Introducing Nick Dyer who co-founded the Painted Wolf Foundation to highlight and raise awareness of the plight of Wild Dogs across Africa. Here is a story Nick wrote for Travel Africa along with some of his excellent photographs and a short video (below).
It is 45 degrees Celsius and the heat pounds my whole being even though an Albida tree shades me and the sun is heading fast towards the horizon. I am sitting on the thorny floodplain of the Zambezi Valley in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe. In front of me rests my camera on its tripod. Twenty metres beyond lies a group of sleeping creatures that I have come to adore above any other in Africa…the painted wolves.
To me they are not just animals. It is Blacktip and her 14-strong pack with their brood of nine, six-month-old puppies. In reality, all the pups are Blacktip’s, as the alpha female is the only one to breed. But the rest of the pack members assume their roles of doting aunts and uncles, babysitters and playmates, guardians and defenders to make collective responsibility the pack’s modus operandi.
For the last five years, I have been tracking and photographing three packs of painted wolves on foot. These packs are led by three incredible alpha females; Blacktip, her mother Tait and sister Tammy. I have been with them almost daily for the last six months. I know each pack member as an individual and their acceptance of my presence on the ground suggests that they’ve also got to know me.
Blacktip has become the strongest of the three alphas and controls the centre of the park. Back in March she mated with her alpha male Hornet and 70 days later, when the rains had stopped, she found a suitable den in an old aardvark hole on a shady bank under a tall mopane tree. She dug out a few ‘emergency escape’ exits and then settled in to give birth to 12 tiny, blind pups. Each morning and evening, the rest of the pack would head off hunting, returning to feed their puppy-bound leader with regurgitated impala or baboon.
Eventually the pups emerged from their hole. Tiny floppy eared balls of fluff, almost completely black apart from a few flashes of white. Immediately they became the focus of the entire pack. Pip, one of last year’s pups took a particularly attentive interest, developing an uncontrollable urge to nuzzle and play with them at every opportunity, and regularly checking to see that they were safe.
After about a month, the pups started to shift from Blacktip’s milk to solid regurgitated food. Each morning, while the pack headed off to hunt, I would sit patiently waiting in perfectly quiet stillness for them to return with the pups remaining hidden in their hole. Keeping me company was a babysitter, who maintained a vigilant watch on the den performing regular patrols around its perimeters.
When the pack returned, there would always be an eruption of excitement as 12 hungry little mouths twittered like canneries and mobbed any adult willing to regurgitate some of their kill.
Over the three months at the den, I watched the pups’ strength and confidence grow, as did their individual characters. Finally, it was time for the pack to leave the den’s confines and slip into the big wide world and the norms of a nomadic lifestyle.
It has now been three months since they left the den and the pack is now three pups down, each succumbing to attacks from hyena. This is sadly to be expected; hyena and lion are the painted wolves’ natural nemesis.
The pack has now established its territory of a hundred square kilometres, which they continually circuit over a 10-day cycle. They never stay in one particular area for long, so that their takings from each herd are limited to one or two animals and never extend to a ruthless plunder.
As I sit in with them now, quietly sleeping, I reflect on what is now becoming a normal day for me. I rolled out of camp before dawn searching the meandering dirt roads for any sign of paw prints. I knew where I had left the pack last night, so they wouldn’t have moved far. There was no full moon to light their way.
Eventually I see fresh tracks heading into the bush. I pull my car off the road and swig down a litre of water – this could be a long hot morning. Grabbing my camera, its 400mm lens and a tripod, I check my bear-banger on my belt. It fires a flare and makes a large bang – my only defence against an over inquisitive lion. With all my senses heightened, I head off to find them.
It takes fifteen minutes. Through a tangle of branches, a huddle of Mickey Mouse ears become clear. They have stopped to rest on their morning hunt, allowing me to catch up. They see me approaching but barely stir as I position myself to take a few shots, the sun rising warmly behind me.
Before long, Blacktip signals it’s time to get breakfast and they head off into the light morning breeze. I follow them for a good hour. Eventually they spot a herd of oblivious impala and drop into stalking mode – single file, backs straight and eyes focussed. I duck behind a tree so as not to give them away – I am a lot less stealthy.
They are close when the impalas spot them. The herd starts to bolt which lets slip these dogs of war. It is pandemonium. Wolves and impala are running everywhere. The belief that the wolves use telepathy to strategise when hunting is a fallacy – it is mayhem – every dog for itself.
Two wolves close in on an impala and with a leap, bring it down. More pack members quickly arrive and in a cloud of dust the impala is disembowelled and dispatched. It looks savage, but the impala’s ordeal lasts only a few seconds, limiting any suffering.
After a few mouthfuls, the pups arrive and take their place at the head of the table. The wolves always ensure the young or injured have their fill first and Blacktip, like any great general, will always be the last to feed.
But there was enough food for all this morning and it made me happy to see the hungry wolves’ bellies comfortably expand in front of my camera. When there is little left of the carcass the pups began to play after dinner games with the remains. It was slightly gruesome to watch, but witnessing their abundant joy makes anything they do forgivable.
Eventually, they left the kill scene to find some cool shade to protect them from the heat of the day and I returned to my camp. It had been yet another life expanding experience with the painted wolves and I was delighted with the pictures they had given me.
Now, in the late afternoon. I have re-joined them and sitting by myself, I watch over these gentle peacefully sleeping wolves. They will soon jump up and perform their greeting ceremony – the highlight of any painted wolf experience. It is a daily ritual of joy where they wake in unison and leap and lick and nuzzle and nudge and bite and barge and bound and burst with joy at seeing one another again, even though they’ve been asleep together all day long.
I am deeply privileged to get to spend so much time with these remarkable creatures. The painted wolves have etched a deep groove in my heart. And what I have learnt for certain is that, when you get the chance to see them, they will leave more than a scratch upon yours.
The best way to see these magnificent creatures is where they thrive in the national parks of Zimbabwe and Botswana with responsible authentic safari operator African Bush Camps in their stunning tented camps.
WILDFOOT Travel offer 3 night exclusive safaris at selected African Bush Camps in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe guided privately by Nick Dyer, please contact Simon for more information – [email protected]
Wildfoot Travel’s Polar travel expert Zoe Savage-Morton was invited along to inspect and gain first had knowledge of The G-Expedition. Invaluable experience when identifying the right expedition vessel for our clients. After meeting the expedition team and undergoing a thorough inspection of the ship, Zoe has listed her thoughts and findings below.
Crew & Expedition staff
A warm welcome awaits, setting a friendly atmosphere for the duration of our 4-hours stay. There is strong solidarity amongst the staff, which presented a genuine family feeling that is shared, creating an immediate comfort for the guests.
A well-experienced and extremely knowledgeable Antarctic and Arctic expedition crew whose aim is to ensure each journey exceeds guests’ expectations introduced themselves and gave a phantom brief on the next voyage to be undertaken. The ships expedition leader, Susan Adie, has over 30 years’ experience as Expedition Operations Manager, Expedition Leader and Naturalist. The whole staff are amongst the most skilled in their fields, Marine Biologists, Geologist, Ornithologist, Historian and Resident Photographers – to mention a few – all making the time onboard a deeper educational and learning experience for guests during their once in a lifetime Arctic and Antarctica cruise experience.
Staff encourage guests to ‘get outside’ on all journeys and are always readily available to assist, advise or teach. A total of 70 staff (15 being the qualified Expedition team) to 130 guests, means a staff to guest ratio of 1:1.8 at full capacity.
Sustainability on board
Refillable Aluminum water bottles are ready and waiting in the cabins, easily accessible water stations are posted throughout the ship. Guests can take the water bottles home.
Beach clean-ups are also encouraged. So, when guests get off the ship, reusable bags are provided to help clear any rubbish, as they explore the Arctic coastlines. This is a part of the Expeditions Marine Debris programme. All waste is then taken back to Svalbard to be recycled.
The outside area has a large rear deck on split levels, which is excellent for wildlife viewing. There will be BBQ’s available on decks 4 and 5 – weather permitted.
You can enjoy a 360 degree viewing from the upper deck – perfect for photo opportunities; viewing platform, forward Deck 4.
There are two large smoking areas, either side of the bar on Deck 5.
Short promenades either side of the ship Decks 5 and 6.
The Expedition Lounge (with bar), Polar Bear Pub and dining room all have large windows, so you don’t miss the scenery while cruising along.
The Expedition Lounge is large enough for all onboard guests for lectures, briefing and re-caps.
Polar Bear Pub – live music nightly by staff members to keep the experience varied and different.
Large reception area – the suites are directly of this area. The Expedition team office is to the rear with an open door.
There is a Lonely Planet Library, which I recommend visiting.
Computer room – WIFI additional cost.
If you wanted to maintain fitness while travelling, there is a small, but well kitted out gym. (Zodiac maintenance room just off gym).
And to relax in, there is a Sauna available – off the mud room Deck 2.
There is an enormous heated mudroom on Deck 2. Each guest is provided with a numbered spot in the mudroom, shown on their ship I.D. card, their place for the duration of the expedition, therefore, no wet gear in cabins.
You can find a Gift shop to pick yourself up a souvenir or two.
FREE medical room if you require any assistance.
Lift on board.
All cabins are large and spacious with plenty of storage room, feeling a little dated but in good condition – in need of a refresh
All cabins are on the outside of the vessel with either portholes or windows, 220AC electrical outlets with European two pin outlets in cabin and a 110-volt shaving sockets in bathroom. Adapters might be required, but they are free at reception, along with a limited number of hairdryers.
Category 1A Quad
Located on Deck 2 at approx. 160 square feet, with porthole view, two lower berths and two upper berths.
Category 1 Triple
Located on Deck 2 at approx. 160 square feet, with porthole view, two lower berths and one upper berth.
Located on Deck 2 at approx. 160 square feet, with porthole view and two lower berths.
Superior twins – Located on Deck 3 at approx. 160 square feet, with mid-size window and two lower berths.
Premier twins – Located on Deck 4 at approx. 160 square feet, with large window and two lower berths – can be a double.
Located on Deck 4 at approx. 323 square feet, with one queen bed, vanity, separate living area with two-seater couch, armchair, coffee table and desk, and state-of-the-art full-body misting shower. Two of the suites boast floor-to-ceiling windows. All suite entrances are directly off reception.
Open Door Policy
Keys are not given to guests, there is an open door policy, but rest assured, the doors can be locked once guests are in their cabins. However, a key can be requested on arrival.
Activities & Provisions – WEATHER DEPENDENT
Depending on the region, pre-boarding activities are available at an additional cost.
When guest’s board/check-in, they have the opportunity to sign-up to a group – this could be penguins, polar bears, seals or whales, disembarkation for landings is then called by the group, not the deck.
There are enough zodiacs onboard, 13 for all guests to get off at the same time. They don’t like to put more than 10 guests in each. The platform at the rear end of the ship is for guests to get into the zodiacs. Rubber boots and parka are supplied.
Camping is available for guests 18 years and over, a liability waiver form is required, a two-man tent, insulation mats and -20 degree sleeping bags are provided.
Kayaking is booked for the expedition duration.
An open bridge policy exists outside of European water to allow a pleasant walk along the bridge window.
A trip log and photos are given to guests at the end of their expedition as a memorable keepsake.
Citizen Science is often described as public participation, which is scientific research conducted by amateurs (onboard guests) – nonprofessional scientists helping the professional scientists’ outcomes, promoting advancements in scientific research and more importantly, increasing the public’s understanding of the research they are doing, why they do it and the science behind it.
Here is an example. After encounters with whales, the Citizen Scientist Programme encourages guests to share their photos and video footage with the Marine Biologist on board, especially those with whales showing clear markings, along with the co-ordinates of where each photo is taken. The scientists will use the information provided in their work.
There is one dining option available, which is a restaurant with a navy and white setting that is crisp and clean. The restaurant has a casual atmosphere and seats all guests at one time – open seating.
There is a delicious buffet for breakfast and lunch, and an A La Carte menu for the evening meal.
The menu has a variety of options available, with the usual dietary requirement options available on request.
Happy Hour is in the Expedition Lounge before dinner.
Coffee, tea and water are free and available throughout the day. All other beverages, such as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, can be purchased in the dining room, pub or lounge.
Afternoon tea is served daily.
Experiencing the G Expedition
To enjoy the G Expedition for yourself and create unforgettable memories, you can book your adventure with Wildfoot Travel today. Our expert team are available to guide you through your options and ensure you have the most incredible trip.
Wildfoot Travel’s Polar travel expert Zoe Savage-Morton climbed aboard The RCGS Resolute recently on a wildlife expedition cruise bound for Antarctica . Here she gives us a first hand account of the trip, along with some great photographs and a list of 20 amazing things you can do in Antarctica.
A journey with One Ocean Expeditions and the RCGS Resolute, March 2019
Over ten days, the Antarctic and its neighbour the Drake Passage was going to be home. It was going to show itself in all its glory, as well as when it’s at its most frightening, darkest and brightest moments, but the Antarctic was also going to be the most breath-taking and extraordinary experience. Only 30,000 people a year have the opportunity to visit the Antarctic, here is what I discovered on my privileged, educational trip of a lifetime to the Antarctica.
100 Orca’s surrounded our ship, breaching, feeding, chasing and surfing the wake. The Whale Scientists onboard were euphoric and bursting with laughter, astounded expressions, with cameras aimed and firing to capture those lifetime moments. It was an incredible experience, and it was only day two. We crossed the Antarctic Convergence, sighted the South Shetland Islands, but not yet reached the Antarctic Peninsula; this was going to be amazing.
Orca watching off the bow.
Cruise or Expedition?
Lars-Eric Lindblad began taking travellers into regions only visited by scientists and explorers in 1966 – the rest, as they say, is history. The differences between an expedition and a cruise, although simple, are huge. As cruise ships get larger, expedition ships get smaller – the primary purpose of an expedition is to have an up close and personal experience with the scenery, the land, the wildlife and the sea.
An expedition ship along with all the comforts of a cruise ship (comfortable cabins, restaurants, bars, a spa and a gym), will carry a fleet of rigid inflatable boats or zodiacs to get you ashore quickly and closer to the action. They have a supply of kayaks for those wanting to get on the water, rubber boots for safeguarding this precious environment and often supplying outerwear for guests’ comfort.
In addition to the regular crew on an expedition ship, it’s staffed with a group of experienced professional photographers, mountaineers, historians, glaciologists, ornithologists, molecular biologists, whale scientists, marine and wildlife specialists, all of whom are eager to impart their knowledge on you. This is done through presentations, lectures and classes presented in well-designed lecture theatres, filling your days through to mid-evening. After all that, you will happily fall into your bed at 10pm to revive for the next day.
On a cruise, it’s a very different experience. You can lie by the pool, order cocktails and lunch, wander around the decks, perhaps even jog, dress for dinner, watch a show at night, a flutter at the casino, a few rounds on the dance floor and then bed at 1am – no zodiacs in sight.
What do you know about the Antarctic?
Other than what Sir David Attenborough has taught me over the years on the television, I knew very little about the Antarctic. It has always been mysterious and to an extent, unbelievable. Once you have been, you will return with a more profound sensitivity to the issues of polar conservation, supporting my belief that there is no greater teacher than personal experience in anything we do in life. Environmentally responsible tourism encourages such learning.
Do you know about the Antarctic Convergence and how it was thought to protect the Antarctic, the Bio-Diversity of the region, Krill Fisheries and their effect on the day-to-day life within the Antarctic, the long human history within the area? Or about the interesting stories of heroes and cowards, great feats and disappointments? Why didn’t Scott like Shackleton and vice versa? How do humpback whales feed? Where will you find Emperor Penguins? How the polar ice is reducing and what this means to the phytoplankton? You will gain more of an understanding and appreciation after visiting the Antarctic, as you gain a more profound sensitivity and strong desire to make more of an effort to remove the world of plastics and protect the land, its inhabitants and the world that we live in.
A purpose built expedition vessel, the RCGS Resolute is a modern, well appointed, ice-strengthened vessel, offering an authentic Antarctic expedition experience with a touch of comfort, with an extremely qualified and experienced expedition crew. Carrying up to 146 passengers, the staff to guest ratio is 1:4, so there is always someone available to answer your questions on a landing, in a zodiac or onboard.
One Ocean has an open door policy on their ships, meaning when you leave your cabin, you don’t lock it. However, it can be locked once you’re in your cabin for peace of mind. Safes are also available in each cabin. Some fellow passengers during my Antarctica experience didn’t lock their cabin doors or use the safes, which demonstrates the secure feeling the ship has.
There are observation areas both inside and out. Weather permitting, the larger outside areas are used for BBQ lunches and dinners. Small and large spaces mean guests can escape from it all or join in if they wish. There are two separate bar and lounges, and two separate eating areas to offer variety – the bistro is light and airy, a welcome bright option with access to a large deck area at the back.
The number of guests means smaller zodiac groups for landing, information seminars, lectures and classes. A very personal touch is offered when you arrive. An expedition crew member presents your cabin and its features; they then become your point of call for any assistance throughout your journey. Once in my cabin, my expedition gear and aluminium water bottle to be used for the duration of the trip were waiting for me (no plastic cups on board).
Onboard facilities and amenities ensure that there’s enough to keep everyone busy – or not, depending on your preference, and there isn’t a place on board where you can’t get a good view of outside.
A nice touch as you disembark, each guest is given a USB with a copy of the daily trip notes that are on your TV screen each day, along with the onboard photographer’s photos and anything else that One Ocean feel you would enjoy – a prized possession.
My comfortable and spacious cabin
Expedition gear – pre ordered, ready and waiting
Crossing the’ dreaded’ Drake
The Drake is known for being the wildest, roughest, most trying and dangerous stretch of water in the world. It’s not the friendliest crossing for those who suffer from motion sickness, which was my biggest concern at the time. Fortunately, travelling south, the Drake was kind. An experienced expedition member, making his 59th crossing advised me, it was the kindest he’d ever experienced, which was a relief and interesting based on his personal experiences. Our return crossing was significantly different. Our experienced captain, expedition crew and the modern stabilisers on the ship made all the difference.
After a smooth arrival and check-in to the ship, ship life as we crossed over the Drake Passage was a preparation and learning experience. We met our fellow travellers, the Whale Scientists onboard and our established and well-experienced Expedition Crew. The quality and bios of this team as a whole were outstanding.
We were in the presence of WWF, California Ocean Alliance, two media teams including the ABC, professional photographers, Mountaineers, Historians, Glaciologists, Ornithologists, Molecular Biologists, Whale Scientists, Marine and Wildlife specialists, in addition to a well-experienced crew and a team of One Ocean Adventure Concierges. We were in the presence of conservation, preservation and sustainable tourism specialists for the next ten days – Ambassadors to the last great wilderness.
Lectures and information sessions take up the two days going south, along with spotting Wandering Albatross, Giant Petrels and tiny Wilson Storm Petrels. It’s recommended to have a good pair of binoculars and to have your camera set in ‘sport’ mode to catch these birds in flight at great speed. We are advised on what to expect when we arrive at the Peninsula, the laws of the land and sea, IAATO regulations, bio-security and how what we do, and how we do it affects our experience.
The two days travelling back across the Drake were full of euphoria, experiences relived, revelling in our achievements with new lifetime friends made.
A peaceful Drake – 3 metre swell
Citizen science is often described as public participation. The scientific research is conducted by amateurs (onboard guests) – nonprofessional scientists helping the real scientists’ outcomes, promoting advancements in scientific research and more importantly, increasing the public’s understanding of the research they are doing, why they do it and the science behind it.
On this occasion, after our encounter with the Orca pod, the Citizen Scientist programme encourages guests to share their experiences. The Whale Scientists onboard wanted us to share our photos, especially those with whales showing clear markings, along with the coordinates of where each photo is taken, the scientists would then use the information in their work.
It’s a good feeling to be a part of something so great and essential, turning my trip to the Antarctic more memorable and special.
A whale tag.
Landings & Zodiac Cruises
Bundled up in your layers and carrying your dry bag full of lenses, water bottle and extra gloves – just in case, is a shaky affair. How to get in and out of the zodiac is very important. The sailor’s grip is going to be your best friend – this is where your fitness level comes in. You need to have some balance, strength and confidence to stand and deal with the swell comfortably.
Calls to disembark onto zodiacs are rotated by deck, allowing each deck a chance to be first out. The first guests are out at 9am and then every 15 to 30 minutes depending on weather and the number of guests.
Once in the zodiac, sitting comfortably on the side, dry bag securely between your feet, you’ll feel invincible as you skim over the top of the Antarctic Sea feeling and hearing ‘bergy bits’ hit the solid base of the zodiac. It’s quite a noise that vibrates through the boat. Landing on the Antarctic Peninsula (an exciting moment I must add), is again an experience until you get your zodiac legs good and proper. When you land, the surface can vary from ice to seawater to slippery rocky outcrops, but rest assured, there’s always a helping hand from an expedition crew member.
Where you land is governed by IAATO, booked months in advance. Landings range from Research Stations, penguin or seal colonies, to ice landings. There are lots of landing rules, all to do with common sense and protecting the environment. As we crossed the Drake Passage, we had a compulsory talk on environmental policies and concerns relating to the Antarctic. If you didn’t attend, you couldn’t land. Your name was marked off on an attendance sheet. The Antarctic Treaty stipulates that only 100 people are allowed to land at any one time and to be on a small ship with only 100 guests onboard at the time, we had no concerns about not getting to land when the opportunity arose.
A zodiac cruise – why would you want to? My first thoughts as we head out in the zodiac is that it’s immense. A substantial wide open space of still and silent iceberg filled water – a tranquil setting. This is soon dispelled by the first breach of a humpback whale, from then on, more whales became visible, we could see and hear the whales’ fins slapping across the waters, breaching and spy hopping, penguins porpoising beside us, solitary fur seals, remarkable cliffs of ice, pancake ice and icebergs. I made sure that I captured every moment possible; it’s too easy to get caught up in the camera, and I was told to put the camera down and enjoy every second of this once in a lifetime trip to the Antarctica. It was wise advice. I put down my camera and relaxed, taking in the surroundings. The bay began to freeze, moody colours arose and heavy clouds.
Our Zodiac driver turned the zodiac engine off. The quiet was beyond silence, we floated silently and listened to nothing. A peacefulness and stillness that’s quite something; it’s serene and beautiful and a fantastic opportunity to reflect. There was a loud bang now and then, similar to the sound of a gunshot – it was the ice cracking and moving, adding to the mysteriousness of the Antarctic.
Kayaking is probably one of the most intimate ways to experience the Antarctic. One Ocean runs a full package aimed at those with a little more agility and fitness and wanting to spend time on the water. It’s an ongoing activity, and by day three, the group are jumping in and out of their kayaks with ease after days one and two, getting used to the requirements and procedures. Therefore, the option to get out for a day isn’t available, as they prefer not to slow the group down with new people joining. What people might not realise is that if you’re kayaking, you’re potentially missing time on the ice. Plus, – 4-8 days kayaking is a costly commitment!
I opted out for kayaking, but those who joined shared their experiences, gliding through the quiet waters, paddling around astounding icebergs, penguins porpoising past, whales breaching close by and a leopard seal spy hopping checking them out, was an inspiring experience.
Antarctic Weather Systems
If you’ve researched a trip to the Antarctic, you will no doubt be aware of the most unpredictable biggest diva of them all – the Antarctic Weather. You will have read that all itineraries are weather dependent, the Expedition Leader and Captain of the ship will decide on a final agenda each day. Daily activities are weather dependent.
We experienced the weather at its best and its least desirable, but it was unforgettable to witness first-hand. During the trip, we encountered a blizzard on our first Peninsula landing, a calm visiting Vernadsky research station, severe weather system crossing back over the Drake, a real batten down the hatches, porthole covered experience. But we lived to tell the incredible tale, and it’s all part of the Antarctic Experience.
A blizzard covered zodiac
A moment of calm in the blizzard
What to Wear
Layers are the key to comfort and warmth. On top, wear an anti-wicking thermal underlayer, fleece and windbreaker, on the bottom, wear an anti-wicking thermal underlayer, trousers (I wore Craghoppers, fleece lined over my thermals). Weatherproof outerwear on top and bottom provided warmth, but bear in mind, if you get wet, you will get cold.
While onboard, wear comfortable trousers or jeans, you won’t be wearing your thermals or outer trousers, as it’s too warm and unnecessary when you head outside for a few minutes to spot a whale or the first sighted iceberg. I headed back to my cabin and changed into jeans before lunch, dinner or a seminar if we were coming straight back in – the beauty of a small ship, nothing’s too far to ‘pop’ back to.
Footwear, as long it’s fully enclosed and non-slip, it just needs to be comfortable. No heavy walking boots are required, and you won’t be wearing your footwear (unless you take your rubber boots and they will have to pass bio-security).
If you’re planning your trip of a lifetime and a cruise to the Antarctic is on your bucket list, get in touch with one of Wildfoot Travel’s polar experts today who will help you plan your experience.
In the meantime, here is my list of 20 things to do in the Antarctic.
20 Things to do in the Antarctic
Camping under the stars
Visit a Science research centre
Take a Polar plunge
Ski on snowy mountains
Cross the Drake
Learn about the human and whaling history
Visit a live volcano
Scuba Dive or snorkel
Become a part of the ’Citizen Science’ project
Run a marathon
Trek to the South Pole
Hang out with Penguins and Sea Lions
Send a post card from Port Lockroy or Vernadsky
Drink Antarctic fermented vodka @ Verdandsky
Study and learn with polar experts, Biologists, Scientists, Glaciologists……
World record adventurer and Everest Summiteer, Holly Budge, has two world records under her belt, including being the first woman to skydive Everest and on another occasion, race semi-wild horses 1000 kms across Mongolia in just nine days. Holly’s talents are not limited to adventure, she is an acclaimed artist, a passionate conservationist and founder of How Many Elephants an award-winning charity raising awareness of the plight of elephants in Africa. Holly has raised over £300K for charitable initiatives to date.
To date you have raised over £300,000 for conservation charities. Give us some examples of where some of that money has been spent where you feel particularly proud of the impact of that support.
Through my campaign, How Many Elephants, I currently work with three direct action initiatives in Africa including, The Black Mambas, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust and National Park Rescue. They are all doing extremely valuable work “on the ground”. My main motivation for working with this select group of initiatives, whom I have established great working relationships with, is the accountability with where the funds I have raised are being spent. Every penny is spent on their anti-poaching projects, including buying equipment, technology and uniforms for the rangers, plus running costs and fuel. I feel particularly proud of the patrol vehicle I bought the Black Mambas and it has the How Many Elephants logo on the side.
What impressed you most about the Black Mamba anti-poaching team?
Their passion. I accompanied the Black Mambas in their day to day work and observed them from afar too. The shared and intense passion I witnessed was inspiring, humbling and powerful. Everyone has their own fight in this tangled web of wildlife conservation, most striving for a common goal to preserve and conserve. Not only are The Black Mambas on the front line of conservation, they are also role models in their communities and to women around the world.
Give us some examples of what you learnt from seeing them at work, and what all women can learn from their experience?
I accompanied them on morning and night patrols, checking the fence lines for incursions, dismantling snares and monitoring the wildlife. But what I learnt was these women not only nurture and look after the wildlife but, each other, their families and communities too. They run a programme called the Bush Babies and have over 800 children enrolled, teaching them to respect and appreciate their natural surroundings and observe and conserve the wildlife. They also try to show them an alternative to poaching. Many of these women are victims of poverty, abuse and disease. Joining the Black Mambas has empowered them, allowing them to improve their lives and those in their communities too. They wear their uniforms with great pride and inspire many young women to want to join the Black Mambas. These women really align with my life motto: Think Big, Dream Bigger.
Why are elephants important to our ecosystem?
Elephants are ecosystem engineers. To give an example, among many, their sheer size and weight leave deep footprints in the ground. As these fill up with water they act as micro habitats for at least 61 different aquatic macro-invertebrate species ranging from mosquito larvae to tadpoles, who make their homes in and around the footprints. The potential extinction of African elephants in the wild will have an extremely detrimental effect on the environment, including the biodiversity created in their giant footprints. If the elephants go extinct, an entire ecosystem could follow.
What was the moment that lit the passion in you to commit your life to conservation issues?
The defining moment came when I stopped listening to the naysayers who told me I lacked direction and purpose. Working in the field of conservation is tough; There is often no road map, it can be overwhelming, emotionally draining and sometimes this is hard to convey to others. For the most part, I work alone or remotely which can be lonely too. At times, I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall and not making any progress or impact, but a small voice inside kept whispering ‘keep going’. I signed up to study for a Masters in Sustainable Design six years ago and this changed the course of my life forever. I embarked on a very passionate journey researching the African Elephant crisis and this led me to founding How Many Elephants, a design-led campaign, inspiring and educating a global audience about the devastating impacts of the African elephant ivory trade. I use design as a powerful communication tool to bridge the gap between scientific information and human connection in the field of wildlife conservation. As more people became aware of my work, momentum picked up and many worthwhile opportunities have presented themselves. I feel my life is now rich in purpose but definitely not in bank balance!.
What’s your advice to readers who are planning a trip to Africa? Any suggestions for cool places to go or things to do?
My advice is be clear on your objective. If you want to volunteer your time and skills to help make a difference, I would recommend getting in touch with Transfrontier Africa in South Africa or Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe. Both of these companies offer fantastic opportunities for volunteers to get their hands dirty and really get involved in wildlife conservation.
If you are looking for a spot of luxury, I would recommend Somalisa Camp, owned by African Bush Camps, in Zimbabwe. It is a place where tranquillity meets adventure. Where one moment you are sipping on your gin and tonic, listening to the distant baritone roar of a lion coalition off on the hunt, and the next you are gazing over at a congregation of elephants at your doorstep, peacefully sharing a sundowner with you. Every person is part of the community that helps create the magical and welcoming feeling you get when you visit Somalisa, you arrive as a guest, but you leave a part of the family
Do you see signs of us getting control of the poaching problem? Are there reasons to be optimistic?
There are definitely reasons to be optimistic in pockets of Africa. For example, I work with a direct action anti-poaching initiative in Zimbabwe called National Park Rescue. They operate in Chizarira National Park, often described as one of the most beautiful parks in Zimbabwe and have transformed it from a poachers’ paradise into a thriving park, with well trained and highly motivated rangers. They are very proud to report, no elephants have been poached since they started. I work closely with National Park Rescue and raise much needed funds for them through my campaign, How Many Elephants.
What role does tourism have in the fight to protect not only our elephants but all wildlife and wilderness habitats?
Tour operators have an important responsibility to play an active role in conserving the wildlife and the local people in the areas in and around where they operate. I am petitioning for travel companies who benefit from the wildlife to donate a percentage of their profits to rural African communities close to the National Parks, some of whom see no benefit from tourism or from the animals alive. This needs to change and fast. It’s good to see that there are responsible travel companies out there working hard to make a difference but it needs to be commonplace. To get involved with my global visual petition, visit www.howmanyelephants.co/#petition
The all-new Hondius launched earlier in 2019. She is designed to be able to respond quickly to polar weather and wildlife conditions with a truly incredible blend of stealth and speed. Setting new standards in structural and technological design, The Hondius is one of the first civilian vessels in the world to receive a Polar Class 6 notation, recognising it as one of the most advanced polar cruise ships on the planet. The Hondius exceeds the latest green requirements imposed by the International Maritime Organization, using steam heat and flexible power management systems to keep fuel consumption and CO2 emission at an absolute minimum.
Wildfoot Travel’s Simon Rowland took a self-drive trip through Namibia recently. Here we gives us his first hand advice on how to organise your own self-drive adventure along with some great photographs form his own trip.
The thought of a self drive in any overseas country can be daunting but a self drive in Africa is usually dismissed immediately especially if you are not a confident driver in the first place. I agree that some locations could be extremely difficult and testing especially if you are driving in diverse locations, perhaps on the opposite side of the road you are used to at home, or close to wet regions such as deltas or during a rainy season. The following is a personal account of a recent adventure through Namibia which will offer practical, sensible advice but above all hopefully dispel any pre-conceived worries and assumptions already formed.
These are some of the most popular questions we receive from clients considering a self drive in Namibia.
1. Is it safe to drive in Namibia? 2. Are the locals friendly and do they speak English? 3. What happens if you break down in the wilderness? 4. Are there likely to be dangerous and wild animals lurking if you stop? 5. Which side of the road do they drive on? 6. Do we need to carry water incase we are stuck overnight in the vehicle? 7. Whats the longest journey I will have to make? 8. What happens if we run out of fuel?
Let’s try to dispel any negatives so we can focus on the positives of driving in such a diverse, exciting picturesque country.
How easy is the driving in Namibia?
Firstly, Namibia is an extremely dry desert country and even in the non dry season it is difficult to come across natural dangers on roads or tracks. Yes there are extreme cases where flash flooding takes place but as Namibia and other parts of Africa have experienced a severe drought over the last two years, even if you wanted to find them its quite improbable you would come across them.
Self drive vehicles are Automatic, air conditioned 4 x 4 trucks. We drove an automatic Ford Truck which was around 18 months old and in excellent condition, a four seat cab with covered compartment in the back. As there were only two of us we kept our luggage actually in the cab whilst driving with any valuables hidden and out of sight. If we stopped our main camera bag with valuables came with us and we left nothing in the vehicle we could not replace if necessary. Our first nights stay is usually at Windhoek and WILDFOOT Travel arrange for the vehicle to be delivered to you at your accommodation in daylight hours. At the same time we arrange our ground handler representative to meet you who also drop off practical items –
Large cool box for drinks inc freezer blocks to keep water cool
Mobile phone pre programmed pre paid (pay as you go) with all the numbers you may need; emergency 24/7 number, all pre booked accommodation, car hire company emergency plus more.
Eco Refill cold drink canisters. You can refill and avoid plastic as in most regions tap water is exceptionally clean and drinkable.
First aid kit
Country road map with you route and accommodations featured already
Detailed maps for the main towns where you will be staying with your accommodation marked.
The self drive company representative then shows you a safety video featuring do’s and donts. This is extremely helpful. You are then taken over the vehicle in detail and you are shown where everything is and how everything works, where the spare tyres are, the jack, fuel type, 4x 4 facility. Nothing is left and you even go around ensuring there is no existing minor damage on the vehicle or wind screens, after all you don’t want to be blamed for existing minor scratches. You have lots of time to make notes if necessary and if there are two of you, both listen and carefully take note. Accident triangle and torch is also supplied.
Is Namibia a safe place to travel independently on a self drive?
The simple answer is yes Absolutely and without a shadow of doubt. Like anywhere in UK, USA and the rest of Europe one has to be careful where you drive, park or pull over. English is the first official language of Namibia but as you can imagine there are many local dialects depending on where you travel in Namibia. Locals are friendly and helpful but may not understand your accent straight away so be patient when asking directions or for assistance. Accidents are usually limited to off road situations where drivers start to feel over confident and then speed. There are strict speed limits and they need to be followed. In the south of the country yo should expect a great deal of off road journeys. These are usually very wide, gravel roads, sometimes smooth and sometimes a little bumpy. Gravel roads are generally maintained well and you my see roads being flattened whilst driving through these regions.
Planning the distance.
With pre booked accommodation, this is already taken care of and there is little need to drive long distances if you don’t want. I cant imagine one needing to drive more than 3 to 4 hours every time you move to a new region but these distances can be shorter or longer incorporating stays if necessary en route. WILDFOOT Experts will assist in your planning depending on what your needs and interests are. We plan your journeys so all of your driving is day time driving, there is no need to drive after dark and this should be avoided only to avoid wildlife on the road or lack of visibility. The car rental company state you should not drive at night only in emergencies. Petrol stations are always manned and you just need to advise how much fuel you need. Its advisable if you are half full, to fill up totally when you can. This is only a precaution in case your next fuel stop is not available for whatever reason. We found that every fuel station on the map was in deed open. Fuel stations dont take cards normally so take enough Namibian Dollars to fill up through out your journey (South African Rand is also widely excepted by fuel stations as the NAD is common rated with the Rand). You can usually find a good choice of food and drinks at stops with clean WC’s readily available.
What happens if there is a break down
All the way around Namibia there was a wire fence which stopped larger wildlife from straying on the the road, however, wild pigs and larger feeding birds were prevalent so do not speed and drive carefully. In the unlikely evert you experience a vehicle breakdown, simply stay with your vehicle and call the car rental team on the pre programmed number on the mobile phone provided. Poor phone coverage is rare indeed. If you experience an accident depending on the type of emergency either call the emergency services or our Ground handler partners emergency number immediately.
Getting from A to B
We didn’t need a Sat Nav at all and road markings were clear all the way around the country. Road distances are always in Kilometres and signs are in English. Most tracks off road tend to be quiet and you see only a few vehicles of your journey. Driving in Namibia is on the left so no problem for us Brits.
Traffic is usually minor but care must be taken when you are overtaking vehicles on off road situations as stones my flick up and crack the windscreen, its rare but it happens. Punctures are rare but occasionally happen. You will find that its common for fellow drivers to stop and help or at least slow down and ask if you need help. The only time you should not get out of your vehicle is if you are in a National Park where there are signs advising you to stay in your vehicle at all times. This is usually in northern regions and in National Parks or wildlife private concessions where there could be big cats and larger game prevalent. This being the case you simply put your hazard warning lights on and wait for a ranger to come by and help which is never too long. You are provided two spare wheels with good tyres with every rental. If you use one just get the other fixed when you pass the next tyre place just in case.
My wife, Tina and I shared the driving and in 11 days we covered 2000 kms of which half was on off road tracks as described. Self driving in Namibia is an exciting adventure and one we would strongly recommend even if you are a little nervous. It some how liberates you as an independent traveller and at the end of it our epic journey our confidence in driving overseas had increased significantly. This type of trip provided us a structure (all accommodation we pre booked) but a great sense of freedom whilst travelling from A to B, stopping and exploring in our own time en route. We both loved the experience and its provided a level of confidence where we will do the same again maybe in another African region or even back to Namibia on a different itinerary.
Exclusive to WILDFOOT Travel
At no extra charge you can feel confident you have all emergencies covered if there is a problem and back up isn’t too far away. Emergency air evacuation to the nearest hospital is generally covered on all WILDFOOT Self drives in Namibia (* please check at time of booking). This does not take the place of good travel insurance which is highly recommended every time.
The range of apps on offer these days is endless, with every one claiming to simplify your life and solve your every day problems. In reality, the result is often disappointing. Here we’ve listed six key apps that really work. (Yes really.) Apps that are very useful when you are travelling. Have a read through and see if any of them may come in handy on your adventures.
Navigate accurately from one point to another. This amazing free app will get you from A to B on foot or car, saving you from having to pay Sat-Nav hire fees. A very handy option for anyone on their travels.
Why carry an actual kindle when you can just download the app? Download this handy little app onto your phone or tablet and bingo! You are reading the latest blockbuster novel wherever you are. And because words take very little memory space compared to pictures, video or even audio, as soon as you’ve finished, it is a quick and inexpensive process to download another.
Along with the the well-known text translate feature, Google Translate also has an outstanding real-time translation function. Download the language you need before you travel, then point the camera at any road sign or notice you coem across and as if by magic, the translated sign appears on the screen.
Packpoint Enter your destination and your travel date and Packpoint automatically takes the weather into account before putting together a customisable packing list for you. Add in any additional activities and your new travel assistant, will give you a set of options to add gear to your list. A highly intuitive and useful app that can speed up and fine-tune the your packing.
This handy app allows you to discover and connect to any free wifi networks on your travels. Very useful indeed when you need to check your email or get in touch with the boss at work.
LoungeBuddy allows you to instantly buy a day-pass for a huge range of airport lounges directly from your phone. Always a neat idea if you have a long wait for a delayed flight ahead of you.
Namibia is one of Africa’s hidden Gems. With a newly developing tourism industry, there is just so much to see and do in this unspoiled natural wildreness. In this short video, Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham runs you through the ten best reasons to visit Namibia.