Top 5 Animal Experiences

Top 5 Animal

I LOVE animals! By far and away one of my favourite parts of traveling is getting to see and meet some of our planets most incredible creatures in their native environments.  We’ve had the opportunity to get up close and personal with several wonderful animals and these memories will forever be some of my best.  Although animal tourism is a huge draw for me and so many others it’s important to remember that the most important thing is the animal and not your personal enjoyment as a tourist. If participating in this type of tourism you should always make sure to do your research first. Seek out the most responsible, natural and nonintrusive way to meet our planets animals. Never support exploitation even if it means a cheaper price tag and closer contact with the animal.

5. Swimming with Dusky Dolphins – Kaikoura, New Zealand:

Everybody loves dolphins don’t they? They are such wonderful animals and were so much fun to swim with in Kaikoura, New Zealand.  The type of dolphin we swam with here was the dusky dolphin, one of the world’s most acrobatic dolphins that are found only in coastal waters in the Southern Hemisphere. They were so curious and attentive it was incredibly thrilling to be in the water with them. We were told while in the water to constantly make noises and to flip, splash and turn around to keep the dolphins interested in us and they were interested! They swam all around us in a large pod and got so close that it was almost intimidating at times. We weren’t supposed to touch them but a few times they got so close it was inevitable.  It was so amazing to realize that these animals were likely just as curious and interested by us as we were by them – wow! If you ever get to Kaikoura and want to swim with the dusky dolphins check out Dolphin Encounter. They run a really great, ethical and minimally invasive operation.


4.  Ojitotongwe Cheetah Park – Namibia:

Before we got to Namibia I didn’t know much about cheetah’s other than the fact that they were fast (duh).  After visiting the incredible Ojitotongwe Cheetah Park I now know that they are a species in serious trouble in Africa and that they are the only big cat that can be confidently domesticated. This park is run by an incredible family who own several domesticated cheetah’s who live with them on their property exactly like any housecat or family dog. The family also have enclosures for the wild cheetah’s that they rescue from farmers who have captured them to kill after the animals have encroached onto their property.  It was a mind blowing experience to pet a fully grown cheetah and hear it purr and then to watch it chow down on a chunk of raw meat bigger than your own head.  The highlight of this place for me though was the adorable, rambunctious baby cheetah.  After spending the afternoon with the wild and domestic cheetah’s we spent the night camping out on the property. It was an unforgettable day.  Check out more about the Ojitotongwe Cheetah Park here.


3.  Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Elephants are gorgeous animals. They are incredibly smart, sensitive and very attune to what is going on around them. In Thailand and all over South East Asia elephants are both revered and severely abused, so much so that they have become an endangered species in the country. The Elephant Nature Park is one of the only operations in Thailand dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating abused elephants.  It is a truly wonderful place where the happiness and wellbeing of the elephant is put above all else. As a visitor to the park you have the opportunity to interact with the elephants in feeding them their lunch and supper, bathing them in the river, and to whenever appropriate, approach them to touch.

We heard many of the elephants backstories, all of them heartbreaking tales of unheard of cruelty and abuse. Some had stepped on land mines or had been exploited in circuses, others had been blinded by their former owners. One of the most heartbreaking stories was of a female elephant that had given birth to a calf while working in the logging industry. Her newborn calf slid down the hill where she had been working and her owner would not allow her to go attempt to save it. The calf died. When the heartbroken mother refused to work, her owner blinded her. This resilient elephant now lives a happy, free life at the Elephant Nature Park. Here, she has found a best friend elephant that always stays near to guide her wherever they go.

It was a beautiful experience to meet these animals, to hear their stories and to know that there are now people looking after them to make sure they will live the rest of their lives in peace and happiness. If you come to Chiang Mai and are looking for an elephant experience I wholeheartedly suggest the Elephant Nature Park. It’s so much more fulfilling to see these amazing creatures in a good place than it is to ride them or watch them paint pictures.


2.  Shark Cage Diving – Gansbaai, South Africa:

Shark cage diving with great whites was one of those things that I had dreamt of doing for a long as I knew it was possible.  It had to happen on this trip. We debated for awhile whether or not we would even make the journey down to Southern Africa but the promise of getting into the water with the oceans most feared predator swayed the decision. It was the most incredible experience ever. I will never, ever forget the first shark I saw swim past our boat and the absolutely jaw-dropping experience of having a huge shark swim full speed at our cage with its mouth open only to turn and slam its body into it at the last second. I was full on screaming, not with fear, but with inexplicable thrill and joy. It’s hard to even explain such a feeling but it was so raw – in the best way. We learned so much about the great white from our cage diving experience, I have an infinite amount of respect for this animal.

If in Gansbaai check out White Shark Projects. We had a superb experience with them.


1. Wild Elephant Herd – Chobe National Park, Botswana:

This has to make number one on the list because unlike the others it was completely unexpected. Of course when you go on safari you know you’re going to see animals but you never know what you’ll see or under what circumstances. On that morning in Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, we watched as probably twenty plus elephants came out of the river and slowly meandered across the field towards our truck.  The first half of the group walked across the road some distance from us but the second group led by an enormous bull elephant split and headed straight for us. They ended up passing by within at most, a few feet. My jaw literally dropped and I could feel my heart beating as hard as I’ve ever felt it. Luke had tears in his eyes and was overcome with a look of utter disbelief. This was truly surreal. These animals are majestic beyond belief and their size, especially the bull, dwarfed us, even in our huge 4×4 safari truck.  Neither Luke nor I will ever forget those incredible few moments.


One Comment  to  Top 5 Animal Experiences

  1. Stephanie says:

    I LOVE Elephant Nature Park! Jay and I spent one day there too. I SO wish we could have spent a week as I originally intended, but *sigh* things don’t always turn out as planned. I will be going back one day though. :)

    I totally agree with your sentiments on going for the most ethical and least invasive option over the “best deal.” The best deal for you probably isn’t the best for the animals, and if you are going to see them and to appreciate them, the least a person can do is make sure that they are not harmed by your visit.

    I love that elephants made it onto the list twice. :) They are the best.

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