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The Wild Side of Expedition Cruising

Posted by Dallas Sherringham on November 04, 2016

One of the major reasons we all undertake expedition cruises is to enjoy close encounters with creatures in the wild.

There is nothing quite like standing on the beach next to seals, watching bears eat salmon in the redwoods or gaze in wonder as a pod of orcas glides by your zodiac.

So, how likely are you to see wildlife on your cruise? Well, finding wildlife is not an exact science. Bears don’t simply sit under the same tree all year waiting for the tourists to arrive.

Emperor penguins migrate inland in March and the only way to see a tiger in the wild is to see it before it sees you.


South Georgia penguins


However expedition cruising gives you the best chance to see wildlife because you go to places most normal tourists never see.

The expedition leaders on your cruise have their favourite places where they can depend on finding wildlife. They often work with local guides and rangers to find out where recent sightings have been made.

I was quite surprised on one expedition cruise to find out how much work goes into finding those hard-to-see critters. The expedition leader was continually phoning ahead by satellite to track down wildlife. He spent several hours on the radio talking to locals about whale sightings.

It all paid off after a few days when an aircraft scout spotted a pod of whales cruising along the coast.

In places like the Amazon, the best way to see rare wildlife is to take a cruise that works with local guides. They know the places to find animals like the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.


monkey South America


I have been lucky enough to have some amazing wildlife encounters around the world, but my favourite was a cruise along the Zambezi River in Africa.

We went ashore at various points to go on wildlife walks with a local guide who was carrying a very large gun. We saw giraffes, water buffalo, elephants and a rare rhino. One night just after dark, we went ashore on a lion walk and came across an elephant herd.

Now, the last thing you want to do with a wild elephant herd is to split it in two. We managed to split it and our guide became very concerned about the situation.

He continually stopped to listen to the sounds of the animals coming from upwind, cupping his ear and concentrating deeply while we all held our breath.

He convened a meeting of the group by torchlight and whispered to us. “We need to get back to the boat which is over there,” he said pointing out the route.

“We need to go one by one and we need to walk quickly and quietly from one tree to the next. You have to get across the clearing quickly,” he reiterated.

“When I say ‘Go’ you go and don’t stop.” It was my time to run and I stopped beside a huge tree. An elephant swished by in the grass, hardly making a noise. It is amazing how quietly they can move.

I guess that elephant was just as scared as I was. We all returned to the boat safely and headed back to the main expedition ship.

We were all “wowed” by the chef on board who turned out gourmet meals time after time. For this meal, he cooked up a stunning tiger fish which we had caught earlier in the day.


elephants africa cruise


As we enjoyed our meal on the back deck, washed down with a fine Stellenbosch sourced sauvignon blanc, the sounds of Africa took over the night air. We couldn’t see Africa, but we could hear it, smell it and feel it.

Our guide explained that he was extremely worried about what happened earlier in the evening. “An American visitor was killed by an elephant there recently. He stopped to take a photo between trees and the flash went off on the camera. This stunned the elephant and the poor guy was trampled.”

It was a sobering thought that expedition cruising puts you right into the middle of true-life adventures.

This is the unique feature of expedition cruising and the reason it is becoming so popular around the world.


seals in Antarctica


Inspired to seek out wildlife on an expedition cruise? Here's some of 2017 best adventures for wildlife enthusiasts:

Marine Mammals of Antarctica - join the world's per-eminent cetacean experts on a voyage to the white continent

Whale Sharks of West Papua - swim with whale sharks in Indonesia's Cenderawasih Bay

Baja California among the Great Whales - cruise Mexico's Sea of Cortez in search of the grey whale

Home of the Polar Bears - Explore Wrangel Island in Russia's Far East

Mighty Orangutans of Borneo - Cruise the Kalimantan coast aboard a traditional schooner. 



Dallas Sherringham is a media professional, world traveller and regular contributor to our blog.