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How to Pick an African Overland Tour – A Guide to Booking the Trip of a Lifetime

February 26, 2017

Overlanding in Africa is a once in a lifetime trip – one that I had been dreaming of since I was a young girl collecting promotional wildlife cards from the petrol station.  Fortunately for me I was able to live this reality last year, spending seven weeks overlanding  in Africa, exploring nine countries, and getting a taster of what the truly incredible continent of Africa has to offer.

The biggest challenge I faced before for departing on this amazing journey was choosing what overland company to book with.  There are so many options, all offering amazing destinations, different price brackets and similar itineraries and it was a little overwhelming, to say the least.

If you’re looking at overlanding in Africa without spending a fortune, this post is for you!  Read on to find out my top tips on how to select the perfect budget overland trip for you and your needs.

Flexibility

Being flexible with the duration of your trip and your start and end dates, opens up staggering possibilities of trips, routes and options, often saving you money in the process.  Many of the overlanding operators in Africa offer similar routes and itineraries and though it’s hard to tell from many of the websites, a lot of the companies operate a looping system – this means that there is flexibility when selecting both your route and start locations.

Keep an Eye on Your Budget

Really look into every detail of what is included in your overland trip.  There can be a lot of added expense and Africa can be surprisingly expensive (especially tourist activities).  Commonly, overland trips are divided into two payments, one for the tour and one as a local payment (which can be nearly as high as your tour payment).  The local payment is for your day to day expenses in Africa (such as groceries, petrol and campsite fees).  When setting your budget, do not only account for your flights, trip payments, and additional tourist activities, include a budget for nights that meals aren’t included at the campsites (these add up), upgraded accommodation (you will have the opportunity to upgrade from your tent to other guest accommodation in many locations), lunches (if not included in your tour) and any other day to day expenses – small expenses can add up over a period of months.

Check the Included Safari Adventures

The main priority for most people overlanding in Africa is to see the amazing wildlife. Safaris are brilliant – the knowledge of your game driver is mind-blowing and it’s an experience not to be missed.  Unfortunately the harsh reality is a lot of the safaris are not included in your tour payments.  Be sure to research what safaris are included as part of your tour and the costs involved in the game drives that aren’t included.  Safaris are relatively expensive and the added costs of the game drives will quickly add up.

Contributing – Consider How Much You’re Willing to Do Yourself

Traveling at the best of times is exhausting work and an overland trip is definitely not an exception!  The cheaper your trip the more you will have to contribute towards the day to day running of the tour and that can be hard work.  Your responsibilities might include setting up and putting down your tent (you will be a pro in no time), packing the truck with all the gear (tents, luggage and cooking facilities), setting up the cooking facilities, cooking dinner (for a large group), cleaning the dishes and the truck (obviously not all at once, there will generally be a rota).  This can be challenging work, and generally where the tension and conflict amongst the group will playout.  Be aware of these factors and the required responsibilities before selecting your trip – if you’re looking to relax after a day out on the road, then chances are, you’ll want a more inclusive-tour.

Dig Into Reviews

Reviews are always an extremely helpful consideration and whilst obviously these are all down to each individual’s personal preferences, if there is common opinion across the reviews it can really show the difference betweenc companies/routes.  I would recommend reading the reviews with a focus on the company itself, tour guides, outside operators (for game drives) and reliability of vehicles as all of these factors will impact your trip significantly.

 Research, Research, Research

While this can be a tedious task it’s one that will ensure the best adventure for you. I found the best place to start was determining a rough time frame for my trip and the places that I couldn’t miss (for me this was the great migration, trekking with the mountain gorillas, visiting a local village and fitting in as many game drives as possible).  Once I had decided on these factors I started the research process.  What was the best company for me, the best route to take, what was included in the tour and the optional activities?   Eventually by changing my itinerary and starting and ending in different locations I was able to see everything I wanted plus a tonne more.

Reach Out!

Don’t be afraid to contact tour companies for advice and options.  All of the companies I had contact with were extremely helpful and also gave me options that weren’t listed on their webpage.  They’re the experts and are there to help – be sure to reach out.

Ready to Begin Planning your African Overlanding Adventure?

To get you started with your planning, here some popular budget African overland companies.  All have fantastic reviews and offer a range of overland tours to suit different needs and budgets.

Tucan Travel – Absolute Africa – Intrepid Travel – G Adventures

Happy planning!


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A guide to booking an amazing African overland trip - on budget and on point! Booking an African overlanding trip can be overwhelming - this guide will help you come in under budget with an amazing trip!

Activities Adventure Africa Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Eco Tourism Holidays Tours Uganda

Tracking Gentle Giants: Gorillas in the Highlands of Uganda

June 17, 2016
Gorillas in Uganda

Having hiked through 20 minutes of the most challenging terrain we’d ever experienced, we stopped dead in our tracks.  The hushed whispers of the trackers left us puzzled… these walks can take upwards of 4 hours, what had caused us to stop so soon?  Before long, the answer became abundantly clear.

A scruff of dark fur came into view just around the bend – after months of planning, preparation and training, we laid eyes upon our first silverback mountain gorilla in what appeared to be record time.

Gorilla tracking Uganda bucket list

Coming from New Zealand, Africa really did feel like a world away – exotic but a long way from us, we never really considered it a likely destination.  That all changed when we relocated to Abu Dhabi and the continent suddenly become accessible in only a five hour flight.

After tossing some ideas around and talking with a couple of teachers that had also tracked the gorillas, visiting them shot to the top of our travel wish list and our trip to Eastern/Central Africa was born.

When we found out just how much this experience would set us back, we did briefly reconsider but we soon decided that it really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and one we couldn’t just walk away from.

Gorilla tracking Uganda

Sadly, the mountain gorilla population has been decimated over the years, with less than 900 gorillas left in the wild.  These gentle giants are only found in the triangle of forests between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; due to the physical restrictions of their habitat, it is likely that these amazing animals will remain endangered, even with a concerted effort to stop poaching and deforestation.  In the 60s and 70s conservationists attempted to raise juvenile mountain gorillas in captivity but none of them made it – they’re still unsure as to the reason for this, but it does mean that they can only be found in the forests of this area, making their plight all the more important.

We had initially planned on visiting both Rwanda and Uganda but due to time constraints and cheaper permits, we decided to leave Rwanda on this trip.  A permit to track gorillas will set you back USD700 per person in Rwanda, but is USD600 in Uganda (and only USD450 in the off season of April, May and November).  We managed to reverse the order of our journey to finish in Uganda and track gorillas at the beginning of April and by doing so, saved USD500 between the two of us.

Within Uganda there are a number of entry points to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest; Buhoma in the Northern part of the park, Ruhija in the East, and Rushaga and Nkuringo to the South.  When purchasing a permit to track the gorillas, you will choose your location (or in our case, our guide did) and will then be allocated a particular family on the day of your visit.  If you plan to travel independently, pay particular attention to where your briefing centre is, as you’ll need to ensure you organise accommodation nearby your departure point.

If you decide to track these mountain gorillas, you’ll come across the term ‘habituated.  There are a number of these habituated families living in Bwindi (and many more that are not accustomed to people).  According to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority

Habituation of mountain gorillas for tourism is a lengthy and difficult process. The exercise to habituate wild gorillas essentially requires that the gorillas lose their natural fear of humans and develop a trustful relationship with observers. In order to fully habituate a group, it must be tracked and monitored on a daily basis, and slowly over time the gorillas stop fleeing from observers and eventually they become accustomed to the presence of people.

Poaching used to be a serious problem in the area but thankfully is not and longer, thanks to the positive effect of eco-tourism.  A significant percentage of your permit goes back into the local communities, alleviating the need for illegal poaching.  Whilst many of the people that once would have turned to poaching now work as porters, helping travellers traverse the challenging terrain of the area.  For a suggested fee of USH50,000 (USD15), you’ll be given the opportunity to have a porter join you on the hike and it’s something we’d both strongly recommend doing.  They’ll carry your bag, help you find your footing, occasionally give you a little pull up a steep bank and, most importantly, you will be supporting the locals at a grass-roots level in their bid to get ahead without poaching these amazing creatures.

Gorilla tracking UgandaWe met our tracking guide, Albert, and support team at the Ruhija Centre (which in truth, was a hut providing much needed shelter from the rain) and were briefed on what was to come.  We’d been assigned the Oruzogo family, one of the newest habituated groups, favoured because of their playful natures and the adventurous terrain in which they live.

After we were briefed, we excitedly climbed back into our respective vans (along with some of our friendly guards, carrying alarmingly big guns!) and drove for 20 or so minutes to a spot on the road where our porters were waiting.

Exiting the van, we peered over the edge of the road into the forest thinking we were off to find an easier access point into the foliage… how wrong we were.  With the help of our porters we ventured down the steep slope, directly into the belly of the forest, learning firsthand where the name Impenetrable came from.

After walking downhill for approximately 15 minutes on a makeshift trail, we turned to the right and followed the lay of the land, moving slightly higher back up the hill.  To our absolute disbelief he were suddenly stopped and after hushed whispers were told the gorillas were just around the bend.

Climbing a little further up and across we were met by the gaze of our first wild mountain gorilla.  Munching quietly, the large silverback sat quietly, undeterred by our arrival.  As per regulations, we remained at a distance of 8m and started the clock on the hour that we had with these beauties (understandably, human interaction is closely limited and monitored to prevent the families becoming desensitised to people).

After 10 minutes or so, the silverback turned and moved away – quietly we continued on in the direction it was headed where we were delighted to find many of the other family members.

The gorillas went about their business without any recognition of our presence and although it would have been amazing to have one wander over to check us out (seriously, take a look at the close encounters on youtube, they’re incredible!) it was mind-blowing to just be in their habitat with them.

Standing amongst these gentle giants was an incredibly humbling experience.  They had beautifully expressive eyes and recognisable body language; we were struck by just how human they seemed.  The babies swung and played amongst the vines and trees whilst the adults watched on carefully.  For that hour we were guests in their home and it was not lost on us just how fortunate we were to be welcomed in.

Nathan and I were joined by only one other traveller which made the experience all the more special (travelling in the off season can have its benefits).  The three of us were all able to get incredible views of the family and though they limit each group to a maximum of eight, I can’t help but feel like we had a much more personal experience being in such a small group.

It turns out gorillas are really farty!! ?❤️? @thisisuganda

A video posted by Sarah & Nathan Chant ✈️? (@exploringkiwis) on

Was the hike hard?  It sure was – I can’t imagine how I would have managed at that incline over a period of three or four hours each way, which is what some people experience.  There’s no doubt, we were lucky!

Was it expensive?  Absolutely – this was, without doubt, the most money we’ve ever spent on a stand-alone travel experience.

Was it worth it?  Without doubt!

If you have the opportunity to visit the Ugandan mountain gorillas, we would recommend you grab it.  This experience connected us to these beautiful animals, gave us a first-hand view of their conservation efforts and in the process, left us with memories to last a lifetime.

If you’re interested in seeing the gorillas for yourself, we highly recommend Wild Whispers Africa.  Nasser was the most attentive guide we could have asked for and their pricing was competitive.  They took care of all of the details for us and helped make the experience what it was.

Stay tuned for information regarding what gear you’ll want to have with you on your gorilla trek,  for our take on the differences between tracking gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda and for more information on what our tour included.

PS:  If you’re looking for another travel blogger to follow, check out Clint from TripHackr – he goes on the most amazing adventures.  It was fantastic meeting him whilst on our trek and exchanging travel stories!


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   Gorilla Tracking in Uganda was a bucket list moment for us.  Get the answers to all of your questions here!

Adventure Africa Egypt Luxor

Hot Air Ballooning over Luxor, Egypt: Up, Up and Away

June 9, 2016

There’s not much that gets me up and out of bed before sunrise – even on three hours sleep though, there wasn’t much that was going to stop me venturing out in the crisp early-morning air on a hot air ballooning adventure.

Hot air balloon nile egypt sunriseOnce the shock of the 3.20am alarm wore off, we clambered out of bed, rugged up warm and ventured outside, awaiting our ride.  A 20 minute journey took us back into Luxor where we boarded our felucca (a traditional Egyptian boat) and warmed up with a cup of arabic tea (well I didn’t, but others did!) before setting off on the short trip across the River Nile.

nile hot air balloonUpon arriving at our departure point (in what appeared to be an empty lot or carpark) we were briefed.  Safety was paramount and a fair bit of time was spent preparing up for landing – we’d never really considered how one would land a balloon but as they’re guided by the wind, it’s understandable that they don’t just touch the ground and stop (hence the need for a landing position).

Hot air balloon luxor egypt

As this was our first hot air ballooning experience, we didn’t really know what to expect.  We toyed with the idea of going up in Kenya but at USD500 per person, it was well and truly out of our budget.  Having seen amazing photographs of hot air balloons in Luxor online, I had hoped the experience might be more affordable than in Eastern Africa and fortunately, we were right.  At USD50 each (+ tips) hot air ballooning is within the reach of the majority of tourists in Luxor.

As the balloon slowly but steadily rose above the ground, a touch of nerves set in.  I’ve done all sorts of silly things (bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, jumping off buildings; most of which a number of times) but the sensation I experienced in the balloon was unlike anything else.  The balloon moves effortlessly through the air with an almost unnerving silence which is broken only occasionally by the sound of gas being released by the pilot.

Hot air balloon nile egypt sunriseThe hot air balloon initially rose to approximately 3,000 feet which was much higher than we’d expected.  I don’t generally have an issue with heights but Nathan did feel a bit uneasy about being that high and even I felt a little funny about it.  Although it’s peaceful up there, you suddenly become very aware of your own mortality; the realisation hit home that we were floating in a cane basket, a kilometre up in the air, with flames above us and a number of gas bottles beside us.

With that said though, the view from up there was incredible and Mohamed, our pilot was experienced and professional.

Before long, we descended to a more comfortable height (I would estimate more like 1,000 feet) where we stayed for the majority of the flight.

There were five balloons up that morning and it was a treat being able to watch the other balloons move so beautifully through the sky – if you’re considering booking a hot air balloon ride, I’d recommend doing it in an area where there will be other balloons too.  #1 (chances are) your flight will be cheaper due to competition and #2, watching the other balloons really adds to the experience.

Hot air balloon nile egypt sunriseHot air balloon nile egypt sunriseFrom the balloon we enjoyed the glorious sunset (seriously, check out those photos!) and floated our way slowly away from the Valley of the Kings, over the Nine and past Luxor, before finishing up over the beautiful Egyptian farmland.  The Egyptains have long been known for their ingenious irrigation and it was fantastic seeing the result of this from above.  We were surprised by just how diverse the scenery was from above and would certainly recommend seeing it for yourself from the air in Luxor – mountains, desert, cityscape, farmland, the River Nile – it had just about everything!

Hot air balloon nile egyptAltogether our balloon ride lasted approximately 45 minutes which felt very generous.  It allowed us to move through our nerves and enjoy the views in a more relaxed manner and before we knew it, we were arriving back at our accommodation ready to enjoy breakfast (at about 7am).

A tick off the bucket-list for sure!


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 Hot air ballooning in Luxor, Egypt, is safe, cheap (at 1/10 the price of Kenya) and provides gorgeous views.  One of the highlights of our trip to the region, find out why we recommend others take to the skies too. Hot air ballooning in Luxor, Egypt. Find out why this is the place to take to the skies! Hot air ballooning in Luxor, Egypt, is safe, cheap (at 1/10 the price of Kenya) and provides gorgeous views.  One of the highlights of our trip to the region, find out why we recommend others take to the skies too.

If you’re interested in hot air ballooning in Luxor (and why wouldn’t you?), we’d suggest getting in touch with Sindbad Hot Air Balloons.  We checked out the reviews on Trip Advisor first and asked Mohamed, our driver, to book us in with Sindbad as they had by far the longest history of reviews.  Upon arriving, however, we realised that all the companies depart from the same area and they all appeared to be as safe and professional as each other.  I don’t think you could go too far wrong either way.

Activities Africa Eco Tourism Kenya Masai Mara Murchison Falls Tours Uganda

Hunting out the Best East African Safari – Kenya vs. Uganda

June 5, 2016

As you would expect, our safaris in Kenya and Uganda were amongst the main highlights of our trip to Africa; what surprised us though was just how different they were to one another.  Though the animals were relatively similar, there were some fairly significant differences between our two experiences.  How might you decide on the best safari for you?  Read on to learn more about the differences as we saw them…

Price

In Kenya we booked with Safe Ride Tours and Safaris on their ‘3 day Masai Mara Camping Safari’ at a total cost of USD360 per person.  By comparison, in Uganda we signed up for the ‘3 day Murchison Big 5 Safari’ through Red Chilli Hideaway at a cost of USD380 each.

The Kenyan tour was slightly cheaper and included food so beat Uganda out by a nose in that regard.


Transport

In Kenya, we travelled in a converted Toyota Land Cruiser (which had pretty comfortable seats) whereas in Uganda we were in a converted van (with noticeably less comfortable seats).  Each had a roof that raised up and windows that slid open to allow safari-goers to get their perfect photographs; whilst the Kenyan 4WD was more comfortable to sit down in, the van in Uganda was at a slightly better height for standing up in.  Regardless, try to get a seat in the middle or towards the back if possible to position yourself well to stand up – we were in the front of the main cab and found ourselves leaning back quite a lot to stand in the opening.   

If we had to pick the better transport option, the Land Cruiser in Kenya would by our preference, simply because you’ll spend so much time sitting down so comfort is fairly important.


Accommodation

Kenya – 2 nights accommodation in a permanent double tent with ensuite and power (between certain hours under generator).

Uganda – 2 nights in a permanent twin tent (unpowered, bathroom blocks within close walking distance) + 1 free night each in a 4 bed dorm.

Let’s call this a tie as Uganda offer an extra night but Kenya had an ensuite and power in the tent. 


Food

Included in Kenya (breakfast and packed lunch was great, normal lunch and dinner pretty average). It was an additional cost in Uganda but tasty.

Winner = Kenya for value for money, Uganda for quality/choice. 


Included Activities/Itinerary

Kenya – Sundowner game drive, full day game drive and sunrise game drive (+ optional Masai village tour for USD20 per person). Uganda – Walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon Nile river cruise, rhino sanctuary visit.  We paid more to join the tour that went to the rhino sanctuary but knowing what we know now (and having talked to other people), we would recommend going on the cheaper tour that includes a final morning game drive instead.

If your main aim is to see as many animals as possible then Kenya would win because of the extra time spent on game drives.  If you’re after variety, then Uganda offers more – both the game drive and river safari in Uganda were awesome, though the walk to the falls and rhino sanctuary didn’t compare as well in our opinion.


Quality of Game Viewing/Drive

The most important part of any safari comparison, because, after all, you’re on safari to see animals!  We were most surprised to find such a variation between the two game drives and although both experiences were amazing, it is worth understanding how they vary.

Masai Mara stretches out as far as the eye can see (and beyond).  On our full day game drive, we covered a significant area of the park but it still felt like we barely made a dent.  At one point, in the heat of the day, we drove for a good half hour through the long grass without seeing any animals, whilst at other times, we saw relatively well-sized herds.

By comparison, we didn’t go the long periods without seeing animals at Murchison Falls, but nor did we do a game drive in the midday sun.  Generally the best time to spot animals is around sunrise and sunset, when the temperatures are more comfortable, so it may not be surprising that our hit-rate was better when we only managed to fit in a sunrise drive.

The tracks varied greatly between the two parks – Kenya had countless smaller tracks which allowed our driver to get off the main ones and really go exploring.  Uganda didn’t appear to have many smaller tracks at all, instead favouring key tracks through the park.  We were lucky in Uganda and managed to spot a number of animals near the tracks, but when they decide to hang back (like a jaguar did, in a distant tree) there’s really not much that can be done.  Kenya was better in this regard as the additional tracks increase your chances of getting in on the action.

Comparing these two is too close to call. The roads in Uganda were more comfortable but Masai Mara felt like more of an adventure. We were fortunate to see plenty of game at Murchison Falls but can imagine this would not always be the case of the animals decide to stay away from the main tracks.  We saw far more lions at Masai Mara (and think you’d have a better chance of spotting the Big Five there) but there were generally bigger herds of animals at Murchison Falls. If you can get to both parks to see the difference for yourself, we’d highly recommend it. 


What time of year should I go?

We visited at the start of the long rainy season and it was spot on! Prior to arriving, we’d read warnings of the rain causing grass growth to the point that game couldn’t be seen, and animals hiding away, without any need to come out to watering holes.  It barely rained the entire time we were in these two beautiful countries and when it did, it was almost exclusively when we were in bed at night tucked up in our (thankfully waterproof) tents.  The up-shot of visiting during the offseason was that we practically had parks to ourselves.  During peak season, our Kenyan driver explained that the reserve can easily be mistaken for Disneyland, with waits of 45 mins-1 hour for the vans and trucks in front to move aside, finally allowing you to get a good look at that lion (and to quickly snap your prized shot before moving on again).  Instead, we often stumbled across animals without anyone else around us and got to enjoy them in relative seclusion.  Our accommodation was quiet and everything felt very relaxed due to the small group numbers; both of our safari’s only have two other people respectively.


So who wins?  Masai Mara, Kenya or Murchison Falls, Uganda?

The million dollar question and one that we really couldn’t answer!  We enjoyed both of our safaris for different reasons.  Kenya and Masai Mara will stay in our mind as the first place we saw such amazing animals in the wild and for the sense of adventure as we 4-wheel-drove our way through the savannah.  Uganda and Murchison Falls on the other hand will always stand out for it’s variety (the river safari was fantastic!) and the amount of game that we saw within a relatively small area.

Regardless on whether you choose to go on safari in Kenya or Uganda, there is no doubt you’ll have a memorable experience – if your time and budget allows, we’d certainly recommend doing both!

PS: If you’re wondering what to wear on safari, don’t worry.  We were told that (as long as you’re in a van), colours don’t really matter – if you’re on a walking safari though, be sure to blend in with examples like you’ll find over on The World Pursuit.

Have you been on safari somewhere else in Africa?  If so, we’d love to hear of your experiences!


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 Safaris can be expensive. Having been on safari in Kenya and Uganda, we break down which African country offers the best value. Hunting out the Best East African Safari - Uganda or Kenya? Safaris can be expensive. Having been on safari in Kenya and Uganda, we break down which African country offers the best value.

Abu Dhabi Africa Dubai Expat Life Holidays Monthly Round-Up theme park United Arab Emirates

Where has the time gone? Another ‘Monthly’ Round-Up

June 1, 2016

How on earth is it June already?!

The plan was to jot down what we’ve been up to over here each month but considering my last ‘monthly round-up’ was posted at the beginning of March, I think it’s fair to say I’ve been pretty unsuccessful in doing so!


The past three months have been a whirlwind of travels, work (school for me, price-lists for Nathan), brunches, socialising and for a week, family (yay!)

Nathan arrived back in Abu Dhabi, having spent a month or so working in New Zealand.  He had a great time catching up with our friends and family (not to forget our cats!) but it was nice to have him home again at the end of it all.

We were fortunate to get out of the UAE on two occasions since our last general update, on both occasions to Africa (which is incredible considering before those trips, we’d never set foot on the continent).

Our first trip away took us to Eastern Africa – Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.  It was a mind-blowing trip that left us feeling incredibly humbled.  If you’re interested in checking out our itinerary, you can see the key places we visited in this post.  The highlights of the trip were based around the amazing animals we saw – all of the ‘big five’, not to mention tracking highland mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild (the stuff of dreams!), swimming with wild bottlenose dolphins, diving to spot seahorses and trying to avoid the killer croc that almost landed in our boat whilst cruising the Nile!  You can read about the differences between our Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris here too.


Our second journey to Africa took us to Egypt where we spend a whirlwind three nights exploring this unique, vibrant country.  We spent a night in Cairo and two in Luxor, where we were memorised by the incredible history found throughout the country.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much we managed to squeeze into our three nights (which was really only two full days) there – we visited Sakkara, home to the oldest buildings (which also happen to be pyramids) in the world, where we also climbed down inside a pyramid, rode camels and Arabian horses to the Great Pyramids of Giza, explored the Valley of the Kings and rode a hot air balloon over the Nile (and that’s only scratching the surface!)  We found the Egyptian people to be warm and welcoming and had no concerns whatsoever in regard to our safety.  I don’t doubt that having a fantastic driver/guide helped, but we have no reservations in recommending others visit this incredible part of the world.


I’m a bit behind the ball with blog posts (stay tuned for posts on our Masai Mara safari, Ugandan adventure and Egyptian exploration) but you can find our photos on Instagram if you’re keen for a peek before I find the time to get writing.

Back in Abu Dhabi, I’d been watching the newest coaster at Ferrari World pop up and the implementation of a teachers’ special made the call of a new coaster far too hard to ignore!  Along with three friends, I headed back to the theme park and, I’m pleased to say, came away feeling quite differently about my experience there (read my thoughts from our first visit here).  Flying Aces is a welcome addition to this indoor park – the initial climb was fantastic and a number of slow loops pull you right out of your harness – certainly a ride that doesn’t suit everyone, but I was a happy camper!  Whilst there I had another zip around on Formula Rosa (the fastest rollercoaster in the world) and again, felt much more positive about it.  The roughness that we experienced our first time riding it was gone, making way for a smooth, incredibly fast (yet comfortable) ride.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the engineers had given the cars a once over, but regardless of what made the difference, Ferrari World is now a much better option for thrill seekers… I will be watching with anticipation to see what the other new rides look like.

My friend from back home arrived so we had a great time showing her around the UAE.  Together, we managed to squeeze a trip to Aquaventure in (the waterpark over on the Palm, in Dubai) and we have a fantastic day splashing around and racing down the slides!  Nathan and I enjoyed Yas Water World but if we had to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be Aquaventure – it was seriously impressive!

We made the trip over to Dubai a number of times in the last three months and are finally starting to feel like we have a sense of direction there! It’s a big city and like all of the UAE, the off ramps tend to loop around which means you often drive in the opposite direction to where you should be going before the road loops back around.

The more time we spend in Duabi, the more the city seems to be growing on us! The architecture there is mind blowing and it’s nice to get out of Abu Dhabi; even driving an hour down the road feels like a mini holiday.

We spent a night in the city to see Armin Van Buuren play one of his Armin Only gigs.  We’d seen Armin play a few times in the past and though the production was good the music wasn’t particularly to our taste.  Regardless, it was a well overdue night out and Nath’s excited as we’ve booked in to see one of his all time favourite DJs over the summer.

On their way back from visiting family in Spain, my mum and stepdad swung by Abu Dhabi and spent a week with us. It was such a treat having them here with us!


We’ve also been branching out and trying a range of restaurants recently – as much as we love Chilli’s and PF Changs, its been great to broaden our options and explore more of Abu Dhabi in the process.  We treated ourselves to the fanciest meal of our lives at the Ritz, enjoyed the atmosphere and amazing pan Latin food at BU!, munched on burgers and crazy shakes at the U-Turn Diner and experienced an Emirati fusion Iftar taster too.

In mundane news, my word visa come through (I cannot tell you how exciting this is) which has meant that we can now start the process for Nathan’s visa.  We’ve managed fine without having them but life will be easier once they’ve both come through.  With my visa, I’m now a proud holder of an Emirates ID and UAE drivers licence (you can read my practical guide to converting my NZ licence to a local one here – it’s not exciting but will be helpful for other newbies).

School’s been incredibly busy with our students preparing for (and sitting) their SAT assessments and reports that need to be finished. Last night we celebrated how far they’ve come though, with a graduation evening – they’ve had an awesome year!

Nath’s been busy with work and by all accounts Chant has had a big few months which is awesome news!

As we wrap up our last few weeks at school and work, preparations for our European summer continue. I’ll pop our initial plans here – if you’re going to be in those areas or have any recommendations, we’d love to hear from you! Most stops aren’t set in stone quite yet so feedback would be much appreciated.

Accommodation Africa Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Eco Tourism Itineraries Kabale Forest Kampala Kenya Masai Mara Murchison Falls Nairobi Tanzania Tours Uganda Zanzibar

Our East African Itinerary – Two Weeks in the Motherland

May 28, 2016

East Africa – I don’t think it would be over-reaching to suggest this could just be the dream destination for every animal lover!

If you’re considering a getaway to Africa this post will (hopefully) help you decide how you might split your time between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Happy planning (and stay tuned for more detailed posts regarding the following)…



Zanzibar, Tanzania – 3 days/3 nights.  Flying through the night from Dubai, UAE (via Muscat, Oman), we touched down in Dar es Salaam before quickly taking off again for Zanzibar in Tanzania.

 

Nairobi and Masai Mara, Kenya – 5 days/4 nights.  Morning flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi

Kampala, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest and Murchison Falls, Uganda – 7 days/8 nights.  Late afternoon flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, then pre-arranged transfer to Kampala

  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway in a 4 person shared dorm (one night free of charge when a safari is booked through them)
  • Uganda Tour – 4 days/3 nights.  Tour:  Wild Whispers Africa. Pick up/drop off from Kampala and the following was all included in the tour:
    • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – 2 days/2 nights
      • Accommodation: Trekkers Tavern
      • Activities:  Visit to the equator, gorilla tracking, community tour
    • Kabale Forest – 2 days/1 night
      • Accommodation: Chimpanzee Forest Guest House
      • Activities:  Chimp tracking
  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, this time in a private double room (shared facilities)
  • Murchison Falls – 3 days/2 nights (organised through Red Chilli Hideaway)
    • Tour: Red Chilli Hideaway: Big Five Tour – the following was included in the tour:
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Rest Camp in a double tent
    • Activities:  Guided walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon river cruise/game drive on the Nile, visit to the Rino Sanctuary
  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, again in a private double room (shared facilities).

Flight out that morning back to Dubai.

There you have it!  Within two weeks we managed to get a good feel for Eastern Africa; of course it was only an introduction to these gorgeous countries but as someone who grew up dreaming of going on safari, it was a mind-blowing trip.

If you’d like to read more about our thoughts comparing the Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris, you can read on here.

Please let us know if you find some of the information included above helpful in planning your next African experience!


2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more! 2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more!

 

Accommodation Africa Holidays Kenya Nairobi

The Ultimate Camping Experience in Nairobi

May 20, 2016

As travellers, we float in between budget and more luxurious options.  If there appears to be a decent low-cost option, we’ll stay there, but if we need to spend more to ensure a good nights sleep, we will.  Nathan will tell you ‘it’s all about the value proposition’ and I spend far too long on TripAdvisor talking myself in and out of places to stay based on the reviews of other travellers.

With that said, when we stumbled across a potential camp in Nairobi, it was clear that we’d be splurging (a relative term for us), and not because of the lack of other suitable options around town but because we were onto something special.

The Wildebeest Eco Camp is nestled amongst the bush in Karen, one of the outlying suburbs of Nairobi. Not far from the Giraffe Centre and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (where you’ll meet and learn about orphaned baby elephants), the camp is well positioned to take in the best of Nairobi, and is within easy access to a mall should you need any supplies.

In total we spent two nights at the camp; one in a deluxe safari tent (the Eco Camp’s glamping offering) at the beginning of our time in Nairobi and another in an equally-comfortable-but-more-budget-friendly garden tent at the end of our safari.  Also on offer, was the ability to pitch your own tent, borrow one of theirs, or hook up your van.

One of the many sculptures around the campsite.

The deluxe safari tents are perfectly located, overlooking the camp’s pool and their gorgeous pond which (means as you drift off to sleep, you’ll be relax to the sound of the local frogs – bliss) and come with more than you could ever need in a tent!  Full power, a bathroom (with the most gorgeous shower), a deck to unwind on and of course, proper beds.

IMG_1720

One of the local monkeys coming to say hello!

The fanciest camping ensuite ever?

The garden tents aren’t quite as luxurious, but they do come with a solid floor, power and again, a real bed – and they are of course a tremendous upgrade from a traditional tent.  They’re an excellent option for couples, as it costs very little to upgrade from using one of their temporary tents (for two people) to these permanent ones.  If you are travelling by yourself, there was also the option to purchase a bed within the dorm tent which also looked comfy.  All of these options require use of the shared bathrooms, but they’re never far away and were kept spotlessly clean and tidy whilst we were there.

It was the beginning of the long rainy season in Eastern Africa when we stayed in Nairobi and though the days were dry, there was a wicked thunderstorm our last night at the Eco Camp and we were certainly pleased to be tucked up in one of the permanent tents.  We stayed dry as a bone, even in one of the most extreme downpours we’ve ever experienced.

Wifi is free and is available throughout the camp and breakfast is included in the cost of your stay (but is upgraded if you stay in the deluxe tent, yahoo!).  The on-site restaurant is affordably priced and makes delicious food which is great, as although everything is only a taxi ride away, the camp itself isn’t really walking distance to any other restaurants.

Though the tents were gorgeous, it is worth noting that the beds we slept on were both fairly firm (as were the majority of beds we experienced in Africa), so if you like a relatively hard bed, you’ll be in luck in this part of the world!

If we return to Nairobi, we will absolutely book in to stay at the Eco Camp again – we had a great time.  The staff were friendly and went out of their way to help, the accommodation was well priced, the grounds were gorgeous, and best of all, we got to stay in a memorable spot not far from one of East Africa’s biggest cities.

If you too would like to stay at the Wildebeest Eco Camp, you’ll find current pricing and information on their site.  Happy travels!

Africa Eco Tourism Kenya Stop Overs & Quick Trips

The Giraffe Center – Nairobi, Kenya

May 10, 2016

Looking into their gorgeous deep brown eyes, framed by fluffy eyelashes, there’s no doubt there’s something special about the lanky (but adorable) giraffe.

If you find yourself with a little spare time in Nairobi, you may like to pop along to the Giraffe Centre (open from 10am – 5pm every day) to get up close and person with these African beauties.

Upon entering, you’ll be given a handful of pellets and run-down on how to feel the giraffes – surprisingly, it’s nothing like feeding a horse, rather than presenting them with a flat palm, you hold a pellet between your fingers and let the giraffe pick it up with their tongue – beware the giraffe slobber!

The centre is home to the endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe, of which there are sadly less than 750 estimated to be remaining in the wild.  What started as a rehabilitation centre (run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya – AFEW) now plays a significant role in the continuation of this species and in educating the Kenyan youth in the importance of wildlife conservation.


Entry to the centre will set you back 1000KSH for an adult or 500KSH for a child (approx. USD10 and USD5 respectively) and allow you to spend as long as you’d like with the giraffes.  Entry also includes giraffe food, a perusal around their information centre and access to the bushwalk across the road.  

To get to the centre, we hired a taxi for 2000KSH (again from our camp in Karen) and the driver waited whilst we visited the giraffes.

To save on taxi fare, you could also tie your trip to the Giraffe Centre in with a visit to the Elephant Orphanage nearby (which is open from 11am – 12pm each day) and expect to pay just a little more for waiting time.

Africa day trip Eco Tourism Kenya Stop Overs & Quick Trips

Nairobi’s Elephant Orphanage – The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

May 9, 2016

Africa is top of practically every animal lovers travel wishlist and with even a short stop in Nairobi, you can get up close and personal with a number of gorgeous orphaned elephant calves, making your quick break in Kenya even more memorable.

The calves come from all around Kenya and are picked up by the Trust in response to the poaching or natural passing of their parents.  The team do an amazing job of providing medical assistance to elephants in the wild, and of course bring the babies into the sanctuary should they require help.  Once in the facility, young elephants will spend five or so years being fed up and looked after, before being transitioned back into the wild with a new family group of wild elephants.

To protect the best interests of the ellies, viewing is limited to between 11am and 12pm each day so be sure to arrive early enough to pay your entry fee (5,00KSH or approx. USD5 per person) and get yourself a good spot.

The MC gave us lots of information over the speaker, clearly explaining how the foundation works and sharing a great deal of specific information about the elephants and their background.  We enjoyed listening and learning as we watched the elephants (and even a couple of orphaned ostriches) getting fed and splashing around in the water and mud.

The team at David Sheldrick clearly had very close bonds with these animals and I don’t doubt, go out of their way to look after their elephants.  All the interactions that we observed were loving and respectful and it was a real pleasure to watch the elephants engage with each other, their keepers and occasionally one of the visitors.

If you’re planning a trip to Nairobi, we’d strongly suggest you consider supporting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – your nominal entry fee will be put to good use whilst you learn a whole lot about these beautiful creatures.  We’ll certainly be back if we manage to return to Kenya!

How do I get there?  Taxi fare will of course depend on where you’re leaving from, but from the Wildebeest Eco Camp (in Karen) to and from the Orphanage, we paid 2,000KSH (approx USD20) for our driver to collect us, wait until the visit was over and then drive us back ‘home’.  The taxis in Nairobi don’t have meters but operate on a set fare from area to area which makes it pretty easy to ensure you’re getting a fair price – just be sure to check with your driver first.  If you have time, you may also like to combine your trip to the Trust with a visit to the Giraffe Centre – they’re generally open all day though, so be sure to plan your schedule around the 11-12 elephant visit.

Activities Africa Eco Tourism Zanzibar

Diving off the Eastern Coast of Zanzibar

April 30, 2016

One of our favourite things to do when travelling is to check out the local wildlife, so when I heard there was the opportunity to see seahorses in the wild during our time on Zanzibar, there was very little doubt that we’d be donning our togs (a swimming costume for you non-Kiwis) and jumping in the ocean!

After a little research we decided upon diving with Buccaneers – it was an easy decision (check out their reviews!) and as it turned out, the right one.

The dive shops sits right on the beautiful beach of Paje, where you’ll board the boat by wading into the water.  Though the Eastern side of the island isn’t as well known as the Northern shores, it was close to our accommodation and our best bet at seeing seahorses, so was the best choice for us.

Wading out to our dive boat

Lauren and the team of dive masters were incredibly friendly and professional.  We only tend to dive whilst we’re on holiday and because different parts of the world use different units to measure the amount of air left in your tank, we always benefit from a little refresher, something our dive masters were more than happy to do.

The shore briefing was comprehensive and we were excited to hear about the variety of sealife that we would potentially see.  We opted to join the boat staying inside the reef as our main hope was to spot the local seahorses (something we’d never seen in the wild before) and, fortunately for us, we were in luck!

Throughout our two dives we managed to spot a number of seahorses, pipefish, trumpetfish, needlefish, cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, sea snakes, starfish, moray eels, a small octopus, beautifully camouflaged white flounder and the most varied coral formations we’ve ever seen.  It was odd to see lionfish again after our last diving experience in Mexico (where they’re considered a pest, due to overpopulation as so many escaped from aquariums during the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina) but nice all the same to spot a couple.


In between dives, we were offered a variety of fruit and biscuits, along with bottled water, whilst the team very kindly prepared our gear for our next dive.

We really enjoyed our time diving with the team at Buccaneers in Zanzibar and would 100% recommend them to anyone looking for a safe and professional dive company, in an area where you’ll be sure to spot all sorts of little sea oddities (and I mean that in the very best way!)

A stunning end to our afternoon on the water

If you too would like to venture into the deep blue off the coast of Zanzibar, a two tank dive will set you back USD130 per person (+ a small credit card fee should you wish to pay using one) and if you ask nicely, you may even be able to grab a ride back to your accommodation after your dive.

Apologies for the blue hint on the photos/videos – though I bought a red-filter for the GoPro, I managed to leave it behind at our accommodation!

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