Two suitcases full of donations! That’s what Bryan and Jade brought with them when they came to Africa for their month-long honeymoon safari. As members of Pack for a Purpose, we encourage our guests to put some school supplies or clothes in their luggage if they have a bit of extra room. But these two flew business class and maxxed out their luggage allowance after taking up a collection around their workplaces, family and friends. We were able to arrange for them to make some of the donations in person as they travelled through Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya so they could see the positive impact they were making with the mountains of stationary they’d dragged halfway around the world.
Bryan and Jade flew from Melbourne, Australia, to Kigali, Rwanda. There was to be no messing around – they were to start their safari with a bang: gorilla tracking! They spent their first night at the Hotel des Mille-Collines which was made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda. Like much of Kigali, the hotel does not show any scars from its grizzly history and is an up-market city hotel in the heart of Kigali.
Before heading up to the Volcanoes National Park, home to the mountain gorillas, the couple spent the morning in Kigali. They visited the Genocide Memorial, a sombre museum detailing Rwanda’s history of colonialism and how it led to tribal tensions and ultimately the 1994 genocide. Although I’ve personally been to Kigali several times and taken guests to the gates of the memorial, I’ve only been able to go inside once – although it is vitally important for people to be aware of how such an event can happen, it is incredibly sad and not a place I could tackle a second time.
Their first full day in Africa was certainly one of contrasts: from the luxury of Hotel des Mille-Collines, to the torrid history at the Genocide Memorial, and then to Nyamirambo Township for a community walk to witness modern Rwandan life. All this before lunch! They enjoyed a local lunch at the Women’s Centre in the township which supports women living in the slum by selling their handicrafts and giving them employment in cooking for visitors.
Then they drove two hours north of Kigali to the Volcanoes National Park – another contrast to the city they had experienced in the morning. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is located just outside the national park and has spectacular views of the volcanoes. It is a community-run luxury lodge that was established by the Governor’s Collection based in Kenya but with all proceeds supporting the local community.
After that jam-packed first day, you’d think a rest was in order. But no, it was an early start into the park to look for a unique and endangered species. Not the mountain gorilla yet, but the Golden Monkey. Once found, you can spend an hour watching these playful, lively creatures in their natural habitat. You do get a bit of a crick in your neck though as they tend to play in the canopy which also makes getting good photos a challenge.
After the Golden Monkey experience, Bryan and Jade visited the Karisoke Research Centre which was founded by Dr Dian Fossey in 1967. They enjoyed a guided tour where they learnt about the ongoing work of the Centre in protecting the mountain gorillas.
Finally the big day had arrived: day three in Africa was gorilla day. It’s a very early start as you need to be at the ranger station by 7am for orientation. The trek can vary in length and difficulty depending on the location of the gorilla family you are visiting. Once you find them you spend an hour observing these beautiful and endangered creatures. It is one of life’s most magical experiences being in the presence of a gorilla family. The startlingly high price for the permit, the toil of hiking in the mountains through dense bush, the inhuman time the alarm woke you in the morning – all these are forgotten as you sit in the foliage metres away from these incredible beings that are so close to us genetically. You can see the tenderness in the mother’s eyes as she watches her baby learn to swing on the vines, and the massive silverback keeping one watchful eye on his family and an even more watchful eye on the visitors – you know that one sudden move could be your last if he swung his powerful arm at you.
In a daze you head back down the mountain only half-believing what you just experienced. Over (a usually late) lunch you tend to garble stories with your travel companion(s), still in awe of being in the presence of mountain gorillas. After lunch, Bryan and Jade visited a local village to catch a glimpse of rural life before heading back to Kigali.
After that whirlwind three days in Rwanda, they flew to Arusha in Tanzania. They had to fly via Nairobi and at the last minute the schedule changed and they ended up with several hours in Nairobi. I met them at the airport for lunch as Nairobi’s airport isn’t one that you can easily while away several hours. It was nice to meet them in person – Bryan was a friend of a friend and we had met a couple of times many years before but I’d never met Jade. But usually through the process of designing a tailor-made itinerary, I feel like I get to know our guests quite well as emails and phone calls fly back and forth, so it is always lovely to meet in person and put faces to itineraries. They had left one suitcase of clothing donations with our Rwandan partner and gave me another massive suitcase when we met for lunch, obviously not wanting to cart it all over Tanzania. It was full of stationary which we could distribute between Amani Kibera and Kiota Children’s Home. Bryan and Jade had put the call out to friends, family and colleagues that they were going to Africa and had a huge luggage allowance so anyone who wanted to donate items for needy families could give those items to the couple to bring. And donate they did!
Game drives begin
Bryan and Jade’s first stop in Tanzania was Lake Manyara National Park, described as one of the hidden gems of Tanzania. It is famous for tree climbing lions and large herds of elephant, which are not shy to come straight up to the vehicle. They enjoyed an afternoon game drive, their first of many!
The next day they drove to one of the most famous game parks in Africa: the Serengeti. These huge flat plains are home to millions of wildebeest during the migration meaning you are also likely to find lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and many other small predators. Again their afternoon was spent on game drive before enjoying dinner and the experience of sleeping in the middle of the Serengeti at Lemala Ewanjan Camp.
They had another full day in the Serengeti with their guide Grayson finding the best spotting locations. It’s always good to start early for a better chance of finding the big cats before they retreat from the blazing sun during the day. The Serengeti has so much to offer: you can spend time at the hippo pool, watching these majestic animals laze about in the cool water alongside the crocodiles, watch a big pride of lions or be in the middle of the migration. You can journey from the wide open plains to the kopjes, volcanic rocky outcrops that provide protection and shelter for a wide variety of animals. From the top of a kopje, you can look out across the vast grasslands. This diverse and interesting landscape provides the ultimate in game viewing.
After a final morning game drive, they continued to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area where they stayed at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge which sits right on the rim of the crater. The next morning they descended into the Ngorongoro Crater which is a wonderful haven for wildlife. Ngorongoro is unique in that almost all the wildlife lives within the crater walls hence you have the opportunity to find game easily. Rhino, in particular, can be seen regularly as well as prides of lion and other predators like cheetah. After a picnic lunch by the hippo pond, our honeymooners commenced the drive to Lake Eyasi.
Lake Eyasi is home to the hunter-gatherer ethnic group of the Hadzabe Bushmen, who bear similar characteristics to those of Bushmen in Southern Africa. This indigenous tribe is probably the last that lives in true harmony with nature and are well-known for their communication via clicking rather than speech. Bryan and Jade enjoyed hunting with them and experiencing their way of life.
Finally it was time for them to come to Kenya. Francis met them at the Namanga border post and brought them to Nairobi and straight into the Nairobi National Park where they enjoyed a game drive as they found their way to The Emakoko.
Then it was time for their first wedding gift; Matt and Katie had given them an elephant called Maktau! As a foster parent of an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you can visit the elephants in the evening, away from the mass crowds of the morning session, and help put the baby elephants to bed. Bryan and Jade fell in love with several other elephant orphans during their visit and came away with another three fostered babies.
You might think that a luxury lodge in a national park just 6km from a major capital city would be exciting enough, but their second night in Nairobi trumped the first. Almost a year before the trip, Bryan and Jade’s friends got in touch with me about giving the newlyweds a really special gift: a night at the Giraffe Manor! It’s necessary to book a year or more in advance and even though November is a shoulder season, there was still only one night in the window of travel time Bryan and Jade had that had a room available at Giraffe Manor. We had to design the whole itinerary around this one night.
After checking in and lunching with the giraffes (and watching a self-proclaimed Instagram influencer go through a number of outfit changes as he posed with giraffes) I took Bryan and Jade to Kibera slum with their suitcase of donations to give personally to the Amani Kibera community-based organisation. They sat down with Ben, one of the founders, to hear more about the projects Amani Kibera does to promote peace in the slum. Ben was blown away with the pile of stationary and the couple of iPads that Bryan and Jade were donating. The organisation facilitates sponsorship of students who cannot afford school fees and the additional assistance of the stationary would be a great help to those students.
Breakfast at Giraffe Manor has been photographed and featured as a quintessential African experience, so we gave Bryan and Jade a rare late start before heading out of Nairobi and off to Amboseli National Park. Nestled at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is another oft-photographed place with the picture of elephants grazing in the shadow of the mountain another quintessential African moment. On arrival at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, they were greeted with rose petals all over their bed – just in case all the adventure had made them forget this was their honeymoon!
From Amboseli, they skirted around the base of Kilimanjaro, close to the Tanzanian border, to get to Tsavo West National Park. After lunch at the lodge, they got another wedding present: a guided excursion to the Shetani Lava Fields and Caves, which are the results of Mt Kilimanjaro’s last eruption.
Tsavo West is huge and together with Tsavo East National Park, they make up 4% of Kenya’s total land mass. Bryan and Jade had a few days to explore the vast parks and spent three nights in three lodges in three corners of the park. First at Kilaguni Serena Lodge, from where there is easy access to the Shetani Lava Fields and also Mzima Springs where there is an underwater viewing room. Hippos, crocodiles and lots of fish can be observed from this unique vantage point. Second was Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge which is up on stilts and elephants, zebras, and all the other animals wander around the salt lick below. Technically, the salt lick is in a sanctuary adjacent to the national park so it is possible to do a night game drive, which our honeymooning couple of course took up.
The third day was back in the national park in Tsavo East at Satao Camp. Unfortunately their bush breakfast was cancelled due to rain, but that was the least of the problems the rain had caused. Trucks were bogged on the road and Francis had to detour off road around them. Then there were David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service trucks bringing elephants to Tsavo East from the orphanage in Nairobi to start their rehabilitation. But the local elephants were going crazy so they couldn’t release the new elephants from the trailers. One elephant blocked the road so no one could pass – not Kenya Wildlife Service and not our travelers.
At last they reached Watamu and the Medina Palms where the swimming pool extends all the way from the rooms to the beach. Now we can say Bryan and Jade were on their honeymoon: five relaxing nights on a honeymoon package washing the safari dust off in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Bryan is a diver so we selected this part of the Kenyan coast for the Watamu Marine Park famous for dolphins, turtles and plenty of other spectacular marine life.
The only thing left is their five-star Trip Advisor review which we were pretty chuffed with as it described their trip as the “Best Honeymoon Ever”:
Nothing was too difficult and everything planned to the smallest detail. When there was a long stopover, she came to the airport and bought us lunch! All the hotels on the way were told it was our honeymoon and we got upgrades and champas and great service. The organization was spot on but flexible. Shout out to Grayson in Tanzania who was excellent too. Would thoroughly recommend OTA and their partners! Eagle eye spotting of game so we were often the first!