Travels

  • Top Southern Africa Activities

    Southern Africa is known mostly for its beautiful landscapes, friendly people, wild animals, and of course “The Smoke That Thunders” Victoria Falls. Some may already be aware; however Southern Africa is also home to a wide variety of adventure activities. Check out what tops my own list below.

    Victoria Falls: Southern Africa Activity Capital

    Gorge Swing | Photo Credit: Gorge Swing

    Gorge Swing | Photo Credit: Gorge Swing

    Starting in Victoria Falls, the extreme sport capital of Africa, you will be able to find a multitude of options located just minutes from Victoria Falls. Incredible white water rafting is only minutes from the area. Featuring grade five rapids, it is some of the best rafting in the world. Even more intense is the Gorge Swing. Located about 400 feet above the Batoka Gorge, the adrenaline rush from this 230-foot free fall is one of the most daring of all the African adventure activities.

    A Swim With The Sharks

    Sharks | Photo Credit: Lagoonarium

    Sharks | Photo Credit: Lagoonarium

    Heading down south, Cape Town is no slouch with the Southern Africa activities offered in this area. Their options may not be as dare devilish or high flying; however, Shark Cage Diving is high on many bucket lists. Located off the coast of Cape Town in either False Bay or Gansbaai, which is a two-hour drive along the coast, those brave enough can jump into the Atlantic Ocean with these beautiful creatures. June and July are the best months to see the Great Whites while they are hunting Cape Fur seal pups, however a variety of these predators can be seen year-round.

    Family Friendly Adventure

    Sandboarding | Photo Credit: Sandboarding

    Sandboarding | Photo Credit: Sandboarding

    For a more family friendly Southern Africa adventure activities, look no further than right outside of Cape Town. I highly recommend sandboarding on the Atlantic Dunes. This beautiful drive is approximately 50 minutes north west of the city. As a half day experience, it is great for active families traveling with children. This soft white sand can reach up to 165 feet in height which can help get the adrenaline flowing while cruising down the dune. This majestic white sand dunes also offer activities such as ATV’s, 4×4 riding and quad bikes.

    If you are looking for an adrenaline rush with a stunning backdrop, look no further than Southern Africa. The activities, much like the people, landscapes, and wildlife, are unforgettable.

    March 11, 2020 • Africa, Articles, Kevin Murray, Travels, Uncategorized • Views: 355

  • Hobbiton: New Zealand’s Natural Soundstage

    J.R.R. Tolkien, the architect and author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, once wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Nearly 70 years later, visionary director and native Kiwi Peter Jackson gave life to Tolkein’s words on the silver screen. Using New Zealand as his backdrop, Jackson recreated the spectacular and mythical world of Middle-Earth. Featuring the stunning mountains, rolling hills, and rivers that make up New Zealand, Jackson succeeded. Middle-Earth exists and, as you will see below, Hobbiton is a testament to this notion.

    Hobbiton Discovered

    When preproduction commenced in 1998 on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, location scouts scoured the New Zealand countryside. It was in the middle of Waikato that the location of the Shire was discovered. Set amidst the lush rolling hills of a 1250 acre sheep farm, the land was tailormade for the Middle-Earth. Work on Hobbiton began in March 1999, with help from the New Zealand Army. The production team constructed 39 Hobbit Holes set over 12 stunning acres. After filming concluded, 17 Hobbit Holes remained and would serve as the foundation of Hobbiton as it is today.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton Today

    With 44 permanently constructed Hobbit Holes, Hobbiton is a fully functioning natural soundstage. Visitors see the same sets that graced the silver screen, spanning two decades and six movies. Take in the Party Tree, the site of Bilbo’s 111st birthday, and then enjoy a beverage at The Green Dragon Inn, the favorite haunt of Frodo and Sam. And then there are the Hobbit Holes. Built into the picturesque hills, the Hobbit Holes are as beautiful and intricately designed in person as they are in the films. Hobbiton offers several different touring options, each one showing off the Shire and the gorgeous scenery that makes it.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    More Middle-Earth

    New Zealand features more than Hobbiton. The team at WETA workshop in Wellington created the physical effects for The Lord of the Rings. At Mount Sunday, you can see the majestic setting that would become Edoras on the appropriately titled Edoras Tour. Visit Mount Ngauruhue in Tongariro National Park, the site that became Mount Doom. Venture through Fiordland National Park in Te Anau and see what would become Fangorn Forest. And, should you want to walk the Paths of the Death as Aragorn did in “Return of the King,” a trip to Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve in Wairarapa would be mandatory.

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    Hobbiton | Photo Credit: Hobbiton

    New Zealand serves as the universe for all things Middle Earth. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the Fellowship of the Ring, “Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight.” Go on your own journey through Middle Earth in New Zealand. See where your imagination becomes a reality.

    See our Travel Experts’ itineraries including Hobbiton, here.

     

     

    February 28, 2020 • Destinations, Max Wasserman, New Zealand, Travels • Views: 998

  • My First Great Migration in Africa

    The Great Migration in Africa will give you goosebumps. Millions of animals moving clockwise, following the rain and the promise of food and water. The Great Migration is an ancient practice and to see it is to see the circle of life unfold right before your very eyes. In Kenya, that is precisely what I saw.

    The Great Migration Begins

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    I raised my camera when I saw them all begin to move toward the river. We had stood for hours in the back of open roofed truck observing the great herd, watching them wade through the oceans of Kenyan tallgrass. It was in those hours of anticipation of the Great Migration—and instinctual practice of these animals that was as old as time itself–that I developed a bond with the herd. And then the migration began. It happened all around us.

    Into the River

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The herd streamed past the vehicle and I felt wonder as I watched the primal practice play out before my very eyes. The wildebeest and zebra leapt into the river and water lapped across the banks in torrents. I trained my camera and snapped as many photos as I could. But my eye was drawn to something moving along the water’s edge on the other side of the river. Crocodiles were gathering, massive but quiet. Excitement faded to concern but they stayed still. This too was part of the Great Migration experience.

    The Circle of Life

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    It was not until the tail end of the herd entered the river that the crocodiles slid into the murky water. The zebra and wildebeest at the rear—the weakest of the herd—struggled across the river. There was an eruption of muddy water and crocodile clamped its jaw shut on one of the herd and disappeared back below the water line with the animal struggling in its teeth. This was that great circle of life playing before me, one that was raw and without reservation. One that was undeniably brutal and beautiful at the same time. An experience entirely unique to Africa.

    The Great Migration is life at its most visceral and raw. This struggle for survival breeds violence and beauty that you can not only see but can feel. My first Great Migration was a humbling and life-affirming experience that allowed me to see something I will never forget. I look forward to my second migation soon.

    January 15, 2020 • Africa, Articles, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 2775

  • Honeymoon on Safari

    When it came time to plan a honeymoon, the choice was easy. Africa. Most honeymooners crave a respite after the madness of their wedding day, opting for a relaxing beach vacation. While a few days on the beach did seem appealing, we instead chose a safari-infused excursion into the African bush. Here is why we will never regret our honeymoon on safari.

    Why a Honeymoon on Safari in Africa?

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    My husband and I were drawn for many reasons. First, we have the good fortune of having friends who immigrated from Africa and, with the way they speak of their former home, it’s impossible to not want to visit. Second, my husband and I wanted a cultural experience. We wanted to learn about this stunning land and the its wonderful people. We’ve always preferred to be on the move during our travels which is why safaris and game drives appealed to us more than beach days. Undoubtedly, the wildlife was the biggest denominator in deciding to take a honeymoon on safari. We pined to see the iconic African wildlife. We grew up seeing elephants, lions, and, giraffes only in zoos, so when the opportunity to see them in the wild presented itself we jumped at the chance.

    The Honeymoon Moments

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    What makes a honeymoon moment in Africa? Well for one, it is the lodges. We received incredibly warm welcomes wherever we stayed and the realtionships we developed with our hosts made leaving so very difficult. Bottles of champagne awaited us in our accommodations and we were treated like long lost friends. What’s more, at Singita we were surprised with a sundowner honeymoon meal. The manager of the property arranged for us to eat dinner alfresco while watching the sun set into the African plains. Having paid attention to our preferences during our stay, our favorite dishes and drinks were provided to us. Sharing a silent sunset with my husband made our honeymoon on safari unforgettable.

    A Safari and a Cruise

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    On our first safari, we set out to find six-week-old lion cubs that had just been born from two lionesses of the main pride. However, our plans changed when we came upon a wandering elephant. Our guide stopped our safari vehicle and the elephant slowly approached. The elephant, a young male, turned and locked eyes with every person in the safari vehicle. This was the moment that changed me. There was something so overwhelming about being so close to these gentle creatures that I, along with the rest of the guests, teared up. It felt as though the elephant stared into the soul of each of us and touched us. It was a feeling that I still think about now and one that will never leave me.

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    Honeymoon on Safari in South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    In Africa, everything and everyone feels connected. Animals and peoples are integrated in a way that is remarkable. People are a part of the natural world instead of being apart from it and that is what made my honeymoon on safari special. To look out over the plains and simply be present along with my husband, away from wifi, emails, and stress. Africa is a different world and we cannot wait to return for another safari.

     

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Jacqui McDonald, Travels • Views: 1818

  • African Proposal: My Trip to Eastern Africa

    In Africa you can disconnect from the world at large and enjoy what is right in front of you. It is this quality of simply “being” that drew me to the continent. It is also why, on my most recent trip to the continent, that I decided to propose to my partner. Here is how my African proposal went.

    A Sobering Start to the African Proposal

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The trip began with gorilla trekking in Rwanda at the gorgeous Volcanoes National Park. We hiked through a volcanic forest and then came upon a family of gorillas. I froze. First, the majestic creatures gazed at us and then, finally, they approached us. One of little ones actually reached out and touched me. It was a sobering experience. These creatures, facing the threat of extinction, are not that much different than us. Moreover, gorilla trekking is an activity that directly benefits the conservation of both the species and the natural habitat. And, to be able to share this life-affirming experience with my partner made it all the more special.

    The Great Migration

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    You never feel more alive than when you are reminded that life is always in question. In Kenya, the Great Migration is a testament to this question and to see it answered live gave me goosebumps. Every year, millions of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle migrate across Tanzania and Kenya in search of food and water. The river crossings are treacherous, the water teeming with crocodiles and the banks patrolled by lions, and to see a crossing is to be reminded of the great circle of life. In the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, we sat transfixed by the sight. Loud, violent, intense, and transfixing to see, the experience served as a reminder that life is thrilling but unpredicable. A rollercoaster ride that we have little control over, I took solace in hoping that by the end of this African proposal trip that I would never again have to face it alone.

    The African Proposal

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    We ventured out to the bush to a small community of family homes. The families greeted us warmly and showed us the fences they tended to which kept out wildlife. After a nice dance off with some of the family members, our guide and driver took us on a “private tour.” This was part of the proposal that the guide and driver had helped me plan. I trusted them and they came through, picking out a gorgeous overlook that provided a perfect backdrop for the proposal. Champagne was set out on a table. All that remained was for me to take a knee and ask the question that had brought us to Africa. I asked and she said yes.

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    My African proposal trip is one that I will never forget. While I was able to disconnect from the world at large, I was able to connect with my partner forever. For that, I will always be grateful to this continent where the next chapter of my life began.

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 1510

  • Indian Fabrics: Silks and Spectacles

    Indian fabrics are a feast for the senses. The vegetable dye hues form an unmatched combination of style and texture that I find magnetic. With this in mind, I set out to the center of Indian handloom weaving, Maheshwar. There, I learned that these fabrics are not only beautiful but also cultural touchstones.

    Indore Today, Indian Fabrics Tomorrow

    Ahilya Fort | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Ahilya Fort | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Indore netted the countrywide award for the “Cleanest City” for three consecutive years and its reputation is well-earned. I spent the night at the beautiful Radisson Blue hotel before my journey to Maheshwar the next day. In the afternoon, I visited the Lal Baag Palace which belongs to the Holkar royal family. Built in the 1920s, the home is elegant, complete with lavish interior and beautiful gardens. A statue of Queen Victoria sits in the gardens, a nod to Indian history. Afterward, I toured the night market of Sarafa Bazaar. The Bazaar is a haven for adventurous foodies like myself and I sampled the local delicacies of poha, jalebi, dahi vada and malpuas. Sarafa served as a fitting appetizer for the journey to Maheshwar, the capital of Indian fabrics, the next day.

    A Stop in Mandu

    Mandu | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Mandu | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    After a delicious buffet breakfast at Radisson Blue, I departed to Mandu where I met my guide, Pervez. Together we visited Jahaz Mahal, the Ship Palace. Vast and well-planned, Jahaz Mahal is a sight to behold, sitting like a magnificient ship between two lakes. Additionaly, I also saw my favorite sight in all of Mandu, the Roopmati pavilion. The pavilion provides spectacular views that overlook the Narmada valley and is in close proximity to Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Rewa Kund. Built in the 16th century, both sites feature big courtyards, high terraces, and a reservoir that supplies water to Roopmati’s Pavilion. Before hitting the road, we ate lunch at a local restaurant and reflected on Mandu and its gems.

    Maheshwar, Capital of Indian Fabrics

    Prince Richard Holkar | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Prince Richard Holkar | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The striking Ahilya Fort greeted us when we made our way into Maheshwar. It was around 5pm and the Fort stood engulfed in evening light;  an unforgettable sight. Our rousing introduction continued when we were warmly welcomed to Fort by our hosts, the Holkars. Our hosts greeted us with garlands and we were given a tour of the grounds before settling into our rooms. Afterward, we joined Prince Richard Holkar and some other guests for a drink and watched a spectacular sunset over the river. The Ahilya Fort is 250 years and I can confidently say that it provides an experience like no other. Prince Richard is so warm and inviting, always sitting and chatting with guests. He made us feel like we belonged there which is the highest compliment that I can pay to any host.

    Indian Fabric Market By Day

    Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    After breakfast on the terrace, we made our way into the city to watch local weavers create beautiful fabrics. Visits at the Rehwa Society and then the outlets at Women Weave at Gudi Mudi were vivid windows into the weaving of Indian fabrics. The weavers use beautiful silks and cottons and I bought a Maheshwari sari for myself. I wore it as we walked the small lanes of Maheshwar with its cloth handlooms, art workshops and hotels. The locals were so friendly and greeted us with warm smiles. After lunch, we took a boat ride on the Narmada river to enjoy the sunset with hot tea and fresh biscuits. Dinner was an Indian thali set up at the courtyard with flowing red flowers and beautiful lit clay oil Indian lamps called diyas. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

    I traveled back home attired in my beautiful Maheshwar fabrics and saris. They serve as reminders of my time in India; a fulfilling and wondrous time.

    Sunset over Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Sunset over Narmada River | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    November 18, 2019 • Bela Banker, India, Travels • Views: 841