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.
A pair of Californian Quails, male (left) and female (right). Credit: Yalakom
Aramoana, Dunedin (click on map to enlarge)
One of the many perks of living in Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand, is its proximity to nature. The city sprawls over more than 3,000 sq km of eroded volcanic remnants from an extinct shield volcano that last erupted 10-million years ago. This hilly landscape is organized around a large tidal inlet dominated by Mount Cargill (700 m) to the north and the beautifully indented Otago Peninsula to the south. Thanks to this fabulous setting, it only takes a short drive to surround yourself with breathtaking natural scenery and a very unique wildlife.
Situated 25 km north of Dunedin, Aramoana is one of these places where one can escape the urban life for an afternoon. This small settlement of 264 dwellers is the mouth of the Otago Harbor Continue reading
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The loop to the Col de Fenestre (2,474 m)
The mountain hut – Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre – from where departs the trail to the pass
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