Every year, millions of animals set out on an epic journey their species has made for millennia, migrating across vast distances in search of water, fairer climes, or the best conditions to give birth. Great migrations are one of the most incredible spectacles in the world—and a number of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World have ringside seats.
Southern right whales are so-named because of their oily blubber and baleen—the mouth feeding-filters once called whalebone that were used in parasols and corsets. Whalers knew them as the “right whales” to catch because of their economic value. Hunting nearly drove them extinct until they became a protected species in the mid 20th century—and still they number only around 7,000. You wouldn’t guess it at Grootbos, where, come June, they flock to Walker Bay to breed and calve. The lodge offers a number of ways to see them: on a whale-watching cruise, on a coastal walk or bike ride, or even by small aircraft.
While the true salmon run doesn’t begin until fall, the streams and rivers around Nimmo Bay are already teeming with them by the end of the summer. With the warm temperatures of the long summer days, it’s a great time to head out on a fly-fishing adventure—or even just to wade in a stream to watch these scarlet-sided fish swim by. You can take a fly-fishing lesson with an expert, spend a day or an afternoon casting for coho or sockeye in a nearby river, or soar in a helicopter to far-flung streams. Note: Nimmo Bay has a catch-and-release fishing policy.
Sweet-natured, snowy white, and perpetually smiling, beluga whales rarely stray from the icy waters of the High Arctic, making it rare to see them in the wild. Every summer, great numbers of them swim to an estuary of the Hudson Bay to breed and calve. For guests at Seal River Heritage Lodge, situated just down the coast from the estuary, this means a chance to see not just one but hundreds of belugas and their babies. Join lodge guides in a pontoon boat, go for a swim (in a dry suit), or—for National Geographic guests only—paddle a kayak among them, observing and communicating with these "canaries of the sea," who can mimic human voices. The belugas are there in July and August; if you visit the lodge in September, you'll catch the caribou migration on an Arctic Safari.
As temperatures drop each October, thousands of elk descend from the higher elevations of the Rockies and drift toward Jackson Hole. The so-called Jackson herd drifts in from every direction—Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the Gros Ventre range—to winter together in the meadows of the National Elk Refuge. The 24,000-acre reserve was established in 1912 as expanding farms and settlements threatened to cut off elk migration routes. Nowadays, it teems with some 6,000-7,000 elk until early April, and National Geographic guests at the Bentwood Inn can witness these creatures close-up on a complimentary winter sleigh ride.