Safari in the Serengeti National Park

Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti… Naturally I had Toto’s Africa stuck in my head as we drove through dust towards the entrance to Serengeti National Park. In fact we actually made our safari guide Hans blast it through the stereo as we sang along at the top of our lungs, trying to hit Toto’s signature high notes. So predictably lame! When we made it to the gate the dust was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. So bad I didn’t even get out of the car to take a proper front-on photo of the sign:

This will do!

The Masai people are completely unfazed by the dustbowl conditions:

It was quite amazing seeing Masai people living traditionally on the land, especially the young men who had recently come of age in their feathers, black dress and jaw-dropping face paint. I tried not to take many photos, it didn’t feel right.

Driving in

We stopped on the way in to assist with a broken down Land Cruiser, which was reassuring that others would do the same for us if we were caught out. A while later down the road, we spotted our first lions of the day:

What a mane!

A male lion and his harem of sleepy lionesses. Zero prizes for guessing how they get so fatigued!

Kitty

We watched for a while, it still amazes me how unfazed they are by all the humans crammed into large vehicles watching them.

Lady ostrich

We saw our first and only cheetahs of the trip, just hanging out on a mound:

Thanks to the insane zoom on our Nikon point-and-shoot for this photo

They’re under the tree, I ain’t lion

We caught a tiny glimpse of the tail of a leopard in a tree, but I don’t feel like that really counts! They are notoriously hard to spot 😉

On our way out of the park

On our way to our campsite we saw more of those beautiful weirdos known as giraffes.

Hello?

Andy and I

We got to our campsite and just set up our tents just before darkness fell.

Oh just some buffalo sleeping nearby

As I was brushing my teeth next to my tent I saw these eyes light up in the beam of my torch and couldn’t work out who they belonged to. They were very far apart, so I knew the animal was too big to be a lion. Another pair of eyes appeared and it turned out they were two huge, lumbering buffalo. We fell asleep to the sound of hyenas.

The next morning we rose early, threw on our warmest clothes and sped towards the impending sunrise.

This is Africa

We caught it just in time and were then joined by a family of breakfasting elephants:

This guy was less than impressed we’d turned up uninvited:

He ran towards us (I wouldn’t say charged), trumpeting loudly and lifting his tusks. You can watch the video of it here.

Hippo

Baby monkey

Evil congress of birds cleaning up the savannah floor

We watched these hyenas for ages, trying to figure out what meat they were guarding. Eventually they lifted up what looked to be an elephant’s trunk.

Eventually it was time to leave. On our way back to the gate Sarah spotted a lioness stalking some Thomson’s gazelle.

Waiting

Unfortunately they got wind of her presence and sped off. We kept watching which is lucky because what happened next was delightful. She went to pick up the kids! Presumably in the spot she left them while she tried to organise dinner. The four of them then walked right past our Land Cruiser.

They pushed their way through the thick scrub and were directly below us before heading off down the road…

That face!

It was absolutely the highlight of the day.

And we have Sarah to thank!

So gorgeous

They were the tiniest cubs we saw on our whole trip and it was, like all of safari, a completely chance encounter.

 

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Safari day 1: Tarangire National Park

I wouldn’t say I dreamt of going on safari but I always hoped and expected I would one day. It exceeded my expectations in every possible way. There is nothing better than seeing such an amazing array of creatures doing their thing in the wild. Because they actually do things, a opposed to lazing around, bored and unstimulated in a zoo enclosure. They hunt, mate, eat, look after their young, yawn, preen, take in their surroundings and impress Jeep-loads of tourists ogling them.

We did a three-day safari in Tanzania through the Maisha Arts Hostel. Depending on your budget there are many safari options in Tanzania, ranging from a camping safari (like we did) to staying at the Four Seasons for $US1000 per person per night and taking a small private plane from national park to national park. Fancy! Our safari, which was actually four days(?!) turned out to be about $US200 a day each including park fees and permits, meals, accommodation and a driver/guide. It was amazingly good value.

The safari started from Arusha, Tanzania. We got there via bus from Nairobi, Kenya. We spent the night at Maisha Arts before setting off the next morning with our guide Hans. Our first stop was Tarangire National Park.

The first animal we saw upon driving in!

It’s amazing how much the terrain changes as your drive around. It seems so dusty and barren but then all of a sudden there’s water.

We kept our eyes peeled for the big 5; lions, elephants, buffalo, rhinos and leopards (realistically knowing rhinoceroses and leopards are notoriously hard to see).

I was pretty excited to see giraffes too!

A female ostrich 

These were the first lions of the trip! We saw them from very far away and they were constantly mating, resting and then mating again about five minutes later. Such stamina.

On a rest break

Sarah, my sister

Wildebeest: the guys who killed Mufasa

Zebra crossing!

Love the Baobab trees!

It wasn’t long before we saw our first up-close lioness sighting; a mother-daughter duo on hunting practice.

The realities of safari!

So fierce

Love the spots!

They stalked and eventually chased some zebra but were unsuccessful.

Andy can be credited with spotting the first elephant of the trip, but watching this elephant family cool off in a stream was an absolute highlight.

the babies!

“Hey Dad! Dad! Daaaaaaad!”

A lilac breasted roller

Trunk cuddle ❤ can you see the second baby too?

Family portrait

After what felt like a minute, but was probably closer to an hour, we moved on. And found more beauties:

Taken on the GoPro, hence the distance and colour difference 

We were actually really close!

So wise 

Hey little one

Two of my favourites

At the end of the day we were sweaty, dusty and (Sarah) covered in tsetse fly bites, but so happy with the day and enchanted by the things we’d seen.

Us three

And it was only the beginning!

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African animals in Naivasha, Kenya

After Lamu our next stop in Kenya was Naivasha, a town next to a lake about two hours north west of Nairobi. Naivasha’s main industry is floriculture and they export flowers to countries all over the world. Our trusty driver Patrick drove us to our AirBnb, which was in a slightly weird location in the middle of nowhere between some flower farms. On the way there we spotted our first zebras of the trip!

Those white structures behind them are flower greenhouses

Not to be outdone by her earlier efforts, my sister booked the most amazing accommodation:

Lounge and dining room

Can I just remind you there were only three of us?!

Our bedrom

The only thing was we were miles off the main road without a car and Patrick le Swindler wanted to charge us a pretty penny for daily transport. But my sister, ever the problem solver, disappeared into her phone for a while and when she emerged she’d organised a hire car to be dropped off at our house for the cost of $US50 a day. Magic!

After what felt like many hours (probably only two) our car appeared in the driveway, it was one of those hilarious cube cars with a boot that wouldn’t open, super dark tint windows and an odd smell. Freedom!

Brainstorming the car issue

Our next task was to drive into town to get food. Sarah opted to stay at home so Andy and I set off, him behind the wheel, in search of a supermarket. Did I mention we were in the middle of nowhere?! Our house wasn’t even on Google Maps. So we drove, bumping along a gravel road, waving at kids playing by the roadside and promptly got lost. To add insult to injury, the Cube GPS started randomly yelling at us in Japanese, not helpful!

We decided to head back and luckily ran into the housekeeper, a lovely gentleman who offered to escort us to the shops. I felt like an idiot needing a chaperone, but we were so grateful we bought him lots of food. After our eventful afternoon we cooked dinner, had some drinks and played cards.

The next day we hired bikes and rode to Hell’s Gate National Park. There are no predators in the park so it’s perfectly safe to zip through on a bicycle.

Sarah and Andy

As our first experience seeing animals I was so excited and snapped away with my camera, even though they were really far away and the park’s haziness and pale shrubbery didn’t make for great photos. Having since done safari I kind of look back at these photos and laugh.

Zebras in the front, giraffes in the back

Giraffes and warthogs

Zebras and four giraffes

Pumbas!

A really bad photo of buffalo

Antelope

Oh hey

Babies!

Seeing giraffes run is the funniest and most awkward thing ever:

Nice rump!

At the end of the park we reached a hiking point, where you need to hire a guide. We didn’t know about this and didn’t have any cash, which was embarrassing. We organised to drop money off at the park gate later on and off we went into a gorge. It was pretty cool but not being a keen hiker I wasn’t thrilled with the surprise hike! What a brat.

After the hike we headed back through the park, stopping to eat our sandwiches on the side of the road.

First baboon sighting!

Why people shouldn’t bloody litter in national parks!

Terrifying

The afternoon is clearly baboon migration time in the park because suddenly there were hundreds of them walking around. It was quite freaky.

Not the friendliest looking dudes

We somehow got back to the house, the GPS still yelling instructions in Japanese, in time for an epic sunset:

In a tree near our balcony we spotted colobus monkeys in a tree:

Those black and white lumps are monkeys I swear

Byeeeeee

The next day was the worst of our entire East Africa trip. So dramatic I know! But I was not at all prepared for how tough hiking the rim of an old volcano known as Mt Longonot would be.

It started well:

And quickly went downhill as the hike ascended uphill. Let’s just say a year of driving to an office to sit down all day, followed by an hour at the gym a couple of times a week does nothing for one’s fitness. It was painful!

Just a 7km jaunt around the rim, having walked up there in the first place.

Don’t let my smile fool you

At the peak

The relief when we were finished was so overwhelming. We went to a rather fancy place to eat.

As patient as saints, these two

When we drove home we passed a giraffe hellbent on making its way into a flower farm for a feast. It stood at this gate for ages, with workers trapped inside trying to fend it off with a branch.

A very African reason for being late home from work!

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Lamu Island: part 2

On our second day in Lamu we took a traditional dhow boat trip to neighbouring Manda island. As a tourist, you are offered boat trips approximately every 2 minutes as you walk along the Lamu foreshore so eventually we cracked. The boat operators were pretty desperate given the huge lack of tourists because of the impending election.

Despite lots of competition we ended up with a pretty lacklustre crew, I seem to have bad luck with boat trips! We were overcharged at the end of the trip and had to wait around at the start of the day for them to be ready, standard stuff. It was still a fun day though and it was pretty magical to be sailing between small Kenyan islands.

Waiting on the foreshore for our crew to (finally) be ready to go

Sarah and Andy on the dhow

Andy

It was pretty impressive watching the guys sail the dhow. Keeping it evenly weighted was quite the balancing act. LOL.

This guy keeping the weight even

We zigzagged along the water between the two islands, passing Shela beach along the way.

Shela

Shela

We reached Manda and headed for the sand to relax nearby empty mansions.

Andy and I

Some of the large homes seemed to have housekeepers, others appeared abandoned. It was kind of eerie. Or maybe I think it’s eerie now I know that in 2011 a French woman was abducted from Manda beach by Somali pirates

We ate a lunch of fish and rice on the boat, which was surprisingly good.

Manda Island

Eventually the wind and sand’s exfoliating effect got a bit old, so we headed back to hang out at our amazing AirBnb.

Looking down into our private courtyard

Looking into the main courtyard

Chilling in the lounge room

Coconut by the pool

Another evening of cards and fresh seafood.

Shufflin’

I went for the lobsters and chapati, it was delicious.

The following morning I joined Sarah for sunrise on the balcony.

We are extremely close as sisters but haven’t lived in the same place for about a decade now, so time together is sacred and very special.

For our last morning we checked out the Lamu museum, which had a lot of information about Swahili architecture, furniture and crafts.

We had the museum to ourselves. The building itself had great views down onto the streets below.

The main square

We explored inside the old fort in the main square.

Always stay curious

The fort had even better views!

Donkeys ❤

Inside the market

We decided to take a motor boat to Shela for a swim and to have Peponi’s ice cream one more time.

The most amazing sand dunes sit so close to the water.

Andy walked up one and took this sneaky paparazzi photo:

The ice cream was as tantalisingly good as the day before:

After getting our fix we got a boat back to Lamu Old Town ahead of our boat to the airport and then flight to Nairobi. For what would be the first of many times on our trip, Sarah and I were dressed hilariously alike:

Proving geography has absolutely nothing on our sisterly closeness!

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The new way I pack for travelling

On a rooftop in Lamu, Kenya

Black jeans, black & white striped t shirts and converse trainers. This was pretty much the uniform for my last big trip. I had obsessed so much over packing a monotone wardrobe so everything went together that I completely forgot about that thing called ‘colour’. Then somewhere on the road between Montana and new Mexico, I realised that dressing exclusively in dreary tones was doing nothing for my mood, let alone my travel snaps.

For my recent East Africa trip, I packed a bright red patterned Mister Zimi dress. I love the colours and I love how good wearing something fun makes you feel.  I still packed lots of monochrome, which I tried to balance out with bright lipstick and earrings, but they mostly stayed in my bag due to laziness. When I did make an effort to wear something bright and cheerful, my mood instantly matched.

My new packing tip? Take only clothes you love wearing.

How do you pack for your holidays?

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Lamu Island: part 1

My sister booked our entire East Africa trip. I want to get it out there early that I can take exactly zero credit for the great time we had! Andy and I literally just turned up and enjoyed the heck out of our five week vacation. So while I had an idea of what the safari and some of our destinations might be like, many places were a complete surprise.

The first big surprise was the island of Lamu in Kenya. Lamu Old Town is one of the oldest Swahili settlements in East Africa. The old port there was founded by Arab traders around the 14th century and so the place looks like something out of Aladdin.

We stayed in the most incredible AirBnb. It was all white washed walls, ornately carved wooden doors, heavy carpets (the non magical kind), traditional Swahili furniture and lush plants. To get there we had to wind through tiny alleyways, passing donkeys, women selling fruit, cats and kids playing in tiny courtyards. I don’t think I’ve ever been so enchanted by a place and I’m frustrated the photos don’t seem to do it justice.

Looking up from the courtyard in our AirBnb

The view from our bed into the room

The sitting room at our AirBnb

Breakfast

My sister Sarah and Andy at breakfast

The view from the roof

Sarah in the balcony area off our room

Sarah and I

The weather wasn’t great on our first day but that meant it wasn’t too hot as we set out to explore the alleyways.

Because we were there in the lead-up to the Kenyan election we were some of the very few tourists on the island. Elections and their associated protests can be an unstable time to visit.

The market place

We stayed in the Old Town but the main spot for tourists is Shela, so we rebuffed the thousands of boat ride offers and walked there along the foreshore.

Stopping to pose with bougainvillaea along the way

At one point we passed a group of women and children, one of the women proffered her young son and said “he’s for sale!” before bursting into hysterics as he screamed in terror as if the slave trade is still alive in Lamu. It was so funny! Travelling in a place where people speak English makes such a difference because of the availability of those tiny interactions; you can share a joke or chat about anything from the weather to politics and instantly feel more connected to those around you.

I loved all the doors

Shela was definitely fancier and cleaner, with many more accommodation options than the Old Town. We explored for a bit and then took a dip.

Shela beach

We got a tiny bit of blue sky and managed to run into a hotel restaurant before the rain came. The hotel happened to be the well known establishment of Peponi’s.

Amazing juice

There was alcohol on the menu but we didn’t actually drink on Lamu at all. It’s a Muslim island and none of the restaurants in the Old Town served it. Instead we had delicious and dirt cheap tropical juices every day.

Salad, dip and samosas

The ice cream was next level amazing.

We walked back, detouring inland at one point because the tide was in.

Shela

Photo bombed by a donkey

That night we played cards and feasted on fresh seafood on the waterfront. More to come…

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Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi was the first stop on our five week East African adventure. We flew with Qatar Airways from Melbourne to Doha and then Doha to Nairobi. Before leaving I had researched whether or not you can obtain the East African visa (for Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) on arrival and couldn’t find any reliable information. So I’d like to state that at September 16, 2017 you CAN get the EAC visa on arrival! It costs $US100 and you need cash. Just in case you ever need that information!

After getting our visas we purchased pre paid SIM cards at the airport, ordered an Uber and drove through reasonable traffic to Beth and Grant’s apartment in Westlands. Beth and Grant are friend’s of my sister’s. My sister lives in Rwanda and has many lovely (conventiently located!) mates across East Africa. After over 24 hours of travel it was lovely to arrive in their beautiful apartment, shower, be fed delicious risotto and hop into bed!

The next morning Beth and Grant were delivering a huge bundle of bread donated from a fancy bakery to a facility for homeless boys, so we joined them. A lot of the boys left home and came to Nairobi looking for work or to be less of a burden on their families. They were all very sweet and introduced themselves in between lining up for loaves of artisanal sourdough and french pastries. One kid did an adorable happy dance after receiving a chocolate eclair. They welcomed us into their dormitory which was an eye opening and important experience. It was very rough but I was glad these guys had a place to sleep. After hanging out for a bit and patting cute stray puppies we left.

After having a very grounding, check-your-privilege kind of experience it was a bit jarring to head straight to a tourist hot spot. But off we went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where young, sick, injured and orphaned elephants are looked after and rehabilitated. It was pretty damn cute!


After watching the elephants feeding and frolicking around in the mud we headed to the Giraffe Centre, which is a similar conservation facility.

At the Giraffe Centre you can feed the giraffes small pellets, which they lick out of your hands with their weird long grey tongues. Some people hold the pellet between their lips and let the giraffe lick it out of their mouth… I was not tempted to try it!

Giraffes are truly the weirdest, prettiest animals. They have gorgeous long lashes and adorable faces but move so strangely, I can’t quite figure them out. Their necks are really strong and if you stood next to them for a photo they might try and headbutt you.

The following day we walked to a fancy brunch place called Le Grenier A Pain but unfortunately the altitude got the better of me and I was sick. So we walked home.

After I recovered we walked back to the apartment, grabbing some fruit from a street stand on the way. That night my sister Sarah arrived from Europe! We went out for Indian with Beth at a place called Chow Patty. It was the best Indian I’ve ever had, a definitely must if you’re going to Nairobi.

Equality + curry = two of my favourite things

The following day we escorted my sister on a thrilling trip to the Australian High Commission. We weren’t allowed inside while Sarah got some documents for her wedding (!!!) so we hung around outside and I chatted to Charles, a heavily armed guard and former Masai man.

Waiting for Sarah outside the Australian High Commission

First photo of my sister and I for the trip!

That afternoon we flew to our first destination, the island of Lamu, our adventure just beginning…

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Packing for my holiday

I’ve got sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a rain coat, a swimsuit, and a Panama hat that will inevitably end up squished. I’ve got leg coverings in all forms including long leggings, short leggings, shorts, culottes and trousers. I’ve got white tops and I’ve got black tops. Do I need two kinds of runners and hiking boots? Do I need more dresses? Is six pairs of novelty oversized earrings too many?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself all week as I pack for my East African adventure. We fly out on Friday! How do you decide what to pack for vacations?

Check out my 8 essential items for long term travel and 10 tips for looking good while travelling.

Illustration by Mari Andrew

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A drive from Melbourne: Mount Buffalo

Back in 2015, before our Big Trip, I remember feeling extremely burdened by the familiar. I drove down the same streets to the same office every day. I knew where all my usual groceries sat in the store and would traipse almost the exact same path, weaving through the aisles, to buy them as I did the time before and the time before that. I really longed for newness and to refresh my eyes with an unfamiliar scene, even something as mundane as a new place to buy bread.

Part of the problem was I lived somewhere pretty small and it was hard to drastically change things up. Now that I live in a big city, I can explore new neighbourhoods and shops, but it’s easy to fall back into a routine that eventually becomes stale.

I think it’s important to keep exploring the unfamiliar, even if it’s inconvenient. An easy way to do this is a weekend drive. Not long ago Andy and I spent a couple of hours exploring Mount Buffalo in Victoria, about 3.5 hours from Melbourne.

It was beautiful and cold and the mountain air felt so cleansing to breathe in.

We pulled the car over and wandered up a snowy path.

Then we drove up to the lookout, where I had the strangest sense of deja vu.

Australia’s version of the hotel from The Shining

It wasn’t until seeing the creepy old lodge that I realised I’d been there before. My quest for the new had led me back to somewhere I’d been when I was 16, on a trip with my then boyfriend’s family. So much has changed since then, and as I reflected on this I thought maybe revisiting the familiar is not such a bad thing! Like when people go back and knock on the door of a house they once lived in, asking to be shown around. Have you ever done that?

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Friday Fun

TGIF my friends. SO glad it’s the weekend. Especially since I no longer work from 5:30am on Saturdays! Absolutely life changing. What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m going to prepare for our East Africa trip which is just two weeks away, go to a housewarming party and make dad breakfast for Father’s Day.

Here are some fun links for your Friday:

Someone has started a hilarious Tumblr called That Blue Off-The-Shoulder Dress from Zara (yes, that one I’m wearing in the photo above!). It documents the many, many times you see women getting around in the dress. The captions are on point.

Taylor Swift’s new tune has been out for a week now and I already know all the words. Have you seen the video? I’ve read so many articles on all the hidden meanings within it from the name written on the tombstone to the single dollar bill in the bathtub. Here are 13 things you might have missed

I am so intrigued and tempted by the simplicity of Tiny Houses. We drove right near this amazing one in California on our USA road trip.

I found a new blog through this post ‘Things That Helped‘ (when the writers’ father passed away) and I’m hooked, I plan to binge read it this weekend.

This list has me drooling.

Listening to this will instantly cheer you up (I was driving to work and suddenly burst into happy tears at THE moment).

Speaking of being cheered up, sometimes there’s just nothing you can physically do and that’s OK… Some VIPs in my life are going through a hard time right now and I want to let them know I’m thinking of them xx

Have a great weekend.

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