Travels

  • Adventure and Indulgence in Otago

    Wild Wire Wanaka

    Twin Falls | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Twin Falls | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    I found that even novice climbers could scale the rock face at Twin Falls in New Zealand. After a brief safety lesson with Wild Wire Wanaka, I climbed hundreds of feet to the top of the waterfall. On the way up, I admired the gorgeous views of lush rolling hills and towering snow-capped mountains. Although it was as easy as climbing a ladder, the sense of exhilaration it provided was unmatched.

    Wild Wire Wanaka | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Wild Wire Wanaka | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Cloudy Bay Shed

    Otago from Cloudy Bay Shed | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Otago from Cloudy Bay Shed | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    After traveling past acres of vineyards, I arrived at the perfect place to sample locally-grown wine – the Cloudy Bay Shed. Luxurious decor highlighted the beauty of the region by featuring natural wood and stone, creating a cozy yet upscale ambiance. Then, I sat down at the table for lunch and wine pairing, where personalized touches made me feel like a VIP. The stunning Otago countryside unfurled out in front of me. I took in the view as I enjoyed some of Cloudy Bay’s most popular wines along with a five-course farm-to-table meal.

    Cloudy Bay Degustation | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Cloudy Bay Degustation | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Nevis Catapult

    Nevis Catapult | Photo Credit: AJ Hackett

    Nevis Catapult | Photo Credit: AJ Hackett

    Walking across the bridge that spanned the Nevis Canyon, I began to understand why Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. When I reached the catapult, my adrenaline spiked. After being thoroughly strapped in, I was lifted over the vast canyon. I felt that mix of elation and fear that only comes when you are at the edge of a roller coaster drop. Finally, my fear dissolved into delight as I flew into the canyon. I stayed suspended there, enjoying the extraordinary vantage point.

    Nevis Catapult | Photo Credit: AJ Hackett

    Nevis Catapult | Photo Credit: AJ Hackett

    Skyline Gondola Queenstown

    From the heart of downtown Queenstown, I jumped into the cabin of the gondola that steadily made its way up the mountainside to the Skyline complex. Drifting past thickets of brush, steep rockfalls and towering trees, the aerial view of the city started to appear. At the top, Skyline has a restaurant, cafe, gift shop, luge and also bungee and paragliding facilities. Enjoying a flat white, looking out over Lake Wakatipu was the perfect way to end my stay in Otago.

    Skyline Gondola Queenstown View | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    Skyline Gondola Queenstown View | Photo Credit: Simona DeDominicis

    January 10, 2019 • New Zealand, Travels • Views: 381

  • Kyoto Basics

    Throughout our trip to Japan, which included visits to Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, we found ourselves saying “if only we had another day here” as we left each city. This was most true of Kyoto; home to many famous historic landmarks in the country, it is a must-see destination when traveling to Japan.

    The Machiya

    We decided to forego staying in a hotel while in Kyoto and elected to stay at a machiya – a traditional Kyoto townhouse. We wanted to make sure we spent time in a traditional Japanese home. When entering the house, there is a small room where you remove your shoes before entering the main house. Once your shoes are off, you slide open the wooden door to reveal a simple, warm space. The walls are plain yet detailed, the floors are covered with tatami mats and the furniture is all designed for use while kneeling or sitting on the ground.

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The space was so inviting that we felt as if we had just walked into our home. While there were two normal beds in one room, the second bedroom was much more traditional with two futons available to complete the machiya experience. The bathroom had a regular shower only with a wooden soaking tub that allowed you to relax and look out into the small garden at the back of the property. Staying in the machiya felt as if it was integral to our experience in Kyoto. We quite enjoyed our time relaxing and taking in the experience of simply being in the house.

    Authentic Ramen

    We knew we wanted ramen for dinner the first night in Kyoto. One restaurant that offers a unique take on the dish is Menbakaichidai Ramen. Here, traditional Japanese ramen is served with one big twist: fire! Commonly referred to as “Fire Ramen,” this small restaurant serves up ramen that is literally set on fire right in front of you. The fire ignites when the chef pours a small amount of hot oil onto a healthy amount of green onion that is piled on top of the bowl. This ignites a flame that reaches several feet in the air and lasts for about a second.

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The process releases a unique flavor into the dish unlike any ramen you have ever had. Depending on which set you order, you can add sides of fried rice, gyoza and karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) to your meal. A spectacle that is every bit as entertaining as it is delicious, combined with extremely friendly staff, makes this a definite stop for any ramen fan.

    The Highlights of Kyoto

    At the recommendation of the staff at Fire Ramen, we made our way over to the nearby Nijo Castle. While this site is generally closed in the evening, in the fall season it is sometimes open to the public after dark. We not only got to explore the grounds but also took a walk through the palace which was beautifully lit.

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The next morning was Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines, and rightfully so. The shrine is located at the base of Inari Mountain. Two and a half miles of trails take you up and down the mountain. The most unique aspect of Fushimi Inari is the seemingly endless number of torii gates that line the trails. Walking the trail and passing under these beautiful gates is an extremely relaxing experience. This journey can take anywhere from two to three hours to complete. Those who take the time to explore the trails will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Kyoto. Be sure to get there early in the morning to avoid large crowds!

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    We then made our way to Kiyomizu-dera, another beautiful Kyoto landmark. This Buddhist temple is located on a hillside near the edge of the city. Venture here for stunning traditional architecture, spectacular views of the surrounding areas and a rich historical experience.

    Arashiyama District

    Finally, we decided to make a trip to the Arashiyama District. Arashiyama offers visitors a great variety of historic temples and shrines, a plentiful amount of small shops and restaurants and of course, the famous Bamboo Grove. Much quieter than central Kyoto, this area feels like a small getaway within the city.

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Kyoto is an amazing city with a rich history that keeps anyone who visits captivated. While we did see quite a bit of Kyoto, we only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. This, of course, just makes the build-up to the next trip to Japan that much more enticing.

    December 28, 2018 • Asia, Travels • Views: 619

  • Gentle Giants of the Bushveld

    Africa is a place of enchantment. The power and pure energy of this ancient land and its inhabitants is palpable. As I cruise along an unpaved road, I scan the horizon for civilization and instead spot countless impalas, warthogs and giraffes. A refreshing breeze whips through my hair as the late afternoon sun warms me.

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    A Meeting with the Elephants

    With an abrupt stop, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, my field guide, Jason, instructs me to hop out of the vehicle. Camp Jabulani‘s Elephant manager, Tigere, greets me with a genuine smile. He asks if I am nervous about meeting the world’s largest land animal. I respond quickly, “of course not”; there’s no possible way for me to be anxious due to Tigere’s calm demeanor. With ten years of experience under his belt, I trust that he will keep me safe in this unfamiliar environment.

    We wait patiently in the middle of the open savannah near a fallen Acacia tree. Four tons of sheer mass silently approaches us. His name is Jabulani. I gently walk towards this humongous creature and place my hand on his trunk. Coarse bristles and hardened mud cover his wrinkly skin. He has scraggly eyelashes and human-like eyes. There’s an instant sense of mutual appreciation and respect.

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    I dump pellets of grain into Jabulani’s trunk and his hot breath fogs my sunglasses. His trunk twists and turns in every direction. The elephant’s strength, compassion and intelligence intrigues me. I am in awe of every moment. After Jabulani finishes two canvas sacks of food, his caretaker escorts him back into the bushveld. My soul is bursting with gratitude for this deeply personal interaction.

    “Where would we be without this herd of elephants? Two days will stand out in my mind as long as I live. The day that Jabulani arrived as a tiny baby – terrified and on the brink of death. And the day that the rest of the herd arrived and welcomed Jabulani as one of their own.” – Founder of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), Lente Roode.

    The Roode family, owners of HECS and Camp Jabulani, adopted these helpless elephants and now offer them a sustainable home. The love for these elephants is at the core of HECS and Camp Jabulani and is the purpose for their existence.

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Life at the Camp

    Camp Jabulani’s work with these orphaned animals is intertwined in the design of the camp. Elephant emblems adorn the pillows, coasters and walls. Seven villas overlook the dry riverbed. Each villa is fitted with canopy beds, mahogany furniture, cozy fireplaces and exquisite craft pieces such as colorfully beaded African dolls. These accents are handcrafted by local artisans and mixed with heirloom pieces. It immediately makes you feel at home.

    Due to the intimate size of the camp, you get to know staff members and fellow travelers right away. Oil lanterns and a bonfire provide for a traditional South Africa braai (barbecue). Locals pop by to sing soulful songs and dance under the starry sky.

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    As intrepid travelers, the Roode family offers the unique adventures that we crave. The passion of those who work in this special part of the world is profound and inspires all who have had the privilege to experience it. Guests of Camp Jabulani are actively contributing to the well-being of these magnificent animals. This creates personal fulfillment and enriches memories to last a lifetime.

    December 11, 2018 • Africa, Destinations, Kathryn Fischer, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 927

  • The Ngorongoro Crater

    Tanzania is a beautiful country covered with sprawling hills, open savannas teeming with wildlife and the magnificent Mt. Kilimanjaro. I recently spent ten days in Tanzania, and the biggest highlight of my trip was Ngorongoro Crater. I last traveled to Tanzania back in May, and after spending four amazing nights exploring the Serengeti, I made my way to the highlands. On the foothills of the highlands, we stopped for lunch just outside of the Olduvai Gorge National Park, overlooking the enormous herds of the great migration. Just after lunch we stopped at one of the many Maasai Villages to learn a bit about their culture. While these villages are a bit commercialized, you still see firsthand how the Maasai people live.

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    The Crater

    After the Maasai village visit, we made our way up the steep hills of the Ngorongoro Crater. I kept my head on a swivel, as the views on the way up were remarkable. During the three-hour trek we passed a few dozen villages before we reached the rim of the crater. At the summit our gracious guide pulled over so that we could admire the beauty of the interior bowl. It was breathtaking. On our way back to the lodge we were lucky enough to get a rare glimpse of a male leopard right on the main path and trailed the majestic animal for fifteen minutes. Upon arrival at the lodge, I dropped my bags at the front desk and once more took in the astonishing views of the beautiful crater floor.

    Photo Credit: Tanzania Tourism

    Photo Credit: Tanzania Tourism

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    The Big Five

    The next day was dedicated to game viewing in the crater. Among the incredible landscapes of the bowl, it did not take long to spot the Big Five animals. From the open plains of the crater, to the densely vegetated landscape, to the marsh area, which I learned is where the elephants like to go for their final resting place, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of my day. What amazed me is how big the crater floor is in size. Viewed from the rim the day previously, I thought to myself there is no way you can spend a whole day below – but was I wrong. This area, I believe, should be in every Tanzania itinerary, and I cannot wait until my next visit.

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    Photo Credit: Kevin Murray

    December 3, 2018 • Africa, Travels • Views: 1518

  • My Birthday in Cambodia and Thailand

    First Stop: Cambodia

    Queen's Palace - Siem Reap

    Queen’s Palace – Siem Reap

    My family set off and flew to Cambodia! Upon arrival we connected to Siem Reap where we had arrived in time for my birthday. My plan was to have something special most days. The night of my birthday – we are staying at Amansara – they assisted in creating a memorable night. The night began with us hosting a giant shadow puppet show to the small children of a village close by. It was great to be surrounded by such happiness as this was the first time they had seen this show. Then we went to one of the ancient temples, where hundreds of candles lined the path to guide us through the maze to a dinner set up with rugs, great food and wine and a fortune teller. Looking at the stars in this 1000-year-old temple was magic.

    Amansara

    Amansara

    On to Thailand

    We then moved to Chiang Rai and the Four Seasons Tented Camp. Here, the general manager at the time, Jason, helped with a special dinner in the elephant camp. What a thrill to be there after dark with these massive animals! They had surprised me by releasing 51 Kongmings (sky lanterns) in my honor.  What a thrill to see these candles helping me celebrate for the next 50 years in the sky.

    A private cooking lesson at the Lanna Cooking School in Four Seasons Chiang Mai followed where we all enjoyed learning more about Thai Cooking.

    Food in Thailand

    Food in Thailand

    We finished our trip in Bangkok and took small boats along the canals. We visited the grand palace and temples, and dined amongst the stars at Sirocco.

    Thailand and Cambodia are such special places with wonderful resorts to stay in and enjoy the culture in luxury.

    Chiang Mai Temples

    Chiang Mai Temples

    November 19, 2018 • Asia, Ian Swain Sr, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 548

  • Rwanda – “The Land of 1000 Hills”

    Rwanda is a very clean country and quite impressive with all the progress it has made from the genocide days in the 90s. Every last Saturday of the month, the people come together to clean the cities and do community service.

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Genocide Museum

    The Genocide Museum is truly a must-see for anyone visiting Rwanda. What this country went through and how it is today is inspirational. The experience is very emotional and tough to get through at times, however, the commemoration is well-documented and worthwhile. It really does show hope for humanity after such a heinous past.

    Some parts were very sad and emotional and quite difficult (loads of tissues are needed!) I would recommend including this experience at the beginning of the trip.

    Nyungwe

    Nyungwe is a gorgeous area that is a must for those that have a little extra time to give in Rwanda. The drive is beautiful and picturesque – you truly get to see why it is called the “Land of 1000 Hills.”

    The highlight of the area is the Chimp Trek which is amazing. However, this does require a certain fitness level as Chimpanzees tend to swing from tree to tree and do not sit still for you to watch them or interact with them. Steep hillside climbs in dense bush is the requirement of the day. You are accompanied by a guide and three trackers. Trackers meet you in the forest, help you get close to the Chimpanzees and stay with them afterwards.

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Porters are readily available to assist with the trial through the dense bushes and shrubbery. We highly recommend hiring porters to assist the trackers. This process is giving ex-poachers work, therefore giving more security to conservation efforts.

    After the trek, if you still have energy, I recommend a Canopy Walk. The view was stunning, and the walk is not strenuous. It is good exercise though the canopy itself can be a little nerve-wrecking at first as the bridge swings while walking along it.

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Photo Credit: Donna Blumeris

    Gorilla Trek

    Though strenuous, the Gorilla Trek is much easier than the Chimp Trek.

    Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    In the morning, guests meet with the head trackers and get separated into groups to visit with the various gorilla families. There are only eight people allowed with each family. Tourists can visit a total of ten families. After allocation, you meet your tracker for a quick briefing, then you get back into your vehicles to visit your next family. Once you climb up to them, you spend about an hour with them and are able to get very close.

    Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    You are accompanied by a safari guide and three trackers (similar to the Chimp Trek). It is recommended to also hire porters to assist the trackers.

    November 2, 2018 • Africa, Articles, Travels • Views: 814