Posts Tagged ‘America’

MN Boundary Waters and North Carolina beaches, USA – July & Aug 2016

Giraffe are one of the many mammal species counted during the Singita Grumeti aerial survey in August

Giraffe are one of the mammal species counted during the Singita Grumeti Aerial Census in August

Every second year during the months of July and August, a Riparian Survey and Aerial Census is conducted across the 350,000 acre Singita Grumeti concession area. The counts are done from a helicopter with the Riparian Survey focusing on all the major drainage lines and river systems within the concession area. Species of key interest that are recorded during the survey include the black and white colobus monkey, vulture and marabou stork nests, bushbuck, lion and leopard.

Helicopter

Preparing to take off and begin the count

The Singita Grumeti Aerial Census follows directly after the Riparian Survey and follows a more conventional approach of flying transacts over the entire concession area in order to record all sightings of resident wildlife species to assess the overall population trends and health of the game reserve.

The results that emerged were encouraging overall with most wildlife species showing fairly stable or increasing populations. The elephant numbers were especially gratifying because this was the first count at Singita Grumeti to exceed 1,500 pachyderms and considering the way they have fared in the rest of Tanzania in recent years, these numbers provided irrefutable evidence of what a conservation anomaly and success story Singita Grumeti really is. The lion and leopard numbers were also the highest on record, suggesting a very healthy ecosystem.

Black and white colobus

Black and white colobus monkey on the move

A few species did reveal concerning trends that will require follow up research work in 2017. The number of marabou stork nests has collapsed for no obvious reason. We still see large numbers of these birds, so perhaps they have moved to new nesting sites outside of the concession or perhaps their nesting/breeding time has shifted slightly? Roan numbers also remain perilously low and a dedicated masters research study starting in 2017 should hopefully shed light on why these beautiful antelope are not faring too well. The populations of most other species surveyed remain healthy and robust.

Find out more at: http://www.singitagrumetifund.com/blog/conservation/counting-wildlife/

A handsome leopard spotted from the helicopter during the Singita Grumeti Riparian Survey

A handsome leopard spotted from the helicopter during the Singita Grumeti Riparian Survey

 

Boundary Waters and Figure Eight Island, USA – August 2016

We took our usual family holiday to America during the month of August. Undoubtedly, the two highlights here were spending a week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota and a family escape to a beach house on Figure Eight Island in North Carolina.

Paddling across a glassy lake at sunrise

Paddling across a glassy lake at sunrise

The Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area – www.bwca.com – encompasses over a million acres of protected lakes and river systems. The Boundary Waters is in fact part of a far larger wilderness area that extends into the wider Lake Superior National Forest and up into Canada’s Quetico National Park in Ontario. Once you have acquired an inexpensive permit, you can quite literally lose yourself in this magnificent North American aquatic wilderness for weeks or even months. Simple campsites on the edge of lakes have a pit latrine toilet and fireplace. You need to pack everything else in and back out with you. This provides the recipe for an active nature experience second to none.

Enjoying a classic Boundary Waters sunset

Enjoying a classic Boundary Waters sunset

We left the boys with their grandparents in Saint Peter and Katherine and I escaped into this canoe wilderness for a week. It was our fourth foray into the Boundary Waters and it didn’t disappoint… Paddling on glassy lakes and rivers, off-the-beaten-track wilderness camping, a real chance to reconnect with my wife, spectacular sunsets and lots of downtime to catch up on sleep!!

I would unreservedly recommend the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area to any and every nature enthusiast who enjoys active multi-day excursions into expansive wilderness areas and camping in the great outdoors.

The final stop on our American sojourn for 2016 was a weeklong trip down to the spectacular and exclusive Figure Eight Island – www.figure8island.com – near Wilmington on the coast of North Carolina. We spent a weekend catching up with the Penry family and then stayed on for the week at their idyllic beach house. It was quality family time for the four of us with a typical day seeing us go for a run around the island first thing in the morning, followed by a swim and a morning beach session, then lunch at the pool and naps followed by the afternoon beach session and ice creams before finishing off in the evening with a braai and few cold local beers. It was heavenly.

Quality family beach time playing in the tidal pools of Figure Eight Island

Quality family beach time hanging out and playing in the tidal pools of Figure Eight Island

Rocky Mountains, Boulder and the Black Hills, USA – July & Aug 2015

Twins thrash the Yankees 11-1 on a balmy summer's evening in Minneapolis

Minnesota Twins thrash the New York Yankees 11-1 on a balmy summer’s evening in Minneapolis

July marked the start of a long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to America with the whole family. Twenty-nine hours of long haul flying with two kids under the age of two is enough to fill even the most hardened traveller with fear and trepidation, but in the end the flights turned out to be a breeze with both the little boys proving to be real troopers and incredibly accomplished young travellers.

All the little cousins enjoying an evening pontoon ride around Lotus Lake

An evening pontoon ride with the cousins on Lotus Lake

The twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul was the first stop on our six-week sojourn to explore the American mid-west. Minnesota summers are something special and staying with my sister- and brother-in-law on Lotus Lake in tranquil Chanhassen afforded us a delightfully relaxed start to our American adventures with morning runs, craft beer tasting, and evening boat cruises the order of the day.

After ten days catching up with family and getting into the swing of holiday life, it was time to get our road trip underway. A long drive south through Iowa and then west across Nebraska brought us to the sunshine state of Colorado – undoubtedly my favourite state in America. And where better to be based than Estes Park: gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed in the aptly named Hide-a-Way cabin at Brynwood on the River – www.brynwood.com – and this proved an excellent choice for our young family. We quickly settled into the rewarding routine of taking a decent morning hike to the picturesque lakes inside the national park, followed by afternoon siestas, and a stroll into the downtown area for some local brews and other tasty fare.

RMNP's Cub Lake hiking trail

RMNP’s Cub Lake hiking trail

With majestic mountains, tundra wildflowers, abundant wildlife (we saw elk, moose and deer), the highest paved road in the US, and over 350 miles of rustic hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park – http://rockymountainnationalpark.com – is the perfect playground for active nature lovers and adventurous families alike!

Driving slowly south through contorted canyons presided over by mesmerising mountains, we made our way down to the city of Boulder. With a population of one hundred thousand people, Boulder is big enough to have everything you might desire in a city, but also small enough that you can learn your way around the place in a couple of days. Nestling in the foothills of the Flat Irons, Boulder enjoys a picturesque setting with everything an outdoor enthusiast could hope for right on your doorstep. As a consequence, Boulder has become a magnet for sports fanatics and active nature loving families to the point where this idyllic Rocky Mountain city now boasts the highest density of trail runners and triathletes in the whole country! But it’s not only professional athletes that are taking advantage of Boulder’s mountain trails and bike routes, everyone living here is active, healthy and loving the outdoor lifestyle. If I were to ever relocate to America, then this is definitely were I would choose to be based.

A day trip to ride the Gondola at Vail

Riding the Gondola during a day trip exploration of Vail

Heading north from Boulder, we cut through Wyoming to the Black Hills National Forest – www.blackhillsbadlands.com – for a week of running, hiking, biking, golfing and South Dakota sightseeing with the extended family. Highlights of our time exploring the western reaches of the state included a rewarding four-mile hike up imposing Harney Peak – http://harneypeakinfo.com – to the stone fire tower on its summit. At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak stands sentinel as the highest point in South Dakota with magnificent mountain top views looking out onto the 1.25 million acre Black Hills National Forest wilderness area. Other memorable excursions included visiting Mount Rushmore – www.mtrushmore.net – to admire the gigantic presidential heads carved into the mountainside, and a surreal dive through the infamous South Dakota Badlands on our journey back to Minnesota.

 

Kidepo's Lion population is being adversely affected by a mysterious disease - possibly TB or feline AIDS

A mysterious disease – possibly tuberculosis or feline AIDS – is afflicting the king of the beasts in Kidepo

Back in Africa, I recently received some distressing news about the lions of Kidepo Valley National Park. These cats are especially close to my heart as this remote savannah wilderness in northeast Uganda is where Katherine and I first spent time working in the bush together. Anne-Marie Weeden of the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) – www.ugandacf.org – contacted me to say that the local lion population is sick. Veterinary work is currently underway to try and deduce the underlying cause of the mystery illness affecting the ailing lions, but the bottom line is that Kidepo’s lions are in trouble and urgently need effective monitoring and timely veterinary assistance. In order to accomplish this UCF has initiated a fundraising drive – https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/ugandacf/KidepoLionProject – for the Kidepo Lion Project. Your support and any financial contributions to the project would be greatly appreciated.

Kidepo is home to the third largest - and only increasing - lion population in Uganda

Kidepo is home to the third largest – and only increasing – lion population in all of Uganda

MBA Exchange to Duke University, USA – March & April 2015

Attending the fan-fest in Indianapolis ahead of the Duke-Wisconsin final

Attending the NCAA basketball fan-fest in Indianapolis ahead of the Duke-Wisconsin championship final

The much-anticipated arrival of our second son in early June did confound plans for the whole family to join me on MBA exchange to the Fuqua School of Business (http://www.fuqua.duke.edu) at Duke University in North Carolina. While my exchange scholarship covered tuition for the whole semester, complications around flying with babies – not to mention having no nanny in America – led us to opt for a more prudent approach to the exchange programme with me going alone for just one term in the end.

An epic semi-final between Wisconsin and Kentucky

An epic semi-final between Wisconsin and Kentucky

Duke proved an incredible experience, but being away from Katherine and Charlie for a couple of months was very tough indeed. On the academic side of things I had the opportunity to take some superb courses in Leadership, Negotiation and Behavioural Economics as well as a trans-disciplinary course in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Conservation Development, but there were also a number of highly memorable extra curricular experiences…

A prestigious business school like Fuqua attracts a procession of noteworthy visiting speakers and inspirational guest lecturers. While it was a privilege to attend their presentations, there was much more to my Duke experience than simply high quality courses and talks from captains of industry. Duke is a renowned basketball school and arriving just in time for the onset of March Madness – in a year that Duke would end up going all the way to winning the national championship title – was a real stroke of luck.

Duke's number one little fan on game day

Duke’s number one little fan

First I joined a group of fellow exchange students for the round of 16 in Charlotte, and later for an epic road trip to Indianapolis to attend the final four knockout. Winning tickets in the student lottery allowed us to watch both semi-finals and the final live. Being amidst 73 000 very vocal, fanatical supporters inside Lucas Oil Stadium was an unbelievable sporting experience that I’ll never forget.

After the fun and festivities of Duke’s victory in Indiana, I had some road races to look forward to back in North Carolina. First, I took on the never-ending hills of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh marathon (http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/raleigh), which destroyed my legs and caused me to fade badly towards the finish. My 3h37 time was the slowest marathon I’ve ever run, but still placed me 79th out of over 2 000 competitors, hinting at the severity of the course. Barely a week later I tackled the Tar Heel 10-miler (http://tarheel10miler.com) around Chapel Hill, which was shorter, flatter and much more fun!

My two months in America concluded with a long weekend up in Connecticut to visit some recent safari companions and great friends – the Traggio family – before proceeding on to New York City to take care of some Passage to Africa business with Michael Lorentz, and then a long flight home.

It was a privilege to attend Duke for a couple of months and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in America but, as it draws to a close, I am very excited to be headed back to my family in South Africa and look forward to guiding a couple of outstanding Passage to Africa safaris that are on the cards for June and July.

A deafening 73 000 fans crammed into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch the Final Four

A vociferous 73 000 fans crammed into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch the Final Four

Africa Geographic goes bang and Angala getaway, South Africa – Nov 2013

The vista looking out from Angala Boutique Hotel  over Vrede en Lust wine estate

The stunning vista looking out from Angala Boutique Hotel over Vrede en Lust wine estate

The month of November kicked off with the sad news of the untimely demise of Africa Geographicwww.africageographic.com – after nearly 20 years in the care of the Borchert family. This world-class conservation and geographical magazine had been in financial trouble for some time, so the news was not totally unexpected. The liquidation of AFRIPUBLISH Printing (PTY) LTD and its successor Black Eagle Media (PTY) LTD did, however, leave a string of disgruntled creditors and contributors in its wake.

Africa Geographic - Nov issue

The final issue of Africa Geographic

Despite eleven different payment plans and umpteen promises of money from the editor, Sarah Borchert, it was 22 months since I last received any cash from the struggling magazine and they went bang still owing me in the region of R 43 000. Aside from the financial impact suffered by its freelance contributors, the magazine’s sudden departure from the newsstands has also robbed Africa (albeit temporarily) of its loudest and most respected voice in conservation and environmental matters. With the rhino genocide heading into overdrive and the slaughter of our continent’s elephants escalating almost daily, the termination of Africa Geographic at this crucial time is a terrible loss to wildlife and conservationists alike.

Thankfully, after its rocky start, the month improved with a much-needed family vacation to the recently upgraded Angala Boutique Hotel – www.angala.co.za – situated on the outskirts of Franschhoek. Formerly Cathbert Country Inn, rebranded Angala is a stunning retreat where luxury and opulence blend seamlessly with the pristine beauty of nature. With an enviable location on the verdant slopes of the magnificent Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of the Cape winelands, Angala is a destination of rejuvenation where you can revive your body, mind and soul. Although it’s a great base from which to explore the wineries of Franschhoek, Paarl and the Helshoogte Pass, it’s also a wonderful place to simply relax and do nothing at all, savouring the myriad amenities of this five-star guesthouse and its spacious suites. Wanting some downtime to recharge and catch up with the family, we opted for the latter and the idyllic weather ensured we had an incredible time and found it very hard to leave.

Supporting our Springboks against Scotland

Supporting our Springboks against Scotland

The end of the month sees Katherine brave two long-haul flights with an infant on the perennially poor KLM airline when she heads to America to see her family.  It has quite literally been years since we last experienced a drama-free flight on the hapless Dutch airline and Katherine is stealing herself for the almost inevitable challenges that lie in store.

[Postscript: After more than three hours of stress, tears and immense frustration at Cape Town International, Katherine was forced to buy Charlie a whole new ticket simply because KLM and Delta failed to communicate regarding his original reservation on the codeshare flights. The whole process was devoid of customer service with Maria, the KLM flight controller, being an especially unhelpful and unaccommodating old hag.]

While my wife and son are enjoying Thanksgiving in Minnesota, I’ll be taking a GWM Steed double-cab bakkie and my brother-in-law on a serious overland expedition through Khutse Game Reserve, Central Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Pans for SA 4×4 magazine. Watch this space next month for more on this epic adventure…

The suites of Angala Boutique Hotel sit high on the slopes on Simonsberg with an impressive mountainous backdrop

The suites of Angala Boutique Hotel enjoy an enviable position high on the slopes of the Simonsberg

Catching Up with Faraway Family, USA & UK – June 2013

A thunderous five-minute hail storm turns the Sea Point Promenade snow-white

A thunderous five-minute hail storm turns Beach Road and the Sea Point Promenade snow-white

The month of June got off to a promising start with a couple of cover features hitting the shelves in SA 4×4 (http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SA-4×4-Southeast-Namibia-Final.pdf) and Wild magazine (http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Wild-Addo-Final.pdf). Initial feedback has been very pleasing.

Catching up with Dom in London

Catching up with Dom in London

With Cape Town experiencing some unseasonably brutal early winter weather – not to mention freak hailstorms – it was with some relief that I climbed aboard my American Airlines flight to Minneapolis to join my wife and in-laws for a ten-day getaway in the USA.  This year’s visit was a whirlwind tour that included an exciting Minnesota Twins vs Chicago White Sox baseball game, an informative and boozy Summit micro-brewery tour, my first bluegrass music concert at the zoo, regular Mississippi cycling excursions and a long weekend away boating on the idyllic lakes around Brainerd.  Summertime in Minnesota really is unbeatable.

From America, we headed to the UK to visit my sisters and brother-in-laws in London.  But it was the newest addition to the family – my nephew Dominic – that was the underlying catalyst for our Southfields visit.  He’s a classic little guy with a big smile and plenty of energy.  It was great to meet Dom and catch up with the family, but the other highlight of our London stopover was taking my wife and sisters on a tour of my old school. We spent a fun-filled Sunday walking around Harrow-on-the-Hill, exploring my old stomping grounds at Harrow School before finishing off with a tasty lunch at the Doll’s House tea garden.

So, after taking much of June off to visit my far-flung family, July sees me heading ‘back to the grindstone’ with a couple of exciting-sounding assignments on the cards – foremost among these is a 4×4 adventure to explore the full complement of Maputaland game reserves in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Bring it on…

A sizable family gathering in London with young Dom proving the main attraction!

A fun-filled family gathering in the UK with my young nephew proving that he can really pull a crowd

Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Washington DC, America – July 2012

Minnesota Twins vs Kansas City Royals at Target Stadium

July has become a ‘pilgrimage’ month of sorts for Katherine and me as we take our annual summer sojourn to the USA to visit the in-laws and escape the rainy winter weather in Cape Town.  This year our 3.5 week holiday was dominated not only by a very welcome procession of long summer days and blazing sunshine, but also by an action-packed itinerary of weddings celebrations and holiday festivities that saw me overindulging on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I had put on 5kg and could no longer button my pants that the feeding frenzy finally subsided!

The minute we landed in the Twin Cities on Saturday afternoon, we were whisked away to a Chicago Concert in Red Wing followed by an epic Sunday ball game when the Minnesota Twins finally found some form to defeat the Kansas City Royals in an exciting 11-9 contest. And I have to say that this was the most entertaining baseball game I’ve ever attended.

Medal winners in the Inwood 4th of July 5km road race

Next up was a road trip down to Inwood, Iowa, for my first ever genuine ‘small town mid-west’ 4th of July celebration. The Americans pull out all the stops for this festive holiday. We started off with a 5km road race; followed by a fire truck dominated parade down the main street; chilli dogs and tavern sandwiches for the picnic lunch; an extended family burger barbeque and volleyball; and, finally, the derby and fireworks. It was an Independence Day extravaganza that I will never forget!

After an entertaining couple of days in Iowa, we retraced our steps back north into the state of ten thousand lakes for Katherine’s sister, Laura’s, wedding.  It was an elegant and classy affair at the Forepaugh’s restaurant in Saint Paul.

Next up was a five-day bike trip on the Elroy-Sparta (www.elroy-sparta-trail.com), La Crosse River and 400 trails across the state of Wisconsin: dairy capital of America and home of the ‘cheese heads’. The predominantly flat bike trails follow old decommissioned railway lines through the woods and include three long tunnels hewn from the rock over a century ago! It was cushy cycling at its very best with comfortable BnB’s to look forward to in the evening, a tasty home-cooked breakfast every morning before we hit the trail, typical mid-west hospitality and enough micro-breweries to ensure we carbo-loaded like champions before each leg of the cycle trip.

After a relaxing final week back in Minnesota, it was time to fly to Washington DC for one final wedding. We joined Bonnie (a school friend of Katherine’s) and Joe at the Fairmont Hotel to celebrate their marriage and I even managed to squeeze a couple of lunchtime beers in with an old school friend of my own, Johan De Bruijn, at a cool Georgetown pub.  It was festive finale to 3.5 weeks of non-stop action and entertainment … Now I just need a ‘real holiday’ to recover from my USA vacation!

The winter edition of Wild magazine hit the shelves this month with my Swazi Sojourn cover story on the Big Game Parks of Swaziland. The Reilly family have done some remarkable work to save Swaziland’s wildlife and natural heritage from the brink of extinction.  Check out: http://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Wild-Big-Game-Parks-Swaziland-Final.pdf

Wedding season in the USA

Minnesota and the Boundary Waters, USA – August 2011

After many months on the road, August was a month to regroup, chase deadlines and catch up on a growing backlog of unwritten stories. Saint Paul, Minnesota, provided the ideal base from which to work and simultaneously enjoy the superb summer weather and legendary hospitality of the Midwest.

After three weeks burning the midnight oil and writing like a demon, I felt that I had my head above water once more, so I took the last week off  to celebrate and headed with family to the Boundary Waters: one of my favourite place in all of America.

Located in northeastern Minnesota and spanning the international border into Ontario, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) comprises a million acres of wilderness with over 1,000 pristine lakes and streams, as well as more than 1,500 miles of canoe routes to entertain adventurous visitors.

The BWCA (www.bwca.cc) offers nature lovers a genuine wilderness experience without motors, electricity, telephone connectivity or road access to the inner lakes. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful wilderness area in North America and this brazen claim was bolstered when National Geographic named it on its prestigious list of Fifty Destinations of a Lifetime. In other words, a multi-day canoe trip through the wilds of northern Minnesota is an adventure you don’t want to miss out on.

We paddled through a maze of picturesque interlinking lakes and camped next to the water in this incredible wilderness area, as we traced a long elliptical route from Snowbank Lake northeast to Knife Lake on the Canadian border before curving back south to reach our take-out point a week later. En route we appreciated fiery sunsets, sighted moose, marmots and bald eagles, not to mention plenty of evidence of bears.  It was an epic aquatic journey through a tranquil wilderness of true solitude and the perfect place to kick back, unwind and drink in the natural beauty all around us.

Change is rapidly approaching as August draws to a close.  Early next month Katherine heads to northern Kenya on a six week consultancy contract to work on drinking water systems for the refugee camps in the drought ravaged horn of Africa, while I fly directly to South Africa to find us a new home, car and jobs. After five months of near-continuous travel, it’s time to hang up our boots and settle into the next exciting chapter of our life together in Cape Town. No doubt exciting times lie just around the corner…

Glacier NP, New York, South Carolina and Minnesota, USA – July 2011

Scenically spectacular Glacier National Park (www.nps.gov/glac/) is a very special place.  Impressive mountain panoramas, snow-capped peaks, icy blue glacial lakes and dense lodgepole pine forests come together and produce jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes that demand you get out the car and go hiking.

Especially memorable moments in the mountains of northern Montana included drifting off to sleep after lunch on a large flat rock in the middle of picturesque Snyder Lakes under a big blue sky surrounded by towering snowy peaks.  Hiking through the snow to reach Granite Peak chalet and enjoying the wrap-around mountain vistas from the lodge.  However, the roundtrip hike to Iceberg Lake definitely took the cake and topped my list of must-do walks in Glacier.  Scenic mountain terrain and excellent wildlife viewing – grizzly bear feeding, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats – combined to produce an extraordinarily rewarding hike that culminated inside an amphitheatre of mountains at a snowmelt lake peppered with drifting icebergs.  Didn’t I mention … Glacier is a pretty special place!

After eighteen days exploring three of America’s finest national parks it was time for the long drive back east with a final overnight stop in Teddy Roosevelt National Park to check out the Badlands of North Dakota.  After a hectic week playing catch up back in Minnesota we embarked on our next sojourn as we tackled the skyscrapers and unfamiliar territory of New York city.  We flew out to NYC primarily to visit my sister Nicki, followed that up with a family reunion at the beach in South Carolina and finished off a whirl-wind month of high adventure with a Pennsylvania road trip to see Katherine’s alma mater and attend her Bucknell college reunion.

It was an action-packed month of fun travels and exciting magazine assignments that took me from the wilderness and forests of the American West to the concrete jungles and beaches of the East.

London, Reykjavik and America’s finest parks, UK & USA – June 2011

While the travels have become mellower of late, our adventure has also evolved into an increasingly global sojourn that continues to delight at every turn with new destinations and an ever-increasing variety of action attractions.  After nine glorious weeks trekking and tramping to all corners of Nepal, Qatar Airways transplanted us from Kathmandu to London.  The change proved a real shock to the system … not to mention the sensory overload of returning to one of the world’s premier cities.  A ten-day whirlwind tour of England followed as we enjoyed theatre in the West End, test cricket at Lords, boozy pub lunches, a couple of festive birthday celebrations and I even managed to squeeze in a couple of meetings with magazine editors.  The London stopover culminated with a long weekend away with family where we stayed in a delightful little lock-keepers cottage in Rye (www.visitrye.co.uk) on the south coast of England.

My sisters (Carolyn and Sue) pulled out all the stops making sure we were treated like royalty, while my brother-in-law ensured we were fed like kings during our UK stay.  The braai meat was plentiful and beers were never in short supply – a real treat after all the noodles and rice of the last few dry months!

Next stop was Reykjavik en route to the USA.  We selected the very friendly and accommodating Hotel Sunna (www.sunna.is), which boasted an enviable hilltop location within easy walking distance of all the city’s major sights and restaurants.  With a mere 72 hours in Iceland we could only scratch the surface and Sunna was the perfect base for our explorations as we concentrated our limited time on the capital and its neighbouring attractions.  Spending the best part of a day at the idyllic Blue Lagoon hydrothermal spa (www.bluelagoon.com) was a real highlight, while the thrill of half-day whale-watching and puffin-spotting boat cruises came a close second.  Tours with both Elding (www.elding.is) and Special Tours (www.specialtours.is) provided me with my first glimpses of Minke whales, as well as impressive views of thousands of nesting puffins on the islands of Faxafloi Bay.

We arrived in America on June 15th and after a couple of days of feasting and catching up with family, we embarked on a long-awaited and much anticipated three-week road trip out west to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks (www.nps.gov).  My quest was to find and photograph wolves and bears in the backcountry while we soaked up the beautiful mountainous scenery.  The parks did not disappoint.

Record precipitation in the Rockies this winter meant the higher hiking trails were still buried under deep snow; however, this 300% higher-than-average snowfall forced the animals to congregate in the lower elevations.  We were thrilled to see black bears foraging, grizzly bears hunting, wolf and plenty of moose, elk, pronghorn and deer.  Absolutely idyllic weather conditions with deep blue skies, warm sunshine and barely a cloud in three weeks ensured we thoroughly enjoyed our time camping and hiking in Wyoming.

American parks are super-easy and affordable to explore with negligible park fees, cheap camping, free backcountry permits for overnight hiking deep into little-visited wilderness areas and wildlife-viewing that could tempt and woo even the most experienced African wildlife connoisseurs.

Next up we collect my sister-in-law from Bozeman airport and drive up to explore Glacier National Park in northern Montana before making our way back to Minnesota and heading east to visit friends and family in New York and South Carolina.

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