Planet Earth 2, in concert at the Royal Albert Hall

Everyone loves Planet Earth 2 right? No one can forget the incredible images of the baby iguanas in the Galapagos emerging from their burrows and being locked in a deadly chase with racing snakes across the sand to the safety of the rocks. How could this show be enhanced?

Well, one way is to go and see a screening of the best bits of the series, with live music from the show being performed by the BBC concert orchestra, who performed the score for the TV series.

Can it get better than that?

Well yes. Add in introductions to each sequence from Mike Gunton,  executive producer and creative director of the BBC’s multi-award-winning Natural History Unit; then have Hans Zimmer Oscar award-winning film composer and creator of Planet Earth 2’s main theme come on stage and introduce Jacob Shea (composer of the original music for each episode) who then conducted the “opening number”.

All of this in the regal surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.



Gibraltar – the Rock and monkeys

A 3.30 am start is early by anyone’s standards, but I think the opportunity of seeing Europe’s only wild monkeys makes it worth the effort.

We flew out of Gatwick, jetting off to Gibraltar International, with a runway that bisects the main road in and out of Spain.

Gibraltar is tiny and the rock dominates the peninsula. After checking in at the stuck-in-time Bristol Hotel, we headed straight to the cable car for the trip up to the top of the rock. By the way, it’s well worth booking your tickets online to beat the queue for tickets.

We had a quick lunch at the Mons Calpe Suite at the top of the rock. It has amazing views, but the service was slow and they seemed to run out of a lot of stuff even though it was only 1pm.

After lunch we started our walk around the top and immediately came across some monkeys or barbary macaques as they are properly known. They have no fear of people, will gladly get close to you and even steal the food out of your hands if you’re not careful (especially ice cream if today is anything to go by).

As we came to the Skywalk, a steel and glass walkway that overhangs the rock, we saw group tours blocking the roadways and the guides were encouraging monkeys to climb on their backs and arms so their groups could get good photos. We didn’t really like this and also the fact that many tourists didn’t really respect the monkeys (let alone other people looking at the apes). As you walk around the rock (and there is a lot of walking, with a lot of up and down) you will come across the macaques and have opportunities for photos. They are fascinating creatures and really do seem very human-like at times.

There are many places to visit on the rock which are included in the price of your cable car ticket, including St. Michael’s Cave (impressive, but doesn’t need the flashing lights and dance music), Apes Den (disappointing), the suspension bridge (good views and great photo op), the Siege Tunnels (educational and interesting, Heather thought so too) and the Moorish Castle (also interesting with nice views). The WW2 tunnels could also be good, but are an added extra and had closed (@17.00) by the time we got there.

In the evening we headed out to the Queensway Quay which has a number of restaurants alongside the marina. We settled on The Landings and had a nice sunset meal looking out over the boats. They have a fish and chips ‘deluxe’ where the cod is replaced by battered scallops and linguistine in full pastry.

Unfortunately, on this night we learned that our whale watching trips booked for the following day in Tarifa had been cancelled due to strong winds. What are we going to do, this was whole reason for this trip?

Gibraltar (unplanned day 2) – Whales 0 – Striped Dolphins 10

So, first apologies for the delay in posting, its been pretty busy and I haven’t been keeping up!

So, in the last post, we weren’t sure whether we were going on any whale-watching trips today, as the wind was too high (15-17 mph). We rang round all the companies in Tarifa and, sadly, all trips had been cancelled. We hastily put plan B into action, calling up a couple of companies in Gibraltar to see if they had dolphin watching trips on which, as they mostly stayed in the bay, would be sheltered from the wind. Luckily, trips were running and they had space for 2 more people!

We managed to book on two trips, one trip in the morning,  followed by another at lunch time.  The first, at 10.00 was with Dolphin Adventure, who run two boats in the Ocean Village marina. There office is right there too. The trip ran for about an hour and a quarter and after heading out through the marina, ran through the bay and just out into the straight of Gibraltar.  We did manage to see a few striped dolphins on the trip, which was a relief as we weren’t sure if we were going to see anything at all that day. The company seems to cater mainly for the tourists coming off the cruise ships that stopped at the Rock and as such, they were pretty efficient at getting everyone on and off, but it also meant it did feel kind of commercial and you share the boat with about 30 other people.

The second trip we booked was with Dolphin Safari, who are also based in Ocean Village and have an office there too. The boat did leave about half an hour late, but this can sometimes be the case depending on what the boat did/didn’t see on the previous trip. The boat is smaller and we only have 9 people aboard, which makes for more intimate viewing. The staff in the office were really friendly and also helpful on the phone when we were desperately trying to find something to do that day.

We headed out and across the bay (different route to Dolphin Adventure) towards Algeciras on the Spanish side of the bay. After about 40 minutes of cruising without any sightings, we turned out towards the Straight of Gibraltar and rougher waters. Just as we thought it was probably time to turn back, we started to see striped dolphins. Soon we saw probably 20 or so in different groups, many of them leaping out of the water and getting the “classic” dolphin encounter of them jumping in the bow wave as we motored along. This was really good viewing and although it didn’t quite make up for the cancelled whale trips, it did mean we saw something great that day.

We picked up our hire car and made the 1 hour journey to Tarifa and just as we were about to descend the hill down into town, we spotted some Griffon Vultures riding the thermals and pulled over to observe them for a few minutes.

Griffon Vulture, Tarifa Spain

Wildlife watching is a game of patience, you can spend hours and see nothing at all and, often you may have to wait until the last minute until you finally see something that will make it all worthwhile. It’s important to just the experience being out in the open enjoying nature and if you’re luck, you might be rewarded.