'I want to see a giant tortoise' (Michael R Perry)
Article Words : Mark Carwardine | 01 November

Mark Carwardine's seven wonders

Mark Carwardine looks back over his seven favourite wildlife experiences - and his newest is the Galápagos Islands

There isn’t a single historical building, cultural extravaganza or breathtaking scene among my personal seven wonders.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. With Antarctica top of the list, I’ve inadvertently included more breathtaking scenes than anywhere else on the planet. But the frozen continent is included primarily for its wildlife.

I remember sitting on a rock high above Paradise Bay, on the Antarctic Peninsula, surrounded by giant petrels, sheathbills and blue-eyed shags. Down below me were a dozen crabeater seals on a piece of floating ice. Two humpback whales surfaced nearby and a huge blue-white glacier cracked and calved in the sunshine. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas come pretty close – especially when snorkelling with friendly Atlantic spotted dolphin. They often come to within arm’s length and perform the most amazing slow-motion underwater ballets.

If I could go on just one more whale-watching trip, though, I’d choose Baja California, in Mexico. This is the place to go for awe-inspiring close encounters with the friendly grey whales of San Ignacio Lagoon – as well as blue, fin, humpback and sperm whales and huge schools of dolphins.

My list wouldn’t be complete without a shark-diving hotspot – and my favourite is a remote volcanic island in the middle of the North Pacific. Guadalupe is just a tiny dot on the map, but it is so good for watching great whites in clear water that, in shark-diving circles, its name is spoken in hushed and reverential tones.

On the other side of the world, in the misty, forested mountains of Uganda, Rwanda and the Republic of Congo, I always take time out to visit the relatives. Rubbing shoulders with wild mountain gorillas is absolutely overwhelming.

Seeing a polar bear in truly natural conditions is pretty moving, too, and my favourite place for that is Wager Bay, in Arctic Canada.

Finally, there’s a brand new addition to the list. New to me, at least.

The Galápagos Islands is the one place all self-respecting zoologists should experience for themselves – and, until recently, I hadn’t. I was actually embarrassed never to have seen a wild Galápagos giant tortoise, swum with sea lions, walked among dancing blue-footed boobies or sunbathed with marine iguanas.

However, I went on this year’s Festival of Wildlife and, literally overnight, Darwin’s ‘little world within itself’ jumped straight into my seven wonders. I can’t wait to go back.