* Victoria Falls River Lodge
The big question when travelling to Victoria Falls is “which side of the Falls should you stay on - Zambia or Zimbabwe?” This is a similar situation to Argentina vs Brazil for Iguassu Falls and US vs Canada for Niagara Falls.
There’s no right or wrong answer to this – the accommodation is a little more plentiful on the Zimbabwe side however all activities run from both sides and are easily accessible.
Whatever your decision, you will be able to cruise the Zambezi River and see the Falls from all angles.
Did you know that Victoria Falls is called the Adventure capital of Africa? it’s not only known for the majestic Waterfalls, but you can do any or all of the following whilst you’re there:
*white water rafting *bungee jumping *Gorge swings *Zipline *jetboating *walk with elephants
*helicopter rides *Zambezi river cruises
If you want to see both sides of the Falls, obtaining a Kaza Univisa for USD50 is an economical way to spend time in both countries.
I stayed up the river on the Zimbabwe side – the Victoria Falls River Lodge accommodates adults only in the Island Treehouses or families in the mainland villas.
Staying in the treehouses was a great experience. Sitting on the deck overlooking the Zambezi river, watching elephants and hippopotamus in the river below and monkeys in the trees above whilst sipping a G&T is what African dreams are made of.
* andBeyond Botswana properties
Botswana is well renowned as one of the best game viewing destinations in Africa and the most heavily populated wildlife areas are Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta.
Chobe is famous for its elephant population, but you can generally see most of the other major wildlife there also.
The Okavango Delta on the other hand can be seen from air, water or on land and in every instance, the game drive is diverse and the wildlife amazingly different and equally majestic on every occasion.
Fly me Around Botswana, a package put together by my local travel partner andBeyond Travel, provides great savings and amazing flexibility.
Stay up to 7 nights at up to 3 x andBeyond Botswana properties and you’ll not only get your flights in between the properties thrown in, but you’ll also be saving up to USD5300 per person for the 7-night stay. You have the choice to combine any of 3 x lodges and 2 x under canvas camps for what will be a very memorable experience. See the attached link and ask me more on how to book this incredible package!
Is there a right or wrong time to visit the Delta? The answer to that is no – every part of the year has something different to offer.
Generally speaking though, from April to September the Delta will be full of water due to the rains in Angola flowing down river and you will be able to do both land and water safaris during this time. You may not see as much as you would if you just did land activities, however it’s a great way to mix things up. A mokoro safari is a very unique experience.
* The Silo Hotel
* La Residence, Franschhoek
For me, South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Starting with the vibrant city of Cape Town which is set on the beautiful Victoria & Alfred Waterfront; it has spectacular beaches stretching for kilometres in both directions. Table Mountain sits atop the city providing the most incredible views and there really is an extraordinary amount to do in and around the city. Venture down south to the Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach to see the penguins and come back into town to see the colourful Bo-Kaap houses in what was formerly the Malay Quarter.
Cape Town is also the gateway to the Winelands District which leads into the Garden Route, hugging the coastline around to Port Elizabeth. Hire a car and spend days meandering between vineyards, seaside towns and surf beaches, throw in some adrenaline filled activities and even see fabulous wildlife.
Then of course there is Kruger National Park as well as many other wildlife reserves within the country. There’s a reserve to suit everyone’s budget – and the Big 5 are there on show for everyone to see. Don’t be surprised if you see the Big 5 of elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard on your first morning game drive!
My tip – make sure you give yourself plenty of time to spend in South Africa. You could make it your one stop destination, taking in Johannesburg, Durban and even a Rovos Rail experience from Cape Town to Pretoria as well. You can use it as the gateway to other parts of Africa, but don’t dismiss it as just a gateway – it is a destination on its own.
* andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
With mind blowing landscape, Namibia is the most diverse country I have seen in Africa. It’s not well known as a tourist destination, but it needs to become a must-visit on every trip to Africa.
There are game reserves, parks, safari lodges, spectacular coastlines, waterholes and huge expanses of desert. The country is rich in game viewing, even considering how dry it is but it is the place where experiences can be found that are nowhere else in the world.
Did you know…..?
*it is one of the easiest and safest places in Africa to do a self-drive holiday
*it has hundreds of thousands of shimmering stars and makes it one of the best star gazing locations on the planet
*it has a population of only 2 million people, so it is extremely unpopulated
*it has the collection of the highest sand dunes in the world
*It is one of the most sustainable countries and is extremely rich in conservation
*as well as the normal 4WD safaris; you can do horse back safaris, hot air balloon safaris, walking safaris and helicopter safaris – all over or on rich red sand dunes and rugged terrain
*the Skeleton coast got its name from the whale and seal bones that once littered the shore line from the whaling industry, but now many shipwrecks are found that were caught by offshore rocks and fog.
*A combination of Sossusvlei desert, Etosha National Park and the Shipwreck coast make for a fabulous Namibian holiday
*Accommodation varies from camping to luxury lodge accommodation - I stayed at andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
* Singita Kwitonda Lodge
The main purpose of my trip to Rwanda was to do the Gorilla trek, however I found the country to have a sense of calm about it that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.
The city of Kigali was heavily populated, yet no-one was in a rush, there was no honking of horns, cars weaved in and out of traffic and pedestrians were given right of way. They hadn’t seen tourists for just on 2 years as tourism was completely shut down during Covid and the welcome I received everywhere was quite extraordinary. The villagers were delighted to see tourists and waved at every passing vehicle, the kids chased the cars and wanted to have photos taken and interact. Everyone was at peace…… and after visiting the Genocide Museum in Kigali, I understood why.
This country had suffered the unspeakable, yet they had got through it and were living harmoniously.
The gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park was a truly incredible experience – read my account of it here.
It was 849 days between international flights – a far cry from the 3 months normally spent travelling each year for the 10 years prior to 2020.
Travelling 2022 style was always going to be different but I was so excited to be travelling again, that it wouldn’t have mattered what I had to do to get there. I actually self-quarantined for 9 days prior to departure to ensure there was no way I was going to get Covid…..I had to go on this trip!
Packing was different to the way it used to be – KN95 masks were a must, as was hand sanitiser (I use to take that with me before anyway) and antibacterial wipes were all in the hand luggage, but I felt like I was out of practice with everything else – what did I need to take with me? What was normally second nature didn’t come back to me straight away.
There were extra forms to complete everywhere and when you’re travelling between 6 countries including Australia, that’s a lot of forms to fill out, sometimes they were completed against a pole in an airport queue but other times on the plane before landing.
It certainly didn’t feel as easy and worry-free as it used to – I was always thinking ahead, did I have the right forms completed, had I checked the Covid restrictions, did I need a Covid test today or tomorrow?
In saying that, once we were over those small checks, the rest of the trip ran amazingly smooth. Having everything pre-organised and booked before departure was a bonus – I certainly wouldn’t recommend “winging” it right now. There are protocols everywhere however if you know what to expect before you arrive, then that’s a definite plus and it will make for a seamless holiday….something we all love to have.
Each country had different restrictions, but they were also very understanding and very thorough with their checks and there were no surprises. Masks were mandatory almost everywhere (not like in Australia, where you’re not sure where they are needed and where they aren’t).
Prior to departure, many people said to me “I can’t believe you’re going to Africa - surely it’s the worse place to go!” I think it was in fact one of the best places to go….their systems were all in place and everyone was compliant with the rules. It wasn’t crowded and everything ran so smoothly.
After travelling through 6 countries, going on 17 flights and 2 helicopter rides and having 9 PCR tests in 3.5 weeks….it was most definitely a safe destination to visit and will always be remembered as my 1st trip post-Covid as well as one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.
* Singita Kwitonda Lodge
Why trek in Rwanda rather than Uganda? Why do Rwanda gorilla permits cost over double those in Uganda?
*Rwanda are charging more from a conservation focused experience. They have 13 habituated families and there can be a maximum of 8 people in each group – therefore a maximum of 104 people can trek each day
*The price has been driven up by supply and demand.
*Rwanda have 9 habituated families that they use for research - monitoring their habits, health etc.
*Uganda is a harder trek as there are not as many habituated families to find (only 4)
*With the cost of the permits having increased a few years ago, Rwanda is putting a lot more money into conservation and training of the trackers/porters/guides etc. so it is considered a better experience from that point of view. A large percentage of each permit goes towards the trackers/porters/guides as well as local villages.
*There are many more accommodation options in Rwanda
*You can drive from the capital of Kigali to the jungle – approximately 3 hours away in Rwanda making it more accessible
*You must fly to the Ugandan jungle from Entebbe – so that adds an additional expense and therefore Uganda isn’t as cheap as it initially appears. Entebbe is also not as easy to get to as Kigali is with not as many flight options.
MY DAY OF GORILLA TREK - RWANDA
This is the same regardless of which hotel you stay in Rwanda once you arrive at the National Park Entrance. The only difference will be how close you are staying to the National Park Entrance and how early you will need to leave your hotel.
6.30am – breakfast
7.00am – leave for the National Park Entrance
7.15am – arrive at National Park Entrance
7.15am – my guide went to the office, showed them my permit and I was assigned a trekking group, based on fitness, age and capabilities. The treks can be as short as 15-20 minutes each way, so it depends how far up into the forest you want to trek.
7.30pm – met trekking group and guide and we were told what to expect
7.45am – we were driven to where the trek was to start
8.00am – the trek commences. Porters come with you and take your backpack and you are handed a walking pole to assist you where needed.
*your hotel will supply you with some gear and you will need to supply some of your own. You do need gaters (or gumboots) and you need gloves (gardening type). Otherwise, you can wear normal clothes (muted safari colours).
Once your trackers find the gorilla family that you’ve been assigned to, you have 1 hour on the ground with them. The hour flies by but it is incredible to see them in their habitat – a once in a lifetime experience like nothing else I’ve had in my life.
The gorillas are surprisingly tame and whilst we were told to keep 10 metres from them, they had other ideas. They were so close, I could have reached down and patted a few of them.
And once your hour is over, you say goodbye to the trackers and the gorillas and head off back to where you started.
The trackers stay with the gorilla family all afternoon, until they settle for the evening and they’re able to tell the guides the next day where they left them. It allows the guide to head off in the right direction the following day.
My trek took 7.5 hours in total – much longer than I had anticipated, but it was worth every second!!
North Island Twin Coast Discovery
✔️ Driving north from Auckland via the North Shore, our first stop will be the town of Matakana....a gateway to your accommodation for a couple of nights at Brick Bay Wineries at Snell Beach. The city is a foodie’s heaven known for its weekend farmers market, boutique food shops and spectacular vineyards.
✔️ Keep following the highway north to Whangarei, the city by the sea. Whilst you’re there, visit the Whangarei Falls, the summit of Mount Parihaka and hang out at Quayside, the entertainment centre.
✔️ From there, go inland via Kawiti Family Glow worm Caves or over the mountains via the coast to Helena Bay.
✔️ Then you will be in the Bay of Islands - whether you stay in Kerikeri, Paihia or Russell there is plenty to do in this area with beautiful beaches, opportunities for fishing, surfing, diving and dolphin encounters as well as fabulous hikes including the Cape Brett Walkway.
✔️ On the way down south take the west coast highway for another scenic drive.
✔️ When visiting Auckland, there is one place you must always go to - Waiheke Island. It’s only a short ferry ride across the bay and together with fabulous wineries to visit, there are some incredible places to stay. A day trip is possible, but if you can spare the time, a few days spent here is recommended.
North Island Thermal Explorer
Start the journey in Auckland before venturing south…
✔️ After leaving Auckland this morning, travel south to Waitimo to see the incredible glow worm caves.....by foot or by boat, you’ll see the magical creatures light up.
✔️ Rotorua is the adventure capital of the North Island. It’s famous for its thermal mud pools and hot springs, but there are plenty of activities to keep the whole family occupied for days.
✔️ Continue south to Taupo for more adventure and a visit to Huka Falls and Tongariro National Park. Glamping in this area is popular to immerse yourselves in nature.
✔️ For a change of pace, let’s head into the Hawke’s Bay Area for some wonderful wine, innovative cuisine, shopping and art galleries.
✔️ Napier is known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand - walking around the city is like being on a 1930s film set. The Art Deco festival is held each February.
✔️ To finish our North Island Thermal Explorer itinerary, we’ll end in Wellington. The capital is a city with a vibrant mix of culture, history, nature, shopping and cuisine. Wellington is the master of casual dining with great restaurants, night markets and food trucks aplenty.
South Island Exploration
✔️ Start your journey in Christchurch, hire a car and drive north to Hanmer Springs - known for its thermal springs and hot pools
✔️ Drive inland to Lewis Pass and do the Nature loop walk, then on to Maruia Falls near Murchison.
✔️ From there, it’s a must to visit Nelson Lakes National Park which is stunning.
✔️ Base yourself in Nelson for a few days to do some wine tasting in and around Marlborough Sound, boat cruises or visit art galleries and shop.
✔️ Or set off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk - one of the great walks of New Zealand.
✔️ Travel via Blenheim to see Lake Grassmere, otherwise known as the pink lake
✔️ End off the trip with a fabulous stay at the Hapuku Lodge + Tree Houses in Kaikoura, check out Ohau Point Seal Colony and waterfall before heading back to Christchurch
South Island Glacier Adventure
✔️ Let’s start the journey in Christchurch - the historic centre with beautiful old buildings and scenic gardens.
✔️ Take a boat ride on the Avon River and then head to Akaroa and the Bays for some dolphin spotting.
✔️ From there, drive west to the uncrowded ski town of Methven which is the perfect base for your heli-skiing adventure, or otherwise just an overnight stop.
✔️ Let’s move on to the town of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park - the base for your adventurous few days of discovery at Tasman Glacier, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier.
✔️ Don’t forget to set aside time to see Lake Matheson and Lake Pukaki. Aside from the hikes, waterfalls, rainforests and lakes, there are glow worm caves and glacier hot pools to enjoy also.
✔️ As you drive north to Greymouth, drop off your car and take the TranzAlpine Express back to Christchurch.
When I visit New York, I steer well clear of Madison and Fifth Avenues for shopping. With designer stores as far as the eye can see; heading downtown to Soho, the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village has a lot more to offer the everyday shopper…..and then of course there are the regular designer sample sales that are always worth checking out http://www.nycinsiderguide.com/nyc-sample-sale#.WRw7i2iGOHk .
Some other favourite shopping haunts of mine from around the world include –
Barcelona – It is easy to spend hours wandering through the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter and El Raval. There are so many unique shops intermingled with tapas bars and restaurants that an afternoon is gone in the blink of an eye. Passieg de Gracia is the Champs Elysees of Barcelona and is beautiful to stroll down, but the backstreets hold far more appeal for me.
Tokyo – the streets of Omote-Sando, Harajuku, Takeshita-dori and Ura-Hara offer the quirkiest shopping I’ve possibly ever seen. Along with fabulous people watching, this is such a fun area to stroll around and pick up some very unique things.
Cape Town – the vibe in this beautiful city is wonderful especially down at the V&A Waterfront, but the boutique shopping area bordered by Long St and Kloof St in the city centre is a firm favourite.
Buenos Aires – Recoleta has the high fashion labels sewn up, but head to Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho for great bargains and shopping with a difference. A lazy afternoon strolling the streets in these districts is a must do for any visit to Buenos Aires.
Vancouver – this is one city where the shopping is spread out but Davie Village and Gastown are great shopping neighbourhoods which cater for everyone. Getting out a little further is Commercial Drive, a fabulous area showing Vancouver’s diversity and it’s worth visiting if you have a morning or afternoon free.
Singapore – a welcome escape from the countless shopping malls that overrun the city is Haji Lane in the Arab Quarter. It’s a lively area full of eclectic shops, cafes and bars with amazing graffiti covering the walls. It’s such a contrast to other areas of Singapore and is great to visit both in the day and at night.
A European summer vacation is not complete without a visit to a beach or two, but fighting for a square metre of sand, a sun lounge or an umbrella can make the day unpleasant. It’s time to explore further afield, get away from the usual tourist haunts and mix it with the locals at these magnificent European beach locations.
*Tropea, Calabria, Southern Italy – a favourite holiday destination for Italians with dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches and a string of seaside resorts and villages dotting the coastline
*Cavalaire-Sur-Mer, Cote d’Azur, France – the French Riviera without the hype and pretentiousness, this is a playground for the young and old and particularly for divers
*St. Paul’s Bay, Rhodes, Greece – not a popular island for first time visitors to Greece, but it is definitely one to visit 2nd time round. This beautiful bay sits just south of Lindos on the island of Rhodes.
*Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos, Greece – if you haven’t seen it in photos, you’ll be amongst the few. This spectacular beach is well known to locals but very few Australian tourists visit Zakynthos. Put it on your list of “go to” places!
*Llafranc, Costa Brava, Spain – this is one of my favourite areas of Europe and this little gem is still quite unknown to tourists. Little caves weave in and out of the hilly coastline with crystal blue water. In one word – stunning.
*Caneiros Beach, Algarve, Portugal – it can be quite crowded in the middle of summer, but this beach stands apart from others as the beach is hidden by magnificent rock formations and is only revealed as you step through them.
*Saharun Beach, Dugi Otok Island, Croatia – a relatively untouched jewel, once you’ve caught the ferry from Zadar, this divine beach can only be accessed down a small gravel track between villages. The turquoise waters make this a standout destination.
*Brela Vruja, Makarska Riviera, Croatia – set between Dubrovnik and Split, the Makarska Riviera is a collection of small beaches, one equally as good as the next. Brela Vruja Beach is considered the best but why not try them all?
What female could visit New York without visiting a rooftop bar? For this New York lover, each time I visit the Big Apple, I seek out another fabulous bar or two to add to my list. There’s something to say about having a beautiful cocktail out in the open, up high above Manhattan amongst the glamour set. I think we can all thank Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda for that!!
Have you ever been to Eataly NYC…the vibrant Italian marketplace that features an array of cafes, counters, restaurants and a cooking school? It’s situated in the Flatiron District and it’s a great place to eat, shop, and learn. But the hidden secret is the fabulous rooftop bar, La Birreria where Aperol Spritzers on a Saturday afternoon are the norm.
For the art lovers, the Metropolitan Museum of Art situated on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side, houses an amazing rooftop bar overlooking Central Park. Art and cocktails seem to mix quite well and what a setting!
A classy establishment is the Salon de Ning at the Peninsular Hotel, on the corner of Fifth and 55th. Sweeping views up and down Fifth Avenue highlight this very lovely outdoor bar – it has a very cool and sophisticated vibe. Another one to fit in this category is the cocktail bar at the Mandarin Oriental, situated at Columbus Circle with phenomenal views over Central Park.
For me, I prefer the more casual yet upbeat vibe of the aptly named “Roof” at the Viceroy Hotel or the PHD bar at the Dream Midtown. They are both quite small but have a similar feel and are both located just south of Central Park.
Travelling further downtown… the Dream Downtown, 230 Fifth, The Standard Highline and the Refinery Hotel all have amazing rooftop bars; with the highlight being the glass igloos/bubbles on the roof of 230 Fifth over the winter months.
For the youngsters, head down to the trendy neighbourhood of the Lower East Side where the Indigo Hotel has the hip “Mr Purple” rooftop bar with a pool and amazing views of the Empire State Building.
Head on over to Brooklyn for killer Manhattan views – visit Alma, Berry Park Roof Deck or Dobbin St Rooftop Terrace to look back on the city that never sleeps.