Category: On travel


Meet the Fiordland-crested penguin

By Midge Raymond,

If you’ve read My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail you’ve met the Adélie, gentoo, chinstrap, emperor, and Magellanic penguins. Last year, we delighted to meet a new species: the Tawaki, or Fiordland-crested penguin. (Tawaki is the Māori name, meaning crested; these birds are found only on the South Island of New Zealand.)

The amazing Tawaki live in the rainforest, nesting under tree roots and bushes. They hike from the ocean across sandy beaches, over sharp rocks, and up steep banks to get to their nests. Sadly, there are only about 3,000 of these incredible penguins left on earth.

The Tawaki are endangered due to several factors, including predators on the island (non-native species such as stoats, possums, rats, and feral cats), climate change, and human disturbance (from tourists to the fishing industry). Tawaki are very shy, and it’s rare to see them — and when you do, you have to be very careful to keep your distance; if they come back to shore to feed their chicks and a human is near their path to the nest, they will get frightened and return to the ocean, leaving their chick to go hungry.

How can you help penguins like the Tawaki stay with us forever?

  • Consider giving up seafood, or even cutting back. You’ll save more fish for the birds, and you’ll help ensure that penguins and other creatures don’t get killed by fishing nets and longlines.
  • Be a respectful birdwatcher. Visit penguins with guides who know how to keep a safe distance, or learn about their habitat so that you can be sure to stay out of harm’s way.
  • Do all that you can to combat climate change (see the Climate Reality Project and Cowspiracy for some good tips).
  • Support conservation efforts like the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, which monitors penguins and works on the ground to ensure protections for them.

And keep learning! The more you know of these majestic creatures, the more inspired you’ll be to help save them. Join us in Patagonia in October to meet Magellanic penguins up close and personal at the largest colony in the world. This journey will be a small group of travelers who will meet with local researchers to learn more about their work with this colony, and with any luck, we’ll get to meet Turbo the Penguin as well (the inspiration for the Admiral Byrd character in My Last Continent and for Diesel in The Tourist Trail). Learn more here.

And thanks to John Yunker for these wonderful photographs.

Meet the king penguin

By Midge Raymond,

It was a big thrill to meet the majestic king penguins on a recent trip to South Georgia Island. The second-largest penguin in the world, kings are even more colorful and striking than the emperors, and they are social and curious. (None of these photos was taken with a zoom lens. If you sit on the beach, they will walk right past you, and sometimes even come up to check you out.)

The colonies we visited ranged from 7,000 breeding pairs to 50,000 — and due to horrific weather, we didn’t get a chance to see the biggest colony on South Georgia. But seeing thousands of penguins at sunrise was pretty spectacular. The chicks were huddled in the middle of the rookery, but many curious adults came over to visit.

As you’ll see in the video below, kings (who have no predators on land) are unafraid of humans. Visitors are not allowed to approach or touch them, of course, but if you sit quietly you’ll receive many visitors, one after another. (And hearing their trilling call is an amazing experience, as you’ll hear in this video.)

 

The total population of kings is 1.6 million, but as this article outlines, like all penguins, they are vulnerable to climate change and could lose as much as 70 percent or more of their current numbers in the years to come.

Despite this romantic photo below, king penguins actually don’t have high fidelity rates — which is likely due to their very long breeding cycles (nearly 15 months from courtship to when the chicks fledge) and the fact that while they return to the same colony, they don’t molt at the same time.

Like the emperors, the king penguins do not build nests but carry their eggs around in a little pouch above their feet. They are now in the IUCN category of “least concern,” which is a good thing … but climate change and the fishing industry are bound to change this status if both continue moving forward at the current rates.

Vegan dining in Salt Lake City

By Midge Raymond,

We were thrilled with a recent visit to Salt Lake City, not only because we got to eat at the delicious Vertical Diner but because we learned that this all-vegan restaurant is one of many in Salt Lake. Check out the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, and keep an eye out in town for its Veg Dining Guide for more vegan options.

Of course, Vertical Diner should be a stop on your journey; it’s delicious comfort food. We began with Buffalo Tigers, fried tofu in a spicy buffalo sauce, served with celery and carrot sticks and vegan ranch sauce. (This appetizer was so good it disappeared before we could take photos.)

Breakfast is served all day, and among the delectable options is La Mesa, a gigantic meal of potatoes, black beans, rice, tofu scramble, and grilled peppers and onions. Everything is covered with vegan cheese, sprinkled with sour cream, and topped with guacamole.

 

 

Another breakfast plate, The Avalanche, comprises two pancakes with tofu scramble and fries, with a choice of breakfast sausage or tempeh bacon.

For those who love gravy, look no further than the American Diner, which is a bowl of hand-cut fries (or mashed potatoes) and fried tofu “tigers” smothered with gravy.

A meal at Vertical Diner will provide you with more food than you could possibly need, but (in the interest of research, of course), afterwards we went to the Monkey Wrench, a glorious all-vegan ice cream shop, which also serves coffee and tea.

All the bakery items, even the ice-cream cone, are vegan, and flavors range from rocky road to pecan to mint chip, which I finally settled on after tasting just about every other flavor. There are also a lot of vegan toppings available.

Of note: This ice-cream shop is right next to the Bolt Cutter, another all-vegan restaurant, best known for its giant nacho plates. It also serves gourmet street tacos and other Central American dishes and has a wide selection of tequilas, mezcals, beer, and craft cocktails. We didn’t have time to visit, but it’s at the top of our list for next time…

Again, check out UARC and the Veg Dining Guide for more places that are not only vegan but that are UARC partners.

 

Vegan dining in Melbourne: Madame K’s

By Midge Raymond,

In the vegan haven of Melbourne, the neighborhood of Fitzroy, we discovered Madame K’s Vegetarian (you’ll also find in Melbourne Smith & Deli and Smith & Daughters, Matcha Mylkbar, Lord of the Fries, and so many more vegan options).

This Asian restaurant is all vegetarian and there are a lot of fake meats on the menu, as well as veg dishes for those who don’t like faux meat dishes. Important note for wine drinkers: You need to bring your own wine! Fortunately, there are a number of bottle shops and wine shops nearby.

For an appetizer we had chive dumplings, which are pan fried and stuffed with chives. They were so amazing we could’ve had another couple of orders and called it a night. 

But we went on to order a main dish: tofu with red curry. This dish comprised stir-fried crispy tofu with red curry, red pepper (called capsicum in Australia), and chilis, and it comes with jasmine or brown rice.

This too was very good (but not quite as delicious as the dumplings!). There are many more vegan options on Madame K’s menu, and we look forward to visiting again to sample more of them.

  Category: On travel, Vegan
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Join us to meet the elephant seals of Patagonia

By Midge Raymond,

I adore elephant seals. They are among the most interesting creatures on the planet to watch (and we’ve traveled to a lot of continents to watch a lot of creatures).

For one, they really know how to enjoy life, as you can see in the video I took of this happy girl on a beach on South Georgia Island.

They are also hilariously disgusting, and visiting elephant seals during their molt is an extremely good time to see them at their most appalling. They lie on the beach — fat, lazy, grunting beasts who are tumbling all over each other, sometimes fighting and always bellowing —and you can smell them long before you catch sight of them. Here’s a video of a male calling out to all those near and far…

And perhaps my favorite image from our visit to Gold Harbour on South Georgia Island was this one — a skinny, post-molt gentoo penguin who is appearing to flee the wrath of this elephant seal. (The gentoo was in reality doing no such thing — he was only making his way to the beach — but when it comes to wildlife photography, timing is everything.)

For all those who are now convinced you must meet these incredible creatures yourself, join us and Adventures by the Book on our Penguins & Patagonia journey this October! We will be meeting the Magellanic penguins featured in My Last Continent and The Tourist Trail (and there’s an optional excursion to Antarctica), but we will also have a chance to spend quality time with elephant seals during their mating season. (You can imagine how entertaining that will be.) Click here to learn more about this upcoming adventure.