Seek a Moroccan souk for your own Indiana Jones adventure!

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Would you ever put chaos and beauty in the same sentence when it comes to markets? It’s doubtful many people would. However, those two words describe the souks of Morocco perfectly.

A souk is a traditional open-air market in Morocco, with the primary/famous ones being in Marrakech and Fes. However, if you go to other large cities, the

Djemma del Fna Square in Marrakesh, the gateway to the souk of the city

neighborhood souks often have similar goods to those in Marrakech and Fes at better prices and fewer tourists, but the cost is the ambiance of the historical aspect and size of these famous souks.

In saying that, visiting a Moroccan souk isn’t about spending money per se; it’s a cultural pillar that needs to be experienced. Souks are where most Moroccan locals do their shopping, so seeing them living their daily lives and seeing all of the exquisite goods they craft on display is a real shift from the western life to which most are accustomed.

Intricate patterns of color draw buyers of Moroccan rugs from around the world.

Shoppers, you won’t need to spend time convincing your traveling companion to visit a souk.. Simply show them some photos of the beautiful products, explain that it’s a cultural experience not to be missed, and you’ll be on your way there!  Most will find something that catches their eye in these bustling meccas.

Once you enter the medina, a walled area in the oldest part of the city, you will walk down narrow streets and alleys.  Here you will find very old buildings, palaces, and mosques. You can almost feel the history!

As you finally reach the souk, your senses will be equally overwhelmed and excited as everywhere you look, you’ll see hundreds of stalls, dogs walking past, customers trying to get a bargain, people passing by on motorbikes, and locals chatting with friends.  The streets wind and cross creating a labyrinth.

So, now you know what makes the souks so chaotic, what also makes them beautiful you may ask? The vibrant colors of the traditional Moroccan lanterns, the tantalizing smells of the spices, the creativity and handiwork of artisans at work, and the voices of the Moroccan shopkeepers trying to lure customers to consider their wares.

Donkeys transporting hides from a tannery in the souk in Fez.

Whether you are there to shop or experience the cultural atmosphere, it won’t be long before a shopkeeper eagerly invites you to look at their products. Each seller specializes in one thing,whether that be leather bags, spices, oils, metalwork, or jewelry. The list is endless.

No matter if this is your first time visiting a souk or your fifth, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and get lost in the maze of stalls. So, hire a licensed guide when you visit one of the larger souks in Morocco, especially in Marrakech or Fes.

With a guide, you will not only hear about the history and popular attractions surrounding the souk, but they will also help you find any specific products you might be seeking by guiding you to the area where these goods can be found. If you’re planning on purchasing a product, a guide will assist or guide you in bargaining, the only way to obtain a price from a shopkeeper. You don’t need to be intimidated, it’s the way the locals do it, but a guide may help you feel a bit more at ease.

Moroccan lamps are just one of the wares that provide magnificent displays of color in the souks of Morocco.

Even if you’re there just to marvel at the beautiful creations that the locals make, it’s worth hiring a guide.  They often will know of unique artisans, historical spots or interesting people.

However, if you choose to wander through the souk without a guide, be aware of the guides who approach you. These “guides” tend to be associated with a specific shop

in the souk and will ultimately lead you there and pressure you into buying their products. If you see or think you see someone like this approaching you, just tell them “No thank you” and walk away.

The description of the souk as a labyrinth or maze is no understatement. The medina in Fes contains over 8000 alleys!  Tall buildings and covered alleys block GPS signals in many areas.  Getting lost easily happens.  When visiting on your own, visitors should frequently orient themselves and note landmarks.  When with a guide should you find yourself separated, stand still.  Guides usually grew up in the area and know the souks well so can backtrack and find you.  Moving only makes finding lost visitors more difficult.

Thousands of streets and alleys make up the old part of the city where the souk is located in Fes.

Whether a shopaholic or not, a visit to a souk will provide a lasting sensual memory. It’s a cultural experience worth the time and perhaps some nervousness with this very different way of life. After all, you may feel different kinds of excitement, confusion, and anxiety, but you may also and feel closer to the culture of Morocco because you’re right in the heart of it.

Ready to explore an authentic Morocco, call me to talk about a trip!

Pat Ogle-CollinsSeek a Moroccan souk for your own Indiana Jones adventure!
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Rwanda’s gorillas still need tourist Tarzans to save them!

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No, you don’t really have to act like Tarzan, thumping your chest and swinging through trees to save the gorillas of Rwanda.  You just need a sense of adventure, a respect for wildlife, some time (and money) to visit their home in Rwanda.

Volcano National Park ranks as a top destination for encounters with these creatures so closely related to humans. Seeing gorillas in the thick forest living together as families and caring for each other – this “family life” attracts tourists from all over the world.

Silverback gorilla in Volcanos National Park in northwest Rwanda.

Young gorillas playing together tumbling rollie-pollie down the mountain slopes; who isn’t fascinated by such antics?

Significant changes allowed their numbers to increase over the last several decades, but efforts can’t stop now. Steadfast, courageous, and loyal lovers of wildlife, like Tarzan, will continue to make a difference in their survival.

Trials of the gorilla population

Back in the 1980s, mountain gorilla populations stood at an all-time low of less than 300 and were classified as critically endangered. The relationship between humans and gorillas faced many ups and downs in the ensuing years with the gorillas losing ground, literally and figuratively.

Gorilla conservation efforts fuel tourism which in turn provide markets for the crops of Rwanda’s farmers.

Increasing human populations required more land to feed their families but this meant taking habitat from the gorillas and reducing their food supply. With the loss of habitat, encounters between humans and wildlife escalated. More and more gorillas died during these encounters and the stress and declining availability of food impacted their rate of reproduction.

Civil war and unrest also contributed to the loss of the apes as refugees fled to less populated areas, including national parks. To survive, these

victims of conflict scavenged firewood uncontrollably, further reducing gorilla habitat.

During periods of both conflict and peace, black markets for gorilla heads, hands, and feet encouraged poaching. Infants captured to be sold to zoos resulted in the loss of the young but also older apes as they fought to protect their young.

Hope Begins with the Gorilla Lady

With a loan to fund her trip, Dian Fossey traveled to Africa for the first time in 1963. During her travels, she met Louis Leakey, the famed anthropologist – a meeting that would change the course of her life.

Several years after returning home to the US, she met Leakey again, showing him articles she published after her trip.  Impressed with her work, he offered her the opportunity to lead a long-term field study of gorillas. Dian had her chance to return to Africa – no second loan needed!

Over the years, while studying the apes, Dian started to spread awareness of the plight of these creatures. Her ability to relate to the gorillas and their acceptance of her helped her change attitudes of local governments that went on to establish departments charged with managing parks and protecting wildlife, including the gorillas. Fossey’s book and subsequent movie, Gorillas in the Mist, also brought much-needed international focus on Rwanda and its “star” attraction!

Gorilla trekking tourism revenue contributes to the growth of the gorilla population on the increase since 2010.

Educating the local community provides a start, but educated locals without money to sustain themselves only goes so far. Once one program cracks, others supporting programs generally fall.

Maligned Tourst Elsewhere, Tarzans in Rwanda

Lush scenery and wildlife draw tourists that can produce significant revenue for local communities. However, balancing tourism, gorilla conservation efforts, and the needs of the local people is tricky.

Examples exist all over the world where the negative impacts of tourism outweigh the benefits.  Too much of a good thing poses a valid concern.  Somehow, tourist revenue had to be shared with the local community to provide for their needs to prevent them from taking forest areas for crops.

Funds from gorilla permits return to the local communities in the form of schools, roads, health clinics and more.

Fossey and other scientists found with time gorillas could become comfortable in the presence of humans. If they could do so with scientists, why not tourists?  Yet, exploitation of the gorillas remained a key concern.

How do you balance the number of tourists, support for the community, and protection of the gorilla population?  Regulated tours that hike the mountains to observe the gorillas! Limiting the number of tourists protects the gorillas and also increases the value of the limited access, so the Rwandan

government established permits with a cost that would support the conservation efforts.  The revenue funds conservation programs and infrastructure improvements that benefit gorillas, locals, and tourists.

Farmers can get their products to lodges and hotels to feed guests. Lodges hire community members to welcome and assist travelers. Guide, trackers, and porters aid tourists on their quest to see the gorillas. Gorillas are valued, loved, and protected then by everyone in the community.

Result – mountain gorilla numbers now exceed 1000! Tourist Tarzans helped save the gorillas that are now “endangered” from their “critically endangered” status before.

Don’t stop now!

Small changes can rock delicately balanced conservation programs.  Strained by the devastating impact of the pandemic on tourism, lodges and parks laid off staff, farmers receive less income from lodges, and infrastructure projects have slowed.

A lack of tourists means a significant drop in revenue.  Subsequently, the gorillas are at risk again What can you, the Tarzan, do?

The lush landscape of Rwanda.

Consider a gorilla trekking trip. Your permit directly benefits the gorillas and the local communities.

Visit other parts Rwanda and neighboring countries. Gorillas don’t know borders and the efforts of the neighboring countries of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other areas of Rwanda contribute to the survival of the species.

The landscape of Volcanos National Park helps explain the title of Dian Fossey’s book, “Gorillas in the Mist.”

Buy local handicrafts, enjoy local restaurants, tip porters, guides, and trackers.  Locals feel the link between tourism and their quality of life directly.

Help control the spread of diseases particularly COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and supporting worldwide vaccination efforts.  Gorillas share 98% of their DNA with humans, so the threat of the spread of disease between apes and humans is significant.

Spread the word of conservation and responsible tourism.  We as humans share this planet with the wildlife.  Survival of one is not possible without the survival of the other.

Tarzan didn’t save the day by himself. Tourists alone, won’t save the mountain gorillas either. Responsible tourism combined with the efforts of the Rwandan government and local communities together provide the keys to saving these gentle giants of the mountains of Eastern Africa!

Want to do your part?  Call me to talk about a trip today!

 

Pat Ogle-CollinsRwanda’s gorillas still need tourist Tarzans to save them!
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Step by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!

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When planning a long-awaited vacation, how you want to travel is just as important as where you want to travel. If you are somebody who enjoys culture, outdoor life and a slower form of travel, then taking a walking might be right up your alley. Choose your desired level of activity and have a unique experience, discovering new cities and regions.

Nowadays, you can find walking vacations suited for anyone’s needs and every level of fitness. Many tours combine traditional sightseeing and walking. That means you can enjoy a morning walking thru beautiful scenery and then continue with some less physical adventures, for example, a cooking class, wine tasting or a visit to a craftsman.

Explore the Italian Alps, the Dolomites, and their towering rock monoliths.

The possibilities are endless – book a Spanish culinary tour that takes you through charming villages, or – if you prefer a bigger challenge – spend a week in the mountains. Taking a walking tour may not be what you imagine – it is the perfect combination of comfort and activity. When it comes to accommodation, no sleep bag required-we’re talking lovely inns with fluffy duvets, fresh warm bread or croissants, and lots of hot water!

Contrary to trekking tours, you won’t experience high altitudes or rough conditions. When backpacking, specialized equipment is typically needed, and training is a must.  Not the case with walking tours.  Usually, you only carry what is needed for the day while your baggage is transported to your next hotel. There’s no hassle and no tired backs. If you are somebody who likes to treat yourself after a long day, some tours even offer meals at Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels with spas!  But walking tours offer more than deluxe-style travel.

Literally, you can stop and smell the flowers along the way on a walking tour.

Zipping by not allowed!

When traveling to a destination for the first time, it can be overwhelming with all there is to see and do. Walking tours allow you to focus on a smaller region and travel at a slower pace and even on your own pace. Of course, driving on your own or with a tour means you may see more in terms of area, but walking allows you to see a destination more closely and more deeply.

Rather than seeing works of Van Gogh in a museum, walk sites he visited, and the places he painted in Arles and St. Remy in Provence.  Furthermore, some places can be accessed only on foot. Just explore all of the incredible alleys of Fes in Morrocco and gorgeous enjoy panoramic vistas of the Alpine valleys that otherwise might be missed!

Eat that extra dessert!

Walking tours are perfect for travelers who seek adventure but don’t relish the thought of sore muscles.

And better yet, it’s great for those that like to enjoy local food. That walking, it’s burning calories your consumed during wonderful meals!  The level of activity and distances vary. Even those who aren’t athletically oriented can find a tour suited for their abilities. There is truly nothing more wonderful than being outdoors for long periods of time, enjoying nature, and walking through the sunshine (or rain – its own joyful type of experience).

Let others do the work!

Planning might be fun for some, but good luck trying to find a restaurant on a trail in the Bavarian forest or someone to transport your luggage from one village to the next.  All done for you on a walking tour.  These tours also offer some unique sights and experiences that you might not even know exist. Simply follow your guide (or the information provided by the company if you are going on a self-guided tour) and let your worries drift away.

There’s no campfire grub on a walking tour.  Enjoy wonderful local cuisine featuring local farm-fresh ingredients.

The route and distance are mapped out and time to explore on your own is frequently scheduled.  Distances during the day may be as few as a couple of miles to as many as 10.  You may find a short walk during the morning in one town followed by a transfer to another town for a short walk before dinner.

Walking tour companies also know that everyone is different. Self-guided tours allow you to walk the entire tour on your own. However, those who prefer to meet new people can choose a small group tour led by a local guide who knows the area and the culture well. Days spent walking with others allow you to get to know other participants and friendships to grow – lovely for those traveling solo. After all – what can be better than meeting people who share similar interests to you?

When choosing a tour, it is crucial to pay close attention to what is included and the level of difficulty, since the terms – hiking, walking, trekking – may vary by company. You will find walking tours all around the globe – from Europe to Southeast Asia and beyond.

Enjoy the destination and those with you on a walking tour.

There’s a song that may just be talking about walking tours –

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy.

Life’s too short and vacations go too fast.  Slow down and enjoy a walking tour.  I’m ready to help when you’re ready to explore.  Call me!

Pat Ogle-CollinsStep by Step – The Ultimate Form of Slow Travel!
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Embrace adventure! Drive thru New Zealand!

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Referred to as the Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand defines long.  Stretching over 1298 miles from north to south (about the distance from New York City to Miami and only 194 miles wide at its widest point), no wonder the locals like to call a trip around the country the great Kiwi road trip.   There’s a reason.  The only way to get to most destinations around the country requires a car.  Some might call this a particularly exciting adventure because, yes, the Kiwis as the locals are called, drive on the left side of the road.

Driving thru the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

You could do a tour that visits the major sights of the country, but when you self-drive, you have freedom to go where you want, when and for how long. You can stop at the many quaint New Zealand towns to go shopping, see tourist attractions, enjoy traditional food and buy souvenirs as you please. Stopping to buy local products like fruits, vegetables, wine, cheese, and honey will be a highlight of your trip. You will meet local farmers and gather delicious flavors to enjoy during the leisurely days of your trip that follow.

You drive on the left in New Zealand.

The scenery is spectacular in the land of the long white cloud with rolling hills, vast mountain ranges, wide-open fields, and stunning lakes. You can also expect to see breathtaking fjords, pristine beaches, unique geothermal activity, and lots of sheep. Any time you want to stop for a photo, you can.

Driving on the left side – it’s not as scary as it sounds. After a few days of driving carefully on the left side, your mind will adapt and you will relax and be just fine. Start your road trip with short legs so you can gradually build up your confidence.

Phone apps can help you navigate your way around. For directions, you can use Google maps as you would at home. Weather apps are great, so you can see if bad weather is looming and plan your travel days accordingly to avoid driving in inclement weather.

Road conditions in New Zealand are good. Highways are similar to our state roads, not interstate highways; those are found only around Auckland and Christchurch. Roads are signposted well and there are many passing lanes or areas to pull over to allow traffic to pass. There are gravel and narrow roads in some rural areas.  On coastal roads, you can expect winds that require additional caution.  That is why it’s important to map out a travel plan in advance, so you are only driving in areas where and when you will feel comfortable.

On your great Kiwi road trip, you can explore areas like Cape Kidnappers that aren’t included on tours.

Reflective signs and road markings guide the way during evenings and at night. The maximum speed in any area is 100 km/hour (about 62 mph) and you need to slow down on approach to towns and school areas which is always signposted. Perhaps one of the trickiest things for NZ visitors (apart from driving on the left) is the roundabouts that many towns have on the outskirts and town centers.

Often you and maybe one other car will be on or entering a roundabout in New Zealand.

Before you rent your vehicle to travel to New Zealand, you’ll normally be shown a road safety video or given a road rule guide. You can also find them online to study before your arrival. Insurance is included and compulsory, as is showing the driver’s license issued in your country or international driving permit.

During your journey thru rural areas, you might come across some nature crossing the roads. It could be a farmer moving a herd of cows or a wild rabbit on the move. You might also see law enforcement along the way.

Police patrol the roads and there are numerous hidden speed cameras.   if caught speeding, your ticket will await when you return your vehicle or could arrive by mail many months after you return home.

The towns in NZ are quite close together. Even though many are small communities, you don’t need to go too far before finding a place to seek directions, fuel up or take a break to stretch your legs. It’s not difficult to find a public bathroom and restaurants and cafes have bathrooms for use by customers.

First-time driving on the left can be nerve-wracking initially.  But driving in New Zealand is quite easy because there just isn’t much traffic on the roads, except during peak times in the major cities. Even then, it’s quiet compared to many other metropolitan cities in the world. In some rural areas, you may drive for 10-20 min or more before you see another car.

You’ll be a confident driver after a day or two on the road. It is easy to find your way around and locals are very friendly and helpful should you need assistance.

Spend time in New Zealand.  Enjoy all the gorgeous scenery of both the North and the South Island.  Get to know the Kiwis.  It all becomes so easy and relaxing by car after a day or two. Drop us a line if you would like more information on travel in New Zealand and/or questions about driving the quiet Kiwi roads.  Oh, and if I can do it, you can.

With a car, you can see Lake Wakatipu on the South Island from so many gorgeous vantage points.

Pat Ogle-CollinsEmbrace adventure! Drive thru New Zealand!
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A day on safari unfolds typically; it’s what you see that continually changes!

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Safari life is exciting, and every day brings the possibility of seeing African creatures up close in their natural inhabitant. The thrill of seeing animals in the wild is the main reason that draws travelers to the beautiful countries in Africa. But you might be wondering what a typical day on safari looks like. 

 

Your experienced guides know how to read the movements of the bush and will plan safaris, so you have the best opportunities to see magnificent creatures in the wild. You can expect early morning wake-up calls, set meal times, and strict rules regarding safety. 

Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only active volcano in East Africa

Every day is different, and the season, weather, and other factors like migration and mating come into play when your guides are planning your days. 

 

Following is a general timeline widely used by lodges and camps designed to maximize your time to enjoy the environment and see all the wildlife that lives there, from the bugs to the birds to the buffalo. 

5 am – 6 am

Rise and shine! This vacation isn’t for travelers who love to sleep in and do brunch more often than breakfast. Many of the animals are active early in the morning and late afternoon when the temperatures are cooler. Splash some water on your face and grab a coffee and a roll or piece of fruit because the lions won’t wait for anyone.  Note:  Game drive times vary through the year and location with sunrise and sunset.

Ballooning over Masai Mara at sunrise

6 am – 9 am

It may be early, but as they say “the early bird gets the worm.”  By air or by land, early morning is when you will find wildlife active.  Trackers and guides will be looking for signs of wildlife.  Some are obvious.  Others are very subtle and easily missed by the untrained.  While wild most animals are accustomed to seeing vehicles and know they pose no danger in normal circumstances, guides provide specific instructions to ensure the safety of their guests.

9 am – 10 am

You earned breakfast and it’s usually a feast of fruit, cereal, toast, and maybe bacon and eggs – with more coffee, of course. Depending on your location, you might be enjoying a bush breakfast or be dining at the lodge with birds singing in the background.

Heading to another lodge or camp?  After breakfast, your bags will be loaded and off you go.

10 am – 12:30 pm

This is your free time to relax, reflect and enjoy the atmosphere of the camp or lodge. Your guide will tell you it’s against the rules to wander around the bush, so find a good book, do some writing, or settle in the shade for some bird watching. If your camp has a waterhole, you might want to lay low in a hide and wait for a visitor of the wild kind. 

Overlooking a plain in Zimbabwe.

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Lunch is served. Meager morsels are not what you will find for lunch.  It’s a full meal with a main dish, fresh salads, fruit, and desserts. As everyone gathers around to eat together, you are sure to make new friends with others from around the world as you share stories and hopes for the adventure ahead.

Afternoon walk near safari camp

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm

It is time to have an afternoon nap during this hottest time of the day. The locals take a siesta and this includes all living creatures – travelers, trusty guides, and the wildlife. Or you might like to take a dip in the pool or just relax. Some camps and lodges may offer walks in or just outside the camp.  Visits to local villages, schools, or markets may also be available.  Staff will let you know about the options available each day.

Typically new guests arrive in time for the late afternoon game drive to maximize your game viewing while there.

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm

Afternoon tea or a mid-afternoon snack and beverage helps get you through the long day with scorching temperatures as you prepare for round two of viewing local game and wildlife.

4 pm – 7:30 pm

Get the binoculars ready again. Your guide will have a plan mapped out to look for a herd of animals or flock of birds, and usually, your group will settle in a picturesque spot to be as the sun slowly sets over a “sundowners,” frequently a gin and tonic or another beverage (alcoholic nor non-alcoholic) of your choosing.  As the sun goes down on another glorious day, there is often significant animal movement and a great chance to see some game in action. It will get dark quickly and you may use floodlights to see wildlife as you make your way back to your camp or your lodge.

Trackers know where to find the best views of wildlife for guests.

7:30 pm – 10:30 pm

You arrive back at your accommodation and have time to get ready for dinner. Chat with fellow guests and compare elephant photos around the campfire before the candlelit dinner is served in the dining area. This is the main meal of the day and a leisurely affair.  The food is the level of fine dining with options that take into account dietary requirements.

Table set for dinner at a lodge in Botswana

10:30 pm to bedtime

Nightcaps around the campfire and colorful conversations under the starry African sky end the day perfectly. Tomorrow is another new adventure that could bring sightings of lions, hippos, hyenas, and wild dogs. Get some rest because the knock on your door will be coming very early!

Is the call of the wild temping you with a trip to Botswana, Kenya, or Uganda yet? There are so many wonderful locations to choose from. We will help you decide on the best safari.   It should be noted the main difference between safaris in East and Southern Africa is how near to the animals you can get.   For example, in Kruger, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, off-road game viewing is permitted, but in most parks, off-road driving is not permitted barring some private conservancies and reserves.

 

For more information on an African safari to remember, send us an email today and I will contact you to offer up ideas and suggestions around the wildlife that you want to see!

Pat Ogle-CollinsA day on safari unfolds typically; it’s what you see that continually changes!
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Explore the Kimberly – One of the Last Wilderness Frontiers in the World!

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Very few places on earth are like the Kimberley. This is a dream destination like no other tucked away in northwestern Australia. It’s a pristine, wild, and untouched region of remarkable beauty, filled with a variety of plants and animals, unique physical features, and breathtaking landscapes. The big question is this, what new adventures can you experience when you explore the Kimberley? Read to the end, and you will agree the right answer is, “a lot.”

A Place of Timeless Magnificence

Its beauty is unspoiled – the main reason it continues to attract adventure-seekers looking for extraordinary experiences. Imagine a  remote area of over 162,000 square miles with a 7500 miles long coast filled with nothing but timeless magnificence. In the entire world, this ranks as one of the last wilderness frontiers.  Yet gorgeous scenery and precious natural features abound.

Mitchell Waterfall, Western Australia

Hemmed in by the Timor Sea on the northern side, the Great Sandy desert on the southern stretch, the Northern Territory to the east, and on the west, the Indian Ocean, this expansive wilderness almost the size of California, is characterized by contrasting, but stunning natural features such as the Horizontal Waterfall that forms when huge tidal currents rush through narrow, parallel gorges or the incredibly gorgeous Mitchell waterfall, splashing down 4 steps in pink, yellow and blue hues.

The Spellbinding Scene at Montgomery Reef

You will also find the Montgomery reef that turns into a spellbinding scene when it transforms at the tide-fall.  Because of the size of the tidal change, the ocean appears to rear up with large torrents of water, containing a multitude of reef sharks, dolphins, and octopuses, cascades toward shore. Rare animals like giant saltwater crocodiles, hundreds of bird species, and more abound here.

Home to a Very Busy Delivery Room

The entire coast of the Kimberly provides the largest nursery in the world for the over 40,000 humpback whales that travel to the area from Antarctica to enjoy the warmer waters from June to October.  While summering off Australia’s coast, the whales give birth to calves before making their way back to the cooler waters.  Often pods of three to four whales up to 15 meters in length along with their calves drop by to say hello to those on whale-watching excursions, often slapping their tales on the water or breaching to garner some attention.

But that’s not all, Kimberley is rich in awe-inspiring vistas of sparkling, powder-soft, silica sand beaches, azure blue waters, and vast open skies through which showers of shooting stars streak at night. And for one more surprise, dinosaur footprints, some as large as 1.7 meters in size and over 130 million years old can be seen when the tides recede outside of Broome!

Camel caravan at sunset, Broome, Australia

Spectacular Camel Trains and Golden Sunsets

Other scenes guaranteed to snatch your breath away include the more than 2600 islands along the coast whose marvelous attractions can be seen only from the luxurious comforts of a cruise. At the prestigious Cable Beach at Broome resort town, you will enjoy the spectacular sight of a camel train that daily trails along the beach on the backdrop of golden sunsets.  You can also go snorkeling, scuba-diving, or pearl hunting at Roebuck Bay.

Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia

An Interior with Spectacular Sights to Explore As Well

The interior of the Kimberly provides sights equally as beautiful as the coast.  One of the most visited being the Bungle Bungle Range.  Located in the southern end of the Purnululu National Park, these domes of sandstone only became known in the 1980s.  Walk among the black and orange striped domes formed millions of years ago when sand and gravel that flowed thru the area compacted.  Later, when the area uplifted the domes were formed.  Continue on your walk and you come to the Cathedral Gorge.  200 ft red rock cliffs tower around you as you pass thru the area helping visitors feel the awe of nature at its best.

Not to be outdone, the Windjana Gorge, boasts 300 meter high walls and historical significance for the armed rebellion against European settlers in the late 1800s.  During a walk thru the gorge, you will find fossilized marine life and freshwater crocodiles.   The Tunnel Creek Cave system is one of the country’s oldest.  Visitors can walk 750 meters inside surrounded by beautiful rock formations while wading thru freshwater pools.

Karijini National Park brims with gorges all unique in their own way. Then for for a different kind of view, Mount Bruce, Australia’s second highest mountain resides in the park.  At just over 4000 feet and with a number of short walks, expansive views await providing numerous different perspectives of the surrounding landscape.

This is just a snapshot of the fantastic Kimberley where startlingly picturesque, tranquil beauty is in abundance; and there is so much more.  Want to talk about other possible sights or options for a trip to the Kimberly?  Give me a call to talk more!

Cliffs of Cathedral Gorge, Western Australia

Pat Ogle-CollinsExplore the Kimberly – One of the Last Wilderness Frontiers in the World!
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A South African Nature Reserve with No Big Five Game?

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Unlike most typical Safari lodges in Africa mainly focused around big game watching, Grootbos Private National Reserve in South Africa offers other wildlife equally as captivating – exotic plants, and marine wildlife. This privately owned property is a paradise for nature lovers. The National Geographic proclaims it as one of the “most enchanting nature reserves worldwide.” Located where the Atlantic meets the Indian ocean, it is a marvelous place in which several ecosystems co-exist in perfect harmony.

Grootbos villa

Being home to over 800 plant species some of which exist in no other place on the planet, it is the richest floral heaven outside the tropics. The splendor of its varied natural vistas is simply breathtaking. The reserve is undoubtedly a different universe where the focus is absolutely on plant life and green living. Working with nature toward self-reliance is the norm.

A Panorama of Enchanting Scenery, Brilliant Sunrises, and Orange Sunsets

A misty haze covers the horizon every morning to create enchanting sunrises that give way to bright days of uninterrupted views to the Cape of Good Hope.  Evenings are clothed in the most glorious sunsets in hues of orange, pink, gold, and brilliant-red visible from the open decks of private villas, each with one wall entirely made of a glass window.

Outdoor dining area or boma at Grootbos Nature Reserve

The innate beauty of these dwellings oozes out of their local stone and traditional thatch constructions. These, however, do not detract from the feeling of living luxuriously in a modern space. A combination of crackling evening log fires, dim lights, and rain softly strumming on the thatched roofs make up a natural melody, creating moments of pure ecstasy guaranteed to fire up your spirits.

In the evening, dine outside in the boma with caressing evening breezes filled with spicy, energizing floral scents invade your senses to give you a euphoric experience of total tranquility, perhaps only broken by tinkling crockery. The full-service, self-sustaining kitchen prepares cuisine that is a fantastic visual spectacle of culinary sophistication.

Ocean Trips and Guided Nature Safaris through Lush Greenery

Boat rides through glassy waters with an unimpeded view of what lies at the ocean bottom take you on water safaris to Dyer Island, just a short distance from the coast. There is an amazing plethora of dolphins, sharks, and thousands of seals around Geyser Rock – a great spot for white sharks and their unique seal hunting behavior.

Expert naturalists provide guided plant safaris into the forest of Milkwood trees aged more than 1000 years. Land trips take you across expanses of a stunning landscape of lush greenery interspersed with flowers blossoming in a rioting profusion of colors. After a drive across this vast terrain of beautiful, wide valleys and craggy mountains seeming to gracefully roll and tumble into the bluest waters of Walker Bay, you return to the lodge.

Southern Right Whale swimming under whale watching boat

4×4 flower safari thru the Cape floral kingdom

Bath overlooking Grootbos down to the coast

A Reserve Focused on the Guest and the Community

Providing employment, the reserves’s Grootbos Foundation trains members of the community on research-backed environmental science and hospitality management.  The Foundation, including its Siyakhula and Green Futures programs, seeks to empower local communities and individuals through ecotourism, enterprise development, and education.

Guests enjoy products grown and raised on the Growing the Future Farm organic farm which are sold to the Grootbos lodges.  The Green Futures program provides education and training in horticulture and hospitality with participants working on the reserve behind the scenes and directly with guests.  Upon completion, participants are placed locally with other employers or assisted in establishing their own small enterprise.

When coming to South Africa, the big game safari is a must, but missing out on a stay at Grootbos means you will miss an experience combining the sea, the unique flora, and the local people that will stay with you for years!  All it takes is a call to start you on your journey.

Pat Ogle-CollinsA South African Nature Reserve with No Big Five Game?
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Near, On or In – Location is Key on the Great Barrier Reef!

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Submerged in a bright blue sea of water is a world unlike any other. Spots of greens, reds, purples, yellows, pinks, and oranges shine vibrantly against the simple blue of the ocean. A school of fish whoosh by, glug glugging, glugging as they go. A sea turtle floats about, basking in his surroundings as he chomps on some sea algae. This is the Great Barrier Reef.

Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders; a bucket list destination for many travelers. With so much to do and see on the Great Barrier Reef, making the selection of accommodation for your reef stay important to your overall Australian trip planning.   Options abound, but key to any planning is where: on the reef itself, on the mainland, or on an island.

On the Reef

Staying on the Reef with Reefsuites provides a truly unique experience.  Anchored at sea, the pontoon Reefsuites pontoon rooms sit below the waterline with underwater views.  Factors to consider:

  • Cost- Staying on the reef is luxurious but costly. This isn’t just a hotel– it’s an experience. With any truly unique experience, your stay will rank as perhaps the most expensive of your stay.

Reefsuites, Hardy Reef, off Queensland, Australia

  • Activities- There are a variety of activities available with Reefsuites. Snorkeling, scuba diving, dinner under the stars, and helicopter rides make the time in the blue waters go fast.
  • Time- Your time while on the reef will be completely focused on this natural wonder. There are no excursions elsewhere, so most stay only a night with a few staying two nights – less than you may have originally planned.  Also factor in travel time to the hotel and back to the mainland.

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

On the Mainland

When people visit Australia and the Great Barrier Reef, stays on the mainland and particularly in Cairns.  This is certainly an option for people wanting to make a day trip of the Great Barrier Reef so they can engage in mainland activities, great nightlife, and many accommodation options.  Consider the following:

  • Cost- Staying on the mainland is going to be your least expensive option. This exact cost, however, depending on the resort and room type selected.  However, this may allow additional funds to be allowed for activities.
  • Activities: Being on the mainland means you’ll have many activities to choose from. You could go sailing, golfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, lounge at the spa, and so much more. Plus, you’ll have a variety of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops at your disposal.
  • Time: Generally allow 70 minutes up to two hours to reach your destination on the reef. This time can vary based on where you are traveling from and which part of the reef you are visiting. Should you want to spend considerable time exploring the reef, consider the travel time when selecting the location for your accommodations.

On an Island

An island stay can offer the best of both reef and mainland accommodation locations. Of the hundreds of islands on the Great Barrier Reef, a number of resorts call an island their home offering special benefits:  they are surrounded by water, and each sports its own unique atmosphere and amenities.  Aspects of an island stay include:

Lizard Island, Queensland, Australia

  • Cost: Island stays can be affordable.  Islands that actually on the reef will cost more, but to save some money, those further away may be a good option.
  • Activities: Island resorts still offer guests a wide variety of activities.  Guests can go scuba diving, snorkeling, take a boat trip, lounge at the beach, and attend island resort events. There’s so much to do!
  • Time: Travelers should factor in the time it will take to get to the island, as well as how long it will take to get to the Great Barrier Reef from the island. The journey to the Great Barrier Reef takes 30 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the island.

The bountiful marine life, the tranquil blue waters, and the feel of the saltwater on your skin are never too far away regardless of your decision.  Where the Great Barrier Reef lies on your list of priorities for your trip Downunder will help drive the decision.  Let me help you design your trip Downunder so it fits you perfectly.  I’m only an email away!

Pat Ogle-CollinsNear, On or In – Location is Key on the Great Barrier Reef!
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Eastern or Southern Africa Safari: Does it matter?

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Roadblocks have a different meaning on safari.

An African safari?  It’s a big decision for a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Wildlife is everywhere, so does it matter where you go? Activities or sights other than game viewing might be a bigger factor in your decision, but when focusing on the safari experience, being in the know will help you make the right decision for you.

When talking about regions for big game safaris, East Africa includes the countries of  Kenya, Tanzania, while Southern Africa covers South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.  Grab your binoculars as we look at these two areas.

Lodge-centered safaris dominate Southern Africa safaris while safaris in Eastern Africa are centered around the safari company, ground operator or the camp.

In Southern Africa, the lodge provides all the services around your safari from the time you arrive at the airport/airstrip until the time you leave. The staff, including drivers, guides, and trackers, are all employed by the lodge where you stay. Should your trip include 2 or more lodges, your drivers, guides, and trackers change when you arrive at a new lodge.

For moderately priced safaris in East Africa, you’re transported by vehicles between parks that are far apart with lodges for accommodations.  Your driver, guide, and tracker, who may be the same person, stay with you during your entire trip.  The whole experience is arranged through a safari company or ground operator.  These drivers/guides read their clients well and a relationship often develops.

For those with less time and/or those that desire more intimate camps, fly-in safaris in East Africa allow travelers to maximize their time game viewing using smaller camps that provide a higher level of service.  These safaris more resemble the Southern Africa camp-centered safari, where the camp provides the driver/guide/tracker at each location.

Your ride in Southern Africa is more open, but you can still get great pictures from the vehicles in Eastern Africa.

All aboard your open-sided land cruiser that lets you have a clear view of the animals in Southern Africa. You will depart the lodge and loop around a route covering a 20-mile radius from your base. You will be on the reserve roads or inside the park or reserve.

Vehicles with pop-up tops shield travelers from the sun and allow for great pictures too.

In the East, you travel in vehicles with pop tops for road-based safaris. Since you are going further distances, open-sided vehicles aren’t suitable. Don’t worry because you can still get great photos thru your pop-up top. With the option to close the top, air conditioning and small refrigerators make your long-distance drives easier.   Open-sided vehicles are used for fly-in safari camps providing greater unobstructed visibility.

Wildebeast crossing the Mara River during the annual migration.

Pros and cons of fencing: Will the experience feel like a zoo?

You will likely hear about the fence debate while traveling around Africa. Some say it helps protect the wildlife and people, while others believe it’s unnatural.

In Southern Africa, you can expect areas to be fences, but you might travel for days without seeing a fence because the areas are massive – we are talking about reserves and parks the area of a small state in

America! These reserves make their own rules so you can experience night drives and your driver can follow wildlife off-road.

In Eastern Africa, there aren’t any fences giving animals more freedom to roam, making mobile camps ideal.  As the animals migrate, a mobile safari camp can follow the wildlife and set up temporary or semi-permanent tented camps.  These camps are great for observing the Great Migration, saving significant travel time reaching wildlife at its current location.

The numbers game – People and Animals

In the South, the wildlife parks and reserves limit how many safari vehicles can be near a group of animals at one time (usually up to three). In the East, there are no limits on the number of vehicles, but time limits at popular sites or around groups of animals may be observed to reduce crowding at peak times and the stress on the animals.

Limits on the number of vehicles during peak periods around popular spots limit the stress on wildlife.

Don’t worry.  The Big Five ((elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and buffalo) live in both Eastern and Southern Africa. Larger concentrations of wildlife in East Africa allow dramatic sightings of potentially hundreds or thousands of animals as you look out over wide-open spaces like during the Great Migration.

As always pros and cons exist for the Eastern or Southern parts of Africa. Much comes down to personal preference for your adventure.  However, once having done a safari, many travelers return to Africa to experience another area and/or type of experience.  Both regions offer unique aspects and fascinating opportunities. You never know what will happen or what you will see on safari and that makes it all the more exciting!

Let’s talk more about an Eastern or Southern Africa safari and which is best for you and your travel companions. We have stories to share and more info regarding factors like seasons, the time required, specific wildlife, and more so drop us a line soon.

Pat Ogle-CollinsEastern or Southern Africa Safari: Does it matter?
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