‘The path was alive with army ants!’ – readers’ holiday encounters with nature

While touring New Zealand in a motorhome in 2012, my wife and I checked into a campsite at the tip of South Island. The woman at the campsite looked at her watch and said: “At 3.30, the penguins come ashore in the next bay. You’ve got 10 minutes.” Sure enough, the yellow-eared penguins soon started to emerge from the ocean and make their way to the back of the beach. Warning signs asked us to keep 10 metres away from the penguins, but they came much closer to me than that as I sat ready with my camera. It rates as my top wildlife highlight. John S Smith, retired baptist minister, Bridgnorth

I was lucky enough to join a marine conservation expedition in 2019. I spent six weeks living on Atauro Island in Timor-Leste, regularly swimming and diving in the beautiful reefs and seagrass fields. I particularly enjoyed late afternoon swims at high tide as the light softened and shone through the water. The seagrass waved in the swell producing bubbles of oxygen and sheltering small colonies of fish and coral. You could always hear the coral before you could see it, with the distinct chattering of nibbling fish. On my own, as the sun set, I felt completely at peace. Will Oakley, doctor, Bristol

Everyone knows that Norway boasts stunning nature, but not everyone knows how to deal with heights – including me. I will be forever thankful to my friend Diana who nudged me to join her on what turned out to be one of the most spectacular hikes of my life: Trolltunga. Some of our friends warned us that we might be at a loss for words because of the fabulous scenery and were so excited that we didn’t mind the 40 minutes of continuous stair-climbing, nor the unexpected June snow. With Diana’s help, I conquered my fear of heights and even managed to walk on the “troll’s tongue”, pictured above. By far the most memorable 25k of our Norwegian summer. Daniela Carmen, university lecturer, Londra

We were on a family holiday to Pembrokeshire in May 2019 and wanted to visit Skomer to see the puffins. A limited number of tickets are released each day, to protect the island habitat, and having heard tales of long queues starting before first light, we set our alarms and bundled the kids into the car. Our early start and patient queueing were rewarded and, after a delicious breakfast at a local cafe, we were on the boat to Skomer. The trip – and the puffins – were just wonderful. We spent a whole day watching the comical little birds arriving back from sea-fishing with beaks full of eels, before scuttling down into their burrows. Such a great memory. Gill, Hampshire

I was hiking in Kilpisjärvi, Lapland, with my husband recently and the autumn colours were stunning. The ground was almost completely red. We Finns call this time of the year, when the leaves go from green to red and yellow, “ruska”. The temperature has to be below 0C overnight for the magic of “ruska” to occur. It is not the same every year; sometimes the hard wind means the leaves drop to the ground before the colours change. Kristiina, MD, Helsinki, Finland

Our six-year-old son is obsessed with wolves; they’re his absolute favourite animal. During our holiday in northern Portugal last month, we got up at 4am and drove for three hours to a natural reserve to meet an amazing biologist who is tracking five wolf packs as part of a project aimed at increasing the population of Iberian wolves in the region. We were too late and it got too hot to see any wolves – but we spent a great morning looking for fresh wolf paw-prints and droppings. We’ll be back next summer. Aiste, 38, civil servant, Brussels

Nel 2019, I won a holiday in the Maldives. I loved the idea of seeing the idyllic islands and snorkelling with our two daughters. We signed up for a turtle-spotting trip and had a great time. On the way back, the boat driver offered to drop us on a sandy spit of land for some photos, but as we pulled up, the guide started shouting for us to jump back in to the boat – he’d seen a manta ray swimming about 20 metri di distanza. As it spotted us, rather than swimming away, it came so close that we had to move out of its path. I’m certain that it was taking a close look at this pale creature that had invaded its space. It was a great privilege to see such an amazing animal up close. Dan, advertiser, East Lothian

In July this year, in St Martin’s in the Scilly Isles, I was unsure about going out on my own on a sea kayak as I had not kayaked in about a decade – and never before on the sea. My husband doesn’t swim, so he kept watch from the shore through binoculars, ready to raise the alarm. It turned into one of the best wildlife experiences of my life and two hours went by in a flash. I paddled out to a small island and floated about blissfully while three seals circled my kayak snorting loudly. One was particularly playful and did its best to wobble me and nibble my paddle, making me laugh out loud. It was a wrench to paddle back to the shore when my time was up. The seals followed me nearly the whole way back. Rachel Lutz, secondary school teacher, Dorset

I have a fascination with army ants so, in December 2018, my wife and I went on a trip to the Gambia in search of the big ones: driver ants. Seeing one was my idea of holiday heaven! While birdwatching in the Abuko nature reserve, we came across an area that was taped off – wardens were directing visitors away from the paths – because of ants. When we explained that we’d been looking for them, one of the wardens agreed to take us – which was very kind because all the staff were frightened. The sight that greeted us was unforgettable: a path perhaps two metres wide and stretching way into the distance, was literally alive with driver ants. Numerous columns were joining up and breaking away, heading in various directions. The warden described it as a super, super colony. You could see the soldiers standing at the side of the columns with jaws raised – and yes, as I discovered, their bite does hurt. Alan Bennett, retired biology teacher, Blackpool

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