Activity Holidays in Africa

Did you know that Sport Relief (www.sportrelief.com) is coming up soon on the 18th March 2016? We are big supporters of this charity for the vitally important work they do in Africa. Have you made a donation yet? Or are you taking part in a sporting event at the weekend?

On the theme of sports and getting fit we thought we would take a look at some sports that you can do whilst on holiday in Africa. Africa is not just about safaris you know – it is actually a fantastic place for a sporting holiday.

In fact many top athletes head off to Africa to do their training. Marathon runners in particular head into the high hills of the Western Great Rift Valley in Kenya to make the most of training at altitude and hope to become as fit as the world beating athletes that grew up there such as Wilson Kipsang . Other athletes head to Africa to make the most of the wonderful climate and the training facilities that can be found across the continent.

For the truly energetic you could base yourself in the gorgeous Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa. These mountains provide a stunning backdrop to all kinds of sporting activities including hiking, rock climbing, mountain-biking, white-water rafting, horse-riding and kayaking. A stay at Cathedral Peak would put you in the heart of the action and the hotel can organise most of these activities for you.

Those of you who fancy something more sedate might think about golf. South Africa is home to some of the best golf courses and championship venues in the world. There are just too many to mention but I have highlighted a few of the best. On the Garden Route you can play golf at Mossel Bay with stunning views over the sea and Fancourt is another well-known golf resort in the area that can be combined with a holiday in this area. If the Cape Winelands appeal more then you can play at Stellenbosch making the most of the excellent dining and wine in this area. Cape Town is also home to many great courses so you could combine a city break in this wonderful and vibrant city with your favourite pastime. Up in Sun City near Johannesburg you have the option of playing on the fabulous Gary player course or the famous Palace of the Lost City course. This would work really well with a safari in the Kruger National Park or Pilanesburg as both are close by.

If water-sports are more your thing then how about scuba diving in Mozambique or swimming in the warm waters of Zanzibar. Deep sea fishing or sport fishing is also widely available in both these places. Windsurfing, sailing and sea-kayaking are available at some of the larger hotels and resorts along the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts.  And South Africa is one of the best places in the world for surfing. Try the resorts on the Garden Route.

If gentle exercise is more your cup of tea then how about a walking safari in Zambia? Or a stay in a nature reserve in South Africa such as De Hoop where you can get out walking with a guide every day or swim in the pool or play tennis? These are a fantastic way to see the wonderful wildlife but also to keep you mobile and fit and healthy at the same time.

Posted by Ruth

Fishing Holidays in Africa

Did you know that fishing not football is the most popular pastime in the UK? No I didn’t either although my brother in law is a keen angler. Fishing holidays are also growing in popularity and Africa is one of the best places to go. You get the chance to catch some really huge and exciting fish and relax in some beautiful scenery. You can also combine it with a safari and get the best of both worlds. Also the safari or beach option might please a non-fishing partner! With so much to choose from we have narrowed it down with some ideas below.

Botswana

One of the best places for a fishing holiday is Botswana and in particular the Okavango Delta. This huge inland river delta covers hundreds of miles and surprisingly doesn’t run into the sea but evaporates and disappears into the land. There are permanent lagoons and rivers but during the rains the area covered by water increases enormously. Fishing is available at most of the lodges on the Delta. We have several lovely luxury safari lodges and camps where all the game viewing is done by motorboat or mokoro (a dug-out canoe) and fishing is also widely available.  A day spent drifting through the reed beds passing big game and stunning birds whilst you fish is pretty unbeatable!

In the crystal clear waters of the Okavango River you can fish for tigerfish, tilapia, bream, nembwe and African pike. The tigerfish is an indigenous with an enormous appetite and they can grow up to 9 kilos in weight! The best time to fish for tiger fish is during the annual catfish or barbel runs. This is usually in our autumn from late August to the beginning of November. Bream fishing is usually best during our summer months, from April until August. We recommend staying at Camp Okavango  for excellent fishing. The lodges and camps can provide all the fishing equipment you need but you can take your own kit if you prefer.

Mozambique

Mozambique is a huge country stretching along the east coast of Africa from Tanzania to the north down to South Africa in the south. It offers a massive variety of habitats from the Zambezi River to the shores of Lake Malawi, from national parks filled with the Big Five to lush mangrove swamps and islands dotted off the stunning coastline.  However the main type of fishing done in Mozambique is  sea or sport fishing and the island archipelagos and coral reefs are outstanding here. Marine life includes whales, dolphins, manta rays, turtles and sharks. The Mozambique coastline, particularly the Bazaruto and the Quirimbas Archipelagos, offers some of the most spectacular sport fishing in the world.  This part of the Indian Ocean is a protected marine reserve meaning it is unspoiled and pretty undiscovered which makes it ideal for a luxury fishing holiday.  Combine this with some truly stunning hotel and beach resorts and some of the world’s finest beaches and Mozambique is a dream destination.

The deep Mozambique Channel has a very strong current and it provides a home to some of the world’s most exciting sport fish.  Species such as black, blue and striped marlin, sailfish, shortbill spearfish, wahoo, dorado, various tuna species, king and queen mackerel, kingfish (jack’s), queenfish, barracuda and snappers are all  to be found here. Again there is plenty to do if you are travelling with a partner or friend who isn’t into fishing as there are plenty of fabulous beaches, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, boat trips and luxury lodges to relax in such as Ibo Island Lodge . The boat operators provide all the gear you will need for sport fishing and we can pre-book it for you or you can do it when you are there through the hotel concierge.

Malawi

Lake Malawi is another fabulous fishing destination for the keen angler and it is also popular for those who want to go diving and see the endemic fish species that live in this enormous inland sea.  Again like all our destinations the scenery as well as the wildlife is fantastic and we have some fabulous lodges and beach resorts dotted along the shores of the Lake. The water here is crystal clear, unpolluted and wonderfully warm and there are many sandy beach, islands and rocky coves providing plenty of different habitats.

The majority of the 400+ species in Lake Malawi are small tropical aquarium fish, mbuna. However you can also find sungwa (perch), ngumbo (lake yellow-fish), mpasa (lake salmon), sanjika (smaller relative of lake salmon), ncheni (lake tiger), kampango (catfish) and vundu (catfish). Fishing is year round but probably the best time to go is between September and April.  One of the best places to stay on the lake is Pumulani Lodge.  although there are more rustic options available too.

Although Lake Malawi is the main draw you can also do plenty of fantastic river fishing. The Bua River, running through the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, is excellent for salmon with the Luweya, Lufira and North Rukuru not far behind. In the Lower Shire River, below the Kapichira Falls on the southern boundary of the Majete Wildlife Reserve, tigerfish are abundant, joined further down by vundu and barbel as the river broadens. Heavier tackle and a boat are needed here. Dry season fishing between May and November is possible in the Lower Shire river and requires no licence. The streams and dams of Zomba Plateau, Mount Mulanje and Nyika Plateau are well stocked with rainbow trout. You are only allowed to do fly fishing in this area with flies tied on single hooks. The season runs from September to April. Please note you will have to take your own kit with you in most places although some lodges do provide good tackle. Please check with us first before travel.

Zimbabwe and Zambia

Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River are the main highlights for a fisherman. The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and is home to one of the continent’s most sought-after fresh water game fish such as the tiger fish. The tigerfish is an aggressive predator and  one of the fastest freshwater game fish in Africa which makes it a challenging species to catch and a great challenge for fly fisherman. Trying to lure the fierce tiger fish can be a real batlle as it usually puts on a dramatic display of fight when captured. Both the Upper Zambezi – the section of river above the Victoria Falls – and the Lower Zambezi – the section below the Kariba Dam wall – offer excellent opportunities to fish for tigerfish.

There are a number of excellent fishing lodges on the banks of both the upper and lower sections of the Zambezi and also there is a  huge range of wonderful safari lodges that offer fishing as well as game drives looking for the Big Five. Many of these lodges provide a range of fishing activities, all the way from a novice angler to the professional fly fisherman.  As fishing can be combined with game activities  and wonderful safaris this is a great holiday if you have a partner or friend who does not wish to fish as there is plenty to do and the lodge are all great places for relax with swimming pools and sundecks. For the visiting angler most can provide a full range of equipment is provided but you can take your own tackle if you prefer (please check before you travel!). We can recommend staying at various different lodges such as Mana Pools Camp many of which offer fishing along with safari activities and canoeing.

Some itineraries which feature our favourite fishing destinations include:

Desert and Delta Safari in Botswana

Tailormade Mozambique

Malawi – Valley and Lake Holiday

Best of Zimbabwe

But please note that we tailor-make all our holidays to suit you so if you want a purely fishing holiday then please give us a call and we can create one specially for you!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Hitting the heights on an African balloon safari

Ever wondered what its like to do a balloon safari in Africa? Robert was in Tanzania recently and went flying over Tarangire National Park.

I was woken at 5.30am by one of the Masai guards knocking gently on my tent. Fifteen minutes later, having been escorted by the same guard to the restaurant, I was standing on its terrace drinking fresh brewed coffee and taking to our pilot. Called Nihat, he had over 3,000 flight hours under his belt and spoke perfect English.

“I’ve been flying in Tarangire for over 2 years,” he informed me as he swigged syrupy coffee from a mug. “During that whole time I’ve never had to cancel a flight. The weather here is always excellent.”

Our land cruiser pulled up and we climbed in, leaving the camp as the first hint of dawn touched the eastern sky. It was a short drive, initially on a rough track before cutting off through the savannah to the launch site. The crew had arrived before us. The basket was in place, lying on its side with the burners and fuel all stowed and secured. The balloon was laid out flat on the grass and as we got out of our vehicle a large fan started blowing the first hot air into it. It rolled around, making it ripple like water in a bowl. Two crew pulled on a rope tied to the top of the balloon, keeping it taut.

Once the balloon was semi-inflated the burners started blasting into it and within minutes it was trying to lift itself into the sky, the two men on the rope now joined by a third as they fought to keep it down. On a signal from Nihat they released the rope and the balloon swung into the air, gently pulling the basket upright as it fought to get away. It was not yet inflated enough to lift from the ground, even if the basket hadn’t been anchored to a land cruiser.

We climbed into the basket. In a central section stood Nihat, surrounded in gas bottles and with the controlling ropes hanging in front of him. Either side the basket was dived into two sections, each with a low bench. Nihat gave a long burn, the heat strong on my head through the hat I was wearing. Slowly we rose off the ground and hung for a few moments on the anchor rope as final checks were done. When he was happy, Nihat released the rope and we rose into the African sky.

It was surprising how quickly we left the ground behind. It was so gentle it felt as if nothing was moving and yet the World shrank in size and dropped away below us. When we got to 500 metres we levelled off, the whole of Africa seemingly stretching away in all directions. Lake Manyara was to the west, its white bed catching the gentle light of dawn. To its south was Lake Eyasi while to the north was Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro.

Tarangire was spread beneath us like an enormous pop-up map, the river that gives the Park its name meandering through its heart.

“We’ve come up to find the breezes,” Nihat explained. “Different altitudes have winds that blow in different directions, its useful to know if I wan to move the balloon.” He nodded to the right. “Here there is a breeze from the East. I can use it if we need to get closer to some animals.”

We slowly descended as we approached the river, almost skimming the treetops as we dropped into its bed so that the steep-sided banks stood higher than we floated. Birds flew around us, their dawn chorus clearly audible  and a herd of impala stood together watching as we passed, their tails twitching nervously. Nihat gave a long burn, the heat hot on my skin in the cool of morning, and after a few seconds the balloon responded and carried us over the approaching Baobabs and above an acacia forest.

A family of elephants turned to face us, their trunks lifted as they tried to smell what was approaching. With one shrill trumpet, the matriarch told them to follow and she head off at a brisk pace into the undergrowth, her companions following in a line with the youngest in the middle. A couple of outlying members trumpeted in alarm, receiving an answering call to guide them in the right direction as we drifted overhead and away. My last sight of them was of them turning to face us once more, shaking their heads and returning to their grazing.

A herd of buffalo, maybe 150 strong, didn’t flinch as we passed overhead, oblivious to their silent watchers. A silver-backed jackal, jogged past and a family of hyenas sat warming themselves in the early-morning sun. Giraffes stood watching with idle curiosity while different types of antelope grazed unperturbed.

In a blink of the eye an hour had passed. Nihal had been looking for a landing spot, his spotters on the balloon radioing the back-up crew when a suitable place was spotted. We rose up, making use of that easterly breeze we’ed discovered earlier, before slowly drifting down to land in a spot I’d have thought it impossible to land in. When we were a few metres above the ground we all sat on the small benches in our sections of the balloon, holding rope ties oppositeand heads lowered. There was a gentle bump and the basket settled. We were down.

“You can sit up now,” Nihat instructed us and we stood as the crew rushed around with small blankets, throwing them over any prickly bushes that might snag the balloon as it deflated. The support vehicle arrived and we clambered out, about to be whisked away to a champagne breakfast. After the exhilaration of the flight, even that was going to be a bit flat.

Robert stayed at Tarangire Balloon Camp, where the balloon safaris are based and operated by Adventures Aloft.

By Robert Ferguson.

Marine Safaris in Tanzania and Mozambique

We are famous for our safaris but did you know that you can also enjoy a marine safari off the coast of East Africa? We have several wonderful places where you can explore the incredible range of marine wildlife whilst swimming in the crystal-clear, bath-warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Fundu Lagoon, Pemba, Tanzania

This small and intimate award winning eco-resort is set on the tiny and unspoilt island of Pemba off the coast of the larger island of Zanzibar. This resort has won many awards for its barefoot luxury accommodation and this year it won the Best Marine Safari Experience in Africa for 2015. The resort and its partner diving operation , Dive 71, focus hard on preserving the unique marine ecology in the area whilst offering a 5 star PADI diving experience. You can do everything from snorkelling up to specialist week long diving qualifications.

The area’s main attraction are the warm, clear waters with visibility between 20-40 metres and temperatures around 25-28 degrees. There are miles of pristine coral reefs which hosts a vast array of fish and other sea creatures. The shallow reefs combine with huge drop offs which make for exciting diving and also a spectacular range of sea creatures. This area has currents so all diving is drift diving.

The area has a wide range of marine life from hawksbill and green turtles to manta and eagle rays, from dolphins and barracuda to tiny reef fish. At certain times of the year you may see whales passing on their migration routes. This area  is one of the best diving locations in the world.

Click on the link to find out more about Fundu Lagoon.

Ibo Island Lodge, Quirimbas, Mozambique

Another award winning lodge that we are proud to offer is Ibo Island Lodge which won the Best Marine Safari Property at the Safari Awards this year. This stunning lodge on a tropical island off the coast of Mozambique is also an excellent place to see the incredible marine wildlife in this area.

You can go snorkelling if you are inexperienced but just want to catch a brief glimpse of the underwater life. You can head deeper to the coral reefs and dramatic drops for the more serious and experienced divers.  The PADI dive centre at Ibo offers a wide range of diving experiences and qualifications.

This area offers incredibly beautiful underwater landscapes with clear waters and excellent visibility and warm temperatures. There are gentle currents here so no worries of drift diving. The best diving around Ibo Lodge is at a place called the Light House. It’s a long coral reef that stretches across a square kilometre. This shallow reef contains large gardens of coral tables, soft corals, bucket corals, green tree corals and a drop off of 21m were you can see a good range of tropical fish.

Another site close to Ibo is Matemo where you can swim with dolphins and turtles and the many brightly coloured reef fish. Another exciting place to dive is the wreck of a 100 year old steamer just off a nearby sandbank. As this is shallow it is perfect for snorkelling and the water is so clear that visibility down to the wreck is excellent.

The Quirimbas Archipelago is a magical mix of rare and beautiful fish, pristine reefs, crystal clear waters and fantastic marine mammals. Whether you are an experience diver or a novice snorkeller you can see all kinds of marine life including dolphins and turtles, not to mention the hump backed whales which you can often see between July and September.

Ibo Island Lodge also offers the rare experience of swimming with wild dolphins in their natural environment. The dolphin experience lasts 2-3 hrs and includes an introduction to dolphins and their behaviour, a briefing on boat safety, marine life and responsible interactions with the dolphins. The dive centre uses the regulated Swim Code of Conduct, created to ensure a sustainable eco-friendly approach. They wait for the dolphins to approach and never try to swim after them.  Dive Quirimbas  is an Ethical Marine Mammal Campaigner in Mozambique who supports the dolphin care code of conduct.

Click on the link to find out more about Ibo Island Lodge

Posted by Ruth Bolton

Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda

Volcanoes! Just the name is exciting. Where you can you combine towering volcanoes, stunning lake scenery and the rare mountain gorilla? In the Parc National des Volcans  otherwise known as Volcanoes National Park!

The Volcanoes National Park can be found in the north west of the tiny country of Rwanda and it lies along the neighbouring Virunga National Park which in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also borders the neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda making this one of the most important areas in Africa for conservation and preservation of the landscape and wildlife.  It is also the oldest national park in Africa having been set up in the 1920s in order to preserve the gorillas in this region.

A Volcanic Landscape:

As its name suggests this area is volcanic and mountainous and this provides the unique eco-system that is home to some incredible wildlife and some of the most stunning scenery. Volcanoes National Park (VNP) is home to 5 volcanoes which make up part of the chain of Virunga Mountains which in turn make up part of the incredible Rift Valley that runs down the spine of Africa.  These volcanoes are Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo and they are still partly active. Every now and again there is an eruption making for a spectacular display at night-time!

The mountainous slopes are covered in dense vegetation of cloud forest. This makes it a haven for primates of all kinds and also elephants and other wildlife. It is so dense that in some places it is inaccessible which has gone a long way to protecting the wildlife in this region. It also provides food and shelter for these species and continuous high rainfall means the animals never have to move on to look for food elsewhere. The vegetation varies as the altitude increases and some of the highest peaks reach a towering 4000 metres high! In amongst these mountains lie a world of lush greenery and beautiful lakes. Other activities available in the VNP include hiking, mountain biking and boating on the lakes. This region really is one of the most stunningly beautiful in the whole of Africa and will leave you with incredible memories!

Mountain Gorillas and other Primates:

Dian Fossey made this park her home whilst she studied the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees of this region in the 1960s. She set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke and is widely recognised as having saved the mountain gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the outside world. There are other species of rare primates in the forests including the Golden Monkey, the Bonobo and the Chimpanzee all of which can be visited by organised trekking groups.

Trekking to visit the gorillas or other primates is the main source of tourist income in the area and is also strictly controlled with a limited number of permits available each day so as to not overload the area.  There are 8 habituated families in the park and this means there are a limit of 64 permits allowed per day. Treks start early and take several hours of demanding hiking before you reach the group of gorillas you are visiting. You then spend an hour with them before heading back down to the centre where you will be awarded a certificate and have the chance to enjoy a rest and some refreshments.

The Kwita Izina is an unmissable experience if you happen to be in the park during June. It is a Rwandan ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby gorilla. The ceremony’s main goal is to monitor the individual gorilla families in their natural habitat. It was also created as a means of bringing attention both locally and internationally to the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas, their habitats and also to bring in some much needed tourist income to a poor area.

Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda as a whole offer so much to the visitor. The friendly welcome of Rwandans is world famous but the scenery is even more impressive. From the terraced slopes of the numerous farms to the soaring peaks of the highest mountains, from the shimmering blue lakes and sandy beaches to the lushest rainforest, there really is something for everyone here. And then there is the incredible wildlife; rare, colourful, noisy and awe-inspiring, that make this place truly magical!

If you would like to know more about Rwanda and Uganda then please give Lily a call;  she has been gorilla trekking and even came face to face with a silverback!

Posted by Ruth Bolton