The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

them for food and oil), in­tro­duced rats, pigs and dogs that de­vel­oped a taste for the eggs and hatch­lings, and goats and don­keys that de­stroyed their habi­tat.

Three times a week at the sta­tion, arm­fuls of ele­phant’s ear are de­liv­ered to the tor­toises. They scram­ble to reach their favourite snack, de­fy­ing all pre­con­cep­tions of how fast a gi­ant tor­toise can move. The staff mem­ber bring­ing the green­ery says the tor­toises recog­nise him and know his smell.

My favourite Gala­pa­gos mo­ments, how­ever, are not on land but in the rather bracing wa­ters (wet­suits can be hired, but I’ve brought my own). Not once, but twice, a play­ful sea lion twirls through the wa­ter, com­ing straight at me in a blur of big brown eyes, whiskers and bub­bles.

Sud­denly, I’m no longer an out­sider here. I’m just an­other one of the an­i­mals that call the Gala­pa­gos home.

Ka­t­rina Lob­ley was a guest of Ecuador’s Min­istry of Tourism. All flights to the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands orig­i­nate from main­land Ecuador (flights from Quito go via Guayaquil). Visi­tors pay a $US100 na­tional park en­try fee upon ar­rival. Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tour­ing op­er­ates Santa Cruz II and the yachts La Pinta (48 pas­sen­gers) and Is­abela II (40 pas­sen­gers). More: metropoli­tan­tour­ •

Clock­wise (from far left): a marine iguana on the is­land of Santa Cruz; an Amer­i­can flamingo; a gi­ant Gala­pa­gos tor­toise; guide and nat­u­ral­ist Lola Vil­lacre­ses; a blue-footed booby

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