Ok – so you’ve read about some Valentine gifts for your nature lover (blog 1) and you’re ready to marry it up with some Valentine personal time (blog 2). But you’re feeling adventurous and want to plan something BIGGER around this holiday. No problem. I’ve created this list – the final of my Valentine’s blog series - from my own “adventures” as a nature-aholic. All of them except #6 are ones that I’ve personally experienced (and #6 is on my to-do list) so I am happy to share from my own personal experience. There are plenty of other ideas that others will have experienced so this list certainly is not exhaustive for you “‘Go-Big’ers” out there. May it inspire you for whatever you plan!
Big Idea #1: Go on a donkey walk. Yep – I really mean a donkey walk. While they’re not prevalent globally, I can tell you they are around the UK and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Stokewater Meadows. Chris, the owner, is a delightful man who loves his donkeys, and his donkeys are playful, cheeky and fun. Not to mention you get to enjoy that quintessential charming English countryside along the way. There are plenty of options so go googling to find a donkey walk.
Big Idea #2: Go out for a Badger watch. I know – you really think I’m making these up now. Actually, this is another one from my trip to the Devon countryside in the UK. If you go in the fall or winter like I did, just make sure you pack the right number of layers. And yes, you DO see these cute black and white guys romping across the meadow in front of the hide. Just read this great article in The Guardian for some insights.
Big Idea #3: Visit a donkey sanctuary – it’s sure to be one of the most entertaining things your beloved can do. You’ll see the many pictures featured on my products to prove just how entertaining. My favorite is The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, UK for the beautiful trails, beauty, friendliness of the staff, museum and oh so many donkeys!
Big Idea #4: Plan a trip to Costa Rica. (https://www.visitcostarica.com/en) If your Valentine is a nature lover, this is bound to be on their bucket list. From the preserves where one can spot that famous and adorable sloth, to the famous colorful birds (remember the Toucan from the Fruit Loops box?), not to mention the broadest variety of Hummingbirds you’ll probably see anywhere, to the amazing beauty of the countryside, and seeing some of the largest turtles in the world lay eggs under the moonlight, to the tiny hatchlings heading to sea, it’s hard to top Costa Rica for natural diversity.
Big Idea #5: Go visit one of the U.S. National Parks. No matter which park you choose, there is something that nature lovers will love. Grizzlies, elk, moose, bison and mule deer at Yosemite and Grand Tetons, gorgeous red topography in the Utah parks, Mountain goats and edge-of-the-earth beauty in Glacier National Park. As many as I've visited, I still have more on my list to experience!
Big Idea #6: Alaska. Yes it’s a category unto itself. Whether it’s heading to the national park, taking a cruise focused on whales, glaciers, or other themes, or joining the bears to catch their salmon (just kidding – please just watch them from a distance), get researching because there is a LOT to plan! Because it can be overwhelming, you can follow this link to Nature and Wildlife experiences on Trip Advisor for some ideas.
Big Idea #7: Swim (respectfully only) with Spinner dolphins and Giant Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii. Yes, just off Kona, you can have these lovely experiences. Please do your research and always be respectful of these gentle creatures. This company is one that I use because my experience is that they are highly respectful of all of the animals. There are other operators as well so do your research. You should be comfortable snorkeling – don’t learn while you’re doing this experience - you will spend too much time gulping sea water to enjoy yourself and miss the beautiful experience altogether. I've seen it happy so many times. Not to mention your stomach will *not* be happy processing that salt water. Trust me.
Big Idea #8: Swim with an Australia sea lion (ASL). Notice I didn’t say California sea lion (CSL). There’s no swimming with CSL’s in the U.S. and they are a bit unpredictable (not that any wild animal isn’t). I’ve had them leap over my kayak while originally quite some distance away.
There are 1 or 2 places elsewhere that allow it, but I prefer to exercise caution. I worked in marine mammal rehab with CSL’s and I know what they’re capable of. Enjoy watching these beautiful pinnipeds from the shore. If you fancy it, there are operators in Australia who will take you out safely to swim with the ASLs. But as with any wild animal, again always exercise caution. I swam with them in fairly shallow water and found that the one fellow passenger on my boat most comfortable swimming underwater was the most popular one with the ASLs. All of the them were following him - I think they thought they’d found a new playmate. I LOVED watching the underwater fun!
Big Idea #9: Swim with a whale shark. Yes, they *are* the largest shark. However, they’re docile and in fact usually are quite afraid of us. (Picture us humans frightened of a tiny bee and you can appreciate their perspective). They in fact don’t even have teeth to eat fish – they have tiny teeth and instead eat plankton. I found operators in Exmouth, Western Australia who treat them with the greatest respect. Please be sure to find an operator who is highly respectful of these gorgeous big fish.
Big Idea #10: GO BIG. Yep – I do mean big. Whale big. Plan a trip to meet the Baja Gray whales, kayak with the Humpbacks in Maui, or swim with the whales! There are very few places in the world you can do these activities, and only certain times of the year, so plan early and well. Our friend Jeff Pantukhoff of the Whaleman Foundation leads trips to meet the Gray whales in Baja and there are several good tour operators to kayak with Humpbacks in Maui. Here’s a link to our friends at Conscious Breath Adventures where we swim with the Humpbacks (over the U.S. winter), and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters for John Rumney and his lovely family to swim with the Dwarf Minke Whales (over the U.S. summer) out on the Australia Great Barrier Reef. I’ve saved these trips for last because they are truly the most treasured experiences of my life. And I hope to keep returning for many years to come!
While I’ll leave the “experience” gifts to you, you’ll certainly see their inspiration in some of my products and photographs in my Collections and storefronts.
Whatever you do, wherever you go, here’s wishing you and your special someone a wonderful Valentine’s Day….
As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog series, I’m a big fan of the gift of time together. So whether you take one of these ideas or simply use them to inspire your own, the important thing is to just go have fun together! And don’t forget, it’s always lovely to give the gift of a donation to one of the causes that your Valentine supports. The non-profit can always use your support, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
Here are my TOP 10 ideas of the perfect day spent with your nature-, bird-, or animal-loving Valentine. There’s likely so much to explore together in your local area.
Idea #1: Plan a picnic in a local park or at the beach. You can even create a picnic theme – maybe it’s a typical lunch, or perhaps it’s just dessert. Either way, YUM!! (Too cold? Grab some blankets, hot cocoa and picnic in your car in a nice setting!)
Idea #2: Are you near a rocky shoreline? Tidepooling is a fun activity that gives you the benefit of that salt air, and satisfies the need for new experiences – no two tidepools are alike. Explore the creatures you find within...
Idea #3: Fancy a hike? There are typically ample parks around your area. Ground covered in snow? How about bundling up and snowshoeing (rent them if you don't have them already) out amidst nature...
Idea #4: Enjoy being out on the water? How about a guided kayak tour, a sailboat excursion, a whale watch, or even Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP) lessons
Idea #5: Plan a trip to the local Botanical Gardens – explore what’s in bloom, what birds are visiting, and just generally enjoy being together among the beauty
Too cold for outdoor activities where you live? No problem! Here are a few for indoors:
Idea #6: Take a walk through an Arboretum enjoying what's growing inside
Idea #7: Find an IMAX, library, local Audubon Society or related gathering or MeetUp of birdwatchers, nature lovers, and others to enjoy a special program on nature
Idea #8: Visit a museum celebrating some aspect of nature, or rent a movie (Netflix, Redbox, or elsewhere) to explore a nature topic of interest together.
Idea #9: Visit a winery in which you can look out onto gardens even during winter, while snuggling over a nice glass of wine
Idea #10: If all else fails, plan for a drive in nature, complete with snacks for the ride(!), exploring a new location and enjoying the scenery. The important thing is that you’re together doing it. So make the most of this special time -
Other things to notice when planning your activity:
Are there migrating birds, whales, seals, or other animals in your area this time of year? You will see different birds in your area, depending upon the season. Some are there only a short time, others year-round. Are any of the animals changing in some way this time of year?
Now, some of you are bound to be thinking, “I want to go bigger”. Good for you! You’re definitely into planning and if you’re going to plan it by this Valentine’s Day, I would suggest you need to start working on it ASAP. Otherwise, certainly a “promise note” of surprise this Valentine’s Day for a future trip is just as exciting – and allows the two of you to plan it together. See part 3 of my Valentine’s blog for some "big" ideas based on my own personal experiences.
Meanwhile, if you’re sticking closer to home, enjoy planning your day! Relax and unwind in nature together. And enjoy the inspiration from my own nature experiences featured in my Valentine’s cards, products, and photographs for this and many other occasions.
Whatever you do, wherever you go, here’s wishing you and your special someone a wonderful Valentine’s Day…