Queenstown Quails

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand, viewed from the Gondola lookout. Credit: Yalakom

If you are a nature and bird enthusiast, do not expect too much of Queenstown (Otago, South Island). Too vibrant for its own good, this transient town offers spectacular vistas, but is oddly crowded and congested. Queenstown boasts of being the “adventure tourism capital of the world”, so visitors come for the adrenaline and the party rather than a genuine nature experience. One does not encounter as much wildlife as can be expected in such a remarkable mountainous setting, and if you seek peace and quiet, look away.

It is in Queenstown, however, that I sighted my first Californian Quails (Callipepla californica). Native of the southwestern United-States, these remarkable birds were introduced as game birds in several countries including New Zealand in 1862. The birds subsequently conquered an extensive range and are nowadays found throughout most of the South and North Islands.

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Te Anau: amidst tourists and birds

Te Anau is a small town of barely 2,000 inhabitants situated at the edge of New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park. It is erected along the shores of Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in New Zealand and largest in Australasia by freshwater volume, and overlooked by Jackson Peaks (1622m), the Kepler Mountains and, further north, by the Murchinson Range.

Life in Te Anau revolves almost exclusively around tourism, which means only Europeans, Asians and North Americans will cross your path in summertime. Indeed, Te Anau is a popular base to access the hyped Milford and Doubtful Sounds by boat, as well as the Routeburn and Hollyford hiking trails by road. Float plane and heli-tours also daily take off from the lake for an aerial exploration of the fjords. But the most remarkable local attraction is the Kepler Track, a 67 km alpine hiking loop that ranks among New Zealand’s nine Great Walks and attracts many hikers from overseas.  Continue reading

Perched on a mountain

A view of Roubion, a traditional alpine village high perched on the edge of a sheer cliff in the French Alps. Together with the remarkable nature surrounding it, this lovely hamlet situated on the buffer zone of the Mercantour National Park is a must-see. To learn more about this original travel destination, you can read:  A first-time exploration of the Mercantour from the town of Roubion.

Location: Roubion, France

Young Alpine Ibex

A female Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex) with kid having a snooze a few meters off the trail leading up to the Col de Fenestre, a mountain pass at the Mercantour National Park in the French Alps. For additional pictures of these ungulates and more information about the sightings and the area, click here.

Location: Saint-Martin-Vésubie, France

Going up the old salt route to the Col de Fenestre

St-Martin-Vésubie, Mercantour National Park

The Mercantour (core and peripheral area). The area discussed in the present article is contained in the black square.

The numerous trails that criss-cross the Parc National du Mercantour (French Alps) are an open book into the human history of the area. No matter how wild the landscapes they traverse, all are impregnated with tales from the past, nowadays discretely guarded by nature.

Alpine trails connecting France to Italy through the passes, like the one leading up to the Col de Fenestre (2,474 m) from the sanctuary of the Madone de Fenestre (1,904 m), in the Vallée de la Vesubie, have a particularly rich heritage. In the Middle-Ages, merchants travelled this ancient salt trading route from Nice to the Italian Piedmont, and early on the site of the Madone de Fenestre became a religious sanctuary successively held by the Romans, the Black Monks (Order of Saint Benedict), the Templars and the abbey of Borgo San Dalmazzo (Italy). Today, a chapel still stands in the valley where local pilgrims gather every year.

Driving from St-Martin-Vésubie—a traditional alpine village situated 1,000 m above sea level along the outside border of the park’s buffer zone (see first map)—is the only way to reach the Madone de Fenestre, so having a car is preferable. Other options include Continue reading

A first-time exploration of the Mercantour from the town of Roubion (French Alps)

Mercantour - Roubion and surroundings

The Mercantour (core and peripheral area). The area discussed in the present article is contained in the black square.

Created in 1979, the Parc National du Mercantour boasts a unique mixture of nature and culture on its 685 sq km alpine territory made up of six distinctive valleys dominated by mountain tops over 3,000 m. Though omniscient and diverse, the local wilderness has long coexisted with men whose early presence in the area is attested by the scattered remnants of former human activities (rock engravings, chapels, defensive fortifications ruins, military blockhaus, old sheep/cow pens…) and a multitude of hamlets remarkably erected on the steepest slopes of the park’s buffer zone (1,465 sq km). Built in a stair-like fashion amid the lush vegetation, the traditional rock houses give the impression of having literally grown out of the mountain stone. Visitors shall feel amazed at the sighting of such surreal constructions and a little frightened when accessing some of these unconventional dwellings via curvy one-lane roads.

Roubion

View from the end of the road leading to Roubion. Credit: Yalakom

An archetype of such picturesque villages is Roubion. Perched at an altitude of 1,336 m in the Vallée de la Tinée, this charming medieval town of 125 inhabitants makes for an ideal base for those wishing to explore the multiple facets of the Mercantour. Roubion will introduce visitors to the local lifestyle, past and present, while providing easy access to the park’s core area via the hiking trails that run through its narrow, cobbled streets. Refreshing source water feeds Continue reading