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Blog

Just beyond the Comfort Zone

Date

25 Nov

Posted By

Alex Edwards
1/1

When I recently set off with some mates, to take a look at the deserts in the south of Morocco, paying for a chap in nothing but a pair of baggy grey Y-fronts to sit on my chest wasn’t something I had made plans to do.  Furthermore, to find myself being washed by another person was something that I don’t think I’ve experienced since the age of three (which most men will recognize, coincidentally as the time when as a boy, you more or less stop washing altogether.)

So imagine my surprise when, once I had overcome the sense of mortification that being an Englishman presents in situations like this, I found that visiting the Hammam (municipal steam baths) in Ouarzazate, was one of the most positive experiences I've had in a while.  Initially everything about it, the dark vaulted rooms (there are three interconnected like a Roman Bath, hot - sıcaklık, warm -tepidarium,  and cool - soğukluk) with no natural light and partially hidden exits, the intense heat and humidity, the semi naked blokes scattered around ladling water over them selves, all added up to a feeling of pretty serious alienation.

Add to this the gentleman described above, sweating gently in his underwear, and motioning for you to make like a starfish on what is called the göbek taşı (or tummy stone), and you can see that the urge to run screaming into the dusty streets of Ouarzazate was becoming hard to ignore.  What rescued the situation was a last minute moment of clarity, when I decided to open my mind to - and enjoy - the sensation of being somewhat beyond my comfort zone.  Funny how as you get older it’s harder to do, but it turns out that it’s a really good thing every now and then.

From that point on, I was able to see the Hammam for what it was; a deeply civilized institution and one which everyone else in the room viewed as a pleasurable, but none the less routine ritual.  Add to that the unquestioning hospitality with which I, as an extremely large and very white (actually almost luminous, I noticed) foreigner, was treated and it’s no exaggeration to say that I left the Hammam feeling a little humbled.  Possibly even a better person.  Certainly a cleaner one.

  

Two years in Zim, and counting

Date

23 Nov

I checked the date today and was faintly astonished to realise that I've been living in Harare now for 2 years and 2 days.  My, time has gone fast.  I feel I’ve adapted remarkably well; I’ve done as the “Romans” do.  My driving has become slightly more aggressive (the horn has no cobwebs) and I am adept at getting off the road when “Bob and the Wailers” hurtle past.  I know that a traffic light is actually a “robot”, and a roundabout is a “circle”.  I’m used to paying for stuff using money bearing the image of dead American presidents and no longer get flummoxed when a supermarket teller hands me three lollipops in lieu of 30 cents change.  If I want to buy a broom to sweep my backyard, I obviously go to the nearest crossroads, or wait for the lady on a bike who quite literally pedals such things along residential roads in the early morning.

My house is filled with candles to deal with power-cuts that happen 3 or 4 times a week as a result of rationing.  I’ve altered my diurnal cycle to that of the farmers: I get up at 5am and am usually in bed by 8.30pm.  This allows me to enjoy a run on the quiet streets as the sun comes up under unfailingly blue skies.  My weekends involve long bike rides into the rural areas where I meet small-holder farmers who are thrilled to greet me and pass the time of day...there’s never once been an angry word.  I’ve learned how to evade buffalo when making my way from tent to toilet in Mana Pools, and how to walk within a few metres of lion.  I’ve been initiated into the strange ritual of the "Braai", and divised a multitude of excuses for not eating five types of meat in one meal.

Two years on, there are more restaurants and coffee shops than you can shake a stick at, and everyone knows a dozen people who have returned from Europe or South Africa to live here.  The place is buzzing with an energy and liveliness that was complete absent when I first came for a look-see in 2008.  Long may it last.

  

A Spectacular Holiday

Date

17 Nov

Posted By

Caroline

Tanzania Safari - William Edwards and Lucinda Holbrook - July 2010

Thank you for organising such a spectacular holiday.  If anything had gone wrong we would have really suffered the consequences because the travel logistics were massively complicated but went as smoothly as was possible.  Particular commendations should go to the following people:  firstly yourself, secondly Dorette at Matemwe Bungalows for whom nothing was too much trouble and neither did she stand on her dignity, As you are well aware, Matemwe Bungalows is a jewel:  tropical weather, 80 staff for under 40 guests, every single aspect of the buildings and the grounds was beautifully designed and completely faultless.  Everything looked beautiful and they made it look easy, which of course in the middle of nowhere it is far from easy to achieve.  The attitude of all the staff was friendly and welcoming, excpetionally so, and by the end of the stay we concluded that this was the way they genuinely felt (and having been to many tropical destinations between us it was immensely refreshing to be welcomed and appreciated, rather than tolerated or even resented by the locals and staff).  The final night at the Retreat took an unsurpassable experience to even higher standards.

David our guide on safari would be impossible to beat - we saw 42 different wild alnimals including an ardvark, a leopard and cheetah cubs, and six live kills.  Short of him producing a Siberian tiger or a Unicorn it would have been impossible for him to improve on his performance.  Apart from his immense technical ability and total knowledge and awareness of the area he always made us feel safe - even with a pair of lions sunbathing in the shade of the Land Cruiser! or a herd of elephants standing about 20' away from us.  He was great company and looked after us like royalty. 

We will never forget the final day in Loliondo when we went on a walking safari with a Masai warrior in full dress with a spear and a Tanzanian retired soldier at the front, complete with rifle.  We saw the animals again, this time on foot, but that wasn't the best bit - he had told us that we were going to return to the camp for breakfast but in fact the camp staff served our breakfast on a properly laid up dining table with a camp fire and fully uniformed staff in a forest glade and with hot water to wash our hands with.  It was a complete surprise because we arrived by walking up a dry river bed and we climbed the embankment right next to the open air dining room! 

With our great appreciation for organising the holiday of a lifetime.  We wanted to give our three nearly grown up teenage children a superb holiday before they go off to University and before they are less open to family holidays and they were all walking on air with big wide eyes all week.  They were lucky kids and we were lucky grown ups.  The holiday was undoubtedly a budgetry indulgence and we did question how it could represent value for money - that was before the holiday.  We are in no doubt after it that it was a fantastic investment.  Thank you to you in particular and all at Natural High and please feel free to use this letter as a public testimonial should you wish to do so.

 

  

Hiding and Riding Natural High talk at the Beckford

Date

15 Nov

Posted By

Caroline
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What a great night.

Thanks so much to the team at the Beckford Arms, to Yapp brothers for the delicious wine and all of you who made it out on a wet Autumn evening. I think from what everyone was saying afterwards that both guides, Jean and Nicola were fantastic.

Jean gave an inspiring talk about what it's like to be on a walking safari in northern Tanzania and led us on an eventful trip across Tarangire National Park to a specially prepared nest in a tree by a lake, where it's possible to spend the night watching hundreds of elephants passing just beneath your feet. Those photos of elephants in the moonlight were extraordinary.

And then Nicola led us on a riding safari across the Chyulu Hills and described exactly what it was like to ride amongst game and just how fast you have to gallop to keep up with a giraffe. It was incredible to see the giant vistas where you could keep going for mile upon mile with nothing but a huge horizon ahead of you.

We're planning our next talk at the Beckford very soon and will let you know about it...

 

 

 

  

Having our own private guide was a great fit for us

Date

09 Nov

Posted By

Caroline
1/5 Hadzabe boy, Lake Eyashi
© Mark Ehrnstein Hadzabe boy, Lake Eyashi
2/5 Looking after the herd, Lake Eyashi
© Mark Ehrnstein Looking after the herd, Lake Eyashi
3/5 Scavenger in the sky
© Mark Ehrnstein Scavenger in the sky
4/5 Wildebeest river crossing
© Mark Ehrnstein Wildebeest river crossing
5/5 In the thick of it
© Mark Ehrnstein In the thick of it

Tanzania Safari, Renee & Mark Ehrnstein, USA - Oct 2011

Our days on Safari were by far the highlight; we were extremely impressed with our guides Ali and David. Both were professional, incredibily knowledgeable and clearly committed to getting us the best game viewing experience possible (David was especially patient with us as we waited over 5 hours to see a crossing!).  I can see how having the right guide can make or break the quality of the safari and we were very grateful that both were terrific.  Having our own private guide was a great fit for us, it was a real luxury being able to decide how, when and where we were going to go next without having the constraints of others in a group (I know for sure that not many others would have wanted to wait as long as we did for the crossing).

The game viewing was way beyond what we had hoped for - it seemed like every time we turned a corner, there was something new and amazing to see, from an exciting wildebeest crossing, to leopard, lions eating after a kill, we were always excited about what we were seeing and what could be next.

The camps were all excellent.  We made some great connections with others on the trip and really enjoyed our end of day meals with other safari - goers... a great opportunity to share experiences and compare notes.  The Lamai camp was especially outstanding (we did wish we had more nights there)  though all did a great job of ensuring that we had the best possible experience - great food, service, etc... all the way around.

We were the only guests at Loliondo and the camp manager Lawrence went out of his way to make sure we had a great time - even had the staff prepare ugali (sp?) at our request.  The visit to the Masai family was a great cultural experience and we enjoyed our game walks and night drive.  One small piece of feedback here was that with moderate wind, the tents were extremely noisey - two tough nights sleep, though I know they worked hard after the first night to quiet things down.

Our visit to the Hadzabe bushmen around lake Eyasi was also interesting; Ali was a great guide as we visited their camp and followed them on a walking hunting trip (I even shared one of the birds they killed with them).  Without a doubt, a very unique experience!
 

  

Another magical experience at Mahale and Katavi

Date

07 Nov

Posted By

Alex Edwards
1/1 Sunset Katavi National Park
© Alyn Humphreys Sunset Katavi National Park

Tanzania Safari - Alyn and Ruth Humphreys, Oct 2011

Difficult to know where to begin but certainly another magical experience! All 3 camps were superb and to end up at Greystoke was as good as any beach holiday with the added bonus of 3 magical days with the chimps.

I think the highlight was the chimpanzees, made all the better for having to make an effort to get to see them. ( Makes it more rewarding) . We were amazed at their size and the human traits they exhibited even at one point having a mother bring her baby towards us to clearly show her off! Swimming in Lake Tanganyika was an added bonus with some decent snorkelling in front of camp.

Other highlights:

A great fight and stand off between hungry lions and a herd of buffalo in Ruaha (Mwagusi) The buffalo won!

A vicious fight between 3 baboons (although no-one hurt) in front of our banda after lunch in Mwagusi (didn't realise how vicious it was until we looked at the photos on our return.

A mass of wonderful bird life (we are becoming twitchers with all these visits!)

Hundreds of Hippos and crocs trying to compete for water in Katavi

Great food in all camps

Great staff / knowledgeable guides / excellent accomodation.

All in all another great safari leaving us wanting more and just as keen to return as soon as we can!

  

Up Close and Personal in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools

Date

07 Nov

Posted By

Caroline
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Mana Pools, Zimbabwe Safari, Richard and Georgie Hill, USA - Oct 2011

Wow! Best way of describing our trip to Mana. We can now see why everyone in the business rates it so highly. What a beautiful place and what a good decision it was to spend 5 nights at Goliath. Quite simply one of the best, if not the best, safari experiences we have ever had. Absolutely loved it. The other guests there were several times repeat visitors... Stretch is hilarious and a wonderful host. We had a hoot and it felt like staying in someone’s home.  The game experiences were something else, and seeing a pack of 30 dogs on the hunt was something of a safari epiphany for me. Georgie managed to land a 40lb vundu whilst fishing.

Otherwise, the walking was great. It’s rare to be able to just generally walk amongst game like that without it crashing off into the undergrowth and we had some fabulous sightings as well as the ”up close and personal” experiences with elephants, lion and dogs. Even night time was full of entertainment with so much game in and around the camp every night. I also hadn’t realised the short time that the carmine bee-eaters are there so to see them in abundance was very lucky too.

Ruckomechi was lovely. They have done a very good job with the camp in a beautiful location. We had a very relaxing time there. The game was great, with good lion and dog sightings and also good night drive sightings, and the birds were excellent too. We really enjoyed our time there.

Although it’s difficult to go back to places given there are so many choices, I’m sure we will go back to Goliath again, perhaps earlier in the season (May- June time) for a different experience. We knew it was going to be hot, but it was pretty ballistic with the mercury hitting 45 degrees most days, which also gets our good friends the tsetse flies all excited. Just made us appreciate  the outside shower and the ice in our drinks when we got back to camp all the more.

 

  

Hippo tries to save wildebeest from croc on the Mara River

Date

07 Nov

Posted By

Caroline
1/5 Getting ready to take the plunge
© Susan Story Getting ready to take the plunge
2/5 Wildebeest river crossing, northern Tanzania
© Susan Story Wildebeest river crossing, northern Tanzania
3/5 Wildebeest river crossing, northern Tanzania
© Susan Story Wildebeest river crossing, northern Tanzania
4/5 Getting ready to take the plunge
© Susan Story Getting ready to take the plunge
5/5 Race to get across
© Susan Story Race to get across

Serengeti, Tanzania Safari, Susan Story, USA - Oct 2011

Having driven through the Serengeti the day before, we saw massive herds of wildebeest – the lucky ones, I called them. Our guide thought that the chances of seeing a crossing would probably be minimal since the crossings had begun in August and it was now the end of October.

However, after shortly arriving at the Mara River, we saw a family of elephants and a few wildebeest on the opposite side of the river. A couple of wildebeest were standing on the edge of a steep cliff that we considered too dangerous. Apparently,  they did too. The wildebeest turned and headed the opposite way along the river cliffs. Emmanuel headed the same direction but drove a distance ahead of the herd. From this different perspective, we saw that there were thousands upon thousands of them. Emmanuel told us that they were showing an urgency to cross that led him to believe a crossing was imminent.

We settled into a spot and watched hundreds approach the bank in front of us. It seemed like a good, gentle slope – a fine place to cross. A few wildebeest went down to examine the area more carefully and then tens more. Then all of a sudden, everyone who had descended the bank turned around and ran back up the bank as fast as they could – hoofs flying, dust swirling. A lioness was standing on the opposite bank!  For a few minutes the thousands of wildebeest were looking across the river at the lioness. We sat awhile looking at the disappointed lioness and the wildebeest looking back at her. Then the wildebeest turned away threading back through the hills and the trees and soon disappearing from our view. On the radio, Emmanuel heard that a likely spot had been chosen, and we raced to the new spot. The crossing began!

Seeing pictures of this phenomenon does not come close to seeing it in real life. The first in the water with fear on their faces…arriving at the opposite shore… thundering hoofs running up the bank to safety… the snorting communication… the clouds of dust… Some stopped running and went back to the water to see how their loved ones were faring. It is an amazing, exhilarating spectacle of nature.  Then we saw confusion in the water. A head not moving forward….a serrated tail. It appeared that a crocodile had interrupted a wildebeest. The croc had latched on to her rear left leg. As soon as it was clear to the wildebeest that one of their own had been caught, the rest backed away from the shore and turned around to cross elsewhere. The ones who had already crossed had disappeared into the foliage. This female was now left alone to escape or die.

She managed to regain her footing and stood in a shallow area of the river. Occasionally she would pull herself but was unable to get her leg free. She’d look back to see what was it was that was holding on to her. To our delight, a hippo began to swim over to her. We thought that if he could distract the croc, maybe the croc would open his mouth for a second, and she could free herself. He bit the croc’s tail at one point causing the croc to thrash about, but the croc never opened its mouth. The hippo also tried a direct approach, but that didn’t work either. In our naivete, we wanted the hippo to be our hero, but more than likely he was defending his territory. The poor wildebeest either lost her footing or became exhausted. The croc soon afterwards dragged her underwater. Everyone still watching was silent and solemn.Twenty minutes later he surfaced with his prize.

After spending so much time that afternoon with nobody’s favorite animal, I have a new found respect, admiration, and affection for these animals who endure so much for survival.

  

Inhambane street life, Mozambique Oct 2011

Date

03 Nov
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A gentle Sunday afternoon spent wondering the streets of Inhambane, the sleepy little Mozambican coastal town.

  

The Castle, Vumba Mountains, Zimbabwe Oct 2011

Date

03 Nov
1/5 The Castle
The Castle
2/5 The Castle
The Castle
3/5 The Castle
The Castle
4/5 The Castle
The Castle
5/5 The Castle terraced gardens
The Castle terraced gardens

The Castle was built during the 2nd World War by Italian prisoners of war.  In the 1980s a new section was added by present owner, Alex Nunes.  Occupying an austere location overlooking the Burma Valley in Zim's Eastern Highlands, The Castle is a small owner-run hotel.  It is pretty quirky: heaps of antiquey bits, and some novel design features, including a toilet built into great boulders (allegedly "the throne" used by the Queen Mum on her visit to the area) and a dumb waiter which yields delicious meals from what appears to be a large dresser in the corner of the dining room.  Many other high-profile bods, from politicians to movie-folk, have enjoyed g&ts on the battlements overlooking expansive views of forests and mountains.

During a three night stay at The Castle we enjoyed some lovely walks, runs and bike rides.  The area is great for birds and there is a Botanical Garden which is a little past it’s prime but still pretty.  There was one or two mandatory visits to the famous Tony's Coffee Shop for cake (it's not just cake...that doesn't do it justice at all...it is a culinary work of art, the memory of which lingers longer than the extra 3inches it will add to your waistline).