Do you long to sleep under African Skies?
Check into Little Kulala, a desert eco-retreat within southern Africa’s Kulala Wilderness Reserve.
Hop aboard a Land Rover to scope out springbok, ostrich and oryx or float above the dramatic landscape in a hot air balloon.
Visit the world’s tallest dunes amid Namibia’s famed “sand sea”.
Then fall asleep on your rooftop Sky Bed and enjoy a late night show where shooting stars and the Milky Way serve as headliners.
Gather your family to wish upon a star.
Here are five extraordinary places to view the night sky:
Check into Little Kulala, a desert eco-retreat within southern Africa’s Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Hop aboard a Land Rover to scope out springbok, ostrich and oryx or float above the dramatic landscape in a hot air balloon. Visit the world's tallest dunes amid Namibia’s famed “sand sea”. Then fall asleep on your rooftop Sky Bed and enjoy a late night show where shooting stars and the Milky Way serve as headliners. Contact: www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/index.jsp; www.TravelBeyond.com.
Winter Star Party. West Summerland Key, FL.
Every February, during the new moon week, amateur astronomers gather in the Florida Keys for six days to learn from guest speakers, observe an unobstructed clear night sky and share information with other star enthusiasts. Hosted by the Southern Cross Astronomical Society (SCAS), Inc., the Stellar Star Party also includes a Kids Kamp. Contact: 1-800-FLA-KEYS; www.fla-keys.com ;www.scas.org.
In 2001, the City of Flagstaff, in Northern Arizona, was designated the world's first "International Dark-Sky City" by the International Dark-Sky Association. Expect stellar stargazing as well as the chance to tour the Lowell Observatory. You’ll see the telescope where planet Pluto was discovered in the 1930's and look through the century-old Clark telescope. Further south, check into the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale where you’ll find high powered telescopes in your room and constellation charts on your pillow at turndown. Opt in for complimentary Friday evening stargazing with a local astronomer or a Celestial Picnic accompanied by a pro.
Red Rock Country.
By night, the dark skies of Utah provide ample opportunity for magnificent stargazing. Join astronomer Alex Ludwig atop a mesa to learn about star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. He will explain how Native Americans teach their children about the constellations, lancing the quiet night with stories that will entrance young and old. By day, a slew of parks, canyons and rivers provide outdoor adventure opportunities.
Contact: 435-210-0066; www.moab-astronomy.com; www.discovermoab.com/
Northern Lights From Norway.
Because of an increase in solar flares, NASA is predicting Northern Lights activity will be stronger this winter than any time in the last 50 years. Therefore cruising Norway’s coast high above the Arctic Circle could provide family travelers with the opportunity to experience the aurora borealis in a rare and extraordinary way. In addition to visiting ports that provide a glimpse into winter life in Norway, passengers will also be privy to lectures regarding the Northern lights as well as local culture and history.
Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes - Little Kulala, Namibia
There's something about kids and animals that inspire us. Think of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book or the Academy-Award nominated song "Bless the Beasts and the Children." Few things are as satisfying as sharing in a child's awe as he or she witnesses the power and grace of wild creatures for the first time.
We've gathered some of our favorite places to go wild with the kids, and, best of all, some are absolutely free. You'll encounter wolves, raptors, alligators, lions, and much more, so please keep your hands in your vehicles at all times! Away we go!
California Wolf Center - Julian, Califoia
From the Big Bad Wolf who stalked the Three Little Pigs to the cur who attacked the foolish Boy Who Cried Wolf, wolves have played the heavy in some of our most popular stories. In the real world, though, they've been hunted to near extinction. Luckily, organizations that recognize how valuable wolves are to a healthy ecosystem are working to change that. The California Wolf Center has been educating the public about wolves since 1977, and a visit here will be memorable for both you and your grandkids. To make a special connection, consider sponsoring a wolf.
Raptor Center - St. Paul, MN
If you've got a grandkid who would like nothing better than to have an owl like Harry Potter's Hedwig, head over to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where birds of a feather really do flock together. Here you'll get a chance to meet a Great Horned Owl named Ricke, an Eastern Screech Owl named Otus, and a Bald Eagle named Othello. They're just a few of the facility's birds who, for a variety of reasons, cannot be released into the wild. Admission to the center is free, but donations are welcome.
Alligator Adventure - North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
It's located at Barefoot Landing, but with 800 alligators, a 450-pound Galapagos tortoise, and a 20-foot crocodile in residence, sturdy footwear seems advisable for any visit to Alligator Adventure. If it's reptilian, and it creeps, crawls, or slithers, this park probably has it. Pig nosed turtle? Check. Alligator snapping turtle? Of course! Rhinoceros iguana? Got it. Giant green anaconda, retriculated python, and king cobra? Just saunter over to the Serpentarium, one of the best reptile houses you'll find in any zoological park. There are also frogs, toads, bats, lemurs, and tropical birds here, plus a colony of playful
Alligator Adventure - North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
It's located at Barefoot Landing, but with 800 alligators, a 450-pound Galapagos tortoise, and a 20-foot crocodile in residence, sturdy footwear seems advisable for any visit to Alligator Adventure. If it's reptilian, and it creeps, crawls, or slithers, this park probably has it. Pig nosed turtle? Check. Alligator snapping turtle? Of course! Rhinoceros iguana? Got it. Giant green anaconda, retriculated python, and king cobra? Just saunter over to the Serpentarium, one of the best reptile houses you'll find in any zoological park. There are also frogs, toads, bats, lemurs, and tropical birds here, plus a colony of playful river otters whose antics provide comic relief.
Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum - Rocky Hill, Connecticut
Eubrontes, Dilophosaurus, and Otozoum, oh my! We don't know many youngsters who aren't dinosaur fans. And while the dinos disappeared 65 million years ago, Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum has one of the best collections of on-site dinosaur tracks in the world. Even adults may feel awed knowing that they are standing in the footsteps of history. The park does all it can to ensure a great experience for young visitors, with films, crafts, demonstrations with live park animals, guided tours of the dinosaur trackway and, in the summer months, an outdoor sluice where the kinds can mine for gems and fossils.
MGM Lion Habitat - Las Vegas, NV
The pride of the MGM Grand strut their stuff in the hotel's Lion Habitat. Each day, teams of lions are groomed and coiffed for the commute from their 8.5-acre abode 12 miles outside the city to their glass-enclosed "office," which is climate-controlled and designed to make them feel at home with trees and a waterfall. You and the kids can enjoy Lion Habitat absolutely free of charge.
Monkey Jungle Miami, FL
What kid wouldn't be thrilled to visit a place where monkey business is encouraged? At Monkey Jungle, you'll find capuchins, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and more. You can hang with the orangutans or give a gibbon your time. And while you're monkeying around with the 30 species represented at Monkey Jungle, you'll learn fascinating facts about our fellow primates. You can also visit the Amazonian Rainforest, which features plants you'd otherwise need to go to Peru to see, and the Wild Monkey Swimming Pool, where Java monkeys dive for treats.
Whale Watching Depoe Bay, Oregon
Since 1978, visitors to the Oregon coast have been able to take advantage of the Whale Watching Spoken Here program. It places trained volunteers at 26 sites along the shore to help people spot gray whales migrating to and from their breeding grounds, and to educate observers about these magnificent marine animals. The summer whale-watching season runs from June through October, but peaks in August, September, and October. When your grandchildren's faces light up as they spy a telltale spout of water or mighty tail, it will give new meaning to the phrase "whale of a good time."
This article was provided thanks to our partnership with www.GrandParents.com. It first appeared there.
Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes
Irene Lane, founder of Greenloons, offers her picks for ten compelling eco destinations:
1. Jordan’s eco-lodges combine local heritage and educational experiences while exploring a mix of modernity, ancient wonders and nature. Think horse or camel safaris, Bedouins, the endangered Arabia oryx, Petra, the Dead Sea and trekking through Dana Nature Reserve.
2. Borneo’s jungles, beaches, caves, exotic wildlife and more than 5,000 diverse and endemic plant species are revealed by, among others, trekking the relatively untouched Mt. Kinabalu and exploring the Kinabatangang River, home to wild boar, orangutans, elephants, king fishers, macaque and proboscis monkeys. Award-winning eco-lodges harvest rainwater, use solar power and manage wildlife rehabilitation.
3. The Philippines is among National Geographic’s 20 Best Destinations and Palawan Island its top eco-destination. Among 7,000 islands guests swim with whale sharks, discover endangered sea turtles, spy on the rare Philippine eagle and discover the mountain-to-sea ecosystem of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Eco-lodges serve locally sourced food and wildlife education.
4. Belize offers more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems, making ecotourism the lifeblood of its economy. Along with 150 identified species of mammals are rainforests, Mayan temples, the world’s second longest barrier reef and an abundance of eco-lodges educating travelers about the fragility of its ecosystem.
5. Botswana favors low volume, high quality, environmentally conscious safari travel into the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert, the savannahs of the Moremi Reserve and the forests of Chobe and Linyanta Game Reserves. Guests enjoy game drives, walking, elephant/horseback/bicycle safaris and boating, plus youth explorer programs emphasizing conservation and bush survival skills. Tented bush camps are environmentally friendly.
6. Poland has mountains, rivers and wetlands and is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts. With 23 National Parks and forests covering nearly 30 percent of the country, Poland has its own Big Game: the European bison, lynx, stoats, martens and red deer. Guests can enjoy eco-ranch lodges.
7. Croatia’s eco/agritourism focuses on culinary tours with locally sourced organic produce and family farm stays. Activities can include hiking, biking, rafting and canoeing.
8. Guyana’s mountain ranges, savannahs and jungle canopy walks combine with river and rainforest eco-lodges for close-up views of exotic birds, jaguars, red howler monkeys, giant river otters and other wildlife. The famed Karanambu Ranch rehabilitates orphaned giant river otters so they can be released back into the wild.
9. Argentina is home to Glacier National Park and the active Perito Moreno, one of the world’s only advancing glaciers, as well as the tropical rain forests of Iguazu Falls near Brazil, the Antarctic environment of Tierra del Fuego, the Andean mountains, the wind-swept Patagonian steppe and the coastal marine habitat of the Valdes Peninsula. Eco-lodges are crafted from local materials to integrate with the environment.
10. Ethiopia may be a trek across the Roof of Africa through the virtually untouched Simien Mountains, home of the Gelada baboon, Walia ibex and endangered Ethiopian wolf. Or it may be Rift Valley Lakes and Blue Nile Falls or Lalibela, considered to be one of the greatest spiritual-historical sites of the world. Eco-lodgings are built in the traditional “tikka” style and solar-powered.
Photo: Petra, Jordan
Going on safari?
Here are ten tips and tricks to help you bring home the visual memories:
KNOW YOUR CAMERA- On safari, you will get up close and personal with wildlife, but, to make each shot count, a good quality digital camera will be necessary. A 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex) as opposed to a compact camera with automatic controls is ideal. If you have a compact camera, there is a slight delay between pushing the trigger and the shot being captured, whereas a SLR is instant
TO LENS OR NOT TO LENS? – You’ll get extremely close to wildlife so it is not necessary to have huge lenses. If you choose to use a lens, a good all-purpose zoom lens with an F stop of F4 through F2.8 is best to keep your image shar
FANCY FLASH WORK – Each tracker will have a spotlight in your safari vehicle which you can use as your light source - it often creates a lovely effect. A third of the evening safari is near total darkness. A good flash or speed light will help highlight your photos. Most game reserves ask for flashes not to be used when the big cats are actively hunting (at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve there is no problem with the use of flash during safari).
MEMORY – Bring a memory card with you! Many lodges in South Africa do not offer memory cards in their gift shop and have no computers to download the images off their camera to free up space. The more pictures you shoot the more chances you have of getting that prize shot. Eight gigs of memory will be more than enough for your safari. Sabi Sabi offers memory cards as well a business facility for guests to upload images to a remote site.
KEEP A LID ON IT – The African bush is a dusty place so it would be a good idea to keep your camera in a sealable bag when you are not taking pictures on safari. Also try not to change lenses while out on safari. This will help prevent the digital sensor on your camera from being contaminated by dust particles.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – On each Land Rover there are three rows of seats, with each row a little higher than the one before. Opt to sit in the front row or even in the seat next to the ranger. You want to be as low to the ground as possible for a steady shot. The higher you are the less stable you are.
PRINCIPLE OF THIRDS – Portrait shots with animals filling the screen are great but having an animal surrounded by its natural environment is sometimes even better. For example, try placing the animal in the bottom corner of the image. The idea is to put your subject in one third of the frame. Try it – you will be amazed at the results.
EYE OF THE TIGER..uh…LION – Most new cameras allow you to move your focus sensor square manually on the frame. Do this and make sure that you place the sensor on the eye of the animal where possible. A sharp eye always gives the image a much sharper look.
SHOOT IN RAW – For those a little more advanced and adventurous, shoot photos in RAW. It may take up a lot of memory, but it allows you to have flexibility when it comes to processing the shot (printing and editing purposes).
NO FEAR – Many rangers on your safari are also avid photographers themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask them for tips to help with your shot. Shooting in the wild, let alone on a moving safari vehicle, is very different from taking family pictures during a birthday celebration. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Tips provided by Rod Wyndham, Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve’s Group Operations Director, is an avid wildlife photographer. Recently, he was sponsored by Nikon South Africa and is very involved in assisting amateur and professional photographers from all over the world when they travel to Sabi Sabi.
With opportunities from Montana to Malawi, there is a volunteer vacation to suit every family. Here are five organizations to consider when planning your next family voluntourism trip.
Help build a house in Mexico, save the turtles in Costa Rica or teach young children to read in Malawi. More than 61 million Americans dedicated 8.1 billion hours to volunteerism, according to a recent report from the Corporation for National & Community Service. And now Americans are increasingly taking their charity on the road.
Voluntourism, the concept of doing good while having a good time, is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.During a recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon region, my school-aged sons and I, along with two family friends, traveled 90 miles by speedboat deep within the jungle. There we delivered much-needed school supplies to several communities along the river. In return, we enjoyed the students’ songs, dances and original poetry. Their creativity and energy were among the most memorable aspects of our adventure.
I-to-I offers volunteer vacation experiences in Honduras, India and Costa Rica working with sustainable, locally run community, educational and environmental projects. Its travel advisors will provide specific information about each country and project so that you can make the best decision for your family. Tel. 800-985-4852, www.i-to-i.com.
Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers offers short- and long-term opportunities in more than 20 countries. Popular family projects include working with the Blackfeet Indians in Montana, teaching conversational English, assisting in orphanages and working on building projects in Costa Rica. www.globalvolunteers.org
Craft your own family volunteer vacation from hundreds of opportunities provided on this Web site. You’ll find connections to projects and causes around the world. www.GiveSpot.com
Students gather for a group picture with their host families from the Tanzanian village of Itete.
American Hiking Society
On an American Hiking Society volunteer vacation, family members visit stunning backcountry locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters. You’ll meet other volunteers while exploring and restoring some of the most beautiful outdoor places in America. American Hiking Society members qualify for discounts. www.americanhiking.org
Amazonia Expeditions subscribes to the philosophy that tourism companies have an obligation to invest in the well-being of the environment as well as native people. Dolores Arevalo Shapiama de Beaver, a native of the Amazon and the owner of a wilderness lodge, has worked to identify individuals with special needs who could benefit from medical or educational intervention. Visitors can provide and help distribute school and medical supplies, as well as clothing, while learning about the native people, conservation and the rainforest habitat.