Walk Like an Egyptian - Egypt

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Contributor:
Cat

Nationality:
USA

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

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Couple

 

Destination: Egypt. April/May 2018, 10 days

Inspiration:

A professional friend owns a small travel company and was planning a group trip to Egypt. Since this was somewhere we really wanted to go we reached out to her and her business partner about working with them and creating content for them to use on their website and social media. since thats what we do- create photo and video content it was a win win for everyone! The group ended up with 8 of us total which was perfect to capture and travel around easily.

Getting There:

We flew from JFK airport into Cairo on Egypt Air. Then once there we had an organized tour with a driver and 2 different tour guides.

Local Knowledge:

Besides the pyramids which I will talk about later the whole area is just cool. It is so different from the US and Europe. The culture is very prominent and so is the Muslim Religion. We loved hearing the Call to Prayers everywhere. But not everyone is Muslim and it didn't appear to be overly strict. The people (not the vendors at tourist places) were super nice and just enjoyed talking with us. They don't see as many Americans and they all wanted to talk to us about what is happening here. 
The vendors however can be Very aggressive. We decided we had to take a "hard politeness" approach. A term I made up to describe it. We always to to be respectful to people especially when traveling, but this was Intense and really started to get us down. We understand that some of the places in Egypt we were are very poor and we understand the hustle. Go with an openness and try to be firm and polite. 
The over attention from men even while walking with my 6'2 black husband was a bit much. Again I just tried to be polite or ignore it. Al could have earned a lot of camels for me lol!!
 People ask me if I would  have felt safe being a woman there by myself. I can't really answer that for everyone since their experiences are all different. But I would honestly say I would not go back there on MY own. I never felt unsafe, as a matter of fact we hung out with a local man and visited his house. We joked and said we are either being kidnapped or in for a great night. Probably not the smartest thing to have done- but it was a blast. But I never would have done that if it was just me!

Where To Stay:

For our time in Giza we stayed at the Marriott Mena House in Cairo and Loved it. I mean whats not to Love? Step out on the balcony and see an Amazing pyramid right there! So freaking cool. The rooms were really nice, the pool perfect, and the food was really good. 

We then stayed on a Nile River cruise for 4 nights. Having done 2 cruises with Ama Waterways (The Mekong River one we worked with them creating content) this never compared. But of course not as Egyptian River Cruises are less fancy. This one was pretty basic and the food not something I could really enjoy. As a pescartain most meals were very heavy meat based. And not wanting to eating the salad since I knew it had to be washed, there wasn't much for me to eat. My husband didn't have any problems but even he said the food was "just alright!"

When we returned back to Cairo we stayed in the Kempinski Nile. It was really nice and we could even walk to Taahir Square from there. Their breakfast buffet was my favorite!! They also have a great jazz bar but it was way too smokey to stay long. Being from the US we aren't used to people smoking indoors anymore. 

What To Do:

Where to being! I mean after all you are talking about the EGYPT! The ancient land of the Pharaohs, King Tut, Cleopatra, the Nile River and Gods and Goddesses! It is all great. The Valley of the Kings to see Tutankhamen's (and others) tomb. and later going to the The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, known commonly as the Egyptian Museum or Museum of Cairo and seeing things that were in the tomb. 4000 year old cheese and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Luxor Temple was super cool and so was just walking around Luxor and Aswan. One of my favorite temples was the Temple of Horus at Edfu, dedicated to the falcon-headed god of the sky as well as mummified crocodiles in Kom Ombo . One of my favorite activies was a early morning hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. It was just incredible!

Eating:

Overall we aren't too impressed with food in Egypt. As I mentioned I dont eat meat and most meals were pretty basic. Of course most of them were included in our tour so we didn't really get to venture out on our own as much as we normally would. But the fresh squeezed OJ from the street vendors is the BEST!!!! OMG! you have to try it. Especially when it is hot and dusty. They also had some really interesting snacks. All kinds of different flavors like chicken or kabob flavored Doritos. And I haven't eaten a Twinkie in over 30 years Im sure- but they were are snack on the hot air balloon ride! I did have some great hummus the first day at a place Al and I wandered into- but after that the hummus was mediocre and buy the end I was so sick of it I just couldn't eat it anymore. As mentioned we did Love the breakfast buffet at the Kempinski and actually at Mena House too.

Must Do:

Get out of the tourist attractions and walk around Cairo and the other smaller places you visit. While all the attractions are AMAZING and of course you have to see it all- make sure you are seeing what Egypt today is all about. Get out there and enjoy the locals. Talk with people or jsut smile and say "hi!"

Must See:

OMG! this one is the hardest Always!! But especially with Egypt. Every trip we make one 12x18 metal print of what symbolizes that location. This one everyone thought it would be a pyramid. While Yes- that is soooo Very Egypt, that is just one part. We chose a scene that I took while cruising along the Nile River. A glimpse into what life is like living along the Nile River.

Number 1 Travel Tip:

I wrote a whole blog post on travel tips to Egypt. But my #1 thing- KNOW that vendors are going to approach you, follow you, and not take no for an answer at Least the first 4 times! If you know that, you can be prepared. And really there is no need to get ugly or threaten them Its not going to change things and they are just trying to make a living. Tourism is down and they see especially Americans as rich. And to them you are. You can afford the luxury of traveling far to visit their beautiful country, stay in nice hotels, take river boat cruises, and eat out! Being respectful goes a long way and earns you way more Good Karma points than being rude and nasty!

5 Word Travel:

bucketlist
ancient
different
incredible
blessed

Excess Baggage:

So being a Huge rescue dog and cat advocate I had a really hard time with all the homeless dogs and cats. There were more than in any other trip we have taken. We like to check out a local shelter if we can. And if not we look up ones who helps with these issues and make a donation when we get home. We made our donation to Chance Animal rescue All- the horses, donkeys, and camels just don't look that great and don't seem to be treated too nicely. We did a camel ride at the pyramids in Giza. I really tried to enjoy it (and I even asked the travel agent ahead of time what she knew about the conditions, etc). But it really made me sad. Its a catch 22. The animals help them make money and often get food before they do I was told by our local guide. (maybe I just want to believe that) Without them income would be even more scarce. But even knowing these things- it still made me sad and I would never do it again.

Bucketlist Travel Review - Yellowstone NP, USA

 
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Contributor:
Kayla and Silas

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Adventures of Kayla and Silas

Website: www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com
Instagram: @kaylaandsilas

Age Group:
19-30 years
30-40 years

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Spontaneous
Explore
Food

 

Destination: Yellowstone National Park, Late September, 5 days

Inspiration:

A friend of ours ask if we would go with him to Yellowstone. Having never been there before, we both quickly agreed! We all wanted to get in some hiking, enjoy the quiet of nature, and have fun hanging out together.

Getting There:

Yellowstone is not easily accessible. We drove there (17 hours!), but you could fly into a nearby city and rent a car or R.V. It seemed nearly half the cars on the roads inside the park were R.V.s, so that is really common.

Local Knowledge:

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both unlike anything else I've ever seen! Here's what I already wrote about how amazing these places are:  https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/02/12-Reasons-to-Visit-Yellowstone

 

Where To Stay:

We stayed at an Airbnb in Driggs, ID. It was delightful, however we had a pretty long drive into the parks every morning. I think it would be preferable to stay inside the park unless you only need a couple hours of sleep. We found everything was booked when we were looking, so you'll need to make a reservation as early as a year in advance of your trip if you want to stay in the park!

What To Do:

We packed a lot into our time at Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Here's our recommended itinerary: https://www.adventuresofkaylaandsilas.com/single-post/2017/10/09/A-Week-in-Yellowstone-and-Grand-Teton-National-Parks

Join our Patreon community here: www.patreon.com/kaylaandsilas Subscribe to our channel! http://bit.ly/2FFgx6E Earlier this year we took a road trip with our...

Must Do:

You need to watch at least one geyser BESIDES Old Faithful. They are just amazing.

Must See:

Grand Prismatic Spring!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

The park is BUSY. Bring as much as you can -- toilet paper and sanitizer for unkept bathrooms, picnic lunches for when restaurants are busy or you get too far from a main service hub (or you just want to save money), and a map so

5 Word Travel:

Gorgeous, interesting, unbelievable, breathtaking, exercise

Excess Baggage:

Don't get close to the animals! We saw a lot of tourists putting themselves in dangerous situations, but park rangers suggest keeping 25 yards distance to all animals and 100 yards to wolves and bears.

Leon, Nicaragua - Why you should plan a Nicaragua visit

 
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Content creators and travel bloggers, Cathie & Al from Flat World Travel give us an amazing insight into one of the favourite cities they visited during a recent trip to Nicaragua/ Read all about Leon here and follow the links to their blog for more on travel in Nicaragua.

 

Contributor:
Cathie

Nationality:
USA

Social Links:
Website: http://travel.flatworldonline.com
Instagram: @flatworldtravel

Age Group:
 

Gender:
Couple

Travel Style:
Couple travel
Adventure

 

Destination: Leon, Nicaragua, November 2017

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Inspiration:

We were hired to do photos and video for a destination wedding in Cancun in November. We decided to add on to the trip and go to Nicaragua. This was the perfect destination. We found one of our favorite cities on the trip was Leon.  We were looking for somewhere warm to go after the wedding.  And through Instagram and travel blogs we had seen some beautiful photos from Nicaragua. I always had an interest in this country. We started researching it and fell in love with it’s mixture of colonial historical cities that we love to explore as well as beautiful nature to be adventurous in. Nicaragua really does have it all. While we didn’t spend anytime in the major city of Managua we did enjoy Leon. You can get a real feel for city life of the people and not be far from nature and adventure at the same time. And who could pass up the opportunity to go to volcano boarding down an active volcano.!!!

Getting There:

We flew from Cancun to Nicaragua since we already had our flights arranged from Philadelphia to Cancun. Once we arrived in Nicaragua and for our travel around the country we hired private drivers through our various boutique hotels. Because we were traveling with a lot of photo and video gear, more than we normally do since we were coming from a wedding, we wanted to always make sure we traveled in the safest way possible. Even if that meant spending extra. It was also nice to always be in air conditioning and to  talk with the drivers. Well at least try since our Spanish is very limited. Our driver dropped us right off at teh place we were staying in Leon.

Local Knowledge:

Leon is known for being even the most artistic and progressive city in Nicaragua. The people of Leon were the first to support the Sandanistas in the 1960’s and ’70s. As a result, the city and its people suffered some of the worst attacks during Somoza’s crackdown. Their central market was torched, different parts of the city were bombed, and anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Sandanistas was often tortured or executed. And the United States flip flopped on who they supported, all to the detriment of the people of Nicaragua.
And you can see minutes of resistance throughout the city. From graffiti to beautifully painted murals. Definitely worth visiting is the Museum of Revolution

Leon is also known for its beautiful churches with sweeping vistas of the city, a lively Center Plaza, bustling commerce, and amazingly beautiful volcanoes.

Where To Stay:

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We stayed at the Hotel Azul for $72 a night. I would consider that a little high for most places in Leon but it had great rooms, a pool, a restaurant and breakfast included. Hotel Azul is a great spot and the location being so close to the main plaza was perfect. We would Totally stay there again!

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What To Do:

Really our favorite thing to do in Leon was just to wander around. Going to the areas where it's mostly locals. We really didn't see a ton of tourist when we were there. We spent hours just checking out neighborhoods around the city just seeing what it was truly like. We also were lucky to come across an amazingly fun festival in the central plaza one night. It was almost all locals there so we could really get a feel of what celebrations are like in Nicaragua. this one was for the "opening of Christmas " "The Festival of Lights" and it was a total party!

and Do check out the Revolution Museum. One of the highlights of touring around Leon was Museo Historico de la Revolucion the ‘Museum of Revolution”. It is so easy to spot with its anti-Bush graffiti still on the front. Once we paid to get in, we also had a tour guide. Of course he didn’t speak any English and our Spanish is very limited. However, knowing how to put together some words and with the help of Google translate, we felt like we learned a lot. And our tour guide was a very interesting man. He fought with the Sandinistas. You could even see on his shoulder where he’d been shot. And he showed us the spot in the building where it happened, this being the old City Hall building. You can still see blood on the walls and the impacts where the bullet hit.

One of the cool aspects of the tour is getting to go up on the roof. As a photographer and videographer, we always aim to get higher whenever visiting a new location. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land and get some killer views. There’s something so surreal about being up on the roof of the museum. And we had a great view to the white cathedral known as Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral).

Eating:

Nicaragua isnt really known for its "culinary delights" but we had some awesome food while there. in Leon we mostly ate at small places that didn't cost a whole lot. I don't eat meat but I am a pescatarian. One lunch place we really enjoyed was Cocinarte. It is a vegetarian place and is located in the oldest house in Leon.  
Another great lunch spot we went to was Pan y Paz French bakery, which was way cheap AND awesome! We didn't expect the sandwich shop to be so good. and there are a couple locations around the city. 
We ate dinner in at Al Carbon, that was pretty cool. Al really wanted some steak and I needed a place with good seafood. We also stopped in at a great rooftop bar at Calle Vicente to take in the local flavor mixed with a few tourists. It’s a great place for having a drink and doing some people watching!

Must Do:

Go Volcano Baording down Cerre Negro. So much fun you will want to hike right back up to do it again. Sadly we were only allowed the 1 time.
You have to do it with an organized tour. The drive was a little more than an hour and you have a chance to go to the bathroom before beginning your climb up (take the opportunity!) Everything I read talked about how easy the climb up was. Of course most articles focus on the fun and safety coming back down the hill on a thin piece of wood. Let me tell you that climb up was not easy. It was hot as hell, even though there was a nice breeze every now and then. It is rocky and straight up for most of it. It’s not the worst hike I’ve done by far, but it certainly is not the easiest either. Plus you are carrying a small cloth bag with your gear and a long thin piece of wood on your back. When you are small like me, it acts like a wind sail!!

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Must See:

Without a dounbt-the rooftop at  Basilica de la Asuncion (Our Lady of Grace Cathedral). The Basilica de la Asuncion took over a 100 years to build and it is one of the largest churches in Central America. And it is Awesome. There are so many different details in the outside of the building. But the best part is certainly its roof. You need to check the schedule for when it is open and it costs 40 Cordobas to get in, this is less than $1.50 . Is really cool up there. You don’t expect It to look like a Greek city. It definitely looks very Grecian with all its white domes. And it offers wonderful vistas of the city. Just be mindful you will have to take your shoes off once you get to the top of the staircase.. 

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Take the time to at least learn some basic Spanish. And being polite and patience goes a long way. While we knew some Spanish words such common phrases, nouns and verbs we weren’t good at putting them all together. Also make sure to download Google translate on your phone. This will help you when trying to communicate. You can even hover over text and read the translation in English. Very few people speak English there. Often times, you could find at least one person working at the restaurant who may know English a little better and loves to practice their English with you. Bye-bye been able to communicate somewhatYou definitely have your experiences broadened.

And I know it's only supposed to be one tip but if you're a photographer or videographer don't bring your drone. They're not allowed. And it's just not worth the risk. Just honor their restrictions!

5 Word Travel:

Friendly
colorful
beautiful
cultural
Adventurous

Excess Baggage:

You’re not in Kansas anymore… things just aren’t like you might think. Even with all the above we found people just saying Si ‘(Yes) even when yes shouldn’t be the answer. For example, I may say “no come carne” when ordering chips and cheese and just stopped being surprised when still came with meat which I don’t eat. It seems like trying to get anything different than what they have listed just doesn’t translate. Remember this is a Spanish-speaking country!! So some things just won’t translate to be exactly what you mean.

and oh yeah....In Leon don’t be alarmed by the 6am church bells going off. And then at seven there’s a siren that goes off letting everybody know it is time to go to work. It can be quite jarring if nobody warned you in advance LOL!!

African Travel Bucketlist - Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

 
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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).

New York, USA - A week in the Big Apple

 
 

How to spend a week in the "city that never sleeps". Ryan describes himself as an "anything goes" traveller, so read about how he goes in NYC!

 

Contributor:
Ryan

Nationality:
South Africa

Social Links:
Instagram: @ryanscott.33

Age Group:
30 - 40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
All styles

 

Destination: NYC May 2017 for 1 week

 
 

Inspiration:

I've visited NYC a handful of times, but never in the spring. Every visit has been a good one, but I've always been curious to be there when it’s warmer. Not so much the humid sweaty summer, rather, a fresh spring dose of NYC energy for the change of seasons after the biting cold of winter. And beware that winter bite, it can get really intense when those relentless razor blade winds cut through your under equipped winter gear while cruising the streets of Manhattan. And what about the High-Line, it's just not the same in winter with no cheerful greenery around to pretty-up New York's walkway in the sky. So when the opportunity came to return to NYC in May, I packed swim trunks and flew from Cape Town to JFK, ready for a fresh look.

Getting There:

The 16 hour flight from South Africa is not as bad as some make out. SAA fly direct and I have often had enough seats to stretch my legs out enough for a good sleep option. Arriving early in the morning is always a good thing as those immigration lines can get nasty. Getting a ride into Manhattan from the airport is not ideal, as you hit the rush hour of those scrumming to get to Manhattan to earn their dollars. Once in Manhattan though, for your first day at least, time becomes a secondary consideration as the many NYC sensations take over and create a world of loud and surreal experiences.

Local Knowledge:

Having been to Manhattan a few times, I know my way around and enjoy exploring on foot, but this time I decided to brave the CitiBike system - and what a pleasure it was. It costs about $12 a day and you can ride for up to 30min before having to return your two wheeler to one the many CitiBike stations. It's never a problem finding one, they are as prevalent as a carguard* in Cape Town - everywhere! I rode all over the island and at least once a day that included peddling over a bridge. Either the Williamsburg or Brooklyn bridges are perfect for a cruisy ride, with great views and integrated feel of being very much a part of the city, as a bonus to your travel solution. The app is a huge help too and this quickly became my preferred mode of transport. It's such a pity we don't have that at home in South Africa, unfortunately the upkeep and durability would never survive in Africa, but I'm psyched to use the same systems in London, Paris and other cities that use this healthy option of moving about the city.

Where To Stay:

Accommodation is always going to be expensive in Manhattan, no matter what option you choose. I’ve stayed all over the show in different AirBnB options. Prices have increased markedly over the last 5 years. A pullout sofa I stayed on near Washington Sq in 2012 is now more than double what I paid for it back then. This time I was drawn to the LIFE Hotel. It’s the original building that the famous publication and brand ran their business from and conveniently situated midtown, although convenience did not come with any charm. The area is around Korea Town and not the best place to hangout in Manhattan. After a couple of nights in the hotel, I moved across the East River to an AirBnB in Williamsburg. The view of the skyline gives a whole new perspective to a NYC stay, the prices drop and the vibe is less touristy and there is always something happening in the neighbourhood. 
At night, head to N 10th St, the buzz around the restaurants and cocktail bars (hit the Wythe Hotel for rooftop cocktails and view of Manhattan skyline) is brilliant. I could recommend late night spots, but things move quickly and the flavor of the week will have changed by the time you read this. There are a lot of cool clubs to choose from when it gets to around 10pm or 11pm.

What To Do:

It's interesting to try and plan a to-do list for NYC, but the reality is, once you get there, just tap into the flow of the city and decide what feels best on the day. I happened to be there for the opening of the NYC Ballet season...they call it the Spring Gala and I would not have bought a ticket if I was planning the trip beforehand, but while in the area, I noticed some buzz around setting up a red carpet at the theater, checked out what was happening, and managed to buy a ticket for the evening event. The night before I had been at a Puma event and met two of the ballerinas of the NYC ballet troop, so I was keen to see them do their thing on the stage. 
There is always something to do, but I like to search out those little nuggets that present themselves in the moment, just keep an eye open and use the many apps and websites to assist you with 'whats on' while you are there.

Eating:

My favourite meals are lunch times around the East Village. Chelsea Market is also cool, but the quirky little spots of the East Village are less well known and warmly welcoming. It’s great to see the trends of the world unfolding over the counter and on the sidewalks of these little places, and sometimes, being created. I bought a radical shirt on a market sidewalk from a guy who clearly loves his craft, ate Pizza slices once the queue had died down from a nondescript hole in the wall, and sat and sipping some kind of frappacuppalattecino while people-watching the unabated conversations happening all around me. The attitude down here still seems NYC-proud, but not as brash and loud as other parts of decibel filled city.

Must Do:

I always do a bit of work in NYC and my favourite place to find a quiet spot that has something more than just the quintessential coffee shop, is the NYC Library. The Rose Room has reopened so I plugin and use the wifi to create my own NYC hot desk in the most studious of settings. In Spring, the lush green grass of Bryant Park backs onto the library and is the best place to chill out with locals and tourists alike. In summer it comes alive with vibrant action on the permanent concrete table-tennis tables, crooners busting out some tunes on the piano and people sharing lunch and ice-creams while soaking up some sun in one of the rare open spaces just off uptown 5th Avenue.

Must See:

I've never done a heli-flip over the city, but I really enjoy seeing it from the water. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is by sail. I noticed @Classicharborline while doing a Instagram search and realised right away that I would not settle for anything less than one of their perfectly crafted fleet. Pick a good day of sunny weather and take to the water in style.

 
 

Number 1 Travel Tip:

Skip the big brands you can experience in other cities. There are so many unique places to shop and eat in NYC, so rather explore something new.

5 Word Travel:

I didn't need swim shorts

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.

 
 

My Time in Bali, Indonesia

 
 
 

Contributor:
Monique

Nationality:
USA

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

Age Group:
All

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
All

 

Destination: Bali, Indonesia, April 2017

You would think that a flight mix up that had me questioning when I’d actually make it to Bali, Indonesia would be a bad start. Two different medical woes causing me to question whether or not I should take a long term flight, the cancellation of my original flight, and a new flight booking set to depart a day later led me on my way to Bali. It’s a place I’d probably never heard of until the movie, Eat Pray Love, and for I made plans to not only take one of those journeys, but spend some time in Bali. I was obsessed, and full disclosure, I watch that movie all over the world during just about every trip.

Cost RoundUp

Flight: My original flight was $589 with the airline from hell that will not be named. After going back and forth with the airline and 3rd party company that I booked though, literally hours before I would’ve been heading to the airport, I decide to cancel that flight and book with another airline. New flight: 64k miles/points. A nice chunk of my arsenal of stored miles, collecting dust.

 
 

Lodging: I originally booked an airbnb for $181 for 6 nights. After getting a refund for one night due to the flight scheduling changes, it ended up being $154 for 5 nights. I had to fight airbnb for this but in the end, I prevailed.

Spending Money: I got 2,000,000 IDR out of the airport atm, which is pretty much $150. $45 of those would go to a day trip and the rest was spent on food and transportation from the airport. I probably spent about $50 on my credit card for food during my last couple days and exchanged some IDR at the airport for $14 back once I was returning home. So overall I spent about $186 which is not bad at all. I even bought more souvenirs than I normally do, so that’s very telling of where my money went. Breakfast was the most expensive at $10 even though I ate at a different place every day.

Where I Stayed

I went back and forth too many times to count about where I’d be staying. I knew I wanted to be near a beach, so pretty early on I decided on staying in Seminyak, a 15+ minute ride from the Denpasar airport depending on traffic. There will most likely be traffic.

 
 

I thought I’d go to Bali and stay in a villa with a private pool and views that overlooked a lush forest or at least the ocean. Then I said I’d stay in a hotel and skip the villa prices since it was just lil ol’ me. After actually reserving a room at a popular hotel, I happened to peruse options on airbnb and realized I could save even more money. I found the cutest little room in a boutique hotel listed on airbnb. Those are the best gems. You think you’re going to be renting someones apartment or just a room, and you scroll and find an actual hotel room for $27 a night. Jackpot!

Seminyak is probably the most touristy area of the city, or maybe it ties with Ubud, with streets lined with stores and restaurants only selling Indonesian food as an afterthought. Hell, I had some of the best sushi ever, spring rolls, and a beer for less than $7. I may go back just for that very same meal. While you will spot the occasional McDonalds or KFC, surprisingly, I would’ve had to walk a minimum of 45 minutes just to get to those establishments.

What I Did

Let me get this out of the way and say…not a goddamn thing. I didn’t do anything! Having people badger you about your plans during a trip is so exhausting and I’m genuinely sorry that I’m not the woman to go to for things like that. At least not after I tell you I honestly plan to do nothing and you try to force me to dig deep into my soul because surely, I must have plans. I’m not setting up an itinerary to check things off the list. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with people that do that, so please don’t judge me for doing the opposite.

 
 

Aside from technically staying in a hotel, my life during my travels is as close to that of a local as possible. After breakfast you could catch me at the beach on a daily basis. I considered taking surf lessons but if you would’ve saw the waves that I saw, you would’ve soaked up all the Vitamin D you could instead as well. I did take the aforementioned day trip to Ubud because I thought it’d be the best way to see Ubud. When people offer these tours, you really decide what it is you want to do with guidance from the drivers. Stops usually include a temple, the rice fields, monkey forest, etc. Now before you ask, I told Gusti, my driver, to put the pedal to the metal and to continue driving right on by monkey forest. What I don’t have time for are those aggressive creatures shaking me down for anything that isn’t attached to my body and crawling all over me. I love animals, I promise I do, but tourists have greatly affected those formerly sweet beings and I don’t have time for it! I visited the Ubud Market and negotiated like hell with those thieves (jk). I trekked to a point of the rice fields where I decided I wasn’t going any further, and hiked my ass right back up. I went to a temple where I was shaken down for the supposed “voluntary” donation and all in all, I could have done without the day trip. I am glad I visited the Ubud market but I would’ve enjoyed my day even more if I was at my usual spot on the beach, soaking up the sun and drinking a Bintang. Don’t get me started on the lady that sliced up a watermelon and walked it on over to me. Bless her heart!

Other than sunbathing I walked around a lot. By a lot I mean, more than you can fathom. I tried out all of the restaurants that piqued my interest and tried to explore different neighborhoods than the previous day. One other game changer was the fact that just like in Thailand, my sleep was thrown off on a daily basis. It didn’t match EST and it didn’t match Thai time. After my mornings at the beach I usually went back to shower and ending up sleeping until the evening before heading back out. This was a daily occurrence and I didn’t care. I didn’t feel like I “wasted the days away” and didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything from snoozing.

 
 

Transportation

Bali is the land of the scooter. They are everywhere and if you’re easily identifiable as an outsider, you won’t be able to walk down the street without every single one trying to give you a ride. That goes for taxi’s too! Traffic is always bumper to bumper and they all need to make that fare. The honking was uber annoying and I assure you it wasn’t due to me being a woman, at least not entirely. I got compliments, sure, but a taxi driver or scooter honking at me was almost always asking me if I needed a ride. And they will always overcharge you.

Leaving the airport was a full time job with everyone trying to give you a ride. I knew an uber would only cost about 40,000 IDR as opposed to the 300,00o IDR everyone was trying to charge me, but the way uber is set up in Bali is bananas. It’s practically banned, along with two other car services, but you can still utilize them if you know how. I now know that getting an uber from the airport required you to trek to departures rather than arrivals. That would’ve saved me the trouble of someone trying to charge me $30 just to go 15-30 minutes away. After telling one man no at least 25 times I finally agreed to the 150,000 IDR he was set on charging me.

Moral of the story: uber to wherever it can take you and negotiate when you have to use any other mode of transport. Many are against uber (I personally no longer use them in the US) because they charge so little in Bali and essentially make it harder for taxi drivers to get customers. They are so hated that the street to my hotel had a sign that said Uber was not allowed. That doesn’t count the uber that took me to the airport for a whopping $0.36. I also read that they can take you to Ubud, but it’ll be hard to get an uber FROM Ubud. However, it just doesn’t make sense to be swindled out of my money simply for being a foreigner. So if I go back, I’ll gladly utilize uber when I can and negotiate like hell when I can’t. I also wouldn’t recommend renting a scooter because with all the traffic, scooters were everywhere between cars and speeding around them. There’s no set speed limit so not only was almost everyone endangering their own lives, but the lives of other passengers. I wouldn’t do it.

 
 

Would I Return?

Seminyak is to Bali as Phuket is to Thailand. Y’all know I HATED Phuket. However, Seminyak was what I hoped Phuket would’ve been. Get rid of about 75 clothing stores and the fact that EVERYONE is trying to sell you something, and Seminyak is a magical place. I would stay a few nights in Ubud next time but could see myself living in Seminyak. It’s actually like a faster paced Chiang Mai, Thailand. The only thing Thailand may do better than Bali is temples. I got my entire life strolling in and out of temples in Thailand and that was one of my few highlights.

I didn’t take more than the few photos here because I was intent on being in my zone and chilling the entire time. I completely understand why people don’t want to leave Bali once they visit. I have so many other areas to check out and I swear next time I’ll take surfing lessons, but my week of doing next to nothing was perfect. Just perfect. Someone said this was my Eat Pray Love trip and I think they were right. It’s at least one of them. That I know for sure.

 
 

Tromso, Norway - The Northern Lights

 

Contributor  : Keith
Nationality   : United States of America
Social Links  : Instagram - @khtravelblog @keithrhollis
Age Group    : 19-30 years
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   
Destination   : Tromso, Norway. March 2017 for the Northern Lights

Inspiration:

I was traveling in Europe already and had an extra week to kill.  I orginally wanted to hike but at that time most all trails in central Europe are closed or too dangerous.  I tried to think of something unique and that I could do that time of year and came across Norway.  I heard about it by researching Northern Lights destinations and this seemed to be the best for all sorts of activities.  I was primarily just going for the Northern Lights, but found a lot of great things to do.

Getting There: 

I had a long flight path: Venice->Munich->Oslo->Tromso.  I believe there are direct flights to Tromso from Frankfurt, London, and Oslo.  Either way, it's a pretty long hall.

Local Knowledge:

Tromso used to be called the Paris of the North, and has pretty much the most northern everything in the world (most northern university, most northern brewery, etc).  It is the 3rd most populous city north of the Arctic Circle and actually isn't that cold!  The ocean currents keep it fairly warm...

Where To Stay:

I stayed at the Radisson Blu which was awesome for a few reasons:  most tours meet there making it super convenient, everything is walkable from it, great (and FREE) buffett breakfast, and an awesome gym/sauna overlooking the bay.  I would highly reccomend it.

What To Do:

The obvious answer is going on Northern Lights chases.  That's Tromso's claim to fame however there are a lot of things to do!  I went on chases 4 nights but during the day did a fjord tour and a snowshoe hike in Kvayola, a nearby island.  People also come to dogsled, ski, and go see reindeer however I explored the city a bit.  Check out Mack brewery and the Polaria museum, an Arctic wildlife museum in the city. Also, the Fjellheisen is a cable car to the top of a mountain overlooking the city.

 Morning tea stop

 

Eating:

I ate at a few places that I would reccomend:

Emmas Dreamkitchen is the most famous one.  Delicious.
Riso is a small cafe with a great Nordic vibe.
Huken Burger had delicious burgers.
Arctandria where I had whale and reindeer meat.  Norway is one of only 3 countries in the world where you can legally eat whale meat.  

All of these places were fantastic.  Note: Norway is expensive!!!

Must Do:

Go on at least one Northern Lights chase.  They don't really come to you, you have to find them.

 You need to go chasing the Northern Lights

You need to go chasing the Northern Lights

Must See:

Obvious answer is again, the Northern Lights.  However, I would say you need to get outside and take the Fjellheisen to see Tromso light up at night!

5 Word Travel:

Tromso - A beautiful Arctic paradise

TravelTip:

My advice would be to be friendly and chatty with the locals!  They are all very welcoming and speak perfect English.  Don't be shy and afraid to chat them up a bit.

Excess Baggage:

Note about the aurora:  You may not see the lights by simply going to Tromso.  It is often cloudy there and in order to see the lights you need luck, solar activity, and clear skies.  Chases will take you out to clear skies and different locations to find them.  If that is your goal going there, go on a chase every night and make sure you have a camera that can get to ISO 1000+, F2.8, and 4-10 second shutter speeds.  Most of all, don't give up!

 

 


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!