Truly Wild Experiences Down Under

As someone with a keen interest in conservation and zoology, seeing the native wildlife of a place is something that usually features highly on my destination wishlist when I travel. This year hasn’t been easy for me on a personal level but it always lifts my spirits when I think of the amazing things I have seen and done already.

One of my most cherished memories is when I went backpacking Down Under with my husband. Australia and New Zealand are two of my best-loved countries – friendly locals, stunning scenery and most importantly, amazing wildlife. So I would like to share my favourite wildlife experience from each.

Adorable quokka - a native to Rottnest Island in Western Australia

Discovering quokkas on Rottnest Island, Australia

Rottnest Island is a beautiful island off the coast of Western Australia, home to an adorably smiley-looking marsupial known as the quokka. In fact, Rottnest Island was named after the quokka when a Dutch explorer arrived at the island and mistook the quokkas for rats, naming it ‘Rat’s Nest’.

Wild Experiences Down Under

Being almost completely wiped out on the mainland of Australia, Rottnest Island is one of only a few places where you can see quokkas in their natural habitat and due to the lack of predators on the island, coupled with an abundance of food, their numbers are thriving.

Beautiful Rottnest Island - catch the ferry from Fremantle and enjoy a day with the quokkas!

As the island has a strong focus on the environment and sustainability, the best way to explore is by bicycle. So when we arrived by boat we picked up some hired bikes from the dock and went on our merry way.

Rottnest Island is easily one of the most beautiful places I have been fortunate enough to visit, with its white sand beaches and turquoise seas it looks like something from a movie set. Of course, my favourite part was observing the quokkas and I managed to even get a #quokkaselfie too! All flora and fauna on the island is protected by law so visitors must remember not to touch or feed the animals as it could harm them.

The best way to get around Rottnest Island! Hire a bike and explore this beautiful part of Western Australia.

Quokka selfie on Rottnest Island, Australia

One of my favourite things about Australia happens to be its native creatures – I’m completely in awe of it – so to be able to see the happy little quokkas in the wild and not in a zoo was something unforgettable.

Spotting wild seals in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura is a small town on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island and is famed for its marine life. Due to the weather cancelling any whale watching trips out to sea, we made a spontaneous decision to take a drive to Ohau Point where we could see some wild New Zealand fur seals.

Adorable seal pup at Ohau Point, New Zealand

After a short walk into the woodland, we were greeted by one of the most magical sights I have seen – numerous young seals swimming and frolicking at the bottom of a waterfall! I wasn’t sure what to expect on this spur of the moment adventure but it by far exceeded any expectations I could have had. The seals looked so happy and there were very few tourists at this spot making it feel all the more special. Of course, we kept our distance but a couple of the seals were playing on the path together just a mere metre away from where we stood!

Ohau waterfall - a beautiful place to see seal pups swimming

The seal pups are born in November and December and start making their way to the waterfall in April, where they are then able to develop their swimming and social skills together. They stay in the stream for several days at a time before returning to the coast to feed from their mothers. Once weaned, they then remain on the coast where they can hunt for food at sea.

See New Zealand fur seals - free things to do in Kaikoura

Seal swimming in Ohau stream, Kaikoura

We waited and watched the playful pups for a little while longer but even on the walk back to the car we were able spot a few of them swimming in the shallow waters alongside us. Amazing! Sometimes the best adventures are unplanned.

Note: My visit to Ohau Point happened prior to the devastating 2016 earthquake and although parts of this area are still destroyed, visitors are still able to see seal colonies elsewhere in Kaikoura. Hopefully they will return to the waterfall very soon.

As far as future wildlife adventures go, a safari in Kenya would be at the top spot on my travel bucket list and as a proud recipient of a charity rhino adoption, I would love nothing more than to see them in the wild.

Win a safari adventure in Kenya!

Win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/audleytravel/. To find out more or enter via the website, visit www.audleytravel.com/social.  Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.

This post is my entry into the Trips 100 & Audley Travel blogger challenge.

The Quirky Cat Sanctuary of Rome

The quirky cat sanctuary of Rome

Most people who know me will know that I’m an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady – hey even my Secret Santa gift at the office Christmas party was a crazy cat lady mug! So when I heard about the quirky cat sanctuary of Rome, I knew I had to pay a visit.

Cute cat

Just 5 minutes walk away from the Pantheon is the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, home to around 150 cats who live in the ancient ruins. The ruins themselves are amongst the oldest in Rome (400-300BC) and are thought to be the place in which Julius Caesar was assassinated. As for the cats, they are free to wander the ruins and are very well cared for by a team of volunteers.

These Roman ruins are home to a cat sanctuary, believe it or not!

Visitors are welcome to visit from noon every day but you can’t just wander around the ruins, you can view from the street above or if you walk down the steps on the corner of Via Florida and Via di Torre Argentina you can visit the little gift shop they have down there.

Cats being cats

As well as the gift shop, there is also an indoor section of the sanctuary. This is mostly for cats that need to be indoors for health reasons, but of course other cats wander in and out of the shop part because cats pretty much do what they want don’t they?

Cat shop at Roman Cat Sanctuary

The friendly volunteer who was minding the sanctuary on the day I visited showed me and my mum into the part of the indoor bit of the sanctuary that was locked (presumably to stop cats who didn’t need to be in there getting in there). I petted a random cat who was perched on a scratching post and then he/she climbed onto me and made me have cuddles!!! It was so cute. But sadly, all good things must come to an end but the cat was having none of it.

Visiting the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary in Rome

Eventually I did break free but I did feel guilty for cutting short our cuddles. However I did buy a calendar from the shop as the money goes straight back in to feeding and caring for the cats.

Torre Argentina is a wonderful place for a short visit and I would definitely recommend it to all animal lovers! For more information take a look at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary website.

The quirky cat sanctuary of Rome

For more feline inspired blog posts take a look at my photos of cats around the world or read about that time I visited a cat cafe in Tokyo.

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The quirky cat sanctuary of Rome - something not to be missed for all those crazy cat folk out there!

A girl's guide to volunteering in Costa Rica

A girl’s guide to… volunteering in Costa Rica

Volunteering in Costa Rica

I’ve always had a fascination for the animal kingdom, so being rich in nature and wildlife, Costa Rica has been on my travel wishlist for a while. Costa Rica covers just a tiny proportion of our planet yet is host to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, something that the nation is particularly proud of. And you don’t have to venture too far to see some of its native creatures. Just relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Manuel Antonio we managed to spot lizards, capuchin monkeys and various birdlife, including toucans!

As someone developing a keen interest in all things zoological, I decided that I would like to combine my sightseeing holiday with volunteer work, so spent a week at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, around 20-30 minutes from Juan Santamaria International Airport.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - spending a week at an animal rescue centre was a very rewarding experience.
One of the many murals decorating the walls at the centre

We were picked up by a driver at the airport, along with 3 other jetlagged Brits. We arrived at the centre late afternoon and were shown to our 12 bed dorm. There are around 5 dorms in total and most were almost full, accommodating over 50 volunteers in total – alot more than I was expecting!

We met the owner Bernal and his howler monkey, Feluco. Feluco is an orphan whose mother was killed by a dog. Because he lost his mother at such a young age, his immune system is very weak. He also has a cleft pallet which gives him breathing problems. Feluco would stand no chance of survival out in the wild but luckily he is very well looked after at the centre. We learnt more about the other animals and the centre itself, but I will tell you more about the story of the rescue centre in another post.

An orphaned howler monkey being cared for at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
Feluco

The next morning we were given a tour of the centre which at the time of our visit is home to an assortment of birds including parrots, owls, a peacock, a curassow and some chickens and ducks. There are also pigs, goats, 3 types of monkey (howler, spider and capuchin), two and three toed sloths, a tortoise, porcupine, marmoset, opossum, hedgehog, squirrels, two kinkajous, an olingo and a couple of pet dogs. There was also a toucan but as it was going to be released back into the wild, only the resident biologist was allowed anywhere near it.

Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center - rescue, rehabilitate and release Costa Rican wildlife.

As volunteers, the only animals besides the toucan that we were not responsible for were the spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and some of the baby creatures inside the animal hospital.

A baby three-toed sloth being rehabilitated at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of the baby sloths from the hospital with her teddy bear <3

For your first two days volunteering, you must shadow someone and not enter the enclosures, with the exception of the goats and pigs. I must admit being a little wary of Oscar the male goat, but the mama and two baby goats were sweet. I did enjoy going into the pig pen and we were encouraged to go visit the pigs to stop them from getting lonely.

Feeding the resident pigs on a Costa Rican volunteering holiday!
Feeding my piggy pals

A typical day

7am – Breakfast in the common area.

8am – Meeting in the common area – this is to go over any points of discussion and extra duties (one day every single person got involved in shifting a spider monkey cage, for example). Each volunteer is put into one of five teams and then each team has set tasks for the day on a morning and afternoon rota. The rota is repeated every 5 days so everyone has a chance to be involved with different animals and different aspects of the work.

Food preparation at a wildlife rescue centre
Food preparation for the animals – one of the rota tasks

A typical day may go something like this…

AM

  • Clean enclosures and supply fresh food and water for: the goats, the sloths beside the goat enclosure (aka The Goat Sloths), the owls, peacock, curassow and parrots.
  • Collect grass for the goats.
  • Tidy the garden.

The morning shift would usually last until 11am.

A scarlet macaw in Costa Rica
A cheeky scarlet macaw – the parrots were always entertaining the volunteers!

12 noon – Lunch in the common area.

Free time.

1.30pm – Meeting in the common area.

PM

  • Clean enclosures and supply fresh water for the porcupine, hedgehog, squirrels, opossum and teen sloths.
  • Feed the squirrels.
  • Give the porcupine, hedgehog and opossum their snacks at 4pm.
  • Give the teen sloths their branches at 5pm.
  • Feed the porcupine, hedgehog, opossum and teen sloths at 7pm.
Squirrel at a rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of these inquisitive squirrels decided to climb on me and run round my legs!

The afternoon shift would usually last until 4pm. Of course, every day was different as if your team were responsible for some of the nocturnal animals that day, you had a few jobs to do after 4pm, but who’s complaining when you have a kinkajou climbing on your head at the 7pm feed! You aren’t supposed to touch the animals but an excitable kinkajou did decide my head looked like a fun place to climb!

Vet feeding a pair of kinkajou. These animals are nocturnal but required veterinary attention during the day, giving us a rare glimpse of them during daylight hours.
Normally nocturnal, the kinkajou woke up to receive their electrolytes from the vet

6pm – Dinner.

Free time.

10pm – Lights out.

There was a swimming pool and some hammocks for chilling during down time. The living conditions were basic and I didn’t mind the cold showers and sharing a dorm, however the sleeping wasn’t easy due to the various, and quite loud, noises of the local wildlife and vehicles on the nearby road. My body also ached for somewhere comfortable to sit – yeah yeah I’m an old granny alright!

The people at the rescue centre, both staff and volunteers, were really friendly and the work felt very rewarding. As someone who volunteers at a cat rescue centre close to home, it was a great learning experience to be so close to the native animals of a different country, and I could tell that the other volunteers felt the same.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - caring for howler monkeys among other animals.
Chew with your mouth closed! – Me in with the Howler Monkeys

I would like to thank Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center for being the wildlife warriors that they are and for allowing me to play a small part in their story.

And I would urge anyone who wants to make a difference, no matter how small, to get out there and do it!

Pura Vida!


If you would like to help the CRARC you can donate money, supplies or your time by following this link.

Famous for its wildlife, Costa Rica is a great place to spending some time volunteering with animals. This is my personal account of when I spent time at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center. Pin for later!

February Favourites

It seems a little odd that I’ve leapt from my January favourites straight into a post of my February favourites, but February has been all about one thing and one thing only, or rather one place only… Costa Rica!

So here are my Five February Favourites.

February favourites - Costa Rica Special - Read it on www.quirkylittleplanet.com

1. Instagram

I haven’t had chance to write any blog posts because I don’t tend to do that while I’m on holiday, but I have been alot more active on instagram than usual. So if you don’t already follow me, go ahead and check out my collection, especially all that amazing Costa Rican wildlife. Find my instagram here.

2. Volunteering

As you may already know, I volunteer at home for the Cats Protection, but I have wanted to do a volunteering holiday for a little while now. After a bit of research I discovered the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Centre and ended up spending a week with them before travelling around Costa Rica. It was a truly rewarding and memorable experience.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - caring for howler monkeys among other animals.
Chew with your mouth closed! – Me in with the Howler Monkeys

3. Wildlife

I do love to see animals when I’m travelling and Costa Rica is very well known for it’s rich and diverse wildlife. I will most likely write a post just about the different creatures we saw because we saw THAT MANY. Didn’t manage to see ‘The Little Five‘ but then there’s always a reason to go back, right?

Black mandibled toucan in Costa Rica
Nearly thought I wouldn’t see a toucan and then along came this beauty!

4. Art

There was vibrant art all over Costa Rica – from quotes left by travellers at the rescue centre, to stunningly detailed murals of the local flora and fauna. My favourite were these souvenir masks carved by an indigenous tribe known as the Boruca. There were some incredibly beautiful and huge (expensive) ones but we bought a smaller and more affordable one to put up on our global art/souvenir wall at home. Seeing all this art made me very excited to get the paints and pencils out for the art class I’m about to start soon!

Beautiful art created by the indigenous tribe called the Boruca, in Costa Rica.

5. Money… Costa Rican specifically

As I said before about the art in Costa Rica, even the Costa Rican bank notes are art in themselves! Hardly surprising for such a good looking country though.

How pretty are the Costa Rican bank notes?!

 

This was just a little taste of what’s to come on the blog, but follow me on instagram to have a sneak peek at some of the sights and creatures I saw!

Pura Vida x

Cuba Beyond the Beaches and Havana

Cuban Crocodiles, Sugar and Steam Trains

We decided that it would be nice to see a bit more of Cuba without venturing too far from Varadero, and so we booked a tour to see a sugar mill with steam trains, as well as a crocodile farm and a replica indigenous village on the Zapata Peninsula.

Is this Cuba? It certainly is!
Zapata Peninsula

I’m sure the more intrepid of travel bloggers would have hitch-hiked their way there, but bugger that! I went for the easy and comfortable option of an air conditioned mini bus! The heat and humidity are almost unbearable if you are away from air conditioning or a swimming pool for too long.

Steam train at a sugar mill in Cuba
Ride a steam train at the sugar mill

The first step was the sugar mill museum where we learnt how sugar is produced and then tasted some sugar cane juice. It tasted very sweet (as you would imagine) but also had a ‘rooty’ kind of taste I can’t describe. Afterwards we took a little ride on one of the several steam trains they had there.

Take a tour of a sugar mill in Cuba for something beyond the beaches and Havana
Take a tour of a sugar mill in Cuba

Next step was the crocodile farm in Boca de Guama where we got to see the famous Cuban crocodile, from teeny babies to giant beasts. The Cuban crocodile can grow up to a whopping 5 metres in length although the ones we saw weren’t quite as big as this.

Famous Cuban Crocodiles
Cuban crocodiles!

We also got to see a few more of Cuba’s famous animals – iguanas, turtles and jutia, an endangered mammal that reminded me alot of the quokkas on Rottnest Island in Australia.

Jutia - large rodent of Cuba
Jutia

After lunch at a Paladar (private restaurant), we headed back to where the crocodile farm was situated to catch a boat across Laguna del Tesoro (Treasure Lagoon). The lagoon was named for the gold that the Taino (aboriginals) supposedly hid in its waters. The boat ride took around 20 minutes and was a joy to feel the wind in my hair!

Boat ride on the Treasure Lagoon in the Zapata Peninsula
Treasure Lagoon

When we arrived we could walk around a replica Taino village, where people can actually stay although to be honest, besides a bar and a couple of gift shops, there’s not alot else there.

Once we’d got the boat back across the lagoon we headed back to Varadero (which took just over an hour and a half) and jumped straight into the hotel pool!

Replica Taino Village in Cuba
Replica Taino Village
Replica Taino village in Cuba
Replica Taino Village

I would love to have seen a bit more of Cuba’s native creatures (flamingos live in the Zapata Peninsula although we didn’t get to see them) but I enjoyed my day of seeing a bit more of Cuba beyond the beaches.

Liked this? How about 24 hours in Havana?