5. Vancouver Island
A settlement built on top of an undersea mountain range, Canada’s Vancouver Island sits off the west coast of the mainland, and stretches for 460km. It’s famous for whale-watching, and pods of Orcas visit the area regularly, with tour guides almost guaranteeing you’ll see one on your trip out. But Orcas aren’t the only wildlife – there is also the chance to swim with salmon or go on the hunt for grizzly bears (not in a literal sense, just to track them down and photograph them). It’s very much a working community, with fishing and logging the primary industries, but it is tourist-friendly and hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, like the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, which are well worth visiting.
4. Khao Sok National Park
There are many beautiful areas in our list so far, but Khao Sok in Thailand may be a contender for most beautiful. With mountains, lakes and rainforest, the landscape is ever-changing, and it’s a great place to observe some of the local wildlife. You can go trekking on elephants, canoeing or on jeep safari and the wildlife is hugely varied. There are leopards, tigers and gibbons as well as elephants and, if you’re unlucky, you may even have a close encounter with a cobra! The website says that “Lethal bites are very rare” and that only 10-20 people die in the country from snake bites a year. Still, it’s worth looking up their information on snake bites before you go. Venomous potential aside, it’s a truly stunning nature reserve with some very exciting wildlife to spot.
3. Croajingolong National Park
Another Australian entry, but a complete contrast to arid Uluru. Located in Victoria, the “garden state” of Australia, this is a lush, green area of 875km2 and home to the typical Australian animals, such as kangaroos and koalas. Its lushness comes partly from its location right next to water, with the Pacific on the south side and the Bemm River on the west. It is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and is officially owned by the Aboriginal people, as they were settled on the land long before anyone else claimed it. It’s fairly developed though, with campsites, picnic areas and even lighthouses along the coastline and is very much a tourist attraction as well as an Aborigine reserve. Watersports, such as boating and canoeing are available and it’s a great place to sit and admire the view as well as spotting some wildlife hopping through.
2. Madikwe Game Reserve
So far, you may have noticed the absence of the words “Big 5”, a commonly used safari term to describe the animals that most tourists want to see – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. These animals are often the main goal of safari goers, a tradition that stretches down from the big-game hunters (these 5 are the most difficult to kill on foot). The reason they’ve been absent so far is that many reserves insist it’s not about ticking off boxes, it’s about biodiversity and seeing a whole range of animals. This South African resort, however, is proud of being a “big 5” reserve, and keen tourists should be able to tick those boxes off, along with 61 other mammal species and 300 birds, all over 750km2. It’s an impressive reserve and a key destination if you’re serious about safari. And especially if you want those 5 animals to be ticked off your list!
1. Amazon Rainforest
But for real, untamed wildlife there is nowhere in the world quite like the Amazon rainforest. Teaming with all kinds of deadly creatures, from anacondas to tree frogs, it’s a unique experience and a true taste of what the world was like before man intervened. With an area of 7,000,000km2 it’s on a different scale to the rest of the reserves, and is home to hundreds of species that simply don’t exist anywhere else.
It’s not friendly, it’s not tame and you may not find a lot of fast-food outlets about the place but for anyone who’s passionate about seeing creatures in their natural habitat, it’s the trip of a lifetime. Be prepared to be hot, sweaty and scratched by the dense vegetation…but also overwhelmed by the wonder of the wildest place on Earth.