Destinations

  • Gorilla Trekking: My Rwandan Adventure

    I can confirm that after a combined 400 or so safari experiences across the African continent, our gorilla trekking adventure was second to none. For Ian and I, the trek was as emotional of an encounter as we have ever experienced in travel.

    Gorilla Trekking Lodges

    Our gorilla trekking adventure took place in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. A country teeming with biodiversity, Rwanda is absolutely gorgeous and tourism plays a vital role in keeping it so. We stayed for three nights at the newly-built, conservation-focused Singita Kwitonda Lodge. Locally-sourced bricks and volcanic rock comprise the lodge’s walls and a mechanical ventilation system replaces carbon-heavy air conditioning. Yet, these are but a few of the elements that make Kwitonda special. Stunning views of volcanoes greeted us through ceiling high windows and an outdoor fireplace made for a cozy spot. We spent our last two nights at the brand new One&Only Gorillas Nest. That accommodation, featuring an indoor fireplace and bathtub on the deck, was superb as well.

    Singita Kwitonda Lodge | Photo Credit: Linda Swain

    Singita Kwitonda Lodge | Photo Credit: Linda Swain

    The Gorilla Trek

    I will say there is nothing quite like being touched by a mountain gorilla. Of course, mine was a baby gorilla who wanted to show me how he had mastered vine twirling. Whereas Ian received a much firmer pat from Agasha, the King Silverback of this jungle. It served as a reminder that that it was he, and not Ian, who was the alpha in this family. Regardless, we were not afraid during our interactions due to our knowledgeable guides. They ensured that we kept a safe, regulated distance from the gorillas. Fortunately, mountain gorillas are gentle, playful and familial creatures. I felt, overwhelmingly, that they were our kindred spirits. Overall, gorilla trekking was fun, adventurous and something we will never forget.

    Mountain Gorilla | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Mountain Gorilla | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Keeping Them Safe

    Over the past few years, the mountain gorilla population has grown by the hundreds while poaching has dropped to zero in Rwanda. Tourism fuels these efforts by helping support the habitats of gorillas and the communities around them. This is imperative because mountain gorillas cannot survive out of this altitude and habitat. Fortunately, the communities keep them involved in conserving the population, even participating in naming the gorilla babies. Their involvement is key to the stability of the gorilla’s existence. Rwanda has got it right when it comes to gorillas, tourism and the environment. Gorilla trekking not only provides you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it also helps this incredible species survive.

    There is never a better time to venture to Rwanda and experience the beautiful people, some of the world’s best new lodges and of course, the amazing mountain gorillas. We absolutely love them all!

    Linda and Ian Swain | Photo Credit: Linda and Ian Swain

    Linda and Ian Swain | Photo Credit: Linda and Ian Swain

    February 3, 2020 • Africa, Linda Swain • Views: 993

  • 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

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    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

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    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

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    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.

    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: 2522

  • Australian Bushfires – How You Can Help

    How To Help Combat The Worst Bushfires In Australia History

    Bushfires have been devastating Australia for months. Towns, rural communities and wildlife have been destroyed on a massive scale. We have reached out to partners, colleagues, family and friends in Australia for their guidance – asking what can we do about Australia bushfires. Below, we have put together a starting list of ways individuals outside of Australia can support Australia. We are all one people.

    Please copy and share any bits of this content that you feel strongly towards and push them out to help our brothers and sisters in Australia.

    Importantly, continue to push travel to this amazing country. Tourism to Australia will play a massive role in their long term recovery. There are many beautiful areas unimpacted that showcase Australia.

    Wildlife

    Bangalow Koalas – An organization that has been a champion in Koala conservation since 2016. Bangalow Koalas long-term goal it to create a Koala wildlife corridor, forming a linkage of habitat from Byron Bay/Bangalow heading westwards towards Tenterfield and south towards Grafton, allowing koalas to move safely across the local landscape. Read more on how to support Bangalow Koalas here.

    WIRES – NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue And Education Service Inc – WIRES has been rescuing and caring for native animals for over 30 years. They have over 2500 volunteers in 28 branches involved in the rescue and care of wildlife and have a dedicated Rescue Office that operates 365 days a year assisting the community to help native animals in distress. WIRES helps tens of thousands of animals every year, receiving up to 95,000 requests for rescue advice and assistance every 12 months.

    Animal Welfare League – Animal Welfare League NSW (AWL NSW) is a registered charity that has been operating for over 60 years. They provide expert care to surrendered, neglected and abandoned companion animals across New South Wales. Animal Welfare League’s Inspectors have been assisting in towns affected by bushfires on the mid-north coast of NSW.

    Front Line Services

    NSW Rural Fire Service In New South Wales – The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) is the lead combat agency for bush fires in NSW. For over 100 years we have been a significant part of the history and landscape of NSW. Working closely with other agencies we respond to a range of emergencies including structure fires, motor vehicle accidents and storms that occur within rural fire districts.

    Country Fire Authority In Victoria – CFA (Country Fire Authority) is a volunteer and community-based fire and emergency services organization. They help protect 3.3 million Victorians, and more than one million homes and properties across the state.

    CFS Foundation In South Australia – The CFS provides immediate financial assistance and care to CFS volunteer fire-fighters and their families to offset suffering and distress caused in the line of active duty.

    Families and Victims Support

    Foodbank – Foodbank is Australia’s largest food relief organisation, operating on a scale that makes it crucial to the work of the front line charities that are feeding vulnerable Australians. Foodbank provides 77 million meals a year (210,000 meals a day) to more than 2,600 charities around the country, accounting for 79% of all food received by charities from food rescue organisations.

    St Vincent de Paul Society – Vinnies is on the ground helping people as they deal with the immediate aftermath of fires, and we will continue to be there as they rebuild their lives in the long term.

    Environment

    South Australia Disaster Relief – The Marshall Liberal Government has established a new emergency relief fund to help people directly affected by the devastating Cudlee Creek bushfire – pledging $1 million to kick-start the donation drive.

    Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund – The Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (GERF) is a registered charity that was established in 1978 to provide immediate short-term funds to Gippslanders affected by natural disaster events. It is completely funded by donations from businesses, community groups and individuals. Run by volunteers, all donations are returned to the community.

    January 7, 2020 • Articles, Australia • Views: 507

  • Winter Blues? No Worries! Here Are Our Top Five Island Getaways

    The great comedian and actor Carl Reiner once said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” With old man Winter just now settling in, many will come to echo the sentiments of Mr. Reiner. Shorter days, colder temperatures, and those pesky snow storms will have us clamoring for the return of Spring. Fortunately, you need not wait for the flowers to bloom to beat those winter blues. Here is a list of our top five island getaways for those who would rather wear trunks and shades to hats and gloves.

    Lizard Island: Winter Blues Prohibited

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Who needs snow drifts when you have 24 private beaches to choose from? The answer? No one. What’s more, the good folks at Lizard Island Resort provide complimentary boat transfers to each of those beaches so that you can visit as many as you want. Secluded and exclusive, the resort is Australia’s northernmost island-beach getaway that will have you staying right on the Great Barrier Reef. This means snorkeling, paddle boarding, and diving, as well as exposure to some incredible marine wildlife. Lizard Island Resort simply delivers.

     

    Fiji: Paradise As You Pictured It

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Is there a more fabled island destination than this chain of South Pacific islands? Islands covered with forests, the sun setting into the Pacific, and cocktails adorned with umbrellas. This is represented no better than at Kokomo Island Resort, a private island upon which there are no winter blues to be found. The Beachfront Villas are just that: beautiful villas equipped with private pools and set amid palm trees on the beach. Additionally, many of our travelers opt for a relaxing stopover in Fiji on the backend of an adventure-laden trip in New Zealand. There is no better place to unwind and reflect than Fiji. You will not be disappointed.

    Bali: Winter Blues Banished

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    In Bali, the mountains are not covered with snow but instead with volcanic forests and rice paddies. This Indonesian island is perfect for sweating out those winter blues, whether it be on the beach or as a result of some delightfully spicy cuisine. Should you want to stay in the tropical forest, look no further than The Samaya Ubud. Set in the jungle, the accommodations are stunning and the nature trekking is unforgettable. Or opt for the beach and stay at Ayana Resort. Immerse yourself in culture whether it be through their rice planting program or a traditional Balinese cooking class. Exotic and warm, you may never want to leave.

     

    Koh Samui: A Cure for the Cold

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Seeing a monkey scale a tree and snap up a ripe coconut will melt those pesky winter blues. In Koh Samui, it’s difficult to feel anything but wonder amid the palm-fringed beaches and coconut plantations. It is that idyllic paradise that you daydream about as you scrape ice from your windshield and, once there, reality exceeds the dream. A stay at the Four Seasons Resort, with its gorgeous tropical views and private plunge pools confirms this notion. Or lodge at the Six Senses and feast your eyes on panoramas of the Gulf of Thailand and its turquoise waters in a setting inspired by a traditional Thai fishing village. Regardless, the only frozen water you will encounter will be the ice in your cocktails.

     

    Lord Howe: The Hot, Hidden Gem

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Lose those winter blues on a hike through this green gem of an island. Iconic and World Heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is less than a two hour flight from Sydney and is a gateway to a tropical haven. The land is lush with greenery and coral reefs line the sea floor that surrounds the island. And, in the center of it all sits Capella Lodge, the island’s premium boutique accommodation. Offering breathtaking views of both the ocean and the mountains, Capella Lodge offers a quintessential island experience. Feed fish at Ned’s beach, learn to surf at Blinky’s Beach, or go on the ridge walk to Kim’s Lookout. The options are many and the days are memorable.

    These five island getaways represent some of the best we have to offer. Sun, sand, and jungle, but most importantly, all lacking dark evenings and winter chill. So stop dreaming about an island getaway while you spread salt on your sidewalk or layer on your third jacket. Instead, escape the dreary winter with one of our Team’s favorite exotic getaways to an island paradise. You will not regret it.

    December 13, 2019 • Asia, Max Wasserman, South Pacific Islands, Uncategorized • Views: 1704

  • 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 Africa?

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    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

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    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

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    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.

    South Africa | Photo Credit: Jacqui McDonald

    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.

     

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Jacqui McDonald, Travels • Views: 925

  • 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: 1365