Well my dream holiday arrived ahead of much anticipation and reflecting now, it totally superseded any dreams I had!
The time was right to embark on a Peregrine 16-day Road to Zanzibar Tour. A perfect combination of witnessing the great 3000km wildebeest migration from the Masai Mara Kenya through to Tanzania and right before the heavy rains fall in November. It was an easy decision to select Peregrine Tours given their responsible travel policy which aligns so well with Reho. They employ local guides and drivers. We all felt extremely safe throughout the trip and Gilbert our guide had not only amazing knowledge of the countries, but his passion and energy was so innovative.
Based on the tour commencing in Nairobi and concluding in Zanzibar, Qatar were a great choice as they fly nonstop Zanzibar-Doha. An overnight was required in Doha, but having not visited this country, was a welcome break. Qatar provide overnight 4-star hotel accommodation & 50% discount off the hotels breakfast rate. Apart from a disruption from Melbourne, all our flights, in particular the A380 Upper Deck economy class zone could not be faulted. Both ground staff and inflight service plus food could not be faulted.
On arrival into this city, our Peregrine Tours representative was there with a massive smile and nice warm greeting to Kenya. After checking into the Panafric Hotel and freshening up, we met our Urban Adventure guide to embark on an evening dinner tour. We walked into a local café and left our guide to select a variety of dishes. These were delicious, accompanied by a nice cold Tusker beer! We had some great banter with the girls behind the counter, a nice end to our first night in East Africa!
On our 2nd day, we decided to arrange with a private driver, visits to the Baby Elephant orphanage and Nairobi Museum. What a fantastic day, starting off at the orphanage whereby small groups of elephants ran towards the staff holding large bottles of milk which they gulped down! We watched in awe as they rolled in a mud pool, threw soil over themselves & grazed on shrubs and branches. Their mothers had either been killed by poachers for their ivory or fallen down water wells. Was so nice to see them now happy and eventually be released into the wild. The Nairobi Museum was well worth visiting as its many exhibitions gave a great insight into the history of Kenya. In particular the Hominid Skull room where the single most important collection of early human fossils in the world are on display.
We awoke up on our 3rd day feeling very excited as we began our Peregrine Tour! The maximum group size is 12, but we had just 8 plus our local Guide Gilbert and Driver Vincent. Our custom-built overland vehicle was very comfortable with a reclining seat, large windows, overhead storage racks, fridge & safe and hand inverters to charge up your mobile, tablet etc. There are some long days in the vehicle, with some roads being very dusty and REALLY bumpy – known as the African Massage! Our fellow travellers were form NZ and NSW, great companions for the entire journey! Small Group touring is now on my list for future journeys.
Family and friends have asked me what the highlight was, but honestly there were so many on the awesome tour, here are some I would like to share……
Elsamere (remember the beautiful movie Born Free?) Well this was the home of Joy Adamson whose 1960 book Born Free helped bring wildlife conservation into the public light. Stepping into her & George’s home, felt like they had literally just left for a safari! The home & gardens overlook Lake Naivasha. It was on this lake we embarked on a serene canoe ride. Our first taste of wildlife – hippos in the water and so much birdlike. Cormorants and sea eagles swooped down near us to the fish our guide had obtained from a local fisherman on the shoreline!
Lake Nakuru National Park
We arrived at our accommodation - Lake Nakuru Lodge which is in a beautiful setting, overlooking the park & the lake. Our room was very spacious with a sitting area and a large private veranda – where we were entertained by many baboons up to a lot of mischief!
Our first taste of game driving was in two very comfortable Land Cruiser 4x4 vehicles which turned out to be the most amazing experience! Could not believe what was in sight as we literally turned a corner and was greeted on the road side by a large lion totally relaxed, rolling around and yawning. Not fazed by how close we were at all! A family of giraffes not far on were also by the road, just grazing on the treetops. They are such a majestic animal, I could have stayed there for hours watching them and with their young ones.
Masai Mara National Reserve
We crossed the Great Rift Valley stopping at a scenic point for a photo. We gazed out at this huge Great Divide as we stood next to a huge sign with pictures of the Big 5! A captivating stunning view made us all realise what a vast continent Africa is and of course the wildlife we may just see during this trip.
Our next stop for 2 nights was a traditional Masai Village – Loita Hills where we were greeted by 5 very tall slim Masai men dressed in vibrant shades of red (called a shuka) with beautiful colourful beaded jewellery worn around their neck, head and waist. Each colour symbolises a value. Their sandals were made of cow hide and they were carrying very ornately crafted shields and spears. Immediately they welcomed us with huge smiles and of course what we were all waiting for the ‘’jumping dance’’. This was captivating as they chanted and grunted. The dance is one of the rituals for junior warriors who graduate into manhood. I noticed a claw like scar on the right shoulder of one warrior and via the guide, ascertained it was from a lion kill. His steel sword has snapped in half and he showed me where it had been repaired! Incredible to meet someone who survived a meeting with a lion! We then moved into their village to meet the women & children. The children would bow their shaved heads to each of us, in order for us to touch it….their way of saying hello. Our time here learning about their culture, beliefs & day to day life was something I will never forget. Our accommodation was the Mara Leisure Tented Camp in a Jumbo Tent. Was so comfortable, very spacious with full bathroom facilities and mosquito nets.
Our game drives here had me totally gobsmacked! We came upon a leopard just wandering on by, right past our 4WD! I could almost reach out and touch him, his colours were mesmerising. You can imagine the goose bumps and the total silence in our vehicle as we had been advised this is not very common. Driving on, we then encountered a herd of elephants walking beside our vehicle. The large male turned his head and I swear his eye met mine, more goose bumps! Next amazing sight were two cheetahs who had just killed a wildebeest taking it in turns to eat its prey. Another moment where we all fell silent in the vehicle. As we left the area, we spotted 5 cheetahs just enjoying the shade of a large tree from the afternoon strong sun rays.
Serengeti National Park (meaning endless plains in Masai language)
We left Kenya and headed into Tanzania. The border crossing was very smooth. The Visa can be obtained there or beforehand to save a little bit of time. Quite a big day of driving on the “African Massage” dirt roads but through some interesting towns with colourful markets and people just going about their business. I must say the women in East Africa dress immaculately with beautiful styled hair and makeup. then arrived at the gateway into the Serengeti Park, a gate full of various skeletal skulls! Not long into the park we saw what we had read about – the wildebeest migration happening right in front our 4WD! Large square like heads with curved horns and a long shaggy mane topped off with a beard – can you picture this look? All running, trotting together with their heads down! Amazing to watch and listen to.
Now this is where we went glamping for 2 nights – Kati Kati Camp! A mobile tented camp in the middle of nowhere, no fences to be seen, seriously this is where the adrenaline was pumping! Especially when on our first night we heard an animal being killed, no doubt by a lion with a background noise of hyenas howling; no wonder we required an armed Guard to escort us back to our tent after dinner! Enjoying our dinner, we watched incredible sunsets over great conversation of the day’s experiences and highlights!
Was an early night though, as we arose at 4.15am for our Hot Air Balloon ride over the Serengeti. This seriously was a HUGE highlight, perfect weather conditions as we glided so low over this vast plain with open mouth at the astonishing sights below. A large pool of hippos, some with mouths open as the noise of the gas got their attention. Gliding over to a pride of 9 lions and a small giraffe family and so many birds perched in trees. An hour of absolute bliss and one I will never ever forget. Of course, the French champagne breakfast was the perfect ending to our morning.
Game driving the following day, we were so lucky to see a pride of lions, mums with their cubs. One in particular romping around with a wildebeest tail in its mouth! There were many Zebra crossings too in the park, once again seeing them in the wild, their gentle mannerisms and beautiful colouring was an experience. We were so fortunate to see a black rhino and infant as we were heading back to camp. There are only around 100 remaining in the Serengeti! Sadly, illegal poaching still occurs. However, there is now an elite rhino protection force trained to safeguard the rhinos. So you can imagine how excited we were to see the two of them happily grazing.
We arrived at our beautiful accommodation – Ngorongoro Farm House facing the Oldeani volcano just 5 kms outside the crater. What a tranquil setting, rooms with thatched roof tops set in an English style garden. We enjoyed a fresh & tasty lunch, all ingredients sourced from the surrounding vegetable garden. The Farm House also has a 500-acre coffee plantation. You can enjoy these tasty beans from a coffee machine set up in a comfortable living area with many books to peruse. Or just look out at the picturesque gardens. Our room was rustic, large with 2 x 4 poster beds & mosquito nets with a balcony overlooking the gardens & farmland beyond. We all enjoyed pre-dinner drinks on a large balcony area with two fire pits, listening to African singing, instruments and dancers. The show was great!
We headed out on a safari early the next morning down to the crater floor. It was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed about 3 million years ago. Wow, very different to the previous landscapes of Kenya & Tanzania! Large expanses of land, at time quite dry grassland areas, small rivers, with backdrop of hills and then one large lake called Magadi. This is where we saw a mass of pink……yes thousands of Flamingos! And so many more wildebeests and zebras making their migration, but then we were all mesmerised upon witnessing a male lion devouring a large zebra right in front of us! We could not believe the strength of it as it dragged the zebra from 2 very sly jackals hovering. Their bravado against the King of the Jungle was impressive!
Off we set on our Flight Link flight to Zanzibar. A nice short journey but WOW absolutely stunning view over spectacular turquoise water. My dream destination was in sight! Stonetown was our stop for 2 nights at a nice central property called the Tembo House Hotel, located right opposite the Indian Ocean. Magnificent sunsets as we gazed over the local kids jumping in & out of the water with the many Dhow boats bobbing up and down from a subtle evening breeze. This city is a coastal trading town of narrow alleyways, spice markets and a mix of African, Indian and Arab people all living together harmoniously. However, there is a very sad history to Zanzibar, being the slave trade headquarters in all of Africa. Thousands of slaves were captured from East Africa and shipped to Zanzibar by Arab slave traders. There is a carved stone monument of a group of slaves which was extremely moving to see together with the Old Fort once used as a prison.
Something more uplifting in Stonetown are the many hand carved brass studded teak doors. They vary in style from Arab, Indian & African. The large brass pointed studs were to stop elephants from charging!! Given all the hype with the release of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody move, it was quite ironic, we found ourselves standing right out the front of Freddie Mercury’s home where he was born. The local Spice Market was abuzz with the locals buying their goods including moi being in my element and snaring 20 odd packs for cooking at home!
Our final 3 nights were spent down on the south eastern side of the Island. On our drive down to that area, we embarked on a Zanzibar Spice Tour where we met an awesome community all working together, growing organic spices & coffee beans. Thoroughly enjoyed a walk through the plantation, learning about the plants, touching and smelling them. The funds raised from selling them at the Stonetown Spice Market are shared between each family. A highlight was enjoying a traditional Swahili lunch served in a local house. We were welcomed by the parents and young kids as we sat down on mats and devoured a mix of tasty dishes.
Our arrival at Breezes Beach Club & Spa was breathtaking! We were greeted by a gorgeous lady gracefully walking towards us with a huge smile, holding cold towels and a tasty ginger spiced drink. The resort is located right on a gorgeous white soft sand beach, crystal clear turquoise water with lovely cool breezes. Great diving, snorkelling available and a beautiful pool area to enjoy the cocktail of the day where my mind wandered to the incredible 12 days earlier of safari drives!
Any wonder part of your heart stays in this incredible continent!