Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Meeting Darwin and Gremlin

Tribes’ Amanda Marks goes chimp trekking in Tanzania

“What?! They’re right up there?” I said.

A mountain of impenetrable green forest loomed in front of us. There was no doubting the beauty of this national park – the remote Mahale Mountains rise up from the deep waters of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania – but the thought of trekking along the ridge that lay ahead of us to get almost to the summit of one of the peaks … well, it was daunting to say the least. I’m not a big fan of ‘uphill’.

I should have known, of course. Six of us had come to see wild chimpanzees and at this time of year (June) they still tend to frequent the higher reaches of the mountain range since that is where they can find food until the trees and shrubs lower down start to flower and fruit from about July to October. And the chances of us actually finding the group?

“The tracker who left earlier this morning has spotted them, so we know where they are.”

Wonderful!

“But they’re on the move and if they head into the gully over that ridge, we’ll lose them. It’s impossible to get down there.”

Not good.

At first, the forest was quite kind to us. Yes, our guides had to hack a few vines and help us to cross a couple of streams and we had to watch out for stinging nettles, roots and other plants with nefarious intentions, but it’s a beautiful place to be, the birds were singing and the incline was not too strenuous. Soon, though, we were not hacking vines but using them as ropes to haul ourselves uphill, and roots were no longer seen as trip hazards but steps to be grateful for as we tried to conquer precipitous inclines. The guides were incredible with us. Helping us find footholds, carrying bags that had become too heavy, pulling us up particularly difficult bits, and encouraging us with word from the trackers that the chimps were still within our reach.

“A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun….”

Three and a half hours later and we were nearly there. Suddenly, the air rang out with the familiar calls of chimpanzees. The sounds echoed around us like a welcoming fanfare heralding our arrival. We stood for a moment, thrilled by the obvious proximity, and we hardly noticed the last push to the top. And then, there they were!

We’d come out at a small clearing with a huge boulder in the middle. A mother chimp, Kupi, was sitting there on the rock grooming her boisterous baby in the sun. My heart was beating so fast I could hear it. We all put on the masks we’d been given so as not to infect the chimps, and then we simply sat with them, and watched, and laughed, and took photos. We were within 10-15 metres of them and, after an initial glance, they totally ignored our presence and carried on with life.

The baby’s father, Bonobo, came and sat with his family (which is apparently quite rarely seen); two adult males, Teddy and Orion, sat in the shade of the trees by the rock grooming each other; another chimp sauntered across the rock and headed off into the forest further up. Our guide asked me if I wanted to follow, and so, leaving the others, I followed further into the trees. It turned out that the big male we followed was Primus, the alpha male. He sat up a tree, just watching. It’s hard to explain why, but you could see in his face that this was a chimp with stature. He soon decided to move on and to my astonishment, walked right past me. I meant nothing to him but being in his presence meant everything to me at that moment.

 

 

We tried to follow Primus but he was too fast, and instead we came across a male called Darwin.

This gentle chimp had the kind face of a well-loved grandfather, with grey hairs and slightly watery eyes, and he just lay on his back on the forest floor with his head propped up on his arm and his feet on a nearby branch. He was the picture of Sunday morning relaxation.

The guide and I sat quietly with him for about ten minutes. He looked over at us occasionally. I just stared, drinking him in. It was one of those moments never to be forgotten.

“We were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes.”

Two days later, I was sitting in another piece of forest further north, but still on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This was Gombe National Park. You may know the name through the work of Dr Jane Goodall who was the primatologist who first habituated the chimpanzees in this area, back in the 1960s. She is in her eighties now, but still firmly involved and her foundation is still going and still a key force in the park.

Though the terrain at Gombe is very similar to that at Mahale, we were lucky this day as the chimps had come down the slopes. This made the experience here very different, and far more similar to the trek you would expect (even in Mahale) if you visited from about July to October. It took us only 20 minutes walking to find our first groups of chimps in the Kasakela community. The forest at this level is not so dense and there are more pathways that make the going much easier, though of course the chimps aren’t necessarily going to follow the paths – and they didn’t!

“You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.”

We found a few different groups of chimps as we walked, as these chimps were not in such a sedentary mood as the Mahale chimps had been. We walked and stopped, walked and stopped for a couple of hours. We saw Gremlin and her high-spirited twins, we met Gaia and her family, we watched Google and Grendo having a chat on a log, we were there as Golden suckled her baby, as they all ate, squabbled, played and groomed each other.  I could have stayed all day.

All in all we had one hour with each group. I am more than thankful for the experience, for the fact that they still exist and that they accept our presence, that the forest is still here for them, that I was able to have the opportunity to come here, that they are being protected thanks to tourism. However, my heart was also full of concerns after leaving them: could the forest – their home – be protected from logging (either commercial or simply from nearby villagers needing land or wood); could the chimps be protected from poaching (wild meat poachers are known to still cross from DRC); will the tourists like us be the unwitting cause of the destruction of these incredible creatures through the transmission of disease; can these wild chimp populations be assured of a future?

Sadly, I don’t think anyone can offer a confidently positive answer to any of these questions. All we can do is do our best to ensure that forest creatures such as these magnificent chimpanzees are given all the protection we can afford them. They deserve it. This is their planet too.

So, is it worth the expense and the travel and the exertion to see these extraordinary creatures that are so like us?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Do not hesitate. Just come.

Can you help protect chimpanzees?

VISIT THEM IN THE WILD
Although tourism is a double-edged sword because it can bring disease if not carefully managed, in the view of most conservationists, it remains the strongest weapon we have in the protection of the species and their habitat. There are about 700 chimps in Mahale, but only around 100 in Gombe. The numbers in both communities are in decline. Up to 30 visitors per day can visit the chimps, with a maximum of 6 people per group for only 1 hour. You must keep to a distance of 10m and wear a face mask. You cannot visit them if you are ill – even with a cold – as you could wipe them out.

Please come and visit these remarkable creatures. You’ll be helping them to survive as tourism pays for their protection.

Tribes offers sample itineraries on the websites – Ruaha, Katavi, Mahale (11 days)Chimps, Serengeti and Spice (11 days) but we can tailor-make any itinerary you want.

DONATE FUNDS TO THEIR PROTECTION

If you are not able to visit, but still want to help, please consider donating to a charity such as the Jane Goodall Institute. www.janegoodall.org.uk
Their work is critical to the well-being of the chimps at Gombe National Park.

All images © Amanda Marks

Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface

Beneath the surface

 

You don’t need access to an ocean to be able to enjoy fabulous underwater landscapes and ‘wildlife’; you can discover a whole new world beneath the surface even in the middle of Africa or a land-locked part of Brazil.

One of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks…

Images © Mumbo Island Camp, Lake Malawi

Teeming life in ‘the calendar lake’

Lake Malawi is 52 miles wide and an astonishing 365 miles long, hence its nickname ‘the calendar lake’. Think of it as one of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks, with a huge and fascinatingly diverse range of inhabitants, easily visible in the wonderfully clear waters.

Sailing on Lake Malawi is a joyful experience, and it’s a brilliant location for water-skiing, kayaking, tubing and parasailing; for all watersports basically.

But slip beneath the surface, whether that’s with a mask and snorkel or on a full-blown scuba dive, and a wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you, most notably the colourful cichlids.  There are more than 600 different species of cichlids which are endemic to the warm, freshwater depths of Lake Malawi. In fact, the lake has the largest number of fish species in the world; they have evolved in this ancient body of water over a period of some two million years!

Keep an eye open for blue stripy mbuna, electric yellow cichlids and the turquoise Livingston’s cichlid, and kampango and bombe catfish, and perhaps take a guided night dive to see nocturnal creature such as dolphinfish.

Not a diver? Not a problem! Snorkelling in the lake is hugely rewarding, as you find yourself surrounded by a rainbow of vibrant tropical fish. There’s an added bonus for those who choose to snorkel – as you’re not submerged beneath the waters, you can look up as well as down, and enjoy the glorious birdlife including fish eagles.

Snorkelling in Lake Malawi is hugely rewarding.

Image ©Kaya Mawa

A wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you.

Image left © Kawa Maya

Our consultants would be delighted to discuss the best places to stay for watersports at Lake Malawi, including Kaya Maya, Blue Zebra Island Lodge and Mumbo Island Camp.

We can tailor-make an itinerary for you or you might like to consider one of our suggested itineraries such as the Lake Malawi Holiday. If you want to combine Lake Malawi with a safari (the lake makes a wonderfully refreshing contrast to safari life), why not think about our Bush & Beach in Malawi itinerary, Lake of Stars or Nyika and Lake Malawi trip  or Zambia and Malawi Safari and Beach?

River snorkelling in Brazil

About 50km from Bonito, the south-western Brazilian eco-tourist hotspot, you can find what is regarded as the best river snorkelling in the world, in the crystal waters of the ‘silver river’ Rio de Prata. Rich seams of limestone on the riverbed act as natural filters, making it easy to see some of the stunning numbers of fish and plant species (see images above and below). You can also snorkel in the Rio Sucuri, – the world’s third clearest river, known for its fairytale-like underwater landscape.

There is a trick to river snorkelling in the Rio de Prata or Rio Sucuri; just float. Don’t kick, don’t splash and don’t touch anything. This makes it wonderfully relaxing and very easy for just about anybody but that’s not the reason why these rules (and they are rules) are in place. Kicking or splashing would stir up the sand at the bottom of these shallow rivers, significantly reducing visibility and impacting on the creatures that live in the waters. Big, chunky black pacu, slightly intimidating golden dourado (some up to 1m in length) and yellow-finned piraputanga will swim around you in Rio de Prata as tiny tetra emerge from beds of star grass to gently nibble on you in a friendly fashion.

Just getting to the snorkel site is an adventure in itself, with a 20 minute or so trek through the jungle. Then you’re issued with your snorkel and fins and a knee-length wetsuit (to protect the wild inhabitants of the rivers swimmers aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen or insect repellent), then you float face down and enter a whole new world. Take time also to look up, though – there are 200 different species of birds living in the lush vegetation that border the rivers.

If you think this might be for you, check out our ‘Rio, Waterfalls, Rivers and Coast’ trip or talk to us about a bespoke itinerary.

Wild inland swimming

There are lots of places where you can swim in the Amazon river but the water is too dark and murky to snorkel. Yes, the Amazon is home to piranhas but, contrary to what we’ve all seen on James Bond films etc., they don’t actually attack people! Tribes’ consultant Paul Cook – a huge fan of snorkelling in Rio de Prata – went kayaking and swimming on a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon aboard the Delfin and, we are happy to report, came back in one piece!

Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon has created a swimming pool within a mesh-enclosed area of the Pilchicocha Lake. This lets guests shake off the rainforest heat in the lake without running the risk of encountering caiman or 6’ long giant otters, who look cuddly but are very territorial and have a nasty bite. You may still be able to enjoy seeing them swimming on the other side of the net, but have the reassurance that the encounter will remain friendly!

Costa Rica has plenty of river floats and waterfalls. At Rio Perdido they have a unique thermal river. It’s fed by hot springs and is bathtub temperature. You can walk along the river and jump in and out without worrying about the temperature, and the river it is too hot for anything to live inside. So, no snorkelling possibilities, but what a fabulous experience!

 

On your bike!

On your bike!

On your bike!

Whether you’re a regular cyclist or haven’t turned a pedal in years, heading off on a jaunt on two wheels can add a whole new element to your holiday.

You don’t have to be a lycra-clad cycling enthusiast to add some pedal power to your holiday. There are plenty of low-key options available that let you get a new dimension on the destination you are visiting, while providing gentle exercise for travellers of all ages. Of course, if you are a keen cyclist and want to get a more vigorous work-out that’s doable too! Just let us know what type of cycling you’re comfortable with and we will do the rest.

A saddle safari

If you fancy riding past elephants and zebras and pedalling your way to a sundowner break, there are plenty of opportunities to saddle up in Africa. Cycling in the Great Rift Valley and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania would be a memorable part of any holiday. Or how about cycling along the beach in Zanzibar, following in the tyre tracks of the local fishermen and enjoying cooling breezes from the turquoise waters as you make your way to a seafood restaurant?  A trip that includes opportunities to do both could make a brilliant family holiday!

At Tafika Camp on the banks of the Luwanga River in Zambia you can go mountain biking in the bush or ride to the local village and school, while the Laikipia Plateau in northern Kenya is a glorious place to explore by bike, with lodges such as Borana and Kicheche Laikipia offering the chance to enjoy wildlife viewing by mountain bike.

The luxurious Mashatu Tented Camp and Mashatu Lodge, set in a private game reserve in Botswana, have bikes available for guests to go on rides along animal tracks with guides, and also offer mountain biking safaris that last for several days. And how about taking a ‘fat bike’ onto the iconic dunes of Swakopmund, Namibia? Fabulous!

 

Visiting South Africa? The Cape Winelands offer some stunning cycling routes, with good roads making them easy for even novice cyclists, while a bike tour is a fantastic way to explore the charms of Cape Town. You could do both on our Cape Town & Winelands holiday! Tribes’ consultant Sinead Bailey had a wonderful holiday in South Africa with her family last year, and her sons had a whale of a time on bikes in the Winelands, and also loved  wheeling down Signal Hill and Table Mountain on fat-wheel scooters!

You can also take a two-hour eco-friendly cycling adventure around the Soweto township of Johannesburg, cycling past historic landmarks, enjoying a delicious traditional South African meal and really getting to experience the community.

Delhi by bike

Tribes’ Alex Neaves and his fiancée had a hugely enjoyable cycle tour of Delhi last year, getting up early to avoid the crowds and whizzing along through narrow streets getting a really fascinating picture of the city waking up for the day, its shops and street vendors preparing for business. It’s a great way to get off the more obvious tourist routes and see the ‘real’ city.

Forests, glaciers and more…

Central and South America offer some wonderful cycling opportunities. Costa Rica is a great place for taking to two wheels; wildlife and flora-spotting in Manuel Antonio National Park from the seat of a bike for example is huge fun. Or why not explore Chile’s beautiful Lake District by bike?

Here’s a treat for lovers of stunning landscapes and ancient history! Mountain biking through Peru’s Sacred Valley, stopping at Inca sites en route and gazing out at truly glorious scenery. Now that’s pretty hard to beat, but what about biking on Easter Island, cycling up to those huge, enigmatic statues, or wheeling your way through Patagonia’s iconic Torres del Paine National Park?

Safari fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Safari fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Fireside tales – (mostly) without the animals!

Sitting round the campfire and swapping tales is one of the highlights of any safari. While wildlife is inevitably the major focus of such a trip, a safari will usually also include other memorable events, such as encounters with local people, wonderful walks, amazing landscapes etc. So here we recount some of the special experiences Tribes’ customers have enjoyed during their African adventures that (largely) didn’t involve wildlife…

“The clear Kenyan night sky at the Porini Mara Camp was beautiful but the sky came alive with the stargazer talk around the campfire by the camp manager. A wonderful experience especially as we had cloudy skies up till that night.” Alison C – (trip to Kenya)

“From the moment we boarded the little airplane from Maun the excitement began. I loved the flight over the Okavango Delta, we could see the beauty from above and pick out the animals, so special. After our first game drive we arrived back at the Lodge to be greeted by the staff and some wonderful African singing and dancing, what a fabulous way to enjoy our first evening. My son and I particularly enjoyed the walking safari; amazing to be in the wilderness on our own with just our guide and driver. Finally, our last experience was going out into the waters of the Delta, Wow! We were watched by a family of hippos just a few feet away! It was so peaceful and so stunning there and the birds and water plants were just beautiful, I’ve run out of superlatives…”

Diane Soames – (trip to Botswana)

“The local people we met and saw on our travels welcomed us with open arms and huge smiles. It was incredibly touching. We learnt so much about the wildlife and felt privileged to be guided by such well-informed guides who understood these animals and enabled us to feel at one with their environment. At Elephant Top Camp we walked with the warriors to the hill top with the sun setting on one side and the full moon rising on the other. We were met by our guide and welcomed with drinks and a fire. The warriors danced and sang their tribal chants as we watched and then joined in. It was a true honour to be in their presence. We loved this and will hold this memory close to our hearts.”

Susan Mathew – (family trip to Kenya)

“To wake up with a full view of the ocean, with canoes and dhows drifting past, was truly glorious. Just wandering along the path accompanied by butterflies, strolling on the beach and lazing on the day bed or hammock was about as much activity as we felt was necessary. We were treated to a star-lit dinner on the beach to celebrate our anniversary, surrounded by candles in hearts drawn in the sand.”

Liz & Dave Milway – (trip to Tanzania)

“Posing for photos with Maasai in my Maasai blanket, which I wore when I washed my one and only set of clothes after my suitcase did not arrive with me on safari… coffee with the owner of Livingstone’s cafe (where Livingstone and other explorers stayed) in Stonetown, near the sea in beautiful, balmy weather… New Year’s Eve in the roof top restaurant of Swahili House with church bells ringing, and ships’ sirens sounding… lunch under an acacia in the middle of the Serengeti with NO ONE around… the quiet, the warm breeze, the peace.”

Bronwen Gill – (trip to Tanzania)

“The colours were amazing – from the balloon trip sunrise, through the superb starlings and many other birds, the Maasai costumes, right to the sunset at the end of the day.”

Imogen Stewart – (trip to Kenya)

“Throughout there was the backdrop of unforgettable scenery seen from those little planes – including having giraffe on the runaway necessitating a second approach – and from the cars, from underwater, when stopping in the bush for meals, by the campfires, from the safari rooms.” Georgina Geernaert – (trip to Tanzania)

“One of the best ‘non-animal’ experiences came when we were driven to the airstrip near Porini Amboseli camp to catch a plane to Nairobi. The airstrip was just a bit of bush that had been cleared, the plane was a small 6-seater, and one of us got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. The children loved it. ” Anna Economides – (trip to Kenya)

“I was hoping and expecting that the holiday would be interesting and even exciting (which it was) but I wasn’t expecting it to be so relaxing. There were loads of moments when I felt completely calm and relaxed in the spectacular natural environment. The fact that every Zambian and Malawian we met was ready with a smile and a joke greatly helped. Lovely people.” Timothy Connolly – (trip to Zambia and Malawi)

“Delicious local food served in a wonderful setting high on a balcony overlooking the lake or down by the campfire in candlelight. Or lunch on the boat in the lake surrounded by hippos and crocodiles. A walking safari ending up with the most amazing breakfast or drinks watching the sunset.” A McCreery – (trip to Tanzania)

 

“I saw some amazing sights, getting to see all that I expected and more besides, but the thing that I will never forget is the warm, friendly hospitality of the staff. I loved the Zambian sense of humour and the people were always trying to fulfil your wishes.”

Geoffrey Gamble – (trip to Zambia)

“The highlights for us were the boat safaris at Mvuu. A peaceful way to see so much wildlife, especially the birds, and enjoy the wonderful views of the rivers and mountains in the distance and the big African skies.”

Joy Longmuir – (trip to Malawi)

 “We loved ziplining and a sunset cruise and canoe trip on the Zambezi river. A last-minute addition was hiking up to the first base camp at Mt Kilimanjaro. The people we met in Tanzania, were some of the most friendly and enjoyable people you could ever meet!”

Kimberly Robinette – (trip to Tanzania and Zimbabwe)

 

“Tracking lion prints through the bush with the reassurance of an excellent guide from the camp and an armed ranger from the National Parks service – and someone bringing up the rear with our morning tea and biscuits!”

Lucy McKenzie – (trip to Zambia)

 

“We would walk to the other side of the island after breakfast to a tiny beach where we would be all alone to swim in the warm sea, listening to the fish eagles and watching the kingfishers. We had a lovely massage in the best situation ever on the banks of the Luangwa River listening to the hippos chatting to each other.” Dr Caroline Russell – (trip to Zambia)

“It was very humbling having Phillip, the head keeper at Umani Springs Stockade thanking us for coming and supporting the Sheldrick organisation as, without all the supporters from around the world, he and the other keepers would not be able to do their jobs. Emanuel at Ithumba also thanked us profusely for our support. Not only do the supporters/foster parents of the ellies keep the orphanages going, but they also help the native wildlife due to the water holes that the Sheldrick organisation keep full with water.  Being able to chat to the keepers and be with them while they work and watch the elephants at the water holes and mud wallows was just AMAZING and so special.” Susan Bailey – (trip to Kenya)

“Our guide, Nkosi, was superb. He must have grown out of the very earth of Africa such was the depth and variety of his knowledge. His love for his country, the wildlife and flora in it, and his joy at imparting his wisdom shone through. It was a real privilege to share his insights and to watch him interact with wildlife to give us the best possible experiences. A talented photographer himself, he was able to place us in the best possible locations for photographs, whilst at all times respecting the needs of the wildlife. He drove us around with skill, responsibility and concern for our comfort and welfare through some very challenging situations.” Jane Simpson – (trip to Botswana)

“The companionship of my fellow ‘van’ travellers plus campfire drinks and other colourful characters. Breakfasts round a revived campfire with a kettle steaming on its embers and a cauldron of porridge keeping warm. Waking up to a full silver moon beaming in, shimmering across the Kafue River. One evening I was particularly awe struck at being able to see the sun set and the moon rise, one to my right the other to my left, both at the same time. Showering outside beneath a still star-studded sky in the moonlight before leaving for home.” Ruth Samways – (trip to Zambia)

“Seeing Kilimanjaro from the plane. People carrying massive bunches of bananas on their heads with perfect balance. Three people – barefoot, with no helmets – riding pillion on a motorbike ‘taxi’. The drive from Tarangire to Manyara through villages where all the children called and waved (and were very grateful for biscuits – hope they have good dentists) and realising this was effectively the Garden of Eden – didn’t see Adam, Eve or any snakes though.” Dr Robert Climie – (trip to Tanzania)

If we’ve whetted your appetite to take an African adventure and discover your own fireside tales, we’d be delighted to help you plan your trip!

We can tailor-make it specifically for you – but here are some trip ideas to get you thinking…

And here are some experiences that could make a holiday extra-special…

Northern Serengeti in the Low Season

Northern Serengeti in the Low Season

Northern Serengeti in the low season

 

 

AMANDA MARKS

Sitting alone, a large, battle-scarred male with a chunk missing out of his top lip was trying to disassociate himself from the seven females and youngsters relaxing in the sunshine on the edge of a dry riverbed.

Not that we were counting at the time, but that made it twelve lions we’d seen that morning. Twelve lions (plus two small cubs), five oribi, two bat-eared foxes, six giraffes, four dwarf mongooses (so cute!), four elephants, four rock hyrax, three red hartebeest, two greater eland, dozens of zebras, quite a few impalas, hundreds of wildebeest, and a partridge in a … No, maybe not.

The point here is that I was in northern Serengeti in late November. This time is classed as the low season for this region: November to May. Ask around and you’ll find that the general received wisdom is that it’s not worth coming to northern Serengeti in these months because you won’t see anything.

Well, I’d like to let you into a secret: that’s nonsense!

The reason many people think June/July to October are the only months to consider for this area of the Serengeti is that these are the months when the migration is either resident here or passing through on the way to the Masai Mara. It is in these months that you are likely to see thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebras plus attendant predators, and it’s also the time when you stand a chance of spotting the famed river crossings. There’s no doubt that this is indeed an incredible place to be when this natural phenomenon is around, however, to dismiss northern Serengeti for the rest of the year is to act rather ostrich-like. Look around – the resident wildlife here is excellent!

Thousands of hectares of wilderness are yours for the exploring.

It just happened that my colleague, Tracy, visited the area in first week of November, and I visited in the last week in November. We both had superb wildlife experiences, but what made it even better was that we shared these experiences with almost no-one else. Really! Thousands of hectares of wilderness are yours for the exploring, and when you spot wildlife you’re not vying with a dozen (or any, in my case) other vehicles.

And it’s such a beautiful place. The granite rock boulders sprinkled liberally over the landscape shine with what seems like an inner light as the early morning or late evening sun warms them as it has done for thousands of years. It’s ancient land, and particularly when it’s empty, it still feels like the soul of the earth is speaking to you here.

Big cats love it: leopards love the rock kopjes and cheetahs love the flat grasslands of the Lamai Wedge. Lions are happy anywhere really, but they prefer it if they don’t have to make too much effort for their dinner, and if they can find a nice quiet place to sleep. The proud, scarred old warrior we met had chosen his spot well. Northern Serengeti is a good place to be.

Where to stay…

There are some fantastic camps and lodges that operate in low season in the Northern Serengeti. For example, Sayari Camp  is a deluxe camp next to the Mara river, while Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge  offers gorgeous glass-fronted suites with private plunge pools. 

NOTES:
Low season in northern Serengeti is from November to May. Camp prices are cheaper and there are far fewer people visiting at this time.

Rainy season is late March/ April to May, so many camps are closed.

 

A Tower of Giraffes please!

A Tower of Giraffes please!

A Tower of Giraffes please!

Sinead Bailey

Last October, I visited South Africa with my family – my husband and 2 boys age 9 (James) and 12 (Charlie). We travelled from Cape Town, along the Garden Route and ended with a safari in the Eastern Cape.

We all had our own highlights, and I asked the kids for their favourite bits – there were many!! Here are their Top 3!

Charlie’s Highlights (age 12)

1 Fat Scooters – Scootours Cape Town
With our guide, we jumped on fat wheel scooters and descended down both Signal Hill and Table Mountain. So exhilarating and great fun. The views were stunning, and of course the kids’ highlight – watching Mummy give it a go! (I thought I was quite good actually!)

2 Watershed – Cape Town
There are A LOT of places to eat on the V&A Waterfront, but this was hands down Charlie’s favourite. Just a stone’s throw from our apartment, the Watershed is home to many different food stalls – from dirty burgers to more traditional South African fare. Great for a quick stop. The lady at the smoothie stall recognised Charlie by the time we left!

3 Night drive on safari
Our final stop on the trip was the Amakhala Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, staying at Hlosi Game Lodge. Lots of great sightings here, but Charlie’s high point was seeing three lionesses hunting on an awesome night drive. The red spotlight that is used on these night drives so as not to disturb the animals added to the drama. It was our David Attenborough moment.

James’ Highlights (age 9)

1 The Winelands
As James is clearly underage, this one may come as a surprise! But there were a few favourite moments from our visit to Franschhoek and the surrounding area. We started in Boschendal, where we hired bikes and cycled through the vast vineyards – followed by slumping on a bean bag under the shade of the trees and enjoying an ice cream.

A day hopping on and off the Franschhoek Wine tram was very entertaining – the guides are so lively and it’s a fun way to see a variety of the vineyards. James loved the hot chocolate, cheese and chocolate tasting alternatives for kids.

2 Paddle Boarding and Horse Riding
As we travelled further along the Garden Route, we arrived at Hog Hollow Country Lodge. A lovely option for families, and the kids made plenty of new friends here. There’s a number of activities available. An afternoon spent paddle boarding on the Keubrooms River was a real adventure, even when falling off! A glass of bubbly for the adults (balanced on the board!) was a lovely touch.

James and Dad also visited the stables at Hog Hollow, and spent a few hours riding sedately through the meadows and nearby forest. James nicknamed his horse ‘Hungry’, with lots of stops for grass munching!

 

3 Unsurprisingly, James also has a safari moment in his top 3! Our final afternoon on safari, we headed out with our guide, named Lucky. It was James’ turn to sit in the front and help with the spotting. After asking Lucky a million and one questions (all patiently answered, well done Lucky!), Lucky asked him – “What would you like to see on your final safari drive James?”. The answer: “A Tower of Giraffes please!”

We continued our safari, and as we headed closer to sunset, we saw the first few giraffes appear over the tree line. The vehicle slowed down, and we soon realised that we were surrounded by giraffes, at least 20, totally unfased by us and not going anywhere. We parked up, and as Lucky set up the sundowner drinks, we all watched in awe. It was breath-taking and I was even rewarded with hugs from the kids for the best holiday ever. Truly special.