SBR_Logo_Main_White

 

Blog by Rob

Read the Blog

Jasper, Canada: Wildlife & Wilderness Bonanza

When you’re preparing for a trip to a destination you’ve never been to, in a far away place on the other side of the world, you conjure up images of what you would like to see and do. These images are based on the hope that all the amazing things you’ve read and researched will actually be true and that you too will be lucky enough to experience these amazing sights and experiences for yourself. For me, this trip to Jasper, Alberta in Canada was an opportunity to see and photograph an abundance of exotic wildlife, such as we don’t see here in Australia, and to be wowed by beautiful landscape scenery. This image is one of those “hero” shots that I wanted to capture for myself (and did).

 

 

When I’m researching a new location, I usually start with a Google search titled “top tens things to see in…..” This educates me to the indigenous flora, fauna and sights, which I put on my preliminary to do/see list. High on my wildlife viewing list for this trip were bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bald eagles and coyote. For scenery, I was keen to see Athabasca Falls, Mount Edith Cavell, Maligne Lake & Canyon and the quaint town of Jasper. These well known landmarks are all world acclaimed for their beauty.

 

 

Nestled in the midst of the Rocky Mountains in the Athabasca Valley on the Icefields Highway, 200 miles north of Calgary, Alberta, the population of Jasper is approx 4000 residents swelling to 30,000 during summer. This is because at that time of year Jaspers temperatures reach a pleasant maximum of 22 degrees and the days are long with sunset around 10:30pm allowing for long daylight hours to enjoy its beauty. In contrast, the winters are extremely cold with mean maximum temp’s of -10 degrees (yes minus) and an annual snowfall of over a metre falling from September to April.

 

 

As an avid wildlife photographer my research indicated that the Jasper district and environs are an unspoilt wildlife wilderness. Situated in the Jasper National Park, in the eastern half of the surrounding towering Rocky Mountains, this 10,000 square kilometre wildlife protectorate allows the animals to flourish in the natural splendour of the area. The wildlife is accessible and is not cloistered so high up or deep in the mountains as to be completely unviewable. In fact, most of my encounters with wildlife occurred casually driving on the roads in and around Jasper National Park. It was very exciting to come across big beasts on the side of the road or just meandering in the beautiful meadows lining the roads munching on abundant fruit, nuts and berries, the staple grazing foods that bear, elk, moose and deer enjoy. I was very excited and somewhat surprised to find that the local wildlife in fact hadn’t been pushed out of its indigenous habitat due to mans progressive encroachment, but as a result of Canada’s early realization of the importance of conservation and its direct relationship to local tourism, massive efforts have been taken by PARKS CANADA to develop a realistic synergy between wildlife and tourism. Wildlife is wisely seen as a tourist drawcard and every effort is being made to develop a harmonious juxtaposition between tourism and the safety and care of their native animals. Leveraging off both beautiful scenery and unique accessible wildlife, Canadian tourism wins big on both counts.

 

 

All the internet and Canadian tourist information I pre-read spoke to the fact that Jasper and its surrounds, in particular the 44 km Maligne Lake Road, was definitely one of the hot spots for wildlife and animals were so prolific that you’d likely come across them wandering on the side of the road. This was exciting news however I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. Well, I’m happy to report, that TripAdvisor contributors and the Jasper Nat’l Park reviews weren’t wrong! Elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, brown bears, muletail deer, coyote, chipmunks and Colombian squirrels were regularly sighted and there was plenty of fabulous close up opportunities for photography. The birding was significant as well. Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, White–capped sparrows, loons, and black-billed magpies to name just a few.

 

 

Not everyone gets excited by wildlife, but it was impossible not to be awed by the scenery. It is all around you. Mountains so close as to create shadows all day, peaks that just never lose their snow caps, glaciers that are tens of metres thick, and turquoise blue lakes shining for miles with endless acres of fir trees standing like silent sentinels all the way to the waters edge.

 

 

Our journey to Jasper started around 24 hrs after leaving Sydney. A little tired but nonetheless excited, we commenced our driving adventure, starting in Calgary, by heading out on the scenic Icefields Highway travelling north. Entering the Banff National Park we drove past the well known towns of Banff and Lake Louise (more on them in another news bulletin). Wildlife sightings started almost straight away with no less than three separate sightings of black bears along the highway on our first day. I should mention, that black bear, elk, bighorn sheep and moose spotting isn’t that hard. Just watch for all the cars, caravans and buses that have already stopped on the highway making any further progress up the road almost impossible (impassable), as the cars are usually parked at odd angles and people are milling about with cameras and binoculars. Just make sure you park carefully before you and your group hop out and join the gaper-block. There are also regulated minimum distances for approaching bears that must be adhered to for both your and the bears safety. In particular, if the bear has cubs, add more yardage to the safe distance recommendation.

 

 

In and around Jasper the local wildlife is so abundant that you can encounter them even on the grounds of your hotel. The locals tell stories of bears (both grizzly and black) coming into town and scavenging for food. Staying at the Jasper Wilderness Lodge, about 2 km outside of Jasper township, we were very fortunate one afternoon to meet a National Parks gamekeeper who kindly invited us to join him as he set about moving a herd of 20 or so adult female elk, with seven adolescent calves in tow. Although carrying a rifle, which he explained was his protection against wolves and aggressive bears, his “moving on” method to use on the recalcitrant elk was a large stick with long lengths of fluoro orange plastic strips to wave and rustle at them. Occasionally he said he was forced to use firecrackers, albeit rarely. This particular elk herd had ventured too close to the environs of the resort and people, and needed to be relocated. He informed us that within a kilometre of where we were standing, not only did this gang of elk live, but in the higher elevations of the surrounding Signal Mountains, a pack of wolves and a sleuth of bears ( yep really! that’s what they’re called) were in competition for supremacy.

 

 

On our second day in Jasper I came across my first serious and somewhat sobering wildlife encounter. This was one of those incidents that could have ended very badly, and made you realize that the warnings of authorities and travel publications are invaluable, if heeded. In fact, it made me think that I should be careful what I wished for….”

It started with a morning visit into Jasper village. Driving out of town, after a pleasant repast at a local bakery for morning tea, passing a wooded area less than half a kilometre from town I saw my first brown bear. He was slowly crossing a small timber bridge that led into a bushland walking track. Excited I hit the anchors and pulled over. Grabbing a fist full of camera I ran back to where I had last seen the bear. My recollection of this event may forever be clouded in a fog of fearful confusion, but this is what I recall. I was running to catch up to the bear whilst simultaneously casting fleeting glances down at my camera to quickly adjust rotary dial settings to ensure that I would capture a picture accurately should the opportunity present itself, when the bear and I rounded the corner on opposite sides of the small timber bridge simultaneously. We were on a collision course with each other! That’s me and a 5ft brown bear (who looked nearly as wide as he was tall) running headlong towards each other. Before colliding with each other we both pulled up to a stop! Let me assure you that every story you’ve ever heard about time seemingly going in slow motion when faced with danger is absolutely true. All the really useful information I had read about encounters with bears promptly exited through my shaking legs, and I am seriously happy to say that both of us were as surprised as each other. Ol’ jelly legs here backpedalled slowly away and I eventually put about 20 meters between him and I. He didn’t move towards me so I bravely popped off a couple of opportunistic shots on my backup move and continued walking backwards towards the opposite side of the road. Eventually (there is no way to say this in a way to save manly face) hiding behind a scrubby bush, I watched him “own” that bridge. In fact, the last image I took of him was the highest insult, him standing his ground and poking his tongue out at me. Not only that but he left a “parcel” on the bridge just to underscore the fact that it was his bridge and he could do whatever he liked in his territory. This was an encounter that will live with me forever!

 

 

Calmer and more serene activities I recommend in the Jasper National Park include a wander through the limestone Maligne Canyon. A picturesque and easy 2km round trip gentle hike, crossing bridges spanning deep narrow canyons with vortexes of turquoise coloured water rushing through the 25m high walls of the narrow limestone fissure canyons. This is called the “Walk of the 6 Bridges”.

This area is alive with chipmunks and squirrels. Bighorn sheep and black bears are also frequent visitors here. During winter these cascades freeze over, and tours are available allowing you to strap on ice cleats and walk through the deep ravines marvelling at the sheer cliffs that millennia of rushing water have carved out. Maligne Lake is recognized for its beauty and in particular the much photographed, Spirit Island. Hourly boat trips take sightseers on a round trip of the lake.

 

 

Taking a drive up Highway 16 north of Jasper you are treated to views of rich blue lakes, snow capped mountains, meadows and grasslands. About 10km out of town a beautiful dark tan, sleek skinned statuesque adult male elk sporting a massive rack of antler casually sauntered along the side of the road, stopping to eat choice leaves and berries in a meadow bordering the highway. After a successful, no rush, photographic stop with him we continued a few kilometres up the road coming across a group of halted cars. Turning our focus skyward we spotted a family unit of pure white, soft fluffy coated mountain goats climbing precariously on the edge of a steep hill. Showing off their fleet footedness on the extremely steep precipices, gasps could be heard from the assembled group of onlookers watching at the nimble balancing prowess that these beauties displayed in their precarious natural world.

 

 

Jasper, the town, is very quaint with an annual snowfall of over a metre and is surrounded by mountains, which are popular skiing destinations in winter.

Almost all the roads in and around Jasper feature rushing rivers and creeks running beside them with mineral infused water the colour of light turquoise. The meadows abound with one of the primary wildlife food source, which also is the state flower; the very pretty Wild Rose. With food and fresh water in plentiful supply its no wonder the wildlife is healthy and in abundance.

 

 

When you think glaciers its conjures up a mental image of super high elevation, impassable crevices, sheer precipices and temperatures too low to sustain human life. 14km out of Jasper, Mount Edith Cavell rises up and is an active glacier. However, on the day we climbed it we were in short sleeves. You see, even in summer it’s self sustaining as the freezing internal temps feed its own longevity during the relatively short warmer months. The Athabasca River is glacier fed from the Columbia Icefields glacier and continues for 1231km before emptying out of the McKenzie River system into the Arctic Ocean. Running parallel to this river is the Trans Canada railway crisscrossing some of the most picturesque and exciting visual panoramas. Close to Jasper are the magnificent Athabasca Falls. Standing 24m tall, it’s the power of these falls that makes them impressive. White water rafting is popular and starts below the falls and continues downstream on the Athabasca River.

The 7km long Medicine Lake to the east of Jasper is a predominately glacier fed lake, and is a fly fishermans paradise with plenty of rainbow and brook trout in the lake. Close to the lake an American Bald Eagle nest with mother feeding her fledgling was a real treat to witness.

 

 

The beautiful Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is nestled on the shores of Lac Beauvert, in the heart of the Jasper National Park. Set on 700 acres, including the #1 Resort golf course in Canada, the resort features cedar log cabin chalets. Its so in keeping with the wilderness feel to be lodging in such charming accommodation with picturesque paths that wind and weave around the lake to the stone main lodge. Canoeing, golf, horseback riding and hiking are some of the summer activities on offer. Winter brings as much fun with skiing, snow-shoeing and, of course, ice skating on the lake is a must. These wonderful pastimes are made all that much more enjoyable when you are surrounded by pine woodlands, a crystal clear lake and snow capped mountains almost close enough to touch.

 

LAS VEGAS: 24/7 LIGHTSHOW

The Nevada desert, its dull wash of grey and brown tones stark against the vivid bustling Las Vegas strip and its surreal brightly coloured neon facades. The desert stillness contrasts with the vibrant and chaotic hustle of Las Vegas, which welcomed 40 million visitors last year, collectively spending in excess of $45 billion ( yes, that’s a “b”). With a population of only 603,000 (380,000 employed) Las Vegas is a powerhouse little town. It is also full of visual idiosyncracies. The beauty of Las Vegas is only skin deep, and that “beauty” ends one street back on either side of “The Strip”.

 

 

You only get one chance at a first impression and my first impression of Las Vegas was one of disbelief. Arrival at McCarron Int’l Airport sets the tone for your visit to Las Vegas. Upon disembarking your aircraft and entering the very large baggage collection hall, the first thing you see are rows and rows of poker machines. Its like, really!! What message does this send? Am I going to be waiting that long for my baggage that I need to slap a poker machine to pass the time? Or are they here for those desperate punters that come solely to ‘Vegas to gamble and need a quick warm up before presenting themselves to their chosen swanky (or not so!) hotel gambling concourse in order to not look like a total beginner?

 

 

With 40 million visitors each year the tourist district is busy all the time. Just traversing the 2.5km trip from the airport to our hotel took 40 minutes. The main four blocks of the highly recognizable “Vegas Strip” on which the most well known hotels and casinos are located are prone to being quite crowded, day and night. It’s a constant visual kaleidoscope. Flashing lights from thousands of signs in a myriad of shapes spelling out words and symbols. Signs in the sky, on the street and fountains light up the world around you. The neons are so powerful that the signs are bright even in the daytime. Las Vegas, the city, uses approx. 1300 MegaWatts of power per day. This is twice the daily power usage of Afghanistan with a population of 30 million people. Las Vegas, the entity however, is powered by human kinetic energy. Its alive and seething and feeds voraciously on a constant diet of 24 hour bars, casinos and restaurants.

 

 

And its all so pretty, on the surface. Its only when you drive one block back behind the glitz of the strip that you see another side of ‘Vegas. Grey and white (mostly grey) houses and low cost blocks of flats, housing gamblers and many of those working the Vegas “hustlewagon”. Everywhere you turn there is someone hustling for tips. Street performers dressed up as everything from Superman to SpongeBob, Elvis to the Statue of Liberty. The nightclub entertainment is boundless as well. Donny & Marie over here, Human Nature over there, and at least three different Cirque de Soleil shows running simultaneously. Shows by Blue Man, Elton, Neil Sedaka, and Cher available to choose from in various high class casino showrooms. Vegas is definitely in the show business. Competing for your dollar with its gambling, bars, shops and entertainers. Its no wonder Las Vegas has a yearly income equal to the GDP of Panama, Lebanon and Serbia. $45 billion! It’s the largest income per square foot anywhere in the world.

 

 

I’d heard about the shopping before arriving in Las Vegas. It is renowned as having the best “premium outlets” in the world. You know, it’s where all the A-list retail brand names send all their “last years” outdated stock to be cleared out at supposedly bargain prices. I have been to these premium outlets before in places like L.A, San Diego and Orlando and I was sceptical about the hype suggesting there are great bargains to be had from these outlet shopping centres. However, I am now a believer! At least in the Las Vegas ones. The Las Vegas Premium Outlets (North) is the best shopping value I have ever experienced. Only 20 mins north of the strip, do not miss it or you’ll be subjected to someone else’s successful bargain hunt stories and you’ll wish you had taken the time to go. Buy one pair of sneakers and the savings will pay for the cab fare alone.

 

 

You cannot visit Las Vegas and not be astounded by the sheer size and architectural splendour of its hotel creations. The interior of a number of hotel complexes I strolled into were quite superb, in particular The Venetian. The shopping and restaurant arcade is one floor above street level. Entry is over an arched bridge shaped like those that grace the canals of Venice. As you wander through the Roman colonnade lined marble floored hallways to eventually enter an “open air” piazza-like space featuring Michalangelo-esque painted ceilings. Further into this visual masterpiece, the painted ceilings are lit to look like daylight and blue skies. It’s a little piece of Venice. It begins to play with your mind, because you know its nighttime outside, yet here you are, overlooking majestic gondola’s paddling silently on a working canal, arching bridges crossing waterways, and all the while the ceiling replicates the impression of a beautiful sunny day, complete with white fluffy clouds. It’s quite unreal, albeit incredible and an architectural marvel. To complete the sensory experience, an Italian restaurant in the “canal precinct” serves a very yummy authentic spaghetti and meatballs that when paired with an Italian Chianti teleports your senses straight to Venice.

 

 

Leaving “Venice” and walking outside and across ”The Strip” you wander through the fountains and garden paths of Caesars Palace and its “Forum” . Massive concrete figures of Neptune, Pegasus and other Roman Gods loom large throughout the interior and exterior of this enormous structure. It is another hotel and shopping complex of monolithic proportions. All styled in the classic Roman era, it is a stone and sculpture triumph. It’s a visual dichotomy however, with 21st century electronic wizardry flashing all the while nestled inside a cavernous structure with larger than life size carved sculptures of Roman authority as if the ancient Colosseum gladiators and lions had momentarily been frozen in place and encased in stone. Water fountains of grand proportions abound, and the gardens surrounding it are exquisite. The football field sized gambling arena is constantly hosting a steady stream of hundreds of players flipping cards, rolling dice or feeding coins into slot machines. Figure hugging clad waitresses are ferrying drinks to punters who are completely fixated on the winking, blinking machines that occasionally reward their stares as they watch with anticipation the rolling, tumbling neon coloured electronic tiles in the hope that these will align and bring fortune and happiness.

 

 

Up South Las Vegas Blvd stands the famous “Little White Chapel” known for its “quickie” wedding ceremonies. The sign says that Michael Jordan and Joan Collins were married here (not to each other). Its popular drive-thru Tunnel of Love has performed over 80,000 marriages since 1961.

 

 

A few blocks north on Las Vegas Blvd the beautiful sprawling Bellagio complex bids you welcome from across its large 8-acre street front lake, its signature feature attraction a dancing fountain that bursts forth with thick jet streams of cascading water every half hour. Spanning the entire width of the lake, the water gyrates to music all the while shooting hundreds of narrow spouts of water high into the air, bending and flowing with smooth fluidity like a well rehearsed ballerina. Add coloured lights and the daytime show is transformed into an evening spectacular. Inside, the Bellagio is equally jaw dropping. Greeted by a doubly oversized mirrored glass and gold plated stallion in the middle of the foyer, poised underneath a recessed oval ceiling of multi-coloured pieces of blown glass, the entry to hotel screams opulence. Travelling with four adult family members, we splurged a little and rented a modest penthouse suite. ( Not one of the big ones like in Hangover the Movie) What we didn’t know was that when you book a certain type of upscale room, you get some extra benefits. Like, for example, being whisked away upon arrival to a special personalized check-in suite, complete with bar, buffet and plush chairs to rest your weary travellers bones in whilst an attentive staff member arranges all the administration of your arrival. Someone magically spirits your baggage away, and you’re ushered politely to a secret bank of elevators that only service the penthouse floors. Secret hallways and elevators behind timber panelled walls. It was like living a James Bond movie!

 

 

The Bellagio prides itself on its indoor atrium featuring themed floral tribute arrangements displays which are changed six times a year. With a full time staff of six horticulturalists, it’s a year round job tending to these floral works of art. Our stay timed to the Chinese New Year, and the displays were oriented towards this festival. Brightly coloured joyous mass plantings of bromeliads, bridges over flowing creeks, and a huge cascading waterfall. Serene by day, elegant by night.

 

 

If you don’t gamble, are affected by bright lights and hate crowds, then I suggest you stay away from Las Vegas. If, however, you find the buzz of thousands of people having a good time in a pleasant temperate year round environment somewhat infectious, and enjoy shopping, luxurious hotel surroundings and a myriad of styles of entertainment from which to choose, then I recommend you experience Las Vegas at least once. It’s an alternate reality that most of us don’t live or know, and I think that this surrealism is its drawcard.

 

 

Viva Las Vegas!

 

Thanks to my travelling buddy Nicole Weiss for her images of McCarron Airport and the Little White Chapel. Copyright 2015

 

 

FLORIDA EVERGLADES: AN ECO MAGIC KINGDOM

I had long held a strong desire to visit the Florida Everglades ever since a trip to the Florida Keys in 1986. Even back then, as I drove past the signpost to the Everglades, I decided then and there that I would eventually get back to investigate the Everglades. It just took a little longer than I anticipated. However, it finally came true and I recently spent five amazing days in and around the Everglades. There is so much to do. What should I do first? The most publicised things to do in the everglades are the airboat tours, the bike riding, the alligators, the birds, the islands, the swamps and the world class boardwalks through incredibly diverse eco systems. I wanted to experience it all!  So, first things first.

 

 

The Everglades basically have two seasons. HMM time (hot, muggy and mosquitos) May to October and BMM ( busy, mild and mammals ) November to April. It is busier in the winter as its a much more palatable time of year for non-Floridians. It is advisable in the winter to book ahead to do almost anything ( particularly if it has to do with alligators).  There are at least a dozen airboat operators on the main road from Miami into the Everglades, we happened to choose “Capt’n Mitch’s” airboat tour and had an awesome time. Once aboard the airboat with its huge fan behind us, our driver cranked up the fan and we smoothly cruised away from the dock. It wasn’t long before we were alternating between scooting around the sawgrass swamps under the mangrove forest tunnels with the wind in our hair to sneakily slinking up on unsuspecting alligators and turtles basking in the sunshine. As we whizzed through the waterways it was fun to watch the many different birds like herons, mallards, woodstalks and roseatte spoonbills as they flew out from the shores of the waterways as we passed by at speed. There was an abundant variety of birdlife and plenty of alligators to be seen close up. Our trip was only one hour long which in hindsight wasnt really long enough for the amount of things there were to see. Back at the dock, and a vist to the ever present gift shop offered us the opportunity to hold an alligator, which was both exciting and concerning.

 

 

The beauty of the everglades is so close at hand, that you can see it at a casual strolling pace. Wandering along one of the many boardwalks in the Everglades gives you the opportunity to see many species of wildlife including Great Horned Owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Anhinga’s, Little Blue Herons, Night Herons, Wood Stalks, Florida Water Snakes, and Red Bellied Cooters. The boardwalk at Big Cypress Bend is around 1km long and the Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk is 3km. Both of these feature a completely different set of wildlife because of their differing ecosystems. Keep your eyes peeled for snakes in the trees, turtles poking their heads out of the water and anhinga’s spearing fish in the swamp. Strolling a boardwalk in the Everglades is a sure way to feel and absorb the essence of this world renowned multi ecosystem habitat.

 

 

The tropical wetland eco system of the Florida Everglades is a massive watershed covering a huge area of over 1.5 million acres. The enormity of the Everglades spans from Orlando in the north 450 kms down to the bottom of Florida in the south, and from the western suburbs of Miami in the east 200 kms all the way across the width of the state to Naples in the west, almost reaching the Gulf of Mexico. This area covers an overall area of approx. 2 million acres. During the wet season, the water leaving the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee near Orlando becomes a slow moving body of water 97 kms wide and over 160 kms long. As it gradually flows along the Florida limestone shelf, towards Florida Bay at the bottom of the state, this massive cascade of water reinvigorates the everglades following its seasonal half yearly winter dry spell. The Everglades are colloquially known as the “River of Grass” because this huge body of water flowing across the state of Florida causes the sawgrass to ripple like golden waves. The Everglades are made up of a series of ecosystems including the iconic sawgrass marshes and cypress forest, images that we associate with the Everglades. Other ecosystems that make up the Everglades are estuarine mangrove forests, coastal prairie, pine rocklands and tropical hardwood hammocks. Borders between these ecosystems are subtle or imperceptible. These systems shift, grow and shrink, die, or reappear within years or decades. Geologic factors, climate, and the frequency of fire help to create, maintain, or replace the ecosystems in the Everglades. Its no wonder there is such a diversity in flora and fauna with so many ecosystems supporting their own indigenous species and coexisting in the Everglades. It is reliably estimated by the U.S National Parks Service that there are approx. 200,000 alligators in the Everglades, and in excess of 1.5 million of these reptiles across the state of Florida sharing this unique tropical wetland region with 40 other species of mammals. Some 350 bird species have been identified in the Everglades National Park and whilst most are year-round residents others just visit for the winter; and still others stop by on their journey to more southern destinations.

 

 

There is great diversity of wildlife that live in the Everglades including raccoon, skunk, opossum, bobcat and white-tail deer, however the pin up symbol of this wild, vast unique ecosystem is the Florida panther. It is the most endangered species in the Everglades, with only about 200 remaining in the wild. Panthers feed on deer and other mammals, live in the upland Everglades areas, and require large ranges. A special Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge has been created to assist them to repopulate. While there is much to see on land, an interesting diversion from the land Everglades is in the salt waters that surround them. The waterways that flow in and around the Everglades through the thousands of tiny islands on the fringes of the Gulf of Mexico support many tropical fish varieties as well as sharks, alligators and the very large rotund gentle giant known as the West Indian Manatee. Growing up to 4 mtrs in length and weighing up to 1800 kgs, these barrel shaped fully aquatic marine mammals are also known as sea cows. With a horizontal rear paddle-like flipper (its smaller relative the eastern hemisphere dugong has a fluked flipper similar to a whales tail) which it uses for both propulsion as well as flipping or scooping vegetation towards its mouth when feeding.

 

 

Getting to the Everglades is relatively easy. There are two main roads that traverse the east – west corridors of the Everglades. Firstly I-75 in the north, travelling from Ft Lauderdale in the east across the state to the Naples in the west. This is the northern access route. This route is straighter and a little longer, and is a very interesting entry to the Everglades. The road is largely uneventful, but as you drive along it and realize that the waterway running along both sides of the highway is infested with alligators and is the reason that the road is colloquially known as “Alligator Alley”. It builds the excitement that this ecosystem is like no other on the planet and the reason you’re here to experience all it has to offer. The other amazing feature of this highway is that both sides of most of the 175km are fenced to prevent the alligators from straying onto the highways and becoming road kill victims. You might give thought to the fact that hitting a 16ft 400kg alligator at 75 miles per hour ( 120kph) wlll do significant damage to the undercarriage of a vehicle as well as in all probability causing an horrific accident. The southern road starts in Miami and travels the most popular route into the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail ( US-41) travelling through Homestead, Florida City, Everglade City and Miccosuki Indian tribal land. On this road you’ll find many of the airboat tours, trading posts and tourist operators specializing in showing you the everglades via airboats traversing the rivers of grass, and selling you some souvenir trinkets including, but not limited to, alligator belts and alligator head backscratchers. About 50km from Miami you arrive at Shark Valley. This is a serious conservation research facility that features ranger guided tram/trolley bus tours that circumnavigate the 5km paved road around the valley, and explain in detail about the Everglades: how they came about, details of the various ecosystems, what their challenges are and how they are being sustained. In addition, there are hundreds of alligators that you can get real close to, a multitude of bird life, and a tower to ascend which affords a 360 degree view of the area. It is one of the premier spots to visit to see wildlife firsthand and to gain a deeper understanding of the Everglades and its inhabitants.

 

 

The Everglades are a totally wild experience in a unique environment that is, like many other natural environments on this planet, under constant pressure and stress to remain in its current pristine state. Many millions of dollars have been allocated by the US government to rectify some of the wrong decisions that have impacted negatively on the Everglades over recent decades in an attempt to de-stress the ecosystems and reduce harmful effects on it. I recommend you see it before its gone! Its very cool!

 

Cave Creek Ranch: Portal, Arizona: An Oasis in a Canyon

Located in S.E Arizona, only 60kms from the Mexican border, Cave Creek Ranch is touted as a major wildlife and birders paradise. I can personally attest to the accuracy of this. Upon my arrival late one afternoon, and not 2 minutes from exiting my car, a coatimundi ( a large relative of the racoon) jumped down from a tree near reception, and four white-tailed deer (including an antlered buck) came to graze not 10 mtrs away. A blue throated hummingbird was loudly “seet-ing” nearby and a pair of red cardinals jumped excitedly in a bush in front of me. To add to my excitement, later that evening, after a superb home cooked meal in our spacious and well appointed self contained unit, a pair of javelina’s and a lone skunk trotted by.

I’d only been there for a couple of hours and I could already give the ranch the mental thumbs-up for truth and accuracy in its advertising.

 

 

Perched right on the banks of Cave Creek, the ranch is a beautiful oasis set amongst the sycamore trees and juniper bushes. The crystal clear water of Cave Creek burbles an inviting tune as it cascades over the well rounded granite rocks and waterfall that the creekside cabin balconies overlook. The well appointed units have recently been renovated in a rustic “exposed rock and timber” feel, featuring tiled floors. Timber furniture completes the décor. Fully equipped and self contained, you only need to bring your food. This is essential because of the “outback” nature of the location. There are no regular local eating houses for approx. 40kms although on specific nights of the week the local Portal café (come general store ) does do dinner. There are two ways to get to Cave Creek Ranch. When you take exit 382 off the I-10 ( coming from San Simon) and turn onto the Portal road you have a 15km stretch of black top followed by a 24km unsealed ( but regularly graded ) road ahead of you. This winter the creek was running strongly after some unusually unseasonal rains, and we were forced to negotiate through a water crossing on the road. The other way to get to Cave Creek is via US80, which is sealed road all the way into Portal and Cave Creek Ranch.

 

 

Your drive brings you closer to the gradually increasing height of the Chiricahua Mountains, and once you arrive in Portal you are enveloped by the height and closeness of the steep rise of them. You are now in Cave Creek Canyon. You are so close to the mountains that the actual suns rays don’t hit the valley for an hour and a half after sunrise even though the valley is fully lit by daylight. Thats how close and how high they are.

 

 

Your host, Reed Peters, owner of Cave Creek Ranch for the past seventeen years, meets and greets arrivals in the spirit of local bonhomie, giving guests a guided tour of the ranch, your unit, all the while effusing knowledgably about the flora and fauna, the ranch and surrounding district and how best for you to gain the most from your stay. His personal touch allows him to identify each guests desires and how to ensure that you fulfil them. Cave Creek Ranch ‘s idyllic secluded location, nestled very close to the sheer lichen covered stone walls of the canyon, affords it its beauty, serenity and diversity of the whole wildlife experience. Part of the “sky islands study program” the Cave Creek Canyon area also features flora and fauna unique to the area.

Reed diligently keeps the bird feeders full which brings a wide variety of wildlife to the property each day. Javelina’s, deer, coatimundi ( who loves both peanut butter and red jelly), skunks, hummingbirds, cardinals, thrashers, Mexican jays, titmouse, woodpeckers, wrens, finches just to name a few of the birds and animals that are viewable at the Cave Creek Ranch.

 

 

We wanted to have the best opportunity to see as many birds as possible, so we arranged a guide for a day from Naturalist Journeys, a Portal based international guiding service run by Peg Abbott. She provided Dodie Logue to take us out for the day (8 hrs) and with her wonderful expertise and quick eye for spotting anything that flew (and she knew the names of them all and something about them) we had a marvellous day travelling around the Portal locale and its beautiful scenery and wildlife.

To cap off our incredibly exciting couple days in the mountains, we spent a relaxing couple hours, sitting with a beverage close by, the ranches bird feeders and surrounding trees, counting another dozen or so bird species as dusk fell, laughing at the antics of some mischevious deer as they too tried to eat from the bird feeders. As well, a very determined coatimundi snuck a snack from a feeder, and ended up with red jelly all over its face.

 

 

Each guest cabin has a “signature book” full of testimonials and glowing comments from previous guests from all over the world. Comments range from:

  • What a wonderful place!
  • Ive been coming to CCR for over 17 years, and it should be designated a sacred site, and protected and cherished in perpetuity
  • Thanks for such a restful stay. It was just what we needed.
  • .the Stars! I love this place.
  • Hospitable and cooperative hosts. A delightful and remarkable place of refreshment and renewal. A lovely place, a delightful stay, but much too short.

…and on they go, personal endorsements dating back years and years. Many from visitors who return again and again.

 

Cave Creek Ranch is one of those very special locations in the world where even as you are driving towards the ever increasing stature of the Chiricahua Mountains and into the Cave Creek Canyon, you have the very real sense that you are about to experience something out of the ordinary, and you certainly wont be disappointed. For additional information about Cave Creek a wonderful book has been produced and co-edited by Reed and contributed by 45 authours covering topics as wide and diverse as Trees and Grasslands, Raptors, Snakes, Hummingbirds, Bats, Mammals, Mining, Dragonflys, Early Settlers, etc. It is a comprehensive guide to the Heart of the Chiricahua Mountains.

 

 

Cave Creek Ranch and the very special Chirichua Mountains were a delight and offered so much more than we had time to explore. An 11 out of 10 and we will definitely be back. Thanks Reed!

 

 

FRASER ISLAND: QUEENSLAND’S BEST KEPT SECRET

I had always had the preconceived idea that Fraser Island was the exclusive domain of the seriously intrepid explorer and a campers paradise. I had assumed that you needed to have all the canvas type gear, know how to tie knots, dig a dunny and have a strong desire to spend quality time under the stars, come rain, hail or shine. I am chagrined that as a practicing Queenslander I wasn’t better informed about the different styles of accommodations available on the island, ranging from bungalows set high up in the tree line to a 4-star eco lodge on this extremely large and diverse heritage listed island located off the coast of Hervey Bay.

 

  • Fraser Island, Kingfisher Bay resort

 

Not being much of an under-canvas kind of guy, it was a very pleasant surprise to find that Fraser Island had a multi star eco-lodge that caters to the more pampered traveller who nonetheless still wishes to enjoy the wilderness but in a more comfortable “roof over head” manner. The Kingfisher Bay Resort has many activities to engage kids and adults alike, and two activities that I enjoyed were the “introduction and tasting of bush tucker” and their early morning ranger guided bird walking tour. Kingfisher Bay Resort is ideally located on the lee (western) side of the island, and has daily ferry (car and passenger) services. A smooth 90 min voyage complete with coffee and snack availability, sees you disembarking on the 300m long pier, which doubles as an excellent set up fishing location complete with rod holders, seating and overhead lighting for those wonderful night fishing expeditions.

 

 

Once disembarked you are on the bitumen road which leads to the Kingfisher Bay Resort precinct. Enjoy this 1.5km of sealed road as it’s the only firm ground that you’ll feel under your wheels as the rest of the island “roads” are a mixture of soft sand ( hinterland) and firm sand ( beach) depending on the tide.

 

 

Anywhere other than the resort is 4WD driveable only. The initiation to the driving conditions is immediate. Upon leaving the resort you proceed up the sealed road through the wildlife fence and across the electrified dingo prevention grid. You are immediately faced with a 400m 45 degree steep downhill grade of grey sand with bumps and ruts that would have your chiropractor smiling for a month. It became apparent very quickly why the island speed limit is 30 kph and why the 18km trip across to the beach takes the best part of an hour.

 

 

The scenery on the cross island journey is varied as you travel through the usual Aussie scrub, into rainforest and finally seaside hardy plant growth. Once you break through and are within sight of the ocean, a real sense of accomplishment washes over you because you have arrived at one of the most exciting roads you’ll ever have the pleasure to drive on. It’s the beach, yet its known as 75 Mile Road, an officially registered state road complete with addresses and street numbers. It isn’t like any other road, because it is bounded on one side by sand dunes, and on the other the Pacific Ocean. The beach is also a registered airport. Yes, this Qld state road also has a pair of single prop 6 seater aircraft that will whisk you and your party up over the island hinterland to see sandblows, hidden lakes and wilderness usually inaccessible to the visitor. The aircraft also swing out over the ocean for an exciting whale, dolphin and shark watch. Its an exciting 20 minute adrenaline rush, and gives a wonderful understanding of the enormity and magnitude of this incredible island.

 

 

The road isn’t always passable due to its reliance on the prevailing tides as to whether there is enough dry sand to traverse. It is incumbent on the traveller to be aware of the tidal situation in relation to their travel plans. This is relatively easy to accomplish as the local shops on both sides of the island have that information at hand, and are very happy to provide information as to the daily tidal situations. There is so much to see and do on the ocean side of the island. Coloured Sands, Maheno Wreck, Eli Creek, Champagne Pools, and numerous sandblows and lake hikes. If you’re interested in a spot of beach fishing there is over 125 km’s miles of quiet sand from which to choose and definitely no elbowing necessary. You’ll also probably be kept company by a lone dingo looking for a scrap of fish or old bait. Resist the temptation to feed them.

 

 

The inside of the island features many aptly named “beauty spots”. Several of these are Lake McKenzie and Central Station. The latter is the original home of the islands commercial hub, prior to its heritage listing in 1991. The island was a major logging centre as its Satinay trees were in high demand as sailing ship masts due to the fact that this timber did not suffer from borers. This area is rainforest and is quite spectacular with crystal clear creeks and rainforest walks of unimaginable beauty. Lake McKenzie is an aquamarine crystal clear lake which is usually millpond smooth and gives beautiful reflection photography. Surrounding the lake is the finest pure white sand, and bordering the lake are white paperbarks and reedy wetlands. It is a wonderful spot for a dip on a hot day.

 

 

Apart from the islands many natural attributes the Kingfisher Bay Resort is a major part of the natural island experience. The resort has developed an exceptional synergistic relationship with its surroundings, particularly building its eco-resort accommodations so as to ensure that the whole wildlife experience is within view and immediately at hand for the enjoyment of its guests. The resort features surrounding wetlands, known as The Wallum, which can be enjoyed from the back balconies of most of its units. It features dozens of bird species which can be seen each morning and afternoon. Hiking tracks are easily accessible and well marked.

 

 

The resort is also exceptionally well positioned to show off the evenings sunsets, creating spectacular imagery from the beach and pier most nights. I guess that’s why the resorts Pier Bar is a popular place to enjoy a cocktail and a tasting plate for those who wish to enjoy the evenings’ grand colourful views in style. Be sure to get there early, as the tables and chairs fill quickly, and then its standing room only.

I’m so glad I finally went to Fraser Island. There is so much to explore and I cant wait to go back to enjoy the complete Fraser Island experience again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAMS Supersprint Round 3: June 2014

Round 3 of the  CAMS Supersprint Championship was held at SMSP North yesterday and while rain threatened, apart from some fine misting, it didn’t really eventuate.  Another plentiful roster of 117 eager competitors lined up in the eleven groups.

 

 

No sooner had competition started when a lengthy delay occurred due to a full circuit oil spill from Paul Martens Clubman ( #63), which had track maintenance staff dusting and blowing the track from the entrance to turn one all the way around to the entrance to the pits on main straight. A long 40 minute wait had competitors who were waiting on the dummy grid quite antsy. A funny side to it was when race control called to scrutineering to have a chat to Paul about the oil spill. The scrutineer apparently mis-heard the call and asked for a repeat of the car number involved. Race control replied”…go find car #63… it’ll be the clubman with no oil in it.”

 

 

This is a good time to doff our caps to the maintenance and safety staff who do such a good job in preparing and maintaining the track making it safe for us all to enjoy the sport. They work tirelessly to keep the track in race condition. The oil spill today stretched 2.8 km and they did a great job cleaning it up.  I noticed that we have a new industrial broom, a forklift with a massive broom attached to the front. Very cool…and sweeps very fast.

 

 

The delay resulted in the session being shortened by two runs, however the day was successful as records were broken in two Types and seven Classes. Once again Andrie Tan was the fastest on the day in his Radical with the only sub one minute time of the day of 59.302. Steve Lacey brought his Chev Camaro to the Championship for the first time. Steve has been a Championship competitor for many years. First in his white Torana, followed by his blue VK Commodore, but this Camaro is something else. Steve was the fastest tin top on the day with a time of 1.03.415, which broke the Type 4 and Class 4D records. He previously held both those records in his VK Commodore Sports Sedan. Unfortunately, Steve suffered steering problems on his third pass, and was forced to retire. Paige Butchers had a scare when her bonnet flew up on turn one and scratched her windscreen pretty badly.

 

 

Warwick Morris was the other Type record breaker in his Porsche GT3. He recorded a time of 1.08.593, which broke the Type 2 and Class 2C records. Warwick has broken the Class 2C record at every track he has run this year and it is the second time he has broken the Type 2 record

Other Class records broken were:

Class 1C – Preston Peiris took a second and a half off the Class 1C record with a time of 1.17.587 in his Mazda MPS3. Preston has broken the Class 1C record at every Round this year.
Class 4A – Chris Muir set a new Class 4A record in his new Honda CRX with a time of 1.16.401. Chris only unveiled his newly finished CRX today, was extremely happy with its performance.

Class 4B – Ed Cory broke the Class 4B record in his Mazda MX5 with a time of 1.16.250 Class 4C – Richard Perini broke the Class 4C record in his Porsche RSR with a time of 1.04.564. While they didn’t make the record books, it is worth noting that Bruce Hibbard (Porsche GT3), Adam Laura (BMW M3) and Matt Cole (Mazda RX7) also broke the Class 4C record yesterday.
Class 5B – Chris Kostakis broke the Class 5B records by about 3 seconds in his MNR Vortex with a time of 1.056.973. It should be noted that Chris has broken the Class 5B record at every Round this year.

 

 

The Mazda MX5 Club is leading the Club Championship by the barest of margins
on 1226 points just ahead of ARDC who are just 4 points behind on 1222
points. Manly Warringah are in 3rd place on 597 points.

 

 

-Words and pictures by Rob Annesley

look@shotbyrob.com.au

Special thanks to Bob Welsh for specific race details

 

Contact Me