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5 Reasons Africa Is A Great Family Travel Destination

By Monisha Iswaran

Are you one of those families simply filled with wanderlust, always ready to jump on a plane with your kids and jet off to some new and exciting part of the world? Well then Africa should most definitely be the next place to check off your list! Some people don’t realise why Africa is a great place to travel as a family – so here are 5 reasons you should head there with your children!

1) Kids Will Love Going On Safari

It’s rare to find a child that isn’t excited about animals – especially getting to see them up close and personal in the wild! South Africa has a lot to offer, and you can go on a safe, yet adventurous family safari trip! Your kids will get a kick out of seeing the lions, zebras and if you are there at the right time of year, migration – and so will you!

2) Cape Town Is One Of The World’s ‘Best Cities’

People have praised Cape Town for being one of the world’s best cities to visit – and it has become a true tourist hub (this is just one of the many fabulous places you can visit during your Africa trip)! It is one of those cities that has has a little bit of everything – the beautiful mountain ranges, gorgeous beaches, shimmering sea and greenery. You’re going to want to spend heaps of time outside so pack a stroller if you have little ones, and be prepared for scenic strolls in the great outdoors!

3) July Is The Perfect Time To Go (School Holidays!)

No matter where you are in the world, most schools tend to have a break during July for school holidays – whether it’s winter (Australia), or summer (America). This is in fact an awesome time of year to head to Africa! For example, if you decide to take a Namibian tour during these months, you’ll experience the drier, cool seasons – which makes for great daytime temperatures (no unbearable heat). This can also make for some of the best times to view animals as they tend to be more active in cooler temperatures.

4) There Are Fantastic Beaches

Kids love frolicking on beaches, splashing in the water and making sandcastles. Although you won’t be having an entirely beachy holiday, it can be a nice way to break up the trip, and you can visit different beaches between sightseeing destinations. For example in Tanzania, take a trip to Mafia Island, which has beach sections that are great for snorkelling. Alternatively, head to Pangani, for quiet coves and relaxing family times. Your little ones will be such beach fanatics when you get back, you’ll have to buy a sandpit to keep them happy!

5) Expose Your Children To A Completely New Culture

If you have the means to travel, you are able to expose your children to a completely new culture – which is a true privilege! Chances are the various traditions and cultural practices throughout Africa (from the tribal communities to the city areas) are far removed from your own.

Therefore, take this amazing opportunity to expose your kids to a completely different setting, and expand their horizons, particularly if they are slightly older and able to appreciate culture! This will result in more accepting, mature individuals.

Maasai Mara with the Girls

Maasai Mara with the Girls

After three of my girlfriends asked me separately if we had any trips going to Maasai Mara they could join, it only made sense to make a group trip for all of them.  What fun – a girly weekend safari!  And miracle of miracles, we found a weekend that everyone was free!

Marion flew in from Kigali for the safari, the rest of us are expats in Nairobi.  Michelle took an extra day off work for a truly decadent holiday and flew to the Maasai Mara on Thursday while the rest of us slummed it on the road on Friday.  Unfortunately that road doesn’t improve, but an emergency chocolate biscuit stop in Narok saw us through to Sekanani Gate.

It’s been several months since I did a game drive in Maasai Mara and I always get the feeling that Francis only sees the good stuff when I’m not with him.  But the afternoon game drive around to our camp was incredible!  We saw a cheetah, elephants, giraffes, and two lion couples on a double date.  Of course there were also topis, impalas and gazelles galore.

On Saturday morning we headed out with picnic breakfast for an early morning game drive.  One highlight was a couple of lionesses prowling through the bushes with their eyes on a herd of wildebeest.  But we probably spent more time watching a group of young hyenas playing in a river with a stick.  Just like domestic puppies, they gambolled in and out of the water fighting for the all-important branch.

We headed up to the airstrip at Keekorok for breakfast and on our way spotted a group of four Ground Hornbills.  Michelle had told us that she had an all female crew on her flight to Maasai Mara and just as we were expressing our delight at this leap forward for Kenya, a flight landed which again had two female pilots, different to Thursday’s crew, indicating Air Kenya’s great support for females in a male-dominated industry.  Way to go Air Kenya!

We returned to the camp for lunch by the river and a short period to relax before heading out again for the afternoon.  Zebras bathing in a dust bowl and Celia’s quest for the perfect baby zebra photo marked this game drive.  As did the rain!  But first we spotted a cheetah munching on a recently-hunted gazelle and then a very large group of ostriches.  We could see the rain ahead of us and realised we were heading straight for it, but there was no avoiding that – the camp was there!  And down it came.  Marion relished the fresh air, the strong wind and the first drops for as long as possible, but eventually was driven down and the roof closed.  Living in a city like Nairobi really makes a person appreciate the fresh air of the bush and we were all left revitalised after this weekend away.

On Sunday we had to head back however.  Marion and Celia again drove with us, while Michelle took an afternoon flight.  Not surprisingly, we didn’t see Michelle in the morning before we left.  As we drove over the bridge into the park we saw just how much rain had fallen the day before.  The almost-dry river had become a raging torrent.  If there had been much more rain, the bridge could have been washed away!  We had a final game drive before exiting the park and commencing the long drive back to Nairobi.  Meanwhile Michelle relaxed for the morning, had a late breakfast, and then got to enjoy a cocktail at one of the very fancy camps from where she was taking her plane back home.  We arrived home at the same time, but I don’t think I need to say whose travelling day I would prefer next time!

Tracking family history on safari in Kenya

How does the idea of “Safari-oke” strike you? It’s a brilliant concept coined by Simon and Peter in the last days of their safari as we rocked out to power ballads all the way up the Rift Valley escarpment.  Simon’s family heritage lay in Kenya and the two had come to retrace the steps of his grandparents’ life here… and to sing with us of course!  From the wilds of Taveta to the coast, through Lumo, Tsavo, Amboseli, Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Maasai Mara, finally finishing in Nairobi, we travelled together for two glorious weeks.

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We met at the tiny border town of Taveta at the Challa Hotel.  I approached two foreign guys and asked if they were Simon and Peter, thinking it was a safe bet they were.  “No” they replied.  Gosh how embarrassing AND what are the odds there are four foreign guys in this hotel bar?!  As I dejectedly walked away, they called me back saying they were actually Simon and Peter.  They thought they had injected plenty of irony in their tone, but it seems I’m out of practice!

The next morning, we headed to Mombasa.  As we drove through the city, we made a stop at the Mombasa Railway Station, as Simon’s mother had mentioned it when recounting memories of her life in Kenya.  It’s very difficult to imagine that it is still in use (it is!) as almost nothing seems to have changed in the 53 years since the British left.  We stayed at Stilts in Diani where we fed the resident bushbabies in the evening.  After six years in Africa, this was my first bushbaby sighting so I was excited.  Until I realised they are pretty much the same as possums in Australia.

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Simon and Peter took a half day trip to Kaya Kinondo, a sacred forest used by the local community for various rituals and rites.  In the afternoon we went into Mombasa city to Fort Jesus, crossing two World Heritage sites off in one day.  That evening we stayed at Tulia House in Nyali.  We went out for dinner to a restaurant Francis and I had discovered on our last visit and there discovered a huge number of bushbabies crawling all over the road and nearby trees!

Our final site in Mombasa was Jumba la Mtwana, an old Arab trading port used in the fifteenth century.  It sits right on the beach and the ruins are brought to life by informative guides.

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Lumo Sanctuary was the next destination.  We stayed at Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge, a spectacular-looking lodge on stilts.  With a water hole right next to the lodge, elephants are a common sight as you check in at reception; not this time though.  We dumped our luggage and headed straight out for a game drive with the goal of getting to Lion’s Bluff for a sundowner.  Sundowners are a quintessential part of a safari (simply having a drink as you watch the sun go down) and Lion’s Bluff has the best views for it.  As we look across the savannah from the balcony bar we see Mt Kilimanjaro and the sun setting behind it.  And then more bushbabies!

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During our game drive the next day, Lilac-breasted Rollers seemed to be our mascot, we saw so many.  We also saw a couple of Black-bellied Bustards but had to hurry along.  On the other side of the van, a baboon was making a move to get in through the roof.  He could smell the fruit in our lunch boxes!  The other birding highlight for the morning was a hornbill.  To cap off the morning though, we were treated with a rare spotting of a klipspringer on the rocks.

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In the afternoon we crossed the road into Tsavo West National Park.  The legend of the Man-eating Lions of Tsavo had captured our guests’ imaginations and so we headed through the park to the lions’ cave.  Together, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Park make up 4% of Kenya’s total area, and it was a very long drive to the cave, albeit through some pretty awesome scenery.  After the lions’ cave we went to the Rhino Sanctuary which is only open in the later afternoons.  We saw a lot of giraffes and zebras, but no rhinos.  The numbers of giraffes were incredible though!  At dusk we headed to Kilaguni Serena Lodge with a fantastic bar and restaurant that opened out to a water hole.  At last we saw elephants!

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In the morning we went to Mzima Springs, complete with lush vegetation after the arid landscapes of the previous day.  We were amused by one information sign about one palm whose “dates make a passable wine, but otherwise unpalatable”.  There’s an underwater viewing chamber there as well where you can see fish and probably hippos if they move up that end of the river.  The best we got was a German man telling me (in German) how to use my camera (i.e. put it on auto was his advice!).  Downstream was the main hippo pool with plenty of hippos grunting and smelling.  We spent quite a while watching monkeys playing in the trees above the river holding our collective breath wondering if they would fall in the water.  There was a crocodile parked very close to the viewing platform, letting the water rush over him and disguising himself quite well.  We had to join a security convoy to take the back roads to Amboseli so we headed to the gate.  The drive took us through lava fields from the last time Mt Kilimanjaro erupted.  We also saw elands, hyrax and vervet monkeys on our way.

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We got to Amboseli in good time and checked into Kibo Safari Camp.  An afternoon game drive resulted in sightings of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, elephant, hippo, gazelle, baboon, ostrich, secretary bird, eagle, blacksmith plover, crowned crane, and weavers.  Most surprising though were the flamingos!  One doesn’t usually go to Amboseli for flamingos, and indeed it was Francis’ first time to see them there.  But Lake Amboseli can turn up all sorts of surprises.

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In the morning we set out early and were blessed with the picture of elephants in front of Mt Kilimanjaro.  Simon and Peter had spent a few months living in Kilimanjaro’s shadow in Moshi, Tanzania and we had been skirting the base of the mountain the past couple of days.  But now it was time to say goodbye to the mountain as we left Amboseli and headed to Nairobi.

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We arrived at The Stanley Hotel, one of Nairobi’s original hotels located in the centre of the CBD.  Disappointingly, the staff were not very polite and insisted on sighting the guests’ passports before doing anything about checking them in.  There was also a great rush from the doormen for the guests to get their luggage out of the van and for Francis to move the van, despite half a dozen other vehicle parked there!  It was a surprising way to treat guests in a five-star hotel.  But there was no time to dwell as Simon had a long list of places to see that his mum had talked about.  Augustine from MCF PaNairobi took them on a walking tour of the city centre showing them the main sights of Nairobi and helping Simon identify some of his mum’s landmarks, including his grandmother’s shop on Moi Avenue.

We went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage to see the baby elephants that have been rescued after their mothers have been poached or died of other causes.  And then, after lunch, Simon and Peter when to the Karen Blixen Museum, made famous by the movie “Out of Africa”.

Simon and Peter wanted to spend a night at Giraffe Manor despite our warnings that it is probably the most expensive accommodation in Nairobi.  But it was definitely the highlight of their trip by a long shot!  When we arrived in the morning to pick them up, Simon was feeding a giraffe in the breakfast room and his whole face was lit up with excitement.  Earlier in the morning, they had been brought coffee to their room and as they sat on their first floor balcony, a giraffe wandered up to them looking for his own breakfast.  And although they had gone downstairs to eat some breakfast themselves, they didn’t get a chance because it was much cooler to give the giraffes their breakfast instead.  It was clear they didn’t want to leave this haven.

But to Nakuru the itinerary dictated we must go.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park at the Out of Africa lookout where you get sweeping views of Lake Nakuru.  We descended to Makalia Falls and continued with the afternoon game drive which showed up zebras, a woolly-necked stork, a tawny eagle and a dead buffalo.  Then, on the other side of the lake, rhinos were grazing very close to the road which was super exciting.  And as we were just about to leave the park, we spotted several lions in a tree.  As we approached the exit, we took a quick detour to the old gate, which flooded a couple of years ago.  It has been completely taken over by baboons, almost Planet of the Apes style.  We spent the night at Kembu Cottages.

Next stop was Lake Naivasha and we went straight to Hell’s Gate National Park where we met local guide John for a cycling safari.  In the afternoon we took a boat to Elsamere, home of Joy and George Adamson of “Born Free” fame.  We had a terrifying boat ride – not for any justifiable reason, just that I’m terrified of hippos.  But the boatmen have keen eyes and there’s not much to worry about in truth.  Elsamere unfortunately, was disappointing.  The afternoon tea used to be amazing, but on this day, the 3pm tea didn’t appear until close to 4.30 and the video documentary of Joy Adamson has deteriorated (perhaps time to digitize it?!).  But we were treated to a show by the Black and White Colobus Monkeys who suddenly all decided they needed to be on the other side of the lawn and leapt through the trees overhead to get there.  We had dinner at the cosy restaurant at Fisherman’s Camp but spent the night at Camp Carnelleys.

Before the grand finale of the Maasai Mara, we met John again in the morning for a walking safari at Wileli Conservancy – a final leg stretch before big cats restricted us to the vehicle.  At the Maasai Mara, we stayed at Aruba Camp enjoying an afternoon game drive on the way there.  We were there for two nights and so Simon and Peter got a full day to explore the park thoroughly.  They saw a cheetah with her cub teaching him how to hunt.  And an incredible amount of topis!  They had taken over the Mara!  You don’t notice all the different moods and personalities until you are surrounded and indeed we did spot one topi who we nick-named Marvin the Paranoid Topi (hat tip to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).  We also saw zebras, gazelles, hyenas, jackals, a Kori bustard, ostrich and lions.  But I think my highlight was Simon and Peter donning matching shirts, that also matched Francis’ shirt!  Go Team Safari!

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To wrap up the safari, Simon and Peter had two nights at the Norfolk Hotel, another of Nairobi’s original hotels.  Despite the mess at check in at The Stanley, according to Simon and Peter The Stanley was better than the Norfolk (for those of you considering which one to stay at).  They spent their last day in Kenya visiting various sights significant to Simon’s family.  His mother had attended Loreto School but he couldn’t take photos as the Israeli embassy was right next door.  His mother lived in Woodley Estate, but there are such big fences you can’t see anything now.  His mother attended St Austin’s church but it was closed.  At the Ngong War Cemetary finally some success: he found his great uncle’s grave.  After visiting Amani Kibera, a community-based organisation working toward peace in Nairobi’s largest slum, we continued to City Park.  When Simon’s grandparents were courting they spent many dates walking in the park, but nowadays it’s not so nice.  His grandparents married in St Francis Xavier Church in Parklands and Simon and Peter humourously attempted to recreate the wedding photo on the church steps.

It was too much fun!  Was it really only 13 days?  Our only regret is that we didn’t get a chance to catch up a few months later when we were visiting Australia.  So Simon and Peter will just have to return to Kenya again someday to continue our Safari-oke dream!

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Simon described his safari as “One of the highlights of my life!” and continues:

Tracey and Frances are an amazing team. During the planning phase for our 13 day Kenyan safari extravaganza, Tracey was responsive and flexible, coping very well with my many requests and changes – and the fact that we were happy to stay in backpackers’ in some places yet wanted to stay in some of the best hotels in Nairobi. During the trip, she and Frances worked tirelessly to ensure that we had an incredible experience, saw the best sights, got the best treatment at our accommodation and didn’t miss anything we wanted to see.

For instance, my partner and I had been volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania, so we met Tracey and Frances at the border town, Taveta, a 12 hour drive from their home base in Nairobi. My grandparents had been living in Taveta when my mother was born and our safari was as much dedicated to following in their footsteps as to seeing the many wonders of Kenya.

From Mombasa to Tsavo West to Amboseli to Nairobi to Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha to Masai Mara and back to Nairobi, the absolute highlights (of my life, not just the trip) included:
– a night at Giraffe Manor, possibly the greatest hotel on Earth
– hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara at sunrise
– the abundance of wildlife at Amboseli with Mt Kilimanjaro forming a dramatic backdrop

I cannot wait to get back to Kenya and I highly recommend OTA to anyone heading there!

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4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

You don’t need to be scared to go on safari.  When CNN described Kenya last year as “a hotbed of terrorism” it called attention to some crazy myths that must be prevailing to prevent travellers coming to Kenya.  I want to address some of these myths to help put your mind at ease and feel confident to experience that bucket list safari you’ve always wanted.  This won’t be a marketing spiel; I live in Kenya so I know the good, the bad and the ugly and will share all of it with you.

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Myth 1: Kenya is full of terrorists

CNN’s description of Kenya was outlandish to say the least.  Kenya suffered several terrorism incidents throughout 2013 and 2014, the most notable of which was the attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre.  Most of the activities were much smaller scale however – grenades thrown into bus stations, churches and nightclubs.  In April 2015 the Garissa University was attacked and since then Kenya has not had another attack (time of writing is August 2016, I hope I don’t jinx it!).  Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group from Somalia, are reported to be the key offenders.

Unfortunately today, terrorism occurs everywhere and anywhere.  In the last year we have seen attacks in Paris, Sydney, Brussels and Istanbul.  But travellers still flock to these places.

Fifty million people survive every day in Kenya, so your chances are pretty good that you will come out alive.  Like saying “all Muslims are terrorists”, Kenyans want peace as much as the next person.  Moreover, the parts of Kenya you, as a traveller, would be frequenting are not terrorist targets – there have been no attacks on any national parks or game reserves to date.   There is a terrorist risk near the Somali border and in parts of Nairobi.

The current travel advisory from the Australian government is that only some areas are dangerous, not the whole country.  And the dangerous areas don’t have much of interest to the average safari-goer.

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Myth 2:  Nairobi is “Nai-robbery”

A decade ago carjackings, armed robbery, and muggings were relatively common in Nairobi, earning the city the nickname “Nai-robbery”.  But one mayor did a lot of work with the street boys and nowadays Nairobi is just as safe (or risky) as any other big city in the world.  Expatarrivals.com says that crime in Nairobi is “opportunistic, unsophisticated, comparable to other world capitals.”  The crime rate has decreased each year since 2012 according to Standard Digital.

I have lived in Nairobi for five years now and I have never been physically attacked.  One evening, my phone was snatched – but who walks in the city centre in the evening alone talking on their phone; it was totally my fault.  However, everyone who saw the thief chased him and I got my phone back!  Nairobians themselves are tired of crime in their city, especially towards foreigners because they don’t want travellers to have a bad experience of Kenya.

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Myth 3: Corruption is rife and foreigners are targeted because they are thought to have more money

I cannot say that corruption is not rife.  It is, but as a tourist you are unlikely to encounter it.  If you book a full package safari, there will be little opportunity for police or any other official to ask you for a bribe.  Tourists are rarely targeted.  Foreigners are not an easy target because we tend to ask too many questions and don’t always understand what’s really happening.  It’s not in our habit to slip some money in the door handle for the traffic policeman for example.  Expatriates who participate in corruption means crime continues unpunished and Kenya’s development remains stymied.  The phrase “When in Rome…” should not apply to bribery and corruption.

President Kenyatta says the right things about cleaning up Kenya’s corruption, but it’s going to take a huge shift.  However it’s certainly not a reason to avoid a Kenyan safari!

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Myth 4: Tour operators are dishonest and you will lose your money if you pay in advance.

Yes, there are some briefcase businesses, but in this age of the internet you can certainly do you own due diligence and avoid being scammed.  There are plenty of review sites online and many allow you to contact reviewers directly to ask about their experience.  Use Trip Advisor, do your research, check the prices.

The tourism industry has suffered greatly the past four years (due to the myths I’m writing about here!) and tour operators are getting increasingly desperate just to make a sale.  But if park fees are included in your package, check that the total price can cover those fees.  For example, it is $80 for a 24-hour ticket to the Maasai Mara.  So if you are booking a two-night safari to Maasai Mara for $200, you can do some simple maths and calculate that $160 is for park fees, leaving only $40 for transport, accommodation and food.  Park fees are public information so you can do some rough calculations.  If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!  Either your operator is paying bribes at the park gate, or your vehicle hasn’t been maintained, or your food will be substandard.  Or you could get the trifecta!  Please, it does not help Kenya’s fight against corruption to encourage your tour operator to pay bribes at the gate so you can get into the park cheaply.

The Kenyan Association of Tour Operators and the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism are also working hard to introduce measures to curb cheats.

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Sensational media is destroying Kenya’s main industry and the economy is suffering as a result.  So if an African safari is on your bucket list, look beyond the headlines and see Kenya for the amazing country it really is.

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

The Maasai Mara and Serengeti form a cross-border eco-system that supports millions of animals and is the scene for the Great Wildebeest Migration.  In January, OTA is leading a tour to these parks as well as Lake Naivasha, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, giving guests the opportunity to experience a variety of landscapes throughout their safari.

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Spectacular wildlife in Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater is the biggest draw-card of this safari, but the stunning birding in Lakes Naivasha and Natron is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through several different environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Maasai village.  Travelling in a comfortable safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring and accompanied by an experienced driver-guide, on this trip you will stay in three-star tented camps and lodges.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Lake Naivasha is the biggest of the Rift Valley lakes and Lake Natron has an alga that makes it look red; both are home to millions of flamingos.  Maasai Mara is famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration that arrives in July and returns to Serengeti in November – that’s where you’ll see the herds on this trip.  Ngorongoro Crater is the caldera of an extinct volcano and local people believe it is the Garden of Eden, especially as nearby Oldepai Gorge is where some of the earliest human remains have been found.”

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OTA’s 13-day Wildlife Wonder Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$3460 per person inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, and an English-speaking driver-guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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Why East Africa Is the Perfect Family Destination

Why East Africa Is the Perfect Family Destination

School holidays roll around four times a year and each time you want to keep your kids entertained and once in a while treat them to something really special.  Well here today, I’m presenting the ultimate school holiday treat for the whole family!  Often, family travel focuses on a destination suitable for children but can be a bit of a drag for the parents.  East Africa is NOT such a destination – it offers plenty for everyone from your primary-school-aged son to his grandmother.

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East Africa has so many activities for all ages.  Many people just think of a typical safari, looking at animals from a safari vehicle.  When parents are considering a holiday for their young children, spending days in a car does not sound attractive.  But there’s so much more!  At Lake Naivasha you can go cycling in Hells Gate National Park.  In the Maasai Mara and Serengeti you can go in a hot air balloon.  Many lodges have swimming pools to break up a big day of game drives.  You can head up to a beautiful viewpoint for a sundowner in most places you might be in the region.  Walking safaris are available in Central Kenya, Lake Naivasha and Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.  Or perhaps a boat ride at Lake Baringo, Lake Victoria, Lake Kivu (in Rwanda), or on the Nile River in Uganda.  At the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda, the teenagers can go white-water rafting downstream while the elders relax on a lunch cruise upriver!

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I mentioned earlier that parents tend to worry about their young kids spending full days in a car.  What if they get bored?  What if they need a toilet?  Oh it could just be a disaster.  Wrong!  There are ways to make game drives fun and entertaining with games or a scavenger hunt or get them to fill out a field guide if they are a bit older.  That will keep them engaged and interested in finding the next animal.  You could have prizes for the most obscure find for the day.  And anyway, the animals you are seeing are lions and elephants and giraffes!  One family took their two children aged 3 and 5 on a safari and they had prepared their guide that they may have to cut things short if the kids became ratty.  But it never happened.  The children were thrilled with seeing the animals and lasted the whole day!

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Meeting local people and learning how they live is a fantastic experience for all generations.  But in East Africa there is a lot of issues and life is really different to what we are used to in the West.  We have witnessed profound impact on teenagers especially when they have interacted with kids their own age living in the slums or in a Maasai village.  Visiting community-based organisations and seeing their projects can inspire young people to start thinking how they can make a difference in this world.  We have had family groups visit schools and donate books.  Other families have visited traditional villages and it’s so fun to see the children playing together despite a language barrier.

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So if you are starting to think that it might be OK for finding things to do, but now you start thinking about the logistics.  Where will you stay?  How will you travel?  Again, East Africa has you covered.  Many accommodation places have family rooms.  We also understand that travelling with a family can be expensive, so if you are travelling on a budget then consider a camping trip.  It is really exciting camping in the national parks listening to the sounds of the bush around you at night!  As for transport, there are a range of vehicle sizes, depending on how many you are.  A typical safari van or Land Cruiser seats 6-7 passengers but if you are looking to bring the extended family for a multi-generational trip, you might hire an overland truck.

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The biggest concern for families considering coming to East Africa is safety and security.  When you book through a reputable tour operator, you will be fully escorted the whole time by knowledgeable local guides.  By booking a full safari package and paying up front for everything, you do not have to carry so much cash on you.  And remember the national parks have never really been a target for terrorists or criminals – big cities are much more lucrative for them.  On a safari you will be spending most of your time in national parks and minimal time in cities so your risk of encountering these bad guys is reduced.

So what are you waiting for?  It’s time to build amazing memories together.  You might use it to celebrate a special occasion – for example we had a family group reunite in Kenya to celebrate the grandfather’s 70th birthday. Regardless, a family holiday to East Africa is a bucket list event no one will ever forget.

A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

The message came the evening before that their flight was delayed by seven hours.  Initially I felt relief at not having to be at the airport at 5am.  But as I considered the impact to the whole itinerary, 5am became a much better proposition.  However, there wasn’t much to do but succumb to the whim of the airlines and so at lunchtime on 31 August 2016, I met 16 photographers from Hong Kong at Nairobi’s International Airport.

Breakfast booked at Safari Park Hotel turned into lunch, which turned into lunch boxes scoffed the car by the time the group bought sim cards, we found our vehicles in the mess of a carpark currently at JKIA, and then we delayed another hour by two trucks who decided to collide head on in the middle of the bypass.  That day, bypassing Nairobi was not quicker!

We arrived at Ol Pejeta finally after dark – not an ideal situation to say the least.  We checked into our tents at Sweet Waters Serena Camp and enjoyed the spectacle of several black rhino at the water hole just outside the dining room as we ate dinner.  OK, now the safari has started.

The next morning the group went out early for a game drive.  No sooner out of the gate then they saw a couple of lions.  This was the theme of the whole trip – this group had a good luck charm for animals (not for vehicles, but that’s another story!).  After breakfast, we stopped at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary before departing Ol Pejeta for Lake Bogoria.

The road to Lake Bogoria was quite a bit longer than we had remembered, or perhaps it became longer the more I wished we were there already!  A couple of the vehicles made it to the lake for sunset, but unfortunately one of the vehicles had a problem and was delayed.  Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, I’ll be honest, is not worth the money you pay.  They have the fortunate position of being the only hotel there so they can charge what they want without bothering about crazy things like customer service.  Which was a shame as the guests had had a long day and probably could have used some customer care from lodge staff when notifying them about the scorpions they found in their rooms.

Watching the sun rise over a lake full of flamingos redeemed Lake Bogoria however and the group spend a few hours taking photographs.  Sadly, the local children have somehow been “trained” to run into the water, scaring the flamingos so tourists can get a photo of the flock taking off.  But this disturbs the birds and they don’t return for several hours after such an event, so that is the end of any photography session.  It took some convincing of a few different groups of youths that our guests certainly did not want them scaring the flamingos!  One kid almost got through our watch, but got shouted down by 16 angry photographers!  I’m not sure how they learnt this behaviour, but I see it as a definite negative impact of tourism on the environment.

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After a late breakfast, we headed to Lake Naivasha, arriving at Enashipai in time for lunch.  Finally we were back on schedule after the flight delay.  In the afternoon we headed out on boats to Crescent Island.  We saw many many different species of water birds and the boatmen fed the Fish Eagles – another contrived tourist experience designed for good photos, but spectacular I’ll admit.  On Crescent Island we enjoyed a walking safari where we saw zebras, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest.

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And then the main event: the Maasai Mara!  We battled the road all the way to Governors Camp, arriving at the Private Camp in time for a BBQ lunch by the river.  This was to be our home for the next four nights, with no one but the hippos for neighbours.  The days were spent on game drives – some of the group opted to take picnic lunches to go further afield on a full day game drive, while others chose to go for shorter game drives and come back to the camp for lunch and siesta.  Six of them went hot air ballooning one morning.

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Again the group were blessed with incredible wildlife sightings, with wildebeest herds crossing the river almost every day.  We even saw a crocodile slyly take one down…. although to be honest I didn’t actually spot this event until I reviewed my video back in my tent that evening!  We also saw two lionesses try to get a young wildebeest.  But the wildebeest suddenly started fighting back, bucking it’s little horns at the lions and generally dancing around.  It must have become confused or disoriented as it emerged from the long grass because it started headbutting its own reflection on one of the vehicles!  The lionesses gave up on the little fighter and stalked off, probably in search of an easier meal.

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We returned to Nairobi for a night, where we stayed at Nairobi Serena Hotel.  In the morning it was a convenient stop to pause at a lookout for a view over the city centre before heading back out of the town to Amboseli National Park.  My highlight for the afternoon game drive was watching a Goliath Heron defend its catch against a greedy Fish Eagle.  The Fish Eagle got its come-uppance however when a plover took offence to it and dive-bombed the bigger bird.  The Fish Eagle still eyed off the Heron’s fish dinner while ducking from the aggressive plover.

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Mt Kilimanjaro revealed itself on the early morning game drive on the last day – a spectacular end to a packed ten-day safari.  We returned to Nairobi for dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant before heading to the airport for a rather late flight home.

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The safari was not without it’s challenges, not least of which were several mechanical issues which can always be expected on Kenya’s poorly-maintained roads unfortunately.  The importance of an international guest reviewing ALL the information a tour operator sends was highlighted a few times when expectations were much higher than anyone could deliver (if you want to go to a national park please don’t expect a perfectly tarred road all the way!).  However, the wildlife sightings and scenery the group encountered over their ten days was about as good as it gets and they were incredibly lucky!  And we hope to welcome them again someday to experience some of Kenya’s lesser-known parks.

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