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The Sea to Sky Highway, which connects Vancouver to the resort town of Whistler, is one of the most scenic highways I’ve ever traveled.
The ride takes just over one hour since it was renovated for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, but there are plenty of view points that will allow drivers to stop and really take in all the scenery in.
A couple of the stops look out into the ocean and the gulf Islands, but my favourite stops include Shannon Falls, near the town of Squamish, and Brandywine Falls, which my friend Ryan and I only just discovered on our latest drive up!
Vancouver’s iconic urban Stanley Park turns 125 years. An oasis of calm bordering the downtown of the city, Stanley Park is bigger in area than New York City’s famous Central Park, and is one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions, with over eight million visitors per year!
Stanley Park is surrounded by a large portion of Vancouver’s famous Seawall. The park is also home to other popular attractions in Vancouver, including the Vancouver Aquarium; the summer outdoor theatre series Theatre Under the Stars; horse-drawn carriage tours, the Stanley Park Train (which hosts the Christmas Bright Nights and the Halloween Ghost Train), and the summer outdoor movie series Fresh Air Cinema.
The park also boasts three beaches and a public swimming pool, as well as plenty of gardens, open spaces, picnic spots, and trails.
Happy Zoo Lover’s Day!! Yep, I guess there is a day for everything.
If you, like me, love zoos, I definitely recommend you visit the Melbourne Zoo in Australia at some point. The Melbourne Zoo is not only beautiful, but it is recognized for having great animal conservation programs (for local and international species).
One of its highest achievements is it’s Platypusary (yes, it’s a real word!), in which they conserve, protect, and help reproduce one of Australia’s most peculiar animals: the Platypus!
During my last visit to the Mayan Riviera in March 2012, I also took a day to go back to Xcaret Eco Park. I have been to the park three times as well, and really enjoy it.
Before we begin, yes, the park is pricey. The entry fee of US$79 is a little steep, especially considering you will spend even more money once you are inside (mainly on food and drinks, as it is not an ‘all-inclusive’ deal). Once you are inside however, you’ll be entertained for an entire day, with a full size zoo/aquarium housing local fauna, two underground river systems in which you can snorkel, and a variety of cultural shows throughout the day.
Most impressive is the ‘Xcaret Mexico Espectacular’ show, which showcases a musical-like story of Mexico, from pre-hispanic time traditions, to post-hispanic music and traditions, complete with traditional clothing, costumes, music and dances from different states around Mexico. The show itself is almost worth the entire entry fee (by North American standard prices, at any rate).
There are lovers and there are haters, but I do recommend you visit the park at least on your first visit to Mexico. For most travellers visiting in ‘all-inclusive’ packages, this is as close as you’ll get to see the culture of Mexico, so it’s well worth the trip!
As for me, been there, done that (multiple times now), and I won’t be going to Xcaret again this year when I visit Playa del Carmen in April; that’s simply because I just went last year, and I know US$79 can get me very far in Mexico!
Kitsilano, a neighbourhood located across False Creek south of Vancouver’s downtown core, is home to Vanier Park.
I only discovered Vanier Park in 2012, after returning from Australia (despite having lived in Vancouver for 14 years now!). I always saw the park across the harbour from Sunset Beach in downtown, but never actually made the track over.
As I took biking as a hobby last summer, I visited Vanier a few times over the summer, and got to really fall in love with it. While there isn’t a beach in Vainer Park, the park has a huge grass area perfect for playing sports, having picnics, or simply hanging out. The park also has amazing views of downtown Vancouver, and is home to some pretty cool museums, such as the Vancouver Space Centre, the Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Vancouver.
The park can easily be reached from downtown via a ferry from Yaletown right into the park, or by walking / biking along the False Creek seawall!
Below are some pictures I took during some of my adventures over to Vanier, so you can see why this park kind of stole my heart.
One of Vancouver’s top outdoor attractions is its famous Seawall. The best part of this attraction is that it is free and highly entertaining!
What started as a 7km walking / biking path around the perimeter of Stanley Park, has now extended to surround most of Downtown Vancouver, and extends from Canada Place, around the world-famous Stanley park, and all the way to the Southern neighbourhood of Kitsilano.
The 22km Seawall offers beautiful views of the waterfront and many different parts of the city, from the Central Business Area to fancy neighbourhoods, Vancouver’s chilled-out West End, parks and beaches. The scenery is so varied and beautiful, and can be enjoyed on walks, jogs, roller blades or bikes.
After visiting Mt. Field National Park during my last day in Tasmania, we made a stop at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located less than a half-hour drive from the Hobart Central Business District.
Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary takes in injured and orphaned wildlife and nurtures them to health to either be released back into the wild, or kept in the sanctuary for educational purposes. There is a nominal fee to enter the park, and it’s well worth it for visitors.]
At the Sanctuary, I was able to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies (something I’ve done before in Kuranda Village), pet koalas, and see other endemic Aussie wildlife such as echidnas and wombats. More importantly, you can see and learn about Tassie’s very own Tasmanian Devils!
The Tasmanian Devils are adorable (although seeing them chomp of chopped-up wallaby parts wasn’t too cute, as you’d expect). During my visit there was a mom with three babies that had been bred on-site – this is a great advance, as the number of these cool little guys in the wild has been deteriorating steadily over the past few decades.
If you like nature or are an animal fanatic, I recommend a visit to the Wildlife Sanctuary, as it is a very fun and educational experience!
On my third day in Tasmania, I went on a final day-long tour that explored Mt. Field National Park, a great nature reserve about an hour’s drive from the city of Hobart.
Mt. Field National Park is beautiful in its range of environments. Opposed to Freycinet National Park, on the Northeast coast of Tasmania, Mt. Field doesn’t have a coast line nor beaches. Yet, the landscapes of Mt. Field are still very varied, ranging from lush temperate rain forests at the base of the mountain to alpine regions in higher elevations.
Due to changing climates within the park, visitors can experience lush fern and eucalyptus forests (including some of the tallest trees in the world!), as well as crisp alpine areas where vegetation is very scarce, due to the cold.
Make sure you have a jacket handy when you visit: while the rain forests down below were warm and muggy, the higher areas reached 5 degrees Celsius even in the height of summer, when I visited!
Beautiful waterfalls, secluded hikes, lakes, and dense forests are plenty in Mt. Field National Park. We didn’t get to see any wildlife, but apparently wombats and platypuses are often seen in the wild in this park!
My first excursion out of Hobart to explore Tasmania was a day trip to the island’s famous Freycinet National Park.
Located on the Northeastern coast of Tasmania, Freycinet National Park contains scenery not seen anywhere else in Australia, including pink and red granite mountains, white sand beaches, and dense eucalyptus forests.
The natural setting of Freycinet is gorgeous. The Hazards, a chain of pink granite mountains, offer a great backdrop past the sea, and can also be hiked to see some beautiful views of wineglass bay from a lookout on top. Down below, Wineglass Bay (named after its shape), has often been called one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
Orange granite beaches and hills in places like Honeymoon Bay or Sleepy Bay are also beautiful, and much different from the idyllic white-sand Friendly Beaches, which stretch for kilometres along the clear turquoise sea.
The weather during my visit was unusually cloudy, but despite the lack of sunshine the scenery in the park was no less stunning. The cloudy weather made our hikes a little less sweaty, and the sea was still warm enough for swimming.
If there is one spot in Tasmania I wish I had spent more time in, it’s definitely Freycinet. But words are not enough to describe its beauty, so how about some pictures of the varied environments of this National Park?
Sydney is home to some incredible parks, with the most beautiful being those found around Sydney’s Harbours. These are some of my favourite parks and green spaces within the city and its inner suburbs:
Sydney’s Hyde Park, which happens to be Australia’s first public park, is located in the middle of the Central Business District (CBD), as opposed to being on the shore. This is perhaps what makes it so interesting: it is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle. My office was a five-minute walk from Hyde Park, so I often joined hundreds of other city workers for picnic lunches in Hyde Park.
Park Street crosses through the middle of Hyde Park, dividing the park into two roughly equal parts. A beautiful fountain which is the main landmark of the park, Archibald Fountain, is located in the northern part of Hyde Park. On the southern end, the Sydney ANZAC memorial stands behind a man-made pond known as ‘The Lake of Remembrance.’
Hyde Park has beautiful landscaped flower gardens and about 600 trees. The park has wide open tree-lined avenues which are often used for art exhibits and events. Hyde Park also hosts various special festivals in its grounds, such as the Sydney Night Noodle Market, concerts, and events for the annual Sydney Festival.
THE DOMAIN + ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
The large open area on the eastern edge of the Sydney CBD is knows as The Domain. This space hosts a variety of large music festivals, concerts and seasonal events throughout the year, and is also frequented as a popular hang out. The Domain has beautiful views of the Sydney skyline and the Sydney Harbour, and is a popular hang out for locals.
The Domain connects the city’s CBD with the beautiful Woolloomooloo Bay, and the suburb by the same name. A popular pool in which I spent some of my free mornings, the Andrew “Boy” Charlton Pool is located on the eastern side of the Domain, and offers great views of this scenic bay. The southeastern side of The Domain is home to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Adjoining to The Domain are the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are located sea-side on farm cove, close to the Sydney Opera House. The Botanic Gardens house a variety of endemic Australian plants, which are landscaped around the grounds in beautiful surroundings, complete with ponds and art statues.
A large colony of over 22,000 flying foxes (giant fruit bats) makes its home in the Royal Botanic Gardens. While endemic to the area, the bats are blamed for killing dozens of trees in the park, and are so considered a bit of a pest. You will get an impressive sight if you find yourself near the gardens at dusk, when thousands of these flying foxes take flight!
BRADFIELD PARK + LUNA PARK
During the time I spent in Sydney, I only visited Bradfield Park once, and it is a shame. Located on the north side of Sydney Harbour, Bradfield Park offers incredible views of the Sydney skyline and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from across the Harbour.
Next door is the famous Luna Park amusement park. Again, I only ever visited Luna Park once, before leaving Sydney, and happened to do so on a day when the park closed early, so I was unable to go on any of the rides!
RUSHCUTTERS BAY PARK
Located in the eastern inner-city suburb of Rushcutters Bay, this large park offers wide open spaces and paths for jogging and playing sports. There is also a sea-side walkway perfect for a morning stroll. Private yachts in the bay make for beautiful views from the park. This place is perfect for a picnic or for a lazy day spent tanning and reading, when going all the way to one of Sydney’s beaches seems too long!
BEARE PARK and ARTHUR McELHONE RESERVE
Beare Park is a small pubic green space in the suburb of Elizabeth Bay, 3km from the CBD. This park was only a 5-minute walk from my place, so it wear one of my favourite hangouts on my days off, and great for picnics or casual drinks with friends. The seaside park is most popular with locals, but is easily accessible from many of the hotels in the area.
The smaller Arthur McElhone Reserve is a mere 3 minute walk from Beare Park. This green space is even smaller and off the coast but offers some beautiful views of Elizabeth Bay from higher up. The main highlight of this small park is a koi pond complete with small waterfalls. This tiny hidden park is the true definition of zen.
Other great parks are found around Sydney’s popular beaches. To read more about these areas, please read the Sydney, Australia: Beautiful Beaches post!
Safety first! Although the water bodies in Kakadu National Park are thoroughly searched for crocodiles for weeks before they are open to the public after the wet season, the park authorities continue to advise that swimming is at your own risk!
After going on the Jumping Croc Cruise near Darwin, on our way to Kakadu, and seeing the salvage nature of these creatures, I was a little scared every time I jumped into a lake or river in the park.
My trick: wait until everyone else with me was in the water, before jumping in. Unless a croc really had it in for me, it’d probably snatch one of the others before I even entered the water, and being its meal was a lower risk!
That comment just made me sound either very morbid, or very smart…
Now, THAT’S a termite mound, if I ever saw one!
The cathedral termite mounds in Kakadu National Park can grow to immense heights (For reference, I am 183cm / 6’0″).
It is estimated that a mound this big, has been ‘under construction’ by cathedral termites for over a period of at least a century. The mounds are made from a mixture of clay, glued together with termite saliva and excrement.
The mounds, each which acts as a termite city in its own, will house generations and generations of termites for over a hundred years. They are so strong that they can survive bush fires and floods with the changing seasons of the Northern Territory of Australia.
As mentioned in my Kakadu National Park, Australia post, one of the highlights of my June 2011 visit to the park was licking an ant’s butt. Bet you thought I was kidding… well guess, what? I wasn’t!
These friendly green ants (well, friendly until they bite you in defence, as you hold them tight and try to put their little round butts on your tongue!) secrete a liquid out of their nether regions, which they use to mark their path so their ant friends can follow them.
Well, it turns out this liquid has a surprisingly peculiar citrus-y flavour, reminiscent of lemon, but sweeter, and way more intense.
At first I was a little grossed out by the prospect of tasting an ants butt… then I figured, if I didn’t do it, I’d likely regret it (and let’s face it, I’ve done worse things than that, like eating whole crickets and silk worms, and all sorts of weird animals, so… would a little butt-tasting really hurt?).
The liquid is not part of the ant’s digestive system, it is a sterile acid, which is perfectly safe to.. um… lick…. you know, off of the ant’s butt. The strong citrus flavour is actually enjoyable, surprisingly.
And if you ever find yourself with the chance to try this, just think: how many of your friends can say they’ve licked an ant’s butt? Yep, you’re likely the first.
Have you licked an ant’s butt yet?