Six wildlife experiences every traveller should try

Time-pressed travellers, take heart.  When we polled our Traveller team on their most memorable travel experiences, we discovered  there is a wealth of one-day wonders out there; activities that may be over in just a few hours, but that linger much longer in the memory.


CRUISE AMONG HIPPOS, ST LUCIA, SOUTH AFRICA 

HOW LONG Two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE In St Lucia, a relaxed town wedged between estuary and ocean on South Africa's east coast, there are almost as many hippos as humans. Cruise among the 800 resident hippos, which hang out in family groups, on a flat-bottomed boat while keeping an eye out for Nile crocodiles and grazing Cape buffalo. Cruises depart every two hours but the late afternoon light adds a photogenic golden glow to proceedings. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is R240 ($24) a person. See heritagetoursandsafaris.com

Cruise among the 800 resident hippos.

Cruise among the 800 resident hippos. Photo: iStock

DIVE "THE BOMMIE" ON HERON ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

HOW LONG One hour.

THE EXPERIENCE Rated by Jacques Cousteau as one of his top 10 scuba-diving sites in the world, the "Heron Bommie" is an underwater spectacle rivalled by few others. This series of six coral outcrops, about 15 metres under the ocean's surface, is home to turtles, manta rays, wobbegongs, reef sharks, eagle rays, moray eels and endless beds of branch coral. This is why the Great Barrier Reef is world famous.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Heron Island Resort guests can dive the Bommie for $75, plus gear hire. Dives run year-round, though conditions are best in winter. See heronisland.com

A colorful grouper swimming over a coral reef near Heron Island.

A colorful grouper swimming over a coral reef near Heron Island. Photo: iStock

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TAKE A SAFARI ON HORSEBACK IN KENYA

HOW LONG Two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Seeing wild animals from a jeep is one thing; galloping alongside them on a horse is a whole different ballgame. From its stables in the heart of Kenya's spectacular Maasai Mara Reserve, Great Plains  Conservation offers horseback safaris where competent riders can roam the plains and interact with zebra, giraffes and gazelles. Open to visitors and guests at its two stunning properties, Mara Plains and Mara Expeditions Camp.  

MAKE IT HAPPEN Rides cost $US250 a person. See greatplainsconservation.com

DO A SHARK DIVE OFF THE CORAL COAST, FIJI

HOW LONG Two hours.

THE EXPERIENCE Sharks,  more sharks than you've ever seen, bull sharks, tiger sharks, silvertips, whitetips, tawny nurses and more. They circle  in front of you before dive masters pull out fish carcasses and the feasting begins. This is a shark dive in the Beqa Lagoon, just off Fiji's Coral Coast, and it's amazing. Sharks are beautiful, misunderstood creatures – but that doesn't mean they aren't scary.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Shark dives with Beqa Adventure Divers start from $FJ245 a person. See fijisharkdive.com

WATCH LAND DIVING, FLY  PAST A VOLCANO AND SWIM WITH DUGONG, VANUATU

HOW LONG 10 hours.

THE EXPERIENCE You'll board a small  plane and fly to Pentecost Island, where locals perform land-diving ceremonies – jumping to earth with nothing but flimsy vines tied around their ankles (it's a centuries-old yam blessing ceremony). On the way you'll fly  beside an active volcano, watching lava boil and bubble. On the return flight you'll stop for lunch on Epi Island, swim with dugong and meet local children. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is 49,000 Vatu, every Saturday, April to June, airtaxivanuatu.com

TAKE THE BEAR CARE TOUR, LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

HOW LONG Full day.

THE EXPERIENCE With its astonishing turquoise water and family-friendly ambience, Tat Kuang Si waterfall, 30 kilometres south of Luang Prabang, is a natural lure for day-trippers, who either catch tuk-tuks or join a tour to swim in this glorious oasis. A bonus is a nearby sanctuary housing moon bears rescued from poachers and the illegal wildlife trade by Australian charity, Free the Bears. The rescue centre is about to start its own day trips, providing a behind-the-scenes tour, the opportunity to help with daily bear care  and  a  swim at the waterfall. All profits go into the upkeep of the sanctuary.

MAKE IT HAPPEN The cost is $A100 for one person, less for groups, includes transfers from Luang Prabang, lunch, guided tour, T-shirt and a one-year membership to Free the Bears. Tours run Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Contact bearcaretourslaos@freethebears.org

CONTRIBUTORS: Elspeth Callender, Caroline Gladstone, Ben Groundwater, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Katrina Lobley, Catherine Marshall, Rob McFarland, Steve McKenna, Julie Miller, Craig Tansley

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