Morocco 2019: Marrakech, Sahara, and Essaouira

We visited Morocco in Spring 2019 for much the same reason a lot of people are going at the moment: it’s the nearest most different place you can get to on a budget flight from the UK, it looks really interesting (totally different culture! You can go to the desert!), and it looks really great too. Morocco, perhaps more than any place I’ve traveled to looks fantastic in blog, Facebook, and Instagram posts.

And, it’s a great mix! Tourism is booming and twentysomethings like us who want something different, a little bit of adventure – and the photos – are coming in droves.

We had a week in which we went to Marrakech, a three days/two nights trip to the Sahara, and a day trip to Essaouira. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I can happily recommend it. We probably spent slightly too long in Marrakech but only because we’re not too good at “being on holiday”; a morning reading my book is lovely but I need to do things!

Morocco really is a photogenic place. These are some of the photos from Marrakech.

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Mount Snowdon 2018

We climbed Mount Snowdon on Saturday! I’d visited Snowdonia and started some of the main track when I was about 12 years old, but I’d never made it to the summit.

We took two fairly niche and challenging routes, one which took us up high and then along a ridge to the summit, and another which took us down from the summit fairly steeply before evening out.

I wasn’t focusing on photos but did take a couple of nice ones, which are below.

New Zealand birdlife

One of the highlights from our trip to New Zealand was the birdlife. Over the course of our three weeks I became fascinated with New Zealand’s birds! We saw roughly half of New Zealand’s native birds, of which there are a lot.

As Wikipedia so eloquently explains, New Zealand being very far from anywhere created unique conditions where birds thrived for millions of years:

New Zealand’s geographic isolation for 80 million years and island biogeography has influenced evolution of the country’s species of animals, fungi and plants… The forests were dominated by birds, and the lack of mammalian predators led to some like the kiwi, kakapo, weka and takahē evolving flightlessness.

This isolation was, however, interrupted by the arrival of humans. The British were especially guilty of introducing mammals which could easily hunt the birds which had not needed to evolve any defence. The Wikipedia article continues:

Since human arrival, almost half of the country’s vertebrate species have become extinct, including at least fifty-one birds, three frogs, three lizards, one freshwater fish, and one bat. Others are endangered or have had their range severely reduced.

There’s thus a lot of convservation work ongoing in New Zealand. Plenty of birds are doing well – indeed, the weka loved trying to eat our sandwiches and didn’t seem to have any problems – but others such as kiwi are seroiusly engangered, and reliant on hatcheries and other interventions for survival.

We visited several conservation projects. Orokonui Ecosanctuary was the first of these, and was an instant favourite. We only spent an hour or two there, on the drive down to Bluff and Stewart Island, but it was a real treat to see so much wildlife in such a beautiful location. This was where we got our first sightings of kaka parrots, and tuis. We’d later see the tuis all over the place (they’re incredibly loud), and kaka in Wellington. We didn’t, however, see the endangered takahe again, and I didn’t get any more photos of bellbirds.

After visiting the Ecosanctuary, we headed to Stewart Island and Fiordland in quick succession. As I’ll cover elsewhere, this was a phenomenal couple of days. On Stewart Island we saw a lot of birdlife, but the only really nice photo I got was of an oystercatcher on the beach. I then got a nice photo of a New Zealand robin, and Laura took a photo of a fantail, when we covered parts of the Kepler Track over the subsequent couple of days.

Our next good bird sightings came at the Zealandia Ecosanctuary in Wellington, where we saw – amongst other things – more kaka!

Our final bird-based stop was Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, which was the only zoo that we visited; in the econsanctuaries the environment that the birds enjoyed was available, but the birds were free to come and go. Rainbow Springs had birds in fairly large cages.

Its main function was as a kiwi hatchery, where kiwi eggs are delivered from around the country and then hatched and nurtured until they’re large enough to have a reasonable chance of fleeing predators. As kiwi are nocturnal and pretty quick, sadly I didn’t get any good photos. I did, however, snap some cute lovebirds and a red parakeet.

Before we get to the all-important fantail photo, here are a couple of birds from across the country.

And finally, fantails. Fantails are small birds who eat midges. In order to eat midges, they have huge tails which act as airbrakes and allow them to turn in the air extremely fast – so that they are agile enough to eat the delicious midges.

We saw our first fantail on day three of the trip, and it took me until the final day to get a good photo of fantails. This wasn’t for lack of fantails; they were abundant, but also incredibly fast moving and thus impossible to track with a long zoom.

I’d pretty much given up hope of getting a good photo, and then on the final day of the trip, when we visited Bottle Lake Forest Park in Christchurch, there were loads of fantails! And they stayed still! I managed to get a ton of photos, and this one was my favourite:

The elusive fantail photo!

That’s it for our New Zealand birdlife. We saw half of New Zealand’s birds in three weeks, so presumably if we return for another three weeks we’ll see the rest. I can’t wait to do so.

Latvia 2017

Our visit to Latvia was a weekend break, and the first time we’d done an international weekend break. We had a pretty hectic schedule, driving to Luton airport on the Friday afternoon, arriving fairly late on the Friday evening, and then enjoying all of Saturday and Sunday, and most of Monday. We arrived back at Luton at something like 1am on the Tuesday, and then had a two hour drive to get home.