Kruger National Park – Self-drive vs. Open jeep safari

African elephant, Kruger Park

Whether to drive on your own or book a safari is perhaps the biggest question people ask when going on their very first african safari.

We actually did not hesitate in booking a safari on our recent, first visit ever to Kruger National Park in South Africa. We booked with Africa Spears and it turned out to be a great choice. Here are 10 reasons why we think a guided open jeep safari is a good idea:

  1. We landed in Johannesburg and from there, Kruger Park is a good 400 km. As we needed to get to Kruger the same day we were glad they had arranged a pick-up for us
  2. We did not have to make bookings inside the park rest camp ourselves. It was all done by them
  3. The guide knew his way around in the jungle for things like where to stop for breakfast/lunch or a loo break
  4. We were in an open jeep at a slight elevation rather than inside a low closed vehicle. An open jeep is far more exciting than a regular car and it’s easier to spot animals
  5. It’s not easy to spot animals in the park, esp when it’s your first time. Our guide was very good in spotting animals otherwise easily missed by the untrained eye
  6. The guide also shares information on animal behavior, bird and plant species and so on. It’s quite educational this way
  7. The guide knows what to do in case of an animal attack (at least you would hope so ;-))
  8. They will also drop you off at the airport
  9. Often you won’t find a network inside the park while your guide will have his radio
  10. There is someone to take your pictures 😀

White Rhino, Kruger Park

Quick tip: After exiting Kruger, we took a flight out to Cape Town from Nelspruit in place of Johannesburg. And it saved us from an unnecessary long drive and a good few hours. Do note that there are no daily flights from Nelspruit though, so plan accordingly.

Our experience in Kruger you ask? Watching our vlogs below might just inspire you to book that ticket to Africa! Tell us what you you spot at 3:50 mins in part 1.

For more videos, you can hop-on to YouTube here.

Happy spotting the Big 5 folks!!! Waka waka! 🙂

 

 

Butterflies in the Stomach – New Zealand Adventure Sports

It’s for a reason that New Zealand (Queenstown) is known as the adventure capital of the world!

Check out our adventure trail from our visit earlier this March.

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Kawarau Bungy

Kawarau Bridge Bungy with AJ Hackett – this is where commercial bungy first started anywhere in the world. The site is a short drive away from Queenstown and is really beautiful with the river flowing down below. Some people jumped off the bridge like it was no biggie but for us this was a real challenge and having done it, we couldn’t be more proud of ourselves 😀

It costs NZ$ 195 per person. Photos and videos cost extra if you decide to purchase them. Tandem bungy is also an option in case you don’t want to jump alone. Action cameras are allowed while jumping. Advisable to book in advance to avoid waiting. Link to website

Our Bungy jump videos here: Bungy Sakshi, Bungy Deejay

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Kawarau Bungy

Ziplining at Kawarau with AJ Hacket – having done the bungy, this will feel like a piece of cake. It’s still a lot fun especially the ‘superman’ position to go down the line. The panaroma just took our breath away. How was the water so blue?

This cost us only NZ$ 5 with a bungy jump combo promotion.

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Ziplining at Kawarau

Shotover Jet Boat Ride – this was a lot of fun and not scary at all. Again a short drive away from the city centre and again a very picturesque location. A must do for all age groups.

Cost is NZ$ 145 per person. Photos/Video additional. Only GoPro cameras allowed on board. Link to website.

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Shotover Jet, Queenstown

Heli Hike at Fox Glacier – we had booked a Heli Hike at Franz Josef but that got cancelled twice due to the weather. So we had to settle for a scenic helicopter ride to and back from top of Fox glacier. It was such a thrill to be on a helicopter for the very first time and it felt like being on the sets of Jurassic Park and Avatar combined. If you get an opportunity to do a heli hike, please go for it!

Full cost of a heli hike at Franz Josef is NZ$ 500 which includes hot pools. Helicopter only prices vary. It’s perfectly okay to bring along cameras.

Franz Josef heli hike prices. Fox glacier scenic flight we took, click here.

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Helicopter ride to Fox Glacier

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On top of Fox Glacier

And there is so much more to do. Other recommendations were Skydiving, Luge, Paragliding, Handgliding, Hot Air Ballooning and Nevis Swing/Bungy.

We were quite thrilled with all the activities we bundled up during our time there, especially the Bungyyyyyyyy … 😀

So, have you decided to take the plunge yet? 😉

Road Trippin continued

Jeep safari Ranthambore

Jeep safari Ranthambore

After Udaipur, we were headed to Sawai Madhopur also in the state of Rajasthan in India. The main motive for going all the way was to be able to do jeep safaris in the Ranthambore National Park, home of the Asian tigers!

After a point from Udaipur, the road quality deteriorates so the going can be quite slow. The roads also get narrower, poorly lit and quite isolated so its advisable to do the entire run in daylight.

Well we did have to cover some distance after the sky lost its color and it wasn’t the best drive we’d had. The drive further becoming treacherous with the invasion of dogs, cows and camels right in the middle of the highway. And a near miss from a head-on collision with a discarded piece of machinery carelessly left on the side of the road.

Packed up for the jeep safari

Packed up for the jeep safari

The place we stayed at was quite nice and after a piping hot dinner on a wintry night, we called it a day. The next day, in the wee hours of the morning, we mustered all our will power to go out in an open jeep exploring wildlife on a winter morning, in the middle of a jungle surrounded by hills. As we started out, we were chilled to the core but as the sun descended the weather became better and turned to a cool sunny that we actually enjoyed.

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

We went for three safaris in three different forest zones. The zones are allocated based on availability as the authorities do not want to crowd certain areas only. Zones 1-4 are known for the best tiger spotting and its advisable to book these zones 3-4 months in advance. Online bookings are supposedly available which we weren’t aware of.

The safaris turned out to be pretty great. The early morning crisp air, the sunrises and the jungle terrain, plant and wildlife spotting, the interesting and at times amusing conversations with the jeep guides and drivers, stopovers in the middle of the jungle, and the unbelievable ease with which the 4×4 jeeps navigated through almost any ridge and depression of the stark jungle terrain.

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

For three days straight, we sloshed about in the jeep exploring the zones and always on high alert for any tiger trails. At the end of it all though, it was worth it as we did spot the elusiver tiger. Tigress actually. We considered ourselves lucky as there are only about 60 tigers in an area of 392 sq. km. On top of that tigers are known to be one of the most lazy animals. So that doesn’t help either. The hot and dry months (May-Jun) are said to be best for animal spotting in Ranthambore as the animals laze around the man-made water holes to beat the heat. Besides the big cats, there was a decent dash of other wildlife – deer, sambhars, boars, gazelle, neel gai, monkeys, bird species and plant varieties.

Tiger at Ranthambore

Tiger at Ranthambore

The third day, after our safari and a satiating breakfast of aloo poori, we bundled up once more and headed for our last road trip destination – Agra, where friends and family awaited us.

We reached Agra well in time that day, unwound and ate a lot over the next few days and enjoyed one of the most memorable New Year celebrations.

And did I mention the most delicious dhaba lunch we had on our way to Agra? Still makes my mouth water 😛

The Year That Was – 2015

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Taking Flight into 2016! Picture taken at Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, India

A very Happy New Year to all readers! Wishing you the best of 2016 – loads of travel, adventure and good times 😀

2015 was a great year for us! I think we traveled the most ever!

I’m yet to post about our impromptu trip to Ubud, Bali in Nov ’15 and the awesome trip to India, the highlight of which was the Road Trip where we journeyed a 1.3K + kilometers. I promise to share my experiences soon.

Until then, here is a recap of how our year went. Wasn’t it great??? 😀

 

 

Ride to Toblerone Mountain

As I mentioned in the previous post, we disembarked at Trockener Stegg to take the larger cable car to get to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.

Clad in layers of clothing, we now boarded the cable car. It was a relief to see the much larger and strong looking cabin as the day was gusty and drizzly. We hoped it won’t dangle and sway in the strong wind threatening to crash. Turned out, it was much more stable than the small gondolas and the ride was smooth letting us relax and enjoy the views.

Cable car to Matterhorn, Switzerland

Cable car to Matterhorn, Switzerland

As we started to move, we realized we were above several mountains now. We could see the snow covered expanses and the more unforgiving yet striking landscape around.

Views from Cable car to Matterhorn

Views from Cable car to Matterhorn

Views from Cable car to Matterhorn

Views from Cable car to Matterhorn

Finally we were here, at the final halt. We got down eagerly that we had managed to get here but also slightly dismayed that it was quite cloudy that day and hardly anything around was visible at that height. We ventured inside the station and were amazed to see it was built right inside the mountain with rugged rocks exposed everywhere.

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise inside the mountain

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise inside the mountain

As the observation deck came into view, our hoods went up and we stepped out in the biting cold at -1 degree Celsius. Stepping out felt like someone had kicked you in the gut and boxed your ears out. The difference in temperature was dramatic accentuated by the wind, fog and the snow around. We quickly snapped some pictures and trundled a few steps in the snow, I even picked some up with my bare hands only to realize later it was a bad idea. Chilled to the core, we now ran back inside.

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

People accompanying me complained of headache and nausea and so we settled in the super-heated and comfortable restaurant there. I read somewhere that the restaurant is new and it really was a very nice place at that height. Again, salute to the swiss authorities for making it convenient for tourists.

With not much to do and the views hidden behind thick clouds, we decided to head back sooner than planned. But not before going back out in the snow for a bit.

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

At Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Although this excursion wasn’t ideal due to the clouds blocking all the views, we did manage to catch some from different points along the journey. Besides, the whole adventure was something that we will remember always. And it just means we have something to come back for 🙂

Another view from Cable car from Matterhorn to the lower cable station

Another view from Cable car from Matterhorn to the lower cable station

The ride back to Zermatt was smooth and uneventful. With a heavy heart we boarded the train for Interlaken regretting not making plans for an overnight stay in the pretty little town.

The Alps, the peaks, the trek, Swiss rail and the many train rides, the cable ride, the lakes, the villages, our log studio, the pretty lane in Interlaken where we stayed, the brilliant blue lakes, the vistas and the sight of paragliders high up in the mountains … Switzerland did not disappoint!

And this is where a most memorable journey comes to a close :-/

A quaint town and a treacherous ride

Zermatt, Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

Interlaken to Zermatt turned out to be an amazing day trip for us. While originally not part of the itinerary, we decided to go for it after some deliberation. More so, as we were put off by the hordes of tourists making a bee-line for Jungfrau, “Top of Europe” (3.5K m).  Instead, we zeroed in on Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (higher at 3.8K m) accessible from Zermatt. While getting to Jungfrau lets you ride to the highest railway station, getting to Matterhorn means you get to ride to the highest cable car station. And that is an adventure in itself!

Getting to Zermatt and then to the top of Matterhorn turned out to be a lot cheaper as well. We set out by train which was covered by Swiss rail pass. While we had to interchange twice, the views along the journey were truly spectacular. It’s commendable of the swiss authorities to have developed all this infrastructure making it so easy for tourists to travel around without hassle.

Horse Carriage, Zermatt, Switzerland

Horse Carriage, Zermatt, Switzerland

Tryst with mountain goats, Zermatt, Switzerland

Tryst with mountain goats, Zermatt, Switzerland

As we got out of train station and started walking along the streets of Zermatt, we immediately fell in love with this unassuming town. The place is charming with quaint cafes, restaurants, boutiques, sloping roof chalets and stores selling hiking boots and equipment. Horse carriages and mountain goats milling around and the gushing canal along the streets makes it all the more alluring.

Canal along the street, Zermatt, Switzerland

Canal along the street, Zermatt, Switzerland

As we had set out early morning without proper breakfast, we made a pit stop at this café called Hornli Beck. The place was cozy and warm and the food turned out to be so good. Rejuvenated with the rest and some hot food in our bellies, we made our way to the cable car station. We knew that this was going to be a 40 min ride. While I had been on cable car rides before this long a ride was new for me too.

Hornli Beck, Zermatt, Switzerland

Hornli Beck, Zermatt, Switzerland

The ride starts in those small gondolas till a certain station and from there on, you ride in the much bigger more stable cabin. With much excitement we boarded the small gondola and settled on the ledges.

Cable Car ride to Matterhorn, Switzerland

Cable Car ride to Matterhorn, Switzerland

As we gained height, we could already spot the majestic Alps and the scenery around. The weather was cloudy and very windy that particular day making the ride much more adventurous as the gondolas swayed in the howling wind. There were a couple of scary moments when the gondola suddenly jerked or when the entire cable just stopped for a few mins without warning, leaving us dangling precariously with that one cable keeping us from crashing down and disintegrating into a hundred pieces. Those minutes of suspension in mid-air with utter silence around except the chilling wind whistling outside left us anxious and wondering about what was going on. I guess it was just one of those routine things when they had to stop the machinery to make some technical checks. As the gondola jerked into motion each time that happened, we heaved a sigh of relief and settled back on the ledges again.

On the cable car, Matterhorn, Switzerland

On the cable car, Matterhorn, Switzerland

We continued to ride on and now the snow covered peaks seemed much closer and the air crispier and chillier. We put on more layers of clothing in preparation as we approached the last of the stations where we needed to disembark to take the larger cable car.

Eventually, we were at the last stop called Trockener Stegg. We ran out to the open observation area to catch a glimpse of the peaks without the glass obstruction. The weather outside had transformed leaving us shocked as we stepped outside exposed to the elements. The wind was in full force threatening to misbalance us and so nippy, it threatened to freeze us right to the bones. In no time, we ran back inside under the protection of the thick walls and glass panels.

View from observation area at Trockener Stegg

View from observation area at Trockerner Stegg

We now made our way to the cable car station mentally preparing to go to the top. By now, we could imagine how cold it would get further up and were suddenly grateful for our thick jackets, hoods, socks and shoes.

We waited for the cable car now and 10 mins later, it was ready for us to board.

More on it in the next post …

Swiss Hike – Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

Switzerland was the third and the last leg of our summer euro tour. After roaming around two cities (Amsterdam and Prague), we had decided a bit of countryside will be good for us.

Lake Brienz, Interlaken

Lake Brienz, Interlaken

We flew to Zurich and took the train to Interlaken. We were told that purchasing swiss rail ticket/pass online in advance is better and so we did. It proved very useful as we hurried to catch the train from the airport. Purchasing the ticket/pass at the airport would have just meant whiling away time unnecessarily.

We chose to make Interlaken our base and visit the places/villages around it. Turned out, Interlaken was a perfect location. As the name suggest, it is situated between two lakes (Brienz and Thun) and surrounded by hills all around. We had rented a cozy studio through airbnb giving us the option of preparing light meals at home as eating out can leave a big hole in your pocket.

One of these days, we decided to go for a hike. Not a strenuous one but one of those nice leisurely kinds. We choose the one from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. To get there from Interlaken OST, you need to catch the train towards Lauterbrunnen and get down there and then a train towards Kliene Scheidegg and get down at Wengen. From Wengen, we took a cable car ride to Mannlichen to start our hike. The train rides will be covered in the swiss pass but you need to pay extra for the cable car.

Mannlichen, Switzerland

Mannlichen, Switzerland

Even as we got out at Wengen train station, we could already see the partly snow covered alps. It was nice and pretty here and we couldn’t resist clicking some photos. As we got out of the cable car at Mannlichen, the weather transformed into cool and breezy and the four peaks of the region, including the highest one called Jungfrau visible at close hand. A short distance away we could see several cows lazing around or grazing. The ringing of ubiquitous swiss bells hanging from their necks wafted in the wind. Envison a place surrounded by high peaks, partly snow covered, cool breeze, part sunny, part cloudy, cows and bells, a little restaurant, hikers, bikers and paragliders. The whole thing captivated our senses and after a while of gazing around and taking in the fresh alpine air, we went trigger happy once again.

Cows and Bells, Mannlichen Switzerland

Cows and Bells, Mannlichen Switzerland

We stopped at the restaurant to have some swiss rosti. Having food and drink in that divine setting was simply priceless! Satiated, we set out on our hike to Kleine Scheidegg. It is a 5.5km walk which should normally take about an hour to complete. It took us a little longer as we took a couple of pit stops to admire the place. The walk is easy and perfect for families with young children and you get enjoy great views throughout the hike.

Start of the hike, Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

Start of the hike, Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg

Somewhere along the hike

Somewhere along the hike

From Kleine Scheidegg, we again took the train to get back. From KS to Grindlewald though, we had to buy tickets as we were informed the journey wasn’t covered in the pass. From GW to Interlaken, we used the pass as usual.

While the hike itself isn’t so tiring, the whole escapade did leave us spent and we slept like babies that night. It’s something we thoroughly enjoyed and I recommend it strongly.

Well, that’s it for now peeps. Wishing you the best of travel adventures!

PS: More swiss adventures coming soon

Views along Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike

Views along Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike