Senses of Bali

Bali is definitely a destination for the sun-seeking tourist. Luxury spa hotels with cushioned deckchairs line the white sandy coastline and pink faces can been seen bobbing around in the turquoise waters. Tourists from far and wide are greeted with a big warm welcome and there’s plenty here to see and do.

Most of the locals are familiar with tourists arriving by plane and staying in a hotel. Our taxi driver the other day could not understand why on Earth we wanted to go to a supermarket to buy 5 cases of beer and then be dropped off on a beach, at night. Alex and I explained our whole voyage and life to him. Three times! After which his response was “No. I think you stay in hotel”. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

In other news, we met a wonderful couple (Brad and Claudia) who are sailing their bright pink 32 foot monohull around the world on a huge culinary mission. They are both trained chefs and Brad is currently in the process of setting up the next big online presence in the world of cheffing. He will soon be filming for an exciting new YouTube series uncovering stories behind strange and exotic foods in remote destinations all across the globe. He’s currently focusing on Indonesia. Indonesia is renowned for its delicious cuisine and although we were able to dine at some of the luxury resorts once or twice, we frequented the local street food stalls much more often. Brad was extremely keen to drag us down the dingy narrow streets, away from the resorts, to the local street food stalls and restaurants so that we could get a taste of ‘true’ Indonesia. It’s one thing to experience the smells and tastes of a local dish, but to be able to fully understand the history of the dish and the delicate cooking processes was even more amazing! This is what Brad is offering on his upcoming series – A Nomadic Chef. I know that some of our followers are keen ‘foodies’ and I would highly recommend subscribing to his website. It might be a little while before he publishes his first video but it will be worth the wait. Trust me! I’ve seen some short snippet previews 🙂

This is the gang chowing down on some delicious Balinese street food.

Yum!

Babi Guling is a roast suckling pork dish where they spit roast a whole pig and turn it into a medley of delicious foods.

Babi guling – the pig is used to make crackling, pork scratchings, pulled pork, a ‘chorizo’ style sausage, roast pork slices, stripped pork with chilli and vegetables, crispy pork and pork soup, served with a plate of rice. This is a carnivores dream!

We also tried Kopi Luwak coffee, where the coffee beans are first eaten by an Asian palm civet and undergo fermentation in the animals intestines. Their faecal matter is then collected, processed and turned into coffee. Yes, it’s basically coffee that’s made of poo! But it actually tastes very very good. Plus the Asian palm civet is so incredibly cute and was waiting to meet us on the table at the cafe – how could I possibly resist!

Indonesian coffee marketing at its best!

The civet wasn’t the only creature to draw our attention, we also visited the Ubud Monkey Forest which is a sanctuary for the Asian long tailed monkey. Surrounded by forest and ancient temples the monkeys are fed and looked after by the locals. This site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Bali. The local Hindu religion has a principal known as the Tri Hatta Karana which encourages three paths to reach spiritual and physical well-being. These three ways are to create a harmonious relationship with 1) other humans; 2) the environment and 3) with the Supreme God. Monkey Forest aims to achieve this by welcoming visitors from all over the world, promoting access to nature and encouraging prayer in their temples.

We’ve done a LOT of work on the boat since arriving in Bali which Alex will probably talk about in a later blog. The labour and material costs are just sooooo cheap here that it made sense to give Bob a few upgrades. Unfortunately it meant that we haven’t been able to do as much Bali sight-seeing as we might have liked. I couldn’t leave Bali, however, without spending an afternoon at a spa. So Alex treated me to an early birthday present and bought me an afternoon ‘ritual’ at the second-best spa in all of Bali (according to trip advisor). It was honestly the best spa experience I have EVER had! The ritual included a 60 min massage, foot spa, body exfoliation, body wrap, full facial and a rose petal bath! By the end I felt so beautiful in my skin that I think I honestly could have walked out into the street stark naked….. perhaps with some rose petals covering vital areas. The whole experience was amazing! Also, I’ve never had a facial before. They really work! The skin on my face has not felt so firm and soft since I was in my early 20s!

Our stay in Bali was short but sweet. Now we have upped anchor and are currently sailing to our next destination – across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar! This will be our longest passage yet and we expect to be at sea for about a month. We’ll keep you updated of our progress using the satellite phone to post the odd blog from time to time. See you on the other side!

The realm of dragons

The hairs on the back of my neck have been standing on end during every snorkel, dive and dinghy ride since arriving in Indonesia. Despite being surrounded by vibrant coral reef and fish aplenty, there was always something hidden in the distant blue that distracted me from the usual underwater wonders and made me very uneasy- the savage salt-water crocodile! Many Indonesian islands are home to this elusive species and I’ve heard horror stories about the brutal loss of life at the jaws of these reptiles. You’d think that my all-consuming fear of death would have stopped me from entering the water, but the ecologist inside just couldn’t help herself. I was desperate to experience the world-class diving that Indonesia has to offer and part of me would secretly love to see a ‘salty’ in the wild… at a safe distance of course. Fortunately (or unfortunately as my internal ecologist would say) we never came across one during our dives, and once we arrived in Flores the threat was completely negated as the crocodiles have been hunted to (local) extinction.

This is Bob anchored off the north coast of Flores.

This island has a healthy and vibrant coral reef with a plethora of fish.

Crocodiles are not the only large, intimidating reptiles to inhabit these Indonesian islands. There is another deadly creature which, over the course of history, has been responsible for many a human death. I’m sure that you have already guessed which creature I’m talking about – the infamous ‘Komodo dragon’. There’s only one small area of the world that houses the last 3000 of these dragons, and lucky for us, Alex and I happened to be sailing right past it.

Komodo Nature Reserve

Komodo Island and its surrounding waters are part of a world famous nature reserve where it’s possible to get up-close and personal with unusual and charismatic species. The marine life here is second-to-none and the terrestrial habitat is home to many plants and insects that support a whole host of larger species – the most famous being its exceptionally large reptilian inhabitants.

We wasted no time at all and hired a local guide for the afternoon to take us through the bush so that we might safely catch a glimpse of this renowned creature.

The infamous Komodo dragon – the creature we were attempting to track down.

The bush habitat is surprisingly well established for such a dry island and there were plenty of places for a Komodo dragon to hide. It’s scaly skin is perfectly coloured to blend in with its surroundings. All it has to do it wait. Wait to pounce on unsuspecting victims innocently passing by.

Alex and our guide, Rahman, scouting the bush for dragons.

Komodo dragons are carnivores and fierce hunters. They are capable of taking down very large prey. Deer are their main food source here but they also eat wild boar, buffalo, smaller Komodo dragons and even humans. The last time a tourist was attacked was in 2017. The man (in his 50’s) suffered very severe leg injuries as a result and was lucky to escape with his life. Others were not so fortunate.

The Timor deer make up the bulk of the dragon’s diets. We saw many deer on our trek. Lots of prey equals lots of DRAGONS!

A hungry dragon hides out and waits for unsuspecting prey to pass nearby. Often, it ambushes the ill-fated animal and attacks with its powerful jaws. It secretes venom in the form of toxic proteins which cause paralysing pain, excessive bleeding, extreme swelling and lowering of blood pressure. This ultimately leads to shock, loss of consciousness and death. Impressively, these reptiles often bring down prey much larger than themselves in less than 30 minutes.

Teeth are often lost during attacks and it’s possible to find this evidence of recent meals while wandering in the bush. Each dragon has almost 60 of these in its mouth.

Teeth weren’t the only evidence of nearby dragons. This pile of faeces is less than a day old. We know it’s from a dragon firstly by its size (unsurprisingly) and secondly, by the white colouration of uric acid produced with the usual pile of brown waste.

This is a track left by a Komodo dragon. You can clearly see the wavy line left in the dirt by the dragons tail scoring the earth as it waddled along. The guides are so skilled at tracking them they are able to tell which direction they were going.

Young Komodo dragons spend their first few months in the canopy of trees. Here they feed on invertebrates, birds and small reptiles while avoiding the cannibalistic nature of the adult dragons. When a juvenile braves the ground to eat the remains of a dead carcass, they have been known to roll in the faeces and intestines of the dead animal in an attempt to deter hungry adults. The young have a slightly more vibrant and metallic colour pattern, presumably for camouflage purposes.

We were exceptionally quiet during our trek and were fortunate enough to sneak up on a juvenile who had ventured to the ground. Our guide told us that it’s extremely rare to see a dragon so young in the wild as they remain so well hidden. We were the lucky few.

Finally, at the end of our trek was a watering hole that was surprisingly devoid of animals. This was the only watering hole for many miles and normally it would be bursting with life as the nearby animals came by for a drink. The reason for this eerie absence of life soon became apparent…

This huge male Komodo dragon was lurking just a few meters away. It might look like we were able to sneak up behind him without him noticing, but he has good eyesight, good hearing and an exceptional sense of smell. He is able to detect the scent of a carcass from over 5km away! Luckily he had recently had a meal (they feed only about once a month) so wasn’t interested in making a meal out of us. Surprisingly he wasn’t at all bothered by human presence. He knows who’s at the top of the food chain!

Pink Beach

There are wonders in this realm of dragons other than its scaly inhabitants. Any Bermudian reading this will not like what I’m about to say. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we have achieved the impossible – we’ve actually found a beach that tops those in Bermuda. Even Alex admits that this beach is the best he has ever visited – and that’s coming from a person who has an unintelligible dislike of beaches.

This photo was taken on a cloudy day and I only wish I could have witnessed the sun beaming down on its turquoise waters and lustrous sand. Pink Beach in Komodo not only contains one of the best snorkel sites that I have ever experienced, it also has the comfortable warm waters of tropical climes and, of course, the sand is PINK 🙂

It’s not just that pink is one of the worlds greatest colours, there’s a lot that goes into the formation of a pink sand beach. Tiny marine creatures called foraminifera create a pink or red calcium carbonate structure as a protective case. This forms part of a more complex structure of shell or coral and once the animals die, natural forces break this up to form the thousands upon thousands of pieces that make up this pink beach.

Manta Point

Finally, I couldn’t finish up without showing you this short video of my time swimming at Manta Point. I swam with manta rays before in the Marquesas Islands over a year a ago now. It was one of my all-time favourite wildlife moments and I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience it twice. Manta Point provided beautiful clear waters to watch and swim with these magnificent rays. Alex doesn’t appear in the video because I left him on the boat driving around in circles in the pass, waiting for me. I might, possibly, have felt a twinge of guilt, but it didn’t last long.

Celebrity status in Indonesia

Would you believe that we’ve spent over a month at sea in total since leaving New Zealand back in July and we still aren’t even at the half way point of this voyage. In fact, the half way point is still another 500 miles away! After which we have just 9 months to navigate the other half of the world back to Bermuda. Are we crazy?… Most likely!

As many of you know I have battled with sea sickness for most of this voyage since moving onto Bob back in February 2016. The prospect of this final year and spending so long at sea has sent worrying chills down my spine. I’ve literally had nightmares that I’m living inside a washing machine only to wake up and find that my nightmare is a close approximation to reality. The good news is that I think I might, finally, be getting over it. We’ve had some bumpy passages since leaving New Zealand. During the first one to Vanuatu I felt the usual pukey twinges, but that was expected after 6 months on land. Since then though, I’ve felt ill only once and that was in the few days coming into Papua New Guinea. We were heading dead downwind in 30 knots with steep swells that made Bob violently roll back and forth through what felt like an angle of well over 90 degrees! Since leaving Papua New Guinea (about 15 sea-days ago) I haven’t felt a single twinge of sea sickness. Not even a little one! Yay, go me! I must admit, I haven’t taken into account that since arriving in Indonesian waters we’ve been blessed with super calm seas and never more than a zephyr. We’ve had just enough wind to keep us sailing, which has kept the seas lovely and flat, and while Alex has been disappointed with our less-than-speedy progress, I’ve actually been enjoying ocean sailing, finally! It only took two and a half years!

The photos above are a few shots of the sunrise I was enjoying during one of my watches on the sail to Indonesia. I don’t why, but in this part of the world the sunrises and sunsets are some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen!

In other good news…. the Indonesian authorities let us into their country. Even though the whole procedure took 4 days to finalise, we managed it without any unforeseen problems and without paying too much money in fees or bribes. Checking out in Bali might be a different story, but certainly checking-in in Saumlaki appears to be one of the easier ports for cruisers to complete the immigration formalities.

We expected Indonesia to be very different from the other islands we’ve previously visited and our first impressions proved this to be correct, at least superficially. The town has a large bustling population; the buildings are ornate and colourful, as are the local long boats. One downside is the huge amount of single-use plastics, many of which have found their way to the ocean. In many ways this place reminds me a little of Thailand, for the good reasons as well as the bad.

Even 10 miles away from the nearest town I counted 6 pieces of plastic in the water in less than 3 minutes.

Almost everything is sold in single-use plastics, including the local moonshine. This is a drink called sopi. It tastes like rosé wine but is twice the alcoholic strength! And I bet you thought drinking boxed wine was un-classy!

Saumlaki is one of the busiest towns in Indonesia and even though there is a port here and the island has an airport, it is seldom visited by tourists. Alex and I stood out from the crowd like a glass of milk in a cola stand. Most people would stare as we walked past them, many would follow us down the street, some would talk to us and some would even ask for our photo to be taken with them. I suppose this is what it must feel like to be famous. If it is, I’m very happy that my childhood dream of becoming a famous singer never materialised. I don’t cope at all well with excessive attention and even if I did, you would rather listen to a dying cat than to my singing, trust me! That’s not to say that all this attention didn’t have its perks – a few locals who spoke a little English were happy to show us round the town and barter at the local market on our behalf. The market here is superb.  Full of locally grown fresh fruit and veg and piles of fish caught that very morning. They’re similar to the markets we’ve visited in other islands but with even more choice and at a fraction of the price!

Here are some of the local children having fun swimming by some colourful long boats in the town. The one on the left (which the children are standing on) has recently sunk.

We were lucky enough to meet 4 Aussie guys and one ‘sheila’ who had sailed from Darwin for a few weeks holiday. It was interesting to meet sailors who weren’t ‘live-aboard cruisers’. Although we had plenty in common from a sailing perspective, the conversation was able to divert away from the usual subject into something a little more refreshing. There were two groups – the first was a lovely couple who live in a house in Darwin but decided to sail their 34-foot boat the 250 miles to Saumlaki for a well deserved break from their respective jobs. The second was a group of 3 retired friends who sailed a 32-foot monohull across for a week away. Between them they have a collective age of about 225 years! But their energy levels were comparable to an age of at least half of that! It really goes to show that age is in the mind and really you are as young as you feel.  I was grateful to make friends with these wonderful people who knew the area well, this being their regular sailing-getaway spot. In a town as busy and overwhelming as Saumlaki, I was happy for them to take the lead and show us some of the sites.

Above are a few shots of an ancient stone ‘boat’, supposedly it signifies where their local ancestors first landed the island – but no one really knows for sure.

Steps from the stone boat lead down to the water beneath.

Our reward for climbing down all those steps… a stunning beach which appeared (thankfully) to be plastic-free.

We stayed in Saumlaki for almost a week before heading west with the intention of stopping at Flores and Komodo before ending our Indonesian visit in Bali. On the forth day at sea the winds died out completely so we decided to stop in at an island called Pantar, anchored outside the village of Kabir. Not because we’d heard great things about the tourist/cruising grounds here, but because it simply happened to be in a convenient position for us to spend a night or two. This island is visited even less frequently by tourists than Saumlaki and is much less built up. In fact, everything about this island is so similar to those islands of the Tropical Pacific that we could be back in Vanuatu or another such archipelago. Basic shelters made from woven bamboo or simple concrete blocks make up the bulk of the houses. Children can be seen fishing, canoeing and playing in the sea and the community in general help each other with various jobs from building works to growing and foraging food. As is typical of our adventures so far, the people here are enormously generous and friendly. Having spent just 5 minutes on shore the other day we got talking to a group of ladies who invited us to sit with them for a while. With the help of Google Translate and a poor cellular internet connection we were able to communicate that we were trying to find the local hot springs which we’d recently read about online. A few moments later the locals were whisking us away on their scooters, excited to show us the sights of their homeland. They expected nothing from us in return, they simply wanted to make us feel welcome and for us to enjoy their island. Despite knowing us for less than half an hour, one lady even offered us a bed in her house for the night. What a lovely offer.

This is the beautiful view of the sunset from our anchorage in Pantar. It’s not a bad life.

This is Alex at the local hot springs. A warm river runs into the sea and it’s the local hangout for the village kids. They loved posing for photos and enjoyed borrowing our mask and snorkel to see the interesting sea life.

The kids enjoyed fishing and paddling round in locally dug-out canoes.

Even on this remote island we were treated like celebrities. A man in this group asked if he could take a photo with us and half the village ended up getting in the shot! What a great photo 🙂

We’re now underway once more and motoring to a small island just off the northern coast of Pantar, to a spot which apparently has world-class snorkelling and diving. The locals tell us that salt water crocodiles are not a threat here – I hope they’re right!

Hopefully this will NOT be the last thing I see. I can’t image it would be a nice way to go. The photo of this salty was taken at the Nature Centre in PNG and well out of biting range.

Efate, Lelepa and Nguna – a small taste of Vanuatu

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Vanuatu for almost a month already. We’ve crammed in so much that time has simply disappeared as though swallowed by a black hole. It’s entirely possible that we’ve done and seen more of this country in the last month than we did in Marquesas over 6 months. I won’t write about it all in this post, I’ve got to leave something for Alex to write about after all, but here’s a small taste of our Vanuatuan adventures so far.

Efate

The tiring sail up to Vanuatu from New Zealand was well worth the effort, particularly because I knew my parents were waiting for me at the other end. They currently live in Thailand where my mum works as a teacher and my Dad is enjoying his retirement. They spent a good portion of the school summer holidays visiting Australia and decided to take the opportunity to fly from there to Vanuatu to visit us. It’s a long way for them to come and we’re honoured they decided to make the trip, particularly as my Dad hates flying with a deep passion! Moreover, he likes to feed his fear by watching documentaries about plane crashes in the weeks leading up to a flight. I have absolutely no idea how my Mum managed to convince him to, firstly, move to Thailand in the first place; and secondly, to spend the summer holidays globe trotting to distant corners of the planet to see his one and only daughter. Despite his impending doom he came along anyway. He must really love me! 🙂 All jokes aside, I think they both had a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Even though I don’t see my parents as often since I started this voyage, the time we do spend together is of better quality and I appreciate it all the more because of that.

We spent many an afternoon and evening chilling out on Bob. The last time my Mum was on board was in a very rolly anchorage in Galapagos and she got quite ill. This time the anchorage was much more sheltered so it was much nicer for her.

This is the first time my Dad has seen Bob and it was great to be able to show him our home and way of life. He seemed to enjoy the experience and learning more about it.

We made the most of the good trade winds and took them for a day sail, which is a first for both of them I believe. They both took turns on helm which of course made mine and Alex’s job much easier.

We took advantage of the nice beach, snorkelling and paddle boarding offered by the resort where my parents were staying.

We had a lot of fun at the blue lagoon. It’s a pool of brackish water near the coast which is a beautiful vibrant blue colour, perhaps because of the mineral composition in the water.

 

We took a trip to The Summit gardens to see the famous view and enjoy the ornamental flora. We were disappointed to find the place was closed to the public due to damage from a Cyclone back in 2015. All was not lost however! After speaking to one of the local gardeners (a wonderful guy named Thompson) we ended up having our own private tour through the gardens with a very experienced and knowledgable local. This secret gem was definitely one of my highlights of Efate, here are some of the photos:

Lelepa

We bid my parents a heartfelt goodbye before heading to some of the smaller islands just north of Efate. First stop, Lelepa. Lelepa is part of an area with significant historical relevance. It was in a cave on this island where a famous chief died some 400 years ago. He was famous for bringing peace to the region after a long period of suffering and conflict. An entire island just west of Lelepa was dedicated as his burial site and around 40 of his friends and family were killed and buried with him. Whether they volunteered for this or not remains a mystery, but it is a sign of great respect for the paramount chief to be honoured with this type of ceremony and resting place.

This is a bat cave in the north of Lelepa. It may not be the death place of the famous chief but I’m sure there have been dead bodies in here at some point in the past. Bats were everywhere and unlike the U.K., you don’t need a special licence to go and see them. Whether or not the bats were happy about the disturbance we caused is another matter.

We had also heard there was a resident dugong mother and her pup hanging around in the waters just a short walk from the anchorage. We set off with snorkel fins in hand at the hope of seeing this unusual creature. We split up our search efforts and amazingly, I was the lucky one who came across the dugongs first. I say I ‘came across’ them but really they found me. I was swimming with them for a whole 10 minutes before the others arrived and quickly scared them away. At least they got a glimpse even if it was only for a few seconds. The snorkelling in this area is truly fantastic! We also saw turtles, a sting ray, a multitude of other fish and I even managed to get some good footage of an octopus, who surprisingly didn’t seem bothered about hiding himself away in the rocks.

This is the beautiful anchorage in Lelepa. It may look hazardous from anchoring perspective, but at least the coral heads are easy to see!

Nguna

We then set sail a little further north to an island called Nguna. This island is home to a large inactive volcano and we chose to anchor Bob outside a small village at the foot of its cone. This was our first proper exposure to rural Vanuatuan culture – where you must visit the village chief and offer him gifts in return for his permission to anchor outside the village. As soon as the anchor dropped we headed to shore armed with a large bag of children’s clothes and ladies underwear (which we’d acquired from a charity shop in New Zealand) as we’d heard they were sought after in these islands. The locals seemed very grateful and the chief spent many hours that day speaking and drinking kava with us and showing us round his village. This was a huge privilege for us as we’d unwittingly arrived on on their Independence Day and many villages from all over the island were gathered here for the celebrations. The chief had a very busy day and yet he took the time to proudly show us his home, the local school, church and all the food and drink stalls set up for the Independence Day celebrations. We were even invited to watch the local football tournament. My dad would have loved it! We we’re also given lots of interesting food by the locals, many of which I have no idea how to eat and some of which I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s always fun to try the local cuisine.

This is Alex with the chief in the village nursery.

This is probably the most spectacular backdrop for a football match I have ever seen with the extinct volcano towering over the pitch.

This is a coco pod. I was aware that you can grind the seeds to make coco powder but the locals use them in a different way. They open the pod and suck the white flesh from the seeds and discard them afterwards. They taste beautifully sweet, like sherbert. We decided to keep the seeds and have a go at making our own coco powder. Watch this space.

This is the aptly named ‘snake bean’. Some beans are even more curly and look even more snake-like than this one. You remove the inside pith and scrape off the outer white skin. What’s left is something that is a little bit like bell pepper – a mild sweet flavoured food that you can fry or boil.

We got to see a lot of Efate with my parents and it was amazing to spend time with them. When it comes to visiting the country itself, it’s the rural lifestyle and unique landscapes that really appeal to Alex and I and in that sense, the best is yet to come…

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.