-awaited polar bear tour which I’ll cover in a separate post. Later that evening I met up with another girl from the tour and a couple of others to go to a ‘polar party’ to mark the start of polar bear season. There we got to sample local cuisine such as caribou and musk ox – which is about as crazy as I get when it comes to food experimentation!

My departure the following day was not until the evening so plenty of time to fit in another tour. This was around the local sights and was really interesting. Polar bears are the mainstay pull but is certainly not the only feature.

However, their presence did mean our tour guide carried a gun for the parts of the tour where we left the bus.

And Churchill isn’t just about nature either – there is a fascinating history from its trading origins and now defunct military base. This is an old radar facility.

The wreck of a cargo plane which crashed in 1979.

Visiting a stretch of beach called polar bear alley…

This is a jail of sorts for polar bears. Any that repeatedly venture too close to town are captured and held in this compound until the Hudson Bay freezes and they can be released to find food.

A rare sighting of what is apparently a variant of red fox.

All in all, not your average small town.

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