African Travel Bucketlist - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 
Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-18.jpg
 
 

Contributor:
Christine

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @liveloveruntravel
Facebook: Live Love Run Travel
Website: www.liveloveruntravel.com

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Adventure
Running!
Budget but also splurge
Backpacking in hotels

 

Destination: Nogorongoro Crater, Tanzania

We first heard about Ngorongoro Crater while doing some work around the house with the Travel Channel on in the background. We both stopped to watch because we both knew we wanted to do an African Safari one day. At the time, we were newlyweds who had only been on our honeymoon and a few ski trips with our college friends together. We were planning to travel, but Africa seemed like it would be one of those trips that waited for after retirement.

However, we started to get serious about planning a trip there when we saw some safari trips come up on Groupon. A few were for South Africa and a few were for Kenya. We knew we wanted to go to Kenya if we were going to visit Africa to see some friends living in Nairobi. We started looking into the trip and ended up booking a three week trip to Africa within two years of first hearing about Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was a must for our trip.

Image 1 & 2: Driving through Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater

What makes Ngorongoro Crater so special? It is the world's largest crater that is intact, inactive and unfilled. The walls of the crater make it more like a zoo as there is less migration here than in the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara. That means that there is no "bad" time to visit. The animals are there all year. There are some animals that do migrate in and out of the crater, but the majority live there for life.

The crater is also uninhabited by humans. The Maasai are allowed to bring their herds in to graze, but they must enter and exit daily. The same is true of tourists. You are allowed to enter in the morning for your safari and stay for the day, but all of the lodging is outside of the crater. There are no restaurants (you bring your own food) and limited bathroom facilities (which are sometimes overrun by animals!).

Before we could enter the Conservancy Area, we had to wait while our guide paid all of our entrance fees. There was plenty of entertainment in the parking lot with lots of baboons of varying sizes. We watched them chase down people who were standing outside their vehicles to snack, fight each other playfully, and try to scratch the letters off of vehicles. We even watched one fall out of a tree when the branch he was swinging on broke. He was okay other than what appeared to be bruised pride.

 
   
  
    
  
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  This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

This little baboon was picking fights and trying to pick the letters off of a safari vehicle

 

When we first arrived at the crater, our driver, David, stopped at a viewpoint along one of the crater walls. You could look out over the entire crater. We had seen this view from the Travel Channel show, but we did not expect to see it in real life. You could see some of the herds through my zoom lens even from the top of the crater.

From there, we headed to our lodging at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. The dining area and lounge area had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the crater. Our room had a balcony that also overlooked the crater. At night, there were talented performers to entertain guests. Entertainment included music, dancing, and impressive stunts!

A stay at Ngorongoro Crater will require two nights lodging if you want to spend a full day in the crater. You will need to spend more nights if you want to spend more time in the crater. It is a few hours drive to get from anywhere to the crater, and you will want to maximize your time in the crater. After a certain time, the entrance road becomes another exit to ensure everyone makes it out of the crater before nightfall, so arriving in the afternoon means you cannot enter that day. We did a morning game drive in Lake Manyara before heading to Ngorongoro Crater and did not arrive until late afternoon, so we had to wait until the next day for our game drive in the crater.

   
  
    
  
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  Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

Our first view of the crater. Our room had a similar view

The next morning, David, our private guide and driver for our time in Tanzania, met us with boxed breakfasts and lunches before the sunrise. He gave us an option on if we wanted to start early with boxed breakfasts we could eat in the vehicle or if we wanted to wait for breakfast at the lodge. We wanted to get into the crater and start our game drive as early as possible. One thing we did not count on was for it to be cold in the crater. It gets chilly in the crater in the early morning!

Despite staying right at the top of the crater, our drive into the crater still took a little while. The road curves back and forth down the crater wall, and you are in a line of other early risers trying to get into the crater as early as possible. Once you are at the crater floor, all of the vehicles, some private like ours and others hotel owned, scatter, so you feel like you have the entire crater to yourself.

Sunrise in Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater was our last stop on our safari, and we had yet to see any fully grown male lions with the full mane. As we entered the crater, we immediately spotted three adult males and an adult female. David informed us that the three males are brothers who rule one of the prides living in the crater.

Male lions who are brothers, usually born in the same litter or another mother's litter near the same time, will rule together for life. They will take over a pride together and will lead together. They will kill off any other males who try to overthrow them. Because there are three of them, they have ruled this pride for a long time due to strength in numbers and a low number of outside lions migrating into the crater. In fact, there are only 62 lions total in the crater thanks to several diseases decreasing their numbers in the last century.

 
   
  
    
  
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  The first three adult males we saw in the crater

The first three adult males we saw in the crater

 

After watching the lions for a while, we continued our journey throughout the crater, rarely seeing other safari vehicles. Because we had the vehicle and guide to ourselves, we were able to focus on the animals that we wanted to see. If we were enjoying watching something, we could stay as long as we wanted. If we just wanted a picture and then to move on, we could do that as well (we quickly learned that we aren't bird people!).

Throughout the day, we saw a variety of animals. Zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles are common in Ngorongoro Crater. We found several jackals, and I wanted to bring them home. We saw a few ostriches, some elephants, hyenas, warthogs, cape buffaloes and several more lions. Hippos joined us at our picnic lunch near their watering hole. We even found one of only nine cheetahs living in the crater.

Christine Wheeler - Ngorongoro Safari-28.jpg

Our favorite memories include watching several lionesses hunt and watching a full stampede due to a male lion. As we were driving along, I spotted a lioness laying in the tall grass. We stopped to watch her and were the only vehicle around. She was watching a group of zebras coming into the area. She stayed crouched among the tall grasses to stay hidden. David explained to us that lions also have to watch the wind direction when hunting. If the wind blows their scent towards the prey, the prey will know they are there and leave the area. The lioness ended up not attacking the zebras since they stayed in an area without enough tall grass around them. They eventually caught her scent, alerted each other with a panicked sound, and left the area.

After they left, we continued watching the lioness and a jackal who was in the area. The jackal knew she was there, but he did not know exactly where she was hiding. He was panicked. When she finally sat up, he saw her and ran past, keeping his eye on her the whole time. After he left, a second lioness popped her head up above the grass on the other side of the path. Until that time, we had no idea she was even there!

The stampede was another impressive sight. We suddenly saw a large group of zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles running in the same direction. We came to a stop to watch. I spotted a few hyenas among them and immediately assumed the hyenas caused it like in The Lion King. Our guide told us they didn't because the hyenas were also running away.

As we kept sitting there and watching, we finally spotted the cause of the stampede. A male lion was walking up in the distance. We could barely see him at first, but he walked straight towards us. An adult male lion typically will not hunt. They are too big and weigh too much to be able to run down most of the animals. They are also too lazy, spending up to 20 hours a day sleeping. The females are typically the hunters. However, just him walking into the area was enough to scatter hundreds of animals. The only ones who stayed even remotely nearby were some Thompson's gazelles because they knew they could outrun him. All he did was walk over near us, lay down, and roll around in the grass before falling back asleep. Seeing the respect the other animals had for him was amazing.

 
The stampede

The stampede

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

The lion who caused the stampede with some brave zebras

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

The lion who caused the stampede in Ngorongoro Crater

 
 
   
  
    
  
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  He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

He doesn't look so intimidating rolling around like our dog

 

As nightfall came, we headed back to our lodging before returning to Nairobi the next morning.

Ngorongoro Crater was a highlight of our safari, and we highly recommend it to anyone planning an African safari. Even if you are not planning a trip now, it's a great location to add to your bucketlist!


San Francisco, USA - Making the most of a work trip!

 
 

Work trips provide an amazing opportunity to explore new places. Check out what Cat and Al of Flat World Media, got up to on a 5 day trip to San Francisco!

 

Contributor:
Cat & Al

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Web: www.travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
 

Travel Style:
Adventure
Couple

 

Destination: July 10-15 San Francisco

Inspiration:

We had a business trip for our commercial side, Flat World Media Productions. We had 2 days of shooting scheduled with our client but had evenings open. The shoot was also on my birthday so we thought we may as well add on a couple of days for ourselves so we could explore more. It had been years since I had been to SF and Al had never been. so we thought- what a great idea to combine business and pleasure!! SF is such a beautiful city and the temperatures were going to be a lot cooler than an East Coast City in the Summer. (Actually it was even chillier than we had expected so I bought a scarf!!) 
We wanted to explore the different tourist areas as well as get off the beaten path. And we Knew we had to spend time hiking in Muir Woods and walking through the quaint town of Sausalito

 
IMG_20170712_175907_282 (1).jpg
 

Getting There:

We had our flights covered by our client so we had no added expense there. And we made sure to fly with American so we could also earn points!! Once there we rented a car. We only did that because we had filming equipment and shoots all over the city. But honestly it is so easy to take the Bart from the airport and the subway system there is great. And if you need a an Uber driver- make sure to check out @colorfulrides on IG! Met him along the way and his IG is Fantastic!! Just make sure to pack Very comfortable shoes- those hills are No joke!!

Local Knowledge:

There are so many things that are unique about San Francisco. Being a West Coast city it is such a different vibe than Philadelphia or New York. The people are in less of a hurry, a laid-back chill vibe. There are so many different neighborhoods to just sit back and people watch, and there is something for everyone. We asked some locals at the shoot we were doing for some tips of where to go and places to eat. Most of the sights were on the Scenic  49 Mile Drive. Honestly this is a great place to start to map out the sights you want to see. It was nice to ask locals what they thought of certain places like Lands End where we hiked to the point and then sat and watch a group of 6 whales playing in the bay waters for over 30 minutes.

Where To Stay:

since it was a business trip 3 night of our 5 night stay was covered. We searched a ton of hotels and Airbnb's.  We narrowed our search to include free parking since we would have a rental car. Not paying for parking can save you some serious cash! We also wanted an outdoor balcony so we could sit out at night and relax overlooking at least part of the city. 
We chose a place in Pacifica Heights in a restored gorgeous SF mansion. You know one of those colorful homes with a turret and all!! Pacifica Heights was a good district that was close to where our shoots were mostly taking place. And it didn't take us more than 20 minutes to drive to any part of the city we wanted to go.

 
IMG_20170711_113711_639 (2).jpg
 

What To Do:

We are great at doing a LOT in a little time! and WOW- we did a lot!! We really like exploring The Castro, Chinatown, Mission District, The Ferry Building and stopped through Fishermans Warf to get some homemade authentic SF sour dough bread to take home. We arent big into a lot of torusits places so we didnt spend much time there besides getting the bread and checking out the sea lions. We mostly enjoyed all the great nature at Lands End and the Presido. We also had a blast renting those crazy pedel bikes in Golden Gate Park and walked all around Stow Lake which was Gorgeous! We are big nature buffs so going to Muir Woods and walking amongst the Redwoods was certainly a highlight. And you can't beat the Amazing pancakes at the Light House Cafe in Salsulito when you are done. You want to get to Muir Woods early if you ahve a car beacause the parking lot fills up fast. We really wanted to go to Point Bonita Lighthouse but it was closed. It is only open Sat, Sun, Mon 12:30-3:30.

Eating:

We ate some great food. Some of the highlights were Flour + Water in the Mission (good but not really worth all the hype and 45 min. wait time). We LOVED La Mediterranee in Pacifica Heights. It was on the airbnb hosts recommended list. It was a small family owned place with great food, good prices, and super friendly owner. I also had a friend ride the ferry over to have lunch with us our last day at the Slanted Door at the Ferry Building. It was delicious (a little on the expensive side but worth it). One of our highlights was going to Beach Blanket Babylon in North Beach. After the show we really enjoyed dinner at small family owned Italian Restaurant called Firenze.

Must Do:

If you love whales make sure to spend time at Lands End and keep you eye on the water. You never know how many whales you may see. Hands down, Muir Woods. Have I mentioned how much we love nature! lol! But for a total SF experience you ave to go see Beach Blanket Babylon. This show is the world’s longest running musical revue and one of the most popular San Francisco attractions.  It is filled with song and dance centered on pop culture satire and changes with the times! We will certainly see this show again next time we visit SF!

Must See:

Well, everyone wants that perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately none of the 5 days we were there was it visible due to the fog. But the view from Coit tower gives you an Awesome 360 vantage point of the whole city.

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Bring comfy shoes and lots of layers!

5 Word Travel:

Steep
Friendly
Cosmopolitan
Lots of green space
stunning visitas

Excess Baggage:

if you want to go to Alcatraz, which i did many years ago and wanted to take Al- you have to order your tickets online WAYYY in advance. The 3 weeks notice we had for the trip was not enough time. We could have done a boat cruise around the island but all the tickets for the actual island  tour were sold out. Also another we didnt even know about, but next time we are Totally going to rent one of those cute little yellow cars and ride down the crocked street (Lombard).

San Francisco, USA - 48 Hours in SF

 
 
 

Contributor:
Yvette & Steve

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Instagram: @redlenslifestyle
Website: www.redlenslifestyle.com

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Adventure, Photography

 

Destination: San Francisco, USA. July 2016.

This beautiful City by the Bay is definitely an experience.  Like many other major cities, it’s divided by neighborhoods each with their own strong personality and characteristics.  We stayed in the Mission District and while it’s known to be “trendy” we actually found it to be more “hipsterish”.   With over priced coffee shops a plenty and various cuisine restaurants filling main street, you’re definitely in the heart of something.  After exploring the city a bit more, I think I would have preferred to stay in the Marina District and visit Mission, but none the less, it was fresh.  Two days is definitely not enough to explore the whole city but it’s a good start.

Where to Eat: You have to get dinner at Tadichs.  It’s actually the oldest restaurant in the country.  Primarily seafood but with steak options as well, this restaurant has a Peter Luger’s decor and feel.  Rustic wood trim and sectioned off areas give the place a historic feel.  Delarosa is a modern Italian Restaurant in the Marina District with great food and even better cocktails.  Continuing the Italian culture of family dining, the restaurant has long tables where guests take seats until the whole table is full.  The burrata bruschetta with honey and hazelnuts is to die for!  For a quick lunch head to the Mission District to Pica Pica.  This colorful Venezuelan joint is known for its Arepa sandwiches.  Grilled corn pockets are stuffed with your choice of meat, vegetables, and sauces; order at the counter, grab a number, and take a seat. Those buns are heaven and the Pulled Pork is to Die for.  But don’t die, just order seconds! Search Eatwith to see if someone is hosting at the time you’re there.  We had dinner with Chef Manville and loved it.  Bon Appetit!

What to Do: Take a walk in Muir Woods.  This boardwalk laid forest is beyond beautiful.  Trees touch the sky and chipmunks dance at your feet (That really happened!).  It’s actually unbelievable and maybe slightly romantic.  In the heart of the Mission District is the Secret Tiled Staircase.  This beautiful mosaic tiled staircase leads to a vantage point that overlooks the whole city.  To find it go to 1700 16th Avenue, 94122.  While you’re there, stroll down through Balmy Alley.  This block of art murals is so unique to the area.  When that’s all over and you need a good sweat, take a Hammer class at The Garage with some professional athletes.  This gym won’t disappoint.

Where to Stay: We found an awesome 1 bedroom Air BnB that we really loved.  Very Feng-shui, the open concept kitchen/living Room really made the space feel much larger than it actually it is.  With floor to ceiling windows and a balcony over looking the district, during the day the sun filled up the entire flat.  Next time though we’ll probably stay in the Marina District.  I think I liked that area more.

 
 

Turkey in a Campervan

 
 

Read about traveling the South-west coast of Turkey in a camper van - the must do's, the must see's, where to eat and where to stay!

 

Contributor:
Zoë Van mil

Nationality:
New Zealand

Social Links:
Instagram: @thebarefootkiwis
Website: thebarefootkiwis.com

Age Group:
 

Gender:
 

Travel Style:
Adventure & Nature, Coffee hunters.

 

Destination: South West Coast, Turkey. July 1 - 8 2017

Inspiration:

Why Turkey? It's unsettled. It's dangerous. It's overrated. There are better places to travel than to Turkey. 

Luckily we had my parents, and a fair few of our friends say otherwise, so off to Turkey we went. After riding in Hot air balloons in Cappadocia. We originally wanted to try Sail Turkey (it's meant to be just as amazing as Sail Croatia), however we had no friends who we keen to join us so we decided to campervan around the South - West Coast instead.

It was probably the best 'by chance' travel decision we have made to date! The only place on the map we had heard about was Bodrum from novels!

Getting There:

A quick 4 hour flight with Fly Dubai from DXB to Istanbul SAW and a connection the next morning to Keysari got us to Cappadocia for two days before we took at overnight bus (10 hours) to Antalya where we grabbed a taxi to meet Cargi from Lets Go Camper who we rented our campervan from. 

From there it was just us and the road for 8 days.

Local Knowledge:

Along the coast you'll find tiny villages with the old men drinking Turkish tea and playing backgammon. You'll also find massive resort towns that can seem touristy but worth staying in one or two to check out the culture and night life.

Bodrum is often talked about in novels and movies. Probably the most famous of the resort type towns along the coast. Worth visiting for sure!

Ephesus is an Ancient Greek city very close to the present day town of Selcuk. It holds the Library of Celsus and a massive amphitheater. The Temple of Artemis is also here.

Mark Antony and Cleopatra apparently frequented the coast. 

The Aegean Sea and some of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The stray cats and dogs are well looked after by local people and vets - pat them, they are friendly :)

Where To Stay:

Free camping in Beymelek, Demre (kus cenneti), Kaputas, Eckincik, Haydar Koyu. Free camping is safe and legal in Turkey - we loved it and would recommend doing this as you can stay out of a town and just be with nature!

Sarsala Koyu - we paid 12 lira and stayed two nights (no other people were camping here, it was stunning) 

Bodrum Eco Farm and Camping (30km out of Bodrum on the peninsula) we grabbed a local bus into the city centre. Great because we got free breakfast and dinner at no extra charge. 

Yat Camping in Kusadasi. In the middle of the town, would recommend only for a night.

What To Do:

Sarsala Koyu was by far our favourite 'hidden gem' place. We never would have gone here but asked Cargi from our campervan company of any awesome local hangouts and this is where he sent us! Such a sweet spot! 

Touristy - explore the Ephesus site and Bodrum night life, make sure you drink some Raki!

Eating:

Migros - these supermarkets were the cheapest and in most towns.

Sait restaurant opposite the Marina Yhact club in Bodrum. Probably the best fish we have had overseas! Their Melon and feta entre was also outstanding. Take it easy on the Raki though!

Bodrum Eco farm and Camping sorted us out with a traditional Turkish breakfast every morning. They also give you a free vegetarian dinner if you stay with them. They have a small Turkish front shop and their Kofte, made by Ahmad, was the best we had in Turkey.

Must Do:

Make the trip down to Sarsala Bay. It's worth it just for the adventure down the dodgy winding road! The Bay has beautiful views of Greek islands and Turkish Coast. The people are all mainly locals and the Life Guard there is your go to English speaking helper! There are numerous bays you can find if you clamber around the small rocky paths, you'll be all by yourself - bliss.

 
 

Must See:

Climb up one of the Turkish Coasts numerous hills for sunrise and take a shot looking over the bay, sea, islands and beyond!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Try to stay out of the main beach towns. Do as much free camping as you can. Talk to the locals, most of them have basic English. ALWAYS drink their tea if they offer. Say 'Sal' for thank you as their proper thank you is too hard to get right! Use your sense of a place to see if it's worth eating at, check to see if the locals are dinning there and you'll figure it out. Tourists are sought after as Turkish tourism has taken a big hit over the past 2 years. Only half of the tourists are coming than before. This is good for you, but the down fall is that everyone wants to sell you things, don't fall into the trap of buying unnecessary things because of it.

5 Word Travel:

Beaches, History, Relaxing, Locals, Sunrise

Excess Baggage:

We would recommend staying in the campervan longer, starting in Antayla and dropping it off in Istanbul. That way you can make your way further up the coast up to Izmir, Troy and Gallipoli before ending in the vibrant city. 

Lots of camping sites were cheap to stay in. Take turns at free camping (this is easily done) and plugging in your campervan!

 
 

New Zealand - Lord of the Rings, Hobbits & Camper Vans

 

Contributor   : Cat
Nationality    : USA
Social Links  : Web: www.flatworldonline.com
                          Instagram: @flatworldtravel
Age Group     : 30-40
Gender           : Female
Travel Style   : Adventure
Destination   : New Zealand, March-April 2017

 

Inspiration:

New Zealand has always been a dream for us. We fell in love with the landscape in Lord of the Rings (and so many other films and tv) and the Hobbit. As photographers and cinematographers  we knew we had to go there to film. When we got notice our air miles had to be used or would expire, we discovered we had enough saved to go to New Zealand. So we began planning!!

Getting There: 

We flew for over 24 hours. We went  Philadelphia to LAX to Bisbane to Christchurch! Once we arrived in the South Island, we picked up our camper Van. This is what we traveled in and stayed in for our two weeks

Local Knowledge:

There are so many things that are unique from our perspective as Americans in New Zealand. The first is you have to cross the international dateline. It is a 17 hour difference (16 after daylight savings). This is also cool when you look up at the stars and realize they are upside down from the view we are used to seeing them. Seeing the Milky Way so clearly and then Leo completely upside down was awesome.  It's also helpful to remember that they drive on the left side of the road .Really one of the most unique things about New Zealand is just how stunningly beautiful it ALL really is. There just is not a bad view in the whole country.

Where To Stay:

Since we had a camper van we stayed in a variety of holiday parks. And we loved them. you could also often rent rooms, bunks, and cabins as well)They are much nicer than the ones here in the US. Our favorite thing about them was that they had community kitchens. This allows you to go to the grocery store and be able to cook your own meals without always having to do it in the camper. Also we found that people leave leftover items that they can no longer use especially in the towns where people fly out of. So there is a nice free box to help pick up supplies. Just remember to leave behind what you can't use as well. While we did score some salt-and-pepper and a great water bottle, we wish we had seen this before we went to the grocery store lol!
Here is the list of the holiday parks loved it the best and why.
- Camp Glentanner Park- This holiday park is based at Mount Cook.It is absolutely amazing. The view is fantastic. And there are rabbits everywhere. We even took a 15 minute (or so) walk down their path to the river to watch the sunset and then the sunrise the following morning.
- Queenstown Creeksyde 10-This camper park is so centrally located in Queenstown. It's just a five minute walk into the hub of the town, had a couple fantastic kitchens, clean bathrooms (with a jacuzzi bath), super helpful staff, and a dumping station. If you're planning to stay at several Top 10 Holiday Parks you might want to get their discount card. We got one and saved money on campsites as well as free (or extended)  Wi-Fi. There's a lot of places you can use the card as well for food and activities.
Lake Outlet Holiday Park (Wanaka)- This location was beautiful. It was quite large and set on a lake and offered some great views. The drawback about this holiday park was the kitchen was small, not very clean, and didn't have any extra amenities.
Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park-This was based right in the heart of the town. This made it very convenient. It also has fantastic kitchens and I was very excited to find ice lol!! One thing that made this spot extra special was we rented a hot tub with the the view of the lake as the sun was setting.
Rain Forest Retreat Holiday Park-This holiday Park located at Fox Glacier in Franz Joseph was probably one of our favorites. It was nestled in a rain forest environment and had a lot of privacy despite the fact that it seemed to have a full house. It had a fantastic community kitchen that even had free tea and coffee. And also it had dishes and pots and pans there to be used so we didn't have to drag everything from the camper. That small convenience was great! It was just around the corner from town so you could go to the grocery store as well. The showers were clean and there was a hot tub although it was too crowded with young backpackers for us to enjoy. We also used this spot to do laundry as well.
Lake Nelson at Rotaiti Lake- This was the one DOC (Department of Conservation) site that we stayed in. It was Located at a lake surrounded by beautiful forest. We were able to do a fantastic hike in the morning. It didn't have electric hookups but it did have a community kitchen although we didn't use it.
Camp Takapuna-The Promenade, Takapuna, Aukland-For our last night in the camper van we wanted to stay in Auckland but not in the heart of a too busy  an area. So we stayed here. It was a wonderful location. The promenade had all kinds of restaurants to choose from and we had a fantastic dinner that night. While this holiday park is a little older and pretty basic it had a fantastic view of the lake. and you could rent old campers to stay in. The kitchen and bath area were pretty rundown and not nice as most of the other holiday parks we stayed at.

What To Do:

What you do in New Zealand all depends on how long you can stay and what you want to see. We had a limited time and so hit the ground running (and did more than most do in 2 weeks). We knew what we wanted to explore nature and do several hikes but we also knew we didn't want to do all day or overnight treks. We mostly went for beautiful scenery for photos and video. We also love the the Lord of the Rings and you could say our time pretty much centered around that. We actually did a LOTR Tour as well went to Hobbiton. There are hidden gems just every where (especially the South Island where we spent most of our time).
We were always open to just pulling over at some Park area we saw or were told about to hike around for a while. We came across rain forest, beautiful views of the glaciers, and waterfalls.

Eating:

We didn't do much eating out. We found the food to be much more expensive than we had planned. We also knew we would most of our meals at the holiday parks. We did have a couple meals worth mentioning however. In Queenstown we had a fantastic dinner at Finz.The highlight was awesome and silver trumpet fish and chips. And of course Al had to have a Ferburger. I don't eat meat and don't like veggie burgers so passed on that one. We had been told to check out Francesca's in Wanaka and it didn't disappoint. It was nice to sit down and have a relaxing meal and glass of wine. Even though this was more the off-season we were definitely glad we had a reservation as we watched many people turned away. While in Austin we had 2 fantastic meals.For lunch we had the freshest fish and chips at the wharf.It had just been caught that day and was delicious and affordable. ($20 for 2 and sodas vs $55 in a cage in Hokitika. And for dinner we had when the best meals we've ever had anywhere at Tok Tok At the Promenade. But the food that stands out the most and what we have missed most are the Awesome MSG free barbecue kettle chips and of course Tim Tam cookies. lol!!

Must Do:

There just isn't ONE favorite one thing to do in New Zealand. Instead here are a few highlights.
-Mount Cook-It is worth doing the stargazing tour. This area is an international dark sky reserve and we've never seen so many stars in our whole life. Also we definitely recommend doing the 3 hour Hooker Valley Trek around the Tasman Glacier
-Queenstown-Definitely take the gondola to the top and do the luge ride. It is so fun!
-And Milford Sound- take a boat tour- it is gorgeous. And if you're able to do a super splurge we can't recommend the helicopter ride that lands on the glacier enough. Absolutely stunning. We did a small group tour out of Te Anau with Trips n' Trams and it was fantastic. It is definitely worth not having to do all the driving yourself and just sit back and have a tour guide. We also learned so much about the area this way.
-Lake Matheson- Is a must see for all photographers who love great reflections! and the hike through the rainforest around it spectacular.
-Waitomo Glow Worm Caves- We did the Spellbound Glow Worms Photo Tour and recommend it for any photographer who wants to get great photos of the glow worms. The owner of the company does this tour himself and we can't recommend enough
-Hobbiton Movie Set Tour-You don't have to be a big fan of The Hobbit to enjoy this great attraction. But if you are, it is a must. It was such a beautiful setting and it is just like being in the Shire. Not to mention we finished the tour drinking ginger beer in the Green Dragon Inn!!

Must See:

Seriously you cannot take just one picture .Even if you aren't professional photographers like we are. I took over 500 photos " On my real camera-Nikon D810) and hundreds more on my phone!!

5 Word Travel:

Breathtaking
Friendly
Wanderlust
Green
Sheep

TravelTip:

I think the number one travel tip is to know things are more expensive than you think they are going to be. It costs a lot more for food and supplies than we thought. We were prepared for gas to be more. And beware of the extra "Diesel Tax". This was a tax that cost us over $160 dollars to use diesel for the van-which was a MUST. It has to do with how many miles you go. But don't be cought off guard by it like we were!!

Excess Baggage:

We were bummed we didn't get to go to Abel Tasman National Park. We honestly didn't know in the planning how beautiful it was. We did a lot of research and used Lonely Planet and it had the worst picture, Not inspiring at all. And nothing like what we later saw in pictures from talking to people we met along the way. Oh well…Next time!


Chamonix, France - Snow and Bikes

 

Contributor : Ryan
Nationality  : South African
Instagram    : ryanscott.33
Age Group   : 30-40
Gender         : Male
Trave Style   : Adventure, casual
Destination  : Chamonix, France

Chamonix, an impressive French valley, is best known as a bustling Alpine Ski Town visited in winter by a large number of people who make the journey to take advantage of the prolific snow falls and social après festivities. On the other side of winter though, there lies a season just as impressive in what it can offer those who have a taste for summer time mountain living.

In The Dark

Arriving in Chamonix at night set me up for one of the most impressive vistas to wake up to that I have ever experienced.  After a short bus ride from the Geneva airport in Switzerland, and a friendly late night check-in to the well priced accommodation at the International Ski School accommodation, I put my head down to make sure I was fresh to explore first thing the next morning.

First light is gallantly blocked by the many gigantic peaks surrounding the valley. It only manages to infiltrate some time after sunrise, but when it does, wow, the spectacle before you is one of power and awe!

It’s from an incredibly close proximity that the Mont Blanc Massif slopes rise directly from the Southern border of the town and sharply make their way skyward to separate the awe inspiring steep grey slopes, from the bright blue sky forming a canvas for those pristinely snow capped peaks that have lured of so many adventurers over the years.

It’s an exhilarating spectacle to stay in a town that feels so much a part of the mountain and to have such natural beauty so close by… with all this grandeur ready to adventure in, I went in search of ice-cream and beer.

UTMB Extravaganza

I was in town at the same time as the most prestigious trail running event of the global calendar, the famous Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. There are thousands of people in town. They’re here to run the race, or perhaps support a friend or family member who is taking on the challenge. The build up to the weekend’s race sees mountain lovers taking part in shorter iterations of the weekends 160km main-show, but even without the race, there are a huge number of people in the area who are there to experience one of the many mountain activities, or just enjoy the beauty of the bright, fresh, historically rich scenery which presents itself around every turn. With the big crowds though comes the challenge of knowing where best to hang out, fortunately my buddy Kane had been lapping up all Chamonix had to offer and was happy to meet for beers. His local spot, Elevation 1904.  We sucked back some beers to catch up, washed down with a burger and then hit the streets to take in some more local flavors, this time Gelato.

It was a great introduction to the town and it was only the next morning, that I noticed how many healthy looking older people were out and about, mixing it up with the younger lot.  Groups of three or four women in the 70’s were eagerly traipsing their booted legs towards a ski lift or mountain trail with definitive purpose, and a confident, experienced look to accompany the sparkle of adventure in their eyes. It has a lot to do with the ease of access to the mountain that keeps summer revelers coming back in their droves.

Glacial Lakes

My second morning and I decided I had better do something active so I grabbed some fresh fruit, cheese, and bread from a basic super market and headed upward, to the trails.

My first taste of taking on the challenge of the steep and unforgiving single track was as tough as I had imagined, but once through the tree line, with the vistas of the opposite mountain ranges opening up, and eventually, a skinny dip in a glacial lake at the top of my chosen route, and it became all too easy to see why Europeans of all ages keep coming back to what a travelling buddy calls, “the Disneyland of trail running”.

Town Hopping

I loved it in those mountains, but with so much action going on in the town for the UTMB races, and the lure of delicious cheese, heavy artisan breads, and the most glorious ice cream flavors to experiment with at least twice a day, it was as much of an adventure just cruising the streets of Chamonix and it’s neighbouring towns as it was up in the mountains.

Nearby Courmayeur is a charming neighbor to Charmonix. While investigating the twisting streets, I came across a postcard looking chapel. Skulking in for a closer inspection I realised there was a wedding taking place. I love how, in small towns in Europe, many of the residents come to pay their respects and satiate their curiosity at the wedding service.

Whispering old ladies were patiently sitting on the wall of this particular church, until the newly married couple exited via a huge heavy door that looked older than even the geriatric onlookers. The giddy shuffle from the chapel accompanied by bells to announced the joyous occasion, and I moved closer to the ornate piece of architecture to get a closer look at what freshly married French people look like, nobody even raised an eyebrow at my joining the gathering. I thought about moving along with the wedding party to sample some French wine, wedding cake, and perhaps a bridesmaid or two, but I had my own, far less matrimonial engagement to make, as I my buddy Ryan was coming over one of the peaks surrounding Courmayeur and I needed to get him a feed at the aid-station to help him onward in his 160km race.

The race is brutal and it didn’t go well for my buddy, instead of getting too low though, he just vows to come back and do it all again. Ultra distance runners are nutters, and if you know one, I have no doubt you’ll agree.  

Enough Sporty Spice

With my eyeballs filled up to the brim with everything running, it was refreshing to get a message from new friends in Geneva (met Nic and Mel on my stay over en route to Chamonix and that’s another story – include hyperlink to Geneva piece) asking if I would please look up a pair of Parisian living American women who were in Chamonix for the weekend. A couple of brief whatsapps and I found myself walking into the coolest bar in town. In winter it’s the hot spot for Apres Ski vibe, but now it was not nearly as busy, still, it would be interesting trying to pick out my rendezvous deux amongst the rest of the patrons.

After just a handful of darting glances left and right, I was drawn instantly to the two making the far end of the bar counter look a whole lot livelier than the rest. About to happily make my way over to them, I was thrown a curveball after spotting another two women closer to my current path. Dilemma. I wanted to pick the correct two out right away and had not had enough time to social-media-stalk the two beauties. I decided to go deep and was received by two, choice confirming, huge smiles, which welcomed me in warmly for the rest of the night.

Their stories are entwined and fascinating. The one I reciprocated was probably pretty spicy too, I’m not sure what I delivered, but we all got each other, and, as is the case in travelling, a little more time would have been more than welcomed. Definitely not the last I’ve seen of Megan and Maggie though, you might get to see them too if their recent pitching of a series (about their lives and random experiences such as the one I was living out with them in that very moment) makes it to fruition.

How to get there: Lufthansa and Swiss International Airways fly direct to Frankfurt and Zurich respectively and from there it’s a scenic train ride to Chamonix. Or fly Via Duabi on Emirates to Geneva , followed by a short transfer to Chamonix .

Where to eat: Burgers and beers at Elevation 1904 was our staple every evening with friendly staff, fellow travelers, and prices. Gellato from the street vendors and side stalls was an imperative dessert.

Where to sleep: AirBnb is a great option to find a place to stay and has been adopted to great effect by houses, hostels and small hotels in Chamonix so there is a lot of stock available.

Local things to try: Climb the wall, eat a wedge of fresh Saturday morning market cheese, take aski-lift ride to the glacier and camp on the mountain is good weather.


The Palm Dubai, UAE - Sky Dive Dubai

 

Contributor    : Andrew
Nationality     : Australian
Instagram       @andrewmarty_
Age                 : 30-40
Gender           : Male
Travel Style    : Casual, luxury
Destination    : Sky Dive Dubai - The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai - United Arab Emirates.
Date               : February 14th 2014

 
 

Getting There

You will need to pre-book your skydive, especially in the busy months of the year (October to March). Fortunately in Dubai, where the weather is mostly pretty good, your chance of a successful booking is high. There can often be waits of 1-2 weeks, so it can be important to plan if you want a certain time or day.

They have a plane taking off every 30mins through the day.

SkyDive Dubai is at the base of the Palm Jumeirah, with the runway extending out into the water. This gives you the perfect location to skydive over one of the most iconic landmarks and one of the only ways you can really appreciate the "palm" shape of the reclaimed land.

The cost is AED1999.00 (USD730). This includes everything you need for the skydive as well as your video and images.

Local Knowledge

Dubai has a huge number of activities for tourists, from calm cultural experiences to adrenaline rush adventures! Whatever your preference you are sure to find something that suits.

In addition to the skydive over the Palm, there is the option with SkyDive Dubai to do training courses, tandem jumps and simulations at the Desert Campus. Licensed divers can take qualified persons on coached individual dives.

For the most part, you will be booking for a tandem dive, where a licensed instructor is strapped to you, or vice versa!

Where To Stay

SkyDive Dubai is relatively close to hotels on the Palm Jumeirah and also the JBR/Dubai Marina area. I would strongly recommend Fairmont The Palm if you are looking for a Palm hotel - it is especially good for families and has access to a private beach area. Otherwise Intercontinental Dubai Marina is also very nice and sits on the marina, with easy walking distance to mall, restaurants and The Walk promenade.

Another alternative is to look at serviced apartments such as Suhar apartments. This can be a much more affordable option and are in a great location. Buying food or eating out is easy in this area and will easily offset the cost of hotel food also.

What To Do

The operation at SkyDive Dubai is really professional. From the time you check in for your jump to the time you leave. 

There is a bit of a wait between when you are required to arrive, fill out paperwork (the standard health questionaire and liability forms). They take you through all the safety aspects of the jump with your instructor. Each jumper is assigned an instructor and a videographer - this is a great feature that most places don't offer. You will get a personalised video and photos that are taken by another professional jumper, rather than selfies taken by your tandem instructor.

The jump itself is a massive adrenaline rush. Watch the video link to get a great idea. I don't think anything describes the feeling better than the obvious anxiety in my voice and facial expressions pre-jump compared with the excitement post!

On the way up in the plane, they make sure they keep you really relaxed and the guys are great at making sure you're ready to go! There was time for my wife and I to "enjoy" the pre-jump nerves and share the moment we were about to have! I was really fortunate to have a great pair of guys as my instructor and videographer, they made conversation really easy and even during the dive, the interaction was awesome!

The feeling of "falling" out of an aeroplane is indescribable. Fear, excitement, unknown, trust.......its a completely overwhelming combination of emotions that i really cant describe. The freefall goes so fast you don't really have any time to look at anything and it was great to have a bit of fun with the videographer. Once the parachute opens, you have plenty of time to sit back and take in the views. The view over the palm, out to the Burj al Arab, the Marina area and all the way up to Downtown is breathtaking. You can easily see well beyond the city and into the uninhabited desert. It is truly the best way to view Dubai!

After the landing they ask you to wait around for just 10-15 minutes and then provide you with a copy of CD's that contain still images and a video of your jump. As you will see, the video is really well done and whilst I haven't skydived anywhere else, I haven't seen quality videos like this provided to friends who have jumped in other places around the world.

Eating

There is a small cafe at SkyDive Dubai where you can get food and drinks after your jump. There is also a bar associated with SkyDive Dubai - Zero Gravity, that is really popular for staff and jumpers. 

Not far from SkyDive Dubai is the Marina and The Walk which have a number of options for eating out. I can strongly suggest looking at Pier 7 on the Marina, which is a 7 story building, each having a different themed restaurant. A great option is Asia Asia and getting a table outside on the balcony for really great views over the Marina.

5 Word Travel:

SkyDive. Dubai. Adrenaline. Bucket list.


Africa - On an Enfield Motorbike

 

Contributor    : Luke
Nationality     : Australian
Instagram      @shotsfromthebar (www.shotsfromthebar.com)
Age Group     : 19-30 yo
Gender           : Male
Trave Style     : Leisure, Adventure
Destination    : Africa

 

Inspiration:
There was never a set destination in mind. I just booked a one way ticket to London, bought a motorbike when I got there, and then made the rest up as I went along...

I started in the UK, and then, running away from a European winter, I rode my bike down to Spain. When I ran out of Europe to ride the bike south to, I jumped across the Gibraltar Strait, and then, basically, moseyed on down to Cape Town, all down the West Coast of the entire continent. It's been one hell of a journey.

I just wanted to ride my bike. There was, however, a catalyst, an enabler, in the form of an Australian I met in a Barcelona hostel. He'd travelled all up the east coast of Africa and then into the middle east and then, finally, to Europe by hitchhiking. The stories this guy had...

Essentially, I adopted him, put him on the back of my motorbike, and we rode down to West Africa together. I wonder if I would have done Africa in quite the same way if he wasn't there to "show me the ropes..."

Getting There:
I could have only done it one of two ways: on my own two wheels, or hitchhiking. Doing with four wheels - four wheels that I own... - in Africa would be a nightmare. There are some roads that you just can't do on 4 wheels... If I was hitchhiking it would be fine, if the car breaks down or cant go any further you can always hitch on a motorbike! Of course, my preferred way is by motorbike, but you need to be prepared to put in an insane amount of time in the saddle...

Local Knowledge:
I had to learn French. It's either that or be very good at charades... Most of the countries down the west coast speak French (a hangover from the colonial days) and there are a sprinkling that speak English, and even Portuguese. As for what's unique about Africa. It's Africa. There's no place in the world like it.

Where to Stay:
My standards for accommodation gradually dropped the more I travelled through the continent... I would, in the vast majority of cases, stay in a cheap hotel wherever I ended up at the end of the day. And when I say cheap, I mean cheap. Somewhere in the range of two to ten dollars... There were a few cases where cheap hotels weren't an option. In which case I either stayed with locals, pitched a tent (you'd know I had a bad day if I was pitching a tent...) or, even, staying in a brothel (there were no other options in Monrovia, Liberia... link: here.

What To See & Do:
Just be there and do what the locals are doing. You can watch Senegalese wrestling in Dakar, or go hiking in the mountains of Guinea, or surf in Sierra Leone, or hike in Gabon, or drink wine in Cape Town. It's an enormous continent, with massively varying people and landscapes. Just being there is enough!

Where To Eat:
My biggest hurdle... Took me a while to get over it (and to trust it), but the way to go is to eat what the locals eat. That means sitting on a street corner with the frest of the locals, getting spooned something mysterious by a "big mamma". It's always delicious. And, yes, you're going to get crook often, but you'll get used to it. It's a great way to meet locals too. They love it when a foreigner eats the food that they're eating, and it's always a conversation starter. My advice would be to eat anywhere that's popular, never mind what it is that they're serving, if it's popular, then the turnover is high and it's likely that your getting something fresh. It's your best bet...

Must Do:
I loved Guinea and Gabon. The nature in these places is insane. The locals are very friendly (particularly in Gabon). Couldn't recommend these places highly enough. It's not a "shallow dive" into Africa, but you'll certainly get a genuine, African experience. I'd avoid Ghana, which, bizarrely, is rather touristy and feels a little cheap to me.

Must See:
The Fouta Djallon mountain ranges of Guinea. Incredibly diverse, we hiked for hours, for days. It was superb, you couldn't stop me grinning. More here.

Number 1 Travel Tip:
Don't take a MasterCard, it won't work. Visa card will. I had to learn this lesson the hard way...

5 Word Travel:
Hold on to your knickers....

Excess Baggage:
Don't be scared. And don't plan. Planning is futile. Just go, be open ended, and make up your own story as it comes.