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Archive for national parks

A Place of Spirits

By Linda Tancs

Fewer than 1,000 people visit Canada’s Torngat Mountains National Park each year. It’s the nation’s newest national park, but its freshman status isn’t the reason for the low numbers. Located on northern Labrador’s Atlantic coast between Northern Québec and the Labrador Sea, it’s quite remote. In fact, the park is accessible only by boat, charter plane or helicopter during the summer. This is the land of the Inuit, named for the Inuktitut “Tongait,” or “place of the spirits.” Most visitors stay within the bear-fence-enclosed Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station located outside the park on Saglek Fjord, where Inuit guides lead excursions. Take advantage of that opportunity because there are are no roads, trails or signs in the park. There are, however, unmarked hiking routes and traditional Inuit travel routes. You’ll likely see polar bears, whales and caribou in their pristine natural environment, an untamed wilderness framed by towering peaks and glistening fjords.

To the Heights in Korea

By Linda Tancs

Near Chungju-si (where a martial arts festival takes place each year), Woraksan National Park in South Korea is a hiker’s paradise. The highest peak (at 3,600 feet) is Yeongbong, a steep ascent aided by stairs with railings bolted to boulders. Ma-aebong Peak is just below at 3,150 feet. It’s called a false summit because it’s commonly mistaken as the ultimate peak, but there’s nothing fake about its glorious vistas. While you’re in the park, keep an eye out for the nodding lily, an indigenous species with leaves like pine tree leaves.

The Gorge of Samaria

By Linda Tancs

Open for hiking from May to October, Crete’s Samaria Gorge is the focal point of Samaria National Park in Greece. Although strenuous and rugged, the 10-mile hike offers rewarding mountain views and 16 endemic species, most notably the feral goats (kri-kri, the park’s official icon). You’ll find plenty of like-minded adventurers on a bus from Hania to a region called Xyloskalo, where the trail begins.

The Dunes of Dorob

By Linda Tancs

Sea and sand meet at Sandwich Harbour along the Atlantic coast of Namibia. One of the area’s key attractions are the sand dunes backing the coastline, rising in many cases to over 300 feet. Historically a commercial fishing and trading port, legend has it that the name derives from an English whaler, the Sandwich, that operated in the area in the 1780s. The scenic locale is now part of Dorob National Park, a conservation area running from Walvis Bay to the Ugab River.

Eye of the Sea

By Linda Tancs

The Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia and are the focal point for Tatra National Park, so-named on both sides of the border. One of the most indelible images on the Polish side is Morskie Oko, which means “eye of the sea.” Legend has it that the name harks back to an ancient belief that the lake’s bottom has a hole connecting it to the sea. It may lack a hole, but it doesn’t lack a superb reflection of the surrounding Tatras. You’ll find the lake in the middle of the park in southern Poland near the resort town of Zakopane.

Kalahari Sands

By Linda Tancs

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a national park formed from the merger of South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. It’s a vast wilderness area stretching for over 14,000 square miles in the Kalahari, boasting five sands ranging in color from red in the dunes to yellow-brown in the riverbeds along with fossil river valleys and grasslands. Wildlife is abundant, including over 170 species of birds, several species of antelope, the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, jackal, brown hyena and wild cats. The park is also completely unfenced, allowing for wildlife to move freely along the ancient migration routes so necessary for their survival in the desert. The main entry and departure point between South Africa and Botswana is at the Two Rivers/Twee Rivieren gate, which also has camping facilities, chalets, shops and a restaurant.

Crystal Clear in Malawi

By Linda Tancs

The crystal-clear waters of Lake Malawi are legendary. One of the deepest lakes in the world, its southern expanse is dominated by Lake Malawi National Park, the first freshwater national park to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Scientifically, it’s important for its fish diversity, with 1,000 species half occurring within the property and estimated as the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. It also boasts more than 350 species of mbuna (rockfish) endemic to the region, a population considered of equal value to science as the finches of the Galapagos Islands or the honeycreepers of Hawaii. Boats are available for hire, and the fish will feed from the hand.

Japan’s Bathing Beauties

By Linda Tancs

Buried in snow almost one third of the year, Japan’s Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano is home to Japanese macaques, popularly known as snow monkeys. The northernmost living nonhuman primate, they descend from the forest to bathe in naturally occurring hot springs, a pleasant respite from a cold day. Part of Jōshin’etsu-kōgen National Park, the monkey park is reportedly the only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs. The park is not a zoo; the monkeys are wild and come and go as they please, enticed by feedings by professional staff. Keep a respectful distance when taking photos, or else you may go home with one less piece of equipment.

West of Key West

By Linda Tancs

Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is accessible only by a daily ferry, private boats, charter boats or seaplane. It’s worth the effort, considering that one of the nation’s largest 19th- century forts (Fort Jefferson) is there. This 100-square-mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. With so little dry ground, it’s best to see it by swimming, snorkeling or diving. Your reward will be corals and seagrass communities among the most vibrant in the Florida Keys.

Small But Mighty in New Zealand

By Linda Tancs

Abel Tasman National Park is a wilderness reserve at the north end of New Zealand’s South Island. Despite its small size, it’s the country’s most popular national park, making the case that good things come in small packages. It’s known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a 33-mile trail between the seaside village of Marahau and Wainui. Along the way you’ll experience golden sand beaches and a 154-foot-long suspension bridge over Falls River as well as plenty of lookouts and rocky headlands. Don’t miss a side trip to Cleopatra’s Pool, a natural rock pool with a moss-lined waterslide. It’s best to take the trek in stages; there are four huts and 18 campsites along the track, which must be booked in advance all year round.

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To limit the spread of COVID-19, attractions may be closed or have partial closures. Please keep those affected by the virus in your thoughts and be sure to follow the safety practices advocated by the Centers for Disease Control. Stay safe, and be well.

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