What a cracker of a trip this was!
How to start? My mind and heart are overflowing!
This itinerary - I knew, as I was planning it with my super travel agents, was probably going to surpass all others until now. Hard to divide places such as Machu Picchu, Antarctica and Africa, and I probably shouldn't. They are equally life changing destinations. But Africa...ahh, I think holds a grip on my heart. Hmmm, I may have said that before, hey? Hearts are big. The world is big.
I have always wanted to share memories of an African safari with Trev, since I travelled there 12 years ago to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. (You can read about my 'Kili' climb further down on my blog.) He couldn't join me on that expedition, and it's taken a while for us to get around to this journey together, but here we are.
What an adventure we have in store!
I was determined to make this a completely different experience...
New for Trev, and new for me too.
Trev, as the ultimate wing man for me, gave me a free rein to plan this epic trip. I relished the task at hand, and was super excited at what I had chosen,
and what our agents had finally put together.
This was a bespoke trip, nothing off the shelf.
I'm not a walking commercial for anything, however, I do recommend having help building and booking a trip like this. You don't want to end up at a border crossing in Africa,
with no visa and no idea. We had all i's dotted and t's crossed for this one - unlike our last holiday where we
'winged it' across Spain and Portugal. I'm getting older, and I have decided I like knowing what lies ahead. It's not Contiki anymore!
Knowing what I wanted, I put it all on the table,
to see what we could come up with. These are what I had desired, and the rest unfolded:
*Giraffe Manor. *Glamping safari, during the Great Migration. *Ballooning over it. *Swimming in the Devils Swimming Pool on top of Victoria Falls. *The luxurious Blue Train 2 night trip from Pretoria to Cape Town. *A horse riding safari. *A shark cage dive off Cape Town.
We nailed it.
I've divided this adventure into 2 parts - to give each part the attention it deserves. ---
Flying into Nairobi, Kenya, after a couple of searingly hot 'stopover days' in Dubai,
we welcomed the milder temperatures,
and the huge contrast in culture and lifestyle. Africa is just that. Very diverse in everything... There is still, and probably always will be, a huge divide between the rich and poor,
with wealthy suburbs bordering shanty towns. The use of razor wire in the cities and their suburbs is quite overwhelming. Ok, that said, we were looking forward to leaving the city for the wildlife of the Masai Mara, but first, we had a nice little stop at
The Fairmont Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi,
before we headed to our first destination stop:
I first stayed at the Fairmont with my Kilimanjaro expedition team 12 years ago, and it was great to be back, and might I say, we enjoyed the first of 5 hotel room upgrades for the trip.
It never hurts to ask, and it surely helps mentioning you have a travel blog... :)
Nothing says 'welcome' more than a mirror- stick bomb check under your car. Hey - I love good security!
The grounds of the Fairmont Norfolk are lush, the food delicious and wine exceptional.
We hung out at the lounge bar for the afternoon, with a couple of lovely sisters from the USA, Lisa and Gretchen, and they were pretty much doing a very similar itinerary as us. We happily added each other on Facebook, and enjoyed each other's travels
as we later ventured on.
If you like wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc, you'll love the
South African nectar of the Gods.
Even at house level. Oh, not to mention their local Pinotage... Just sayin', it's very nice indeed.
We were super excited about the next morning, as we were heading over for our stay at the legendary, and hugely unique 'Giraffe Manor'. This is most definitely a bucket list destination. Not cheap, actually, it more than doubled the highest price we'd ever paid for a room before, (the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore), but sometimes in life, these extravagant treats are so very worth it. (After our stay, we thought we should have had 2 nights! It's THAT good.)
Tip: Book a transfer between places in Nairobi. The traffic is absolute nuts! What should have been a 45 minute drive to The Manor, took 2 hours, so we were glad we weren't watching the taxi meter adding up.
The Giraffe Manor is a gorgeous 1930's ivy covered, boutique hotel, with only 12 guest rooms, that was originally set up as a sanctuary for these majestic creatures. There is a Giraffe Conservation Centre next door, which is open to the public, and for the tiny sum of $10, (free for Manor guests), you can learn the story,
hand feed these endangered Rothchild's Giraffes,
and get plenty of great pics to fill up your social media feed!
Upon our arrival, we were welcomed and offered refreshments, and whilst we waited for the hotel tour and our rooms to be ready, we made great use of the time, and met a lovely couple from the US, Jordan and KeOntay, who were enjoying their honeymoon
at this stately manor. We were to share plenty of time and a load of laughs with these guys during our
short stay here. Seriously, do I ever not talk to people?
That's a negative! And a good thing!
We have made life long friends with fellow travellers - may it never stop!
What a lovely spot to sit and relax, with the giraffes off in the distance. (You can just spot a couple in between our faces. ) This spot would liven up in the late afternoon when they all come by for a feeding.
A quick look around, and a few unique purchases from the shop before we forgot,
then we were shown to our rooms.
Wow - and our second upgrade!
The 'Marlon' room had our names on it. A very spacious suite which had originally been two rooms,
now made into one. Consequently it had two bathrooms! Always handy... ;) Parquetry floors, solid timber furniture, and stone bathrooms. What's not to love? As we were upstairs, we had our own balcony, and the most important thing - giraffe pellets ready for our pre-dawn balcony visitors in the morning!
It's nice to get there before lunch, as all meals and drinks are included, and let me add - their food is 5 star. A fine dining experience amid the finest of surrounds.
All meals are served out on the patio, weather permitting, and they have plenty of fire pits dotted around to keep you warm in the cooler months, which were divine. Like the open fireplaces inside that were constantly smouldering inside, they were a very inviting place to enjoy a drink and share stories with fellow travellers.
The bar was well stocked with spirits, beer, wine and champagne, and open to help yourself, and, boy, the G & T table was the place to go. Or just order one from your friendly staff. We were treated Royally.
After lunch we were escorted through the grounds, to the Giraffe Centre.
As these animals are still technically 'wild', you weren't allowed to wander off on your own. One kick from a giraffe can kill a lion... (They have had lion attacks on the giraffes in the past, and a few of them still bear the scars.) Thankfully, the perimeters are now fenced, so no more predators. Phew for them, (and us) !
Once the Giraffe centre starts to close, the giraffes who were hanging around there for the feeding, start to wander back to the Manor for even more treats. (The giraffe pellets have been specially formulated for them.)
High Tea, such a great British tradition, is served at 5pm,
and don't the giraffes know it! We had delicious human treats out, with fine bone china and crystal, but we didn't get to that for ages, because the stars of the show took centre stage.
The 'pumbas' were constantly hanging around - they are the hoovers of the place...gobbling up all the pellets the giraffes leave behind. They are adorable, and such funny little creatures. Their eyesight is that bad, that even though they are super short anyway, they still have to kneel to see what they are eating!
Once again, I need a better word for 'wow'.
The giraffes all have names, and different personalities. Some we could feed but not pat, and some would give you 'giraffe kisses' as they so very gently took the pellet from your lips. But don't stand side on to them, as Trev found out, they can swing their heads and nearly knock you off your feet! Its all about body language. As a mad animal lover, I was in, hook, line and sinker. It was giraffe kisses all the way for me, baby!
Ok, you've read enough... here you go!
This is Lily and she's only about 15 months old.
She is so soft and delicate, she stole our hearts. I'll pop up the video of this over on the video wall. Its so cute.
Fun fact: Because of the sharp thorns that are on the acacia trees they eat, the giraffes' tongues are bacteria free, and their saliva has great healing qualities. Perfect for kissing!
Our new friends, Jordan and KeOntay; with me below and Trev above,
having a wonderful experience with big 'Edd'. He is huge - its like a dinosaur towering over you! And these are Rothchild's giraffes - the smallest of the species!
They have a saying here: 'No food, no friend'...
so you just keep feeding them!
These two, Edd and his lady, were inseparable, and were always courting.
So adorable. Their breeding program here is very successful!
After about an hour or so - it seemed like so much longer, they wandered back off to the trees and we got to sit down in wonder
at what we had just experienced. Like I said, 'wow' just doesn't cut it.
What an extraordinary afternoon. It doesn't get any better.
Time to chill with new friends, enjoy some G & T's and wait for our
5 course dinner! More food...
All in one day.
When we finally retired for the evening, our beautiful room had transformed. The mosquito nets were drawn, and we had hot water bottles in our beds. The bed and linen were like sleeping in a cloud. Perfect, just perfect.
Tomorrow we have the alarm set early, as the giraffes start looking for food from your verandahs from about 5.30am. And, unlike in the afternoon when they really aren't that hungry,
tomorrow they'll be famished!
Before we went to sleep we had be organised, as we had a 7.30am pick up (unfortunately) but we had to get to the airport early for our flight to the
Masai Mara. We had to repack our suitcases as we could only take out 15 kilos with us, the rest remaining at the airport office.
I was awake from about 3am. Like a kid on Xmas Eve, I couldn't wait till morning!
It was exciting as the giraffes wandered from room to room, balcony to balcony, still in the pre-dawn darkness. We had Daisy this time, and she doesn't like to giraffe kiss. However, no-one told me that and she bit my finger. She was starving! Funny girl.
They said the giraffes would be gone by the time we had to leave, but they weren't, so after squeezing out every last second of time with them, and scoffing down some amazing
Eggs Benedict, we had to leave!
If you ever come here, allow yourself more time if you can, even if its still just one night, have some day time there as well, as there is a rhino and elephant orphanage just down the road. I'm a sook, and that probably would have saddened me no length, so after a chaotic morning of giraffe heads through the windows, we were off. Just like that.
It was over. But tonight, we'll be camping by the Mara River with hippos and elephants walking by...
It's a fair trade off.
But not before another gazillion photos and videos.
What a fantastic place. I can safely say its the best and most unique hotel experience
we've ever had!
Whilst we are always moving forward in our travels,
seeing new places and experiencing different and exciting adventures,
this is definitely one place that we'd dearly love to revisit one day.
Put in on your list!
Even if it's a just a 'dream list'. Dream it, see it, achieve it.
Time to head off for our 3 night 'glamp' on the Masai Mara.
I knew our camp was a 'fly in fly out' place, but that's about the extent of my research. Some things are great just to develop before your eyes. Like seeing the 50 seater plane we thought we were taking, depart, and we were left with the 12 seater that was hiding behind it. Woohoo! I love it.
We watched them haul out a fuel line, fill up both wings from a ladder, start the front propeller, and then we climbed aboard. What fun! We get a 50 minute joy flight to and from our camp.
Flying towards the dirt landing strip, we looked out and boy,
what a myriad of animals we saw. Firstly, as we circled over the Mara River, where our camp was based,
we saw a huge pod of hippos languishing in the muddy shallows,
then our eyes cast out to the 10's of 1000's of wildebeest,
all passing through on their annual migration - 1.5 million in all.
One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, or at least Africa. :)
Once on the ground, all the safari vehicles were lined up like ducks in a row, waiting for their new bunch of wide eyed tourists - us included.
As we drove back towards the camp, not even 500 metres, we stopped to watch a pair of loved up lions, just chillin', not the slightest bit concerned about the human cargo being ferried back and forth beside them.
Its kind of like they are blind to the vehicles. Step outside the vehicle however, and then you become very visible. Don't be fooled.
From the air, our hippo neighbours, right near camp. They actually roamed through our camp at night, and we could hear them chomping right outside our tent, alongside elephants! We humans are way down on the food chain here in Africa!
They are all pretty good at alerting each other to danger. All the animals we saw were very well conditioned. Lots of feed for the grazers, and lots of game for the predators.
A fabulous, all inclusive (except drinks) 'glamping' safari which ticked
ALL the boxes!
Well, except drinks, haha.
That said, there was a Maasai guard stationed outside every 2 tents, all night, to ward off any problematic hippos and elephants, which wandered through the camp every night after dark.
Hyenas apparently came through after the generators were turned off, and the hordes of cute little mongeese kept the cobras away... All good!
You needed these guards to escort you to and from your tents after dinner,
and early in the morning. They were armed with a torch - and a stick!
For real! Love it.
Anyway, after a bevy or two, a buffet lunch, and a rest, (so exhausting this holiday stuff, hehe), we headed off to enjoy our first of many game drives,
this one lasting at least 3 hours, till it was almost dark.
We were teamed up (for the three days of game drives) with two younger couples, one pair from Wales; Shaun and Mared, who were honeymooning, and a London couple; Harriet and Tom, who we really got on famously with and spent a lot of our safari time and meals together. Again, I reiterate...
It's not just the things you do or see whilst travelling that makes it so special, its also the wonderful, like-minded people you come across. Many we have kept in touch with, and even travelled together with later on, or they've come and stayed with us in Australia.
This late afternoon safari was simply amazing. I had done the Serengeti years ago, and I do recall plenty of driving, and a lot of looking for animals...however, this afternoon it was like
feeding time at the zoo! Seriously! Remember that pair of lions we passed? Well, they were now putting on a show fit for Amsterdam. The male's brother was there watching too!
Apparently, he was having a turn that morning! Same gene pool, so they tag team.
Good to be da King.
We watched these guys go at it on one side of the road, with a herd of elephants on the other side - and we were barely out of the camp!
We finally dragged ourselves away from this action, and headed out to see what else we could find. Besides the 'usual' gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, Cape buffalo, and hyenas, we were on the lookout for the predators...the cats.
And we weren't disappointed.
We came across this female cheetah, just having a wee rest by her tree. There were a few safari vehicles around her, but she completely ignored us.
It truly is amazing how close you can get.
I'm in heaven - I just love the big cats.
But wait... the best is yet to come.
We headed down towards a wooded creek area, a known habitat for leopard.
These cats are usually the most elusive of 'The Big 5'. The Big 5 being: Elephant, Leopard, Cape buffalo, Lion and Rhino.
Originally named the Big 5 by hunters,
as they were the most dangerous to go after. (The Cape buffalo being THE most dangerous of all!)
Makes me sick to think of hunters. These creatures are just divine.
Anyhoo...we got lucky! Not only did we watch, through the grasses, a leopard chowing down on her kill, but then we watched her walk off, preen her face, have a drink,
then climb her tree. This is where I managed to take my all time favourite animal photo of the trip.
You decide! :)
After seeing so many more animals, aside from the Big 4 (need the rhino),
just in this short afternoon ...let me see...jackal, giraffe, mongoose, vulture, topi, impala, crocodile, hyena, and hippo, we headed back to the camp, just in time for a quick face wash, and dinner.
Our Welsh couple are doing a dawn balloon flight in the morning, (ours is the following day), so we decided with Tom and Harriet, that we'd meet our driver, Phillip, at 6.30 am, and we'd skip breakfast at the camp. Instead, we'd take it with us for a picnic, and stay out until lunch. That's what's so special about this camp.
They make the arrangements to suit you.
We were ALL there for game drives, and the biggest sight of all this time of year - an exciting river crossing of 1000's of wildebeest and zebras. Hopefully.
Dinner was plentiful, after sitting around the fire pit first, even the hippos came up to roam around, but we were safe -
the guards were there with their sticks! :)
We were entertained by the Maasai as they performed a kind of Congo line with chanting and jumping, as they came through the open styled restaurant with a birthday cake - Africa style...for an unsuspecting guest. It was awesome.
I can't believe the last couple of days we have just had. From the Giraffe manor, to here. Pinch me.
Day 2 - Pre dawn. Trev just loves early mornings! Haha, not! (I haven't told him that its even earlier tomorrow, to get to the balloon for our sunrise flight... sshhh) It's always good to do a very early morning game drive, as the nocturnal animals are still about, and many are still eating their overnight kills.
That's exactly what we found, just as the sun was appearing over the horizon.
Hyenas, vultures and marabou storks. 3 of the 'Ugly 5'! (The other 2 being the warthog and wildebeest.) How funny, that would be a t-shirt I would buy.
It's easy finding the action on the plains. Either look for the vultures lurking, hyenas bolting in that direction, or the plumes of dust from the land cruisers as they head over there with their mad keen clients!
That's us baby!
We had these guys all to ourselves. Once the engine was turned off, it was marvellous. Crunching of bone, growling, and cackling as they squabbled over the kill.
I'll post the video on the wall, along with some of the other animal
encounters I videoed.
Sadly, this is where my camera died. In the rush to repack our bags at the Giraffe Manor, I neglected to pop in the battery charger for my Canon. I was absolutely gutted. This holiday is exactly what I bought this new camera for, as I knew we'd be using the zoom a lot, and the iPhone zoom just pixelates the image. I had to shrug it off, pull up my big girls pants and carry on. I still had my trusty phone, which has taken brilliant pics in the past, as well as the GoPro. I'll manage. (I did ask around for a charger, but to no avail.) Harriet has kindly offered to send me some images that she gets.
I was still pissed off at myself.
Never mind. These things happen.
From here we found a pride of lions, without their male,
playing in the stalky grasses.
Just the mums and their cubs, of various ages.
The smaller cubs' bellies were that full from their overnight feed,
they could barely walk, and the beautiful morning light highlighting the colour of the lions and the matching grassland, was just exquisite.
They seem to walk right by our very open car, always right next to Trev - who was quietly shitting himself. I was like "It's ok Hun, they aren't looking at us", then the lioness looked straight at me as I was filming her! "Ok, Trev, maybe you don't move."
At one lion encounter, our guide Phillip said one of the lionesses gets a bit cranky, so I asked him..."Define cranky'... "Oh" he said, "she can jump in car."
"Oh?" I said.
"Oh shit!" says Trev..."See? Told ya!"
However, he couldn't remember which lioness it was though. (They tend to get to know the prides.)
Moving on, we found a small pack of hyenas, who had a dead wildebeest in the water, and they were having a marvellous time with it. The noise was incredible.
Their jaw power is legendary. The marabou stork, always waiting for the dregs.
Leaving these dudes to their breakfast, we motored on and found our
cheetah from yesterday (there are only a few here),
and she was enjoying her overnight kill.
Once again, not bothered one bit by us, only looking up every now and then to see if any hyenas were coming her way. She would definitely give in to a pack of those guys. Too much risk getting injured.
We did however, see a lion earlier with a wound healing...the park authorities found her injured, tranquillised her, stitched her up, and released her back to her pride. How awesome is that?
All the while, our driver was heading us closer and closer to the section of the Mara River where we may be witness to a wildebeest crossing. People stake these sites out for days in hope to see one of these magnificent natural events - in all their guts and glory, as there tends to be attacks on them by crocodiles, and lions.
However, maybe our bellies were grumbling, or we could hear the hippos, but either way, that's where we stopped for breakfast - right by the hippo pool!
Phillip dressed the bonnet of the car with a Maasai blanket, and pots of food. Sausages, bacon, eggs, muffins, bread, brownies, yogurt, muesli, fresh juice, and enough tea and coffee to ensure there'd be a nature call required in some snake infested bush before we returned to the camp by lunchtime!
It's so bizarre, that the only place you are allowed out of the car whilst on a game drive, is by the hippos...one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
I think they are pretty cruisey when they are bathing in the water. Just don't walk on their paths at night time. They won't eat you, they'll just kill you, and leave you for the hyenas!
And they say that Australian animals are dangerous!
So now, we were by a site where they often have a river crossing, and we parked, alongside many other avid animal lovers, to stake our claim. We waited. We watched. And we waited some more.
Trev counted 70 vehicles here! You are supposed to only have a maximum of 5 cars with any
wild animal sightings,
but the river crossing is different.
As long as you give them space, its what everyone is here for this time of year. Even the BBC have cameras set up on the river at certain points, filming by remote, the annual migration.
At one stage I was leaning out of the car and leaned back in quickly... There was a lion right beside the wheel of the car in front! Again, these animals are oblivious to our cars, (I keep telling Trev that), and she knew it was a good spot too. There were crocodiles on the banks, hippos in the water, and a lioness standing point looking over all of it. Consequently, the herd of zebras and wildebeest were a little... 'twitchy'.
They would edge towards the river...and then retreat again. All they need is one brave soul to take charge and they'd literally all follow, but they were super cautious, and with good reason. It was the middle of the day, getting hot, and the prospect of a much needed cool drink of water is the only thing that will get them to dip a toe (or hoof) in.
They were terribly thirsty.
It's a game of chess.
We watched a few false starts, so we moved to another site, where we watched a small group of zebras take the plunge, but they chose poorly. The banks of the opposite side of the river offered no way out, as the cliffs were too steep and they got stuck. Even our guide said, much to our breaking hearts,
"They are all going to die." Noooo!
Hard to see, but there are two giant crocs in the bottom right of the photo, on the river bank.
It was agony watching their confusion, and the crocs started to come in. THANKFULLY, they figured out a place to climb out, and they all made it up the bank, much to our relief! Phew.
We had to get back by now, sadly.
We had been gone for nearly 6 hours! An epic morning game drive, that's for sure!
We'll meet up again at 3.30pm, this time with our Welsh couple joining us after their morning balloon flight. Hopefully the herd would not have crossed by then! We so don't want to miss it.
More food, drink and a rest, and it was back for round two of the river crossing.
Shaun and Mared were happy to share our choice of trying to see a crossing, so off we headed back, the half hour or so it took to get to the crossing site. After quite a few false starts, it finally happened. We had bailed for a bit, thinking it wasn't going to happen, then all of a sudden, Phillip saw dust in the distance, which is a fair indication that
the herd was on the run! How exciting!!! He knew, old Phill, he believed they would cross before sunset.
And they did. It was a brave zebra that went first and started the whole event. You HAVE to watch the two videos I posted on the wall. The first one shows that we literally got caught up in the stampede! We were right in their dust and hooves, it was absolutely exhilarating!
Next one shows them finally crossing.
It was full on!
I just kept filming, no breaks, no editing, just in real time - the real deal.
You might want to stop towards the end however, as one zebra gets taken by a crocodile, and its super sad. It really guts me, I can't even watch Attenborough docos where animals get taken. I don't even like fishing! Poor fishies.
But, it's how it is, and out of the approximate 2000 animals that crossed here before our eyes, we only saw 3 taken. You know, in September, the crocs just let them pass by, as they have had their quota, as they won't over eat.
It was a true highlight. The most spectacular wild animal experience I have ever witnessed.
If you ever do a safari, come to the Masai Mara in August and see this. You won't be disappointed.
Yup, need a better word.
As we drove back, the rain and lightning had started to head our way, over the plains.
It was beautiful.
We stopped and rolled the plastic covers down just in time.
Maybe tomorrow we'll see less dust.
We have a super early wake up call in the morning: 4.45 am, to go ballooning. The staff come to our tent with our order of tea or coffee,
and a couple of bickies. So cute.
This happened each morning when you had an early wake up call. They never let you miss out on anything.
Happily, Harriet and Tom had managed to book a flight, and got on the same day,
and same balloon as us. The four amigos!
Day 3, and our last full day and evening here.
And we were going to squeeze out every last drop!
Mother Nature was toying with us this morning, giving us a cloudy predawn start, and had us a little disappointed that we wouldn't bear witness to a gorgeous sunrise, like what we saw yesterday. However, the Universe is still looking out for us, and the clouds parted in the east,
just as we were about to leave. Yes!
There were 5 balloons in our group, and we took off from quite a tiny paddock, over at 'The Little Governor's Camp', just about 20 minutes from ours.
If you want a great ballooning experience, these were the guys to do it with,
The Little Governor's Camp Balloon Safari, as their flight path takes you over forest, the Mara River, and the grasslands. Some companies just get the plains, as sometimes they don't see much. We saw as many as 20 balloons around the horizon at dawn.
Just as we were waiting to jump in the basket, we looked over to the bushes, as we heard an almighty racket and the trees shaking. It was like a scene from Jurassic Park, and you could just imagine a
T-Rex come running out. T-Rex, no. Bull elephant, yes.
Never gets boring! It's ok, there was a guard, with his stick. All good! :)
But once they started filling the balloons, he left. And then so did we!
Is there a better way to start the day? (Oh besides that, I hear you mutter...;) )