Safari checklist

_MG_0884I grew up in Africa. Now I live elsewhere yet I’ve re-visited countless times, as both tourist and travel writer. So I’ve got a good idea about what choices help contribute to a top safari experience.

A wildlife safari is the most popular of Africa holiday options. You can choose a luxury lodge safari, a camping safari, a fishing or canoeing safari, do it by train or even on elephant back. It’s your choice how you’ll bed down for the night, which ranges from outlandishly luxurious and exclusive in a private game lodge or permanent tented camps to mobile treks during which you pitch your own tent, do some cooking and help wash up. Whatever comfort level you select, at some time do make sure you walk on the wild side.

Best foot forward: A safari should involve getting to close grips with Africa. One way to ensure this happens is to spend time walking through the bush with an experienced, armed ranger because, unquestionably, doing it on foot is the most thrilling way to see wild creatures. On foot, a rhino or elephant at 100 paces will appear to be twice the size – and doubly dangerous – to one viewed from the relative safety of a Landrover. A walk on the wild side provides the most heart-thumping moments and also the most treasured memories. Always ask about your chances of walking in the bush when booking your adventure.

Sleep under canvas: Opt for the tented camp. Nothing beats the sensation of having just a thin sheet of canvas between you and any creatures roaming through the campsite at night. I’ve slept in the most fabulous lodges and although I have enjoyed the comfort, food and fine service, all too often I’ve felt far removed from what I consider the real thing.

Go wet: Choose a camp near or beside water, if not a river then at least a waterhole. The presence of water practically guarantees the presence of animals. The end of the dry season, between October and January, sees all sorts close to rivers and waterholes in numbers not witnessed at other times of the year.

Big ain’t always best: Small is equally beautiful. You’ll hear people bang on about the Big Five – lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo – a grouping of the most prized trophies for 19th Century hunters. And naturally you want to see these animals. But often the tiny things can be most fascinating, especially when  no big creatures can be easily seen. In this respect it’s crucial to have a guide able to point out and explain the ecology of small things, whether they be plants or insects.

Don’t expect to sleep in: Africa is at its best at first light, which brings birdsong, a lightening sky and aroused sensibilities. Thorny black silhouettes transform into acacias with grey trunks, gnarled branches, dark green foliage and spiky thorns. Morning game drives require pre-dawn starts as wild animals are most the move during the first hours of each day.

Be informed: Buy regional field guides to African wildlife and birds. They’ll prove invaluable before and long after your safari is over.

When in Rome …..

Rome - church and rooftopsIn the Eternal City I take advice given long ago by Saint Ambrose to Saint Augustine: I do as Romans do. Rather than a hotel stay, I take an apartment. Having my own front door key grants me a temporary local identity. I enjoy a delicious sense of belonging each day as I step onto Via Laurina. In the evening I return home with fruit and vegetables from the stall at the end of my street.

Living like a local – and fortuitously in a fabulous location within walking distance of almost everything I hope to see – gives me the best sampling of life as it’s lived in this marvellous city, although I’m lacking in local dialect, body language and attitude that marks a genuine Roman. My friendly neighbours graciously ignore my deficiencies, humour my temporary illusion and allow me to briefly feel woven into the local fabric.

My apartment in Via Laurina is on the top floor, reached up a flight of 60 steps. I have a great view from my bedroom window and, within a couple of days, I can practically guess the time by the street sounds below.

The apartment has a modern, well-equipped kitchen and small laundry. The wooden floors creak madly, so I’m happy to oblige the tenants beneath and pad about in socks or bare feet. There’s a TV  but I don’t watch it as there’s much more interesting entertainment in the streets.

Rome - street stallVia Laurina is located between Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna with the famous Spanish Steps. My street links the bustling Via del Corso pedestrian concourse with the luxury shopping salons along Via del Babuino. The River Tiber is two blocks west with St Peter’s Square and the Vatican not much further away.

Each morning from my window I look down on the street activity below, then up at the sky before deciding what I will do. There is no agenda. Most days I spend wandering the city, soaking up the sights. Two days in a row I’m soaked literally as regular heavy showers pelt the glistening pavements. It doesn’t bother me. Church bells seem to peal whenever the sun breaks though and casts soft light on Rome’s ancient, gleaming stone.

Unhurried, whimsical ramblings are typical of my days as a temporary resident. At the end of my stay, like almost every other visitor enchanted by this incredible city, I toss a coin into the famous Trevi fountain hoping my wish be granted and soon I’ll return to bella Roma.

Find an apartment in Rome

Getting shipshape to aid others

Food is a vital component of any cruise. Whenever I’ve set sail somewhere I’ve been truly amazed at the amount of food issuing from the ship’s galleys round the clock – and equally amazed by the amount of munching passengers manage, especially those who seem to be chomping non-stop throughout their cruise.

Perhaps such voracious appetites are stimulated by all that fresh sea air. Or is it a case of the more you eat, the more value you think you’re squeezing out of the cost of your cruise? Whatever the rationale, piling into the buffet is a core attraction of days spent at sea.

So it’s terrific to know that the Holland America Line is doing something positive to encourage its passengers to walk off all those calories for a good cause.

Oosterdam 3Tomorrow I’ll be on board the Oosterdam in Sydney harbour for a special event celebrating the introduction of the “On Deck for a Cause” initiative across the Holland America fleet.

Passengers on every cruise this year (that’s 500 cruises!) will be asked to donate $20 to participate in a fund-raising five kilometre (3 mile) walk.

Depending on the ship, this will mean completing nine to 12 laps of the exercise deck; not much for some, a real challenge for others. (I quite expect tomorrow’s lunch on the Oosterdam to be followed with a fast-paced, energetic inspection of the ship.)

Those who finish a walk will get a special “On Deck for a Cause” T-shirt and wristband and celebrate with a small party. The real incentive, however, is doing something for others less fortunate while also battling that bulging cruise waistline.

Monday was World Cancer Day. This new shipboard initiative will benefit six cancer organisations around the world – in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, Netherlands and Germany. A minimum 80% of funds raised will be distributed among these organisations, the other 20% will cover costs.