Category Archives: HOLIDAY IDEAS

Wild Africa – From Kenya to Cape Town – 17 Nights / 18 Days


Day 1: Nairobi – Ark

On arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, clear Immigration /customs ,met by our representative person.  Proceed for Lunch at Aberdare Country Club. You will be requested to leave your main luggage in the Country club and carry a small overnight bag . Afternoon transfer in special club vehicle to the Ark Lodge, which is ideally located in the Aberdare National Park and overlooking a water-hole. You can watch a host of wild animals visiting the waterhole. This evening, enjoy a delicious dinner. Spend the night at the Lodge viewing various animals as they come to visit the waterhole and saltlicks. Dinner and overnight at the Ark Lodge.

Ark Lodge is in the heart of the Aberdare  National Park. Its unique tree lodge with a veranda that overlooks a floodlit waterhole.

Day 2: Ark – Sweetwaters

Breakfast at the lodge. Morning transfer to Aberdare country club with drive  to Sweetwaters Game Sanctuary via the Equator crossing . Sweetwaters Tented Camp is a sheltered oasis, clustered around a waterhole and set in the pristine calm of its own private reserve, one of only four private game reserves in Kenya.

Lunch at the camp. Afternoon game drives – cum – visit to the rescued chimpanzees’- and black rhino’s sanctuaries. The beautiful Sweetwaters Tented Camp lies in the heart of this privately owned 24000 acre ranch with magnificent views across the wildlife- studded plains to the snowcapped peaks of Mount Kenya. A visit to Sweetwaters Sanctuary would not be complete without a visit to see Morani, the tame black/blind rhinoceros on the property. There is also a 200-acre chimpanzee sanctuary.

Dinner and overnight at the  Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp

Day 3: Sweetwaters – Lake Nakuru National Park


Depart after breakfast, drive via Thomson Falls to Lake Nakuru National Park arriving in time for lunch at your Lodge. Relax briefly before departing for an afternoon game drive.

Lake Nakuru’s claim to fame is anchored on its flamingos and the over 400 species of birds found here. The lake itself is a soda lake on the floor of the rift valley.

The sight of millions of flamingos is quite spectacular. From a distance, the lake appears ringed in pink. The lake has also earned a reputation as an important haven for endangered species, particularly the Rothschild Giraffe, the Black Rhino and white Rhino. Lions, Waterbuck, Buffalo and Baboons are all resident here.

Dinner and overnight at Lake Nakuru Lodge or similar.


Day 4:  Lake Nakuru National Park – Mara Game Reserve


Breakfast at the lodge, then drive out of the Great Rift Valley to arrive in Masai Mara in time for lunch. The Mara offers wildlife in variety and abundance that it is difficult to believe; over 450 species of animals have been recorded here. You will easily see Lions, Rhinos, Hippos, Crocodiles, Giraffe, Wildebeests, Zebras, Buffalo, Warthogs, Hyenas, and Jackals, Buffalo, and a variety of antelopes. It is in the Mara that the most spectacular event of natural wonder takes place. This is the annual migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra from the Serengeti (Tanzania) in search for water and pasture. Behind their heels are predators of the savanna – Lion, Cheetah, Jackals, Hyena and Vultures. Depart for an afternoon game drive until dusk.

Dinner and overnight at the Mara Sopa Lodge.

Day 5: Explore Mara Game Reserve


You spend a day in the Masai Mara on early morning and afternoon game drives. The trees in the distance might turn out to be a family of Giraffes. Those clumps of bushes might turn out to be a pride of Lions, and the rock that moves a Rhino lumbering out of your way. With diligence and some luck, you may encounter a family of Cheetahs, or a herd of Elephants crossing infront of you. Large animals are not the only entertainment – a family of warthogs may amuse you, running as fast as their little legs will carry them, until they forget why they are rushing and stop to re-group.

All meals and overnight at the Mara Sopa Lodge.

Day 6: Mara Game Reserve – Nairobi

After breakfast at the lodge, morning drive to Nairobi.  Check-in at the hotel.  Afternoon tour of Nairobi city (Nairobi’s ancient landmark building –parliament building /Kenyatta International conference Center  / Look  out  point where a spectacular city view of Nairobi /giraffe center. Carnivore Dinner. Overnight at Intercontinental Hotel.

Day 7: Nairobi – Johannesburg – Sun City


Breakfast at the hotel. Transfer to the airport for your outbound flight.

Upon arrival into Johannesburg, you will be met by our representative and transferred to Sun City.

Known as Africa’s Kingdom of Pleasure, in the hills of the Pilansberg lies Sun City.  This resort offers everything from superb accommodation in four very different hotels as well as sizzling entertainment, casinos, extensive sporting facilities including the world famous Gary Player and Lost City Golf courses. Leisure facilities include a Water World offering a full range of water sports and the Valley of Waves, Africa’s only sub tropical water adventure park, boasting an 8.5 million-litre wave pool with 2-metre waves (The Valley of the waves closes each winter for maintenance- please check with us for the exact dates) For the eco minded the Gardens at Sun City have been declared National Botanical gardens and the adjacent Pilansberg National Park, South Africa’s third largest game reserve, boast the sought after ‘big five’ in a malaria free region.

Overnight: The Palace – Standard Luxury Room

Day 8: Sun City – Johannesburg

This morning you will depart early at 0800 from Sun City to Johannesburg, via a

Private Half Day Tour:

Begin with the Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20th Century South Africa, at the heart of which is the apartheid story.

For anyone wanting to understand and experience what apartheid South Africa was really like, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is fundamental. The museum is a beacon of hope showing the world how South Africa is coming to terms with its oppressive past and working towards a future that all South Africans can call their own.

In the afternoon, a wonderful opportunity to descend into a vast gold mine at Gold Reef City, named after the richness upon which the city of Johannesburg was built. Watch a gold pour, see the miners carry out their traditional tribal and gum boot dancing, learn a bit of their specially devised mine language – still used today to cover the many and diverse tribes who worked here. Stroll through the theme park reflecting the life of the mining town at the turn of the last century. There is plenty to do for young and old but remember to wear comfortable walking shoes. Your evening is spent at leisure.

Overnight:– Davinci Hotel & Suites – Standard Room

Day 9:  Johannesburg – Livingstone

This morning at 0800 you will be transferred to OR Tambo Airport for your flight to Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Zambia. Upon arrival in Livingstone, you will be met by a representative, who will transfer you to your hotel. This afternoon you will enjoy a sunset cruise (included in the cost, but no meals)

Overnight: Royal Livingstone Hotel – Standard Room

Day 10 : Livingstone


You will be collected from the hotel and taken on a guided tour of the famous Victoria Falls – a World Heritage Site. Thereafter you are free to explore further on your own, there are many other options available – book and pay for these locally. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy exhilarating Victoria Falls Adventure Activities including bungy jumping, kayaking, white water rafting, abseiling, river boarding, jet boating and helicopter flips.. For the less adventurous are also catered for with tours and safaris and activities such as game drives, river cruises,Elephant safaris, fishing safaris and cultural tours.
Overnight: Royal Livingstone Hotel – Standard Room

Day  11: Livingstone – Johannesburg – Port Elizabeth

This morning you will have your transfer to Livingstone Airport for your flight to Johannesburg (flight not included). There is a departure tax payable at Livingstone Airport US$25 (currently) per person (payable in cash)

Upon arrival in Johannesburg, you will be met by our representative and escorted to your onwards flight to Port Elizabeth (flight not included). Upon arrival in Port Elizabeth, you will be met by our representative and transfered to the hotel in Port Elizabeth  for the evening

Overnight: Radisson Blu PLZ – Standard Room(B)

Day 12: Garden Route – Port Elizabeth – Knysna


Today you will begin your Private Garden Route Experience. Depart Port Elizabeth for Plettenberg Bay, travelling via the coastline to the Tsitsikamma National Park. Tsitsikamma originates from the Khoi-Khoi language used by the local Inqwa Tribe that lived in the area some 1700 years ago meaning “a place of many/sparkling/abundant water”. In the afternoon travel to Knysna / Sedgefield for your overnight stay (No Entrance Fees Included, for clients own account)

Overnight: Lake Pleasant Living – 1 Bedroom Suite (B)

Day 13 : Garden Route – Knysna – Oudtshoorn


After breakfast, you will have the morning at leisure to explore the vibrant coastal town of Knysna, before continuing on to Oudtshoorn where your first stop will be at an Ostrich Farm, where you can enjoy an informative tour, where you will learn about the eggs, incubators and chicks (in season) and feed the ostriches by hand. Also enjoy the spectacular Cango Caves. Dinner and overnight in Oudtshoorn.

Overnight: Rosenhof Country House  – Standard Room (B)

Day 14: Garden Route – Cape Town


After an EARLY breakfast, depart at 0800 towards Cape Town, via Hermanus to Whale watch from the Look out Point or Hermanus Whale Watching. Meet at our booking office, ‘the Whale Shack’, 30 minutes  prior to departure. Once all seated we depart from the Hermanus harbour to visit the whales and other marine creatures along the way. A qualified whale specialist guide is on board to relate interesting facts and answer any questions en route.

After that stop at the Winelands if time permits. Hamilton Russell Vineyards – the most southerly wine estate in Africa and the closest to the sea – is located in the cool, maritime Walker Bay district, in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, behind the old fishing village of Hermanus. The estate specializes in producing highly individual, terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the New World. The evening is spent at leisure to explore the Mother City – Cape town.

Overnight: Table Bay Hotel – Standard Luxury Room

Day 15: Full Day City Tour + Robben Island


This morning you will be collected at 0830 for your Private Full Day Tour. We start the excursion with an ascent up Table Mountain by cable car – weather permitting (the cost of the cable car ticket is NOT included). After this visit the City centre. See the Company Gardens the Castle of Good Hope and the Malay Quarter. And lastly call at the vibrant Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Enjoy a quick lunch (Not included) Depart on the ferry from the V&A Waterfront for a guided tour of Robben Island and the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated.

Castle of Good Hope

Robin Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated

Note: Robben Island visit is included in the cost, but weather permitting and subject to availability. The evening is spent at leisure with a vehicle at your disposal to enjoy Capetown by Night.

Overnight:– Table Bay Hotel – Standard Luxury Room

Day 16: Full Day Cape Peninsula Tour

Cape of Good Hope

This morning you will be collected for your Full Day Private Tour. Travel along the Atlantic coastline via the scenic drives of Oudekraal to the fishing village of Hout Bay. Join a boat cruise to seal island. Crossing over the mountain at Constantia Nek, travel to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Have the option of using the funicular to the main viewing site at Cape Point. We then leave the reserve and continue along the False Bay Coastline to lunch (cost not included) and then we visit the penguin colony at Boulders Beach.

Overnight: Table Bay Hotel – Standard Luxury Room

Day 17 : Full Day Private Tour

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve

This morning you will be collected for your Full Day Private Tour. Visit the following sights:  Winelands in the morning, De Rust Estate – home of Paul Cluver Wines – is located in the cool-climate Elgin Valley and forms part of a world heritage site called The Kogelberg Biosphere. De Rust Estate is part of the world’s first wine and bio-diversity route which stretches around the Groenland Mountain; a mentor of the Thandi black economic empowerment wine-producing project and a provider of eco-tourism adventures. Kirstenbosch in the afternoon. Whether for a casual stroll, a more stenuous walk or a lazy picnic, the gardens are a must-see when visiting Cape Town. In the late afternoon, you will be transferred to Cape Town Airport for a flight to Johannesburg. Upon arrival in Johannesburg you will be met by our representative and escorted to the Complimentary Shuttle Bus for the Hotel.

Overnight: D’Oreale Grand – Standard Room

Day 18 : Johannesburg – Departure

This morning you will be transferred the Complimentary Shuttle Bus to Johannesburg Airport for your onwards flight home.

INCLUSIONS

Kenya portion:

*             1-night accommodation at Ark Lodge on F/B

*             1-night accommodation at Sweetwaters camp on F/B

*             1-night accommodation at Lake Nakuru Lodge on F/B

*             2-night accommodation at Mara Sopa Lodge on F/B

*             1-night accommodation at Intercontinental Hotel on B/B

*             Additional meals as specified in the itinerary

*             Transportation in an exclusive 4 x 4 vehicle in Kenya

*             Services of an experienced safari driver-guide

*             Complimentary mineral water only while on safari.

South Africa and Zambia (Victoria Falls) portion:

*             11-night accommodation with breakfast

*             Entrance fees to sights as per itinerary

*             Transport in a Luxury Vehicle with English Speaking Driver – Guide

EXCLUSIONS:

*             All Meals not specified as per above itinerary

*             All Drinks

*             Porterage at Airport and Hotels

*             Items of a personal nature (i.e. internet, curio, laundry, beverages, etc.) unless specifically quoted for above

*             Tips and gratuities

*             Excess baggage fees and airport departure taxes

*             Visa and passport fees

*             Anything not specifically quoted for in the “includes” above

*             Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)

*             Value Added Tax (VAT) 14%

*             Tourism Levy

*             Airport Surcharges

*             24 Hour Free Roadside Assistance

*             Companion Manual, including Area Maps

COST

TOUR: USD 4805 @ INR 47.00 (CURRENT EXCHANGE RATE)

with Private Guide = INR 225835 per person

AIR FARE: BUSINESS CLASS FOR SECTOR BOM/NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG/NAIROBI/BOM in C CLASS

+ INTERNAL SECTOR (ECONOMY): Approximately INR 99000

VISA: ZAMBIA + SOUTH AFRICA = INR 4755

TOTAL COST: INR 329590*

Notes: Rates are strictly subject to availability of services at the time of booking.

* Rates are subject to increase due to unforeseen changes in fuel and any government imposed taxes. E. & O.E  4 Rates are subject to fluctuations in exchange rates. 4 All outdoor activities are weather permitting 4 Gold Reef City is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays  4 Kindly note that the Gary Player Golf Course is closed on Mondays and the Lost City Golf Course is closed on Tuesdays for routine maintenance. 4 Smoking is not allowed on the vehicles.  Comfort stops will be made en route. 4Credit card payments attract a 5% service fee.

Contact: T: +91(022) 22828208/ 22812593  M: 9833128208

Email : namastesouthafrica@gmail.com       Website: www.namastesouthafrica.com

Travel Agents can enquire with NAMASTE SOUTH AFRICA for unique AFRICAN programmes.

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8 Hobbies. One Destination. Namibia.

ANGLING

Rock and surf angling is still the most popular sport along the Namibian beaches.  Thousands of anglers from all over Southern Africa visit the area between Walvis Bay and Henties Bay every year from February to April to partake in this popular sport.  With the growing popularity of shark angling, Namibia is one of the few countries in the world following a national action plan for the conservation of shark species. Tour guides in Coastal Towns are excellently equipped to take groups of anglers on excursions to the best spots for responsible shark angling.

ASTRONOMY

Namibia, especially the Khomas Hochland/Gamsberg area west of Windhoek, has the third clearest and least light-polluted sky in the world.  Many visitors  come from the northern hemisphere, hence the southern hemisphere’s new array of constellations and stars are a breath taking experience. Many lodges and tour operators have their own telescopes and provide their guests with a layman’s introduction to astrology. There is an impressive collection of telescopes and other equipment at the guest farm, Hakos, maintained by the German-based International Amateur Observatory. The Capella Observatory, near Windhoek, has a 24″ reflector – one of the largest amateur telescopes in Africa.

BIRD-WATCHING

Most bird species favour specific habitats above others and thus Namibia is blessed with a variety of bird-watching destinations where the keen watchers can satisfy their interests by sighting and recording new species. Some major bird-watching locations include Etosha National Park, Waterberg Plateau, the Caprivi and northern river systems, as well as locations along the coast such as Sandwich Harbour and Walvis Bay lagoon. The Namib Desert offers great opportunities for sighting rare endemics like the Herero Chat and Dune Lark.

DUNE & SANDBOARDING

The Namib Desert, the oldest in the world, is reputed to house some of the largest sand dunes on the planet. Dune and Sandboarding are predominantly offered at Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, where numerous operators provide boarding activities or equipment hire. You can conquer these constantly shifting and towering mountains by zooming down their sheer faces on a traditional Swakopmund sandboard or carve up the dune with style and skill on a snowboard adapted for sand.

FLYING

Namibia has extensive airstrips across the country providing an extensive air transport system. Novice pilots have various options: craft can be hired or flown in and recreational flying is possible at various locations. The popular location for flying in Namibia is at Bitterwasser Lodge, which is situated between Uhlenhorst and Hoachanas on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The Bitterwasser saltpan with its diameter of three kilometers is used as a runway system. As one of the world’s leading soaring centers, Bitterwasser offers scenic flights with a glider, micro-light or motorized planes and hot air ballooning.

GEOLOGY

Namibia’s varied geology encompasses rocks of Archaen to Phanerozoic age, thus covering more than 2600 million years of history. Nearly half of the country’s surface area is bedrock exposure, while the remainder is covered by young surface deposits of the Kalahari and Namib Deserts.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Namibia offers the finest photographic opportunities. This land of contrast and beauty is ideally suited to the professional and amateur alike. Whether the passion is for images of people, nature or landscapes, Namibia has it all and more. Namibia features a wide range of photo subjects and the superb weather provides excellent light variations. This ensures the visitor can exercise creative styles or simply record the unique beauty of the land, its inhabitants and its abundant nature. Photographic safaris allow visitors to spend more time in certain areas such as desert landscapes or wildlife in Etosha and Kaokoland.

HIKING

For the discerning hiker, Namibia offers largely untouched scenery, majestic plateau mountains, extinct volcanoes, gentle dunes, coarse gravel plains, deep canyons and rugged mountain ranges. Whether you enjoy hiking, mountaineering, free-climbing or simply walking – you will find the perfect spot to do so. Namibia boasts two of the most famous and most challenging trails in southern Africa: the Fish River Hiking Trail through the winding gorge of the Fish River Canyon and the Naukluft Hiking Trail in the rugged solitude of the Naukluft Mountains. Even running enthusiasts will not be disappointed as there is an annual Bush Marathon.

5 Steps to be a Gorilla Tracker in Uganda

With its abundance of magnificent natural scenery, Uganda is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. It offers world-class white water rafting at the source of the Nile and some of the region’s more peaceful national parks, where wildlife viewing does not involve long waits. Take your pick from the highest mountain range in Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains; one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, Murchison Falls; or perhaps the highest primate density in the world, in Kabale Forest National park – Uganda has all this and more.

Uganda is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. There is only one mountain gorilla for every ten million people on Earth. Tracking gorillas is an intensive experience that may require endurance but gives one a reward of the most interesting encounters with nature.

In most parks, a few gorilla families have been habituated so as your guide leads you through the trails of thick forest canopies, they can update you on the life histories and family stories of the various groups of gorillas.

Habituating a gorilla means getting them used to humans, for tourism and research purposes. This process takes between 2 to 3 years to accomplish. The national park field staff are trained to endure a game of patience as they watch gorilla families from afar. The skeptical animals will look at them with suspicion at first until rapport is established to a point where a gorilla family will stand within five metres  of human presence. It is only after this habituation exercise that tourists are allowed to see the gorillas. Groups of gorillas are continuously monitored and since they are now fearless of human intrusion, they have to be protected for their own safety.

1. Know the Geography

Situated in eastern Africa, Uganda is mostly a plateau – a compact country occupying an area of 236580 square kilometres, roughly the size of Great Britain. It lies astride the Equator and has a mild climate with copious rainfall that is experienced three times a year.

2. Know When to Visit

Uganda is situated astride the Equator, so the country enjoys a tropical climate with very little temperature variation throughout the year. The main factor that determines your visit will be the rainfall patterns. In the southern part of the country, April is the rainiest

month. The rains stretch upto May, with another wet season in October and November. And although the dry months are good for bird-watching, do not forget the fact that the wet months are more productive since breeding takes place during those months.

3. Know the Weather

The country is known for its sunny and rainy weather which often does not require warm clothing except on some chilly nights in the mountainous areas in western and eastern Uganda. It is mostly sunny throughout the year, especially in the central region. Rainfall comes in torrents when delayed,especially when the expected patterns are delayed for some months.

Distinctive wet and dry seasons are typical of most Ugandan areas. For example, in the southern half of Uganda there is rainfall from March to May and  September to November. The rest of the periods are dry. There is a well-distributed rainfall pattern around the Lake Victoria Crescent, with storms and unpredictable rains falling during seasons when there is no rain elsewhere in Uganda.

Areas such as Karamoja in the northeast are dry due to the dry winds blowing in from Somalia. There is very little variation in the weather in Uganda except for the mountain areas. The copious rains and bright sunshine are most responsible for successful rain-fed agriculture where grains,fruits and vegetables grow in abundance.

4. Know How to Camp

When camping in Uganda, there are some guidelines which may prove useful to you:

• Take along a First Aid kit with the usual essentials, sterile needles and syringes.

• Be aware of any environmental impact your visit may cause. You may use fuel wood for charcoal grilling your food as long as you do not start fires. Kerosene may also be used in cooking, but make sure that all the litter that is going to be left behind is properly buried.

Uganda suffers from a major environmental problem caused by polythene materials. Minimise use of them since they are non-biodegradable.

• A good water purifying system is useful. In case you have tablets, they will be handy. Otherwise, Uganda’s river and lake water is fresh enough to be boiled.

• Park regulations insist that you drive in before 1800 hours. Driving at night is prohibited.

• Uganda is a land of hospitable and courteous people, so be considerate of other people by, for example, avoiding the playing of loud music.

• When walking through any area, use the existing  trails. Otherwise you encourage the widening of paths which can destroy the fragile environment.

5. Know Where to Track


Visitors come to Uganda to watch gorillas which are found in southwestern Uganda in two of only four parks in the world where the gentle creatures live. One park is Mghahinga, where chances of seeing  mountain gorillas is tricky but assured. The second is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where you will surely see a gorilla family during its morning nap or late afternoon siesta after a good meal. Gorilla watching permits are expensive and there are queues to follow. If you want to track the gentle giants, you have to wait in order to be put on the manifest of those who have been permitted. You could be eliminated from the list on a slight suspicion of illness like flu because gorillas are easily susceptible to human diseases to which they have no immunity.

Epic History, Vibrant Culture and 13 Months of Sunshine*

ETHIOPIA’S uniqueness makes it a fascinating destination for every kind of traveller. It has been an independent nation since ancient times, being one of the oldest countries in the world. A monarchy for most of its history, the Ethiopian dynasty traces its roots to the 2nd Century BC. Ethiopia is also one of the oldest sites of human existence known to scientists today, having yielded some of humanity’s oldest traces.

The country is a land of natural contrasts, with spectacular waterfalls and volcanic hot springs. Ethiopia has some of Africa’s highest mountains as well as some of the world’s lowest points below sea level.

Ethiopia has the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa and the country is famous for its Olympic distance athletes, rock-hewn churches and as the origin of the coffee bean.

* There are 13 months in the Ethiopian Calendar. Twelve months have 30 days each and the thirteenth month has only five or six. A seven-to-eight-year gap between the Ethiopian and Gregorian calendars results from alternate calculations in determining the date of the Annunciation of Jesus. The current year according to the Ethiopian calendar is 2002, which began on 11 September 2009 AD of the Gregorian calendar. The year 2003 will begin on 11 September 2010.


HISTORIC  ETHIOPIA


Many people visit Ethiopia because of the remarkable manner in which ancient historical traditions have been preserved. Some of the ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church open a window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. The past comes alive in the fascinating land in the form of strange and beautiful monuments and ruins, built long centuries ago.

AXUM

Axum

Axum is the site of Ethiopia’s most ancient city and is renowned for the Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion, where legends say the original Ark of the Covenant is housed.

Axum is also famous for its seven mysterious monolithic stelae (a stone slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes), carved from single pieces of granite and with identical decorations. The largest of them is 33 metres high and weighs over 500 tons. At one point, it was the largest monolith in the world. Axum monolithic stelaes have been registered by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

LALIBELA

Lalibela

Once the thriving capital of a medieval dynasty, Lalibela is internationally renowned for its rock-hewn churches which are sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Carved out of the rock in which they stand, these towering edifices seem to be of superhuman creation in scale, workmanship and concept.

GONDAR

Gondar

Emperor Fasilides founded Gondar as his capital in 1636. It is the site of numerous castle-like palaces dating from the 17th and 18th Centuries. The city was Ethiopia’s capital until 1855. During the long years when it was a capital, the settlement emerged as one of the largest and most populous cities in the realm. The oldest and the most impressive of Gondar’s many imperial structures is the palace of Emperor Fasilides. There are also numerous other fascinating historical buildings and relics, the most spectacular being Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

YEHA

Temple of the Moon

Located in the administrative region of Tigray and about a 90-minute drive from the ancient city of Axum, Yeha is set amid imposing mountain scenery and is possibly Ethiopia’s oldest major settlement. It is the site of the Ethiopia’s most ancient temple and oldest standing structure, as well as a richly endowed Ethiopian church of more modern times.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL ETHIOPIA


Ethiopia is the earliest known home of humankind. A skeleton of an older human ancestor Australopithecus Afarensis was discovered in 1974 in the Afar region.

Anthropologists have established that the skeleton belonged to a twenty-year-old female that lived 3.5 million years ago. Registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the location of the discovery is called Hadar, situated 160 kilometres northeast of Addis Ababa.

The skeleton is popularly known as Lucy or Dinkinesh. The discovery has completed the missing link between apes and men – paving the way for the search to human origins.

Later, in 1999, Selam (Lucy’s baby) – most complete skeletons, dated to around 3.31 – 3.35 million years old, was found by an Ethiopian scientist, Zeray Alemseged.

NATURAL  ETHIOPIA

Blue Nile Waterfall

From the tops of the rugged Simien Mountains to the depths of the Danakil Depression at 120 metres below sea level, Ethiopia offers a magnificently varied natural landscape.

Afro-Alpine highlands soaring to 4300 metres, moors and mountains, the splendour of the Great Rift Valley, white-water rivers, Savannah teeming with game, giant waterfalls, dense and lush jungle are all just selection from an endless list of natural wonders.

OMO VALLEY

Omo River Valley

Reckoned by enthusiasts to the one of Africa’s premier locations for white-water rafting, the Omo River’s early fury takes it through gorges hundreds of metres deep alongside fish, crocodiles and hippos.

On the final leg of the journey south to Turkana, the Omo forms the border between Kefa and Gamo Gofa provinces. It is here that Ethiopia’s largest nature sanctuary, the Omo National Park – one of the richest in spectacle and game and yet one of the least visited areas in East and Central Africa – is located.

The Mago National Park has been established on the eastern bank of the river; a land of endless, distant horizons. Most easily reached from the town of Jinka, Mago National Park is mainly savannah, with some forested areas around the rivers. It was set up to conserve the large numbers of animals in the area. The parks are extensive wilderness areas and wildlife can be prolific. The birds are also typical of the dry grassland habitat, featuring bustards, hornbills, weavers and starlings.

AWASH NATIONAL PARK

Awash National Park

Lying in the lowlands east of Addis Ababa and striding the Awash River, the Awash National Park is one of the finest reserves in Ethiopia. The dramatic Awash Falls – as the river tumbles into its gorge – is a site not to be missed in the national park. A special attraction is the beautiful clear pools of the hot springs.

Awash National Park, surrounding the dormant volcano of Fentale, is a reserve of arid and semiarid woodland and savannah with forests along the Awash River. Forty-six species of animals have been identified here. The bird life is prolific especially along the river and in amongst the 392 species of native birds recorded.

SOF OMAR

Sof Omar

Sof Omar, not far from the Bale Mountains, is the site of one of the world’s most spectacular and extensive underground caverns. Formed by the Weyib River as it changed its course in the distant past and carved a new channel through limestone foothills, Sof Omar is an extraordinary natural phenomenon of breathtaking beauty. At 15.1 kilometres long, Sof Omar Cave is the longest cave in Ethiopia.

Visitors to Sof Omar make their way far into the bowels of the Earth, beside a subterranean stream, where one can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high, eroded ceilings and deep, echoing chambers.

SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Simien Mountains National Park

The Simien Mountain massif is a broad plateau, cut off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 kilometres long. To the south, the tableland slopes gently down to 2200 metres, divided by gorges 1000 metres deep which can take more than two days to cross. Insufficient geological time has elapsed to smooth the contours of the crags and buttresses of hardened basalt.

Within this spectacular splendor live the Walia (Abyssinian) ibex, Simien red fox and Gelada baboon – all endemic to Ethiopia – as well as the Hamadryas baboon, klipspringer and bushbuck. Birds such as the lammergeyer, augur buzzard, Verreaux’s eagle, kestrel and falcon also soar above this mountain retreat.

Twenty kilometers north-east of Gondar, the Simien Mountains National Park covers 179 square kilometres of highland area at an average elevation of 3300 metres. Ras Dashen, at 4620 metres the highest peak in Ethiopia, stands adjacent to the park.

BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Bale Mountains National Park

The Bale Mountains, with their vast moorlands – the lower reaches covered with St. John’s wort- and their extensive heathland, virgin woodlands, pristine mountain streams and alpine climate remain an untouched and beautiful world. Rising to a height of more than 4000 metres, the range borders Ethiopia’s southern highlands, whose highest peak, Mount Tullu Deemtu, stands at 4377 metres.

The establishment of the 2400-square-kilometre Bale Mountains National Park was crucial to the survival of the mountain nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck and the Simien red fox. This fox is one of the most colorful members of the dog family and more abundant here than anywhere else in Ethiopia. All three endemic animals thrive in this environment, the nyala in particular often being seen in large numbers. The Bale Mountains offer some fine high-altitude horse and foot trekking, and the streams of the park – which become important rivers further downstream – are well-stocked with rainbow and brown trout.

GAMBELA NATIONAL PARK

Boat in River Baro (Gambella)

The Baro River area, accessible by land or air through the western Ethiopian town of Gambela, remains a place of adventure and challenge. Traveling across the endless undulating plains of high grass, visitors can enjoy a sense of achievement in just finding their way. This is Ethiopia’s true tropical zone and here is found all the elements of the African safari, enhanced by a distinctly Ethiopian flavor.

Nile perch weighing 100 kilograms can be caught in the waters of the Baro, snatched from the jaws of the huge crocodiles that thrive along the riverbank. The white-eared kob also haunts the Baro, along with other riverbank residents that include the Nile lechwe, buffalo, giraffe, tiang, waterbuck, roan antelope, zebra, bushbuck, Abyssinian reedbuck, warthog, hartebeest, lion, elephant and hippopotamus.

CULTURAL  ETHIOPIA


Ethiopia has culture and traditions dating back over 3000 years and over 80 different ethnic groups with their own language, culture and traditions. The strong religious setting, celebrations and festivals play an important part in every ones daily life.

HARAR


Harar is located 523 kilometres east of Addis Ababa. The most dominant features of Harar are its strong encircling walls, its rich and exciting market place – probably the most colourful in Ethiopia – its 99 mosques and the fully restored Rimbaud’s House named after the eccentric French poet. Harar has managed to retain its medieval character, charm and glory and is now a fascinating stopover for the traveller.

MEKELE

Emperor Yohannes IV Palace, Mekelle

Mekele is famous for its rock-hewn churches, of which there are approximately 200 in the region. These churches are beautifully decorated and house important religious artefacts.

DEBRE MARKOS


Debre Markos is located 305 kilometres north of Addis Ababa. Here you will find the 19th Century

Church of Markos (St. Mark), with its pale but beautiful paintings depicting scenes of biblical and religious history.

BAHIR DAR

River Blue Nile Fall

Bahir Dar, located 560 kilometres from Addis Ababa, is located on the southern shores of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, with its ancient island monastries and the spectacular Blue Nile Falls. On the island of Dega Estefanos you will find the church of St. Estefanos which has a priceless collection of icons and manuscripts and houses the mummified remains of a number of Ethiopian emperors.

OMO VALLEY

The Lower Valley of the Omo River

The Lower Omo is home to a remarkable mix of small, contrasting ethnic groups not only the Bume and Konso, but also the Gelebe, the Bodi, the Mursi, the Surma, the Arbore, and the Hamer, to name but a few. Lifestyles are as varied as the tribes themselves. Lacking any material, culture and artifacts common to other cultures, these tribes find unique ways in which to express their artistic impulses. Both the Surma and the Karo, for example, are experts at body painting, using clays and locally available vegetable pigments to trace fantastic patterns on each other’s faces, chests, arms, and legs. These designs are created purely for fun and aesthetic effect, each artist vying to outdo their fellows.

ARBAMINCH

Arba Minch

Arbaminch is well known for its large number and variety of wildlife, species endemic birds and natural beauty of the landscape. Drive Southeast of Addis Ababa passing through Debre Zeit and continue driving along the main road of the Great Rift Valley which leads you to the South along the shores of many of the lakes.

Not very far from Arbaminch, in the moutains, live the Omotic Dorze people. They are famous for their houses which are constructed with vertical hard wood poles and woven bamboo. It can be 10 metres high. The house is divided in to a fireplace, cattle place and bedroom.

LANGANO

Sand beach of Langano

Langano is located 200 kilometres south of Addis Ababa. It is a sand beach that attracts many visitors. Along the road to Langano, one can see beautiful landscapes. As you continue driving, the first lake to be seen among the rift valley lakes is Lake Zeway. It is a shelter for a variety of birds and fish. Proceeding further to the South, Lake Abiyata and Lake Shala can be reached. These lakes are breeding places for Flamingos and ideal for bird watching. Nearby is Lake Langano, a resort area and a paradise for holidaymakers. Traditions for most vacationers include setting up tents along the beach, eating (fresh-meat) barbeque.

SODERE

Popular resort area

Sodere is situated 126 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa. It is a very popular resort area with new hotel complexes. The Olympic size pool and physiotherapy centres are frequented by visitors of all ages. The vegetation of Sodere and its vicinity is evergreen, healthy and scenic. Nearby, the Awash River meanders through the forest that forms giant shade trees.

Australia Famil, by Yazneen Rana

When people ask me about my job and are told that I am in the Tourism Industry, their first remark is usually, “So you must travel a lot!”  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  But we do get some rare opportunities for visiting far off lands with Incentive groups or on Familiarization trips.

I completed the Aussie Specialist programme in February 2008 which qualified me as an Australia tourism specialist and also gave me a chance to be eligible for a Familiarization tour to Australia. Twenty eligible agents including myself were chosen by Tourism Australia to participate in this tour.  These Famils, as they are called, are organized each year by the Australian Tourism Board and Aussie Specialist agents are selected to visit the country.  This includes a lot of touring and site inspections.  We are also introduced to new tourism products which they wish to promote.

Our 10-day adventure included Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland and Sydney in New South Wales.

Queensland is known as the Sunshine State – “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next.”  We arrived at the Brisbane Airport where we were met by our lively, mischievous and lovable Tourism Queensland Representative – Ms. Anne Miller. I have never met a lady like her who makes you feel so comfortable and at home right from the first meeting. She was with us throughout the tours of Brisbane and Gold Coast.  She also went out of her way to arrange some site inspections and touring that we wished to do but was not mentioned in our schedule.

Our first city was Brisbane.  Young and vibrant, Brisbane lies at the heart of one of the most diverse and popular holiday regions in Australia and enjoys an enviable climate of warm, bright summers and clear, mild winters – making Brisbane an ideal place to visit all year round.

The city lies on the banks of the serpentine Brisbane River, a colourful waterway for high-speed ferries, paddle-wheelers and pleasure boats. Just over the bridge from the Central Business District, the South Bank area has all the fun, festivity, art and culture on the south bank of the Brisbane River.  There you will find the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, State Library, Queensland Art Gallery and Museum. Not to miss out is the Brisbane Eye, which is 61 metres tall and gives you a great view of the city as it moves. The entry charge is around AUD 15 for a ride. South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River is home to restaurants, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a real sandy beach and lagoon – all with a city backdrop.

Certain Must Do’s in Brisbane are taking a quick trip on the City Cat cruise, visiting the Botanical Gardens in front of the Parliament building, shopping for souvenirs at Queen Street Mall which has a variety of small restaurants, pubs, grub corners, coffee shops, a movie theatre and a cell phone store. Brisbane has a number of bridges with the most popular being Kangaroo Bridge and Story Bridge. A popular recreational activity is the Story Bridge Adventure Climb.  For shoppers with a budget, Brunswick Street is amazing with a China Town and Flea Market open on Saturdays and Sundays.

The first night we stayed at the Sofitel Brisbane – located in the City Centre and linked directly to the train station.  Our first day started with a short city tour of Brisbane and then we headed to the Holt Street Warf to take a 1 hour and 15 minutes ferry ride to reach Tangalooma.  Chad Croft from Tangalooma was there to receive us and update us about his property, the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. It is on Moreton Island and surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and untouched national parks. With over 75 tours and activities on offer, the resort is a perfect destination for guests seeking an action packed, educational, nature based or relaxing experience. In fact it is the only resort where all guests get the opportunity to feed the wild Bottlenose Dolphins. This activity takes place each day in the evening.

After an amazing Indian meal, we headed to enjoy our Quad Bike ride from the beach up to the top of Moreton Island – a sand island – and coming down another way. It costs approximately AUD 40 but is definitely a must do here. Later in the evening we walked towards the well lit Jetty to participate in the dolphin-feeding activity where these wild dolphins come really close to the shore, giving the visitors a chance to feed them.  From Tangalooma, we continued our travels to reach Gold Coast.

Gold Coast is a fantastic place not just for those who want to relax and wander around but also for those who wish to have an action packed holiday full of fun activities. With miles of surf beach, lush green rainforest, world-class golfing greens, world-famous theme parks and with every kind of accommodation from exclusive 5-star hotels to sunny beachside apartments – that’s the Gold Coast. The most iconic building there is the Q1 which is the tallest residential tower in the world and ideally located right on Surfers Paradise.  It is 322.5 metres high with 80 levels. Inspirational, breathtaking and stunning, it offers luxury one, two and three bedroom apartment accommodation with unique glass balconies. The Q Deck, which is the observatory, is on level 77 from where one gets a panoramic view of Gold Coast. Level 78 features the Skylight Room, which available for unique functions and events. Some of the important areas in Gold Coast are the Broadbeach area and Surfers Paradise. Broadbeach is more relaxed, with the famous casino-hotel Conrad Jupiters. Surfers Paradise, on the other hand, is very lively with many shops, a wide range of accommodation, a beach which is great for surfing and countless entertainment options such as a Reverse Bungee Arena, a -50 Bar and Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant.

We spent our night at Palazzo Versace – the first Versace hotel in Australia designed by Donatella Versace.  This is a fantastic 5-star luxury hotel including its own artificial beach besides the other trademark 5-star facilities. The next morning we headed to Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides including the brand new Mick Doohan Motocoaster. We enjoyed ourselves at the Nickelodeon Central, Wiggles World, Tiger Island, the Australian Wildlife Experience (where you can get yourself picture with a koala bear) and Australia’s first and only stationary wave, FlowRider.

After lunch at Dreamworld, it was time for some shopping at the Harbour Town, located just 15 kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. Harbour Town is an award winning shopping destination with more than 95 brand-direct outlet stores selling over 300 brands of the world’s top name fashions and home wares direct to shoppers with savings of up to 60 percent below normal retail prices, every day.  This is a great shopping place which I will definitely recommend all my clients.

Tonight we were at Sofitel Gold Coast on Broadbeach with all our rooms having a fantastic view of the beach. Like the Sofitel Brisbane this hotel too had a direct exit to the Monorail station which connects it directly to the Conrad Jupiters hotel.

Our Indian travel agent group was quite enthusiastic and wished to discover the place more that what was shown to us. So each night after dinner we would all go out for a long stroll to discover more of the city.

On the third day, we were supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for which we were ready before dawn, but due to the unsupportive climate our tour got cancelled instead of which we visited the Q1 on Surfers along with a visit to the Qdeck.  A beautiful and an unforgettable experience.

Another activity that we took the same day was the visit to Mt. Tamborine. It is a flora and fauna sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. Situated only 40 minutes from the coast and at an elevation of 550 meters the mountain is renowned for perfect climate, spectacular views, lush farmland, subtropical rainforest and country hospitality. Set amidst this natural beauty are wineries, country arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops, galleries tearooms and nurseries. Our tour included a visit to the Tambourine Mountain Distillery which is owned by Michael and Alla Ward. This Distillery uses a traditional copper pot still to distil a variety of locally grown fruit and this fruit is used in a variety of handmade liqueurs.  It is Australia’s smallest operating Pot Still Distillery, but of world renown, including in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and Asia and has won many awards to its credit. We continued to visit the Witches Chase Cheese Factory to see artisan style cheese and gourmet ice cream in the making. We tried a variety of award winning local cheese including Tamembert and Witches Blue Vein – one of only two Queensland-made blue cheeses. This was followed by a visit to the fudge shop where there were over 40 different kinds of fudge. After a late lunch we head back to the hotel for some rest before we left for Site inspection of Conrad Jupiters followed by Dinner hosted by the Gold Coast Tourism. This was the last night in Queensland before leaving for the very popular city of Sydney.

Next morning we reached Sydney after a 1 hour and 30 minutes flight. We were received at the airport by Nadine Wilson from Tourism New South Whales. She was our cute and patient host throughout our stay in Sydney. Though Canberra is the capital of Australia, it is Sydney that has all the glitz and glamour and quite often is also mistaken to be the capital city. Endowed with a sparkling harbour, dazzling beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate, its setting alone has guaranteed Sydney a place among the glamorous cities on the planet. The entire layout of the city shows that it has been crafted for Tourists. On arrival we were taken to an Italian restaurant called Casa Di Nico on the Kings Steet Warf. The restaurant captures your heart not just with its outstanding food, wine and passion for Italy but also with the spectacular views of the waterfront.

After lunch we continued to the Sydney Aquarium which is next to the restaurant – a must do in Sydney. It has a large collection of over 11,500 aquatic life, the largest Great Barrier Reef Display in the world and an extensive collection of huge sharks and rays. We dropped our luggage at Metro Hotel, a decent 3* accommodation on Pitt Street close to the majors attractions like the Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Warf, Star City Casino, Sydney entertainment Centre and the Paddy’s markets. We took an evening harbour cruise with captain Cook cruises which takes you through all the best known landmarks. A great cruise to opt for to orient oneself with the city attractions and their locations. In the evening we took a short 10 minute walk to the Sydney tower for a fantastic dinner at the revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. A great option for Honeymoons who can dine along with getting 3600 views of Sydney.

The next day we were ready by 7.30 am to reach Jetty no. 06 at the Circular Quay to board a 12 Minute cruise to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “Water View” and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo’s location on the north bank of Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. There we were met by Arabella Hammond who along with her experienced volunteers took us though the Zoo. It houses a variety of animals and is a real treat to the nature lovers. The attraction I loved the most was the Energy Australia Seal show, a 30 – 45 minute spectacular presentation by the housed seals and their trainers. We had our lunch at the Taronga Food Market. We boarded our ferry by 1pm to take on the Sydney Opera House Guided Tour. A great tour for those into Art and Music. Besides the tours concert shows too can be booked here on prior notice. The Sydney Opera has a Historic tale behind its making. The irony is that the Dannish architect, Jorg Utzon who started building this fabulous structure left it half way and left for home and has not returned since then to see the iconic structure of Sydney in its complete form. The Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest Performing Arts Centre in the world. Working with a new enriching, interactive audio-visual component, where images are projected onto the fabric of the building – the guides take you on an emotional journey, You will visit one of the major venues where live performances are held each day.  After an enthralling experience at the opera we moved on for something more adventurous. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a multi award winning tourist attraction, taking the climbers to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during a 3.5 hour adventure. It was totally a different experience reaching the summit of the bridge and looking on to the City from there. After our 3 hour adventure we rushed to the King Street Warf so as not to miss out on the Sydney Showboat Dinner Cruise departing at 7.30pm. A perfect evening cruise with delicious fusion of style and taste from Sydney’s finest seafood to modern international cuisine. Guests are also treated to an extravagant show featuring gorgeous Australian showgirls who have danced their way from the Moulin Rouge to the Showboat.

Our next day was more relaxed with a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. It is a 2 and a half hour drive from Sydney and a must include tour in any itinerary. It is a captivating world of National parks, Spectacular scenery, awe-inspiring vistas and the grandeur of ancient mountains that have remained unchanged from the Jurassic era. The Blue Mountains derive its name from the fact that the gum trees release oil into the air, which reacts with the sunlight to produce a blue haze. On arrival we experienced the screening of the edge movie which told us one of the greatest stories of humankind – the story of discovery and coming to terms with the ancient, complex world we live in. Later we were met by our Blue Mountain Tourism Representative for a briefing of the days activities and we were divided into four groups for “The Blue Mountain Challenge“. We were given over 50 questions about the places and shops we visit and were to answer it section by section. It was a unique way they used to familiarize us with the place. We started from Leura a beautiful village with lots of Gourmet Shops and bakeries and a Local Clock Tower. A great place to stroll around and browse fashion boutiques, galleries, bookstores and Bric–a–Brac stores. It also has lovely parks and gardens to enjoy. From there we moved on to Echo Point – It is from where one gets a panoramic views of the Southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra – Boyd Wilderness and the Three Sisters rock formation. In the area there are many lookouts and walks including a path to the Three Sisters walk and the Giant Stairway.  We were told that at night the entire place lights up and I could very well imagine ho beautiful it would look. As our challenge continued we had to make way to the Scenic World. The Scenic World includes a Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Skyway and Scenic Walkway. The Scenic Railway is the Steepest incline passenger railway in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Cableway glides smoothly between scenic Scenic World and the forest floor 545 Metres below. Once on the valley floor we strolled though the wilderness of longest elevated timber boardwalk. The Skyway cable car took us on a 720 Metre journey above the ancient ravines and dazzling waterfalls. The end of the day also brought us to the end of our challenge. One of the four teams with the maximum correct answers was to be announced as the winner of the challenge. Our team stood fourth but the experience we gathered was something to remember. We were back in Sydney by 5.30 and the balance of the day was for us to explore and enjoy on our own. We were out of Menzies, our centrally located 4-star hotel very close to the Darling harbour and the Sydney Sky tower in 20 mins. We took a stroll on George Street, very popular street for shopping as it has many shops with great discounts. Christmas preparations had already started and the streets and the malls were beautifully lit up and decorated with Christmas decorations.

The next day we took a full day trip to Hunter Valley where we were escorted by Neil Gordon from APT coaches who gave us ideas on itinerary planning for Hunter valley and Port Stephans region. Just 4 hours away from Sydney and with more than 120 wineries, Hunter valley produces some terrific wines, including the Hunter Semillon and Hunter Shiraz. On the way to Hunter Valley we stopped at the Wollombi Village which had a Tavern and a Museum. This stop is included because as a rule all the tourist vehicles need to have a stop after every 2 hours run. After the short break we headed to Hunter Valley and our first stop was at the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate where we were taken for some wine tasting. From there we went for site inspection of Grand Mercure hunter Valley gardens Hotel. A 4.5-star boutique property surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. It has apartment style rooms ideally located in Pokolbin close to most of the places to visit in Hunter Valley. After our lunch was hosted in the restaurant called The Steakhouse we explored the 12 Themed garden at the Hunter Valley Garden of which my favorite was the Storybook garden featuring timeless nursery rhyme characters. The Storybook Garden is a delight for all ages taking the visitor along on a journey through childhood dreams, memories and fantasies.

A number of weddings and conferences are held in Hunter valley and we had the good fortune of seeing some locals in their traditional garments going to the wineries to attend a Marriage in a Horse carriage. We then went to the Hunter resort for our orientation on Wines, how they are made, the different variety of wines and the art of wine blending and how they are finally bottled. Of course wine tasting followed thereafter!!

We did not have an overnight stay in the Hunter Valley as we were short on time and also had to visit Port Stephens which is a hour and a half away from Hunter valley. Port Stephens is known as the “Dolphin Capital of Australia”. Its bay is home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins that you get to see all year round. A quite, friendly place and a must include all the tours for water and nature lovers. It is amazing to know how such a small place has so many activity options available for tourism. It’s a unique place which offers you beach and cruise activities and at the same time you can even go on a sand dune safari and enjoy sandboarding. We reached our hotel Salamander Shores for dinner after which we enjoyed in the little pub of the hotel. It is situated on the waters at Soldiers point and each room has a perfect view of the sea in the front. Every morning at 8 they have a bird feeding session where Lorikeets come to feed on the bread crumbs we offer them. Today we met up with Tars Bylhouwer from Port Stephens Tourism. Since the weather was not with us and some activities had to be cut down he arranged some alternate indoor activity for us which was much appreciated by all of us. We had some site inspections for the day at the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort and the Sahara Trails Horse Riding and farmstay after which we head for the Shark and Ray feeding centre with the admission fee of around A$ 25. It was a huge pond with friendly Sharks and Sting who love to be fed by the visitors while they cruise around your feet. We proceeded towards Nelson bay where we had to embark on our Moonshadow Dolphin Cruise. A comfortable 2 hour 15 minute cruise with our captain guiding us to view the dolphins as they sped by.  The unique feature of this cruise was that after some time they released a net in the chilling waters called the Boom net and the passengers could have a dip and if they are lucky some dolphin may even be swimming along with them.  After this unique cruise experience we went for the most diverse activity which was a 4×4 sand dune safari. It was a confused landscape feature with sand dunes that ended into a sea. The Stockton Bight Sand Dunes need to be seen to be believed – covering an area of 2,500 hectares along the 32 km long Stockton beach. The dunes climb up to 30 metres with slopes up to 600 ideal for sandboarding. We did a few rounds of sandboarding but the ease with which we came down the slope it was with equal difficulty that we climbed up again. This was the final activity of our hectic yet memorable tour which was so accurately planned for us agents.

Australia has opened itself to a lot of tourism which reflected in the entire setup of the cities. It looked as if the cities aimed at increasing the desire of the tourists to visit Australia.  Tourism Australia along with the support from the tourism board of each state organized this famil to equip us with enhanced knowledge to sell these destinations to our travelers and I am sure that with this detailed product knowledge Australia will be more effectively sold by us.

Interview with Medha Sampat, Country Head of South African Tourism

Medha Sampat has been the Country Head of South African Tourism in India for over a year. She shares with our readers why South Africa must be on your wishlist of must-visit destinations for sports holidays as well as for unique experiences.

How long have you been the Country Manager for South Africa Tourism and how has tourism to South Africa grown during your tenure?

In 2009, I was appointed as the Country Manager of South African Tourism for the India portfolio. India has always been an important market for South African Tourism. Initially we had aligned our promotional strategies to leverage events around fashion, food and wine to lure the Indian traveller. However, we soon identified Bollywood and sports as important drivers for tourism growth. With the support of the SAT team in India and South Africa, we defined our potential audience and reached out to them with targeted marketing tools in order to create awareness and excitement about the destination.

A smart combination of promotions, advertising and media-related activities, especially during the IPL tournament in South Africa, ensured that our audiences were sufficiently motivated, which further enhanced tourist arrivals to South Africa. With successful marketing and positioning strategies in India, we have seen a growth of 17.5%, with total tourist arrival of 61007 till December 2009. With the momentum now firmly in place, we are sure to carry through this growth curve till the end of the fiscal term.

What is the role of SA Tourism office and how do you go about creating awareness of South Africa amongst members of travel trade as well as potential travellers in general?

We at SA Tourism, play a pivotal role in opening new avenues to package South Africa in a unique format that can be used by tour operators to familiarize themselves on the destination. We have come a long way determining our priorities with regards to markets, based on size and growth potential. Our biggest strength when talking about South Africa to the Indian traveller is a thorough knowledge and understanding of their needs, requirements and travel patterns. We have been promoting our product by various activities with an aim to approach the right market and effectively convey the messages.

In India, leisure products travel through a complex network of intermediaries before reaching the end consumer. There are over 28000 tour operators and travel agencies distributed across India and they are an important group where awareness and education on the potential of the destination has to be impressed. Activities have to be conducted to reach out to the Indian travel-trade industry, provide impetus to existing operators and facilitate partnerships and synergies between Indian operators and their South African counterparts. Realizing this need, we set out to plan our activities for the year, and put in place goals to be achieved. Our calendar of events includes multi-city Roadshows, Incountry Famils, fam- trips, consumer promotions among many other exciting initiatives. Trade-based activities such as these help in expanding the operators’ base, increasing visibility and enhancing understanding of the destination.

What is the estimated growth you envisage out of India in 2010-11 as South Africa will be hosting two major sporting events later this year: the FIFA World Cup and the T20 Champions League?

South Africans’ passion for sport, its world class venues, top international events and well developed infrastructure combine to make the country a huge draw-card for sports fans. Sporting events like cricket and football help showcase our wonderful tourist attractions to billions of captive fans worldwide. They work to cement South Africa’s position as a premier sporting destination, apart from bringing in millions of dollars through the hospitality, travel and tourism sectors. Moreover, the indirect spin-offs from improved perceptions abroad could have an even greater, longer-lasting impact, not only on South Africa and its development but on the continent as a whole.

The contribution of sports tourism to the South African economy is estimated to be approximately ZAR 6 billion annually. The 2010 FIFA World Cup will result in anticipated injection of about ZAR 21.3 billion into the South African economy. We are confident of reaching our target arrivals of 65862 from India for 2010-11 and we hope that the mega sporting bonanza and the subsequent T20 Champions League alongwith similar such sporting events will encourage the Indian traveller to return time and again with family and friends to our beautiful Rainbow Nation.

How has Bollywood and sporting events helped enhance Brand South Africa amongst the Indian visitors?

Bollywood and sports, namely cricket and football have played a huge role in enhancing the visibility quotient that South Africa boasts of today in the Indian market. Sporting events like the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in 2007, the IPL in 2009 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2009 have helped showcase the country’s scenic locales amidst the sporting action that gripped the world. Playing host to events of such great magnitude has also brought to light South Africa’s proficiency to host world class events.

Films, being such a mass culture in India help reach out to a wider audience and expand the target group – family, honeymoon and MICE segment. With Indian tourists being highly influenced by films and entertainment, South Africa has in its recent years attracted a lot of tourists with Bollywood movies. The country’s locales have benefited enormously from the use of its streets, landmarks and colorful locations.  In the recent past, we have seen some of the biggest Bollywood blockbusters set and shot extensively in South Africa. Clearly, Bollywood and sports have resulted in unprecedented coverage and awareness for brand South Africa.

What according to you is the minimum number of days one should spend to get a glimpse of South Africa, especially the first time traveller?

The average stay of an Indian tourist in South Africa is around 10 days, depending on the type of holiday experience that one is looking for, where one can choose amongst the major hot spots – Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Wildlife safaris can be experienced across South Africa which is an experience by itself and a huge drawcard for Indian travellers.

Which are the Big 5 attractions that should be included for a visit to South Africa?

South Africa is a mesmerizing country with endless enchanting views but the big five attractions that should be included on a South African sojourn, should be:

The charismatic Table Mountain which is what the Western Cape Province is renowned for. Any person, who lays eyes on it is sure to fall for its powerful spell.

Second would be the Garden Route – Three of South Africa’s top hikes take place here – the Otter Trail, the Tsitsikama and Dolphin trails. It is a paradise for eco-lovers, bird watchers and solitude seekers.

Of course, who can forget the famous Jackass Penguins at Boulders Beach on the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town which is a real thrill.

The Cradle of Humankind in the Gauteng province comprising a strip of a dozen dolomitic limestone caves containing the fossilized remains of ancient forms of animals, plants and most importantly, hominids tell a story of their own.

The fifth big attraction is the Kruger National Park with its abundant wildlife – hearing the roar of a lion out in the wild is a truly exhilarating experience!

What are the initiatives  taken by SA Tourism to educate the travel trade on Brand South Africa?

We have organized several activities in the past to expand our trade network here in India. Trade events like roadshows, incountry famils, the internationally renowned annual trade convention, Indaba amongst others have helped build strategic partnerships with our Indian trade partners. We have also introduced the Food Map along with our Adventure and Luxury Style Guides that have been effective blueprints for travel trade to understand South Africa’s offerings and help Indian travellers navigate better during their stay in South Africa. Our new training programme, “Learn South Africa”, will be implemented in 12 cities across India that will help travel industry representatives get a better understanding of South Africa as a destination and all its tourist attractions. The programme aims to help travel trade promote, plan and organise quality holidays to suit client requirements. This is a first for any tourism board, and we are proud to be setting the benchmarks for the industry.

There are several myths and apprehensions about South Africa – distance, safety, South Africa offers only wildlife. How do you plan to address these issues?

South Africa is as safe as any other destination in the world, provided you take some normal precautions like you would anywhere else as a tourist. Simply stay alert and be aware of what is going on around you and you will most likely enjoy a perfectly safe holiday. As for the rest of the misconceptions, whilst there is a continuous process of education that we undertake with the trade, who can deny that seeing is believing!

What according to you are the must-visit experiences to be included for visitors to South Africa on:

Honeymoon – South Africa is a Honeymooners haven and it would be incomplete with out paying a tribute to Cape Town and Cape Peninsula well known for world-class shopping, nightlife and some exquisite food and wine. One can enjoy a romantic candle light dinner at Robben Island, Table Mountain or the V & A Waterfront, an exceptionally romantic outing that will ensure you have a wonderful time with your spouse. Another interesting place to discover is Hermanus, where couples can traverse the magnificent Walker Bay that provides nature lovers with an extraordinary opportunity to explore the wonders of the Cape’s beautiful flora and fascinating coastal and marine life.

Adventure – Adventure activities in the Drakensberg region are sure to leave you gasping which include hiking trails, horse trails and safaris, fly fishing, white water rafting and rock climbing to mention but a few. Furthermore the Hot air ballooning in Mpumalanga and Bungy Jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge is sure to suffice your appetite for adventure. And there’s many more unique activities on offer for the adventure-seeker – the shark-cage diving offering fascinating encounters with the Great White Shark; the zip-line and the canopy tour to name just a few.

Family break – A shopping spree at The Gateway Mall (Durban), situated in Umhlanga, is reputed to be the largest shopping centre in the Southern Hemisphere. It has a wide variety of shops, a supermarket, over 30 restaurants and some unusual entertainment facilities. Fourways Mall shopping centre in Johannesburg is famous for fashion and also offers a number of elite jewellers with a choice of selected diamond and gold jewellery. If your family enjoys music, a visit to South Africa’s renowned musical show, Umoja will enthrall and captivate your heartbeats. Of course, the call of the wildlife during a game drive safari in the Kruger National Park is enjoyed by the young and old alike, and makes for a perfect family outing.

Special interests such as wine and golf – Combine your love of safari and your passion for golf at the savannah courses. And a glass of wine to celebrate a golf game will unquestionably be soothing to your soul. For which the Cape Winelands are the most scenic in the world with Pinotage and Hanepoort being made from specially cultivated grapes. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (steen) and Chardonnay are the buzz at the moment in South Africa and there’s plenty of options to enjoy these gourmet luxuries.

What according to you are the top 3 favourite teams for the 2010 FIFA World Cup?

There is a spirit of FIFA that is unmatched anywhere in the world. While Brazil, Italy and France are the hot favourites, all eyes are on the home team, Bafana Bafana this FIFA season to keep the trophy back home. All the countries have come together to showcase their best teams on a common platform. As the vuvuzelas (see photo below) herald the kick-off, we invite the world to bring on the games!

Which are the major sporting events and Bollywood shoots lined up for the future after the FIFA World Cup?

On cricket action, the T20 Champions League is scheduled to take place in South Africa in September this year. Also, the Indian team will tour South Africa in October-November to add to the cricket buzz. As for other sporting events, there is plenty more that keeps happening such as the ATP South African Open which see participating from the top stars of Indian tennis. On Bollywood, it would be difficult to pin down which movies are being shot there during the course of the year. But there is plenty of star-candy at any time in South Africa!

Indians are becoming more discerning as travellers. Which are some of the luxury and exclusive tourism products that one can experience only in South Africa?

Deep in the rugged bushveld, in the heart of an ancient volcano, lies the world’s most unique resort, the internationally acclaimed Sun City. The resort has a unique heartbeat and an African rhythm of its own and is unlike any other resort destination in the world. This is pure fantasy where your every desire is met. Apart from this if one wants to submit his mind and body for a complete revitalization process, then luxury spas in South Africa are rejuvenating havens to unwind. Karkloof Spa in Masunduzi, Lapologa in Pretoria and Mangwanani Private African Day Spa in Gauteng are just a few of the luxury doorways to experience eternal bliss. Many of our game lodges in the heart of the Kruger National Park like the Singita Game Reserve, the Earth Lodge at Sabi Sabi offer luxury unlimited. And these, are but a few that I mention!

Kruger National Park has become synonymous with the legendary Game Drives. What is it that makes a Game Drive in Kruger National Park so special and unique?

In a Kruger National Park safari you will be in awe with the plenty of Big Five sightings. At Kruger, one can experience South Africa’s wilderness in a self-drive safari, or relax and take in the sights on a guided wildlife tour, explore the bush on foot, stay in an exquisite tented camp or spend the night at a luxury lodge. A safari in Kruger National Park not only provides guests with the opportunity to encounter the wild but also allows for cultural interaction. The professional guides help you to identify the animals that grope in the dark and ensure that you will not miss the best game sightings. South Africa’s safari game lodges offer an unbeatable combination of game drives, walks with skilled trackers, and exclusive accommodation in pristine natural surroundings.

Which is your preferred destination in South Africa and what are the emerging places to visit for the Indian traveller?

As a travel destination, South Africa is uniquely placed because it offers something for everyone.

Depending on the type of holiday experience that one wants, one can go to the place of one’s choice in South Africa. If one wishes to experience a serene beach holiday, KwaZulu-Natal is the place to be, because of its favorable climate. Cape Town and Garden Route beckons the Indian traveller to get a glimpse of the scenic beauty. To experience wildlife and get lost in the ‘Land of Bushes’, one can visit the Limpopo Province or Mpumalanga and stay in one of the game reserves to experience the breathtaking safari. If night clubbing and culture is on one’s itinerary, then there is no better place than Johannesburg.

While Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban are among the top favourites in the globetrotter’s wish-list, other places in the Northwest province and Eastern Cape are also being explored.

What is your opinion of Namaste South Africa (www.namastesouthafrica.com) – a dedicated online platform for the Indian traveller to South Africa?

It is an interesting website, packed with lots of information and exciting visuals.

Lastly, your message to readers:

For all those sports enthusiasts, who want to experience an unforgettable adventure in the wild and not lose an opportunity of a lifetime, get ready with your backpacks and head to South Africa – a country where “It’s Possible!”

5 Things to Say WOW about Natural South Africa

  • South Africa has one of the oldest meteor scars in the world. The  meteor plummeted to Earth nearly two billion years ago, predating the heady days of oxygen and multi-celled life. The Vredefort Dome was recently declared a World Heritage Site.
  • South Africa is the world’s leader in mining and minerals. It has nearly 90% of the platinum metals on Earth, 80% of the manganese, 73% of the chrome, 45% of the vanadium and 41% of the gold.
  • The world is divided into six floral kingdoms. One of these is located entirely within South Africa. The Cape Floral Kingdom has 9600 plant species, 70% of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
  • South Africa is home to the largest land mammal (Elephant),   smallest mammal (Least Dwarf Shrew), fastest mammal (Cheetah), largest bird (Ostrich) and the largest fish (Whale Shark).
  • The African Black-Footed Penguin, the largest colony of which is found on Dyer Island off the Western Cape, can swim up to 40 kilometres per hour which is faster than the Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin.