Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.
Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.
Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.
Day 9 (4 of 4).
Udawalawe National Park is often considered to be the best place for elephant sighting outside of Africa. Advertised for 100% guaranteed elephant sighting, Udawalawe should not disappoint anyone who come for the biggest mammals on land. For other animals, especially large mammals like leopards or sloth bears, super good luck and an experienced guide/driver are probably needed for any chance of success. The park is also a fine venue for bird sightings, with both permanent and migratory species.
We didn’t have a whole lot of wild safari experience other than the Brazilian Pantanal. Unlike Pantanal in Brazil where we could choose between boat, 4×4 vehicle, or even a morning safari hike, Udawalawe National Park could only be visited by 4×4 vehicles. All 4×4 vehicles enter the park from one entrance, and most tours would start either at 6am or 2pm, and last for 4 hours. Unlike the famous Yala National Park in Southern Sri Lanka where all visitors flock to chase after the elusive leopards and as soon as one leopard is spotted all vehicles would rush to the same spot, 4×4 drivers at Udawalawe tend to disperse into different areas of the park. The first safari tour we had at Udawalawe was a afternoon drive.
Sri Lankan elephant is usually one of the first large animals to be spotted in the park.
Sri Lankan elephant is the largest of the three subspecies of Asian elephants.
Native to the island, Sri Lankan elephant has a widespread distribution in the country.
With a population of 2500 to 4000c Sri Lankan elephants have been listed endangered on IUCN’s Red List since 1986.
Oriental garden lizards are commonly found throughout much of Asia.
The oriental garden lizard can change its colours. During mating season, a male lizard changes its head and shoulders to orange or crimson, and its throat to black.
Much larger than oriental garden lizard, the Bengal monitor lizards can grow up to 175cm long.
Known by their rich colours and predominant diet of flying insects like bees and wraps, the green bee-eaters are common in the park.
Reside in India, Sri Lanka, and much of Southeast Asia, the changeable hawk eagle is also known as crest hawk due to its feature on the head. They are medium size birds of prey, and are usually solitary except in breeding periods.
The number of Indian peafowls or peacocks (male) we have seen in Udawalawe was probably ten times more than the total number of times that we had ever seen these birds in the past. Peacocks dancing, eating, running, and even flying, males, females, or juveniles, you name it, we have seen it.
The steady supply of water of the reservoir is probably the main reason why wild animals gather in Udawalawe National Park.
Even with their distinctive curved horns, no one knows for sure whether these wild water buffalos are truly wild, or if they are descendants of domestic buffaloes. With about 3,400 across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, wild water buffalo has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1986.
Painted storks can be found in wetlands throughout tropical Asia.
Native to the island, the endangered Sri Lankan leopard has a population of 750-900. Spotting one of the park’s 10-12 leopards was like winning the jackpot, given the reserve has 30,821 hectares of land (more than 5 times the area of Manhattan Island).
Usually live in herds, the Sri Lankan axis deer or Ceylon spotted deer once roam freely across the dry zone of the island. Now their conservation status is considered as vulnerable.
Towards the end of our tour, a curious Sri Lankan elephants followed us and get pretty close to our vehicle.
Before leaving the park, we had a unique encounter with two Sri Lankan elephants who greeted each other with their trunks and made a whole lot of sounds.
The greeting gesture of the two Sri Lankan elephants seemed friendly, as if a person was hugged by another person.
After the passionate change of the two elephants, one of the two elephants seemed to be interested in our vehicle and stayed much longer.
Near the main park exit, we spotted a curious mongoose climbing out from a drainage channel. It stayed just for a split second and dashed out of our sight.
Day 4 (2/2).
Whale watching was the final act of our Shiretoko experience. The 2-hour outing in the Nemuro Strait turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of our trip. Located at the eastern coast of Shiretoko Peninsula, Rausu is the most popular spot in Japan for whale watching. Depending on the season, various kinds of whales might be found in the waters just off Rausu, including minke whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), humpback whales (rare), Dall’s porpoises, giant beaked whales, and several types of dolphins. In the summer months, there would be a good chance to spot Orcas, also known as killer whales. Orca is the biggest member of the oceanic dolphin family. They are highly social animals that hunt and wander the sea in pods.
After three days of poor weather, the strong wind and rough sea had finally died down despite the overcast condition over Nemuro Strait. Returned from Shiretoko Pass, we went immediately to the office of Gojiraiwa Kanko Eco Tour (ゴジラ岩観光) in Rausu to make our cruise payment, get a quick snack near the tourist office, parked our car at the dock, and followed one the three queues to get on our cruise boat.
After three days of stormy weather, the sea was calm as we were about to set sail for the whale watching cruise.
Looking back towards the dock, we could see Mount Rausu rising beyond the village of Rausu.
After seeing several black dorsal fin dolphins popped out of the sea in the first ten minutes, our boat captain received the news that orcas had been spotted by the other cruise boats ahead of us. Soon we reached cruise boats and had our first encounter with the magnificent orcas of Nemuro Strait.
While the whales roam in the water of Nemuro Strait, Stellar Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles rule the sky.
Lies between Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula and the controversial Russian Kunashir Island (国後島), Nemuro Strait is one of the best place in the world for whale watching.
Orcas often appear in a pod. We were fortunate to follow a pod of around a dozen of orcas, even with a few juveniles.
Sometimes, the pod would get pretty close to one of the cruise boats.
Eventually, the pod of orcas broke up into a few smaller groups. Our boat followed one of the groups towards the direction of Rausu.
Each boat followed a different group of orca.
Seeing one of the juvenile killer whales in the pod was very exciting.
In a few moments, the whales swam really close to our boat.
A few of them even swam under our boat.
From a close distance, we could truly appreciate the true scale of the orca’s dosal fin.
Some scientists can identify different orcas just by studying their distinctive dorsal fins.
For most of the time, our boat continued to follow a small group of orcas.
It was the first whale watching cruise that we ever experienced. We were grateful that the cruise turned out to be a fruitful one.
After about 1.5 hour chasing the whales, it was time for our boat to return to the dock.
The majestic Mount Rausu signified our arrival of the village of Rausu.
Most fishing boats were parked behind the sea wall at the dock.
It seemed that most fishermen were staying away from the sea for another day. Whale watching offered us the perfect finale to for our Shiretoko journey. We picked up our car at the dock, had another seafood lunch at Jun no Banya (純の番屋), and left Shiretoko altogether for our next destination: Mashu Lake.
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HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)
Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)
Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)
Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)
Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)
Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)
Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)
The sky was grey and the air was moist when we first hiked the Mizzy Lake Trail in 2007. After seeing a wild turkey dashing across our path, we followed the trail to an open area surrounded by spruce bogs. The trail cut right through the bogs, with peaceful ponds lying along both sides. It was 7:30 in the morning and we were all by ourselves. Soon we discovered footprints on the muddy path, some probably belonged to a fox, and some were hoof prints of a much larger animal. We continued to walk forward until we saw a dozen or so bare spruce trunks sticking out from the water. Reflection of their white trunks stood against the grey clouds in the tranquil water was occasionally disrupted by touches of water insects. Somehow the imagery touched us like a gentle poem. We looked at the scenery for a while and took some photos. As we turned our head back onto the trail, we immediately spotted something tall standing ahead. It had its back towards us, but soon it turned its head and looked right into our eyes. It was a tall cow moose, our first ever sighting of a moose. It stared at us for half a minute, then walked slowly down to the spruce bog on the left, crossed the water to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the spruce forest beyond. Moose, the largest animal in the deer family, is popular for wildlife sighting in North America. The English name “moose” is a word borrowed from the Algonquian language back in the 17th century. Spreading their two large toes to keep them from sinking, moose has adapted well living in the environment of spruce bogs, where they can walk on the peat filled marshland to feed on aquatic plants.
We saw beavers several times in Algonquin. Sometimes with sticks in their mouth, sometimes without, always in quick motion swimming across the water. But more often, we saw traces of their existence: pointed tree stumps, trunks with bite marks, mud and timber dams, and mounts of timber sticks in the pond. Back in the 17th century, when a large area of North America was owned by the Hudson Bay Company, beaver fur was one of the major exports from the New World. Nowadays, beaver has become a national emblem for Canada, appearing on the symbol and coat of arms of many organizations, companies and government departments, from Toronto Police to Canadian Pacific Railway, and has officially designated as the national animal in 1975. In Algonquin, beavers are probably the only animals other than humans that know how to alter a natural environment to create their desirable home. As the second largest rodent, beavers use their large teeth to harvest timber. Along with stones and mud, beavers use the timber to construct dams to alter stream flow in order to create wetlands known as the beaver ponds. A peaceful beaver pond contains water warmer than running streams, an ideal habitat for many wetland plants, frogs and fish. It also serves as a moat for the beaver lodge to prevent wolves and other predators. The longest beaver dam in record exists in Alberta, reaching up to 850m in length.
Spruce bogs and beaver ponds are two of the five major habitats found in the Algonquin Park. The other three includes the coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and rivers and lakes. Spruce bog is a type of wetland common in the north. Its water is quite acidic and full of floating vegetation that slowly accumulates into a thick layer of peat. Many birds frequent the bog, and so as moose which come to feed and drink. Beaver pond, on the other hand, belongs to the story of beavers continuously transforming the natural environment by building dams and ponds, creating a wetland that benefits many species and also serves as a natural filtration and stormwater system for the area. A pond may last until the death of a beaver, or until a fierce storm hits and damages the dam beyond repair. By then, nature will restore the area back to its original conditions, until the arrival of the next beaver to restart the cycle all over again.
Young moose shook off water after crossing a small stream (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012). That afternoon, we joked with each other and placed our bet on whether we would have the same moose encounter that we had five years ago. We waited patiently and dusk was approaching. When we were about to leave, we spotted this young moose. It was truly a magical moment for both of us.
This curious young moose walked from the wetland onto the trail. It seemed to be interested in us as it was slowly walking towards us. The cow moose that we encountered five years earlier at the same spot reacted differently. It walked away from us into forest after it made an eye contact with us. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
Bull and cow moose kept their eyes on the young moose while the young moose fixed its eyes upon us. We have vivid memory of each encounter with moose at Algonquin Park. The encounter becomes special and personal as each time there were only the moose and us. Every time, when we spotted the animal, we would keep our voice low and keep a distance from them as we didn’t want to disrupt or irritate them. (Third visit of Mizzy Lake Trail in 2012).
After we had some good moments of moose encounter, we got to rush out of the Mizzy Lake Trail before dusk fell. We walked so fast that we were like racing with the sun. We’ll keep this peaceful image of Algonquin Park with us in mind no matter where we go.
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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario
Aliton from Pantanal Nature (our tour company) met us at 7am at the lobby of Hotel Mato Grosso. At his car, we met a couple from England who had also booked their tour with Pantanal Nature. We drove out of Cuiaba. On the way, we picked up a few bottles of water, and filled up the gas before entering the Transpantaneira Highway. The Transpantaneira Highway is a dirt road built in early 1970s intended to bisect Pantanal from north to south. Only 145km of the originally intended 397km was built. With 145km and 125 bridges, according to some, Transpantaneria has the highest concentration of wooden bridges in the world. The road work also created many ditches on both sides, accidentally providing water ponds where caimens and waterbirds love to gather, especially during the dry season. During the 1.5-hour drive on our way to the lodge, we saw caimens, rheas, and many kinds of water birds.
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Read other posts on Pantanal, Brazil
Day 9.1 – Trail of Waterfalls, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 9.2 – Stone City, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 10.1 – Pantanal
Day 10.2 – Transpantaneria Highway, Pantanal
Day 10.3 – Pousada Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 10.4 – Rio Claro Boat Tour, Pantanal
Day 11.1 – Morning Safari and Forest Walk, Pantanal
Day 11.2 – Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 12.1 – Morning Walk, Pantanal
Day 12.2 – Pouso Alegre Lodge, Pantanal
Day 12.3 – Afternoon Walk and Evening Safari, Pananal
Day 12.4 – Night of Caimans
Day 13.1 – Farewell Pantanal, Brazil
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought