I love animals. They are some of the best entertainment I’ve found on trips. In my opinion, interacting with animals is better than playing any video game or posting anything to Facebook. I see so many people on trips with their faces glued to their phones and I wonder how many natural wonders they are missing. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great experiences with animals wherever I’ve traveled. Here are a few of my favorite interactions so far!
1.Diving with Sharks on Oahu’s North Shore
This was my first real adventure with an animal. Prior to diving with sharks, I’d only fed animals, like goats and sheep, in petting zoos. Several years ago, we visited the Hawaiian island of Oahu’s North Shore, with one real goal: dive with sharks! Our diving took place in a giant steel cage that was floating in the sea. We took a 30+ minute boat ride out to the cage location. Once we reached the cage, it was attached to our boat by a rope.
The sharks in the area were familiar with the boat and we saw fins pop up from the water as soon as the sharks heard the engine. The boat chummed for sharks and immediately upon dipping the chum in the water, shark mouths filled with giant shiny teeth emerged from the dark blue ocean. Reef sharks swarmed the boat. Everywhere we looked, there were fins and teeth and blood. Once the boat crew saw the shark mouths, they instructed us to get into the cage. We donned goggles and snorkels and obligingly jumped in.
Once in the cage, we got an up-close view into the sharks’ world. The boat crew kept chumming all around the cage and the sharks loved it. So did we. The sharks zoomed and swooped around the cage, biting and chewing on the chum. When the chum dropped into the water, we’d get a view straight into the sharks’ mouth and could see row upon row of dagger sharp teeth, dripping with chum blood. So cool!
Below the sharks and below our cage, we had a view of shiny, grey barracudas, The barracudas waited in the shadows, just hoping for a piece of chum to drop down to them.
We spent less than 30 minutes total in the cage, but it was worth every penny and every second. This experience has made us want to do even more extreme cage diving, perhaps with great whites.
2.Viewing Seal Lion Pups in Northern California
Driving down the northern stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway in January doesn’t sound all that enticing. It’s cold, rainy, and foggy for a lot of the Northern route near the San Francisco bay area. However, the cold, rainy beaches are homes to sea lion pups, which are adorable.
I’d seen sea lions before this trip, but never up close and never as babies. On this trip, we stopped off in Big Sur to view these awesome creatures. The mama sea lions didn’t rival their babies for cuteness. Mama sea lions grunted and snorted and just plain smelled awful. The babies were silent and cute and much less stinky. The mamas and the sea lion babies hung out on the beaches all day. We stayed close enough away to allow the sea lion moms to know they weren’t in danger. We walked on the sand about 20 feet away from them and the mamas only occasionally glanced our way. I remember telling my husband that I wanted to swim with those animals one day.
3. Witnessing a Sea Turtle Laying Eggs in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
We were staying just outside of Cabo San Lucas in the little town of San Jose del Cabo when we had our first sea turtle experience. How lucky were we that we happened to be on the beach when a mama sea turtle came to lay her eggs? It looked like quite the chore for her to heave her body out of the Pacific Ocean and climb the sandy beach to find her perfect
egg-laying spot. Once she found it, she used her back legs to dig a hole. Then one by one she dropped her eggs into the sand. Once she was done, she kicked sand back over the hole and turned towards the ocean. The turtle didn’t move as slowly going back to the ocean. She slipped seamlessly into a wave, rode back out to sea and was gone in the blink of an eye. Hotel workers came to watch her lay eggs and had us guard the spot where she layed them. A wooden paddle was placed above the egg’s spot to make sure others knew eggs were there and to leave them undisturbed.
4. Participating in Doggie Rehab in Kanab, Utah
Kanab, Utah is home to Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends was started by a bunch of friends who wanted to see animal shelters do away with euthanizing animals that hand’t been adopted. In order to make this dream a reality, they bought a piece of land in Southern Utah and turned it into a sanctuary for animals on death row. Horses, pigs, cats, and dogs now all call this place home until they are adopted. In order to help meet the needs of the animals, Best Friends recruits volunteers to assist at the facility with daily chores.
When we lived in Las Vegas, we visited Best Friends one year for my birthday and volunteered with the dogs. And it was quite simply, amazing.
Every hotel in the city of Kanab, Utah, where Best Friends is located, is pet friendly. The hotels encourage guests to bring their pets along so that if guests find a pet they want to adopt, that the guest’s old pet and potential new pet can spend the night getting to know each other. So, we brought our girls, Blondie and Kiwi, along for the ride.
Volunteering at the sanctuary was a blast and didn’t even feel like work. We fed dogs, washed dogs, and played with pitbull puppies. They had us gently pull the pitbull’s tails and look in their mouths and ears. Playing helps reduce the puppies fear when they interact with kids or vets, who will pull their tails and look in their mouths. This play ensures when they leave Best Friends, no one will ever want to return them.
5. Mastering Dogsledding in Banff, Canada
Our dogsledding experience in Banff, Canada was completely different from our dog rehab experience in Utah. These dogs lived to do one thing and that was dogsled. Our dog at home in Colorado, Kiwi, is crazy, but even she seemed mild compared to the leaders of the dogsled pack. These dogs yelped, howled, yipped, and jumped as soon as they saw the dogsled and its harnesses. After
connecting the dogs to the dogsled, the driver had to stand on the dogsled brake or the dogs would have all taken off down the trail. I got to drive the dogsled first while Mike rode in the baggage compartment and we switched halfway through. A quick dogsled tutorial was all we needed and we were off driving our own dogsleds. In case you were curious, “mush” is not a real dogsled term, it is made up by Hollywood.
The dogsled trail led us from the mountain valleys outside Banff, to a clearing filled with an ice-covered lake. In order to get to the lake, we had to turn right down a hill, which required us to give proper instruction to our dogs. “G” is the proper command to make the dogs turn right and I mastered that command! Quiet is the only word I can think of to describe the lake where Mike and I changed spots and he became the driver. It was so silent and so beautiful. Riding in the baggage area as a passenger provided a new perspective on the ride and was a chill way to end the ride!
6. Exploring Glowworm Caves in Northern New Zealand
Glowworms are synonymous with New Zealand. Glowworms live on cave ceilings and hang down from the ceiling like stalactites. These animals light up the cave in a variety of different colors ranging from yellow to green to orange. On our drive from Auckland to Bay of Islands, we pulled off the main highway to do a short hike into Kiwati Cave to view these elusive critters. We hiked back into the cave with our headlights and turned left down an empty cavern. We sat on a rock and turned off our headlights, letting our eyes adjust to the darkness.
After a few moments, once our eyes had adjusted, the glow worms popped out of the dark. They looked like rainbow-colored raindrops lining the cave ceiling. They were mesmerizing and we were the only tourists in the cave so we had the whole experience to oursleves. We sat and watched them for quite a while before continuing our drive to Bay of Islands.
7. Playing Snow White with the Birds in Whistler, Canada
Whistler, Canada, just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, was home to the 2010 Winter Olympics. We journeyed to this Pacific Northwest skiing haven for a long weekend this past winter. Skiing is great, but generally waiting in lift lines is not. The birds that live around Whistler’s Peak to Peak gondola changed that. Birds in Whistler have no fear of humans and know that humans mean free food. The birds zip down from the trees and land on skiers and their ski poles. I held my pole up in the air and had several big, fat grey birds land on my pole. Once, I even held up my hand, and a chubby, brown bird landed on it and ate a piece of my granola bar right off my fingers. I felt like Snow White!
8. Riding Horses in Iceland’s Lava Fields and the Dominican Republic’s Waters
I’ve only ridden horses a handful of times in my life. Several times the rides were on standard, wooded trails, once in the Caribbean Sea, and once in a lava field. I’m torn between whether I liked the sea or the lava fields better so I listed them both.
In Iceland, we trotted through lava fields on cute brown and grey horses. These horses didn’t take it easy on the riders. They galloped, jumped over rocks, and sped down mossy fields. The horses and their stable masters treated us like we were all expert riders and outfitted us with riding gear. I guess it could have gone poorly if I fell off the horse, but I didn’t, and we had a great time exploring the lava fields with these gallant beasts.
In the Dominican Republic, the horses did not listen to the stable masters or the riders at all. That’s what made it fun. My horse ran ahead of the pack, then lagged behind, then jumped in the ocean in big waves. It was completely unpredictable where my horse would take me. My friend’s horse would not leave the sea. Mine wanted to run up on the beach and then splash in the waves. I loved it because the water kept me cool. Loose rules in the Dominican Republic is the norm so I was not surprised my horse was wild. I never felt in danger, just that my horse had a better idea where to go for fun adventures than I did.
9. Feeding Kangaroos in the Blue Mountains of Australia
This was a bucket list item for me. I dreamed of feeding kangaroos in Australia since I was 9 years old. I finally got to live my childhood fantasy out when we traveled to Australia in spring. When I sat on the ground surrounded by fluffy, hungry kangaroos, all I could do was smile and squeal. The kangaroos at Featherdale Wildlife Park were fed ice cream cones filled with cattle feed and boy, did they love it. They hopped right up into my lap and wrapped their little hands around my cone and nibbled away. I had kangaroo after kangaroo line up for a cone and a pet. Their fur was soft, like long strings of velvet. I could pet one all day long. My husband enjoyed all the kangaroo attention too!
10. Swimming with Seals in Melbourne, Australia
Seals are one of my favorite animals. Chubbiness, cheerfulness, and curiosity are some of the characteristic I love about them. Recently, we spent a day snorkeling with them in their natural habitat in the cold waters of the Port Philip Bay, just south of Melbourne, Australia. The seals lived on a platform in the middle of the bay, surrounded by chilly, blue waters. I had to wear a 5 millimeter thick wetsuit in order to join them. The cold waters were worth being surrounded by such a happy group of curious seals, including some baby ones. Some seals swam alongside me and some bobbed up from below me. Others looked like they were performing synchronized dance movements in the water. I think some even knew what a camera was and posed for pictures!
And one additional one just for fun!
11. Petting Calves on my Grandparent’s Farm
I’ll admit this isn’t so much a travel related one as one of my favorite memories, so it gets a spot on the list. Outside of having a pet dog growing up, I should have listed this as my first animal experience. Living six hours away from my grandparents growing up sucked. I didn’t get to see them half as much as I would have liked. But when I did see my grandparents, it made that time all the more special.
My grandparents farmed for a living and every year in spring, their cows gave birth to calves. It was a special experience for me to walk into the barn with my grandfather and pet them. The mama cows trusted my grandfather so they were okay with me petting their babies and feeding them hay. One time, a calf was born on my birthday, which is also in spring, and my grandfather was so excited to walk me right out to that calf. I’ll remember that day forever.
It was so special and is still one of my favorite memories. Perhaps its one of the reasons I love animals so much and why I always will!