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I’M GOING ON A SAFARI!!!!

A little over a year or so ago, I read about Gerry Van der Walt from Wild Eye Photo Safaris as being the one to watch on Periscope for wildlife. I started watching him on safari tours and it was amazing to see the lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos, big cats, etc ~ and all of it was live. But I became “hooked” when I switched over to Snapchat which is my preferred forum for seeing all the wildlife updates. Gerry posted lots of the baby animals. Seriously, what’s cuter than those amazing strong animals as tiny (and not so tiny) babies. Cue: Heart Melting!!

Gerry and the rest of the Wild Eye team are very consistent with updating their social media, so much so that when Gerry went quiet for a few days ~ I became worried something happened on one of the safaris. Those animals do get close to the vehicles. Turns out, I missed the snap where he said he was going somewhere without wifi and he would be off-line.

The photos and snap stories are so amazing and I shared many of them with my husband and daughter. Through Gerry’s instagram account, I found a youth photographer, David whose award-winning photo is now on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit.  If you’re in Washington, DC and have an interest in wildlife/photography, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. The “Leopards” photo was taken while David was on a Wild Eye safari in the Timbavati Private Reserve.

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Youth Photographer viewing “Youth Photographer” winners at the Museum of Natural History

I’ve dreamed about going on a safari ever since those Wild Kingdom TV shows back in the day. Whenever my husband and I discussed going, it always came down to time and money. Mostly money. It seemed out of our reach. And I’m not a fan of being on tour groups where I’m required to be around a lot of people and on their schedule. I was overwhelmed with the logistics, money and basic planning. I didn’t want to go on a trip of a lifetime and not enjoy it because I didn’t know what or where to go. It seemed too daunting to tackle.

Things changed this past fall when one day Gerry asked on Snapchat “What’s keeping you from going on a safari?” My first thought was “the logistics” and secondly, I thought about the cost. It must be common to everyone because he immediately addressed how Wild Eye can organize a tour based on a budget provided by the guest.

I took a chance and emailed my per-person budget along with possible dates. Gerry wrote back within hours and asked pertinent questions about my preferences: which were the top animals I wanted to see, luxury v. eco-lodge, and did I prefer to be with other people or on a private guide. A few days later, Gerry recommended we go on a privately guided safari in the Timbavati Private Preserve in South Africa with Michael from Wild-Eye. Having already seen David’s (youth photographer) great photos from Timbavati, I was sold.

Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and, because there are no fences, the animals go back and forth between the park and the preserve. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be going on this trip if I hadn’t stumbled onto Wild Eye through periscope. They’ve made it too easy to plan such a fabulous adventure.

More on the details of planning in my next post but if you want to follow Wild Eye to see their fabulous wildlife images, you have your pick of social media outlets:

  • Gerry (Wild Eye founder) is on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat as: Gerryvanderwalt
  • Gerry’s The Wildlife Photography Podcast is on Itunes/Soundcloud
  • Our guide is on Instagram and Snapchat as: Michael.Laubscher
  • For additional info on Wild Eye click here
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A Big Island adventure not to be missed is going to the 13,796 foot Mauna Kea Summit which at night offers the clearest and most awe-inspiring views of the night skies to rival any on Earth. I spent a lot of my time at the summit looking around and thinking “what a fantastic world we live in and I wish everyone could participate in this experience.”

Mauna Kea Summit View from the top of the summit

It’s not required to go with a tour group to the summit but because we didn’t rent a 4-wheel drive (required for the top part of the mountain), we decided to join a tour. We were very pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of our tour guide/driver from Hawaii Forest and Trail . The trip lasts anywhere from 7-8 hours ~ depending on weather conditions and travel time. Our trip was right around 7 hours.

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Abandoned Humuula Sheep Station

A picnic dinner is served at the historic (abandoned) Humuula sheep station located at 7,000 feet (half way up the mountain) and allows people to acclimate to the higher elevation. Some people were affected and others not at all. Thankfully, we were in the not at all category.

Throughout the tour, our guide provided a lot of historic and cultural information. Because the temperatures and winds make it downright winter-like at the top, the tour company provides winter jackets.

Mauna Kea John Patti and Logan III

Thank goodness for the jackets provided by the tour company ~ definitely needed.

It was very interesting to be standing amongst the world’s largest collection of research telescopes.

The large dish-shaped structure is one of 10 very long Baseline Array radio telescopes that are spread out across the United States and used simultaneously. Astronomers use the telescope to make detailed studies of space objects. Each antenna is controlled remotely by the Array Operations Center in Socorro, New Mexico, but there are local site technicians at the Mauna Kea summit.

Mauna Kea Summit Sacred Hawaiian site at the top of Mauna Kea

Most sacred part of Mauna Kea and off limits to visitors

The Hawaiians consider the mountain to be one the most sacred places in the islands and it is not without controversy that it is used commercially. There is an area of the mountain which is off-limits and I’m glad most people respect it.

Mauna Kea Sun Setting

A highlight was the spectacular sunset which looked like other-wordly to me especially when the sun was low and in the clouds far below us.

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On the way down the mountain, we stopped at 9,000 feet for delicious hot chocolate and star-gazing and then we stopped at the visitor’s center for a bathroom break and a little shopping in the gift shop. Photos of stargazing will follow in a future post.

Before you attempt traveling to the summit, here are a few precautions: guests should be able to hike on uneven, rocky, wet, and sometimes muddy terrain. Because of high altitude, I would caution anyone who has respiratory, circulatory and /or heart conditions, pregnancy or generally in poor health. Scuba divers shouldn’t make the ascent within 48 hours of diving. Children under 16 are not allowed on the tour. Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes, long pants and a sweatshirt/sweater. Dressing in layers is best.

Interesting Facts  about Mauna Kea:

  • It is estimated to be approximately one million years old
  • Last eruption was about 4,000 years ago
  • It is a dormant volcano but could still erupt
  • The area of Mauna Kea takes up about 28.8% of the island
  • Mauna Kea means White Mountain
  • Snow falls on both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa

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Mau’umae Beach is my favorite on the Big Island (Hawaii). It’s secluded, sandy, and I can usually have it all to myself on a weekday if I get there early enough. The water is almost always calm so it’s a great place to snorkel. If you happen to be there during the winter months, keep a lookout for whales or dolphins just offshore.

Getting to Mau’umae Beach requires a short hike from Spencer Park or you can drive from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. If you’re coming from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, you will need to get an access pass from the guard shack and they only give out 10 passes per day so go early. Once you have your pass, follow the road for approximately 300 yards and take the second right turn. Continue across two small wooden bridges until you arrive at the unpaved parking area above the beach. The trail down to Mau’umae Beach is marked by a sign.

From Spencer Park, park at the far left side of the parking lot and take the coastal path for about a quarter mile. Fishing is popular along the hike and the views of Mauna Loa are spectacular!

Mau'umae Beach hike ~ Ala Kahakai Trail Fisherman and mauna loa

Along the trail to Mau’umae Beach, woman fishing and Mauna Loa in the background.

If you’re on the Big Island, I highly recommend you visit this small, secluded and beautiful beach.

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Puako Rental House welcome sign

When I was younger, there was no question that I would stay with family and friends when ever I went back to the Big Island (Hawaii) for a visit. But with a family of my own now, and my desire for more privacy, I usually book several different places to stay. The island is big enough to warrant moving locations to be closer to either the volcano or the beaches.

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Sunset view from 118 Puako Beach

 

On our July visit, I booked an AirBnB vacation home for the first time. I’m thrilled to say the seven night stay at a two-bedroom, two bath beach house in Puako was a big success with everyone.

Puako John and Logan waiting on sunset

Waiting on Sunset in the Puako Beach House Yard

The location couldn’t have been better for us. We could see the ocean from the living room, patio and master bedroom. I love waking up to the sound of the waves crashing on shore. We were able to go to several beaches in close proximity to the rental home.

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Bikes come with the Beach House rental

Upon arrival to the island, my brother loaded me up with all kinds of local foods for us to feast on while we stayed at the house. He thought of everything ~ fruits, main meals, coffee, desserts, vegetables, chips, etc. Yum! 118 Puako House came fully stocked with essentials so be sure to check in and then do your grocery shopping.

Puako House Bird

A Daily Visitor to the Beach House

Birds aren’t the only visitors to the beach house. Keep an eye out for unwelcome critters especially the dreaded centipede. They are red and nasty looking. Always check your shoes before you put them on and check your bed too. Anywhere they may hide ~ don’t come away with a painful bite.

Patti at sunset puako

If you book a home in Puako, be sure to rent one on the oceanside. The ocean breeze makes it much more comfortable during warmer days.

 

 

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As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

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At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.

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The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

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On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.

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The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

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The amazing view from the rainforest.

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It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

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Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!

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If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.

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I had the opportunity to leave the social media realm and see several of my favorite photographers’ works in the real world. It got me thinking about why I follow certain photographers out of the millions who are on social media.

As a wildlife fan, I find myself skimming instagram, twitter, wordpress and snapchat for all things wildlife and nature oriented. But there are only five photographers I follow daily ~ they bring an extra dash of joy to my life with their amazing skills and ability to capture the essence of majestic creatures. All five have one essential quality in common which is required for me to follow them; they are all conservationists.

My most recent follow is @Davidrphoto on Instagram. Of the photographers I follow, he is by far the youngest, currently a student at Stanford and his photos are from his trips to Africa. His “Youth Photographer of the Year” award-winning photo is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is titled: The 21st Annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. Windland Smith Rice was a nature photographer and conservationist.

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The exhibition includes short videos with footage of the moments the photographer captures the award-winning photo. I was completely enthalled watching the videos and blown away by the amazing talent. I’m especially impressed with the profound patience they possess which is required to capture the perfect shot.

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Video of the “Youth Photographer of the Year” winner David Rosenzweig

If you have an interest in photography, I highly recommend attending the free exhibit when you’re in Washington DC. The current exhibit will be on display until Sept 2017. The museum is located along the National Mall at 1000 Madison Drive NW. The closest metro stop is Archives/Navy Museum (Yellow Line).

There’s more information at the Museum of Natural History and you can view the photos on Facebook. I promise you the images are stunning in person and well worth the trip to the museum.

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Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History ~ Exhibit Banners

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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

Kona Parks and Recreation

The Parks & Rec building in Kona


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Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

Kona sailboat on the waters

Sailboat in Kailua Bay

 

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