My second trip to South Africa was an assault to the senses of the best kind. So vividly I recall the colours, textures, sights, sounds, the fragrance of everything - evoking beautiful memories from years before. Albeit, no two journeys are ever the same or could be compared, but I as with my last visit, I spent the days with my head in a cloud. South Africa, as if from my dreams, is home to the most dramatic scenery and breath-taking coastlines and the most amazing and unique encounters with wildlife.
We journeyed across the southern coast of the country, from Durban to Cape Town, sleeping under the stars and uncovering the diverse land and fascinating culture of the rainbow nation. An adrenaline filled ten days, which had me feeling less of a 30-year-old and more into my heart – as if seeing the world all over again with a child-like bewilderment and curiosity for everything surrounding me.
South Africa fills me with a deep sense of happiness that I’ve found very few places in the world.
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DAY ONE: DURBAN
Arriving in Durban mid-morning, we had the chance to wander the seafront promenade of this eastern costal city known for its beaches and African-Indian culture. Followed by a traditional dinner and getting to know my new travel buddies (Brinkley, Nicola, Jorden, Sam, Olly & Kate, Nardia, Bella + Liza) we settled in for an early night in attempts to fight off the jet-lag, for what promised to be the expedition of a lifetime.
DAY TWO: DURBAN TO CHINTSA
Rising before dawn we were told to buckle, as we set off on a 10-hour bus ride through the heartland of Xhosa people.
I believe travel gives you the opportunity to learn about new cultures, ideas and values and the opportunity to explore places both internally and externally; some of my best ideas and revelations have come to me whilst staring out the window of a moving vehicle watching the world blur by.
Leaving in the dark, meant that we arrived in Chintsa mid-afternoon and although we had been sitting in one vehicle for majority of the day, we couldn’t wait to switch out for another more exciting one – as we set off on a sunset Safari through Inkwezkwezi Private Game Reserve.
The time we spent at Inkwezkwezi felt as though it could have been plucked from my wildest dreams.
It is a life-changing and humbling experience to sit in collective silence, observing African animals in a natural environment. We shared encounters that put us mere metres away and in complete, over-whelming awe of two of the ‘Big Five’ African animals (white rhinos and lions). Moments that left me speechless and even now as I sit to write this, I am unable to find the words to accurately describe the feelings accompanying the simultaneous-sensations of my eyes instantly filling with tears (of happiness), my skin covered in goosebumps and my heart seemingly wanting to burst right through my chest.
This was my second safari experience in South Africa and forth in Africa yet being in the presence of these majestic wild animals leaves me speechless every single time.
It has always been important to me to align with companies (like G Adventures) who share the same ethos and passion for the environment and all beings. Inkwezkwezi Private Game Reserve aims to minimise negative social or environmental impact, aid the local people and conserve fragile cultures and habitats of species, through positive tourism and in a private reserve where the animals are protected from cruel captivity trades, canned hunting and trophy hunting.
We were guided with passionate rangers, whom carefully manage a high animal welfare standard and we learned how we can all work together to save this wildness and the wilderness while we still have it on earth.
Around the world, there is a great deal of variation in attitudes towards animal welfare in tourism, which is why G Adventures has adopted guidelines (which are endorsed by Jane Goodall developed by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in conjunction with the international charity organisation Born Free Foundation; whose mission it is to protect vulnerable animals from abuse. I’ve stated many times before that conservation starts with education and education can begin with a single conversation. I truly believe the amazing thing about photography (and art a-like) is that it can be that conversation starter, either by creating an emotional response and connection or by widening understanding.
For me, I not only want to go out and explore wild places on earth - camera in hand- but I also want to be a voice for the voiceless. It is my hope, and the hope of many others, that in the coming years we will be able to travel and experience abundant wildlife in the wild, living as nature intended. In times of increasing loss of habitat for wildlife, poaching, climate change and other human generated pressures on the planet, it is increasingly important that we in the tourism and travel photography industry continue to expand our knowledge and actively participate in the protection of wildlife.
“We can’t change the world, but we can change the way we live in it”
DAY THREE: CHINSTA
South Africa offers a vast array of activities, catering for adrenalin junkies to luxury seekers. This diversity and ease of access is something we explored throughout the G Adventures ‘Choose your own adventure” campaign.
Myself and my fellow travel buddies were keenly involved in engaging our individual audiences to choose which adventurous activity we were to complete throughout the journey.
This concept was a fun and interactive way to use social media to connect in a new capacity and I surprised by the positivity influx from creating a poll on my Instagram story where I asked people following along the journey to choose which activity I completed.
The two options for day three in Chinsta: Surf School where the Indian Ocean laps the Eastern Cape coastline of South Africa or a Guided Quad-biking tour through a world-class Eastern Cape game reserve in South Africa.
Rising from my tent and strolling barefoot down to the sandy shores of Chinsta beach on day three, I opted for no wetsuit, as I blissfully floated in the ocean (my happy place) appreciating the cold water soothing my bones. I enjoyed witnessing the cheek-to-cheek smiles of my travel buddies, as they completed their chosen activity for the day: Surf School.
By afternoon I was helmeted-up and ready for my afternoon adrenaline driven activity, quad-biking through Inkwezkwezi Private Game reserve. Never did I imagine an experience like riding down a dirt road in an African safari reserve with the sun burning down on my skin, my mind completely free and giraffes roaming freely before me. Two hours flashed by yet felt like a surreal eternity at the same time – as if something from a movie scene. (see video here)
An afternoon completed one of the greatest days of my life, as another sunset safari was to follow and more chance encounters with white rhinos and brown and white lions to leave me feeling incredibly grateful for these moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
DAY FOUR: CHINTSA TO ADDO
I believe fervently that South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on earth – this was confirmed on our self-drive through Addo Elephant National Park. As the name suggests it is most famous for elephants but also for the ‘Big Seven.’ - lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino, the Southern right whale and the great white shark. Addo is the only park in the world to house all seven species and is one of the country’s top conservation success stories, starting in 1931 with only 11 elephants the park is now home to over 600 of these magnificent mammals. It is an abundant and flourishing environment where we admired zebras, warthogs, flightless dung beetles, kudu, red hartebeest and ostrich’s in the wild in another unique day-experience through the Eastern cape.
DAY FIVE: STORMS RIVER.
Setting up camp each day in a new place was exciting, as it was time to leave our safari adventures behind and head to otherworldly costal scenes tucked between the mountains and sea in Tsitsikamma National Park; an oasis of greenery and rocky ravines.
Another Instagram story poll where the activities to be chosen for us were: Hiking through Tsitsikamma National Park or a Kayaking experience on Storms River.
This activity was an unanimous vote, so the group set off on a welcome rainy afternoon for a 3-hour adventure, paddling under the suspension bridge and up the river mouth to explore the surrounding caves. The rain that afternoon made everything appear dream-like as we glided through the misty canyon and where the ocean met the river, we traded our kayaks for lilo’s and continued on, to slide down the rapids and spend the afternoon jumping from 6m high rocks into the distinctive black water below.
DAY SIX: STORMS RIVER.
Day six began with a pink sky as I rose from my tent, a restless night sleep prior filled with nervous yet excited energy for the day I knew was to follow.
This was not a part of the polling nature of our itinerary, but rather an adventure I had chosen for myself and something I never ever thought I would do in my life.
Fear is born of a story we tell ourselves. And so, on that particular morning, I decided to write a different story. I decided I was safe, and I was brave. Decide to see what happens if you just LET GO...
This year I decided to stop letting fear hold me back, specifically with my business. I’ve been making changes and turning my bigger dreams into plans, making those plans a reality.
When I was faced with the question “do you want to bungee jump from the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee?”
My immediate and instinctual reaction was “NO WAY!”
A) I’m terrified of heights, and
B) I’m terrified of heights.
However, I stopped to think and process this - since losing my mum I’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions and heartache, but I have tried to keep living, fearlessly and fully, with all of my heart. Surviving that storm was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The worst thing that could have happened in my life already has. So, what was I actually afraid of? Why not take the chance?
I had that feeling from the very beginning that this trip was going to change me, but I didn’t realise just how much. I stood at the top of the highest commercial bridge Bungee in the world and surrendered. The feeling of flying through the air 216m down the canyon of Tsitsikamma National Park was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced or could have ever imagined.
Later that afternoon, I found myself down by the raging ocean in Tsitsikamma NP as the sun was setting. It was beautiful contemplating the wild freedom of all that this life has to offer, as my tongue tasted the salt in the air and skin covered in goosebumps, I was lost in thoughts life, love, grief and facing fears. It was the perfect setting to reflect and appreciate.
DAY SEVEN: CHINSTA TO KNYSNA
One of the shorter days of travelling, we made the journey 1.5 hours down to Knysna and checked out the local surrounds of the seaside town at the heart of South Africa’s famous Garden Route, known for the Knsyna Lagoon and the “heads” (sea cliffs.)
The “k” in Knysya is silent -as in “knife.”- meaning it is pronounced as “NYE-snuh.” or “NICE-HUH?” as our Gadventures CEO Liza had put it. And nice it really is.
We had now entered the Western Cape of South Africa and our afternoon was spent on the lagoon on board a paddle cruiser (as chosen through another Instagram story poll) as the sun set and our bellies were full of a delicious buffet + some Pinotage.
DAY EIGHT: GROOTVADERSBOSCH NATIONAL PARK
Getting a chance to explore the lessor known, but truly stunning Grootvadersbosch National Park was perhaps one of my favourite parts of returning to South Africa. We had one afternoon to explore this magical mountainous place of beautiful stretches of significant indigenous forest and retreat into nature. Another night spent camping under the stars and waking up the most ethereal setting of morning light streaming through the mountain ranges – a hard place to leave.
Everything about this place is vast. Its landscapes, its heavens, its wildlife. This is rugged (South) Africa.
DAY NINE & TEN: CAPE TOWN.
The final leg of our journey was made to the eclectic, vibrant and beautiful Cape Town – South Africa’s “Mother City.”
Along the 5 hour drive we made a stop at the Kwa Ttu San Culture and Education Centre and spent some time learning about the fascinating world of the First People, the San - !Khwa ttu.
Finally arriving in Cape Town for a celebratory goodbye dinner, a night out dancing and a morning of sightseeing – Bo-Kaap, Maiden’s Cove and the amazing neighborhood markets at the Old Biscuit Mill (please go!) – before flying back to Australia; sad that an incredible journey had come to an end.
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Sometimes I have to literally pinch myself at what I get to do for a living, and I hope that feeling never goes away either. Often, I can be found with tears staining my cheeks and a very full heart, as I happily capture beautiful moments to share with you; for that I couldn’t be more grateful.
I hope that my photography can be a window into a world that is beautiful and worth saving.
I believe there is a responsibility to have a positive influence with my learned art, to begin educating and encouraging others to educate themselves, to inspire and engage – and that our actions have tangible outcomes.
For, we are a part of nature and nature is not external to us.
And, I sincerely hope that every person in this lifetime and all future generations gets to a chance to experience encounters with African animals in the wild.
Another piece of my heart captured forever.