Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

Christmas 2004 is usually remembered for the Boxing Day Tsunami which killed over 230,0000 people around the Indian Ocean rim. I remember it for a much more pleasant reason. My wife and I had booked a week's stay at Muchenje Lodge in Botswana's Chobe National Park. We flew from Sydney on Christmas Eve and having spent a night in a Johannesburg airport hotel we continued on up to Victoria Falls on Christmas Day. From Victoria Falls it's a couple of hours drive to Muchenje and there's often plenty of wildlife to see on the way. So it was around lunchtime that we finally pulled up at the lodge and were led to the reception area by our driver.

We were utterly stunned to be met by the lodge manager - our former next door neighbour Sandy. We were speechless. We'd lived next door to Sandy in Perth, Western Australia for several years. When we left there in 1997 we lost touch with Sandy who was working for an African safari company in those days. She knew we were coming because we she had the guest list of course, but we had no clue about the impending reunion.

She'd married Peter - a white Zimbabwean game ranger and now here they were running this lovely little lodge near Chobe National Park. What an incredibly small world. It was our first visit to Chobe and I have to tell you that it is a truly magnificent place. The bird life is incredible and you can barely turn around without tripping over an elephant. The most popular and accessible part of the national park is based around the Chobe River floodplain not far from the town of Kasane.  The Chobe River is wide and slow-flowing here as it winds it's way to join the mighty Zambezi at Kazungula.  The northern bank of the river is the Caprivi Strip, a pan-handle shaped part of Namibia.  It is possible to see Chobe on a day trip from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe or Livingstone in Zambia.  However, I don't recommend that unless you are really short of time.  Try to spend at least two - preferably three nights in one of the lodges in or close to the park.  That is the only way to get a really good look at the place.  Many of the lodges offer extended boat trips on the river - half a day or even a full day.  These are well worth doing as you not only get a good look at the many waterbirds, hippos and crocs, but you also get a totally different point of view of many of the land based animals too.  It was on a boat cruise that we saw a lion catch his lunch in the form of a warthog at the river's edge.

Muchenje Lodge is wonderfully located just outside the National Park on a ridge overlooking the floodplain.
From the comfort of the bar you can watch the sun setting over the river while sipping your Amarula Cream on ice and admiring the elephants as they gather by the waterhole for their sundowner drink.  The lodge is small - only 11 rooms.  The food is excellent, the ambiance is relaxed and the service is perfection.

One of the rare treats you can expect in Chobe National Park is a sighting of the endangered sable antelope of which Chobe has one of Africa's few remaining large herds. Visitors can also expect to see lions, buffaloes, giraffes and spotted hyenas, and if you are lucky leopards and wild dogs too, not to mention elephants by the truck load.  And so we had a happy and memorable Christmas and the Muchenje residents remained blissfully unaware of the death and devastation wreaked by the tsunami until New Year's Eve when a British couple arrived from Victoria Falls where they have TV, radio and newspapers.  Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

For more information on Muchenje Lodge or Chobe National Park please call me - Peter Emery on 0419 689 447 or email me at  Alternatively call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kidneys & Rice

First of all may I wish my readers, clients, friends and colleagues a very merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and travel filled new year.

Last week I posed the polite question "Where the !@#* is Ouagadougou?" Well, the answer is that it is the capital city of Burkina Faso - a fairly large land-locked country wedged between Ghana, Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali and Ivory Coast. It's former name was Upper Volta. When I visited Burkina Faso in 1985 it was officially the world's poorest country and the life expectancy was just twenty eight years. In other words if I were born there I could have expected to have died 24 years ago. Instead, I moved to Tamworth, New South Wales which amounts to the same thing. Just kidding.

Why was I in Burkina Faso? Good question. I was participating in a Guerba overland camping trip from Lome in Togo to Tunis and I have to say that Burkina Faso was not one of the highlights. On the whole it's a flat, scrubby region of the Sahel. It's hot as Hades. In May, the month in which I was there the noon temperature was around 46 degrees centigrade and being just before the wet season it was humid too. Great towering thunderheads would build up in the afternoon and dissipate frustratingly without releasing any of their cooling rain. Nothing grew but dust and camel thorns and the cattle were nothing but leather stretched over a few bones. The human population were faring little better. Only the goats seemed to be thriving.

So it was with enormous anticipation that we drove into Ouagadougou. We were to have lunch at a good hotel and would have access to their swimming pool. What utter bliss! Having had the most deliciously cool swim I settled down to enjoy my lunch. Unfortunately my brain must have been addled by the heat and I ordered kidney's and rice. I ask you! Kidneys and rice in 46 degrees centigrade! What was I thinking? Is that asking for trouble or what? I don't even like kidneys - never have. Needless to say I spent the next three days rushing into the scrub every hour clutching my stomach, a shovel and a rapidly diminishing toilet roll. That, my friends is my enduring memory of Ouagadougou.

On a far more pleasant note my colleague Rosemary has put together a brilliant, fully escorted tour of Kenya to celebrate her 50th birthday. The tour commences in Nairobi on 27 June 2011.

It is a lodge safari visiting Amboseli, Mount Kenya National Park, Samburu, Sweetwaters, Lake Nakuru and of course the amazing Maasai Mara. There is also a fascinating three night Zanzibar extension. The basic 11 night fully escorted tour costs $4150 per person twin share land only, $3995 triple share per person land only and the single supplement is $1150.

To register your interest in the above tour or to obtain further details please contact Rosemary at Ucango Travel on 07 5451 8600, or drop her an email

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where the #@*% is Ouagadougou?

Firstly here's a reminder that anyone wishing to join the Maasai Culture and Wildlife Safari group leaving on 7th March 2011 must pay their $1000 per person deposit by 31 December 2010. Don't miss out! If this coming March doesn't suit you but you'd still like to be part of this wonderful experience Sianga and I are seeking expressions of interest for a second departure in early October 2011. Please call either myself - Peter Emery on 0419 689 447 or Ucango Travel on 07 5451 8600.

This week I'd like to give you a few pointers on the various ways of reaching Africa from Brisbane. This of course depends upon whereabouts in Africa you wish to travel to, and no, there are no direct flights from Brisbane to Ouagadougou or even Ouazarzate. In fact there are no direct flights from Brisbane to anywhere in Africa, so here are your basic options.

Qantas. Brisbane-Sydney-Johannesburg.
South African Airlines. Brisbane-Perth-Johannesburg.
Singapore Airlines. Brisbane-Singapore-Johannesburg.
Malaysia Airlines. Brisbane-Kuala Lumpur-Johannesburg.
V Australia. Brisbane-Melbourne-Johannesburg. (But only until February 2011)
Qantas have the most direct (and usually most expensive) route but they arrive late in the afternoon so it can be hard to get an onward connecting flight. The good news is that most of their engines seem to make the trip in one piece.
There are numerous other options too. Via Mauritius for example.

South African Airlines. Brisbane-Perth-Johannesburg-Nairobi
Thai Airways/Kenyan Airlines. Brisbane-Bangkok-Nairobi.
Emirates. Brisbane-Dubai-Nairobi.
Singapore Airlines/Qatar Airlines. Brisbane-Singapore-Doha-Nairobi.
If you want to combine Egypt and Kenya then Egypt Air and Malaysia Airlines have a combination. Brisbane-Kuala Lumpur-Cairo-Nairobi.

Singapore Airlines. Brisbane-Singapore-Cairo.
Etihad Airlines. Brisbane-Singapore-Abu Dhabi-Cairo.
Malaysia Airlines. Brisbane-Kuala Lumpur-Cairo.
Malaysia Airlines/Egypt Air. Brisbane-Kuala Lumpur-Egypt Air. (Please note that it is no longer compulsory to smoke on Egypt Air.)
Again there are many other options. Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines for example will take you Brisbane-Bangkok-Istanbul-Cairo. Quite an interesting combination isn't it?

Other popular destinations are reached via larger gateways. For example............
Victoria Falls - via Johannesburg.
Windhoek (Namibia) - via Johannesburg.
Arusha (Tanzania for Serengeti/Ngorogoro etc) - via Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam.
Maun (Botswana for Okavango Delta) - via Johannesberg.

I hope this helps. In any case, it doesn't really matter how you get there. You're certain to have the time of your life when you arrive and that's what counts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bert Newton's Double

I apologise for leaving you blog-less last week. I was chasing wild orang utans around deepest, darkest Borneo. Okay, so it wasn't Africa, but I must own up to enjoying myself thoroughly. A change is as good as a holiday as they say. It was a 6 night wildlife adventure operated by Borneo Eco Tours. The first 3 nights are spent in Kota Kinabalu in the 3 star Shangri La Downtown Hotel - a comfortable joint with a couple of interesting little quirks. For example, whenever they had a buffet there would be a sign on the table telling you that you were welcome to eat all you like but that there was a five ringget (about two Aussie dollars) charge for every thirty grams of waste food left on your plate. I'm not quite sure how they administered this, but on the face of it it seems like a good idea. Anyway from this hotel we did a few tours, including a day trip to nearby Gaya and Manukan Island for a spot of jungle trekking and snorkeling and then to Mount Kinabalu and Poring Hot Springs.

Mount Kinabalu is spectacular in anyone's language. At 4095 metres it is the highest mountain in South East Asia. I climbed it a few years ago when I was younger and even sillier and I can tell you that it is a hard climb. There's no technical climbing but because the ascent is so steep once you get above 3000 metres the effect of altitude starts to kick in. Seen from it's base it is quite intimidating with it's bare rock summit glistening wet and slippery in the morning sun.

The next day we flew to Sandakan and immediately transferred by boat out to Selingan Island - a one hour speedboat ride across the Sulu Sea to within sight of nearby islands of the Philippines. Here we stayed in a comfortable chalet and witnessed a green turtle coming ashore to lay her eggs. The rangers take her eggs immediately and bury them in a protected hatchery to preserve them from the predation of birds and monitor lizards. We watched as the turtle deposited ninety four slimy pingpong balls into a hole she had dug and then filled in the hole, unaware that her eggs were already gone. Later that evening the rangers released a large batch of recently hatched baby turtles. We watched as they scuttled off to the sea and wondered how many would survive the night, let alone reach adulthood.

The next part of the trip was the highlight for me. We were transferred by boat along the chocolate brown Kinabatangan River to Sukau Rainforest Lodge. It was along this broad river that I caught up with my wild orang utan. It was a big moon-faced male (looking remarkably like Bert Newton) high in one of the tall trees that line the bank. There were also pig-taied macaques, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, gibbons and some beautiful birds, especially kingfishers and hornbills.

The area also has pygmy elephants, though we kept missing them. We saw their tracks on numerous occasions but never found the animals themselves. The Sukau Rainforest Lodge was very comfortable and run in a similar manner to an African safari lodge, except that the game viewing activities were carried out by boat rather than in a 4x4vehicle. There were two cruises of a couple of hours per day in small boats powered by almost silent electric motors. It really was great! There was also an optional night cruise to be had and it was on one of these that we were charged by a four metre crocodile. He took exception to our guide shining the torch into his eyes. (Fair enough too.) He slipped silently off the bank into the murky water and disappeared momentarily before surfacing a few metres from us and charging towards us like a big scaly torpedo - man he was scary! Our guide gunned the engine and we shot away just in time. He was a little more circumspect with where he shone his torch after that. Had the croc rammed us there was little doubt that we would have joined him in the river - not the best outcome. My heart was pumping blood to parts of my body I never new I had.

It was a superb experience nevertheless and was topped off by a visit to the very moving Australian War Memorial at Sandakan. Anyone interested in visiting the incredible jungle along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo should call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Well Fed Backsides

One of the many reasons I love my job so much is that it gives me the chance to convince people of the value of preserving not only the wildlife and wilderness of Africa, but of the world generally. We in Australia should not preach the conservation bible to developing nations. After all we have the world’s fastest rate of mammal extinction and are clearing native vegetation and therefore wildlife habitat at a prodigious rate too. How does the old saying go? “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t walk about in the nude.” Something like that anyway.

Nevertheless, those of us fortunate enough to live in the more affluent societies like Australia can make a difference. Visit these wild places. Demonstrate that the wilderness and the wildlife has a monetary value greater than the development it is being threatened with. It isn’t fair for us to sit in our comfortable homes with our well fed backsides firmly wedged into Italian leather lounges complaining how dreadful it is that the Amazon is being destroyed or that the population of wild tigers on the planet now number even less than the amount of working engines on a Qantas Airbus A380.

The average African, for example is not employed. He receives no regular income other than that which he generates through his own means, be it selling a few vegetable in the local market, husbanding cattle or goats or chopping down trees to sell as firewood. You cannot tell him not to do that because you need the land for wildlife. There has to be an incentive, some sort of compensation or he and his family will starve.
Many African game lodges provide work, schools and medical facilities to villages in their vicinity. In addition there are numerous projects that assist both the wildlife and local communities and it can be a life changing experience to participate in these. Take the example below for instance, and there are many others project like it where most of the funds generated go towards the preservation of endangered wildlife It is a sobering thought that were it not for the intervention of a humble insect the Serengeti would in all likelihood now be grazing land and devoid of wildlife. The humble tsetse fly ensured that settlers cattle could not survive there, they quickly died from African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness. The disease no longer stalks the Serengeti but the great plains have been preserved and I think it is one of the wonders of the world.

For more information please call me – Peter Emery on 0449 689 447 or Ucango Travel & Cruise Centre on 1300 822 646. Or drop me an email at

Desert & Delta Safaris 4 night Leroo La Tau Rhino Package
The Botswana Rhino Relocation and Reintroduction Project focuses on raising funds to ensure the wellbeing of the existing population as well as to bring in additional Black and White rhino to augment the current population. To support the Project, a proportion of proceeds from the following safari packages will go directly to rhino relocation and reintroduction initiatives at Leroo La Tau in Botswana.

5 days/4 nights from just $1,950*pp
Desert & Delta Safaris 4 night Leroo La Tau Rhino Package
Experience the natural wonders of Botswana's wildlife, reserves and beautiful lodges with the four night Rhino package starting from just $1950 per person.
Leroo La Tau Park offers adventurers and holiday-makers the ultimate safari experience, populated by up to 30,000 zebra and wildebeest; and closely accompanied by some of Africa’s most iconic predators. Guests will have the option of exploring the area, enjoying the wildlife on guided day and night game drives; and retiring after dinner to a splendid fireplace overlooking the river.
Includes: charter flights to and from Maun, two nights accommodation at Leroo La Tau, inter-camp charters and two nights accommodation at one of four impressive African lodges - Camp Moremi, Camp Okavango, Xugana Island Lodge or Savute Safari Lodge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kudu Kebabs

Two of the many highlights of a trip to Africa are the food and the music and I can strongly recommend that you sample both before you head off on your African safari.
There’s a superb new African themed restaurant at No’s 4-8 Duporth Avenue, Maroochydore called Mulu Char. It’s owned by Tex and Kellie who share my passion for Africa. They also run Kharma Waters restaurant in Mooloolaba. The cuisine there has a Portuguese influence.

The décor is contemporary but with a very stylish African twist – much like the food.
There is a shop selling some great African artworks and artifacts and live African music on Friday and Saturday nights. It also has a great location right there on the waterfront. Brilliant for outdoor dining on a steamy, summer Sunshine Coast night.

Food and drink are a really important part of any holiday and it’s wonderful to try out the local food. You don’t go to Thailand, India, China or France and eat at McDonald's every night. Well, some people do I know, but they’re really missing out.

Pretty much every privately run game lodge in Africa is run on a full board basis – breakfast, lunch and dinner and often morning and afternoon tea as well. Many also include alcoholic drinks, though these tend to be the more expensive lodges. Given that there is usually nowhere else to eat, (You can’t exactly trot of down the road to another restaurant when you’re staying at a game lodge. Not unless you want to become dinner yourself.) the quality of the food served is quite remarkable. You can expect to gain about a kilo per day, or maybe that’s just me. Actually I must admit to being a light eater. As soon as its light I start eating. I’ve found I have developed a real taste for South African food which has an interesting blend of European, African, Indian and Malay influences.

Try some of the local beers too. Some of them are really good. Castle or Windhoek Lager in South Africa or Namibia, Tusker in Kenya, Mosi Oa Tunya in Zambia and Serengeti in Tanzania. South Africa has some of the best wines in the world. Even Kenya produces wine, though not in the same class. Once in a hotel in Nairobi my wife and I sampled several bottles of a wine called “Papaya” over a few nights. It was drinkable - just, but every bottle had a different taste.

So go on. Be adventurous. Try the warthog chops or the buffalo steak. Have a bash at the kudu kebabs or the eland curry, and certainly tuck into the ostrich – it’s really good for you. If you are vegetarian or diabetic or have a gluten intolerance let the lodge know, they will cater for you no problem at all. My wife is allergic to mushrooms and if the meal contains these dreaded fungi they will always produce something special for her without them.

So loosen your belts and save the diet for when you get home.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is It A Mongoose?

Firstly I’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone who attended the Maasai tour information night at Ucango Travel’s office in Maroochydore last Thursday night.
Thank you too for allowing me to indulge my penchant for banging on about African wildlife. I certainly enjoyed myself and I hope everyone else did too. If anyone did doze off during my talk, thank you for not snoring.

Sianga, our Maasai guide came home with me and spent the night with us to save him driving all the way back to Brisbane’s south. We had a cup of tea and then before he went to bed I showed him our guinea pig - Billy. His eyes lit up with utter wonderment. “Oh my God!” He said. “Is its a mongoose?” I explained that Billy in fact came from South America and that in any confrontation with a Mozambique spitting cobra Billy was likely to be the runner-up. As you may or may not know, real mongooses (Not mongeese.) are rather partial to the occasional snake.

However, I digress. Sianga’s talk on his journey to Australia, the Maasai culture and his charity The Future Warriors Project was fascinating. He really is quite a remarkable young chap and the tour he will be leading to Tanzania next March really will be quite special. In case you’ve missed all the advertising, here are the basic details again.

It starts on the 7th of March 2011 with a night at the Arusha Hotel, Arusha. Then the next day leaves for Sianga’s village – Kiserian. The group will spend 2 nights there learning about Maasai culture and their way of life before moving on to the various game reserves and National Parks for which Tanzania is so famous – The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Lake Natron, Olduvai Gorge to name but a few.

It is a 13 night luxury camping tour with en-suite tents and camp attendants (That’s camp attendants - not camp attendants - as in John Inman.) to cook and erect tents. The maximum group size is twelve. Transport is in two four-wheel drive game viewing vehicles driven by professional driver/guides. Sianga will alternate between vehicles as “cultural advisor.” On most days you will have two game drives per day. The investment required is $4289 per person twin share. (Land only.)

For further information please call Ucango Travel and Cruise Centre on 07 5451 8600 or email Alternatively you can find the details on our website Look for the link “Tanzania Escorted With A Massai Warrior”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Balm For The Soul

What is it that makes people fall in love with Africa? I still can’t put my finger on it and I’ve been travelling there regularly for thirty-five years. When I lived in England I thought maybe it is the wide open spaces and the towering sky. But then I moved to Australia and found that Aussies fall in love with the place too and you don’t get wider spaces and bigger skies than you do in Australia.

Maybe it’s just that our “developed world” lifestyle is so busy and stressful. An African safari is like some sort of calming drug. The gentle routine of travelling the wilderness in an open vehicle with the wind in your hair and the African sun on your face acts as a sort of balm for the soul. Then there is the huge adrenaline rush that comes with a close encounter with an elephant or a big cat, getting so close to a beautiful wild animal gives you the kind of high that is addictive. There is also the heightened anticipation of not knowing what you’re going to encounter behind the next bush, in the next gully or up the next tree.

On the other hand it could be the people. You’ll never meet happier, friendlier people or people with such generosity of spirit. An African smile truly brightens your day. I really don’t know what it is. What I do know is that each time I leave Africa something squeezes my heart as the plane leaves the tarmac and the dusty landscape slides away beneath the wings.

With some holiday destinations, you spend a couple of weeks there, you have a lovely time. You enjoy the culture, the food, maybe the beach, but you’re always glad to go home. A visit to Africa is never long enough.

One lodge I stayed in recently left a poem on my pillow one night next to a chocolate and a wildflower.

When you’ve acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa
And you’ll not be right again
Till you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know that they’re around you
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the elephants,
Or hear the coucal’s song,
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire
You’ve been away too long.
It’s time to cut the traces loose
And let your heart go free
Beyond that far horizon,
Where your spirit yearns to be.

Don't forget. Tonight - Thursday 4th November at 6.30pm, Maasai Warrior Sianga Kuyan will be speaking at Ucango Travel, Plaza Parade Shopping Centre, Maroochydore. He'll be promoting his charity - The Future Warriors Project and relating the problems faced by traditional Maasai people today. For more information phone Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Twenty Things

Here are twenty things I think I know that you never knew that you need to know about Africa and African wildlife. If you know what I mean.

1. Early European explorers thought that giraffes were carnivorous because they were seen chewing bones. In fact they do this occasionally to supplement calcium in their diet.

2. The female spotted hyena is much larger than the male……..and has a false penis.

3. Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania is named after the sound made by the bells that hang around the necks of cattle that belong to the local Maasai tribe.

4. A group of Zebra is called a dazzle.

5. Although it is a cat, like a dog, the cheetah cannot retract its claws.

6. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free standing mountain. (Not part of a range.) Its peak is 19,341 feet above sea level and it stands 16,732 feet above the surrounding plain.

7. A group of rhinos is called a crash.

8. The British empire builder Cecil John Rhodes is buried at the top of one of the granite kopjes (hills) at Matobo Hills near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The views from the site are stunning, especially at sunset.

9. Soweto – Johannesburg’s most famous township is an abbreviation of South West Township.

10. The elephant’s closest relative is the dassie or hyrax which weighs in at just 4.5kgs.

11. South Africa’s Blyde River Canyon in the northern Drakensberg Escarpment is the world’s third largest canyon and is the world’s largest “green” canyon.

12. The black mamba snake is usually gun-metal grey or dull olive, never black – it gets its name from its black mouth lining. I recommend that you don’t get close enough to check!

13. The iconic flat-top acacia thorn tree of the East African plains gives off a chemical message when a giraffe eats its leaves. It tells other trees in the vicinity to produce tannin which the animal finds bitter and so moves on to another area to feed, thus the trees aren’t decimated by the animals. Isn’t nature incredible?

14. A group of giraffes is called a journey or a tower.

15. More people are struck by lightening at Matobo Hills (See No 8.) than anywhere else in the world. Apparently it’s due to the granite. You can test this yourself by waving a golf club above your head at Cecil Rhodes’ grave during a thunderstorm. (Disclaimer - No responsibility taken for death or injury caused to anyone stupid enough to do this.)

16. The “Big Five” were originally so called because they are the most dangerous animal for humans to hunt. They are – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros (specifically black rhinoceros as they are more aggressive than the white variety).

17. Both white and black rhinos are the same colour – grey. The name white is a corruption of the word wide – as in wide mouthed rhino. The black rhino was so called just to differentiate. Actually they have a prehensile, hooked upper lip. White rhinos graze, black rhinos browse.

18. One of the world’s greatest early travellers was an African. The Moroccan Ibn Battuta was born in 1304. His travels took him as far east as China, and as far south as West Africa. He also visited central Asia and India. His full name was Hajji Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Al Lawati Al Tanji Ibn Battuta, but his Aussie mates called him “Ibbo”.

19. The Zambezi River which thunders spectacularly over the Victoria Falls is one of very few major rivers in the world to have no industry or major cities on its banks. It can probably claim to be one of the worlds cleanest. It is the 4th longest river in Africa after the Nile, the Zaire (Congo) and the Niger.

20. As well as a “Big Five” there is also an unofficial “Little Five.” They are the leopard tortoise, the ant lion (We get these in Australia too. Look for small conical holes in the dust – they live at the bottom of them.), the buffalo weaverbird, the rhinoceros beetle and the elephant shrew.


WHAT: A Maasai Warrior comes to talk
WHEN: Thursday 4 November 2010
WHERE: Ucango Travel & Cruise Centre, Maroochydore
TIME: From 6.30pm

Possibly the only Maasai Warrior in Australia, Sianga Kuyan will speak of the problems and challenges faced by the Massai people today as well and will speak about the Future Warriors Project - a not for profit organisation set up to empower young Maasai to build a strong, sustainable future for themselves, their families and their communities.

Sianga will also speak about travel to the region and promote his upcoming fully guided Maasai Culture & Wildlife Tour of Tanzania in March 2011. This unique 14 day luxury camping tour will visit Sianga's village, Ngorogoro Crater, The Serengeti and Lake Manyara.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's For Dinner?

The worst thing about travelling to Africa from Australia is the jet lag. Going west it’s not too bad at all. You’re a little tired for 24 hours and then it’s all over and you’re back to your normal sparky self. Coming back is a different matter though. At least it is for me. I always feel dopey and fuzzy headed for at least a week. (Some unpleasant people might suggest that this is my normal state.) I always go straight to sleep when I go to bed, but then wake up at 1am and stay awake until 6am at which time I feel like falling asleep again. Experts tell you that to reduce the effects of jet lag one should avoid the consumption of alcohol while flying. Such people should be dismissed as mentally unstable.

Anyway, I’ve just spent two days at Cheetah Plains Lodge in the Sabi Sands Private Reserve adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and I must say that it was truly delightful. It’s a compact lodge surrounded by whitethorn bushes and marula trees. It has an electric wire around its perimeter to deter elephants who rather like to dig up water pipes and push over large trees, but apart from that the animals are free to wander through the camp.

The rooms are fairly small, but very comfortable. I guess you’d describe them as 3 star, but the good thing is that there are only eight of them, so even when the place is full it only hold sixteen guests, which makes for a very personalised safari camp experience. The food at Cheetah Plains is anything but 3 star. It is sensational and it seems that there is an opportunity to feed your face every half an hour or so. At 5.15am you are woken for your morning game drive. Having washed and dressed you then make your way to the restaurant for coffee, cereal and toast with all manner of fresh fruit and yogurt. Then halfway through your game drive it’s time for a coffee break in the bush. More food – usually muffins.

After your game drive the ranger will offer you a walk – just a short one to stretch your legs. Then it’s time for brunch. Eggs done any way you like, sausages, bacon, mushrooms, you name it. Then before you know it it’s time for high tea prior to your afternoon game drive. This time it’s quiche, sandwiches, sausage rolls and cakes. The afternoon game drive halts at sundown for a drink – a glass of wine, a beer, a gin and tonic – whatever you like, and you guessed it – more food. Samosas, biltong, maybe a marinated chicken leg. But wait, there’s more. When you get back to the lodge it’s time for dinner. Three courses of supreme cuisine and great South African wine. My final meal there was thick ginger and pumpkin soup with a freshly made crusty bread roll, chicken breast stuffed with camembert and spinach and a creamy white chocolate mousse.

Oh yes, and we saw some animals too.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Cotswolds Safari

Yes I know this is supposed to be an Africa blog but I’ve just spent a couple of days in my favourite part of Britain – The Cotswolds. I started off in Shakespeare country – Stratford on Avon. Now as far as I know Bill never went on Safari, which is a shame because it may have livened up some of his work.

King Richard might have said “A zebra, a zebra! My kingdom for a zebra” for example.

Julius Caesar could have come out with the immortal line – “Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your binoculars.”

His sonnet No18 might have read – “Shall I compare thee to a hippopotamus?”

He may have written “The Taming of the Elephant Shrew.”

Shylock would probably have said "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if we get out of the game viewing vehicle shall we not be eaten by a lion or something?”

But enough of this frivolity. Verily I saith to myself – Get on with it!!

Stratford oozes history from every half timbered house. There’s Shakespeare’s birthplace, his grave, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, you name it, it’s all there. Meanwhile the River Avon flows languidly by, liberally peppered with beautiful white swans and overhung by shady weeping willows. From there I drove to Evesham, another charming town on the river and well worth a visit. Broadway was next. I love this place. It’s a little less touristy than some of the other spots. It nestles at the foot of an escarpment and at this time of year – mid autumn I think it is at it’s very best. The leaves are just starting to turn to orange and red and the gorgeous apricot coloured stone buildings seem to glow with an inner warmth in the late afternoon sunshine. It is all heartbreakingly lovely.

Then on to the sinisterly name Slaughters. The tiny hamlets of Upper and Lower Slaughter are about a mile apart. A nice little stream runs through Lower Slaughter and there is an interesting museum there along with the usual collection of fairy tale houses. There’s a bit more to see at Lower Slaughter but it’s a pleasant walk on a nice day to Upper Slaughter.

My last stop was Bourton on the Water which is only two or three miles from the Slaughters. With it’s fish filled stream running through it’s centre it looks like a full size version of those model Olde English villages you see everywhere. There were quite a few tourists about, people from pretty much every corner of the globe. There were Japanese, Spaniards, Dutch, Aussies and Americans. (“Say Hank! Why couldn’t these damned limeys build this place closer to London?”)

Then I found that I’d run out of time on my Cotswolds Safari and I hadn’t even got to Stow on the Wold – another of my favourites. And there are dozens of other wonderful places to explore in this part of the world. Even on a cold, wet day it’s lovely just to sit in a Broadway pub with a blazing log fire inhaling both the history and a pint of Bishops Finger.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

World of Beer

Most travellers do not stay more than a day or two in Johannesburg either because they think there is little of interest there or because they think it is unsafe. They are wrong on both counts. It’s a shame to miss out on what this vibrant city and Gauteng province in general has to offer. Here are a few examples of how to fill in your time there.

Golf enthusiasts can play the world’s most talked about par 3 hole, the “Extreme 19th.” Set high up on Hanglip Mountain, the hole is accessible only by helicopter and played to a green in the shape of Africa 400 metres below.

Do a half or full day cycling tour of Soweto accompanied by local guides. Stop for a local burger – kota or take a beer break at a shebeen. At the end of the day you’ll return to the hotel with a totally new perception of this often unfairly maligned township.

See a stage production at The Nelson Mandela Theatre, Tesson, Thabong and Peter Roos theatres. Shows are mainly local productions – musicals, ballet and comedy. The incredible Soweto Gospel Choir regularly perform here too.

There is caving at the famous Sterkfontein Caves and 10 kilometres away at Maropeng is a world class visitor facility which tells the story of the Cradle of Humankind and brings to life the history of humankind in entertaining, educational and inter-active ways.

Visitors should not miss the De Wildt Cheetah Research Farm. This is a guided tour in an open safari vehicle with experienced, qualified guides. You will gain an understanding of these beautiful big cats and learn all there is to know about their habits, nature and their struggle for survival. You’ll also see the king cheetah – one of the rarest animals on earth.

There is also hot air ballooning, an amazing Lipizzaner horse show and the Magaliesberg Canopy Tour. This is a unique eco-adventure that takes visitors down the spectacular Ysterhout Kloof in the Magaliesberg Mountains. The tour essentially involves zigzagging down the Kloof (cliff), stopping at each platform to admire the views and surrounding ecology. Two trained guides assure the safety of each participant while describing interesting facts about the indigenous plants, bird life, ecology and geology of the area.

Then there is my favourite – the SAB World of Beer. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday and is a real fun-filled showcase of brewing. Enjoy the tour and finish it off with 2 free ice cold beers. The tour unveils the heritage of beer from ancient Mesopotamia, through Africa and Europe all the way to a honkey-tonk pub of Johannesburg , mining camp days and a traditional Soweto shebeen. Delicious lunches are available in the Tap Room from where you can take in panoramic views of the city. Try it. It’s a lot of fun and the beer’s not bad either.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hitting the Shops

This week’s blog comes to you live from beautiful Johannesburg, or more accurately beautiful Sandton. Sandton is a wealthy northern suburb where a lot of multi national companies choose to base their South African operations. There are also many top class hotels here and it’s quite likely that your travel agent will recommend that you stay here if you are spending a couple of nights in Johannesburg.

I flew in last night on the direct Qantas flight from Sydney. It’s more than fourteen hours flying time and the flight seems endless. I often wonder whether it’s better to get the pain over with in one hit by flying direct or to break it up with a stopover in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. I’m still not sure.

Anyway yesterday evening Johannesburg put on one of her typical hazy golden sunsets. It’s like looking through a glass of Fanta. We drove from the airport past dusty townships crammed with cheek by jowl shanty huts, each with a collection of large rocks on their tin roofs, securing them against the wind. Nearby though were whole suburbs of project housing. These small, cheaply built homes are provided to the poor rent free and there is assistance with power and water. These are the homes that were promised by the ruling ANC years ago, shortly after they took power but are only now being delivered.

This morning broke cool, windy and overcast, so with nothing better to do I strolled a couple of blocks down to Sandton City Shopping Mall. This took courage because as readers of one of my previous blogs will know – I have a distinct aversion to shops. However, it was early and for the first half hour of my wanderings through this monumental temple of consumerism the shops were closed and it was almost pleasant.

What a contrast to the townships though. Instead of dusty markets decorated by wind-blown plastic bags there was every conceivable designer label store known to man. I saw an ostrich skin handbag with a price tag of six thousand dollars! What’s the point of buying a handbag that costs so much money that you’ve none left to put in it? There were shops stacked with watches too – great chunky Rolex and Breitling time-pieces. I tell you what, you wouldn’t want to fall in the river wearing one of those. It would drag you under in no time. Whatever happened to simple, slim-line elegance?

As time went by the mall filled with a throng of elegantly dressed shoppers – black and white, but mostly black. The shops opened their doors, putting me in danger of accidentally buying something. So I left and walked back to my hotel, leaving behind this symbol of South Africa’s restored confidence. Let’s hope this continues. Crime is decreasing, the middle class is growing and I detect a buzz of optimism about the place. Now if they can just produce a half decent soccer team in time for the next world cup…………

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pixels & Predators

There are three vital pieces of equipment that everyone should remember to take on their Africa safari. They are - a camera with at least a x12 zoom, a pair of binoculars and a bird book. All the better if your bird book contains African birds. I did meet one Australian lady in South Africa who was complaining bitterly that she couldn't find any of the birds she'd seen in her book. I took a look. "Birds of Australia" the title boldly proclaimed. She was sure she'd seen a kookaburra too.

The binoculars come in handy too, especially if you look down the correct end. Most game drive vehicles will carry a set to share but it's better to have your own so you don't have to wait for other people to finish with them.

A good camera is essential though. For rank amateurs like me it needs to be light, robust and easy to use. By the time you've finished fiddling with light meters and manual focus the animal or bird has long gone. The camera I use cost about $900 five years ago and has served me well, (annoyingly it's about $200 cheaper now) although it's looking a bit battered these days - rather like its owner in fact. It does take great pictures though. It is a Panasonic Lumix SLR thingy. Don't ask me the details. I used to think pixels were little fairy like things living in magic forests until a couple of years ago. As far as I'm concerned SLR stands for "Somewhat Ludicrous Reading" and refers to the camera instructions that all seem to be written by the same dyslexic Korean. For example the instruction manual for my camera has an index that lists everything under "How to....." Not helpful. When you need help to remove the lens cap in a hurry you'd expect to find the instructions under L for lens cap, but no. It's under H for How to remove the lens cap!

You will get far closer to the animals than you'd think possible. They are not frightened of the game vehicles as they see them every day and soon come to know that they are neither a threat nor food. It's always tempting on your first game drive to snap away with the gay abandon of first world war machine gunner at the first glimpse of a distant impala. The results of these early photos are usually somewhat disappointing. "Why did I take a photo of that clump of grass?" Thank the Lord for digital cameras. At least you can delete the failures.

Sometimes you get brilliant photos completely by accident. My Mother in Law's school friend who lives in Cape Town has an old sepia photograph of her mother's school class - a group of a dozen or so teenage girls on a picnic in the African bush. They are standing under a large marula tree dressed in their bulky Edwardian skirts and shady hats looking very serious and demur, while in front of them on a dazzling white table cloth laid out on the grass is their picnic. Flasks of tea, sandwiches and cakes etc. In itself the photo is an interesting historical record. However, the most interesting thing about the photograph is the silhouette of a leopard sprawled out comfortably on one of the marula tree's branches some ten feet above the girls' heads.

Leopard Hills:
With only eight beautifully appointed suites, Leopard Hills offers as much privacy as you could wish for. Each luxurious glass-fronted suite has superb views over the bushveld and beyond. The romantic bathrooms have double indoor and outdoor showers. Each room has its own private rock plunge pool, viewing deck and fully stocked minibar. Game drives in open vehicles by day and night. Maximum - 16 Guests.

For more information call Ucango Travel & Cruise Centre on 07 5451 8600 or email

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Endangered Species

One of the best things about my job is that I get to sit at home sipping red wine and thinking up exciting group tour itineraries. I have to be excited about the itineraries myself before I inflict them upon the general public because let's face it, if I don't find the tour interesting why should I expect my clients to.

I believe my latest offering really ticks all the boxes . It has just the right combination of adventure, luxury and educational value. May I present (Fanfare) The Ultimate African Endangered Species Tour. (Pause for gasps of delight and applause to die down.)

On March 27th I will be leading an exclusive group of twelve to South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya in search of some of Africa's most critically endangered mammals.

We will visit Madikwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa to see African wild dogs and black rhinos. Then we'll travel on to Rwanda for a trek to see the highland gorillas and then on to Kenya for cheetahs in the Maasai Mara, black rhinos again at Ol Pejeta and most endangered of all the highland bongo in the Aberdare Mountains.

We will also see lions, elephants, leopards (with luck), giraffe, white rhino, many other types of antelope and some absolutely stunning bird life.

We'll be staying in some very special accommodation too.
Tau Lodge at Madikwe.
Gorilla Mountain View Lodge.
The Ark.
Sweetwaters Tented Camp.
Flamingo Hill Camp.
Mara Serena Lodge.

We will be travelling in two comfortable 4x4 vehicles and will be in the hands of professional driver/guides at all times. Most meals are included as are all required flights from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. We will be flying with South African Airlines from Australia to Johannesburg and then on to Nairobi. The flight from Nairobi to Kigali in Rwanda for the gorillas is also included, as is the $US500 gorilla permit.

The cost of all this is $11,990 per person twin share.
It includes all flights, accommodation for 19 nights in luxury lodges and hotels, most meals all necessary transfers and professional guides.

For more informational call Ucango Travel & Cruise Centre on 1300 822 646 or 07 5451 8600. Alternatively call me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447 or email me at

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spiders & Snakes

Almost every time I'm due to go on an African safari someone asks "Gosh! Isn't that dangerous? All those snakes, scorpions and spiders!" And I think to myself You do know that you're living in Australia don't you? Home of eight out of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Lurking in your own back yard are taipans, brown snakes, death adders, tiger snakes and king browns for example, not to mention red backs and funnel web spiders, mouse spiders, white tailed spiders and other creepy crawlies that grow to the size of a small sheep and who's venom is potent enough to wipe out half the population of Sydney with in single bite.

What on earth makes people think that African bities are more dangerous than their Australian counterparts? It's true that our Aussie scorpions are wimps by comparison, but even the scorpions in Africa give you fair warning that they are dangerous. The really naughty ones have tiny pincers and thick tails whereas the less venomous variety have big pincers and thin tails. In any case in all my time on safari I've only ever seen two scorpions and there's no reason to worry about them provided you don't go shoving your fingers into holes in the ground or scrabbling about under rocks.

There are snakes that are best avoided throughout Africa. These include the black mamba (strangely never black)- a big, bad tempered so and so, but I've only ever seen three of them in 35 years of African travel. Also the boomslang is worth giving a wide berth. It is particularly venomous but is rear-fanged and so deadly bites are very unlikely. How many times have I seen one? Zero, not a single one. Puff adders are not very nice either. They're a bit like our death adders, slow to move out of the way but they strike like greased lightening. Again, I've never seen one. Well, a few specimens squashed on roads but never a live one. Mozambique spitting cobras are good fun too. They can spray venom with extraordinary accuracy up to eight feet. Never seen one.

The fact is that African snakes, like their Aussie cousins will, on the whole get out of your way long before you see them. They feel the vibrations of your footfalls and slither off to a safer spot long before they become a danger to you.

African spiders are not a serious threat either, though some can give you a painful bite none are likely to do any lasting damage and you are no more likely to encounter them in the African bush than you are here. Some are quite impressive though. The baboon spider is so called because it's as big and hairy as a baboon. Actually I made that up, I've no idea why they're called baboon spiders, but they are pretty big. However, despite their appearance they are about as deadly as a rabbit.

So if it's creepy crawlies that are putting you off going on safari, stop worrying. You're more likely to encounter something deadly the next time you venture into your own back garden.

Okavango Wildlife Safari, Botswana.

$2989 per person twin share. 11 days Livingstone to Livingstone land only. Departs 9 March 2011.

Witness the incredible bio-diversity of the Okavango and Chobe National Park. Spend two nights on a houseboat on the Okavango River in Namibia before moving on to Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana, followed by Savute and Chobe National Park. This is a bird watchers paradise. Get to within a trunks length of an old bull elephant and listen to the lions roaring at night. This tour is a must for lovers of wildlife and wide open spaces. There are two games drives per day while in the Game Reserves and National Parks and transport is in open 4x4 game viewing vehicles.

Accommodation is in en-suite boathouse cabins, private campsites with walk-in tents, camp beds with all linen provided, hotels and lodges. Most meals are also included.

For more information phone me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447 or email me at

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maasai Culture and Wildlife Tour

Have I ever let you down? Well, yes there was that time a while ago when I went off to Botswana and left you blog-less for three weeks. Apart from that have I ever let you down? The week before last I promised you more detail on a unique tour of Tanzania. Well, here it is.

Maasai Culture and Wildlife Tour of Northern Tanzania.
$4289 per person twin share. 14 days Arusha to Arusha land only. Departs 7 March 2011.

Guided by a Sianga Kuyan – a Maasai warrior now married to an Aussie and based in Brisbane.

Sianga will take you to his remote village – one not visited by hoards of tourists. You will spend two nights with his people learning about their culture and traditions.

You will also visit the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and Lake Manyara where you will take part in game drives with professional driver guides. This is a unique opportunity to experience genuine Maasai culture and to enjoy the wonderful scenery and landscape that this region has to offer.

Transport is in 4x4 vehicles driven by professional driver guides.

Accommodation is mostly luxury camping at private with walk-in tents and hot showers. Some nights will be spent in hotels and lodges. A safari cook will prepare 3 meals a day and a camp attendant will erect the tents. There are camp beds with mattresses and all linen is provided.

All you have to do is enjoy the experience.
Part proceeds to The Future Warrior Project.

To register interest in this amazing tour please call me - Peter Emery on
0449 689 447, email me at or call the Ucango Travel & Cruise Centre in Maroochydore on 07 5451 8600.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What a Hoot!

Here's an important date for you. May 15th 2011. Write in capital letters in your diary, underline it, highlight it, tear out the page, frame it and stick it on your fridge. Whatever it takes - just don't forget that date. Why? Because it is the start of a very special, very exclusive, fully excorted small group tour which I have named "South African Predators."

Commencing in Cape Town we will spend four nights at The Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel exploring the delights of Cape Town, sampling wine, admiring the view from Table Mountain etc before we meet the first of our predatory friends. We will have a full day's cage diving with great white sharks at Gansbaai - real adrenaline rush if ever there was one. Naturally safety is our prime concern and cage dives are professionally guided and supervised. No special diving experience is necessary.

From Cape Town we move on to Thornybush Game Reserve - a luxury private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. Here we will pursue two more of our favourite predators - the lion and the elusive leopard. Thornybush is a "Big 5" reserve so will can also expect to see rhino, elephant and cape buffalo. We will spend three nights here enjoying the comfort that this luxury lodge has to offer and taking two game drives per day.

After one night at the Peermont Metcourt Hotel near Johannesburg Airport and a fascinating half day trip to Soweto we will drive to Madikwe Game Reserve in the remote North West Province, tucked away on the border with Botswana. Here we will spend 3 nights at Tau Lodge, suffering more luxury and looking for another predator -the critically endangered African wild dog - also known as painted wolves. These special animals are Africa's most successful hunters and Madikwe Game Reserve offers a good chance to see them in their natural habitat. This is also a "Big 5" reserve so there are many more treats in store for the serious wildlife watcher.

So come on, join me. It'll be a hoot. We'll drink some great wine, eat some fabulous food and most important of all - we'll see some wonderful animals close up, and I mean close.

South African Predators.

$4559 per person twin share. 12 days Cape Town to Johannesburg land only. Departs 15May 2011. A fully escorted luxury tour featuring 4 of Africa’s most fearsome predators. Great White Sharks, Lions, Leopards and Wild Dogs.

This will be an adrenaline charged experience with a little bit of luxury at the end of each day. All meals are included at the game lodges as well as two game drives per day.

Please note that two additional flights must be purchased. Cape Town to Nelspruit and Nelspruit to Johannesburg. Prices on application.

For more information phone me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447
or email

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maasai Warriors & Mobile Phones

In March the lovely people at Ucango Travel (The loveliest of them all being yours truly.) will be operating a rather special 13 night group tour of northern Tanzania. As well as visiting all the amazing scenic and wildlife hotspots such as Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater the tour will visit a (non-touristy) Maasai village. We will be spending two nights there. It really is a unique opportunity to learn more about this fascinating tribe who are determined to keep alive their culture and way of life.

The tour leader is Sianga – a Maasai warrior now living in Brisbane and married to a member of the Aussie tribe – another group of people who are determined to maintain their way of life, especially the time honoured traditions of long boozy lunches and something mysterious called “Chucking a Sicky.”

There will be no discomfort on this tour. Most nights will be spent in the “walk-in” luxury tents of a mobile camp with real beds and linen and an ensuite toilets and hot water bucket showers. Tents will be erected by a camp attendant and meals are cooked by the camp chef. There will also be some nights in comfortable hotels and lodges. Private camp sites will be utilised to ensure a peaceful wilderness experience,

The Maasai are famous worldwide for their incredibly colourful costumes and their leaping dance. Their initiation process is also famed for the young males of the clan having to kill a lion to graduate as a warrior. This no longer happens to any great extent but it is interesting to know that lions still give the warriors a wide berth when they see them approaching in their bright red shukas (robes). It is an almost mystical sight to see these tall, elegant, scarlet clad figures striding across the shimmering plain, often alone and miles from anywhere. They have legendary powers of telepathic communication, but today you are quite likely to see a warrior whip a mobile phone out from under his shuka. Ah well, that’s progress.

Finally at the end of the tour there will be the chance to meet with a group of Maasai warriors who are doing more than anyone else to preserve the Maasai culture. They go under the name of Future Warriors. This will be a rare and intriguing insight into the Maasai way of life.

More details will appear in a later blog, but meanwhile, to express an interest in this very special tour please call me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447
or email

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kicking & Screaming

Like most men, I’m not a good shopper. Ask my wife. On the extremely rare occasions that she does manage to drag me kicking and screaming to the shops I can be found sitting on a bench with the other bullied men glancing at our watches every ten seconds, muttering darkly to ourselves and then pretending to be interested in our partner’s purchase when she finally emerges triumphantly from the shop several long hours after she disappeared into its sinister depths. I admit I have a liking for window shopping though, but only when the shops are closed and there’s no chance of me accidentally falling into a shop and injuring my wallet.

I do make one exception however – African artifact stalls. I find them endlessly fascinating with their skilfully carved stone and wooden animals, tribal masks, ornate drums and baskets, some so tightly weaved that they can actually hold water. The Zimbabwean artisans are particularly brilliant and one can obtain some beautiful souvenirs from the shops and stalls of Victoria Falls, usually at ridiculously low prices.

I also enjoy looking out for the unusual shops and business names that one can see when travelling Africa’s dusty roads. In Kenya I saw “Riungu Veterinary Surgeon and Butcher.” Don’t take your pet lamb there would be my advice. In South Africa there was “Happy’s Barber and Bicycle Repairs” and in Zambia “Uncle Toby’s Bottle Shop and Undertaker.” Quite handy if you want to drink yourself to death.

Mind you, Africa is not the only place you can see some interestingly named businesses.
Malaysia has the “Kent Turkey Fried Chicken Café” (Kota Bahru). “Soon Phat Restaurant” (Cameron Highlands), and my personal favourite “Phook Yew Communications” (Kuantan). They’re probably a subsidiary of Telstra.

Anyway my fellow shop-aphobics, take heart. You need not fear African shops and markets. Even you will find them interesting and stacked full of irresistible goodies that will grace your lounge room for years to come.

Cheetah Safari
6 Days from $2195 per person
Nairobi to Nairobi
This safari combines game viewing in the Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro with big game viewing in the world famous Masai Mara. A stop at Lake Nakuru en route provides an opportunity to see the flamingos.

For more information call me - Peter Emery on 0449 689 447
or email

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Been There, Done That.

Okay, so you’ve been to Africa two or three times. You’ve got the bug. You’ve seen Cape Town, been to the top of Table Mountain, sampled the wine at the many wineries in the region – maybe even had one too many glasses at lunch time and had a snoring, drooly sleep on the way back to the hotel in the tour bus, when even the rattle of that half dozen bottles of chardonnay you purchased at the last stop couldn’t keep you awake. .

You’ve stayed at a luxury lodge at Sabi Sands, maybe Londolozi or Sabi Sabi. You’ve enjoyed their amazing cuisine and seen the “Big Five.” You’ve even tried some of the bush meat that they serve from time to time – warthog, eland, impala and my personal favourite – kudu kebabs, served with a creamy mustard sauce.

You’ve done a camping trip through Botswana, paddled a mokoro through the papyrus lined channels of the Okavango Delta. You’ve been within a trunk length of an old bull elephant, looked into his eyes and seen his ancient, gentle wisdom. You’ve lain in your tent at night listening to lions roaring, hyena cackling and jackals yapping.

You’ve gazed in awe at the Victoria Falls. You’ve heard it’s thunder and been drenched by the spray. You may have even been silly enough to dive off the Falls bridge with an elastic band attached to your ankle. You’ll certainly have floated gently down the Zambezi on one of the many sunset cruise boats. You might have even canoed there, carefully avoiding yawning hippos and cruising crocs.

Perhaps you’ve been to the Serengeti and witnessed the moving sight of two million wildebeests and zebras following the seasonal rain. You might even have struggled up Mount Kilimanjaro and stood breathlessly on the roof of Africa.

In short, you are a seasoned Africa visitor and you’re looking for something a little different. What about a spot of “Eco Training”? There are course of between one day and one year in duration that will give you a taste of what it is like to be an African game ranger. You can learn tracking, 4 wheel-drive vehicle and rifle handling as well as gaining an intimate knowledge of Africa’s incredible wildlife. How good is that? You may even be able to forge a new career as many of the courses offer formal qualifications. Go on, try it on your next trip.

EcoTraining Offers!
Professional Field Guide Course - 1 Year ~ With lodge experience ~ Gap Year
Field Guide Level 1 Course - 28 days ~ FGASA or EcoTraining Exams
Trails Guide Course - 28 days ~ FGASA or EcoTraining Exams
Conservation Game Ranger - 14 days ~ Ex-Kruger Ranger and Ecologist Ralf Kalwa
EcoQuest Course - 14 days ~ Experience and learn the life of a Field Guide
Snake Course - 1 day ~ Expert and Specialist Mike Perry
Tracks and Tracking - 7 days ~ Specialist Adriaan Louw
Wildlife Photography - 5 days ~ Specialist and well-known photographer Lex Hes
Birding Course - 7 days ~ Specialist Bruce Lawson (Basic and Advanced)
Educational Walking Trails - 7 days ~ Specialist guide Johna Turner
Safari Guide Level 1 Course - 28 days ~ Kenya
Guide Certificate 111 - 28 days ~ Australia RTO Status
School and Corporate Courses - Australia (only)

We aim to put the bush back into Africa for all those that are searching for the most authentic wildlife training and safari experiences.

For more information call me – Peter Emery on 0449 689 447
or email

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Memories of Mali

Isn't it funny how the memory of one's travel fades with age like a favourite old snapshot. It was 1985 and I remember leaving Mopti and arriving in Djenne quite clearly and yet I can recall virtually nothing of the journey with the exception of driving across a long causeway across the Bani River floodplain at the confluence with the mighty Niger River as we approached the ancient town of Djenne. It was hot and hazy, that much I do remember - 45 degrees centigrade and being May, just before the rains it was also very humid. There had been a sand storm and the sky had a weird orange hue. I wandered the dusty, narrow alleyways and markets, peering into darkened doorways and gaping in amazement at the gleaming gold jewellery dripping from the local women. Each earring looked as though it must weigh at least a kilo. It was a wonder that the women weren't tripping over their earlobes.

I joined in a game of football with some ragged kids who were scuffing a battered, deflated plastic ball about the market place amongst the equally ragged chickens and skinny donkeys. Another memory which remains sharp is that of a mud brick goldsmith's building deep in the depths of one of the alleys. Crouched over a blazing crucible filled with molten gold was a dessicated old man of who knows what age. Pinned to the wall behind him was a poster of Madonna, scantily clad in a little lurex number. But here's the thing.......the poster was upside down.

Of course the highlight of any visit to Djenne is the Grande Mosque. It's hard to describe. It has an alien, almost organic appearance - like an enormous sandcastle topped by several rounded spires, each one decorated with an ostrich egg. Inside it is dark and deliciously cool and provides sanctuary from the heat for the elderly and infirm who are found comfortable corners of the interior and are tended to by the mosque members. It is a very humane arrangement.

The town site itself has been inhabited since 250 BC. The first mosque was built there in the 13th century, but the current structure dates back to 1907. In 1988, three years after my visit this ancient city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It remains a pretty tough place to get to. As it is, Mali is not exactly a mainstream tourist destination and Djenne is remote even by Malian standards. It is about 350 kilometres southwest of Timbuktu which is widely recognised as being the world's most isolated town.

These days it's a two hour taxi ride from bustling Mopti, which has a pretty impressive mud mosque of its own as well as a fascinating river port. Or there are buses once a week if you're lucky. The best way to see this part of the world is with one of the overland adventure tours that operate in the region.

From AUD $4,925 Countries Visited: Mali
Duration: 13 days
Valid until 30 June 2012

For more information call Peter Emery on 0449 689 447
or email

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mrs Thatcher's Handbag

In southern of Tanzania lies a wild and woolly place called Ruaha National Park. You can drive the 600 kilometres from the capital city Dar Es Salaam, but take my advice – don’t. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll hit a stray elephant (not good for your car or the elephant) or be side swiped by one of the many overload local buses. (Not good for you. The bus driver probably wouldn’t even notice – even if he was awake at the time.) No, far better to fly. You’ll be there in 2 hours. In any case it’s a very scenic flight in a light aircraft, culminating in an exciting landing on a gravel bush strip within the National Park itself.

At 10,300 square kilometres it is huge – Tanzania’s second largest park. Much of the wildlife activity is centred on the Ruaha River – a wide, meandering waterway that attracts some of the best birdlife to be seen anywhere on earth. My favourite lodge within the park is Ruaha River Lodge. It has 48 bandas (lovely stone houses) strung out along the river. All have large ensuite bathrooms and verandahs.

It was in Ruaha National Park that I met Margaret Thatcher – not the strident, handbag wielding ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain but an even more formidable lady with wrinkled grey skin, big flappy ears and a trunk. The guides had named her Margaret Thatcher because she had a tendency to take exception to people for the most insignificant of reasons.

Our guide Josephat – a softly spoken man with the gentlest of natures had stopped our open game drive vehicle so that we could observe a small herd of elephants emerging from the scrub. It was a peaceful scene, half a dozen females with a couple of smaller juveniles. They contentedly munched on branches and rumbled to each other as we watched from about fifty metres away. Enter Margaret Thatcher. She pushed her way through the scrub and trumpeted crossly the moment she laid her piggy little eyes on us. Almost immediately she raised her trunk to smell us and then mock charged, spreading her ears, kicking up dust and stopping after a few metres. We all relaxed and continued to watch the herd for a few minutes.

Then Mrs Thatcher charged again. This time for keeps – silently and with her trunk tucked in. She came on at an amazing speed. Simultaneously the three of us the back of the vehicle yelled “Go! Go! Go!” at Josephat who was watching a troop of yellow baboons crossing the track ahead. Fortunately he’d left the engine running and after a second’s hesitation it dawned on him that several tons of angry pachyderm was bearing down on us and he gunned the engine and we shot off down the track spraying Mrs Thatcher with stones and grit.

Needless to say this did little to improve Margaret’s mood and she sped up. My wife Jacky and I were sitting in the back seats and therefore had the best view of the elephant’s tusks as they approached our rear ends. Josephat casually turned his head. “Has she stopped?” Our collective reply almost deafened him. “No. Go! Go! Go!” Six feet from the rear of the truck Mrs Thatcher was keeping up her shuffling sprint. At that point I was very glad I had opted to wear my khaki trousers. I swear I could smell her grassy breath.

At last after what seemed like several minutes, Mrs Thatcher began to tire and we pulled away from her. She finally stopped in a cloud of dust and trumpeted in either triumph or frustration – I’m not sure which, and then turned away to rejoin the herd. We all grinned a little insanely at each other and laughed – albeit somewhat nervously, realising how close we’d come to a damned good handbagging.

For more information on Ruaha River Lodge contact Peter Emery
Phone 0449 689 447

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paul The Psychic Octopus

So, the final whistle has blown at the FIFA World Cup. The crowds are heading home and at last the sound of vuvuzelas is fading from our bleeding ears. And……wait. Is that the smell of octopus being stir fried with chillies, sweet basil and a hint of sauerkraut? I do believe it is. I bet Paul the psychic octopus didn’t see that coming!

There can be no doubt that South Africa’s World Cup has been a resounding success. What a shame Bafana Bafana (The Boys) didn’t progress beyond the group stage. Never mind, considering their pre-competition form they did pretty well to come out with a win, a draw and only one defeat. In the end the only African team that won anything was Algeria – officially voted the ugliest looking team at the World Cup. For those of you who are interested, Wayne Rooney was voted the ugliest player. Frankly I’m surprised that anyone noticed he was there!

My sincere hope is that all the positive exposure South Africa has received over the past month will entice people to visit this exciting country and her neighbours – Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and yes even Zimbabwe which still has a lot to offer and is improving all the time. There’s never been a better time to visit the region. The vuvuzelas are finally silent, the football fans have vacated the hotels and prices will have returned to sanity. You’ll be blown away by the scenery, adore the animals and be charmed by the people.

South Africa Surprise Double Deal
15 Days including airfares
First Person - $3,995
Second Person - $3,675
An unforgettable 15 days in one of the world’s most exciting countries! Our tour takes in the best of South Africa — it will surprise you with its variety, fun & adventure.

For more information call Peter on 0449 689 447
or email

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Smoke That Thunders

The locals call Victoria Falls “Mosi oa Tunya” – The Smoke that Thunders. It’s well named too because at peak flow in May/June the spray rise three hundred metres or more, and looks for all the world like a huge plum of white smoke. It can be seen from miles away and is pointed out by the airline pilots on their final approach to either Livingstone or Victoria Falls airport.

The Zambezi River plunges into a deep gorge and forms a spectacular demarcation between Zimbabwe and Zambia or for those of you old enough to remember – Southern and Northern Rhodesia. The falls are best seen from the Zimbabwe side, especially towards the end of the dry season in September/October when pretty much all you’ll see from Zambia is the dry gorge wall. In May and June there can be sooooo much water that you might as well be standing in a tropical thunderstorm. It is incredible, you would not get any wetter if you actually fell into the Zambezi. Fortunately you can hire wet weather gear at the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park and the tour operators will usually supply it free of charge, though it can be a bit smelly.

There’s heaps of stuff to do there apart from admiring the falls. You can take an elephant-back safari, walk through the bush with lion cubs or have a seriously fattening high tea at the historical Victoria Falls Hotel. Then for those of you who are of somewhat doubtful sanity there is bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls bridge, grade five white water rafting and ultra-light aircraft flights over the falls. Call me a chicken if you like but there’s no way you’ll get me into something that both looks and sounds like a lawn mower with wings. Anyway, if you like flying lawnmowers its there for you. Personally I prefer the more conventional “Flight of Angels” in a helicopter.

Then there’s canoeing, game drives, game walks, day drips to Chobe, the list goes on.
Sunset cruises on the Zambezi are a great way to spend a couple of lazy hours. You drift down the river on any one of a couple of dozen vessels of varying size, all the while being plied with finger food and beer or wine. You watch the sunset – invariably a stunning show in this part of the world, and you observe the elephants bathing in the shallows and the hippos wiggling their ears with just their heads protruding from the water. There are crocodiles here too – big ones, up to seven metres in length. It is estimated that there is one every ten metres in this part of the river.

Many of the lodges have other activities and cultural shows that you can attend too, and one of my favourites – The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge on the Zimbabwe side has vulture feeding every day at one ’o’ clock. The vultures know it too. At twelve thirty hundreds of them can be seen spiralling on the thermals near the lodge. Hundreds more can be seen perched in nearby trees – all looking at their watches and waiting for their lunch. Then at the appointed hour one of the lodge’s guides appears with a chopped up sheep carcass and all hell breaks loose in a flurry of beating wings and a thick cloud of dust. One word of advice – don’t get too close, or if you do at least take an umbrella if you get my drift.

3 nights in at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge from $AU620.00 per person twin share.Price Includes: 3 nights accommodation, all transfers; breakfast daily, sunset cruise, dinner at the Boma and dinner in the Mukuwa-Kuwa restaurant in Victoria Falls.

For more information call Peter Emery at 0449 689 447

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loitering Within Tent

For the last twenty years I've seen camping as something about as enjoyable as a visit to the dentist. All that fiddling with tent poles, pegs and ropes makes my blood run cold and I always seem to have a couple of bits left over once the tent is erected, which worries me so much that I can't get to sleep - even in the unlikely event that I manage to find a comfortable, rock free spot to lie on.

Then there's the cooking. Why is that camp fires take several hours to boil a pot of water and only about thirty seconds to turn a plump pink sausage to charcoal? Amazing isn't it?

That's why I loved my recent Wilderness Dawning "Best of Botswana" tour. Sure it's camping, but it's camping with the painful bits removed. Each evening you arrive at your beautiful bush camp and are welcomed by a blazing fire. Your 3 x 3 metre tents are already set up complete with camp beds, sheets, blankets, soft pillows and a warm, fluffy duvet. There are proper pedestal toilets and hot bucket showers, and best of all your dinner is being cooked for you. All you have to do is sit around the fire with a glass of your favourite 12 year old single malt and talk about the day's experiences. You don't even have to wash up. Now that's camping!

Your day starts at 5.45am with a cheery "Good morning" as the camp attendant pours steaming hot water into the canvas basis outside your tent. Toast and coffee around the fire follows and then you're off on a 3 to 4 hour game drive. A hot brunch is served when you return and the afternoon is yours to do whatever you wish - sleep, read, wash out your socks..........

Coffee and biscuits are served at about 3pm and then you're off on the afternoon game drive for a couple of hours. Meanwhile back at camp the chef is preparing your dinner for when you return. It's a rhythm you soon get used to and although it's a delicious treat to have a hot bath in a hotel at the end of the trip and to sleep in a proper bed, you find that you miss the mysterious night noises of the bush and the peaceful early morning cup of coffee around a crackling log fire.

Wilderness Dawning's 14 day "Best of Botswana" tour starts from $US2975 per person twin share. Their 10 day "Highlights of Botswana" tour starts from $US2600 per person twin share.

For more details contact Peter Emery at Ucango Travel on
0449 689 447 or email

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lion, The Ditch and The Warthog

Nothing gives you a squirt of adrenalin like a close encounter with a lion. Its a visceral thing and must come from something buried deep in our DNA, something that harks back to a time before early humanity departed the great plains of East Africa - a time when ancient mankind spent his days hunting and gathering and waiting for McDonalds to open.

One morning while driving in Tanzania's Serengeti we encountered a large male lion laying in some long grass next to a drainage ditch. He regarded us with a sort of arrogant boredom, his massive head resting on his front paws, the breeze tugging at his impressive mane. He knew that we were no threat and that we weren't lunch, at least as long as we remained inside the vehicle.

We sat there watching him watching us for a few minutes and then we noticed a female warthog approaching. Now some people think they're ugly things (usually people who haven't looked in the mirror themselves lately), but I think they're very cute. I love the way they raise their spindly tails like car radio aerials and trot off when they're alarmed.

Now this particular warthog looked a little confused. From her angle of approach she couldn't yet see the lion, but she could evidently smell that something wasn't quite right because she stopped dead in her tracks and then abruptly changed direction, trotting towards some reeds which grew in the water in the drainage ditch. She was twenty-five metres from the lion when he saw her. We could see that he was interested, but wasn't convinced that he'd be able to catch her. He stood and stretched lazily and sauntered over to the reeds into which the warthog had by now disappeared.

Suddenly the warthog saw the lion and panicked (understandably). She leapt into some deeper water and started swimming. However, she made the fatal error of swimming too close to a low stone bridge that crossed the ditch. Suddenly in a terrifying display of explosive speed and power, the lion saw her break the cover of the reeds and charged onto the bridge kicking up great clouds of dust with his massive paws and emitting deep guttural grunts.

Then he simply reached down from the bridge and plucked the squealing, 40kg warthog from the water with one paw. In a second his jaws were clamped on her throat and two minutes later the warthog was dead and being dragged under the cover of a tree to be hidden from the telescopic sight of patrolling vultures.

We sat in the vehicle, a little stunned and light-headed, our hearts pounding. Watching a kill does that to you. I always find myself torn between wanting the predator to get its meal (Heaven knows its hard enough for them.) and wanting the victim to escape.

Now I must apologise. For the next three weeks there will be no new blogs. I'll be camping in Botswana. I know. It's a tough assignment, but someone has to do it. My next blog will appear on Friday 25 June. At least I should have plenty to talk about.

Meanwhile I thought I'd let you in on a little story told to me by one of the guides at Impodimo Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

Two Kruger game rangers had been given the the unenviable job of tracking down an injured lion. Before the left they were checking through their equipment.

Rifle - check.
Ammo - check.
Radio - check
Water - check.
Running shoes...............

"Running shoes?" Exclaimed the other ranger. "What do you want running shoes for? There's no way you'll be able to outrun a lion."

"I don't need to outrun the lion," grinned the first ranger. "I just need to outrun you."

Discover Northern Tanzania From $1950 per person twin share
6 Days
Nairobi to Nairobi
Lake Manyara / The Serengeti / Ngorongoro Crater
This road safari is an excellent way to discover the highlights of northern Tanzania including the incredible game viewing opportunities in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

For more details call one of Ucango Travel's 4 offices.

Buderim Central (next to Post Office)
07 5409 1999

Woolworths Shopping Complex
07 5451 8600

Cnr Currie & Lowe Street
07 5459 0808

Pelican Waters Shopping Village
07 5437 4000

Africa's Steamy Armpit

Arriving in Lome (pronounced Lowmay) on a moonless May night on a flight from northern Europe is a bit of a shock. It’s the sort of shock you would get if somebody crept up behind you and threw a hot, wet towel over your head. To say that Lome humid is like saying the Simpson Desert sometimes gets a little warm.

Lome is the capital city of Togo, a tiny sliver of a country wedged uncomfortably in West Africa’s steamy armpit between Ghana and Benin. I was there to join a Guerba Adventures Trans Sahara expedition across the Sahel and Sahara Desert to Tunis via Timbuktu. In a moment of youthful insanity I’d booked the trip for the hottest time of the year because I wanted to experience that part of Africa at its most extreme, but more of that in a later blog.

For now I was just relieved to be met by David, our guide who ushered me out of the teeming airport terminal to the specially modified four ton Bedford truck in which we would be making the journey along with thirteen other paying passengers who had already arrived and hopefully were occupying themselves back at the campsite by cooking my dinner.

There’s an old saying – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” However, in this case it began with David having to round up several locals because our truck was blocked in by two battered Renault Fours, one six inches from the front bumper, the other six inches from the rear. Twenty minutes later, dripping with sweat and uttering profanities we’d bounced the Renaults far enough to allow David to Squeeze the big Bedford out.

The camp for that first night was set up on Lome beach and once I’d arrived and met my fellow travelers I discovered that they had indeed made my dinner and the woman who handed me my steaming plate of vegetable curry was my wife, though neither of us yet knew it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Only Food Runs

“Hey, donkey! Get off my land. I’m an ogre.” Bernard’s Shrek impression was flawless, right down to the Scottish accent. It did however come as a bit of a surprise. Not just because Bernard was a Zulu, but also because he was leading us on a rhino walk through a private game concession in the Kruger National Park at the time. He was our guide at Plains Camp and took care of the day to day running of that particular facility. It had just four large, luxurious tents, a dining tent and a lounge tent filled with Edwardian memorabilia. As the name suggests, it is situated on the edge of a plain where one can sit in the lounge, resting your glass of single malt on the arm of the chair while watching a herd of elephants trundling across the open grassland.

Bernard also leads walks into the bush, ably assisted by Ozzie – another, altogether rounder Zulu. The whole operation is called “Rhino Walking Safaris”. Each morning we’d leave camp, Bernard leading the way and Ozzie bringing up the rear, both armed with very serious looking rifles. In Bernard’s pre-walk safety instructions he explains. “I don’t shoot the animals, but if you see a lion and you run I will shoot you.” Of course he’s right – in this part of the world only food runs and being shot would be more humane than being chased down and consumed by a large feline.

And so we walked. The quieter moments were punctuated by Bernard’s Shrek impressions. “Shrek,” he explained, “is my four year old daughter’s favourite movie.” However, I had the distinct impression that it was really his. I could imagine his little girl groaning when Bernard pulled out the Shrek DVD for the umpteenth time. “Oh Jeez Dad. Please, not Shrek again! Why can’t we watch Saving Private Ryan or something?”

In any case, despite Bernard’s eccentricity we found our rhino – a female white rhino. With enormous care and professionalism Bernard and Ozzie guided us to a spot behind a large fallen tree, not ten metres from the huge animal which continued to graze contentedly, seemingly unaware of our presence. Photos taken we backed quietly away and continued our walk, Ozzie rolling his eyes and pointing to his head with a circular motion of his finger whenever Bernard burst into Shrek mode.

Later that evening we sat around a blazing fire looking for shooting stars and listening to the cackling of a clan of hyenas just beyond the firelight. It was a romantic moment. I reached over and squeezed my wife's hand. Then, from somewhere out there in the darkness - "Hey Donkey! Get off my land..........."

Rhino Walking Safaris lies in the Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in South Africa, and offers an unrivalled wilderness and wildlife experience.

Rhino Walking Safaris With its two camps, Plains Camp and Rhino Post Safari Lodge, it provides a range of accommodation options in the midst of a spectacular landscape. Comfortable explorer-style tents and elegant, environmentally friendly suites combine home comforts with an authentic pioneer tradition and the serenity of bygone days.

With several expertly organized trails that cater for every need, Rhino Walking Safaris visitors can enjoy a tailor-made experience of the amazing wildlife and landscape of South Africa.

For more information phone 0449 689 447
or email

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leopards Galore

There is a little known private game reserve called Mashatu. It lies just inside Botswana, across the Limpopo River which forms the border with South Africa in that part of the world. It is the place to see leopards, particularly in September and October when statistically you have a 94% chance of seeing these usually elusive big cats. The reserve is owned and run by Rattray Reserves who also run the more famous Mala Mala Lodge in the Sabi Sands area adjacent to the Kruger National Park, and here’s the good news. It’s a mere fraction of what you would pay for a night at Mala Mala, Sabi Sabi, Singita or Londolozi – better known “leopard viewing” lodges.

The reserve is a massive twenty five thousand hectares, and the best thing of all is that there are only 2 lodges – the main camp and the tented camp, that’s a maximum of forty eight guests total in the two camps, even if they’re full. That’s two guests per thousand hectares, no wonder you hardly ever see another vehicle on the game drives. You don’t even have to share your leopard sighting.

One gets to Mashatu either by driving 6 hours from Johannesburg or by flying to Polokwane and then taking a road transfer from there to the Pont Drift border crossing. Or you could hire a car and drive yourself, often a cheaper option, even if you don’t use the car for the few days you spend at Mashatu. From Polokwane it’s a two hour drive on an excellent road to Pont Drift. There the south African/Botswana border formalities are efficient and friendly, especially by African standards. You leave your vehicle (if you’ve hired one) in a secure compound on the South African side and you’re then met on the Botswana side by a driver from Mashatu.

In the dry season you simply drive across the dry Limpopo River bed, but in the wet, when the river is flowing deep and fast you and your luggage are loaded into a small cable car and are winched across the river. A couple of years ago they had to tighten the cables because they sagged so much that the passengers in the cable car were getting their feet wet. It’s all good fun, and part of the adventure. Anyway, there’s also an airstrip at Mashatu so you could always fly in, but where’s the fun in that?

South Africa Double Deal
January to September 2010 only
South Africa Surprise - 15 Days
First Person - $2,200
Second Person - $1,650
An unforgettable 15 days in one of the world’s most exciting countries! Our tour takes in the best of South Africa — it will surprise you with its variety, fun & adventure.

For further details call 0449 689 447 or email

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Khaki Fever

I really admire African game rangers. Having said that I should reassure my wife that I have not come down with Khaki fever – an unfortunate affliction which makes game lodge guests (mostly female, but not exclusively) fall headlong in love with their guide. It doesn’t matter that the object of their affection resembles the favourite in a Quasimodo look-alike contest or that he has the personality of a clam. As long as he’s wearing khaki, can recite the gestation period of a warthog, ( 160-170 days for those of you who are interested) and can instantly recognise the dung of a giraffe. (It’s surprisingly small by the way.) Jealous? Me? No, I’m always this attractive shade of green.

In truth these guides are an admirable breed, well trained, professional and totally dedicated to educating their guests about the wildlife and its habitat. They certainly don’t do the job for the money. Actually they have to put up with quite a lot. For example at many lodges if their guests want to stay up drinking at the bar until 4.30am the ranger has to stay with them to escort them back to their accommodation and ensure that some unfortunate leopard doesn’t die of alcohol poisoning when it eats one of them. Then there are the stupid questions. “Which animals get mad when you take their photo?” was one that I heard. And “Do those tiny rhinos (she meant warthogs) breed with the really big ones?”

I recently stayed at a lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. Here there was a direct telephone link between the guest rooms and their guide’s quarters. My guide Andre was telling me that he’d once escorted a guest back to his room after one of the afore mentioned drinking sessions and had just climbed into his own bed when he received a call from his inebriated guest. “I’ve just pulled my curtains back to look out and there’s a leopard staring at me.” The caller said.
“Is it outside?” Asked Andre thinking that it was a figment of the guests alcohol addled imagination.
“I think so.” Said the caller.
“Well, look again and if you’re sure it’s outside draw the curtains and go to bed.” The next morning, out of interest Andre checked around the guest’s room and sure enough found several large, fresh pug marks in the sandy soil.

All I’m saying is be nice to your guide or ranger, they really do know their stuff and if you listen to them they’ll turn a good safari into a fantastic, life changing experience. Oh, and tip them well.

Kariega Game Reserve is an internationally renowned “Big-5” private game reserve situated in the Eastern Cape, near Port Elizabeth – a natural extension to Cape Town and the Garden Route.

The 9000 hectare reserve is malaria-free with an expansive variety of game and birdlife and dramatic views, vistas and landscape.
Kariega is family owned and operated and offers guests a truly memorable African experience, unforgettable game viewing and a uniquely intimate experience with the wilderness that revives the heart and inspires the soul.

For more information call 0449 689 447 or email

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Here kitty kitty!

I bet those of you who have never visited Africa are sitting there in front of your computer with a nice cup of coffee and a Tim Tam, reading this, and wondering what a day in an African safari lodge would be like. No? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.

Your day starts at about 6am with a knock on the door and cheery “Good Morning!” from your guide whose job it is to wake you up and suffer the abuse of those guests with hideous hangovers. You then make your way up to the main lodge where a welcome cup of coffee and a biscuit or rusk is waiting for you. I should warn you about these rusks. They are delicious but on no account should you attempt to eat them without first dipping them in your coffee to soften them up, they’re as hard as house bricks.

Coffee consumed, guests are then ushered onto their game viewing vehicles, usually an open landrover or landcruiser. It can be very cold on winter mornings so rug up. The lodge always provides blankets and sometimes even hand muffs.

To those who have never before done a game drive it often comes as quite a shock to see a tracker precariously perched on a seat bolted to the vehicle’s bull bar. It’s his job to look for animal tracks and the driver will follow his directions. It’s also his job to look cool and unfazed as lions wander around the truck, pausing now and again to sniff at his feet. The fact is that the animals become familiar with the vehicles, their smell and shape and they don’t view them as a threat, and certainly not as food. You’ll be given a short safety talk at the start of the drive. “Don’t stand up.” “Don’t make loud noises.” “Don’t leap out of the vehicle yelling here kitty kitty when you see a leopard.” That kind of thing.

Halfway through the morning game drive you’ll stop for coffee and more rusks and then it’s back to the lodge for a huge, well earned brunch. You’ll then have the rest of the day to relax, swim, read or whatever before afternoon tea is served at about 3pm. Then it’s off on the afternoon game drive – more great animal adventures with a sundowner drinks break at sunset. Dinner is served at the lodge at about 8pm – and what a dinner! The food at these lodges is first class. There’s plenty of time to sit around discussing the day’s excitement before waddling off to bed with a distended stomach looking forward to doing it all again the following day.

7 Day Phinda & Elephants Adventure from $2295 per person.
Set within easy reach of the Indian Ocean coastline and the famous iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Phinda Private Game Reserve is known for its abundant wildlife, diversity of habitats and wide range of activities. The reserve is a leader in the conservation and rehabilitation field for the reintroduction of both flora and fauna.

Phone 0449 689 447 0r email

Thursday, April 22, 2010

24 Hours in Africa

Imagine if you could only spend twenty four hours in Africa - any country you like, but only twenty four hours. Apart from being extremely unlikely and hugely frustrating, where would you go and what would you choose to see? Well, here are a few ideas for you just in case.

In alphabetical order, here's my choice for a few of Africa's 47 countries.

Botswana - The Okavango Delta. A vast inland river delta draining into the Kalahari Desert. Teeming with wildlife.

Chad - Errrmm. I'm sure the people are very nice.

Egypt - The pyramids at Giza obviously.

Ethiopia - The Simien Mountains. Stunning scenery and home to gelada baboons and the very rare Ethiopian wolf.

Kenya - Gosh, hard to choose, but let's say the Maasai Mara, especially during the wildebeest migration.

Mali - Djenne. An ancient mud city on the Niger River.

Mauritania - Great sand.

Morocco - Marrakech. A fascinating red city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.

Mozambique - The Barra Peninsula. Beautiful clear water with great scuba diving.

Namibia - Etosha National Park. A unique wildlife habitat.

South Africa - Cape Town. Wow! What scenery! Great food, wine and enthralling history.

Tanzania - Ngorongoro Crater. a vast extinct volcano packed with incredible wildlife.

Uganda - Bwindi National Park. Visit the highly endangered mountain gorillas.

Zambia - South Luangwa National Park. Brilliant walking safaris for an up close and personal wildlife experience.

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls. Simply breathtaking.

All these countries have many other attractions (except maybe Chad and Mauritania), but remember you've only got twenty four hours. At least you won't need much luggage.

From $2920 for 14 days.

Highlights include: Sunset cruise in Chobe Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi pans, Bush walk, Game Drive in the Moremi National Park, Maun, Khwai River Game Drive and Night Drive, 2-Day Okavango Delta experience including Mokoro excursion, Mahangu National Park, Popa Falls, Western Caprivi, Eastern Caprivi, River cruise on the Kwando River, Game Drive in Mudumu National Park, Victoria Falls.

Phone 0449 689 447 or email