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Rockhoppers to Reindeers – A Wildlife Guide to the Falklands

July 28, 2017

With more penguins than people and an island named after the sea lions that amass on its shores, the Falkland Islands are a wildlife destination like no other.

If there’s one thing that draws people from all over the world to visit the Falkland Islands, it’s the impressive array of wildlife that calls the southern archipelago home. Abundant in supply and diverse in nature, the fauna of the Falkland Islands is on par with that offered in the Galapagos, yet much more accessible and without the crowds to compete with!

Whether you’re a keen birder, a wildlife photographer, or a simply love seeing birds and marine mammals in their natural environment – the Falklands will not disappoint.

Falkland Island Penguins

There are five species of penguins that can be found in the Falkland Islands. The most common are Magellanic and Gentoo, followed by Rockhoppers and King, and less often the Macaroni. They’re all unique and all a pleasure to watch.

Their antics will kept you spellbound for hours!

Magellanic Penguins

Seemingly the most prolific, Magellanic penguins can be found burrowing into the soft peaty earth all over the Falkland Islands. These medium-sized black and white penguins are shy in nature, but if you keep your distance, some will happily pose for photographs. Their distinctive circular markings mean they are easily identified, even while hanging out with the Gentoos on the beach.

Gentoo Penguins

The mascot of the Falkland Islands – the Gentoo Penguin – is slightly bigger than the Magellanic, and much more outgoing. You’ll often find them surfing the waves, or walking the ‘penguin highway’ to their colonies inland. Gentoo penguins are also black and white but their orange bills and pinkish feet make them more closely resemble their larger cousins – the King penguin.

Rockhopper Penguins

Rockhopper penguins defy the clumsiness that penguins are renowned for, by deftly climbing the steepest and sharpest of cliff faces. Confidently hopping from one rock to another, their small frame and pink webbed feet scale the island’s walls to perch on rocky promontories overlooking the sea. Their bright red eyes are framed by a crest of spiky yellow feathers that make them look curiously coiffed (and a little bad-tempered!)

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni penguins look very similar to Rockhopper penguins and the closely related birds like to hang out together in the Falklands. There is a subtle difference in appearance between the two penguins though.

Macaroni’s are slightly larger in size than the Rockhopper. And their crest feathers are more vibrant in colour and more flamboyant in shape! Macaroni penguins have also been known to breed with Rockhopper penguins, creating a hybrid chick.

King Penguins

The largest of the penguins found in the Falkland Islands (and the second largest penguin in the world), King penguins are also the most impressive to see and hear!

The world’s most accessible King penguin colony can be found just 2.5 hours from the country’s capital, Stanley. Their prime spot at Volunteer Point in East Falkland makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.

Other Birdlife in the Falklands

With over 219 recorded species of birdlife in the Falkland Islands, I couldn’t possibly cover them all in one blog post, but let’s just say it’s a bird watchers paradise!

I loved seeing the monogamous upland geese fly around in pairs, the cheeky caracara who landed on my camera, the flightless steamer ducks waddling on the beach and the rock cormorants battling the wind as they tried to land on rocky ledges.

The outer islands are absolutely teeming with birdlife. I’m no birder, and yet I managed to spot 25 different species in just one afternoon on Weddell Island!

Here are a few highlights…

Black-Browed Albatrosses

Two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatrosses live in the Falklands and while a large number of them hang out on the harder-to-get-to Steeple Jason Island, I saw a large number feeding just off Weddell Island also. Their elongated wingspan of 200-240 cm is an impressive sight as they swoop in to land.

Black browed albatross flying over the sea, with onother albatross in background, South Georgia Island, AntarcticaSouthern Giant Petrel

As Jane from Weddell Island put it, ‘the albatross get all the glory, but the petrels are just as impressive’.

With a wingspan of up to 205 cm, they certainly deserve their fair share of the limelight. Effortless gliders, you’ll see these birds all around the coasts of the Falklands.

Striated Caracara

More commonly referred to as Johnny Rooks by the locals, these bold-faced birds are usually seen on the outer islands of the Falklands. You’ll find them wherever you find penguins, as the Johnny Rook is a ruthless scavenger.

Cheeky in nature, they aren’t afraid of humans and will take an interest in anything shiny. I even heard reports of them stealing sunglasses from unsuspecting visitors and a gang almost got away with my camera!

Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck

They may be flightless (due to their short wings), but the Falkland Flightless steamer ducks sure know how move! They use a combination of feet and wing paddling that allows them to move at speed on water. Even if in doing so they look rather peculiar!

“These clumsy, loggerheaded ducks make such a noise and splashing, that the effect is exceedingly curious.” – Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle.

Rock Cormorant

Aside from the comedic value of clumsy penguins, watching the incredible antics of the rock cormorants as they battled huge winds to land on barren cliffs was one of my favourite bird experiences. The skill these small birds show as they expertly hover and swoop will take your breath away – as will the sheer number of them!

Marine Mammals

The Falklands unique location and sparsely inhabited islands make them a magnet for marine mammals of all varieties! Although some are harder to see without the help of a boat, even visitors who don’t venture out into the unruly seas will get a chance to appreciate these majestic creatures.

Sea Lions and Elephant Seals

Sprawled out in the sand, bellies turned towards the sun and flippers lazily scratching their sides – you’ll find sea lions and elephant seals clogging the coastlines of the Falkland Islands.

Sea Lion Island is an obvious choice, with 95% of the Falklands elephant seal population hanging out here, but sea lions can be found on many of the other islands shorelines also.

Watch out as you walk through the tussock – disturbing a sleeping seal or lion may land you in hot water. They can move quicker than you think! But chances are, you’ll hear them before you see them – elephant seals in particular let out a guttural sound warning you of their presence.

During breeding season, males of both species put on a show as they battle for the right to breed.

Dolphins and Whales

The most commonly sighted dolphins in the Falklands are the Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. There are a four other species native to the waters surrounding the islands, but they are rarely seen close to shore. I was lucky enough to spot both Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins while on Weddell Island and they put on quite the show – surfing in the shallow waters just off the shore.

Many species of whale can also be seen migrating past the islands. If you look down as you fly around between the islands, you may just see a telltale dark shadow beneath the waves, or spot a blowhole shooting water high into the air.

Most whales pass by the islands on their migration route, but playful orcas are commonly found off the shores of Sea Lion Island for many months a year. They like to prey on the young sea lion pups, so are mainly present between September to February – when there are plenty in supply.

Introduced Species

Both the Patagonian grey fox and reindeer have been introduced to the Falkland Islands. The reindeer were gifted from South Georgia (who later culled their reindeer population) and the foxes were introduced from South America. They’re only present on two islands – Beaver Island & Weddell Island – and it was while visiting the latter that I laid my eyes on both species!


The wildlife of the Falkland Islands is as varied as it is astounding! I’ve never experienced something so unique, so magical, as seeing so many animals and mammals living in harmony with each other, the landscape, and with the human population of the islands.

If you only need one reason to visit the Falklands, the wildlife is it!


Thank you to Blogilicious and the Falkland Islands Tourist Board for sponsoring Nadine’s visit.  What an incredible experience!

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Hiking World’s End: Sri Lanka’s Overlooked Scenic Gem

May 5, 2017
World's End Sri Lanka hike

Though World’s End at Horton Plains, Sri Lanka is not as well known as the towering Adam’s Peak, it is frequently ranked as the top hike in the country.   We took to the trail ourselves to find out more about this somewhat-hidden highlight.

Located within one of Sri Lanka’s many national Parks, Horton Plains would feel at home within the pages of a New Zealand nature book.  With gold-flecked grass, ferns and flax as far as the eye can see, you really could be excused for thinking you’ve somehow arrived in Aotearoa – fortunately for us though, this was 100% Sri Lanka.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeOne of the Best Views in Sri Lanka

If there’s one thing you visit World’s End for, it’s the spectacular views out over the surrounding valley and mountains.  Though this beautiful country is anything but short of great hiking tracks, World’s End is accessable to most people making it a great choice for holiday-makers.

The track itself completes a loop and can be approached from either side.  From the entrance, Mini World’s end (which is practically as beautiful as the main attraction) and World’s End is a 4km walk, at which point you continue through to Baker’s Falls (2km) and meander back to the start (3.5km).  All in all, the circuit is 9km of absolute beauty.

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewIt is worth noting that the sheer cliffs of Horton Plains lack railing.  Though hikers benefit from incredible unobstructed views that would be roped off elsewhere, you’ll need to keep an eye on how close you get to the edge.  With drops of 300 and 1,200 metres respectively, few people who come unstuck live to tell the tale.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeHiking World’s End – How Challenging is it?

Though Adam’s Peak is considered the most recognised hike in Sri Lanka, World’s End, its lesser known companion, is frequently recognised as the best one around… plus it’s a whole lot more manageable thanks to its relatively flat profile.

The hike itself is absolutely gorgeous and not particularly challenging.

Don’t get me wrong, this hike isn’t a walk in the park but if you have a moderate level of fitness, you’ll complete it without any problems. Even if you’re totally lacking fitness, you’ll still be fine – just take your time and consider skipping the walk down to the falls.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeLet’s Get Practical – What You Need to Know…

Though hiking boots wouldn’t go astray, World’s End is certainly manageable in trainers and comfortable clothes.

Throw a small bag on your back and whatever you do, remember your camera! If, like us, you have a drone, leave it behind though – they don’t allow them anywhere in the national park.

There is a small shop that sells snacks and drinks at the end of the hike but the Sri Lankan sun can be strong and though the walk isn’t particularly challenging you’ll still want to be well prepared.  We took a couple of water bottles each and some fruit to snack on… and then stopped by the shop for some celebratory roti and fizzy when we were done!

This national park is keen to protect its gorgeous wildlife as best they can and for this reason you’ll be made to disguard any unnecessary plastic before you start the hike.  You can save time by leaving anything you don’t need in the car (including the plastic labels wrapped around your water bottle).

To get into World’s End you will need to pay the entrance fee which is approximately 3000 Sri Lankan rupees (or USD20).  It’s not the cheapest of days by the time you pay for your ticket and transport (which we’ll talk more about below) but it’s absolutely worth it – presuming you’re not travelling on a budget, that is.

You’ll want to plan your route and timing around what you want to see out at World’s End too.  Not far into the walk you’ll be faced with the choice of turning left or right – left takes you to Mini World’s End first whereas a right turn will direct you to Baker’s Falls.  Both routes come with their own adventages and disadvantages but we’d recommend starting with Mini World’s End to ensure you get there before the mist sets into the vally.

Clear, unobstructed views out from the cliff-faces normally show themselves between 6am and 10am but as with everything in nature, there are no guarantees.  As a general rule though, the earlier you can make it out there, the more likely you are to be rewarded with clear views (though if you ask me, mist engulfing the valley would be pretty amazing too!)

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewGetting to Horton Plains

World’s End is smack-bang in the middle of a national park and because of this, normal cars are not insured to drive the roads.  This means that you’ll probably need to hire a local van or tuk tuk to get you into the starting point of the track.

We organised the required return transport through Red Dot Tours for USD50 and together jumped in the van from Nuwara Eliya.

Our departure time was bright and early in a bid to beat some of the crowds and the harsh midday sun.  Though we had planned to leave town at 5am, our drive to Nuwara Eliya took longer than expected and we connected with our driver just before 6am.

If you’re able to be in Nuwara Eliya closer to our scheduled time of 5am, we’d definitely recommend it. Yes you’ll have a hard time getting out of bed but it will be worth it to have the amazing lookouts to yourself!

Though we were originally a little hesitant to scrap our planned hike up Adam’s Peak in favour of World’s End, we could not have been happier with our decision.

Horton Plains was drop-dead gorgeous, an enjoyable, manageable walk and lets visitors have a little taste of New Zealand (without the hassle and expense of flying half way around the world).

It’s certainly worth juggling your Sri Lankan itinerary to swing by Horton Plains!


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Sri Lanka's best hike, World's End, takes in gorgeous views, bush, rivers, waterfalls and more. A must-do on your Sri Lankan itinerary! Looking for an easier hike than Adam's Peak? World's End is absolute natural perfection and the best part?  It's a hike that anyone can manage in two hours!

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Turtle Hatcheries: Why we arrived excited and left early & disappointed

April 1, 2017

Both Nathan and I are suckers for sea creatures.  From getting excited about spotting the tiniest little nudibranch whilst out on a dive to watching gigantic blue whales breach the surface of the ocean – we love it all.

It makes sense then that when we decided to come to Sri Lanka, a visit to a turtle hatchery was top of my list – I’d seen photos from friends and it sounded magical.

In my head I had imagined dozens of little baby turtles, tottling off down the shoreline, destined for the great blue and a life of freedom.  Sounds amazing, right?

I’d almost certainly over-romanticised the experience but in I went, hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for this animal lover.  What I left with was anything but.

The Writing Was on the Wall

From the moment I walked into the facility, I knew I’d probably made the wrong choice in visiting.

Dozens and dozens of babies were smooshed into a relatively little round tank and though I didn’t love it, it was easy enough to look past it when we heard that at most they would be there for three days before being released into the wild.

*Keep breathing Sarah, it’s not so bad*

Then we were invited to pick the babies up – again, I reconciled myself – with so many babies in the tank, chances are each one would only be held once before it finds its way to freedom (plus they’re so little, it’s easy to support them whilst holding them for a second or two).

And let’s not forget – they’re crazy cute!

*Okay, this is good*

… but that was where the positives stopped and the feeling of guilt started to set in.

We moved onto the next tank where a single adult turtle swam back and forth, back and forth, along the same far edge of the tank.

Would he ever be returned the the wild?  No, were were told – he was being held there to educate visitors.

Would we like to hold him?  You can take him out of the water and pose for photos, we were told.

It was at that point that the switch flicked for me.

This poor turtle must be picked up and passed around dozens of times throughout the day and when he’s not being shuttled from tourist to tourist for their next Instagram shot, he’s left pacing back and forth in his far-too-small tank, a sure sign of boredom.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram as much as the next person (check us out if you’re not already!) but no photo should be at the expense of an animal’s wellbeing.

I’m not sure if things actually got worse at that point or if I had just decided that I didn’t want to be there anymore but from then on we saw more fully-grown turtles in tanks that were obviously too small for them and our ‘guide’ who was meant to be giving us a tour of the hatchery disappeared only to return to look over our shoulder.  We had hoped that we might have learned more about the work they were doing there, especially considering the 1,000 Sri Lankan Rupees we’d each paid (USD7 per person) for a guided tour but it wasn’t to be.

The feeding tank housed turtles for three hours a day (where unsurprisingly they spent time eating) but with three fully-grown turtles in the tank, there was very little room for movement.  Another tank housed one of these gentle giants in a space that was barely twice as wide as him.

Though I know the work they do here generally helps the turtles, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the adults left behind – what kind of a life is that?

The offer was made to release a baby turtle into the ocean at an additional charge.  This was what I’d really come to do but suddenly as we stood there, we just knew we weren’t comfortable handing over any more money (1,500 rupees per turtle) to support this centre.

Photos online had shown dozens of turtles heading out to sea at once, each of them presumedly having a fair shot at survival.  The reality of sending two lone babies out into the ocean just didn’t feel the same – it’s a big world out there for two littlies by themselves.

Conservation Work?

Opened in 1996 to help promote responsible tourism, the turtle hatchery aids conservation by buying the turtle eggs from fisherman. This goes a long way towards discouraging them from selling the eggs…

Koggala Experience

Each night, when the sun goes down and the turtles have laid their eggs safety, locals dig them back up again.  We were told that in the past, men would sell turtle eggs to villagers that would eat them but thanks to the hatcheries buying them at an inflated rate, this is no longer an issue.  These eggs are now hatched, allowed to grow for approximately three days before tourists pay to set them free.  Thankfully any turtles that are not ‘purchased’ are released after hours by the hatcheries so of course the vast majority do make it into the ocean.

Though hatcheries aim to support turtle conservation, the benefits of their work have not gone unquestioned.  By removing and relocated the eggs, the gender of the babies can be affected (as the temperature plays a significant role in the gender outcome of eggs).  Allowing the babies to grow in captivity can also be detrimental to their overall chance of survival.

When the turtles hatch in their natural habitat, they head for the sea and swim for 48 hours non-stop, passing areas where most of their predators are. “But when they are hatched in simulated environments, they are put into tanks in which they swim for 48 hours. As a result when they are released into the sea later, they do not have the strength to swim past their predators and hence become easy prey.”

Upali Padmasiri, Wildlife Department Assistant Director

Final Thoughts

To be honest, both Nathan and I left feeling guilty and disappointed and we’re not the only ones.  Our friend Abbi at Spin the Windrose had a heartbreakingly similar experience months after our visit.

I’d love to say things are on the up but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

Though I don’t doubt that setups like this obviously work positively in their conservation efforts, this felt more like a way to make money off incoming tourists than as a genuine means of turtle protection.  For us, it wasn’t so much about the cost of entry as the conditions that the adult turtles were kept in – we would have happily have paid twice the price had it been clear that funds raised were being reinvested into the centre to provide better homes for the turtles.

We visited hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Sri Lanka’s turtles but unfortunately left with a reminder that generally animals are better off left in the wild.

I know some friends have had amazing visits so it’s possible that we were just unfortunate in our choice of hatchery?  Maybe our expectations are different?  I’m not sure what to make of it but there is one thing I do know…

At least for us, we’ll stick to spotting turtles in their natural habitats.

If you would like to see turtles in the wild, they love riding the waves at Dalawella Beach.  We found half a dozen of so directly out from the rope swing.

This post is of course in no way affiliated with anyone and our thoughts are entirely our own.  Should you wish to visit (or avoid) this hatchery, it was the Sea Turtle Conservation Project & Hatchery, Koggala that we visited.

Have you been to visit the turtles in Sri Lanka?  If so, we’d love to hear of your experience and thoughts!


Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for. Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit. Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for. Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit.

Accommodation Adventure Asia Eco Tourism Mid-Range Sri Lanka

Adventure & Glamping in Sri Lanka – Not Your Average All-Inclusive!

March 29, 2017
Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka

An easy drive from Colombo you’ll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word ‘all-inclusive’ when it comes to our travels but not this time!   Read on to find out why Borderlands should be a must-see on your visit to Sri Lanka…

It’s an amazing thing to leave a place feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of practicing gratitude—how it can boost your mood, help you treat others better, improve physical health, and keep stress and fear at bay. Now, here’s a little trick for how to automatically infuse more gratitude into your life: Spend more money on experiences, and less on material objects.

Real Simple – Amanda MacMillan

Gazing through the shroud of netting out into the Sri Lankan jungle, you just can’t help but feel appreciative.  If experiences are where it’s at, then this one would be hard to top.

Layer after layer of a jungle, from the closest painted in hues of vibrant green, to the last few trees silhouetted against the sky, sitting high on the misty mountain – all laid out in front of us without having to leave our bed. The call of countless birds and lizards, the buzz of insects waking up, the river racing along below us.

How fortunate were we to have spent even a few nights in paradise like this?

Borderlands is about as far from a typical all-inclusive holiday destination as it gets.  Yes, for a set rate you’ll get a roof over your head (and a million dollar view to boot!) and all of your meals included.  Also included are two adventure activities a day with fully trained guides and free WiFi.  Unlike your average all-inclusive resort though, Borderlands has an overwhelming sense of character and a jungle outlook that just can’t be beaten.

Lounging in the chill-out area, we spotted a chameleon in the first five minutes of being there and throughout the day, magnificent eagles soared back and forth.  Even if you’re not on the hunt for adventure, Borderlands is a great choice in Kitulgala – it’s the ultimate in back-to-nature adventure in the true spirit of Sri Lanka.

Our room obviously wasn’t your standard hotel room but it was perfect for the location.  With plenty of ventilation and a fan, we didn’t get too hot and there was a partial sunshade to stop the morning daylight from streaming in – we went with it though, leaving it open so we could see the fireflies and birds out in the jungle.

Attached to our room was a partially outdoors ensuite (with a hot-water shower and toilet) and his and hers hand basins.  We also had a couple of tables, beanbags, fresh drinking water, electrical outlets and lights in our room – though it wasn’t fancy, it was more than adequate.

We’ve sometimes stayed in luxurious hotels and have come away less impressed than we did from Borderlands which says a lot about our experience there.  If you’ve got a good sense of adventure, this place is for you!

Food, Glorious Food!

We arrived at Borderlands a little unsure of what to expect when it came to meals but the food on offer was absolutely delicious!  Hearty and varied, every meal was one to look forward to and served up buffet style, there was plenty to go around.

Adventure is Calling

Though you can stay at Borderlands just to take advantage of the facilities and delicious food, we recommend you book in the full package including activities.  The team is known as being the most safety-conscious in the area (they were also one of the founding companies on the Kelani river) and their care and professionalism really shone through – if there’s one company you want to be pushing your personal boundaries with, it’s these guys.

White Water Kayaking

Our first activity started very quickly with a dunk in the water!  After jumping back in the kayak (and then falling out a few more times) we started to get the hang of keeping our balance in the whitewater.  The whole experience was a blast and with a river that’s currently a grade 2, it was the perfect introduction to kayaking in this environment – the right balance of challenge and security.

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka kayaking

Advanced Canyoning

Having been on an amazing canyoning trip once in the past we had high expectations from this activity!  Did it stack up?

We started with a hike down to the canyon though gorgeous tea plantations and farmland, our guides stopping to show us a range of local produce (with a few tastings thrown in too).  Once we made it to the river, we received a full safety briefing and made our way to the first obstacle, as double rock slide into the cool water below.  After slipping and sliding down a few rocks we approached the first of our cliff jumps… at approximately 12m high, we decided to save it for the braver souls amongst us and scrambled down the rocks instead.  With another smaller jump (which was much more to our liking) and an abseil our canyoning adventure was almost over.

We had a great time up the canyon with our two guides (we weren’t kidding when we said Borderlands was safety conscious) but wished the experience was a little longer.  Considering they’re making use of the natural environment only 10 minutes from the campsite though, it’s a fantastic introduction to canyoning.

Mountain Biking

From a fitness point of view, mountain biking made the other two activities feel like a walk in the park.

I can’t even recall the number of times I mentally chanted this saying back to myself as we kept pedalling up that mountain…

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”

– Nietzsche, 1888

Fortunately, our lovely instructor foresaw what was to come and had the Borderlands truck follow not too far behind us up the hill.  We made it about half way before stopping and hitching a ride with him!

At the top, we stopped for a while in an ancient cave, tried to spot the local bats and admired one of the region’s waterfalls – a gorgeous spot and a great chance to catch our breath!

With the choice of going off-road or following the path we took up, we elected to stick to the ‘road’ – better safe than sorry we decided.  With spectacular views and a comfortable pace headed back downhill, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we made the right choice.

Was it physically hard?  Yes.

Were we pleased we did it?  For sure!

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka mountain bikingBorderlands is about as close to the perfect jungle experience as it gets.  Tropical and wild whilst retaining a touch of comfort and calm, we really couldn’t recommend it enough to those adventurous spirits amongst us.

Leave your hair dryer at home, come with a can-do attitude and get stuck in – you won’t regret it!


Love a good adventure?  Save one of these pins!

An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation. An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours for recommending and organising our stay at Borderlands.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula – Better Than Iceland’s Golden Circle!

March 9, 2017

Some things just feel like they were meant to be.

Places, rugged and wild, that are so gorgeous, they just have to be seen.  Iceland was that for us.

Likewise, some people seem like they were born into their jobs, a perfect fit for what they’re doing.  Bessi of Moonwalker tours is the epitome of someone who’s found their calling – it’s practically impossible to imagine him doing anything else.

So you can imagine our excitement at getting to spend two whole days with him exploring the Land of Fire and Ice, my dream destination, Iceland!

Upon Bessi’s recommendation, we booked in to spend our first day at Snæfellsnes Peninsula and decided to rejoin him for the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most iconic day trip.

We didn’t initially know much about the Snæfellsnes Peninsula but, putting our faith in an Icelandic expert, we set off on what was to be one of our very best days on the island.  The following is our review of the day…

Meeting Bessi and Hitting the Road with Moonwalker

Incase you hadn’t already figured it out, the second we met Bessi we clicked.  I’d been speaking with him over email for a number of months where it was clear that his passion for Iceland and personable nature was to be a real highlight of our tour but somehow he exceeded our already high expectations.

The writing was on the wall when a few days before our tour Bessi flicked us an email – the northern lights were out over Reykjavik and knowing that we were in town and desperate to spot them, he took the time to let us know.  At that stage we’d not even met him in person but when he went out of his way to help us live out our northern-light-spotting dreams, we knew that Bessi was far more than your average tour guide.

With Moonwalker, nothing is ever a problem.  Bessi’s got an amazing sense of humour, is kind, patient and incredibly knowledgable about practically everything (music, history, folklore – I challenge you to ask him something about Iceland that he doesn’t know!).  There’s a reason he consistently pulls perfect Trip Advisor ratings out of the hat and trust me, he deserves every one of those stars.  Every single one.

Our Snæfellsnes Itinerary

As promised, Bessi arrived on time ready to show us the best of the west coast of Iceland and with the sun still well below the horizon, we set off on the Ring Road.  We stopped briefly on what Bessi assured us was normally a road – mountains of snow covered the tarseal and we bounded around in it, enjoying the slowly forming sunrise.  Before long it was onto the first of our many gorgeous stops for the day!

Búðir Church

One of the few remaining black churches in Iceland, the Búðir church was built in 1703 and after a checkered past, was finally reconstructed for the last time in 1987.  Covered in tar to protect its wooden cladding, this black church provides striking photos against the snow and cotton candy skies that Iceland is so well known for in winter.

Arnarstapi:  Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss

Not far from the Búðir church, we found ourselves standing in front of an intentionally placed pile of rocks.  A little unsure at just what we were looking at, Bessi shared with us the first of many Icelandic tales.  Legend says that Bárðar Snæfellsáss (deity of Mt. Snæfell), the guardian spirit of the area, was born half-man, half-giant.  As he grew, so did his giant-nature until he disappeared into the Snæfell Glacier, his spirit forever guarding the local people and surrounding area.

The sculpture was commissioned and later created by Ragnar Kjartansson, representing Bárðar’s spirit, an important part of local folklore.

From Bárðar’s sculpture we headed over to the coast, at times knee deep in snow, to admire the rugged beach below.  Centuries of waves crashing on the lava fields have left a collection of swirling basalt columns, unique to Iceland – I could have stayed there all day, watching the waves crash against the cliffside.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Nathan, Sarah and Bessi

Snaefellsjoekull National Park

Svalpufa-Pufubjarg: Londrangar

Our favourite basalt columns made another appearance further around the peninsular, only this time they were even more impressive.  Rising up from the ocean, their resilience against the harsh ocean was a sight to behold.

Londrangar and the adjoining hill, Svalthufa, form the remains of a volcanic crater, much of which has been eroded away over the years.  With the addition of younger lava fields, the topography of the area is amazing and if you take a second look, you’ll be able to spot what looks like an old ship in the silhouette of the pillars.

Dritvik Djúpalónssandur

Continuing our journey, we stopped at Dritvik Djúpalónssandur, a beautiful, secluded black pebble beach.

After climbing down to the shoreline, weaving our way between basalt boulders and pillars in a setting that absolutely belongs to the Icelandic elves we came across a series of ‘lifting stones’.  These perfectly formed little boulders were used for testing the strength of local fishermen in years gone by – starting with the monster Fullsterkur (full strength) weighing 154kg, to Hálfsterkur (half strength) at 100kg, Hálfdrættingur (weakling) at 54kg and working down to Amlóði (useless) at 23kg, would pit their strength against mother nature.

To qualify for work aboard the ships, potential fishermen had to lift at least the ‘weakling’ stone to hip height – how on earth they did it is anyone’s guess though!  Bessi warned us that we wouldn’t be able to lift even the lightest of the stones and though we tried, unsurprisingly he was spot on!

Once we realised we couldn’t manage much more than rolling the stones around (trust me, they weren’t normal 23kg stones!) we ambled through knee deep snow, marvelling at the valley we found ourselves in.

Upon reaching the shoreline we spotted countless pieces of debris from the Grimsby fishing trawler, a local boat that wrecked on Dritvik Djúpalónssandur back in March of 1948.  It was hard to believe how far inland the wreck had travelled, making it clear just how strong the waves could be at times.

Enjoy Iceland’s beaches but be mindful of their incredible power at the same time.  A safe visit is a good one.

A Black-Sand Beach Detour

It was the small touches on our tour with Bessi that we loved most.  If there was ever an opportunity for an extra photo stop or touch of fun, you could be sure that Bessi was already onto it.

Not quite sure of what to expect, he pulled over to the side of the road, urged me to turn on the GoPro and raced off onto one of Iceland’s many black-sand beaches.  Without another soul in sight – that’s what Iceland’s all about!

Stopping to Visit our Furry Friends – The Icelandic Horses

Fluffy, hardy, iconic.  Iceland is synonymous with its gorgeous horses!  To the rest of the world, they generally only get to pony height but in Iceland they’re definitely considered horses and boy are they cute.

I knew I wanted to get up close and personal with some Icelandic horses at some point in our trip and luckily for us, Bessi knows just the place!  A few times a week he pops along to a farm owned by a lovely elderly couple and, with a loaf of fresh bread in hand, helps ensure they maintain their ‘winter coat’.  With a few honks of the horn, these three characters come charging over – there’s no doubt they know what’s coming and that it’s the absolute highlight of their day!

 

With the  sun starting to sneak closer to the horizon, it was time to move on from our furry friends.  Our next stop was one that we could see clearly from the paddocks – the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland – Kirkjufell.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland 4wd vehicle Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With its distinctive peak and cascading waterfalls in the foreground, Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) is a firm favourite with photographers and for good reason.  It’s absolutely breath-taking.

Towering over the landscape at 463m high, there’s a perfect photography spot tucked in just behind Kirkjufellsfoss (Church Mountain Falls) where, with a wide angle lens, you can snap the picture-perfect image that has become infamous.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula Moonwalker Tours Iceland Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss

With the sun setting on a gorgeous, fun-filled day of Icelandic sight-seeing, we begrudgingly began the trek back to Reykjavik over a mountain pass.  Bessi’s truck made short work of the deep snow but without his truck and driving experience, we wouldn’t have stood a chance on the road (if you could even call it that without any real sign of it!)

We had the most amazing day exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and though we loved the Golden Circle, if we could only have done one of the trips with Moonwalker, I’m going to make a controversial call and say that it’s the Snæfellsnes Peninsula that we’d recommend.  The scenery was beyond beautiful, the landscape diverse (it is after all known locally as offering everything you could want to see in a day trip) and the drive comfortable.  With the added benefit of being comparatively off the tourist trail, we often had stops entirely to ourselves which is exactly what you dream of when you think of Iceland’s great outdoors.

What are you waiting for?  The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is waiting for you!


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Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic! Snaefellsnes Peninsula - One of our favourite day trips from Reykjavik (it beats the Golden Circle, hands down!) Leave Iceland's Golden Circle behind and head out to Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  Everything you could want in an Icelandic itinerary all in the one place!  We recommend touring with Bessi of Moonwalker - he was absolute magic!

Thank you to Bessi at Moonwalker for so generously showing us the sites of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  After two days on the road he felt more like a friend than a tour guide and we could not recommend him enough!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Adam’s Peak: A Spiritual Awakening in Sri Lanka (with Amazing Views to Boot!)

March 5, 2017
Adam's Peak Sri Lanka

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in central Sri Lanka (known locally as Sri Pada), the mountain is famed for the “sacred footprint”, though who the footprint belongs to will differ depending on your religion.

Buddhists believe the footprint was left by Buddha, Hindus claim it belongs to Lord Shiva whilst Muslims and Christians consider it to be Adam’s first step on Earth, once he was exiled from the Garden of Eden.

For many people, climbing Adam’s Peak is a religious experience or pilgrimage important to their faith and beliefs. For us, we were eager to see the footprint, experience the pilgrimage alongside locals and check out the view.

Riddled with injuries and very little sleep we arose (at a time we would normally be heading to bed) to prepare ourselves for our climb – we. We meet a couple of friends in Nallathanniya, a small village at the base of Adam’s Peak and with our backpacks filled with water, some extra layers of clothes, and the essential roti to see us through our journey, we began, racing to the summit before sunrise.

As we trekked along, cold and barely awake in the darkness of night, we stumbled past closed stalls and market places until we hit the starting point of the stairs. There we were greeted by several Buddhist Monks who tied cotton thread around our wrists as a blessing and protection for our journey.  Experiences like this are what travel’s all about!

As we gazed into the darkness, all we could see were lights illuminating stairs and with the end nowhere in sight (and reconsidering our choice) we gingerly started our climb. As we trekked up the stairs (roughly 5,200 of them), we were thankful for the benches and tea-houses scattered up the mountain – not only did they provide us with a place to catch our breath and give our legs a break from the crumbling stairs, they gave us the opportunity to people-watch. At one point, after watching several 60 year olds and a local with no shoes on wizz past us, we realised we still had a decent climb to go and hit the path again.

After what seemed to be eternity, we found ourselves only 500 hundred steps from the top.  Safe in this knowledge and with some time to kill, we settled into a tea hut with a cup of tea, before making the final climb. The last 500 steps were slow but we made it to the top and met the temple housing the “scared footprint”.  After a wait and a brief two second look at the footprint, we unanimously voted, whatever the engraving or mark was, didn’t look like a footprint to us!  As we battled with the hundreds of others at the summit for a place to view the sunrise, we suddenly realised the temperate had dropped and were thankful for the extra clothes we brought.  I layered up to watch the sunrise, taking in the sights and sounds around me.

Although there was too much cloud, causing us to miss the sunrise and the famed shadow of Adam’s Peak, it was an amazing experience and worth the walk. The walk down was much faster and it was surreal to see the beautiful scenery we had missed in the dark. As we reached the bottom, a sense of accomplishment passed over us and, once we got our first glimpse of the peak at the bottom, we were surprised by just how large it looked.

If you’re off to Sri Lanka, I would highly recommend Adam’s Peak.  It’s a great hike and with the locals making their pilgrimage, it makes for a unique and memorable experience.

What You Need to Know

How to get to Adam’s Peak

Most people take the Dalhousie route (also known as the Hatton route). Hatton is a major town which is accessible by bus and train. Dalhousie (a small village) is easily reached by bus, car or tuk-tuk and is around an hour’s drive from Hatton. Alternatively there is a less trekked route to the summit of Adam’s Peak – it takes longer hence being less traveled and it starts in Ratnapura.

When to go

Pilgrimage season is between December and May – during these months the path will be well-lit and there will be several tea houses open where funnily enough, you will be able to get tea (as well as water and some also offer light snacks). Outside of the pilgrimage season it’s still possible to make the journey, only it will be depended on the weather, and you will have to be a little more prepared with torches and food, as the huts and lights won’t be operational.

How long does it take?

Depending on your fitness level, the amount of people on the track and the conditions on the day, it can take anywhere between two and a half and four hours to get to the top. Try to ensure you reach the peak before sunrise to watch the shadow of Sri Pada emerge as a reflection in front of you .

Top Tips to Make the Most of Adam’s Peak:

  • Check for local celebration days (poya days), as these times become extremely busy with people choosing to make their pilgrimage, making it an extremely slow journey with long waits to reach the top.
  • Take something warm for the top as it’s cold up there and depending how fast you reach the summit, you could be waiting a while for sunrise.
  • Pack a rain jacket as it rains often!
  • Book a nights accommodation in Dalhousie (there are many options for budget guest houses) so you can get a little sleep before the trek.
  • Start your trek around 2am to see the sunrise – you want to give yourself the very best chance to see it.

Looking for other ideas for Sri Lanka?  Check out my itinerary here!


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Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka - Is it worth hiking to the summit? Adam's Peak - Your guide to the best view in Sri Lanka

 

Activities Adventure Africa Eco Tourism planning Tours

How to Pick an African Overland Tour – A Guide to Booking the Trip of a Lifetime

February 26, 2017

Overlanding in Africa is a once in a lifetime trip – one that I had been dreaming of since I was a young girl collecting promotional wildlife cards from the petrol station.  Fortunately for me I was able to live this reality last year, spending seven weeks overlanding  in Africa, exploring nine countries, and getting a taster of what the truly incredible continent of Africa has to offer.

The biggest challenge I faced before for departing on this amazing journey was choosing what overland company to book with.  There are so many options, all offering amazing destinations, different price brackets and similar itineraries and it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.

If you’re looking at overlanding in Africa without spending a fortune, this post is for you!  Read on to find out my top tips on how to select the perfect budget overland trip for you and your needs.

Flexibility

Being flexible with the duration of your trip and your start and end dates, opens up staggering possibilities of trips, routes and options, often saving you money in the process.  Many of the overlanding operators in Africa offer similar routes and itineraries and though it’s hard to tell from many of the websites, a lot of the companies operate a looping system – this means that there is flexibility when selecting both your route and start locations.

Keep an Eye on Your Budget

Really look into every detail of what is included in your overland trip.  There can be a lot of added expense and Africa can be surprisingly expensive (especially tourist activities).  Commonly, overland trips are divided into two payments, one for the tour and one as a local payment (which can be nearly as high as your tour payment).  The local payment is for your day to day expenses in Africa (such as groceries, petrol and campsite fees).  When setting your budget, do not only account for your flights, trip payments, and additional tourist activities, include a budget for nights that meals aren’t included at the campsites (these add up), upgraded accommodation (you will have the opportunity to upgrade from your tent to other guest accommodation in many locations), lunches (if not included in your tour) and any other day to day expenses – small expenses can add up over a period of months.

Check the Included Safari Adventures

The main priority for most people overlanding in Africa is to see the amazing wildlife. Safaris are brilliant – the knowledge of your game driver is mind-blowing and it’s an experience not to be missed.  Unfortunately the harsh reality is a lot of the safaris are not included in your tour payments.  Be sure to research what safaris are included as part of your tour and the costs involved in the game drives that aren’t included.  Safaris are relatively expensive and the added costs of the game drives will quickly add up.

Contributing – Consider How Much You’re Willing to Do Yourself

Traveling at the best of times is exhausting work and an overland trip is definitely not an exception!  The cheaper your trip the more you will have to contribute towards the day to day running of the tour and that can be hard work.  Your responsibilities might include setting up and putting down your tent (you will be a pro in no time), packing the truck with all the gear (tents, luggage and cooking facilities), setting up the cooking facilities, cooking dinner (for a large group), cleaning the dishes and the truck (obviously not all at once, there will generally be a rota).  This can be challenging work, and generally where the tension and conflict amongst the group will playout.  Be aware of these factors and the required responsibilities before selecting your trip – if you’re looking to relax after a day out on the road, then chances are, you’ll want a more inclusive-tour.

Dig Into Reviews

Reviews are always an extremely helpful consideration and whilst obviously these are all down to each individual’s personal preferences, if there is common opinion across the reviews it can really show the difference betweenc companies/routes.  I would recommend reading the reviews with a focus on the company itself, tour guides, outside operators (for game drives) and reliability of vehicles as all of these factors will impact your trip significantly.

 Research, Research, Research

While this can be a tedious task it’s one that will ensure the best adventure for you. I found the best place to start was determining a rough time frame for my trip and the places that I couldn’t miss (for me this was the great migration, trekking with the mountain gorillas, visiting a local village and fitting in as many game drives as possible).  Once I had decided on these factors I started the research process.  What was the best company for me, the best route to take, what was included in the tour and the optional activities?   Eventually by changing my itinerary and starting and ending in different locations I was able to see everything I wanted plus a tonne more.

Reach Out!

Don’t be afraid to contact tour companies for advice and options.  All of the companies I had contact with were extremely helpful and also gave me options that weren’t listed on their webpage.  They’re the experts and are there to help – be sure to reach out.

Ready to Begin Planning your African Overlanding Adventure?

To get you started with your planning, here some popular budget African overland companies.  All have fantastic reviews and offer a range of overland tours to suit different needs and budgets.

Tucan Travel – Absolute Africa – Intrepid Travel – G Adventures

Happy planning!


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A guide to booking an amazing African overland trip - on budget and on point! Booking an African overlanding trip can be overwhelming - this guide will help you come in under budget with an amazing trip!

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Tours

Iceland’s South Coast – Exploring with Arctic Tours

February 13, 2017

Iceland, widely known as the land of fire and ice, is a country of extremes.  Gorgeous, breathtaking, incredible extremes.

During our time on this stunning island, we joined Hörður on a winter tour of Iceland’s South Coast – an experience we enjoyed every moment of.

Whether you plan on joining a tour with Arctic Tours Iceland (previously known as VIP Tours) or intend to drive yourself, the following guide will help you plan out your itinerary.  It is worth noting though that although some of these locations are easily accessible from the Ring Road in your own transport, others require a serious 4WD and the experience that only comes with years of driving in harsh Icelandic conditions – because of this, we certainly recommend joining Hörður to make the most of your day on the South Coast.

Setting Off

Arriving bright and early as planned, Hörður collected us from the Radisson Blu with open arms and a warm smile.  It’s always such a pleasure to put a face to the name when we’ve been talking with someone online and after discussing our exciting Iceland plans with him through the internet, it was a treat to finally be in Iceland and about to set off on our tour!

With short daylight hours in the depths of winter, the first part of our journey was cloaked in darkness.  The upside to a low-hanging sun, as we were to find out though, are the seemingly endless sunrise skies – a major benefit to be had.

To get around outside of Reykjavík can take a fair bit of time, with many sights being spread out.  Fortunately the roads are smooth and comfortable and the scenery breath-taking (when the sun rises makes an appearance, anyway)!

Riding in Style

Comfort is key when you’re covering a decent number of kilometers and Arctic Tours Iceland have you covered in this regard.  The seats are roomy and comfortable, the suspension on the Land Cruiser is top-knotch and there’s an ever present supply of heating should you want it.

As an Instagram addict, I was delighted to find that Hörður also supplies his guests with complimentary wifi so you can be as connected as you want to whilst on the road.

Pro tip:  Cellphone batteries aren’t made for the cold!  My phone (that normally lasts almost a whole day on one charge) was dead after our first pitstop.  Be sure to take your charging cable with you and Hörður will sort you out with a power source.

Key Sights Around Iceland’s South-East Coast

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall

Next to Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find Gljúfrabúi, the lesser known of the two waterfalls.  Though we didn’t venture inside (it was the start of our day and wet boots didn’t seem like the best of choices), you can climb over the small rocks into the cavern and up close with the waterfall.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous spot and somewhat an undiscovered gem compared to its more famous neighbour.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls (though there are many!), water tumbles down Seljalandsfoss at a great rate of knots!  Paths lead up both to the left and right of the waterfall allowing for plenty of prime viewing opportunities and, when the weather allows, you can actually head in behind the waterfall itself and take stunning photos looking out.

Reynisfjara – Black Sand Beach

Sometimes a destination really surprises you and Reynisfjara was exactly that for us.

We have black sand beaches in New Zealand, not too far from where we’re normally based in Auckland so I must admit, though we went with open minds, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the beach.  After all, we’d seen it before.

We were so wrong!

The sand itself is inky-dark and on the day we visited, snow and hail sat in stark contrast to the sand to be swept away by the outgoing tide.  Bordering the beach, incredible basalt columns puncture the sky, beckoning visitors to take a closer look.

If you sneak around the corner of the bay, you’ll find a cave amongst the rocks, but be careful.  Whilst we were there, we saw a tourist get caught in a wave – she was incredibly close to being swept out to sea and I must admit, it really scared me to see someone come so close to what could have been a very tragic end.  As with all waves, they come in sets which means there will be the occasional one that’s a bit bigger – because the beach here is so flat, a little difference in a wave results in a large difference in the height it reaches.

Enjoy yourselves, just don’t turn your back to the water.

Dyrhólaey

From the gorgeous coast, we worked our way up to Dyrhólaey, the rocky outcrop we could see from our original beach vantage-point.  The drive to the summit was steep and the road snowy so I wouldn’t consider making this trip by yourself in the winter – without doubt, it’s a job for Hörður’s Toyota!

From the summit, we braved the strongest hailstorm we’ve ever experienced, headed for the most spectacular views.  Nathan succumbed to the weather (not that I blame him!) whilst I managed to snap a few photos before racing back the the 4WD.  Even on a day with such dicey weather, the views from Dyrhólaey were spectacular!

Skógafoss Waterfall

After a quick bite for late-lunch at the neighbouring restaurant (which is well worth a stop – surprisingly they made some of the best food we ate in Iceland!) we raced up the stairs to the top of Skógafoss, a gigantic waterfall found on the way back to Reykjavik.

The views from the top were well worth the hike up, though we saw a number of visitors a little scared to step out on the platform.  Strike up the courage to it is and you’ll be rewarded with a brand new perspective of Skógafoss and the valley below.

Seriously gorgeous, right?!

After racing around the South Coast for the day, we made our way back to Reykjavik in the last of the fading sunlight, more than happy with our decision to join Arctic Tours Iceland.  We had a fantastic day chasing waterfalls and checking out the rugged, natural beauty of this island paradise with Hörður.

Sure, it’s not a traditionally beautiful island destination but I can whole-heartedly say it’s my new favourite place in the world.

Iceland is spectacular – whatever you do, don’t miss out!


 Exploring the South Coast of Iceland with Arctic Tours - why this needs to be a stop on your Icelandic itinerary! Iceland's South Coast - Diverse and exciting, it's the better option than the Golden Circle! Iceland: South Coast Highlights, Road Trip Itinerary and Tour Review

Thank you to Hörður of Arctic Tours Iceland for so graciously showing us the highlights of Iceland’s Southern Coast.  We had a fantastic day out and completely recommend both Arctic Tours and the Southern Coast in general.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Activities Adventure Eco Tourism Europe Finland

Barks and Recreation – A Husky Snow Adventure

February 4, 2017
Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, Bearhill Husky, dog sledding review

This week I had one of those moments. You know, when you are in the midst of doing something so amazing that you think to yourself, “girl, you gotta remember this moment forever because this is so awesome” and you try to soak everything up like a sponge so you can replay it again and again in your head.

I’ve not had many of those moments, but driving a husky sled through a silent, snowy Scandinavian landscape with the stars twinkling above me was definitely an experience I’ll never forget.

I arrived in Rovaniemi (that’s Finnish Lapland – and the home of Santa Claus FYI) and immediately booked myself in for a husky sled ride with Bearhill Husky. I did a lot of research before choosing Bearhill as I wanted to support a company who treated their dogs well – and it didn’t hurt that they were ranked number one on TripAdvisor.

I was picked up promptly after lunch and off we went in a minivan into the arctic wilderness. I was childishly excited to find that our guide, Brendan, was also a kiwi – there’s not many of us this far North!

We were taken into a yurt (I love that word!) and were given arctic snow suits, shoes, socks and gloves – everything we’d need to stay nice and warm in the Arctic. After a quick run down of what we were going to be doing, we went outside for a quick lesson….and this is where I am embarrassed to admit that I thought driving a husky sleigh would be like a horse and cart – sitting up the front, shaking the reins and saying giddy up in a genteel voice. It was actually way more exciting than that – driving a husky sled means that you balance on the back of it with one foot on each runner and support yourself using the handle bar. There’s a long metal pedal which is there to press your foot down on to brake – the rest is all up to the dogs!

After just this two minute lesson, we were off! I was partnered with Alistair, a newbie like myself from Australia – he took the reins for the first drive whilst I sat in the sled, bundled up and cosy with a woollen blanket around me. This was perfect as it allowed me to take photos as the sun was setting (the polar twilight starts at around 3pm and lasts for an hour) and my goodness, was it spectacular. We sped silently through snowy forests and over frozen lakes, over icy banks and fields – I felt just like the white witch of Narnia, but unfortunately without the fancy fur robe.

When it was my turn to drive I found it to be easier than I expected, but holy moly was it cold. Temperatures in Rovaniemi often dip below -30 degrees Celsius, so I was very thankful for the arctic snowsuit I had on. Driving was a blast (literally – a blast of cold air) and though there wasn’t as much opportunity to gaze at the landscape I absolutely loved every second of it.  We stopped regularly so that Brendan could check that we were ok and safe, and that the dogs were doing well too – we were well looked after throughout the afternoon.

Unfortunately for us, it was over far too soon – though ideally, I’d have preferred if the sledding never came to an end!

Back at the base we parked our dog sleds and were allowed to play with our newfound fluffy friends (who were gorgeous, friendly and very well looked after) and we also got to spend some time with an energetic bunch of young husky puppies.

Our last stop was for hot juice and cookies in the warm yurt, where Brendan answered all of the questions we had about the dogs.

So, would I recommend Bearhill Husky?

Yes, yes and yes!

I went home absolutely buzzing from the experience and couldn’t wait to tell everybody I knew about how great it was. It was expensive but worth every penny – if you get the chance, go!

It is definitely a once in a lifetime op-paw-tunity (I had to slip one dog pun in, sorry) and it is not to be missed. Fabulous!


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Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, Bearhill Husky, dog sledding review

Activities Eco Tourism Europe Iceland

Hunting out the Northern Lights by Boat – Reviewing Special Tours

January 29, 2017

When we made the decision to visit Iceland in the depths of their winter, we had one thing (and one thing only) in the forefront of our minds – the northern lights.  Of course we were excited to see this beautiful island blanketed in snow and for the gorgeous candy-coloured sky that seem to float around throughout the day, but it was the northern lights that drove our booking initially.  We knew that they’d be at their strongest this winter which meant that we weren’t going to hang around until our next holiday in March/April – we were off to Iceland late December!

The following post reviews our experience joining Special Tours on their Northern Lights by Boat trip.

Our tour started boarding thirty minutes before our 9pm departure time after an easy check-in process down in Reykjavik’s Old Harbour.  When you arrive, it’s clear you’re in the right place as you’ll spot a series of structures ready to greet guests.  As one of the larger operations, we had two boats to choose from and promptly boarded in a bid to escape the cold.

Inside the boat, we we pleased to find a snuggly-warm cabin and comfortable seats (so comfy that I even managed to fall asleep on the way back to shore which is very unlike me!) and plenty of warm drinks and snacks on offer to help take the chill off when we returned from outside.

After climbing into our warm onesies, we relaxed for the relatively short trip out into the harbour, all the whilst listening to our awesome guide who patiently filled us in, sharing everything we’d ever want to know about the northern lights.

The following infographic explains the phenomenon (in short) where solar wind travels towards earth and hits our atmosphere – the different colours seen in the northern lights are formed depending on the type of gas and height at which the ions and gases collide.  Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that but it’s a good starting point for your understanding.  If you’re anything like us though, you’re interested to learn more about how and why the northern lights form but are most interested in seeing them for yourself!

Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik, How the Northern Lights work

Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t always clued into our plans!

Though we had a strong forecast (you can check the forecast for yourself ahead of your trip here) and relatively clear skies, the beautiful photos that we’ve seen so many times before didn’t quite eventuate for us.

Out on the upper deck of the boat, we waited patiently for the vibrant green hues to wash across the sky but found in reality, the northern lights are seldom as bright as they appear in photographs and that night, luck wasn’t on our side.

We were fortunate to spot glimpses of the northern lights on the horizon and though we urged them to brighten up, they stayed relatively static throughout the evening.

The following photos show what a beautiful display the lights can put on when they’re on form…

Spectacular, right?!

Even though we didn’t see the northern lights in all their glory, was it worth heading out on the water?  It sure was!

We had a fantastic time out on the boat, ticked a bucket-list experience off and enjoyed seeing the city from a different perspective.  Rugging up felt like a real adventure and even without much in the way of northern lights, it was great fun keeping our eyes peeled in the hopes of spotting them.

We would definitely recommend heading out with Special Tours whilst you’re in Reykjavik, Iceland, to track down the northern lights.  Away from the lights of the city, you’ll have the best chance of seeing them and even if you don’t, you’ll learn lots and have a great time in the process… and hey, if you don’t see them, they’ll happily take you out again and again until you do!


Do I need to get out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

Not necessarily but it really will help!

Though our luck ran a little short whilst out on our boat tour of the northern lights, our patience was rewarded a few nights later when Bessi from Moonwalker Tours fired us an email telling us to drop everything and head outside… when someone says the northern lights are visible above the city, you do exactly as is suggested and head outside right away!

It’s seldom that the northern lights show themselves above Reykjavik so we consider ourselves incredibly lucky that they showed up on one of the evenings we were there.  We watched them dance about before our naked eyes for a good 45 minutes or so before heading back to our hotel.

Northern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker ToursNorthern Lights over Reykjavik, Moonwalker Tours

The reaction between the ions and gases in the atmosphere occurs year-round but it’s only in the winter that the night sky is dark enough to see them.  It makes sense then that the lights above the city are generally too bright to allow the northern lights though which is why most people head out of town to see them.

Can I drive myself out of Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights?

We had a rental car and could have driven ourselves out of the city but in our travels we noted a distinct lack of parking spots on the ring-road near Reykjavik.  This means that although it’s possible to drive yourself out of town, it’s not particularly practical to do so.  If you do want to give it a go, we’d suggest heading out towards the airport where the roads are quieter and it might be easier to find a quiet spot to stop – whatever you do though, don’t just pull aside on the Ring Road incase you cause an accident.

To improve your chances of being in the right place at the right time, we’d definitely recommend booking yourself on a boat tour with Special Tours.


If you’re heading to Iceland, be sure to pin this post for future reference!

Special Tours Northern Lights Boat Tour review, Iceland, Reykjavik

Thank you to Special Tours for so kindly welcoming us for the purpose of this review and for supplying the photos of the northern lights.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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