Thursday, July 14, 2016

Island magic never seems to disappoint

How much fruit can an orangutan eat?
So I'm headed off to Vancouver Island for a short
two-day trip today (Thursday) in the Comox area. I hope to see some seals, whales, maybe a dolphin or two, and definitely some sea-going birds (no sea parrots - a.k.a., puffins - on this trip though!) with Vancouver Island Marine Tours and Adventures.

It's certainly not my first trip to the island, and certainly won't be my last.

Thinking about it got me thinking about all the incredible island destinations I've visited. Of course, I just got back from one last week, and I'm wondering why it took me so long to visit Cape Breton Island. Nova Scotia hospitality always seems to shine, and that trip was no exception.

While I've been to many of the "must-do" islands, I've also been to some less renowned islands. But it doesn't seem to matter which category of island I'm on, as they always seem to produce a magical trip with memorable experiences.

So, without further ado, here's my Top List of Island Experiences I've enjoyed through the years, in no particular order.

1. Borneo: hanging out with primates. During a trip to the Malaysian part of the island, I visited not one, but two orangutan sanctuaries, facilities set up to act as a halfway house for re-introducing captive primates back to the wild.

Then I also saw not one, but two completely wild orangutans while cruising up and down the Kinabatangan River on wildlife safaris. While on the island, I also had the chance to see proboscis monkeys along that river as well as at Bako National Park.

2. Hawaii: swimming with sharks, diving with dolphins. In a two week trip to Hawaii, I was able to climb into the shark tank at the Maui Ocean Center and scuba dive with sharks, rays, and some other fish for about an hour. Really cool experience.

Then a week later on the Big Island, I went on an excursion out onto the Pacific Ocean and snorkeled with a pod of wild spinner dolphins. Equally cool.

Let's go hang out with the sharks.

3. Belize: cay-hopping and snorkeling. While this is not an island country, there are plenty of cays along its coast, and my first international trip of any kind (outside of Canada or the USA) involved a five-day paddle out to the barrier reef, camping on various cays along the way. It was also my first time kayaking (I'd been only a canoeist prior to that) and my first time snorkeling. Still one of my best snorkeling experiences anywhere.

Spotted this happy-looking parrot on the Mastic Trail.
4. Cayman Islands: parrot-spotting in the rainforests. There is plenty to do in the water in the Caymans, but also plenty of cool stuff to do on land, especially if you like birds. I got to see a flock of Grand Cayman parrots on the main island's Mastic Trail, then saw a few mated pairs of the very rare Cayman Brac parrots in the forests of the island those birds are named after.

5. Cape Breton Island: puffin tour. There is much more to do on Cape Breton than eating lobster (although it is scrumptious!) One of the main highlights of my tour there was being able to see puffins on Bird Island, with Donelda's Puffin Tours. There were plenty of other birds to see there, as well, but seeing puffins really made my trip.

6. Canary Islands: seeing the rarest of all parrots. During attendance at the 2006 Loro Parque International Parrot Convention, I had the opportunity to tour the private aviary and saw several pairs of Spix's macaws. Up until recently, they were extinct in the wild, and Loro Parque is working to make sure they don't disappear completely. For those unfamiliar, this the species that inspired the Disney movie, Rio.

7. Quadra Island: canoeing the ocean. A small island off the east coast of Vancouver Island near Campbell River, I've visited this island twice. During my visits, I had a chance to canoe in and around Heriot Bay, spotting eagles on the island where we lunched and plenty of seals on the rocks nearby. Oh, and plenty of jellyfish (the kind you want to avoid) floating around on the ocean.

Sunset in the Ten Thousand Islands.
8. Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades National Park, Florida: kayaking in the 'Glades. This series of mangrove islands on the southwest Florida coast are not what most people picture when they think of the Everglades. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, it was more like cay-hopping in Belize, than swamp paddling (which I've also done.) What did we see? What didn't we see, would be more appropriate. We saw ospreys battling overhead, dolphins swimming under our kayaks, sea turtles, egrets, herons, raccoons. Great trip.

9. Vancouver Island: falconer for a day. One of my favourite experiences on Vancouver Island was spent learning about falconry with Pacific Northwest Raptors. And it was all hands-on, working with the birds, experience. We got to walk with them, then fly them, just a wonderful way to spend a day.

10. Joe Island, Joe Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario: canoeing. Another of the "lesser-known" islands (unless you happen to be a regular park paddler) it marked either the start or finish of many a multi-day canoe trip in the park. It created many fond memories that I still treasure - including the time we awoke to find a raccoon unzipping our tent door because it smelled food inside the tent! Glad it wasn't a bear...

Of course, there are some honourable mentions that didn't quite crack the Top 10:
  • Spirit Island in Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Canada (you can't actually camp there or even land on the island, but it's an inconic Canadian image)
  • Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick (kayaking and hiking adventures)
  • numerous other unnamed islands in Algonquin Provincial Park
So...what are some of YOUR favourite island experiences? Please let us know in the comments.

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