Category Archives: wilderness

Rottnest Island




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Australia is a biologically distinct continent with many species of both plant and animal life that live nowhere else in the world. These include, of course, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the koala, the Tasmanian devil, the emu, and a wide variety of snakes and insects.

Some of these flora and fauna are particularly limited in their range. One of these is the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a large cat that looks something like a miniature kangaroo.  The quokka is found only in Western Australia, and only in a limited range in the southwest of the state.

The quokka, a rare marsupial found only in Western Australia

The largest population group, estimated to be between 8,000-12,000 is on Rottnest Island. A smaller group of up to 1000 live on Bald Island near Albany. And about 4000 live on the mainland in scattered colonies in the Margaret River region.

Rottnest got its name because in 1696 the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, thought the creatures were rats and called the island Rotte Nest (rat’s nest). Its native name is Wadjemup.

Today Rottnest Island is a nature preserve with about 100 permanent residents, but it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists with around 500,000 visitors annually. It can be reached by high speed passenger ferries from downtown Perth, Fremantle, North Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Visitors are not restricted to day visits as there is a hotel on the island as well as cabins for rent.

One of the fast ferries to Rottnest Island

The island lies 18 kilometres off the coast from Fremantle. The nineteen square kilometre island has three plant species endemic to the island including the Rottnest Island Pine. The only predators that prey on quokkas on Rottnest are snakes, including the poisonous dugite. The mainland population was decimated with the introduction of dogs, cats and foxes.

The fast ferries land at a pier in Thomson Bay. On shore you’ll find the visitor center and a small collection of shops and restaurants. You can walk to many of the sites popular with visitors or you can book a bus tour of the island. You can also rent Segways, take guided walking tours and even board a small train.

On both of our visits we opted to walk around taking in the scenery before embarking on a bus trip to the other end of the island.

Walking along the streets around Thomson Bay

Our first priority was to see a quokka and we did not have to wait long. They are everywhere. They are not afraid of people and it is easy to approach them, though feeding them is prohibited. Local businesses sometimes find them a nuisance and one shop featured a sign with a stylized picture of a quokka with a “No” slash across it.

Daughter Sarah petting a quokka while Janis snaps a photo

Not far from the town is the Bathhurst Lighthouse, one of two on the island. The lighthouse overlooks a spectacular beach and the shoreline is a beautiful melange of sea and wind sculpted rock.

The sculpted shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Janis and Sarah on the beach near the Bathurst Lighthouse

The island has a varied history. It was at one time a penal colony, a military installation, and an internment camp for enemy prisoners during both World Wars. The island also has several salt lakes and was, at one time, the largest producer of salt in Western Australia.

The penal colony was used to house Aboriginal prisoners and closed in 1902. About 3700 prisoners aged from eight to seventy had been housed there over the lifetime of the colony. 369 died there including five who were hanged.

Lomas Cottage was used to house just one prisoner, John Lomas. His is an unusual story.

After exploring the area between the dock and the lighthouse, we hopped on the bus that takes you around the island. It’s a hop on, hop off affair with a number of stops along the way. We were only there for a day each time so we got off at the far end of the island near Cape Vlamingh.

This is a spectacular venue where you easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There are two sites to visit here. One is Cathedral Rocks. These are a series of small rocky islands just offshore that are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals.

New Zealand fur seals on the Cathedral rocks

These playful creatures love to frolic in the water, often swimming on their backs with their flippers in the air, doing rolls and otherwise cavorting in the waves. We also saw a king’s skink on one occasion.

Cavorting for the tourists

A few hundred yards away is Cape Vlamingh. A wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout that commands a spectacular view of Fish Hook Bay as well as the open ocean at the west end of the island. The surf is strong here with rolling breakers crashing on the reefs and pounding through various nooks and fissures carved into the shoreline.

Surf crashing onto the shore at Cape Vlamingh

After catching the next bus back, we headed along the north shore of the island, passing the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes before arriving back at the town.

One of the salt lakes with the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the background

In town we passed the old salt house, once a center of commerce on the island. And we passed the Rottnest Island Hotel, which used to be the summer home of the Governor of Western Australia.

The Rottnest Island Hotel

We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the island on our first trip. The cafe had netting surrounding the large patio to keep quokkas out. While we were eating, the little fellahs would poke their noses up to the netting at our feet begging for handouts. One managed to get through the netting at one end and a waitress spent some time chasing the critter around trying to shoo him out. I asked her why she didn’t just pick the animal up and carry him out since they were relatively tame. She replied that it’s best not to touch them as they can carry salmonella. Oops – we had petted one earlier. Good thing we washed our hands!

This restaurant’s patio is surrounded by netting to keep the quokkas out.
But that didn’t deter them from visiting diners seated near the edge of the patio. I think they know how cute they are and use it to advantage.

On our second trip to Rottnest we encountered a special treat along the shore of Thomson Bay. Lots of boats tie up here, and the beach is popular with tourists. We saw a bit of a commotion nearby and went to check it out. It seems a stingray had swum right up to the shore, which amused a crowd of onlookers.

A tourist checks out this stingray that swam up to the edge of the beach.

There is a lot more to see and do on Rottnest and one could easily spend a week or two here checking it out. There are, in fact, 37 beaches on Rottnest. There are two military installations with  fortifications and big guns at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, both open to visitors. There is a golf course and a wind turbine. And there are lots of cabins as well as campgrounds and the hotel for visitors wanting to stay longer. It even has an airport if you’d rather fly in.

A wildlife refuge and a summer playground, as well as a step back into history, Rottnest is a terrific venue for the explorer. Check out the additional photo galleries linked below as well as the official Rottnest Island website. You can just scroll down to the photo galleries if you are on the front page.




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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island East End




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Here are some additional photos from the East End of Rottnest Island.

Overlooking Pinky Beach from the Bathurst Lighthouse
The Bathurst Lighthouse
Sculptured shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Some local residences on Rottnest Island. Some are available as rentals.
No quokkas allowed! 
Perth seen from Rottnest Island, 19 kilometres away.
Salmon Bay – actually not east end but more like the middle of the island.
The Wadjemup Lighthouse is also in the middle of the island overlooking Salmon Bay to the south. This photo is taken from the salt lakes west of the lighthouse.
The old salt store on Rottnest Island
Some outdoor seating near the Rottnest Island Hotel
Sarah and Janis head down to the beach on Thomson Bay
Lots of boats are moored on the bay.
Checking out the stingray that swam up.
The stingray
And a last look at one of those cute little quokkas!



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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island West End




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Here are some additional photos from the west end of Rottnest Island including the Cathedral Rocks and Cape Vlamingh.

Janis and Sarah checking out the seals at Cathedral Rocks
Seals at Cathedral Rocks
A seal shows off
A king’s skink
Closer look at the king’s skink
Fish Hook Bay
Janis and I at Cape Vlamingh
Waves crashing through a rock cavern
Rock formations and waves

 




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Cascade Falls, B.C.




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There are a lot of scenic wilderness parks in British Columbia and many within driving distance of Vancouver. One that is well known to locals but not very well known to Vancouverites is Cascade Falls Regional Park near the City of Mission. It’s a two hour drive from Vancouver, but just 25 minutes from Mission.

Best way to get there is to take Highway # 1 to the Abbotsford-Sumas exit. Take Highway # 11 to Mission and turn right onto Highway # 7. Shortly after Hatzic Lake, turn left onto Sylvester Road. This is winding road that takes you up the mountain. After 14.6 kilometres, turn right onto Ridgeview Road for a kilometre to the parking lot.

Cascade Falls Regional Park is a 22 hectare park surrounding Cascade Creek. Its main attraction, of course, is Cascade Falls. You’ll find it up a winding trail, a fifteen minute hike that takes you to a viewing platform.

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The falls itself is spectacular. A 30 metre drop carries the swift current to a deep emerald pool below. We were there in July but the amount of water running over the falls is heavier in the Spring. Although the water is cold, there were a few people in swimsuits gathered around the lower pool, cooling their feet and enjoying the view.

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Locals enjoying the scenic beauty of Cascade Falls. Yes, that is someone sitting up at the very top of the falls.

It is not recommended that people stray off trail, but there were certainly a few on the day we were there. From the viewing platform there is a suspension bridge that takes you over the creek and some additional lower falls which drop another 18 metres.

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The suspension bridge

From the other side you get another excellent view of the falls. We were surprised to see a young woman at the very top of the falls standing in the flowing water snapping a picture of some friends.

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Some daredevils at the top of the falls standing in the swift flowing water. She later waded across to the other side.

After watching the young daredevils with bated breath, we wandered in the other direction. We could see additional cascades below and a calm area below that.

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Additional cascades take the creek down another 18 metres.

There were a lot of people surrounding the calm lower pools – a great place for a picnic lunch or a cool dip.

People wading in the lower pools.
People wading in the lower pools. The water is clear and refreshing.
Looking downstream at the lower pools.
Looking downstream at the lower pools.

Upon heading along the trail back to the parking lot, we stopped to check out a giant stump. There are a few of them around the park.

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An old stump in Cascade Falls Regional Park

So if you’re a long time Vancouverite looking for something new to explore, take a trip to Cascade Falls. And if you’re just visiting the area, this is one of many nature parks worth exploring.  Do check it out! We’ll conclude with a few extra pictures.

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People enjoying the cool waters of the pool at the base of the falls.
One of the downstream cascades below the main falls.
One of the downstream cascades below the main falls.
Looking through the trees to the calm pools below.
Looking through the trees to the calm pools below.
Two old stumps!
Two old stumps!
Cascade Falls
Cascade Falls




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Airboats and Gators




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This article was previously published at Travelicious as Wild Florida. There may be slight variations in this article including an improved  map and travel guide as well as an additional photo gallery.

Alligators! When you think of Florida wilderness, you think alligators. Florida is famous for its Everglades, a vast tract of wetland at the southern tip of the state. It is an area heavily populated with alligators. But the whole state is dotted with lakes and swamps and you can find alligators in all 67 counties. There are, in fact, 1.3 million gators in the entire state.

After our Caribbean cruise, my wife, her sister and I spent a week in Orlando. On the last day of our visit we decided to visit Wild Florida, an airboat and gator park on Cypress Lake, about 45 miles from the city. When going there, you have to exit the Florida Turnpike (a toll highway) at St. Cloud exit #244) and take Highway 192 to the Old Canoe Creek Road. We missed the exit and figured we would just exit later but available exits were Sunpass only and do not accept cash or credit cards. (Passes available to regular commuters.) We had to double back. Wild Florida has handy detailed instructions for getting there. (Note – the map below shows exiting at Exit 240. That is wrong. Exit at 244 if you do not have a Sunpass and head east to and turn right on Vermont Avenue which later becomes Old Canoe Creek Road.)

Canoe Creek Road passes under the turnpike and you hang a right at Lake Cypress Road. Wild Florida advertises itself as being “in the middle of nowhere” and it truly is. It sits on the shore of Cypress Lake, a good size lake surrounded on three sides by nature preserves and on the fourth by farmland.

Wild Florida includes a zoo and nature walk as well as offering airboat rides. And if you’ve never been on one, it is a must-do experience. We booked an hour long excursion. The airboat dock is offshore aways and accessed by a long boardwalk.

The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.
The airboat dock is accessed by a long boardwalk over a field of reeds and rushes.

Our guide Will steered his airboat to a berth and we got on. Lifejackets and ear protection was handed out. The airboats are fairly loud. Will gave us a spiel about the lake and its 800 alligators, the many cypress trees and the flora and fauna that abound there. He also explained that the airboat was invented and developed in Canada in 1905 by a team led by Alexander Graham Bell – yep – the telephone guy!

3 - skipper Will and our airboat
Will steers our airboat to the dock to load passengers.

After his chat, Will revved up the engine and we tore along the shoreline at a good clip. The airboat is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a large air prop at the rear behind the pilot. It skims over reeds and vegetation and is perfect for the Everglades.


Our first foray took us along the shore where we could see many cypress trees, their branches seemingly dripping grey moss. But it was January and this would green up later in the year. Waterfowl took flight on our approach making a pretty picture. We stopped again as Will gave us some more interesting tidbits. Then the engine roared to life again and we sped across an area dense with reeds and rushes.

All of a sudden Will pointed and shouted “Alligator”, pulling the airboat around and towards a clump of vegetation. The alligators like to bask atop a bunch of reeds to catch the sun. We spotted a big old gator soaking up some rays. I stood up and moved to the edge of the boat to get a good picture. Just after I snapped my shot, the gator got wind of me and hustled into the water. It moved so suddenly and so quickly it scared the heck out of me.

One big ole gator!
One big ole gator!

We took off once more and spotted more gators and some large turtles as well. And then we came across a rather gross dead animal floating in the water. A wild boar, Will said. Probably shot by a framer. They are considered pests. Will told us that the alligators would strip the carcass as it decomposes.

Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.
Eeeoooh! The carcass of a wild boar floating in the reeds. The alligators will strip the carcass as it decomposes.

We cruised along some more and Will took us up Dead Man’s Creek – a small inlet dense with vegetation along its shores. We stopped inside this peaceful setting, taking in the quiet and the beauty of the scenery. Cypress trees were everywhere and Will explained that the many woody shafts poking out of the water around the trees were called cypress knees. Since the entire root system of the cypress is below water, the roots can’t get air. The knees are like so many snorkels bringing life-enhancing air to the roots.

A cypress grove up Dead Man's Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.
A cypress grove up Dead Man’s Creek. Notice the cypress knees, natural snorkels that bring air to the tree roots.

After a spell, Will revved up the engine once again and we took off slowly at first through the winding waterway, and then full blast through waters and marshes along a fence line. At one point he pointed the craft directly into a vast tract of reeds and we plowed over them  and stopped in the middle. Clearly a boat with the typical below-water propeller would get seriously tangled here. But the airboat – no sweat!

We then headed out of the reeds and into open water charging at full speed across the kilometre or so of lake.  No gators here. They only hang out along the shoreline or in the marshes.

During our ride I got a great photo of my wife and her sister, wind blowing their hair out behind them. With the ear protection headset, it reminded me of a famous Maxell battery ad from the 1980s called Blown Away Guy.

Blown Away Gals!
Blown Away Gals!

Back at the dock we walked around Hawk Swamp, an area of cypress swamp with boardwalks letting you observe the swamp up close. A large sign warned not to touch the snakes!

Beware of snakes!
Beware of snakes!

After the swamp walk, we headed for the wildlife preserve where they had a variety of animals on display – a small zoo really. It had tropical birds, raccoons, lemurs, pythons and a giant tortoise among other things. But the big attraction, of course, were the gators. Lots of them. There were elevated walkways above the water and you could get baggies of tasty treats to throw to them.

Lots of gators!
Lots of gators!

In most zoos, the animals are fairly quiet and subdued. Not here. The pythons were on the move. The parrots were squawkers. And the alligators, when food was offered, were eager and energetic swimmers.

So if you’re ever in Orlando and looking for something more fun than Universal Studios or Disney World, check out Wild Florida. It was one of the highlights of our visit.

Click on Photo Gallery for additional pics or scroll on down if you are on the main page.




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Photo Gallery: Wild Florida




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Here are some additional pictures of our Wild Florida visit.

Our guide Will revs up the engines!
Our guide Will revs up the engines!
A flock of birds takes flight as we approach.
A flock of birds takes flight as we approach.
Large cypress tree up Dead Man's Creek
Large cypress tree up Dead Man’s Creek
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A haunting wilderness – the swamps of the upper Everglades – Dead Man’s Creek at Cypress Lake
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A giant cypress tree
Zipping along the open lake
Zipping along the open lake
Yours truly posing for a pic in the captain's chair. Would have been a blast to actually drive one of these airboats!
Yours truly posing for a pic in the captain’s chair. Would have been a blast to actually drive one of these airboats!
Large turtles are also residents of the lake.
Large turtles are also residents of the lake.
One honking big alligator!
One honking big alligator!
And another!
And another!
The zoo had a number of different species on display including these colorful parrots.
The zoo had a number of different species on display including these colourful parrots.
This African porcupine was out for a walk on the dock with a zoo keeper earlier.
This African porcupine was out for a walk on the dock with a zoo keeper earlier.
There were several long-tailed lemurs.
There were several long-tailed lemurs.
Say hello to this owl.
Say hello to this owl.
One last look at our Wild Flrida adventure - plowing through the reeds on our airboat.
One last look at our Wild Florida adventure – plowing through the reeds on our airboat.




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