All posts by Ruth

St Valentine’s Day Ideas

It’s Valentine’s Day this week and we have some great ideas for those of you who are stumped for a good gift or looking for a truly romantic gesture.

Kenya is home to a truly Out of Africa experience and as this year sees the 30th anniversary of that wonderful film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford we think it’s perfect for a Valentine’s Day celebration. If you haven’t got time to get there this year then maybe you could book it now for a trip later in the year – after all who doesn’t like to receive a pair of tickets to a romantic destination as a surprise?

We recommend staying at many different romantic lodges and tented camps in Kenya.  One of the most romantic is the recently opened Angama Mara in a private conservancy on the edge of the world famous Masai Mara National Park.

Angama Mara

This is an incredibly romantic place because of the absolutely breath-taking views. These are so spectacular it’s almost impossible to drag yourself away from the camp to go on safari!  Each tented suite enjoys a 180° view over the beautiful Masai Mara stretching out far below. The Masai Mara is the best-known game reserve in the world, home to the Big Five and the world famous Migration which runs from July to October of each year and also the home to some truly stunning African scenery. The Out of Africa back-story adds romance and the tented suites are decorated in traditional romantic safari style with extra touches of luxury making it feel even more special. The staff at Angama Mara also go out of their way to make sure your stay is special and you will have some incredible memories to take home with you.

Other than Kenya two of our other favourite places for romance are the intimate and luxurious tented safari camps of Botswana and the luxury hotels on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Lake Malawi. In both these places we can off the exceptionally romantic experience of sleeping under the African night sky in a star bed. You can’t get more romantic than that!

Kanana Camp, Botwana

This little camp is a hidden jewel on the Xudum River in the Okavango Delta. The area is home to a long line of little islands dotted with lush greenery and trees interspersed amongst the rivers and lagoons. As you would expect the Okavango is filled with wonderful wildlife and you can take the camp’s glass bottomed mokoro canoe to make the most of it. The camp is tiny with only seven spacious twin and double-bedded safari tents each with an en-suite bathroom.  The tents are well spaced apart which means they all feel very private without being too far from the main camp area. New for 2016 are the amazing Star Beds which allow you to sleep out under the Botswana stars. With no light pollution the star gazing here will blow you away and the star beds means you can do it in style!

Nkwichi, Lake Malawi

Nkwichi, is a really wonderful secret that we are not sure we want to share – but we will! It really is a wonderful paradise tucked away on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi.  There are 8 secluded beaches set along a stretch of the beautiful Rift Valley coastline which are all around Nkwichi. Not only do you have easy access to stunning beaches and crystal clear warm waters along the lake but also to some untouched wildlife and inland scenery. The accommodation at Nkwichi is also very romantic as you stay in lovely chalets and house set around the resort. Tucked away in the treeline, each chalet is unique.  All individually are individually designed and built using local materials to blend in to their surroundings, they deliver absolute luxury in a natural setting. This means they are really private and romantic with 4 poster beds and rock-pool baths carved out of local boulders and all of them have mesmerizing vistas of the lake. Nkwichi is also home to a fabulous star bed which means you can also sleep out under the stars. If you don’t fancy that then you can still enjoy a private dinner on the beach. Lake Malawi is often called the Lake of Stars so it really doesn’t come more romantic than that!

 

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

What do you do when you and your partner want different holidays?

Do you and your other half disagree on what holiday to book? This is the time of year, when the days are long and dark, when most people are looking into booking their big holiday for the year. It’s hard enough trying to decide where to go and how much to spend but it can be a total minefield if you and your partner want completely different things.

Hands up – who wants to lie on a beach but has another half who wants to be active? Who wants to enjoy fine food and drink in a luxury hotel but your partner wants to rough it in the great outdoors? Does one of you hanker after bright lights and city breaks but the other prefers fantastic scenery and wildlife?

Well I have the perfect solution for those of you with this dilemma – South Africa!

It may be a cliché but South Africa really does have something for everyone. If you want a city break with luxury hotels, fine food and wine, nightlife, shopping and galleries then Cape Town is the place for you. Cape Town is not only a vibrant and exciting city but it is also surrounded by amazing scenery. Accessible from Cape Town is a wide range of scenery from mountains to vineyards, beaches to bush and incredible wildlife including whales, sharks and dolphins. While you are relaxing on the beach, visiting galleries, enjoying a superb lunch or shopping your partner could be sailing, fishing, shark diving, taking a helicopter flip, whale watching or golfing. You see what I mean? There aren’t many places in the world where you can do all this in one place!

If one of you wants great beaches and the other wants to go on safari then this can also be done easily in South Africa. (Actually Kenya or Tanzania are also good options as you can easily combine a safari with a beach stay on the coast or on Zanzibar.) The world famous Garden Route is chock full of beautiful beaches and you can stay at Knysna or Plettenberg Bay two small but lively beach towns surrounded by amazing scenery. Combine this with a few days on safari in one of the 5 star private game reserves in the Eastern Cape and you can both be happy!

If one of you wants to experience the great outdoors then staying in a tented camp on safari or a lodge tucked up high in the stunning Drakensberg Mountains are both excellent choices. If you are is super sporty then you can play golf at one of the numerous golf courses all over SA, go surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay on the Garden Route, go shark-diving in Cape Town, mountain biking, horse-riding or hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains, fishing, whale watching, dolphin spotting all along the Garden Route – the list is endless. If the other half is not so keen then there are plenty of alternatives on offer in all of these places.

If you also cannot decide on what kind of accommodation you both prefer perhaps you could mix and match and combine both your preferences? If you do one of our wonderful self drive holidays you have a huge range of choice. You can stay in everything from private luxury villas to boutique bed and breakfasts. We have eco-lodges, luxury hotels, self-catering apartments, safari lodges, city hotels, beach resorts, bed and breakfast accommodation, country houses, vineyards – the list is endless. You can find our full range in the Lodge Library.

If you would like to talk to one of our experts about your holiday dilemmas then just give Paul, Helen or Lily a call –we are very good at finding the perfect solution!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

 

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

Our Top Ten Island Getaways in Africa and the Indian Ocean (Part 2)

Brrr, this hasn’t been a warm summer so far has it? Are you dreaming of some proper sunshine and some beautiful far off beach where the water is the temperature of a warm bath and the sky is always a perfect blue? Well forget the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, Africa has some truly gorgeous island getaways just right for escaping our typically British wet summer or at any time of the year.  Way back in January we covered the first five of our top ten island getaways and now it’s time to reveal the next five.

Some are tiny with just a handful of rustic hideaways whilst others are much larger and more established with lots of luxury hotels, fantastic water-sports and world class restaurants.  All of them have sublime scenery; some have dramatic rocky coves whilst others have dreamy beaches with white sand and turquoise waters. Here are the next 5 in our favourite top 10 as voted by the Real Africa team.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar is still commonly known as the Spice Island (although its official name is Unguja or Zanzibar Island). It is the largest and most populated island of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. The African island has been for centuries an important trading centre, a melting pot of African, Indian and Arab influences. Zanzibar’s major attraction is Stone Town, with its whitewashed colonial houses, charming shops, bazaars, mosques, shady squares and intriguing courtyards. Stone Town is a very atmospheric, exotic, exciting and historical town where you can catch glimpses the sea and boats plying their trade in and out of the bustling port. Many buildings are crumbling away and there are tiny alleyways to wander down, bustling markets and the smell of spices fill the air. Another big attraction are the beautiful white sandy beaches lapped by the turquoise sea. The coast of Zanzibar is truly spectacular and all the beaches are stunning from rocky coves to huge stretches of perfect palm backed soft white sand. There are a wide range of hotels here with small boutique five star options such as the fabulous Baraza Resort to larger more family friendly options. There are places to choose for their seclusion and tranquillity and places to go for fabulous food and nightlife. Many of the larger resorts offer great water-sports facilities and fabulous excursions such as dhow cruises and dolphin safaris.

The  Seychelles

The Seychelles are being included as a group of islands, mainly for the reason that I cannot pick one over the other! There are several islands where we offer a fabulous beach getaway; from the larger Mahe and Praslin to the smaller private islands of Bird Island and Denis Island.  Once a hideaway for pirates and Arab merchants the islands now a popular tourist destination with many different hotels and resorts. Its white sandy beaches  are among the most beautiful in the world and you may well have seen these iconic beaches in photographs before. The palm trees, soft white sand, huge granite boulders and turquoise waters are truly perfect. The Seychelles also have substantial expanses of tropical forests with birds such as the endemic Seychelles Bulbul. You can chose from quiet little boutique hotels perfect for a honeymoon to large family friendly resorts with fantastic water-sports across the Seychelles and all the islands have something different to offer. The snorkelling and scuba diving is wonderful with coral reefs providing a home to a huge range of marine life. We like Praslin for its pretty scenery and its glorious beaches but all the islands are fabulous. If you are looking for luxury, romance, style and the most incredible white sandy beaches on a private island – then Denis Island is the place for you! We also offer hotels on La Digue, Mahe, and Bird Island.

Funzi Island, Kenya

Funzi Island is a tiny island off the coast of Kenya sitting in the middle of the gloriously warm and crystal clear Indian Ocean. It is easy to reach being only 15 minutes by air from Mombasa. This is the place to come for a true Robinson Crusoe style getaway. Although this is barefoot luxury not basic! If you want to stay on Funzi Island you will stay at the lovely Funzi Keys which nestles peacefully in the private white sands of its own peninsula. Designed to blend unobtrusively with its idyllic beachfront setting and to reflect the influence of the local culture and coastal architecture, the accommodation consists of nine spacious sea front cottages set along the high-water line and eight sea view cottages, all constructed of stone and thatch with large netted windows open to the balmy sea breezes. Surrounded by water and superbly located on a west-facing beach with glorious views of the African sunset, this remote and exclusive hideaway is the perfect place to escape from the outside world in style.

Nankoma Island, Marelli Islands, Lake Malawi, Malawi

Nankoma Island is one of many different islands on Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is like a beautiful inland sea due to its enormous size. The waters are crystal clear and warm and perfect for swimming in. You will find many different white sandy beaches around the lake and islands as well as rocky coves, laid back beach bars, expensive boutique hotels, tiny rustic lodges and bustling towns.  There is something for everyone here and it works perfectly as a beach extension at the end of a safari in Malawi. Tucked away on Nankoma Island, a part of the Marelli Island archipelago, is the Blue Zebra Island Lodge. The lodge is a simple, eco-friendly place with rustic safari chalets which are great for those who want to make the most of the location for water sports and scuba diving and who are looking for a laidback informal type of holiday. For those who don’t want a safari tent you can also book a larger more private wooden style chalets called the Kingfisher, the Cormorant and the Fish Eagle. It is also a great place for families.

Mauritius

Mauritius is a huge island and country in its own right. It is a beautiful, lush green island that offers the visitor lots to see and do. There are national parks to visit, mountains to climb, waterfalls to gawp at, hiking trails to explore and bustling markets to shop in. The scenery and wildlife of Mauritius are wonderful and this is a great family destination. Port Louis is the beautiful and atmospheric French Creole capital with lots of French colonial architecture but also many foreign influences as befits its place in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Orient. There are lots of wonderful restaurants, shops and galleries across the island so you will never be bored.

But of course, Mauritius is most famous for its wonderful coastline and amazing beaches. White sandy beaches backed by palm trees and the soaring volcanic peaks. And the water is crystal clear and warm with wonderful coral reefs and abundant marine life meaning this is a fantastic place for snorkelling and scuba diving. If you are looking for somewhere lively then you should head north to Grand Baie, where you’ll find a lively restaurant and bar scene. If you love water-sports and windsurfing and kitesurfing then the north is the best part of the island for you. The east coast is best for beach lovers and the south-west corner is a family favourite with calmer waters and some excellent diving and dolphin-spotting too. We offer the Constance Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius, a wonderful luxury beach resort on the East Coast. Set in beautiful tropical gardens of almost 20 acres and 158 acres for the golf course, the hotel is surrounded by lush greenery making for a tranquil retreat. The beach itself is protected by an offshore coral reef making it ideal for swimming and water sports.

So now you can dream all about tropical islands in Africa and the Indian Ocean. You can find out much more on our lodge library at the top of the home page where you can find all our beach retreats or follow the link here. Or you could give us a call and let us know just what kind of place you are dreaming of and we can fix you up!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

Forget Chelsea Flower Show – South Africa is where it’s at!

Calling all garden lovers! You may have been lucky enough to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or like me, you are currently enjoying the TV coverage from the comfort of your armchair. Always stunningly beautiful and inspiring, the Chelsea Flower Show has me itching to get out in my garden and copy some of their ideas. However somewhere else in the world really inspired me when I visited it a few years ago. South Africa.

South Africa is one of the most wonderful places to visit if  you are interested in gardens and rare or unusual plants. South Africa has a fabulous climate which means it is home to some stunningly beautiful gardens.  I am going to focus on the nations wonderful botanical gardens which are run by SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute. They manage 10 National Botanical Gardens with an emphasis on preserving the indigenous plants and natural habitats which are so unique to South Africa and they are fantastic places to visit as a tourist.

South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens

The ten national botanical gardens are Kirstenbosch, Pretoria, Walter Sisulu, Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kwelera, Lowveld, and KwaZulu-Natal. Altogether they make up over 7,400 ha of natural habitats and vegetation now protected for future years.  They also provide a wonderful tourist attraction for local economies with nearly 1.5 million visitors a year. Kirstenbosch, is one of the world’s very best botanical gardens and it has almost a million visitors a year on it own. It’s also one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch is one of the most dramatically scenic botanical gardens in the world, as it sits nestled on the inland side of Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Kirstenbosch is also one of the world’s most important botanical institutions as it is home to some of the rarest species of plants. The garden was established over a hundred years ago by English botanists who settled in Cape Town. It makes the most of its stunning backdrop and the wonderful balmy climate to focus on the vast and diverse indigenous flora of South Africa. This creates a very natural atmosphere perfectly at home within the landscape and large sections of its huge acreage have been left as native fynbos. Many visitors head straight for the Protea garden and these South African flowers, showy and strange, have become popular now in the UK and can be seen at Chelsea! The botanists based at Kirstenbosch are still making important scientific discoveries on a regular basis.

Hantam

Situated just outside Nieuwoudtville, award winning Hantam is one of the world’s very special biodiversity treasures and the first National Botanical Garden in the Northern Cape. This, unlike Kirstenbosch, is a relatively new botanical garden having been founded in 1982, but it has been a popular public garden since the 1800’s.  The natural vegetation of this area, Gauteng, is known as the ‘Rocky Highveld Grassland’ and it accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species. This kind of vegetation means that it is home to plenty of wildlife including a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nest on the cliffs alongside the waterfall.  There are over 220 birds species recorded on site and a number of reptiles and small mammals, including small antelope and jackals.

The Karoo

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden is different to all the others as it specialises in a wide variety of desert and semi-desert plants. The 154 hectare Garden lies at the foot of the Hex River Mountain range in the arid Karoo Desert region north of Cape Town. Only a small part is cultivated and the rest is all wild and natural giving the visitor a great chance to explore a natural but protected environment. There are also two fantastic hiking trails here. This is the place to come if you are interested in desert plants such as cacti and succulents and the best time to come is in the South African spring (August and September) when many of them are flowering and the sight is spectacular.

Kwazulu-Natal

The beautiful and tranquil KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden is in the east of South Africa and once again has its own special atmosphere created by the local landscape and natural vegetation. It too was set up by Victorians and they added a fascinating collection of rare specimens of northern hemisphere plants, such as the swamp cypress, tulip trees, camphor trees, plane trees, giant figs and magnolias. There is even an avenue of London plane trees which is over 100 years old! Of course there are plenty of local plants from the eastern grasslands such as Clivia, Gerbera, Kniphofia and Watsonia. It is also a protected environment for local birds with over 150 species recorded. Another fabulous section of the garden is the fascinating Useful Plants Garden, which displays local plants used by the Zulu people for medicine, craft, and food.

The scenery here is much as you would expect in this stunningly beautiful region. There are two main rivers which cut through the gardens and they create spectacular waterfalls and there are two wonderful viewpoints to see them. The Crocodile and Nels Rivers create the green and lush scenery and the African rainforest section which has some unique plantlife as well as a suspension  bridge with great views over the tumbling river below.  Various plant species have been introduced into the Garden in order to conserve them including South African coastal species and a unique collection of plants which represent the rapidly disappearing tropical forests of central and west Africa.

If you fancy a tour of the best of South Africa’s gardens then give us a call. We tailor-make all our holidays and we can create a holiday around specific gardens and any other interests you have.

Posted by Ruth Bolton