Kazuri Founder – Lady Susan Wood had humble beginnings. Born (1918) in a mud hut in an African village, her parents were missionaries from England in the Ituri Forest. Lady Wood was sent to England in order to be educated and ended up marrying Michael Wood, a surgeon. They came to Kenya in 1947 and became dedicated to making a difference. Lady Wood started a coffee plantation on the Karen Blixen estate, famous from the award winning movie “Out of Africa” , which is at the foot of the Ngon’g Hills (about 30 minutes from the bustling Nairobi city center in Kenya). Lady Wood was a visionary and unsung hero of her time. She assisted her husband in founding the East African Flying Doctor Service, which expanded into the African Medical Research Foundation (AMREF) of which Michael Wood was Director General for 29 years. Michael Wood was knighted in 1985.
Kazuri Beads Origins
In 1975, Lady Wood set up a fledging business making beads in a small shed in her back garden. She started by hiring two disadvantaged women, and quickly realized that there were many more women who were in need of jobs. Henceforth, Kazuri Beads was created and began its long and successful journey as a help center for the needy women, especially single mothers who had no other source of income. In 1988, Kazuri became a factory and expanded hugely to include over 120 women and men. Here, women are trained and apply their skills to produce unique and beautiful beads and jewelry. The beads are made with clay from the Mt Kenya area, thus giving authenticity to the craft. The factory acts as a social gathering with the hum of voices continuing vibrating throughout the day. With unemployment so high, one jobholder often ends up providing for an “extended family” of 20 or more. Kazuri is a member of the Fair Trade Act.
Kazuri Beads Present Day
Today, Kazuri (the Swahili word for ‘small and beautiful’) produces a wide range of hand made and painted ceramic jewelry that shines with a kaleidoscope of African colors. Kazuri’s beautifully finished products are made to an international standard and are sold worldwide. These standards are maintained through high training regimens and a highly motivated management team.
In 2001, Mark and Regina Newman bought the company. Their goal is to further increase the size and maintain the central guiding philosophy … to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan Society.
“I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.” — Gayle
Photo by Gayle
I’m a writer, but I would have to be a poet to be able to describe what it’s like for me. This was my fifth trip to Africa, and it still takes my breath away to see my first elephant. But it’s more than the animals, and it’s more than the remarkable Zambians, Botswanans, and South Africans I’ve met.
It’s the sensuality of the place – the way it looks, smells, sounds, and feels. It’s the light and the sense of pre-history I feel when I first set foot in the bush; a sense of having returned home to where we all began. I always cry when the small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and I always cry when I leave.
Gayle’s Wish is Granted
Photo by Gayle
Three lions attempted to separate a buffalo from a small herd. The lions took turns going in for a buffalo, only to be chased out by the large bulls. It was a game of cat and mouse, and mouse and cat, for several minutes.
The dust was flying, the buffalo were freaking out, and I was hoping to NOT see a kill. I ended up getting my wish when the buffalo made their escape across the river.
I had a skilled tracker and expert in animal behavior. He read the warning behaviors of different animals such as baboons, impala, and birds in order to successfully locate this leopard (pictured to the left).
“On the first day, we went out looking for lions, and we certainly found them. In fact, not only did we find them, but we found 4…two males and two females. Both sets were mating to the left and right of the vehicle. We learned that they actually mate every 15 minutes for 4 days in a row. Wow. I felt like I was intruding on some private time…I needed to have a cigarette.” — Mari & Alex
To really be there, going to Africa for the first time, the true surprise is simply being there. You think to yourself, ‘Am I really seeing zebra, giraffe and kudu?’ To be able to see all of these creatures up close – as close as you want to be (and we definitely pushed our boundaries) – is something you really don’t expect.
Photo by Mari & Alex
One time, we were especially close to the female lions – from 1-20 feet, and what was surprising to me was that I never felt like our family was threatened. There was a certain respect that the guides held for the land and the animals. They just knew the environment, and we could tell they weren’t going to put us at risk. Honestly, the fact that we could camp out in the Savannah in the middle of the night, allowing our own children to stay watch – you have to have a lot of faith to make a big leap like that. Not once did we ever feel scared because ever-present was the mutual respect between humans and animals; a certain understanding. It was very cool.
It happens from the very beginning, too. We left Johannesburg and took a long drive to Botswana where the adventure literally began at our border crossing – from South Africa to Botswana. We went out in an open Land Rover with one of the more experienced guides…sort of like a Grand Uncle kind of guy who was very hospitable. As soon as we were loaded up, we drove across – or actually, through – the river, which was the boundary between South Africa and Botswana. Everything was dirt road from that point onwards, and we’d only made it 100 yards when our driver pulled over so we could watch some zebras. He told us to look back – he’d seen movement – and sure enough, out of the bush came an elephant, and then another, and then a whole herd of elephants. Our jaws dropped in amazement – we’d only just crossed over, and here we were having animal experiences.
Just the presence of these animals…to be greeted by the most beautiful of beasts…is incredibly moving. It’s the entire reason we went, and there it was, unfolding before us in only 100 yards. Zebras, giraffe, Impalas… I’m even forgetting the names of all the creatures we saw. It was a wild kingdom.
A Sensual Adventure
At our second stop, or concession, we were having our orientation and they said that they wanted to pitch an idea to us. This was when they asked us if we wanted to sleep out in the Savannah, hiking out about 3 miles…along with two guides and their guns. Doing this meant that each of us would have to stay awake for 2 hours per night to keep watch. My first reaction was YES! I mean, what other time in your life would you be able to camp out in the Savannah with wild animals? It was the most amazing experience.
Photo by Mari & Alex
It’s difficult to portray what we witnessed…through all of our senses. Infinite stars…stars beyond what you could imagine. We’ve been to Yosemite. We’ve been to Yellowstone. There is just no comparison. You’re serenaded by a cacophony of the sounds, too. The laughing hyenas, the hippos, and what’s called bush babies, which are little monkeys that live in the trees…and they literally sound like babies.
Over one outdoor dinner, we could hear lions roaring in the distance while we were eating. There was nothing between us and the lions, which could seem unsettling, but part of what gave us comfort was the fact that the guides called each lion by their name – simply by knowing the sound of their roar. Oh, and the smells! The smells were things we’d never smelled before. The basil and African sage, which had a sweet lemony smell to it, was sweet and very pungent.
Late Night Surprise
One night, we were on safari driving around. It was much later than we usually stayed out, but it was probably only two hours after sunset. Our drivers seemed a little disoriented – like they were lost – but they kept driving. One of the guides was holding a big spotlight, and we were looking for elephants. He was shining the light on either side, and suddenly we saw a campfire in the distance. They told us they thought it was an anti-poaching crew; that they go out there and sometimes catch poachers and keep them in camp until authorities pick them up. There were a couple other trucks parked when we pulled up, and it was clear we were going to talk to these guys. Admittedly, we were a little concerned. As we approached the camp, we could see a fairly large group, shadowed by the firelight, and as we got closer, we realized that it was a group of student guides. Whew! Turned out it was planned all along, and they’d made a great dinner for us, and one of them was showing us how to take night shots.
They had tables, chairs, and table coverings. They had amazing food there – Mealie Pap, kind of like a porridge, or polenta, that’s served with a meat, or a stew. You use your fingers and you scoop it up and just eat it. My family also enjoyed the Mashatu chili, which was a flavorful and spicy chili prepared by two amazing women, Nomo and Rosena. The night before we left, my son’s girlfriend wanted to bring some home, and they gave her a jar of it along with the recipe. Can you believe that? At the next stop, we had to put our food in the storage container, and accidentally forgot it there. That was probably the biggest disappointment of our whole trip.
Photo by EcoTraining
We’d go back. In a heartbeat. It would be great to go back to the same places for the nostalgia, but on the other hand, we’d probably want to see something different. It’d be great to go to Kenya to see the mass migrations…where they have herds of millions of animals. Now that we’ve gotten a flavor of Africa, we understand there is so much more to see. It was such a wonderful experience, and Jeremy and Kili had so much to do with that. From one conversation where we shared our vision, they took exactly what we described and made it happen. We didn’t want to travel like privileged Americans where we were driven around, etc. We wanted to go where they had good labor practices. We wanted the opportunity to touch the land with the dirt going through our fingers, touch the trees, and smell the environment. We didn’t need champagne and chocolate fountains (well maybe a little), but from the very beginning…the languages, the sounds and the sights, the people, the environment. It was just such a whole medley of sensations.
“We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat.” — Rick S.
This was our very first trip to Africa, and the first thing we noticed was the vastness of the continent. Even though we conceptually understood the size, and Kili had certainly prepped us, we truly had no idea how big Africa was. I mean, as we were flying over Morocco, we still had 9 more hours before landing in Cape Town. We just didn’t really get it.
Enjoying an open-vehicle game drive in the Okavango Delta
What was impressive was that immediately upon landing, we were in a jeep and transferring to the lodge while incredible wildlife was running all around us. We were instantly ‘in the experience,’ and we were giddy like two kids on Christmas Eve. There are so many stories from our trip that it’s impossible to identify a single favorite story. It’s interesting – we used to say that about the countries we’d traveled to (that we couldn’t identify a favorite), but now we say that about Africa…that there really isn’t one story that stands out. The entire trip stands out.
I still vividly remember the first night, falling asleep while listening to lion roars and hippo grunts. One day we woke up from our siesta to an elephant staring into our tent…maybe 15 feet away. We had another, similar experience where we woke up, and we heard rhythmic crunching. It turned out there was a hippo eating in the daytime, which was rare, right outside our tent. He was essentially mowing the grasses.
We watched a cheetah eating an Impala – it sounds gruesome, but it wasn’t. They kill quickly and methodically. We were so close that we could hear the crunching of the bones. We watched the Cheetah lick the blood off its face. We were that close! It really sounds gruesome, but it honestly isn’t. It’s also odd because we cheered for the predators. It isn’t like the TV programs you see where you hope the prey gets away. You simply understand the order, and see that there are millions of Impalas, and only a handful of lions. They have to eat, and they work incredibly hard for a meal.
Deepening Our Ecological Awareness
The other impression, too, is what a closed ecosystem it is. Every animal has a little niche to play. It’s why you can get behind the predators. We thought there would be smells and bones everywhere, but there isn’t. It was an ecological lesson; it really was. We try to do our bit in terms of reducing, reusing and recycling and our footprint – but this really helped us realize what a puzzle of a world we live in, and how each thing plays its part. You just kind of see how it all works. It was a very sensory experience – very visual. There were smells, but they weren’t bad. The kills didn’t last long, so there was no rotting meat. There is a sort of pecking order of everything and it all just goes away.
Happy Lion, Selinda, Botswana
The main predators kill, say, an Impala, and eat the main parts of the animal. Then, the Jackals and Hyenas take what they need, and then the vultures come…and nothing is left. I mean absolutely nothing. We did find some hippo skulls, which was fascinating…with the jaw…because we got a real sense of just how powerful they are. But, that was about it.
The guides were fantastic – every day was like one long school day in the best possible way. We watched a pack of wild dogs hunt, and try to spook a herd of Cape buffalo. There is a strategy to the hunt. The dogs were on the track, and we were following. Their strategy was that they worked as a group, and they tried to spook the group so they’d run, and in the panic, the dogs could single out their prey.
At one point, we also found some lionesses that had climbed into trees, which is rare. There were only a couple prides where this was happening. Our guide said that it was only the second generation of lionesses that were doing that – climbing into the trees. One was calling to her cubs, but they couldn’t find her because it didn’t occur to them to look up. It felt like we were watching an ecological shift in real time.
Emerging with a Thirst for More
In our planning phase, we gave Kili our wish list of animals to see – which didn’t include birds (we aren’t birders), so she designed our trip around our wish list. And unbelievably, we saw them all.
The food was excellent. We didn’t really have expectations. We did a lot of research once we decided on places, but we weren’t there for the food, if that makes sense. The camps were really luxe. We were really pleased with that. I mean one of the places was off the charts; just the presentation of their food alone was impressive. This was a surprise because it’s so remote. They don’t have access to a lot of stuff, food and otherwise, and they don’t even have a cell signal, so they have to fly everything in. We were confused as to how would they begin to understand the levels of luxury that they did. It really was excellent.
We are very well traveled – we started out hesitant to take a trip that was all planned, and we don’t do group tours. We’re a gay couple that has traveled the world all on our own, from the Galapagos Islands to the Bosphorus Strait, but, given the vastness of the African continent and the remote, seasonal safari areas, we benefitted greatly from Kili’s expertise and thoroughness. We found the whole experience rewarding and truly, not one person missed a beat. Kili had designed the itinerary for us to see a wide variety of species and surroundings. We usually saw elephants, but each time, it felt different. We never got bored. We were always a little sad to leave, but eager to see the next place. Kili had the camps build upon each other – the first one was nice, but unbeknownst to us, it was the least special. She was very thoughtful.
We are definitely going to go back to Africa, but we are going to go to different countries. We’ll go back and to Kenya and Tanzania, and we might go to Namibia, and certainly Rwanda. Some places you travel to see the terrain, and others you go to see the buildings and the history. I see now that traveling to see history and architecture means having a more static experience. When we go back to Africa, it will probably be completely different. It’s dynamic; always changing. You can never go and have the same experience twice.
“There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9.” — Linda & John
From the moment we landed, East Africa made an impact. We’d been to Africa before, on what we called our ‘beginners’ trip which included Botswana, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, but this one was what we considered a ‘quintessential African experience.’ Every place we went; every day was filled with animal interactions, up close and personal. You name it – we saw it all!
The very first vision our bleary eyes saw after we stepped off the plane was Mt. Kilimanjaro. Seeing that mountain was the most impressive thing… so distant and seemingly so close, enshrouded with snow and clouds. It’s massive and interesting because being a volcano, it raises up from a low-level plane rather than from a graduation of foothills, which makes it unusual. I would conservatively guess it’s maybe 19,000 feet high, straight up from its base. It’s an impressive site, and a most memorable way to arrive.
It’s virtually impossible to pinpoint which particular memories to share from this trip because the experiences we had were so plentiful. For example, can you imagine this…at one point, we saw 7 or 8 lion cubs playing with each other while their moms were hunting. We stopped the car about 30 yards from them. I would never have anticipated that kind of proximity to an abundance of lion cubs without their mothers. We had lions literally walking by the safari car we were in..and could have reached out to touch them. The same with the elephants. We were blown away with the photo opps there.
Leopard on a kill, Photo by Linda & John
Another day, we pulled right up to a leopard that was eating a small zebra it had killed, and then a lion came walking up. We thought certainly there’d be a conflict, but the leopard just calmly left. We also saw a pack of hyenas chasing two baby warthogs one night, so we were literally driving across the plains chasing them, keeping them in our headlights.
The biggest surprise was when we went to our camp in the Serengeti. We thought that because of the time of year we were visiting, we would have missed the migration, but we quickly learned that the animals are constantly migrating. So depending on the time of the year, the strategy is to just go to the part of the Serengeti where they’re still migrating, and we saw it…thousands of animals moving slowly across the landscape.
A Cut Above
Everywhere we went on our trip was amazing. The food was delicious – the game meat was fantastically good, served like a filet mignon. There were abundant animal sightings, and the accommodations were definitely nice. But if I’m being honest, to us, everything else seemed to pale in comparison to our camp in the Masai Mara.
Three things set this place apart. One was the absolute luxury of the accommodations. We had a gigantic copper bath with an adjacent indoor and outdoor shower. The place we stayed in was about 12-1400 square feet with a deck overlooking a stream where every day, hippos and crocs were floating and wading by for our viewing pleasure.
Two, their commitment and ultra knowledge about all things photo…our driver was a Masai and extremely articulate and knowledgeable about photography, so we were able to capture everything we witnessed as if we worked for National Geographic. One afternoon at sunset, he even maneuvered our car simply to allow us to frame 5 giraffes against the setting sun. They will even lend you a top-end camera, or Swarovsky binoculars if you don’t have your own.
And three, aside from the lodge, they also have 6, 7 or maybe 8 of the suites where people can stay in luxurious proximity to the natural surroundings. If we go back, we might just go straight there and stay for 10 days.
Travel…and we’re not the most widely traveled individuals…but it does invariably change you. The people you meet in Africa give you perspective on your personal background. You see the fragility of the environment, and are moved by cultural experiences… It all expands your experiential universe. It makes you a better person for it. It definitely has had an impact.
There aren’t very many places where we’ve been and are dying to go back. Patagonia is one we’d go back to…but on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Patagonia is a 5, and Africa is a 9.9. Italy has an impact, various places in Europe certainly have an impact, but in terms of depth…Africa’s impact is more visceral than anything else. It’s a visceral, moving impact. Our friends want to go to Italy every year, and visiting the wine country, but they aren’t as interested in the natural world as we are, which is totally fine…and man made wonders are spectacular, but not as moving…to us…as seeing the beauty of nature.
When Lifescan executive Kirsten Kempe and her husband, Bob Carlin, a longtime Oracle manager, decided to travel in 2018 with two fellow elite triathletes and their spouses, they turned to custom safari specialist Next Adventure (nextadventure.com). The Berkeley company hosts gatherings in clients’ homes and offices by which travelers glean the latest information on conservation issues, along with practical safari advice.
Next Adventure Managing Director Kili McGowan helped organize an evening at Kempe’s Mountain View home “that was almost like a dinner party, where we got together to talk about what they wanted to do,” she says. The result: a three-week trip that included South Africa’s Cape Town and Johannesburg, and 13 days on safari in luxury camps in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.
Borana has always been a special place; a truly family-oriented conservancy, adjacent to the world-renowned Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, that offers outstanding wildlife experiences as well as opportunities to explore a breathtaking landscape through a variety of activities. Borana also offers a range of exclusive-use safari homes and villas, and the newest is Lengishu House.
One common question we hear is “How far in advance should I start booking my safari?”, so we put together our recommendations for when different types of travelers should book different destinations and experiences.
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are great safaris to be had all year round, but there are certainly areas and activities that are more seasonal than others. Most camps and lodges work on a tiered basis with Peak or High season rates, Green or Low season rates and Shoulder season rates in between.
Peak/High season generally indicates the “best” time of year to visit a certain area due to migratory patterns, the height of grass and density of bush, and the availability of water, but it also coincides with the highest rates, the biggest crowds and the most competition for space at camps and lodges in the best locations.
Green, Low and Shoulder season refers to times of year when less people are traveling, maybe there’s the possibility of short afternoon showers, or the wildlife is more dispersed, but the rates tend to be 20-30% lower, there’s less crowds, better availability and the wildlife and scenery are still spectacular.
Some of our favorite off-peak season destinations are:
Kenya in February and March
The Serengeti,Tanzania in November
Hwange, Zimbabwe from November-April
Botswana and Namibia in May
The other thing to keep in mind is the size of your group. With couples, we usually have a bit more flexibility, but, with small groups, more lead time is always helpful especially if family units are important.
For Peak or High Season at Premier in-demand camps, availability is extremely limited, and we recommend booking 12-18 months in advance to have the most flexibility, the widest selection and the best luck lining up space. Destinations in Botswana, Tanzania and Namibia are either very popular or have a very low density of camps, so space fills up fast.
For Small Groups of Friends and Families, 9-12 months gives us a good window to line up a diverse range of activities, accommodations and landscapes. Safaris in Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe tend to offer great value for families and groups, but the camps are small, and family units are few and far between.
If you have a narrow travel window or if you’re interested in specific areas or hands-on conservation activities, 9-12+ months gives us time lock in priority space and secure any necessary permits.
Booking 6-9 months in advance is usually enough lead time to find good combinations without having to make too many compromises. Often times, connectivity is key: direct flights are limited, the routing dictates the order of camps, and with 6-9 months out there’s room to navigate the availability and find top notch options.
For travel within 3-6 months, there’s lots of possibilities as long as you keep an open mind. We’re probably not going to find space at the most popular camps in the most popular areas during the most popular season with a short lead time, but we can always find high-quality experiences. We also find that planning a last minute safari around limited availability can result in unique itineraries with a bit of surprise.
With less than 3 months in advance of travel, we’d call that a spontaneous safari, and we’d take advantage of last minute specials or focus on off-season destinations. This might not be the best fit for a first-time or once-in-a-lifetime safari, but, if a window opens up and Africa is calling, there’s always somewhere spectacular to visit and people on the ground who’ll be glad to see you!
Whether you’re ready to start planning now or if there’s a safari out there on the horizon, get in touch to start exploring the options and charting a path to the perfect safari for you.
A big part of planning a perfect safari is thinking through the logistics of international and regional flight connections. We’re excited to see a number of international carriers introducing non-stop flights from the US to hubs in Africa: South African, Ethiopian, Delta and Kenya Airways all now have direct flights, and there are more routes on the horizon.
We’re also seeing lower fares and improved connections for regional flights within Africa, so it’s getting easier to pair destinations in East and Southern Africa. This overall improvement in efficiency means it’s less expensive and more straightforward to get into our favorite safari destinations and move between them in comfort.
In Southern Africa, there are now nonstop flights between Vic Falls and Cape Town and the Kruger area, and there’s better connecting bush flights throughout Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. We’re also excited to see more options for private charters and helicopter excursions which can be a great experience for families and small groups of friends.
Overall, the logistics of moving around Africa’s great parks and conservancies are always changing, and we’re looking forward to finding the best fit for your safari. Get in touch.
These areas don’t make it on many bucket lists, but they offer a superb safari with an uncrowded, exclusive feel at a great value.
Amalinda Lodge – Matobo Hills – Zimbabwe
Each of these lodges promises personal service, a wide variety of activities and a solid 4-night stay so you can really settle in and appreciate their distinctive settings. They pair nicely with more well-known safari destinations, and all four would make a great extension or centerpiece for a longer itinerary.
Magashi is the newest camp in the Wilderness Safaris family located in the northeastern corner of Akagera National Park in Rwanda. This camp is opening on the 1st of December, and it is the result of many years of public/private partnership and local collaboration.
We see it as an excellent example of what’s on the horizon for new destinations where governments, communities, conservation and tourism work together to rehabilitate a wilderness area. Pair this with gorilla trekking experiences from the stunning Bisate Lodge.
Amalinda is a stunning lodge built into the granite wilderness outside of Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills National Park. It is a wild and historic place full of rocks and rhinos. Through decades of hardship and instability, this family owned and operated lodge has sustained a commitment to this unique place.
There is a huge variety of activities, from hiking and biking to tracking rhinos on foot and exploring pre-historic rock art, and the area is known for its sense of tranquility, rejuvenation and spirituality. This pairs with other destinations in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and there’s a great combo with Mashatu!
Mashatu is also a family owned and operated lodge located in a truly singular landscape where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet, and it is unlike any of them with grand baobabs, spectacular vistas and a host of rare and unusual wildlife.
It’s perfect for multi-generational families with a variety of accommodation options from lightweight fly-camping to tented camps and a luxury lodge, and there’s a huge variety of activities including horseback riding, walking, biking and elephant toe-nail photography from a waterhole hide! Mashatu works well with other destinations in Botswana and South Africa, and there’s a great combo with Amalinda.
Shipwreck is one of the most remote and far-flung luxury destinations in the world, and it’s an example of a bold statement in architectural design and conservation impact. This dramatic lodge was designed to match the stark, intense beauty of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, with its extreme environment and fascinating history.
The experience at Shipwreck is all about sand dunes, whale bones and wildflowers, discovering shocks of improbable life, and visiting a place very few people have ever been. Shipwreck is on the edge of the world, and it pairs well with other destinations on a dedicated Namibia itinerary.
There’s plenty more places we love that few people have heard of. Get in touch to learn more about these lodges and how to build your perfect safari itinerary.
We’re excited to share a selection of new Travel with Purpose Itineraries from Wilderness Safaris. These special scheduled departures offer a glimpse into the conservation and community engagement work across a range of regions and eco-systems. Each of these itineraries includes:
Adventurous and impactful journeys
Truly spectacular and exciting destinations
Accompanied by Wilderness Safaris directors and independent experts
Absolutely unique, behind-the-scenes access to Wilderness Safaris and our partners
Next Adventure, a safari company based in Berkeley and run by Kili McGowan and her husband Jeremy Townsend, was tasked with setting up the trip for Bell, Bourdain, and the Parts Unknownproduction crew.
“Tony [Bourdain] inspired people to be travelers, not just tourists,” McGowan said. “Being a chef, he had this appreciation for people and their cultures.”
McGowan ended up traveling with the crew to Kenya’s Lewa Wilderness. As fans would expect, McGowan said Bourdain was mindful of the conservation efforts in the African countries he visited. “He was so enthusiastic about it, and it’s extremely rewarding,” McGowan recalled.
She also remarked on Bourdain and the production crew’s passion and positive working dynamics. The rapport between the late Bourdain and Bell was obvious as well. “Their chemistry is really palpable,” she said.
When the show was in the planning stages, Bell pointed the Parts Unknown production company, Zero Point Zero, to Berkeley company Next Adventure whose expertise is curating personalized, conservation-minded safari and wildlife trips to Africa. Bell is friends with Kili McGowan, the company’s managing director, and was sure its thoughtful approach to travel would marry well with Bourdain’s show.
“It was such a great shared opportunity,” said McGowan. Both Bell and Bourdain, whether through the lens of diversity in America, or international food culture, go into experiences with open hearts and minds, she said. “They both have a vulnerability and empathy that draws people into conversations.”
Next Adventure recommended the visit to the Lewa Conservancy. “The transition from the vibrancy and intensity of Nairobi to the tranquility of the conservancy is one of my favorite parts,” said McGowan who accompanied the crew on the shoot.
Surprisingly, the day I met Anthony Bourdain – on safari – was fraught with an unseasonal rain storm that lasted for three months after a 5-year drought. The flooding was so bad in Nairobi it made headlines briefly in the US. We were sitting inside by a fire in the cozy main living room of Lewa Wilderness, a family-owned safari lodge on Lewa Conservancy.
You might say it was when I really met him, because in truth, I’d been introduced to Anthony the day before, just prior to the rain starting. It was arrival day for the shoot and while chatting with my dear friend Kamau Bell who had just arrived from the noise of Nairobi, Anthony walked right up and said hello as if it was just any other day for him. Easy, comfortable and casual…humble, and unlike any other celebrity encounter I’d had before.
Anthony and Kamau were at Lewa to shoot what we now know to be one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown, the famous travel series that invites people to see the world through the lens of Anthony and his exceptional crew. Of course, Anthony had been to Africa countless times, but now the seasoned traveler “was dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world”.
They started in Nairobi looking for examples of community empowerment and uplifting aspects of Kenya’s pride, politics and creativity. Naturally, they wanted a safari to match this perspective, and they were looking for a story at the intersection of tourism, conservation and local Kenyan engagement.
This perspective – one of hope, creativity and resilience – was a perfect match with one of our beloved destinations, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. Established in 1995 by the Craig family, Lewa was originally a cattle ranch that has since grown to be one of the most successful rhino conservation projects in the world while also providing medical services to nearly 50,000 people.
As a conservation model, this patchwork of ranches has inspired the Northern Rangelands Trust which includes 35 community conservancies and 18 ethnic groups spread over 42,000 sq. kms. of Kenya’s wild northern frontier. Lewa is an epicenter of conversations about land and wildlife management, anti-poaching strategies, and secure, sustainable development. Lewa embodies a radical innovation of Kenya’s most foundational structures, and the lesson from Lewa is clear: to protect wildlife, you have to build clinics, support schools and empower local communities.
Uncovering the Story
We knew Anthony and his crew would find what they needed at Lewa. It just so happened that at the time of their visit, presidential politics were extremely precarious, and tensions were also growing in Kenya because of a 5-year drought the country had been experiencing. Managing and monitoring the needs of the communities as well as those of the animals and the sometimes constricting laws that surround land and water usage created desperate situations that were complex and palpable. Although a complex and sensitive issue, we knew that Parts Unknown was interested in capturing some of this story, and certainly how it was impacting the nation overall.
Travel – and the unforgettable gems that result from it – can be tricky. The ‘magical’ moments that travelers seek can be elusive in spite of the best laid plans. Our first sundowner shot with Anthony and Kamau, for example, was enshrouded in streaky grey clouds, but, rather than hang onto that disappointment, we proceeded with our schedule…capturing intimate audio from Anthony that perhaps today carries a bit of comfort that he knew his life was well-lived.
Seventeen f—ing years. As soon as the cameras turn off and the crew will be sitting around, we’ll be having a cocktail, I f— pinch myself. I cannot f— believe that I get to do this.
As luck would have it, magic did manage to find us the next day. In an almost prophetic way, there was a sighting of a male and female lion together on a hilltop where they’ve been spotted before…except this time, they almost immediately sauntered down the hill and walked directly toward our vehicle with Tony and Kamau following behind. After that fortuitous sighting, we continued on to Il Ngwesi Community Ranch for a celebratory lunch that was simple and profound. And then, it happened.
An Unexpected Gift
Coming from a direction that even the Maasai elders didn’t expect was an unlikely storm in an atypical month. Kenyans generally experience the ‘short rains’ in December, and the ‘long rains’ in April and May which is when the bulk of the precipitation happens, but this was March 2nd. The direction, the timing and the dramatic ending of Kenya’s drought was electrifying the country…in that very moment. And, it was captured by and with Anthony Bourdain. The entire community, the crew, even Kamau…everyone…was dancing in celebration of the unexpected gift.
This is how I ended up in front of a fire with the sound of raindrops on the roof, chatting with Anthony. Not surprisingly, we talked about travel. I was curious if there was a destination he found most surprising, and he told me about Iran…he said the people were kind, welcoming and embracing. We talked about respecting cultures and how when someone you just met offers you something to eat, you absolutely eat it. For Anthony, the first and final frontier was a culture’s food, and, to have an authentic adventure, one must be completely immersed in it.
That visit, now documented in one of his final episodes, will certainly be held as one of my most treasured memories. The rain we had was certainly symbolic of how his visit brought so many gifts to this hopeful place; from his company around that fire to the light that this episode will bring to Lewa and the surrounding communities and certainly to the ongoing story of Kenya’s beauty and resilience.
But there’s a special moment that Bell did not expect to make it to the final cut — after the camera crew pulled back to get a wide shot, but the mikes were still on.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to take this moment to tell him what he really means to me,’ ” Bell says.
He told Bourdain that he watched his show on his couch 10 years ago, thought it was a perfect job, and wondered how a struggling comic could get there. Bourdain responded that he was a simple cook, “dunking fries” at age 44, and never thought he’d see Rome much less Kenya.
It was a special moment, Bell recalls, that now feels like a goodbye.
In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was booming. It was a sought-after destination, and Next Adventure was one of the few photographic safari experts to specialize in travel to Zimbabwe.
Over the past couple of decades, Zimbabwe tourism has struggled, but there is optimism in the air. Three of the most influential safari operators are opening new camps in the Zambezi valley. Vic Falls town is humming again with lots of new lodges and development, and more travelers are opting for a full Zimbabwe Safari Circuit.
Zimbabwe is a country of remarkable diversity with a variety of excellent wildlife viewing regions. There’s boating and walking safaris, archeological touring, ground-breaking conservation work, one of the seven woders of the world and some of the best naturalist guides on the continent.
We’re excited to be working on a wonderful itinerary for a family of four that includes Zimbabwe’s iconic destinations as well as stops in the lesser known areas in the south.
We love how this itinerary unfolds. We start off with the stunning beauty and adventure of the Zambezi Valley and the predator rich pans of Hwange National Park, then there’s a mid-point stop to explore Vic Falls before continuing to the granite wilderness of Matopos and a fascinating World Heritage site, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
The circuit ends in the Gonarezhou area which ties together all the themes that make for a great safari: community-based conservation, cultural experiences, and a wide range of activities in a truly breathtaking wilderness setting.
As the sun drifted down on the rolling hills of South Africa’s Free State province, Manie Van Niekerk wore a mournful look. The 52-year-old farmer and rancher, whose short hair is dark on top and gray on the sides, has a sturdy, solid frame formed by decades of physical work. He looks like a man who is hard to shake. And yet, talking about his 32 rhinoceroses, which at that moment he was preparing to give away, he was visibly moved. “You fall in love with the rhino,” he told me. “You get a lot of joy looking at them. They are dinosaurs. You can look at them and imagine the world before. People think they’re clumsy, but they’re actually very graceful. Like ballerinas.”
Everyone remembers their first ‘ellie’ sighting on safari.”
Simon Penfold, my Scenic Air Safaris host, was right. Through the window of our 10-seater plane, I watched a herd of elephants saunter across the Masai Mara plains with slack-jawed astonishment as we made our way to the landing strip.
I had not heard the call. No one near me had—not the South African behind me, nor the Swedish woman to his left. Not even the Vancouverites, who’d finally silenced the shutters on the shiny new Canons they’d traveled 9,875 miles to test out in Botswana, and who had proven to be the couple in our mud-smacked 4WD who maybe, maybe, could spot something before OB, our guide, had a chance (they got high praise for spying a rare red-billed quelea 30 minutes earlier which sent those shutters aflutter). With two days of game drives already behind us, the five of us now understood when OB sensed something.
WE ARE MARCHING single file on a mountain path, winding our way through a bamboo forest, tall spindles shooting to the sky. Sunlight splashes through the canopy, hitting the pale green of the bamboo sheaths and turning the light a refulgent green. It’s magical, and strenuous. About 2,000 feet up, the vegetation turns into a jungle of hairy plants with needles and nettles. My ankles and calves itch terribly, but I concentrate on the mission at hand: getting face-to-face with a mountain gorilla.
Safari camps are always changing. Of course, the location and design are important, but it’s really people who make a safari experience special. It’s not only the guides, but the dining staff, the managers, and all of the hardworking folks behind the scenes who set the stage for our wonder.
Here at Next Adventure, we take safaris personally. We want to know the people who will be taking care of our guests and what the experience on the ground is really like. That’s why we make a huge effort to stay up-to-date and personally visit all the regions we recommend. This Spring, three-fifths of the Next Adventure team will be attending tradeshows and participating in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, so we have the best information when it comes time to design your custom itinerary.
Here’s some of the spots we can’t wait to experience!
Tswalu – The Motse
For many years, Tswalu has been a perennial favorite, and it is unlike anywhere else. It occupies a relatively unknown corner of South Africa, and it has a completely unique ecosystem which is home to extraordinary wildlife like meerkats, pangolin and aardvark as well as plentiful plains game and predators. It is also known for a comfortable and stylish decor which will be completely refurbished in 2019. We can’t wait!
This sector of the Okavango Delta has always been a beautiful and productive area for wildlife viewing, but now, with the brand new Qorokwe Camp, it’s the only place you can track relocated rhino on foot. Plus, the new camp is simply stunning!
Sarara’s main camp has always been a real home run with families visiting Northern Kenya. There are wonderful cultural interactions like witnessing the extraordinary Singing Wells, and there are great conservation experiences like visiting the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary which rehabilitates orphaned elephants. While Sarara has been a pioneer in Star Beds and fly camping experiences, this year we’re excited to see their new seasonal Treehouses. There just can’t be too many ways to sleep out under the African sky!
Kili likes to call Davison’s Camp “a little camp with a big heart.” This simple camp is perfectly positioned in the Linkwasha reserve in Hwange National Park offering outstanding big game wildlife viewing. It’s a prime area for spotting cheetahs, and it comes at a great price point. For even better value, choose Davison’s during the shoulder season when the plains are lush and green, and you can avoid peak season rates.
A family vacation is all about sharing special moments, and we can’t think of many moments more special than being out in the wilderness with an expert guide up close to Africa’s great wildlife. Of course, you’ll see elephants and lions, but you’ll also get to feel the heat coming from a termite chimney or learn the difference between the sandy tracks of a cheetah or a leopard. Not only is it a tremendously educational experience, it can be a transformative one as well. We’ve seen a number of young people who were inspired by a family safari to pursue a career in conservation or development in Africa.
For us, the key to a family safari is flexibility and variety. We want to choose areas that can offer a lot of different ways to get out of the vehicle and experience the African bush first hand. We also want to find camps that can offer activities during the midday break which is a perfect opportunity to have a siesta while the kids embark on their own guided mini safaris.
Most of all, a family safari allows everyone to focus on sharing these amazing experiences instead of trying to make them happen. Once you’re on safari, there’s nothing to figure out except whether that paw print belongs to a cheetah or a leopard!
Here’s four of our favorite family safari experiences!
Imvelo Elephant Express in Hwange
This is a truly unique and fun experience for a family to hop on vintage rail car that chugs along the border of Hwange National Park. Exclusively on offer from Imvelo Safaris, there’s no cooler way to make your way across the African bush. There’s snacks and drinks and a real sense that you’re on a great journey, even though it’s only a 2 hour ride, and you can see all kinds of wildlife from the train!
EcoTraining in Kruger
For decades EcoTraining was exclusively a professional guide training organization, and now they are making their courses available to travelers who are looking to go a little deeper than just taking photos. With a range of camps in Botswana, South Africa and Kenya, they can create a custom module based on your particular interest. Whether it’s birding, tracking or astronomy, this is a great value option with lots of different activities and true on-the-ground field training.
Camel Safaris at Lewa
One of the most interesting and successful conservation projects anywhere in Africa, Lewa Wilderness is known for their groundbreaking rhino conservation program and their strong collaboration with local communities. It is also home to extraordinary camel-supported walking safaris so you can get out of the vehicle and experience Kenya’s vast Northern Rangelands with an expert Masai guide.
Exclusive Camps & Lodges in Tanzania
For complete flexibility, one of our favorite options is an exclusive use safari house or villa. There’s no worrying about other guests in camp, you have the whole place to yourself, and it’s a great choice for a multi-generational family safari. We’re seeing more and more of these types of accommodations, and we’re most excited to see a brand new Forest Camp coming soon to Chem Chem on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. It’s a wonderful area with spectacular walking, outstanding food and wonderful cultural experiences.
Next Adventure is excited to announce an opportunity to travel with our Managing Director, Kili McGowan, on a truly unique small group itinerary to experience some of Zambia’s most remarkable wildlife destinations.
This Zambia Migration Safari for November/December 2018 begins after Thanksgiving 2018, which hopefully is a nice time for everyone’s calendars. We’re especially excited as this itinerary will satisfy first-timers with excellent big game wildlife viewing as well as repeat travelers who are interested in visiting lesser-known regions.
With the unusual addition of walking to see migrating fruit bats in Kasanka and the chance to witness first-hand a phenomenal conservation & wilderness rehabilitation project in the very remote Liuwa Plains of Western Zambia, this is a one-of-a-kind itinerary.
Next Adventure is very excited to offer this unique and exclusive opportunity to travel with Safari Specialist Kelly Dellinger in search of the elusive snow leopard in the Indian Himalayas in January 2019. While sightings are not guaranteed, this itinerary is specifically designed to put you in exactly the right place at the right time to optimize your chances of quality sightings. Unlike other snow leopard treks, this itinerary utilizes the only dedicated wildlife lodge in remote Western Ladakh, and extensive or strenuous trekking is not required. In addition to the highlight of spotting snow leopards, this itinerary offers a true alpine wilderness experience and extraordinary access to a rarely visited region.
Lewa Walking Wild Fly Camping
Walking Wild is a camel safari outfit based out of Lewa Wilderness. This venture offers guests the unique opportunity to explore by foot the remote valleys, hills and plains of both Lewa and neighboring Maasai community conservation areas. Guests spend the days walking, whilst the camels and Maasai transport the camp, meeting up each evening for unforgettable nights camping out in the bush.
Sleeping tents are dome shade netting tents, PVC floor, 3 meters by 3 meters and 3.5 meters high, insect and reptile proof, with flysheet in case of rain. Bedding is a bedroll on the floor with sheets and blankets. Ablutions are two loos – short drop type and two showers canvas bucket type. This is a walking safari supported by camels, however camels can be ridden when the terrain or route allows.
The patchwork of private conservancies, ranches and farms knit together the Laikipia Plateau, the gateway to Kenya’s little-visited northern territory. Amid spectacular scenery, traditional ways of pastoral life coexist with an abundance of free-roaming wildlife. Laikipia has one of the biggest and most diverse mammal populations in Kenya—only the Masai Mara boasts more game. The big five are present, plus wide-ranging wild dogs; there’s even a chance of seeing the rare aquatic Sitatunga antelope. Laikipia is also home to about 25% of the world’s population of rare Grevy’s zebra and half of Kenya’s black rhino population. This is also the best place to view such northern species as reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, Beisa oryx, Jackson’s hartebeest and gerenuk. Numerous impala and Grant’s gazelle ensure healthy predator populations of lion, leopard and cheetah.
What to expect from Laikipia: Seclusion! Rawness! Rarity! The amazing thing about Laikipia is the cooperation between humans that make this wildlife habitat sustainable. The rugged beauty of the semi-arid deserts and escarpments is simply stunning. You will see rare animal species but rare visitors in Laikipia. Keep in mind that the plateau is high, with altitudes from 5,500 feet to 8,500 feet, so bring sweaters and jackets year round.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Set against the backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kenya, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a magical place for the ultimate Kenyan safari experience. The diversity of scenery from open plains, rolling hills, valleys, escarpments and rivers brings rich game viewing opportunities while supporting community initiatives and sustainable development. LWC is home to all of the “Big Five” and due to the establishment of a rhino sanctuary and breeding program in 1984, it is one of the only areas where visitors are almost guaranteed to see both the endangered black and white rhino. Through the protection and management of endangered species, the initiation and support of community conservation and development programs, and the education of neighboring areas in the value of wildlife, Lewa has become Kenya’s leading model for wildlife conservation on private land. LWC is leading the way for low-impact conservation tourism resulting in direct benefits for communities across the region.
Guests of the four lodges on the conservancy are welcome to walk with a trained guide, view the terrain and wildlife on horse or camelback or perhaps on a scenic flight. Some of these activities are at extra cost and not all are available at every property.
What to expect from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy: Remoteness! Culture! Rhinos! One big advantage of this conservancy is how few guests visit such an immense area. You will feel like this wilderness is your own private haven. There are many cultural experiences available from the various lodges on the LWC and most guests feel that they are respectful and authentically enriching.
Legendary Lodge is one of a kind: it is a luxury property located on the outskirts of Arusha, set in a lush tropical garden surrounded by a working coffee farm. Enjoy inspiring views of Mount Meru from the privacy of your own garden cottage while their staff takes care of your every whim. Conveniently located, the lodge is a 10 minutes’ drive from the Arusha Airport and 1 to 2 hours’ drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.
The Legendary Lodge offers the highest standard in accommodations and service. The ten garden cottages each have private verandahs and stunning views of Mount Meru that make for the perfect place to relax before or after a safari. The interiors have been designed with a unique blend of African style combined with Western comforts and old colonial luxury. Each ensuite cottage features comfortable split level living to include king size beds with mosquito nets, lounge with fireplace, satellite television, direct dial phone, broadband connection, complimentary mini-bar, fruit basket and coffee and tea station. The bathrooms have a vanity with double basins, bathtub, rain shower, separate toilet and the full range of amenities. The family cottages feature two ensuite bedrooms connected by a spacious living room, fully furnished with satellite television, dining room and kitchen. The family cottages also feature a wrap-around verandah and each one is enclosed in a private garden.
Indulge in gourmet meals served at the old farmhouse. Meal times are flexible and guests are accommodated at their convenience. Wake up calls are accompanied by freshly brewed coffee and tea along with a full English breakfast. Delicious lunches are followed by romantic candle-lit dinners, served with a selection of fine wines. The nearby recreation centre includes a fully equipped gym with aerobics studio, sauna, steam room, pool, tennis and squash courts as well as sports fields and a five-kilometre running track. Optional activities offered are a savory coffee tour, shopping at the nearby Cultural Heritage Center or an excursion to Arusha, Tarangire and Manyara National Parks or other nearby attractions. Legendary Spa offers a full range of professional services. After a long flight, ease your body into African time with a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment. After your safari, rehydrate your skin with a personalised face or body treatment. Whatever your pleasure, Legendary Lodge will ensure a truly legendary experience.
Mwiba, a secluded, sophisticated haven set among massive stone boulders, ancient coral trees and acacias, overlooking a rocky gorge on the Arugusinyai River, is the latest addition to the Legendary Expeditions portfolio. Set in harmony with this idyllic natural backdrop, Mwiba offers an unmatched experience in luxury adventure. This exclusive destination mixes both traditional and modern design elements, creating an inviting, sophisticated hideaway.
The interiors artfully integrate the natural surroundings with layer upon layer of textured creams paired with suede, tans and accents of chocolate and charcoal. From the linen dressed slope-armed sofas to ornately carved wooden leg tables and cascading lighting, the eight double suites all give way to a wide-open layout where each room flows to another. The bathroom brings the outdoors inside with traditional canvas walls accented with copper fixtures, large soaking tubs with private outside showers, all with transporting views from hardwood plank decks.
The grey slate-lined infinity-edge pool overlooks three springs where guests can enjoy the sights and sounds of a constant parade of wildlife. Vast and privately controlled, this exquisite 129,530 acre wildlife reserve is vibrantly lush with color-infused botanicals, 33 freshwater springs and a diverse array of wildlife. Game drives, bush walks and cultural excursions to the local tribe’s village are just a few of the magical experiences that begin at Mwiba, where a world of adventure awaits.