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Galapagos Islands

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Jason Dundas and the crew made Getaway's first ever visit to the amazing Galapagos Islands and found it is one of those places that lives up to its impressive reputation.

The archipelago spreads across the equator off Ecuador on South America's west coast. This living museum of extraordinary animal life is separated from the mainland by a thousand kilometres of ocean and millions of years of history. There are 19 islands and more than 100 islets making up the World Heritage site.

With no predators, the islands' creatures have evolved to their environment — so much so they inspired Charles Darwin to develop his theory of evolution more than 170 years ago.

Each island has its own personality and the more you see, the more you understand Galapagos is unlike anywhere else on earth. As they're spread over 45,000 square kilometres, the way to go is on a cruise ship.

Jason was fortunate enough to join a Scenic Tours four-day cruise throughout the Galapagos' southern group of islands on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. The Galapagos Legend is 92m long and has 58 cabins. Five-star all the way; the restaurant, bar, spa and comfortable cabins are a welcome contrast to your rugged island adventures of exploring and hiking.

Your guides are a blend of historian and naturalist and have invaluable knowledge about each destination.

The adventure begins on the island of Baltra, also known as South Seymour. Small, flat and arid, vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and palo santo trees. It is a prime nesting ground for seabirds, such as frigates and boobies, and there is a great variety of tame wildlife.

You can carefully walk through their habitat as they are completely blasé about humans. Baltra was a US Air Force base during World War II and evidence of that period can still be seen.

Arriving at Santa Cruz Island in the centre of the archipelago at sunrise was spectacular. Brilliant flamingos made up part of the welcoming party, along with their not-so-colourful cousins, Darwin's finches. They were a breakthrough in his theory as he noticed how their beaks had adapted to sourcing their food supply. Cracking nuts and accessing small seeds ensured their survival.

Santa Cruz, a large dormant volcano, is the second largest island after Isabela and has small villages, where residents raise cattle and work in agriculture. It's believed it last erupted about 1.5 million years ago but two huge holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber remain.

Española is the southernmost and oldest island at about 3.5 million years. Its remote location has fabulous endemic fauna, including the brightly coloured marine iguana, unique to Galapagos and the only ones of the species that change colour during breeding season. The iguana has taught itself to swim, can hold its breath for up to an hour and, if necessary, can dive 15m for food. Now that's evolution!

Steep cliffs provide perfect runways for waved albatross to take off for their ocean feeding grounds near Ecuador and Peru.

Española has two visitor sites. Gardner Bay has a beautiful beach and is a great spot for swimming and snorkelling. Punta Suarez has migrant, resident and endemic wildlife, including the fabulous marine iguana, Española lava lizards, Hood mockingbirds, swallow-tailed gulls, blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca boobies, Galapagos hawks and a vast selection of finches.

Twenty-thousand people live on the Galapagos Islands with Spanish being the principal language. Galápago is an old Spanish word, meaning saddle. The large Galapagos tortoise on some of the islands had a shell that resembled an old Spanish saddle, thus the name. San Cristóbal is home to the capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, a good place to take a break and absorb all that you have seen.

The typical Galapagos tortoise, the most famous resident, weighs in at more than 300kg. With fewer than 10,000 of them remaining, they aren't seen in the wild, but the half-hour trip up the hill to the breeding centre is well worth it. Once almost obliterated as their meat was coveted, they are now protected and numbers are on the rise. There is another breeding centre on Santa Cruz.

Location

The Galapagos Islands, a Pacific Ocean archipelago 972km west of Ecuador.

Cost

Scenic Tours has a 28-day South America tour, including a four-night Galapagos cruise, all the major sights of Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and more. Accommodation, most meals, sightseeing and internal flights are also included. They start at $16,195 per person twin share.

Scenic is offering a buy-one-get-one-free return ticket to South America with LAN Airlines — a saving of up to $3000 a couple. Conditions apply. The tour departs March 16, 2010, from Quito, Ecuador.

Prices correct at June 18, 2009.

For further information

Scenic Tours
Ph: 1300 723 642
www.scenictours.com.au

Visas: Australians must hold a valid passport. No visa is necessary for stays of up to 90 days a year.

Electricity: 110V at 60Hz with United States flat two-point pins.

Time zone: GMT -5.

Currency: The US dollar is the currency of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

Telephone code: +593.

Health advice: It is recommended travellers to Ecuador see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Prior to travel, travellers should be "up to date" with vaccinations for yellow fever, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis B. However, depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions are recommended and are best discussed with your doctor.

User comments
I was there 2 weeks ago on a 10 day trip. The place is totally magical and if you are a nature lover any opportunity to see it should be taken up. You can choose from any number of different sized vessels to go on, or you can do land based trips. From what I could see, Ecuador is doing a brilliant job of managing the tourism. Go and look for yourselves - you wont forget it !
Hi Everyone, so what did you think of the Galapagos Island??? because this is what the show is about!!! the Galapagos Island!!!! not the theory of Evolution!! I don't know why has this become a debate about religion and theories. Please enjoy the beauty that is surrunding us, like the Galapagos Isaland. I was there 4 years ago and this Island truly lives to its reputation of "the enchanted island" it is amazing to be there. i will highly recommend anyone to go and visit the galapagos you will have the time of your life!!!
I agree with andrew, this show is supposed to be a travel show not a bashing of views. just sell the place already and move on.
I was in the Galapagos in Feb and had the time of my life... tho one thing that upset me and that was that some of the boats navigating around the islands were carring up to 100 + passengers. Galapagos should be enjoyed in small groups to experience the best that the islands have to offer and not upset the natural behaviour of the wildlife. I had a modest budget, boat slept 16 pax and with the smaller group we were able to go snorkelling every day and had very intimate moments with the wildlife. this is how Galapagos should be enjoyed not on something that looks like a cruise liner. (Loved your story though)
The Darwin theory (as that is all it is) was filled with hoaxs and even Darwin admitted on his death bed he was wrong. Jesus was real hes in all the history of the times and is metioned throuhout - it would take a lot more faith to believe in the big bang theory and evolution. Mt St Helen proves that it doesnt take millions of years to produce another Grand Canyon
In responce to andrew from warrigal - Get a life. Lets talk about having a belief shoved down your throats. Religion is everywhere you go and being forcfed on innocent australians every day mostly on unsuspecting children in school. So what if Darwinism was mentioned, it probably has more fact and basis than a story of jesus and which has no basis what so ever.
I think youll find that evolution is the only accepted theory for the arrival of humans on earth within the education system of Australia, I attended a catholic secondary school and studied biology there and have been taught nothing but the theory of evolution for human appearance. Just because America had an extremist catholic leader doesnt mean the rest of the world should suffer from stupidity!
I am the one who is offened by the narrow minded comments made by Bible bashers like andrew. Your man made thing you call religion has no physical evidence and a fictious story to boot... The real historical importance of the Galapagos and its real history of Darwins work is totally important to this story. Your small minded brain washed religious views are what is lying to our children not teaching them the importance of themselves and what THEY can do.
I find it offencive and very narrow minded of Getaway to force the views of Darwins theories, I understand that the theories are related to this island but the way this story was presented was not by any means professional Jason Dundas. I thoroughly enjoy your show every week but will not continue to watch it if these forced views continue. In respect to you, you have covered other religions in the past although this was done briefly, but as I am from the christian faith which in todays world sadly caries a stigma, you have not covered the christian faith at all. The indepth way this presenter went to, to force his views was astonishing for me if I did the same I would be classed a bible basher. Shame on you for putting your views on inocent ears of many Australians, Parents who would seriously not like this way of conducting oneself forced on their children. Not happy channel 9 and more importantly Getaway.
The finches are dying out already because of imported parasites. Any human impact is too much! Get away - check your information.

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