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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Stevensons Island: A small, intimate bird heaven on lake wanaka

Stevensons Island is a hidden gem of Lake Wanaka. Peace and quiet rule this wild island situated just a short boat ride away from Wanaka township (Otago, South Island). The dense native bush vegetation that covers most of the island attracts many bird species endemic and native to New Zealand. And the easy terrain, short trees and small size of the island makes it a perfect birding ground.

Roys Peak overlooking Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

View of Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak (1578m). Stevensons Island lies behind the far right mountain. Credit: Steven Sandner (see his Facebook page for more photographs)

With a surface of 192 km² and depth of 311 m, Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand (behind Lake Taupo, Lake Te Anau and Lake Wakatipu). It is fed by the Matukituki and Makarora Rivers and drains into the Clutha River, the second longest and highest volume river in New Zealand. Lake Wanaka lies 300 m above sea level in a U-shaped valley that was carved out through glacial erosion during the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. There, land and water magnificently Continue reading

Quiberon: a former French island turned presque-isle

Presqu'ile de Quiberon

A NASA screenshot of the Presqu’ile de Quiberon

Situated in the Morbihan region of Brittany, the Presqu’île de Quiberon is a small French peninsula that used to be an island. Long ago, strong winds and currents formed a flat sandy isthmus that reattached the 9 km² territory to the mainland. Dubbed Isthme de Penthièvre, the narrow arm is no wider than 22 m in parts, just enough for cars and trains to circulate. Vulnerable to storms, it has been enlarged and reinforced by man-made dikes on several occasions since the 19th century.

Nowadays, Quiberon is a restful, invigorating and somewhat picturesque sea resort that welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Yet, tourism has not always been the dominant sector. From the second half of the 19th century fishing, especially sardine fishing, and canning concurrently developed as core industries leading to the peninsula’s Continue reading

Fischland-Darß-Zingst: a land of flats and contrasts

Germany has a small coastline in proportion to its land size. The few seaside resorts found along the North and Baltic Seas are therefore highly prized by the Germans. One of them is the Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula, on the Baltic coast.

Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula

A postcard map of Fischland-Darss-Zingst

This 45km-long peninsula belongs to the Nationalpark Vorpommersche-Boddenlandschaft and is a prime wetland area which attracts many bird species and other wildlife. Situated a 2h train ride from Rostock, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, this popular destination is a must-see for nature enthusiasts who enjoy a picturesque blend of nature and culture.

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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