Kuching Wetlands National Park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.

It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping  offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove
getting down and dirty while planting young mangrove

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.

Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)
Lessor Adjutant Stork (Parit Jawa)

To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans!  I hope one day people will see  one in the trees I've planted
Proboscis monkey: more endangered than orangutans! I hope one day people will see one in the trees I’ve planted

Go ride a bike!

I’ve taken bike rides in Laos, Cambodia, Christchurch, NZ; and Bangkok, Thailand – sometimes as a  guided day tour, mostly just hiring or borrowing bikes and doing my own thing. I’ve now also taken a bike tour in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and despite being caught in a tropical downpour it was fun. I’d not been on a bike for sometime so my nether regions where very aware of the saddle by the end of my time🙂

As a guest of KL tourism I had a guide to myself, but groups of travellers can also have a guide – if booked beforehand – or you can just grab a map and enjoy the day stopping and  starting as it suits – which is ideal especially for photographers – and of course it’s quick getting from place to places. The bikes have baskets (on the ‘women’s’ bikes) and a bell to warn pedestrians of your approach.

Many of the connections between footpaths and roads need you to get off as footpaths are often raised – I believe the council is looking at smoothing the way where possible. It was not a car-free time when I took the tour, but my guide was very aware of the traffic and car-drivers seemed considerate of us. I enjoyed the garden area in particular as it was mostly vehicle-free.

Beginning and ending at Merdeka Square, with bike route signs along  the way,  the  ride showcased some of the city’s attractions such as the Perdana Botanical Park, KL Bird Park, the National Mosque, Merdeka Square and a number of other monuments and museums.


use IMG_0248Mederka Square
 is full of  historical sites and I believe you could spend a day here alone. It has buildings which date from the late 1800s This was where the British flag was lowered in 1957 and the Malayan flag raised for the first time – signalling the end of British rule and the beginning of  the country being a sovereign nation member of the Commonwealth.

Before the ride I visited the interesting, and free, Kuala Lumpur City Gallery (just opposite the bike hire place and home to ARCH ) which is a beautiful Mogul-India inspired building and the amazing miniature model of the city certainly helps get your bearings.

Cycling is being promoted by the city council to encourage visitors and residents to explore this captivating city. In January, Mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib led more than 300 cyclists along closed public roads to give them a taste of what they could enjoy under their own steam. The ride followed the launch of “Kuala Lumpur by Cycle” in February last year (2013) and now KL has monthly Car-Free Days during which 6 kilometres  city roads are closed to traffic for two hours on the first Sunday of every month. A cycling track on roads along the Gombak River is also planned so watch for more cycle routes.

“This is a very imaginative idea,” says Zalina Ahmad, director of Tourism Malaysia in New Zealand. “Cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly way to get around and this will give people the opportunity to explore KL. Cycling is one of the best ways to get to know a city.”

use IMG_0254

So if you are eco-friendly or just want an enjoyable way to get around this often ignored city go ride a bike and visit KLs oldest parks and heritage buildings. Just remember no matter the season, in Asia make sure you have sunblock, umbrellas and waterproof gear in your bag at all times – and a plastic bag for your camera!

Other great ways to explore this city are:

use IMG_0247

Horse and Carriage ride

FREE Dataran Mederka Heritage Guided Tour (Mon, Wed, Sat)

FREE Little India Walking Guided Tour (Saturday)

And, soon I’ll bog about my day of travel on the jump on jump off bus 

While in KL I stayed at the Berjaya Times Square hotel … Read about my experiences there and the Theme Park

Malaysia Airlines’ has daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland (and every other part of the world)  For information about visiting Malaysia  – and do a search in my Malaysia category on this blog page for many more stories about my favourite Asian country.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Great news from Zealandia … reduced entrance fees

Here’s a media release I just got today … so passing it on as I know reduced entrance fees will be attractive to many – including me .. and the free ‘come back tomorrow” is fabulous.

Takake - thought extinct til late 1940s - a still-endangered native
Takake – thought extinct until the late 1940s – a still-endangered native

 

Further details can be found at www.visitzealandia.com/freshlook

Zealandia’s latest enhancements and revised price structure, available from tomorrow, 18th October 2013, have been designed so that a greater number of Wellingtonians can visit the eco-sanctuary, and benefit from the unique opportunity to engage with nature in the heart of the city.

General Admission has been reduced significantly. Adult entry, previously $28.50 for entry to the valley and exhibition, is now $17.50 and Family Admission has dropped from $71.50 to $44 (two adults and up to three children). A new “come back tomorrow” system will include a complimentary next day return, allowing visitors to explore the many experiences available even when their time in Wellington is limited. Membership remains a great way for locals to support conservation and connect with Zealandia’s activities and now Zealandia’s members have more advocacy power, bringing up to five friends for half price on any day visit, as well as enjoying their existing discounts and privileges.

Denise Church, Chair of Karori Sanctuary Trust’s Board, explained the reason and timing for the change.

“Our conservation successes are widely recognised, from growing kiwi populations to the kākā which range widely over Wellington and our work with communities and schools in the halo project. But we’ve heard the feedback that, for some, our pricing was a barrier to visiting. We undertook research to explore what the right price would be and consulted with a number of Zealandia’s stakeholders. We’ve needed to think carefully about the balance between accessibility and meeting our obligations to generate a significant proportion of what it takes to run the sanctuary’s restoration, education, research and visitor experience operations. All our revenue goes to sustaining these critical activities.

“The formation of an Enhanced Partnership with Wellington City Council created the conditions needed for us to make these changes and we are grateful for Council’s funding support. Council recognised that Zealandia plays a key role in bringing birdsong back to our living city and that the benefits delivered to Wellingtonians are significant and wide ranging.

“With increased visitation from locals we hope to make an even bigger difference as part of Wellington’s natural capital, giving more people the chance to experience the natural benefits of our native flora and fauna and to support conservation action in Wellington.”

All General Admissions will now include entry to all parts of the Zealandia experience: the valley, exhibition, and tours and talks. Peter Monk, Visitor Experience Manager, explained “The exhibition is a vital part of our storytelling, helping to crystallise what visitors learn in the valley and put it in context. Our continent, Zealandia, is 80 million years old and our catastrophic loss of biodiversity and world-renowned conservation efforts are compelling stories that we can share, empowering people with the knowledge they need to make a difference. We want all visitors to have easy access to these powerful stories.

“Customers consistently comment that engaging with Guides as part of General Admission is key to the richness of a Zealandia experience. So, we’ve increased the number and variety of tours and talks to share more knowledge, tell more stories and enhance the sense of wonder and discovery for visitors of all ages. We’ll also roll out a series of new special activities and themed tours, starting with Kākā Week on 17 November, adding to our popular pre-booked guided tours such as Zealandia By Night. Two new tour products commence in December but are available to book now: Breakfast, Bubbles and Birdsong, and Walk the Wild Side.”

Raewyn Empson, Conservation Manager, described how the sanctuary offers a great deal more than a pleasant bush walk.

“Rare and endangered species are flourishing here, many of which have returned to the mainland for the first time in hundreds of years. Although our kākā range over the city, it’s only at the sanctuary you’ll encounter the unique combination of sights and sounds that includes takahē, tuatara, robins, saddlebacks, hihi and lots more. These species are living wild just ten minutes from the city, it’s incredible. We have an extraordinary living laboratory, with researchers developing knowledge that will benefit biodiversity throughout New Zealand. We’re doing what we can to turn the tide of extinctions on our unique natural heritage, providing a safe breeding habitat, enabling research, education and inspiring others to get involved”.

Church urged people to take a fresh look at Zealandia.

“The most common feedback we receive from people who come after a few years away is how much the place has changed – how much more bird life, things to do and see, fascinating and informative tours and of course the excellent exhibition and Rata Café. With fifteen years of restoration efforts behind us, the valley has a more established feel to it now and we hope you’ll come and see for yourself the progress made by our community of over 450 volunteers, committed staff and key partners such as the City Council and Victoria University of Wellington.”

Wellington, NZ, sent a green house to the White House .. and came 3rd!

Meridian teamed up with Victoria University (Wellington NZ) to help send a solar-powered house to Washington, DC to compete in the  US 2011 Solar Decathlon and won third place – congrats to all involved. (See more here)

New Zealand (Victoria University of Wellington) took first place today in the Engineering Contest during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011. (read more here)

As the only entry (ever!) from the Southern Hemisphere,  this invitation  to Victoria to be one of  the 20 universities invited to compete was e a nod to the quality of the eco work they, and New Zealand generally, are involved in.

The idea for their entry comes from the classic holiday home in NZ – called a bach … pronounced batch. This name is used all over NZ except in the deep south (Otago and Southland) where they use the old Scottish term ‘crib’.

The temporary solar village was near the White House in Washington, DC. See more details here

These photos were taken in Frank Kitts Park, Wellington, when the house was erected for us kiwis to see their work: well done everyone!

Another new book for nature lovers – all homes should have a copy

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE                       by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris

Here is another new book for nature lovers and with many oddities in New Zealand’s fauna all kiwi homes should have a copy.

  • Did you know there are no island groups anywhere in the world comparable to New Zealand in size, latitude, climate and isolation.
  • And, of the world’s total land area, only about 0.17 per cent lies under the New Zealand flag, but about one per cent of all known land animals in the world live within our borders.
  • This is made up of around 10,000 species of insects, 2000 spiders, nearly 300 snails, and perhaps a further couple of thousand of all other groups combined.

This book is a completely updated edition and an extensive guide to well over 400 species of New Zealand fauna, including both native and  introduced species.

Each entry succinctly describes both habits and habitats, distribution, classification, breeding patterns, food and recognition tips to aid amateurs – like me – with identifying a creature.  It also includes the latest research findings and changes in classification and nomenclature that have occurred in the past 10 years, along with many new photographs.

It seems to me, far too few people — New Zealanders and ‘foreigners’ alike — are aware of just how extraordinary New Zealand wildlife is. For any animal enthusiast with a global perspective, it’s right up there on the billboard with its name in lights along with Hawaii, the Galapagos and Madagascar.” says Terrence Lindsay (Zoologist and ornithologist) 

Rod Morris’s stunning photographic work has also received widespread international acclaim. Previously a producer with Wild South, he is now a freelance natural history photographer.

I know I will spend a lot of time with this book and am sure you will too – all NZ homes need a copy of this!

(See  this post – in this blog – for a new travellers guide  for NZ birds too)

great new book for bird and nature lovers

Birds of New Zealand by Julian Fitter and Don Merton

Sad facts for New Zealand, and the world, is that since the arrival of  people in New Zealand (about 800 years ago), some 41 species of bird have become extinct.

Today several species are only surviving thanks to intensive conversation measures and thanks for people such as Don Merton QSM – who unfortunately died in April 2011 before this book was published. I only met him once, but I, and other NZers value the work he did for us and our wildlife.

While we have lost many species and the forest no longer echoes with wonderful birdsong, the bird life in New Zealand is still remarkable with much of it being not just endemic, but unlike anything elsewhere.

The Kakapo, the world’s largest parrot, and the Takahe, the largest member of the Rail family, are two flightless examples of birds unlike anything else in the world. Other good examples are the two wattlebirds, the Saddleback and Kokako.  All of these would probably be extinct by now were it not for recent intervention by dedicated conservationists, by people such the authors of this new book, Birds of New Zealand.

Takahe - at Zealandia Wellington

 

Birds of New Zealand (ISBN 1869508513)

is a beautiful photographic guide featuring all 350 species of bird you can possibly see in New Zealand, illustrated with over 600 full colour photographs with full descriptions of all native species and the regular visitors: it is a wonderfully practical book that no bird spotter or nature enthusiast should be without.

This book is not just a guide to identifying the native birds: it is also a wake-up call to look after them, to appreciate and protect them. As Julian says in his acknowledgements, ‘the real thank you has to go to the amazing native bird life of Aotearoa New Zealand, for being so special, and so different. My one hope is that this book will do just a little bit to help you survive and prosper. You have had a rough 800 years and you deserve better.’ 

Julian Fitter is a conservationist, naturalist and writer with a special interest in island ecosystems. He spent 15 years in the Galapagos Islands where he established and ran the islands’ first yacht charter business. In 1995 he was instrumental in setting up the Galapagos Conservation Trust which has grown to be a significant supporter of conservation programmes in Galapagos. He is the author of a number of books on birds and wildlife, including most recently, New Zealand Wildlife and Bateman’s Field Guide to Wild New Zealand.

Don Merton is a name that is synonymous with bird conversation, worldwide.  He started work with the New Zealand Wildlife Service in 1957 and retired from the Department of Conservation in 2005.  The survival of several species, including the South Island Saddleback, Kakapo and Black Robin owe a lot to Don.  The techniques he and his colleagues used to ensure their survival, are now in use around the world and have helped countless other species in the fight to prevent their extinction.

NOTE: Another new book worth checking out by nature lovers is the  COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE Terrence Lindsay and Rod Morris 

What a great little resort in Zainabad, Gujarat, India – I recommend it!

Handmade, traditional covers on the plant and mirror decorated seats

What a great little resort Desert Coursers  is and I can recommend it. This resort at Zainabad, Gujarat, was started in 1984 by Shri Mohammed Shabbir Malik, and today is run and managed by his son, Shri Dhanraj Malik and got its name from Dhanraj’s Great Grandfather whose favourite bird was the Desert Courser.

It’s a great destination for birding, culture and generally experiencing the Little Rann of Kutch – especially as Dhanraj loves nature too and is a great source of information: there are some 70 species of birds in the area.

The morning sun just touches 'my' cottage

I stayed in one of the cottages, known as Koobas, which are a traditional design and very comfortable –  with  air-conditioning  if needed and have attached bathrooms with hot and cold showers.

I went on early morning, afternoon and evening jeep safaris into the Little Rann of Kutch and other areas around Camp Zainabad.

The highlights for me were  the Wild Ass;  the people of the salt plains,  and the local people ( I visited the high school and orphanage that Desert Courses supports  – check out their website to see the many social projects they support.

As well as the Wild Ass, the Macqueen’s Bustard and Sykes Nightjar, see more about the wildlife here.

Dhanraj and his wife Zyda are perfect hosts and its like being part of the family – spending time was them was great.

I will be wrritng more about this area, especially about the Salt Plains, and would love to return there … always a recomendation!

See here for a list of great birding sites in Gujarat including here in Zainabad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.