Tag Archives: travel

Spotlight on the Drakensberg Mountains South Africa

The Drakensberg Mountains are found in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. This stunningly picturesque region is a 200-kilometre-long mountainous  UNESCO world heritage site.

The Zulu people named it ‘Ukhahlamba’, the Barrier of Spears, and the Dutch pioneers called it the Dragon Mountain’, hence the name Drakensberg, and both names are very appropriate for the awe inspiring craggy peaks and beautiful mountain landscapes. This area has been home to mankind for a very, very long time with thousands of rock and cave paintings by the early San people (also known as Bushmen). In fact the history of the area is so important that it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 2000 in order to protect and preserve its cultural and natural heritage.

The scenery is truly epic in the Drakensberg Mountains and it is a popular destination with tourists to South Africa. It is an area that combines well with a safari in the Kruger and makes for a great self-drive itinerary. Combining sheer natural beauty with a wealth of biological diversity, this enormous 243,000 hectare mountainous region provides a great contrast to other parts of South Africa and offers a unique atmosphere for the visitor. The mountains tower above the surrounding African bush, with slopes lined with lush forests, deep valleys, stark cliffs and cascading waterfalls.  The line of mountains creates a massive barrier which separates KwaZulu-Natal from the neighbouring Kingdom of Lesotho. The only road access to the Drakensberg is via the Sani Pass, which at the top, boasts the highest pub in Africa, where you can enjoy a drink at 3,000 metres above sea level!

There are lots of activities to choose from whilst staying and visiting the Drakensberg Mountains. The bravest can tackle sheer rock or ice- climbing or even the adrenaline rush provided by abseiling, white water rafting or taking a helicopter ride to view the Drakensberg mountains from above. Others might prefer hiking through the stunning scenery with plenty of trails and routes to choose from. There are gentle strolls exploring the lower slopes or you can explore further on a two day camping hikes up in the higher peaks for the hardier souls. The flora and fauna of the region are not to be missed with 290 species of birds, 48 species of mammals, and many rare varieties of plant life found in this national park.

The scenic highlights that should not be missed off any itinerary include Cathedral Peak, the Giant’s Castle, Champagne Castle or Peak (3248m), the Amphitheatre, and Tugela Falls which cascades down 5 separate drops to form  the second highest waterfall in the world. The area was also home to the Boer War between the Dutch Voertrekkers and the British and the wars between the native Zulus and the European Settlers. Many of the battle sites can be visited today.

The area is divided up into four valleys, beginning with the Champagne Valley in the Central Berg, through the Cathedral Peak and Didima Valley, then the Royal Natal National Park and Amphitheatre Valley, and finally the Middledale Pass Valley in the Northern Berg. Each of the four valleys has its own kind of beauty and character; all have magnificent mountain views. Accommodation can be found across the region ranging from luxury mountain resorts to small, cosy family run hotels and lodges.

 

Lily’s Epic African Odyssey – Part One. Mozambique

Lily is one of our very well travelled Sales Consultants here at Real Africa and over the summer she had the opportunity to travel right across Southern Africa. We send out Sales Consultants off on regular trips to visit the accommodation we use, develop our relationships with local partners, explore new destinations  and to create new and exciting itineraries.

Starting in Mozambique (our new tours will be up shortly!)  Lily then moved onto Zambia before ending up on the stunning Lake Malawi. She travelled vast distances and saw fabulous sights en route and despite the early morning starts Lily says it was one of the most wonderful trips she has ever taken – and she is a very well travelled lady!  Over to you Lily.

I started off flying down to South Africa where I spent the night in Johannesburg before taking my flight over to Maputo in Mozambique. From there I took another flight to Pemba and then another to a tiny island in the archipelago called Ibo Island. Ibo Island is in the Quirimbas National Park an area of great scenic beauty, boasting high levels of marine and terrestrial biodiversity, and some of the most unspoilt reef eco systems anywhere in the Indian Ocean. This area also boasts a rich history and culture whose blend of indigenous African and exotic Arabic and Portuguese influences is epitomised by the historic town of Ibo on the island of the same name.

I stayed at Ibo Island Lodge which is comprised of three original historic mansions which have been stylishly renovated.  Furnished with antique furniture it has a mix of European, Arab and Swahili atmosphere.  Wide verandas furnished with soft cushions, teak furniture and a roof top terrace which is the ideal spot for sundowners and the other rooms had lovely views over the waterfront and distant islands. Ibo is the tourist hub of the archipelago which is pretty much undeveloped. The views over the islands with their turquoise clear waters, white sands and green mangroves as you fly in are spectacular and give you a great idea of how the islands operate (a lot depends on high tide and access by boat). Activities in the area include swimming, diving, kayaking and dhow cruises.

I then transferred by speedboat to Azura Quilalea Resort just over an hour away. This resort is a true romantic get-away. The staff all greeted me with a welcome song and then I spent the rest of the day walking around the island and looking for the turtles that live on the beach. The villas are hewn from local material with natural coral stone walls, carved wooden beams, makuti thatch roofs, and timber wooden decks. Windows have no glass, but have shutters made from local reed that can be opened to allow the breezes through, or closed for privacy at night. Handcrafted oversize beds, comfortable, all natural, designer ‘beach-chic’ finishings and furnishings, and spacious bathrooms with baobab tiled shower and views out to sea. There are no telephones and Ipod docks here, just a fan to cool you down, an aircon should you need it, a fridge full of your favourite beverages, and a wooden pirate chest to store your most precious belongings. Outside, there are daybeds and sun-loungers for relaxing, and the private decks have fabulous uninterrupted views out to the beach and sea beyond. Needless to say the food was also excellent and I sat in a different location for every meal i.e. under a tree set up from the beach; on the beach; by the swimming pool. Bliss!

Next week we will follow Lily’s journey as she head’s off to Zambia, visiting the Victoria Falls and going on a walking safari in the South Luangwa National Park.

Tourism is a Growth Industry in Africa

The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) recently confirmed that Africa has been one of the fastest growing tourism regions of the last decade. Africa’s tourist numbers have risen from an estimated 37 million in 2003 to 58 million in 2009 according to UNWTO’s Secretary General Mr Taleb Rifai.

Africa’s tourism sector already employs around 7.7 million people. The tourism industry is vital to many economies in Africa. For example 30% of GDP in the Cape Verde Islands stems from tourism, 25% in Mauritius and 16% in the Gambia. The World Bank states that 8.9 %of GDP is from tourism in East Africa, 7.2 % in North Africa’s, 5.6% for West Africa’s and 3.9% of Southern Africa’s GDP.

However Africa has a large way to go before it increase it’s share on the global tourism market. There were 980 million international tourists in 2011, but just over 50 million of those arrived in Africa. In comparison to Europe’s 500 million this is a small piece of a very large and lucrative pie. According to UNWTO the top tourist destinations for international travellers in Africa are Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritius.

East Africa and in particular Kenya and Tanzania are hoping to increase their share of the sector along with countries such as Uganda and Rwanda. They are working together to promote East Africa as a tourist region and saving money whilst sharing resources for promotion.

A way to increase tourism to the area is to look beyond the standard holidays such as safari or cultural and become more creative. Different types of nature tourism would appeal to those who have already had a safari and are interested in returning but looking for something different this time. For example tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda has been hugely important to the local economies of these countries. Along with the Democractic Republic of Congo they raised $225 million dollars in tourism revenue from this activity in 2011. More tourists mean more money spent on hotels, restaurants, tour guides and souvenirs and the benefits ripple out across the economy.

Africa could definitely build on its festival circuit and increase its cultural tourism. It already has a very strong music festival reputation in West Africa and other areas, now they need to build on food festivals, film, literature and theatre. Places like Ethiopia with its fascinating mix of ancient history, religion, stunning scenery and food have started to build their tourism industry over the past decade or so and have recently been voted on of the world’s coolest holiday destinations.

Social networking and technology have played a vitally important role in raising awareness of destinations, for promotional and marketing work as well as making sales easier. Major investment in infrastructure is also needed as is an investment in boosting the domestic travel market within Africa. Tourism is playing a key role in the re-building of Africa’s economies and long may it continue.

Guide to the Best African Hot Air Balloon Safaris

Hot air ballooning is becoming a very popular option on safaris in Africa. A hot air balloon ride truly gives you a “once in a lifetime” experience that will never be forgotten. It is so completely different to anything else you may have experienced before in both sensation and spectacle. Combining this with the opportunity to explore the stunning African landscape and throw in some game viewing from close at hand and you have all the ingredients to a magical adventure.

The ride is so quiet that it gives you the perfect opportunity to see animals up close and en masse due to the overhead perspective you get from a balloon. You can truly see for miles and miles and soak up the vastness of the African plains. With the only noise being the gentle hiss of the gas burners the peace and quiet gives you the chance to just enjoy the moment and marvel at all you can see before you.

Most tour operators offer trips like this and they follow fairly similar schedules. They tend to start very early in the morning, usually before sunrise, when the air is at its coldest and therefore its calmest. You will be served tea or coffee while you wait and watch the balloonists prepare the hot air balloon for take-off. Once you take off up into the clear African sky you will gently drift across the plains with the prevailing winds. Your pilot will decide the height for flying as necessary and they will be able to drop lower for close up game viewing or rise up high over the tree canopies. The actual flight itself usually takes around an hour and when you land a ground crew will collect you and drive you back to the launch site where you will enjoy a full champagne breakfast. Then finally before heading back to your safari lodge or camp you will be awarded a certificate as a memento of your hot air balloon flight from the balloon pilot.

In Kenya balloon flights are usually over the magnificent Masai Mara National Reserve. The Mara is the northernmost part of the spectacular Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, and is famous for being home to the awe-inspiring annual migration where millions of animals are on the move at the same time. The migration is a great time to go on a balloon trip as it gives you a great perspective on the size and speed of the migration that you just can’t get from the ground. The rest of the year is equally as good with scores of other wildlife on view including lions, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, hippos, and crocodiles.

Also you can do hot air ballooning across Tanzania and the Serengeti and also South Africa; the Winelands, near Cape Town and over the Kruger National Park are some of the most popular options.

By Paul Hickey-Fry

Rangers – the Police force protecting the National Parks

We thought we would take a closer look at the National Park Ranger in Africa. We talk a lot about rangers when discussing poaching and the battle to protect wildlife in Africa but we haven’t really gone into detail about who rangers are and what they do. It varies between country to country and government policy but generally their roles are pretty similar. A park ranger is someone whose job is to protect and preserve the park or land entrusted to them. They are employed in protecting and conserving the wildlife and their habitat in all the major national parks in Africa.

The duties of the park ranger are very varied depending on which country or park they work for. Most are employed by the government but sometimes they are employed by charities or by separate authorities in charge of the parks. They have become more and more specialised over the past few decades and they are a vital force in the national park scheme. The parks wildlife and habitats futures are really in their hands.

Sometimes they act as guides and experts and their predominant role is educational and to provide information. In most places in Africa though the park rangers are also very much law enforcers in charge of keeping park regulations enforced and encouraging visitors to stick to the guidelines. They check permits and visitor numbers etc. in order to protect the park from being overwhelmed and to make sure that visitors respect the wildlife and the habitat.

However recently the rangers have also become more important in the battle against poaching and they have become more like a police force with powers to arrest and disarm poachers. This is the case in Uganda and Rwanda where they are trying to protect the endangered mountain gorilla, in Kenya and Tanzania where they are protecting rhino and elephant from poaching and big cats from illegal hunters and in Southern Africa they are also at the forefront of the battle against poaching and illegal hunting.

SANParks the authority in charge of the national parks of South Africa has recently inaugurated 49 of the 150 new field rangers during its International Ranger Day celebrations last week. The South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, has invested a huge amount in training a large number of new recruits in order to fight the poaching problem in areas such as the Kruger National Park.

The new recruits will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach and will draw skills and expertise from various law enforcement agencies currently deployed. SANParks, Chief Executive Officer, Dr David Mabunda said the new recruits were coming at a critical time when the South African conservation agencies as well as private individuals were paying a high price with the senseless killings of the country’s rhino population.

These new park rangers have the lives of millions of animals as their responsibility as well as the safety and wellbeing of the visitors to the park. It’s a major task and we all owe a lot to these rangers. The future of these magnificent animals may well be in their hands.