Without a doubt, the Galapagos Islands are one of the most amazing places I have ever been. I have often said that certain trips are life changing - this was one of them.
That said, there are a number of places around the world to venture to for amazing wildlife experiences. Two in particular are often compared to the Galapagos in terms of unique and abundant wildlife – one in North America and one Down Under.
The Gulf of California (aka Sea of Cortez) was called “The World’s Largest Aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau. These protected waters are home to 39% of known marine mammals in the world, more than 700 species of fish, five of seven species of sea turtles and a third of whale, dolphin and porpoise species.
Wildlife may not be unique to just this area however the diversity of marine life is second to none. Here you will see whale sharks, humpback whales and their calves, dolphins, sea lions, swordfish, California octopus, stingrays, giant squid plus a whole lot more.
Inquisitive seal pups and humpback moms and calves often welcome interaction with humans. Humpback whale watching is a big reason people come to this area.
You can explore the area by land (base camps with day trips out on the water) though I recommend a week (or longer) adventure/expedition cruise to fully immerse yourself in this beautiful region. Similar to a Galapagos cruise, your days are filled with a variety of activities – snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking, birding, zodiak rides, whale watching, exploring uninhabited islands.
The best time to visit the region is between November and April. Adventure/expedition cruises are generally available between January and March.
Humpback whales begin to arrive in December; whale sharks can be spotted as early as December but usually January into early March. February is peak whale watching season (especially on the west side of the Baja in Bahia Magdalena) but plenty of marine and bird life is seen into March and early April.
Photos courtesy of UnCruise Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions
Galapagos of Australia
Kangaroo Island Is Australia’s third largest island and a nature lover’s paradise. Known for its unique plant life and wildlife, you will find koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, a wide variety of birds (including the kookaburra), sea lions and you may even see an echidna or two.
Photos courtesy of Australia Tourism; echidna photo courtesy of photographer Maxine Coquard
The island though offers so much more!
Geological wonders include the wind blasted boulders of the Remarkable Rocks (created by wind, sea and rain over 500 million years), Admiral Arch, a natural rock arch, long stretches of breathtaking white sandy beaches and crystal clear water (Emu Bay, Kingscote, Vivonne Bay, Snelling Beach, Stokes Bay) and the Little Sahara Desert, wind-sculpted sand dunes perfect for sand surfing.
Photos courtesy of Australia Tourism, photographer Julie Fletcher
The Kangaroo Wilderness Trail is one of Australia’s great walks. A 5 day trek has you hiking through a variety of terrain - eucalypt and sugar gum woodland, along rugged coastline, ancient sand dunes and freshwater lakes and lagoons.
Local produce is amazing – fresh oyster, honey, wine, gin, olives, olive oil – all waiting for you. A foodies delight is an understatement.
Where to stay? Kangaroo Island has a number of options, from farm stays to bed and breakfasts, lodges and retreats. Kangaroo Island’s most famous and luxurious stay is the Southern Ocean Lodge – a beautiful lodge with commanding views of the Southern Ocean.
Best time to visit? Autumn (March to May) is high season. To avoid the crowds, winter (June to August) is ideal, which also whale watching season.
Photos courtesy of Australia Tourism and Southern Ocean Lodge
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