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BEST ADVENTURE HOLIDAYS FOR SOLO FEMALE TRAVELLERS

Eco-adventurer Cat Capon suggests the best places for solo female travellers who are looking for adventure. Cat has already visited 60 countries and over the past year and a half the intrepid explorer has visited a different location each month spending time in Borneo, Burma, British Columbia, South Africa, Madagascar and Antarctica.

Girls’ World #1

British Columbia – The Great Bear Rainforest

The atmosphere: If you want to get away from it all, visit the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. This wild land of ancient tree forests, glacial waterfalls and uninhabited islands might be as close to a pristine ecosystem as one can get. The humbling silence is only broken by the chuffing of bears, the exhaling of whales and, if you’re lucky, the howling of coastal wolves.

The location: Being a wilderness area, travelling in British Columbia isn’t particularly easy or cheap, but it’s more than worth the effort. And just because you are staying in the wilderness doesn’t mean that you need to rough it. You can find accommodation in luxury lodges miles from anywhere with abundant wildlife right on their doorstep.

Who you’ll meet: British Columbia attracts individuals, couples and families, who worship nature, the outdoors and wildlife.

What you should do: Early September is the best time to visit the Great Bear Rainforest. At this time of year, you can kayak with the resident orca, watch black bears, grizzly bears and spirit bears feeding on salmon before their hibernation and go on whale watching safaris. Canadians are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.  It’s very safe, there are no language barriers and you can join plenty of guided tours.

Girls’ World #2

California – Monterey

The atmosphere: If you’re a solo female traveller who is new to adventure holidays and not quite ready to hike through scorching deserts or sail in perilous seas to catch a glimpse of an endangered species, then Monterey is your perfect introduction vacation. You don’t even have to leave the harbour to catch sight of the local wildlife as you’ll often spot surprisingly large sea otters floating in the harbour while eating their invertebrate treats.

The location: Monterey is situated in Northern California, a two-hour drive south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast. You could happily spend an entire vacation kayaking, diving, whale-watching and hiking in the local vicinity, but the wider vicinity has a lot to offer too. Pacific Grove is Monterey’s neighbouring city and is famous for monarch butterflies. Between mid-October and mid-February, the monarchs stop at this overwintering site and in peak season the trees are dripping with the beautiful winged insects. Just south of Monterey is Carmel (where Clint Eastwood was once mayor), which is the locals’ surfing spot as well as being a dog-owners heaven. Further south still is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve which offers pristine wildlife watching opportunities without the boats and buildings of Monterey. And for truly breathtaking scenery, purple sand beaches and dizzying redwood forests, continue south on Highway 1 past Bixby Bridge to Big Sur where, if you’re lucky, you can spot the endangered California condor.

Who you’ll meet: Monterey attracts surfers, divers and wildlife fans from all over the USA.  Many backpackers also visit Monterey whilst road tripping between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

What you can do: I kayaked with Monterey Bay Kayaks, dived with Breakwater Scuba, visited the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium and went whale watching with Princess Monterey Whale Watching. Divers will be pleased to know that there’s  agreat dive site by the harbour with beach entry so you don’t have to board a boat. On these dives you can glide among the lazily undulating kelp fronds to look for resting leopard sharks and innocuous octopus. Monterey is fantastic to visit all year round, but the weather in April and October is hard to beat.

Girls’ World #3

Norway – Svalbard

The atmosphere: Svalbard is an archipelago of extremes. This remote icy wilderness is in perpetual darkness for three months during the winter when temperatures regularly drop to -20°C.  The main island of Spitsbergen is home to the most northerly settlement on the planet – Longyearbyen – and there are more polar bears here than people. When you visit Svalbard, you’re reminded that this isn’t a holiday; it’s a life changing expedition.

The location: For more than half of the year, Svalbard is entombed by frozen ocean.  But the summer months offer a short respite from its icy confinement.  Endless daylight and relatively warm temperatures (reaching 7°C) turns the land into a flower-filled tundra with Arctic foxes and reindeers wearing their slimmer summer coats. Svalbard is a safe destination in terms of crime (everyone leaves their houses and cars unlocked).  However, polar bears are an issue so you’ll need a guide if you want to leave the main town.

Who you’ll meet: Svalbard attracts adventure junkies from all over the world.  It’s an expensive destination so travellers tend to be ‘high-end’. It’s also a Mecca for arctic photographers.

What you can do: June and July are probably the best months to witness the wildlife of Svalbard. However, if it’s the Northern lights, husky-sledding and snowmobiling you’re after; then the winter is the best time for a visit. Numerous cruise ships can be found in the area. You can take long tours, or short trips to get a taste of the Arctic.

Girls’ World #4.

Madagascar

The atmosphere: I’ve travelled to over 60 countries in my 30 years on earth, but none have made an impact on me quite like Madagascar.  It’s truly unique and doesn’t feel like anywhere else on the planet. However, I’m afraid for its future – 30,000 hectares of forest are being cut down each year and, if this rate continues, there will be no forest left within 25 years. Ecotourism is a viable way to make the forests worth more to the local people than turning them into agricultural land. If the Malagasy people can make a good living from guiding tourists through the forests, they are far more likely to protect them for future generations.

The location: I travelled to Madagascar in October (the dry season). The best months to visit are April – November.  Things to note are: the roads are poorly maintained so be prepared for a bumpy ride, the accommodation is basic in some of the reserves so don’t expect luxury and Air Madagascar has a tendency to change internal flight times at the last minute so always check before you travel. Parks that I’ve enjoyed include Andasibe-Mantadia National ParkThe Avenue of the BaobabsKirindy Forest Reserve and Berenty Private Reserve

Who you’ll meet: Madagascar attracts wildlife enthusiasts, divers and adventure travellers from all over the world. The island used to be a French colony so a large proportion of tourists are from France.

What you can do: See lemurs in their natural habitat, count how many species of chameleons you can find, be dwarfed by the giant Baobab trees and enjoy white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean. You can join an organised tour of the island with English speaking guides. However, I’d avoid walking around the capital, Antananarivo, alone.

Girls’ World #5

Indonesia – Komodo

The atmosphere: Komodo National Park is a paradise on earth with glassy waters, conical green peaks of tropical islands and technicoloured coral reefs teeming with wildlife. Jumping on a houseboat for an ocean adventure will see you come face to face with dragons as well as majestic manta rays.

The location: Most cruises through the national park will take you to the most iconic islands and reefs. Rinca and Komodo are the islands where you’ll see the dragons, you can witness an epic fruit bat migration every evening from Kalong Island and you can snorkel to Pink Beach which is created from red-tinted coral.

Who you’ll meet: Komodo National Park attracts divers and backpackers and lots of Aussies.

What you can do: Hike to see the dragons (but listen to your guide, the dragons are wild animals and can be dangerous), snorkel with turtles and reef sharks, dive with manta rays, cruise past lush tropical islands and sleep under the stars on a houseboat.

This article was originally published in Lightfoot Travel Magazine.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORAL REEFS AND WHY THEY NEED SAVING

AS A NATURALIST AND ADVENTURER I’ve become an avid SCUBA diver over the past 10 years. Of all the underwater biomes to explore, it’s hard to surpass gliding over the multitude of organic structures that make up a coral reef. However, due to destructive fishing practices, careless tourism, pollution and rising sea temperatures, these reefs that have been present on our planet for tens of thousands of years are being destroyed. In my short diving career, I’ve seen vast tracks of the coral reef in the Red Sea become barren.

I’m working hard to raise awareness about the importance of conserving our coral reefs by ensuring snorkelers, divers, and swimmers are aware of how to enjoy these sub-aquatic gardens without harming them. This is why we need to save them.

1. They provide food for one billion people.
Coral reefs are vital to the world’s fisheries. They form the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean’s fish, and thus provide revenue for local communities as well as national and international fishing fleets. An estimated one billion people have some dependence on coral reefs for food and income from fishing. If properly managed, reefs can yield around 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood per square kilometre each year.

2. They act as barriers to protect against waves and storms.
Coral reefs break the power of waves during storms, hurricanes, typhoons, and tsumanis. By helping to prevent coastal erosion, flooding, and loss of property, the reefs save billions of dollars each year in terms of reduced insurance and reconstruction costs and reduced need to build costly coastal defences – not to mention the reduced human cost of destruction and displacement.

3. They can bring people out of poverty.
Sustainably managed coral reef-based tourism can provide significant income to poorer coastal communities in developing countries. Projects in Central America and Indonesia have seen former illegal fishermen build new businesses to take tourists to see the fish (sharks and manta rays) that they were previously killing. This means that the local people start to see that endangered marine species can be worth more alive than they are dead.

4.They are the source of many cures and treatments.
A number of creatures found on reefs produce chemical compounds that have been isolated for human applications — and many more are yet to be discovered. Scientists have developed treatments for cardiovascular diseases, ulcers, leukemia, lymphoma, and skin cancer, all from chemicals in reef plants and animals. More than half of all new cancer drug research focuses on marine organisms.

5. They are the rainforests of the ocean.
Coral reefs provide shelter for nearly one quarter of all known marine species. They are home to over 4,000 species of fish, 700 species of coral, and thousands of other species of plants and animals. Scientists estimate that more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with the coral reef ecosystem. Not bad considering that the total area of the world’s coral reefs amounts to less than one quarter of 1% of the entire marine environment.

This article was originally published on the Matador Network.

Madagascar: the place to visit if you care about conservation

Madagascar is a biologist’s dream. Its separation from Africa 135 million years ago and India 88 million years later created an unparalleled experiment in biodiversity. Its isolation for this vast length of time means that species have been able to evolve with unique blueprints found nowhere else on the planet.

Madagascar was home to the largest bird ever to have lived, lemurs the size of gorillas and three species of pygmy hippos. Although these spectacular creatures are now extinct due to man arriving on the island less than 2,000 years ago, there are still plenty of living species to excite scientists.

Madagascar has the smallest species of reptile in the world, 107 species of lemur (20 per cent of the world’s primates), mysterious Tenrecs that resemble an otter-hedgehog hybrid and Baobab trees that look like they are straight from a fairytale book. In fact five per cent of the world’s biodiversity can be found on Madagascar – not bad considering it’s only 0.4 per cent of the world’s land mass!

However, scientists are worried. The forests are being cut down at a terrifying rate and now less than 10 per cent remain. Without the forests, wildlife will have nowhere to live and will join the Elephant Bird in history books. So now scientists have to turn their attention to marketing; the wonder of the flora and fauna of this island needs to be communicated outside of their community to the local people, ecotourists and the international community at large.

Lemurs are the most iconic group of animals on Madagascar and are found nowhere else on earth (apart from small populations that were introduced to the nearby Comoros Islands). The largest living lemur species is the Indri (weighing nine kilograms) with an enchanting call that will give you goose- bumps whenever you hear it.

The smallest lemur is the nocturnal Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (weighing 30 grams) which is actually the smallest species of primate in the world and very difficult to spot.

Between these are many weird, wonderful and ridiculously cute species that will mesmerise you whilst exploring the 1,000 mile long island.

The award for the weirdest looking lemur goes to the Aye-Aye. It’s the world’s largest nocturnal primate and looks like a real life gremlin. With its wiry fur, buck teeth, bat-like ears and elongated fingers (the middle one used to probe rotten wood for grubs), it’s no wonder that local people used to regard the Aye-Aye as an omen of evil.

Watching an Aye-Aye feeding under the light of your head torch is one of the most alien sights you’ll see on earth.

For me, the cutest lemur species is the Gray Bamboo Lemur. With their huge eyes, fluffy coat and comically expressions, the words ‘I want one’ are never far from mind. However, their appeal is actually detrimental to their success as about 28,000 lemurs are kept illegally as pets in Madagascar. Like all primates, lemurs are social animals and being kept alone in a house with humans is usually a recipe for disaster.

The Verreaux’s sifaka, otherwise known as the dancing sifaka, may be the most wonderful species. When they are on the ground, they travel on two-feet like a human but with the grace of a professional ballerina. If you’re able to film this movement in slow-motion the beauty of their passage is exacerbated even further.

Although Madagascar will draw many for the delights of its enchanting lemurs, there is plenty more that the island offers for both the brave and faint-hearted. As someone who loves reptiles, Madagascar’s brightly coloured chameleons, non-venomous snakes and rare tortoises will constantly delight. Furthermore, no trip to Madagascar is complete without a trip to the Avenue of the Baobabs. These ancient trees are best viewed at sunrise or sunset, casting spectacular silhouettes against the burning red skies. The island has nearly 5,000 kilometres of beaches which rival the beauty of those found on the nearby islands of Reunion and Mauritius.  The diving is world-class and not crowded. Finally, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness the only large carnivore on the island – the Fossa. This animal looks like a big cat, but in fact, it’s most closely related to a mongoose.

I’ve travelled to over 60 countries in my 30 years on earth but none have impacted me quite like Madagascar. I’ve become spellbound by its distinction but I’m afraid for its future. 30,000 hectares of forest are being cut down each year and, if this rate continues, there will be no forest left in 25 years.

Ecotourism is a viable way to make the forests worth more to the local people than turning it into agricultural land. If the Malagasy people can make a good living from guiding tourists through the forests and showing off the besotting animals they host, they are far more likely to protect them for many more generations.

The key here is that, if you want to save the lemurs, you need to go to visit them. And if that option is financially unobtainable, then you can donate to make a difference. Primatologists from all over the planet have come together to create the Lemur Action Plan – a scientific paper on how to save all 107 species. Only $7million is needed to ensure their future, if we can persuade 7 million people to donate $1, then we’ve done it!