Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness’

Khaudum, Sisheke and Zambezi Whitewater, Namibia & Zambia – Aug 2012

Spotted hyaena feed on a kudu carcass while thousands of flamingoes look on at Nyae Nyae Pan

After a thoroughly enjoyable summer holiday in the USA, August was devoted to a long-awaited and much anticipated JavZam work trip to explore the Sisheke District in the northern sector of the KAZA TFCA (http://www.kavangozambezi.org/).

I departed Cape Town with three work colleagues on a drizzly winter’s morning for Namibia; first stop was seldom-visited Khaudum (http://www.met.gov.na/Documents/Khaudum%20National%20Park.pdf) in northeast Namibia. This arid park falls within the KAZA TFCA and is quite possibly Namibia’s wildest national park. Elephants are dime a dozen here and anyone with a soft spot for these giant pachyderms should make sure a trip to Khaudum features prominently on their safari bucket list.

Khaudum is wild tract of arid Namibian wilderness where elephant herds outnumber tourists 10:1

After 5 days exploring the wilds of Khaudum and its neighbouring flamingo-rich Nyae-Nyae Pans, we reluctantly bid farewell to the elephant herds and made our way through the Caprivi to try out the new Sioma Border Post north of Kongola.  A fancy new road terminated in the middle of nowhere and we were forced to backtrack 17km to find the Namibian ‘immigration table’ perched under a shady tree!  In contrast the Zambian side had some very fancy new immigration offices, but no road yet!  All this made for a great adventure as we eventually figured everything out.  Later, we learned that we were the first visitors to use this new KAZA tourist facility, which had only officially opened 5 weeks earlier.

The primary reason for our trip was to conduct a thorough reconnaissance of the Sisheke District and Sioma Ngwezi National Park as these areas make up the core area for the exciting and ambitious Sisheke Conservation Project (http://www.sisheke.com/).

An inquisitive wild dog at Katuli Pools on the edge of Sioma Ngwezi NP

For the next two weeks we drove, boated and flew through out the 3,000,000ha Sisheke Conservation Area that was recently awarded to JavZam to manage and develop on behalf of the Barotse Royal Establishment for the benefit of the local people and wildlife alike.

In amongst clocking up many miles investigating this massive tract of wilderness, we also managed to catch a few tiger fish and find a pack of 16 wild dogs!  Sadly, we also saw the unsustainable practices of escalating elephant poaching, widespread logging and uncontrolled burning at every turn. The area has incredible potential but huge challenges as well.

After a couple of weeks deep in the bush, we headed for a well-earned break in Livingstone where the folks at Safari Par Excellence (http://www.safpar.com/) treated us to a great day of world-class whitewater on the mighty Zambezi.  After an adrenalin-charged morning of river boarding where it was hard not to feel like crocodile bait, we abandoned our little body boards in favour of a more sociable self-bailing raft for the afternoon session.  The rapid-infested Zambezi is a very special river and it’s hard to imagine there’s any better way to spend an action-packed day in the wilds of Africa.

Tackling the wet and wild Class V whitewater with SAFPAR on the mighty Zambezi River in Zambia

In Wilderness with Wild and Tracking in the Lowveld, South Africa – June 2012

Ebb and Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness Section of Garden Route National Park

The month got off to a cracking start when Katherine joined me for an action-packed Wild magazine assignment to explore the hugely diverse Wilderness Section of Garden Route National Park (www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/) on the Cape South Coast.  An activity extravaganza of hiking, running, canoeing, birding – and even some flying – dominated our active, outdoorsy itinerary during a memorable four-day stay at the Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp on the banks of the picturesque Touw River.

While we had great fun hiking all the local Kingfisher Walking Trails within the park, paddling the Serpentine and Touw rivers trumped the trailing as we glided effortlessly across the water  amidst a dazzling array of avian entertainment.

Soaring above Wilderness in a 'para-trike'

However, nothing could hold a candle to the grand finale: an epic 75 minute flight with Fly Time Paragliding (www.flytimeparagliding.com) over the lakes, beaches and indigenous coastal forest of the Wilderness area. Flying in the Garden Route’s only tandem ‘para-trike’ (a type of motorised paraglider) ensured an unrivalled bird’s eye view of the intriguing and varied terrain of this tract of coastal wilderness nestled between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains. With fabulous early June weather to boot, it proved a highly enjoyable assignment and an outstanding ‘long weekend away’ destination.

A week later, my lovely wife pulled out all the stops to ensure I celebrated edging closer to 40 than 30 in fine style.  Running the Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge (www.fishermanschallenge.co.za) with my ART team-mates in the morning was followed by  Test rugby and drinks at our Three Anchor Bay apartment before moving on to a birthday bash to remember at Pigalle Restaurant (www.pigallerestaurants.co.za/capetown/) in Green Point.  The wine flowed freely, the food was excellent and the live band got everyone fired up on the dance floor of Cape Town’s most diverse and truly New South Africa party venue.

A final magazine assignment for the month of June took me up to Thornybush Game Reserve to interview tracking guru Louis Liebenberg for an article to be published in the October 2012 issue of Africa Geographic.  Based at Royal Malewane (www.royalmalewane.com) for the second time this year, I caught up with old friends and colleagues at the lodge while simultaneously gathering material and researching the story.  I was privileged to accompany some of the Lowveld’s finest trackers as they interacted with trainees and aspirants while tracking down rhino and lion on foot.

Finally – on the subject of recently published articles – it was a busy month for me with features on Namibia’s Sossusvlei and South Africa’s Mokala National Park coming out in the trade and travel magazine Explore South Africa, along with some additional publicity for the Lesotho Wildrun trail running event (which I participated in back in March).  For those who are interested, check out the links below to view PDFs of these entertaining stories:

Running The Old Fisherman's Trail Challenge with ART teammate Duncan Gutsche

Royal Malewane and the Lowveld, South Africa – May 2012

It was a social start to the month of May when Mike Arbuthnot and Cath Salmon tied the knot and we celebrated in royal style at the indomitable Suikerbossie Restaurant (www.suikerbossie.co.za) above Hout Bay. This tried-and-tested venue was a sure-fire recipe for festive success and, with the photo booth working overtime, there were plenty of intriguing photo strips to help the more inebriated guests reconstruct the events of their wild evening on Sunday morning.

The biggest surprise of the month was a last minute request and invitation to fly up to Royal Malewane (www.royalmalewane.com) in the Greater Kruger National Park for four days. The reasons for my visit were twofold… Firstly, the lodge was desperately short of rangers so, with the post-Indaba influx of travel agents, I was asked to please come up and help them out as a freelance guide.  Secondly, the high density of well-travelled tour operators and agents afforded an excellent opportunity to promote the Sisheke Conservation Project (www.sisheke.com) and our dynamic Zambian conservation initiative.

It was a real treat to be back on Thornybush Game Reserve and I revelled in the opportunity to catch up with old friends and soak up the Lowveld atmosphere on this unexpected ‘bonus’ bush break. It was great fun to be back guiding again, although I did feel decidedly rusty and it took me a little while to get back into the swing of things. Trying to remember my way around the reserve, along with all the old road names, proved more than a little stressful and compounded my feelings of being thrown in the deep end. But, with the assistance of my experienced tracker, Shadrack, we managed to find some outstanding sightings, treating our guests to a royal bush experience.

The three top wildlife sightings of this stint were undoubtedly tracking and locating a big male black rhino as he emerged to drink from Ingwe Dam; watching a young male leopard intently stalk towards a small sounder of warthogs in broad daylight; and a late night leopard adventure of note.

Young male leopard on the prowl at Royal Malewane

Male leopard on the prowl at Malewane

While watching a female leopard and her two sub-adult cubs devour an impala, a loose wire caused a short on the battery and left us without power, lights or an operational radio. Sitting below a star-strewn sky with a leopard lying either side of the vehicle noisily devouring their respective impala legs, was an experience that none of us will forget anytime soon. A cell phone, one bar of signal and a much-appreciated push from another game-viewer eventually got us mobile again and brought to an end a sensational game drive that will stay with me and the rest of the crew for many years to come.

I’ll sign off this entry with the fantastic news that years of work and a nerve-wracking presentation to the Board and EXCO members of the Peace Parks Foundation last week, finally culminated in pen-on-paper with the signing of a ten-year Management Agreement between Javelin Capital and the Barotse Royal Establishment on Friday the 25th of May.  The contract gives Javelin Zambia the exclusive rights to manage and sustainably develop the ecotourism and other natural resources of the Sisheke Chiefdom in South West Zambia. This 1.5 million hectare tract of wilderness is an integral part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) and the deal was supported and sanctioned by the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF).

So, the Sisheke Conservation Project has now taken its first steps down the long road to realising the huge potential of this valuable wilderness area on the Upper Zambezi River. You can read more about the Project and see pictures from the signing ceremony, which took place at  Birkenhead House in Hermanus, by following this link www.sisheke.com/blog/.

Exciting magazine assignments for June include a Wild assignment to put together an outdoorsy piece on the Wilderness section (www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/camps/wilderness/) of the Garden Route National Park. This SANParks story will be followed by a return trip to the Lowveld to watch tracker-extraordinaire Louis Liebenberg in action when I report on CyberTracker and his new tracking institute for the October issue of Africa Geographic.

The negotiations and signing of the Sisheke Management Agreement was attended by representatives of the BRE, Javelin and Peace Parks

The negotiations which culminated in the signing of the Sisheke Management Agreement were attended by representatives of the BRE, Javelin Capital and the Peace Parks Foundation

Hermanus, Plett and the Wildrun, Lesotho – April 2012

Perched high atop the Hermanus cliffs, overlooking Voelklip Beach and accommodating guests in the utmost luxury, the opulent Birkenhead House (www.birkenheadhouse.com) gazes out onto the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay. Katherine and I belatedly accepted an extremely generous wedding gift and spent three nights soaking up the luxurious, pampered splendour of Birkenhead House. After completing the Two Oceans Trail Run (www.twooceansmarathon.org.za/events/trail-run/general) on Friday morning, we savoured the delicious food, fine red wine and cosy atmosphere of this irresistible seaside lodge for the remainder of the wet Easter weekend. Situated barely an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Cape Town, Birkenhead House proved an idyllic spot to celebrate the second anniversary of our Franschhoek wedding festivities.

The Lesotho Wildrun (www.lesothowildrun.co.za) is an amazing 112km stage-race through the pristine, undulating landscapes of a remote mountain kingdom that lies right in South Africa’s backyard. An epic three-day wilderness journey takes runners through the magnificent and truly wild Ketane Ha Mothibi and Thaba Putsoa mountain ranges in the very heart of Lesotho. With the generous support of sponsor Adidas (www.adidas.co.za/running/), the folks at Wildrunner (www.wildrunner.co.za) pulled out all the stops to make sure everyone enjoyed an incredible, ‘never to be forgotten’ trail running experience.

I fell into step with the similarly paced Stephen Kriel (a seventh generation butcher from Darling) and Guy Jennings (an advertising executive from Joburg) to form a well-matched running trio that became known as ‘Team SSG’ by the race crew. Our triumvirate officially crossed the final finish line a couple of hours behind the overall winners in 17 hours 20 minutes and 27 seconds, but finishing times fade into relative insignificance when compared to the incredible mountain scenery, intriguing Basotho culture and camaraderie of newfound friends. These factors combined to ensure the Lesotho Wildrun was a truly memorable experience for everyone privileged enough to participate in this unique event. And whether you see yourself as a king of the mountains or a more social 33-hour finisher, this tough race has an appeal to trail runners of all ages, stages and abilities. Yes you need to be fit, but this is – above all – a rewarding wilderness journey with likeminded people: a life experience that you’ll find yourself savouring long after the race is done.

Our good friends from India, Bryony and Matt Greenwell, brought their six-month-old daughter Alice on her inaugural visit to South Africa. It was great to have them to stay for a few nights in Cape Town, but the highlight of our time together was undoubtedly the five-day long weekend we spent up the Garden Route. Located only a few kilometres from the bustling seaside resort of Plettenberg Bay, The Waves (www.thewavesatplettenbergbay.com) is situated right on the long white-sand expanse of picturesque Keurboomstrand. The luxuriously appointed contemporary villa, located a stone’s throw from the sea, was an incredible place to be based.  Generously loaned to us by Bryony’s former boss, we revelled in the villa’s comfort, Enrico’s seafood lunches, nightly braais and daily dolphin visits that dominated our stay at Keurboomstrand.

There is also some great news to share regarding the Zambian conservation initiative I’m working on … the Sisheke Conservation Project (www.sisheke.com) website went live this week, so take a moment to check out this link for an overview of what currently appears to be Africa’s most exciting and dynamic conservation and sustainable development venture, taking place within the KAZA TFCA.

Big Game Parks, Swaziland – March 2012

The highlight of March was definitely my assignment to cover the three reserves of Big Game Parks (www.biggameparks.org) in Swaziland for Wild magazine (www.wildcard.co.za/wild_magazine.htm). Mike Richardson and his team organised an action-packed itinerary for my weeklong whirlwind tour of Mlilwane, Hlane and Mkaya game reserves. With game drives, mountain biking, horseback safaris and exciting encounters with rhinos on foot, these wildlife parks offer the active nature lover a wide variety of opportunities to really immerse themselves in the bush.

The Unitrans Unite Against Poaching (www.uniteagainstpoaching.co.za) initiative kindly provided me with a very smart Audi Q7 for my Gauteng road trip to Swaziland. Unitrans is doing a commendable job raising funds for South Africa’s underfunded, underequipped and outgunned field rangers as they try to turn the tide in the latest Rhino War. Our beleaguered rhinos and their guardians need all the help they can get if they are going to successfully stem the needless slaughter. The statistics are horrific with 171 rhinos already lost in South Africa by mid-April of this year. These prehistoric-looking animals are being slaughtered in their hundreds to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for the curative power of rhino horn in Asia. Rhino poachers are primarily targeting the Kruger National Park where 103 rhinos have been killed during 2012 alone. Sadly, the future for rhinos looks extremely bleak right now.

Two other highlights during March included the scenically spectacular Cape of Good Hope Hiking Trail (www.tablemountainhikes.co.za/parks/table_mountain/tourism/overnight_hikes.php), which we walked with family visiting from abroad. The overnight hiking trail took us on a spectacular circuit as we trekked around Cape Point. We happened to be there on the Argus Cycle Tour weekend and this ensured we had the entire nature reserve pretty much to ourselves on the Sunday. It was a very unique and special experience to be standing at the Point without another soul in sight.

With Katherine returning from a work trip to America at the end of March, we finished off the month in style by taking a weekend jaunt with friends to enjoy a couple of nights stay in sleepy Churchhaven (www.sa-venues.com/attractionswc/churchhaven.php). The Western Cape’s best-kept secret is a real gem of a spot hidden deep inside the tranquil West Coast National park and it proved the perfect place to kick back and relax in the company of eland, kudu, ostriches and even the usually elusive caracal put in a surprise appearance one morning!

April sees Katherine jet off to Arusha in Tanzania with work and I’m headed to Lesotho to compete in the three-day 120km Lesotho Wildrun event. We will also be celebrating our SA wedding anniversary with three nights at the spectacular Birkenhead House in Hermanus, and taking a long weekend trip to Plettenberg Bay with friends visiting from India. There is plenty to look forward to during the month ahead…

Kalahari, Namibrand, Sossusvlei and the Orange River, Namibia – Nov 2011

November proved to be a standout month packed with new experiences and great adventures, which is not a bad effort considering that 2011 has been a year dominated by some fantastic travels, incredible magazine assignments and epic new experiences.

The latest four-week trip kicked off with an Africa Geographic magazine assignment to 26,485 ha Mokala (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/mokala/) and it was fascinating to explore and learn about South Africa’s newest national park. The reserve is a stronghold for rare and endangered species and it’s doing great work breeding up and relocating the progeny of these threatened species to a wide range of national parks and private game reserves throughout South Africa.

Next stop was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/kgalagadi/) and after six long years away, it was every bit as good as I remembered … with the exception of the roads! The increase in the park’s popularity and a newly paved road running all the way from Upington to Twee Rivieren Entrance Gate meant that more vehicles are bumping and bouncing along the park’s heavily corrugated roads. But the energising experience of being in this arid, wildlife-rich wilderness of rolling red dunes is well worth the price of a pair of new rear shocks!  We enjoyed good cheetah cub viewing, hyaena clans escaping the heat by relaxing in the waterholes, great lion interactions, a couple of Cape fox den sites with tiny playful puppies, and the emotional sight of a springbok ewe give birth to twins!

After five nights in the Kalahari, we made use of the special tourist border facility at Mata Mata to cross into neighbouring Namibia and the friendly faces of smiling border officials were a very unexpected and pleasant surprise. The excellent dirt roads of southern Namibia – with the exception of the well-used routes around Sossusvlei – were regularly graded and in considerably better condition than the South African park roads; our little VW polo breathed a huge sigh of relief as we exited the Kgalagadi.

The first Namibian port of call on the itinerary was &Beyond’s stunningly situated Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (www.andbeyondafrica.com/african_safari/namibia). Perched on a hillside below the Nuimib Mountains in the northeastern corner of the NamibRand Nature Reserve (www.namibrand.com), it is the ideal spot from which to appreciate the reserve’s arid landscapes and incredible natural beauty. The sophisticated desert-chic lodge comprises ten ultra-luxurious en suite stone and glass villas with private verandas and outdoor showers with superlative views.  If you rate your lodges according to their location, then I’d give this spot 13 out of 10!

After five fun-filled days exploring the northern NamibRand, we moved on to Kulala Desert Lodge (www.wilderness-safaris.com/namibia_sossusvlei/kulala_desert_lodge/) and found ourselves within spitting distance of the world-renowned Sossusvlei dunes. Those dunes are something special and looking down onto a soupy sea of dense fog shrouding the skeletal trees of Dead Vlei below us as we slogged up Big Daddy is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

The NamibRand was so good that we headed back for round two, exploring the southern concession in Namibia’s largest private nature reserve. Tok Tokkie Trails (www.toktokkietrails.com) caters for a max of eight guests, but we were fortunate enough to have the the fully catered three-day trail all to ourselves and the personal attention bestowed upon us by guide Domingo and his back up team made for an extraordinary and unforgettable nature experience. Tramping through the desert and sleeping amongst the red dunes under a billion bright stars was the absolute best way to get up close and personal with the Namib.

After recharging with a couple of R&R days at the historical Hansa Hotel (www.hansahotel.com.na) and enjoying  a mandatory German beer tasting extravaganza around Swakopmund, there was one last stop at Camp Provenance on the Orange River before we headed for home. The following morning we scrambled into a glass-fibre canoe and set off to explore the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld TFCA with Felix Unite River Adventures (www.felixunite.com/river_trips/orange_river), embarking on a six-day paddle all the way from Noordoewer to the Fish River Canyon confluence. It was a great trip with good food, excellent guides, incredible stars and big enough rapids to ensure people took an involuntary swim at Shambok, Surprise and De Hoop rapids!

What an incredible trip made possible by magazine assignments from Africa Geographic, Explore and Travel Namibia.

Cape Town and the Otter Trail Run, South Africa – September 2011

After an incredible 9.5 years living abroad, I arrived in Cape Town on Thursday the 8th of September ready to embark on the next exciting chapter in Katherine and my life together. The first couple of weeks back home were dominated by admin, buying a car, researching apartments and where we want to live, meeting with my magazine editors and, of course, catching up with friends and family.

After a couple of weeks of writing magazine stories, proofing articles and fine-tuning the itinerary for next month’s Northern Cape and Namibian sojourn, the month concluded in fine style when I travelled up the Garden Route on a much-anticipated assignment to compete in and cover the gruelling Otter Trail Run (www.theotter.co.za). Dubbed the Grail of Trail, this brutal 42km full trail marathon weaves its way along the very same route of the legendary Otter Trail – South Africa’s most iconic and spectacular hiking trail – as it traverses the rugged coastline and fords the rivers of the majestic Tsitsikamma National Park.

On the morning of Friday September 30th, two hundred endurance athletes and one pretender (me) gathered in the inky blackness below a star-studded sky at Storms River mouth for the Otter Run: undoubtedly one of the hardest and simultaneously most incredible events I’ve ever competed in. Nervous tension mingled with an electric atmosphere in the cool morning air ahead of first light. As dawn broke on a picture-perfect day, we set off running through indigenous coastal forests, into deep ravines, over imposing mountains and across the fynbos-clad slopes of the Garden Route National Park, before overcoming one final obstacle – a precariously unstable floating bridge – to finally finish at De Vasselot campsite in Nature’s Valley.

Returning from his epic victory in the gruelling Leadville 100 mile ultra marathon in America, Ryan Sandes, the soft-spoken trail runner extraordinaire, dominated what was arguably the greatest trail running field ever assembled on South African soil to clinch first place in Africa’s premier off-road running event to clinch the coveted Grail. Shaving an impressive seven minutes off André Gie’s record, Sandes finished in a blistering 4h40m.  I staggered over the line two-and-a-half hours later in around 110th place, but, thankfully, well within the eight hour cut-off time.

October is looking like it should be a good month with spring in the air, Katherine returning from Kenya and an exciting magazine assignment to the Northern Cape and Namibia on the horizon. Here’s holding thumbs that the Springboks can play out their boots at the Rugby World Cup and turn a good October into a month to remember … Go bokke!

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…

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.

The Karnali River, Bardia NP and Everest, Nepal – May 2011

Like a fine red wine Nepal just gets better and better the longer we spend savouring this impressive country!  It is certainly proving to be an incredible and varied little Himalayan kingdom and the prefect playground for a couple of outdoor lovers and adventure sport aficionados.

After a gruelling two-day bus ride west, we reached the end of the road at Sauli Bazaar on the banks of Nepal’s biggest river – The Karnali.  We were part of a ten-man crew (including two ladies!) for a week-long river trip with Equator Expeditions (http://www.equatorexpeditionsnepal.com/).  It turned out to be a fun group and we had endless laughs on the raft as we skirted some big rapids and camped on sandy beaches next to the river.  Sleeping around a campfire under the star-studded heavens was a definite highlight for both of us.

The expedition ended at Chisopani on the boundary of Royal Bardia National Park and after a week on the river the comfort that awaited us at Tiger Tops’ Karnali Lodge was just what the doctor had ordered.  We soaked up the luxury, devoured great food and thrived off the quality wildlife experiences.  I was desperate to catch a glimpse of my first Indian one-horned rhino, so to end up having numerous close up sightings of five different rhinos feeding and swimming was very very special indeed.  Crouching in a bush watching a seven month old calf suckling from its mother while I was on a walking safari was the ultimate high of our wildlife-viewing extravaganza.  We topped the safari off with two tiger sighting – a young female with a hog deer kill and a handsome male escaping the pre-monsoon heat by sleeping in a pool of water.  What a great place Bardia turned out to be!

After a couple of days recuperating in Kathmandu we boarded a plane for Lukla and the start of our two-week Everest trek.  We chose a circuitous route to base camp via the sacred emerald green lakes of the Gokyo valley and over the Cho La pass to Gorakshep and Everest Base Camp. The weather gods smiled on us and we were treated to some idyllic weather for the epic Himalayan views from the summits of Gokyo Ri (5357m) and Kala Pattar (5545m).  Sitting on the top of these rocky vantage points gave us ringside seats to a jaw-dropping wraparound vista that defied belief … a host of snow-covered 8,000m+ peaks (Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, etc) rubbed shoulders and seemed almost close enough to touch.  These scenes of raw beauty exuded an overwhelming sense of mother nature’s awesome power.

After living in India for three years and enjoying nine weeks adventuring through Nepal, the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon (http://www.everestmarathon.com/) proved the genuine grand finale to our time in Asia.  It was with a combination of great excitement and a little trepidation that I approached the start of the race.  The 29th dawned grey and cold.  Mist swirled through Everest base camp (5360m) and thick grey clouds hung ominously overhead.  When I cracked the ice off my tent zips, I was greeted by a white world of snow and ice.  When the start gun fired at 7am the temperature was well below freezing and the unrelenting snow refused to let up until we were 16km into the race!  The start took place inside the infamous Khumbu Icefall and after jumping a small crevasse we ran over the frozen rocks and ice of the glacial moraine for 8km while my lungs continuously screamed for more oxygen.  My plan was simple – and borne of necessity – run everything that is flat or downhill but walk/climb the hills.  As we slowly descended towards the half-way mark at Dingboche the conditions improved and I found it a little easier to breathe.  Reaching the half-way stage in 3h10, I truly believed a six-hour finish was on the cards, but two viciously steep hills between the 32 and 37 kilometre marks killed that idea and in the end I was more than happy to finish in 6h34, which put me in a respectable 6th position out of 68 international participants.

With the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal wowing us in so many ways, the final chapter in our Asian sojourn has proved to be an absolute cracker!

The adventures for June appear to be somewhat tamer … our next stop is London to visit my sisters and then it’s onto Iceland and USA.  The journey continues and we’re loving the ride…

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