A bit about me
I’ve always been obsessed with wildlife (namely giraffes), but thought that a safari to Africa would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’d have to wait until much later in life for. However, in 2014 the chance to live in Tanzania came up and I grabbed it with both hands. Taking advantage of weekends, annual leave and every possible opportunity to explore the country, I was immediately hooked.
It really is one of the most beautiful and diverse places on Earth and I still go back whenever I can. I managed to fit in extensive trips to South Africa, Kenya and Zambia and, since returning to the UK and joining the travel industry, I’ve been lucky enough to have spent time in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well.
My favourite place
Up until last year I would have said southern Tanzania, no question. I did my first ever safari in the Selous and I’ve never really gotten over it! Waking up to the sound of hippos grunting in the water below, fishing on the Rufiji River and watching giraffes come down to drink at sunset whilst relaxing on a boat with a beer in hand – it really doesn’t get much better.
The reserve is just beautiful and combines so wonderfully with stunning Ruaha National Park, where there is less variety of activities but the density of wildlife is much higher and the big cat sightings are incredible. Far more remote and with far fewer vehicles around than in better-known northern Tanzania, for me there is just no beating it…. or so I thought!
Last year I was lucky enough to spend some more time in Zambia and the Lower Zambezi National Park is now a serious contender for my number one spot. Canoeing down the Zambezi River was one of the most peaceful experiences of all time and when you follow that up with a beautiful sunset and a close-range leopard kill, I was definitely starting to feel my loyalty to Tanzania waver…
My favourite hotel
I can’t pick just one, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to one city hotel, one safari lodge and one beach destination. Unsurprisingly, given my obsession with giraffes, my first choice has to be Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya. The hotel itself is incredibly charming and the food is delicious but, let’s face it, that’s not what I was there for! I didn’t sleep a wink the night we arrived, knowing that at sunrise they would be hungrily venturing towards the window of our bedroom and I would get my closest encounter to date.
My favourite spot in the bush has to be Ikuka Safari Camp in Ruaha National Park. Recently opened and owner-run, these guys have found the perfect location to build a simple but beautiful lodge. Cooling off in the infinity pool with breath-taking views of the landscape below is the ideal way to spend an afternoon. And finally, for that post safari relaxation, I can’t think of anywhere better than Kaya Mawa on the shores of Lake Malawi. Beautifully styled, wholly embedded in the local community and with a seriously wonderful chef, I have never felt quite so relaxed and have rarely felt quite so sad to have to leave somewhere.
My most memorable experience
The beauty of travel to Africa is that every time you go you have new experiences that stick with you forever. My most memorable to date has to be trekking the chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park, western Tanzania. Drenched from a seven-hour boat ride across Lake Tanganyika, as we grew closer I couldn’t have cared less about my soggy belongings! A secluded beach, flanked by thick forest and with a stunning mountain backdrop, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Camping on the beach that night, we felt like the only people on Earth and tucking into a fish dinner (caught from the lake earlier that evening) I couldn’t wait for the adventure to come. We were told that the chimps had “gone to bed” not too far from where we were and it was only after a short trek into the forest the following morning that we stumbled across them playing in the trees. They are more human than I ever could have imagined and I think my heart stopped altogether when one brushed right past me, for a second looking like he might reach out and hold my hand!
My top tips
• Buy a pair of decent binoculars! I got treated to a pair last Christmas and they have genuinely revolutionised my safari experience.
• Take your camera but don’t take too many photos. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in getting that perfect shot that you completely forget to just sit back and enjoy the moment.
• Keep a diary. This is something that I would never do at home, but it’s so great to be able to look back and remember all the different animals that you saw and all the new things that you learnt during your trip.
• Ladies, take a sports bra – those dirt roads can be incredibly bumpy!
• Move away from the beaten track. Places like Katavi in western Tanzania claim to receive less visitors in a year than the Serengeti gets in a day. Imagine having all of that wilderness to yourself.
• Never underestimate how cold it can get in Africa. People laughed at me for taking my woolly hat and gloves to Zimbabwe last August but I couldn’t have been more grateful for them. Those early mornings can be bitter and you don’t want to compromise your experience by being unprepared.