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Baby elephant attempting to give mama some water

Baby Elephant attempting to give Mama a drink from the riverbed. The water level is high so the elephants don’t have to dig too deep to get fresh water.

A little over six weeks ago, we drove out of Umlani Bush Camp and made our way back to Johannesburg. We had a plane heading for London to catch the next day. Not going to lie, both my daughter and I had a tear in our eye as we left the magical Timbavati Private Reserve. This safari was everything I dreamed it would be but I was also a sad/angry that a lot of the animals are at risk from poachers. Thankfully, there are those willing to fight against them but it seems like a losing battle sometimes. As with drugs, the demand for animal parts needs to be stopped but oh, what a complicated weave that is.

There were so many wonderful memories from our nine days there and below is a recap in photos. My heart is happy when I look at them…

Bird Colorful

The lilac-breasted roller in South Africa.

Monkey with blue balls

Vervet Monkey, males are known for their bright blue scrotum and vivid red penis. They have a complicated vocal communication system. For example, one screech will indicate a predatory bird and all the vervets will scan the sky. Likewise, a snake call will have all looking at the ground. 

Steenbok running

The Steenbok is a small, brown antelope. Females don’t have horns. They zig-zag as they run when avoiding a predator.

Giraffes three

Always a thrill to see Giraffes ~ they are such interesting creatures. Where there are giraffes, there are usually zebras. And like the zebra stripes, the brown and white pattern on the giraffe is unique to each individual. These are males because their stumps are bald. The females are tufts.

Sunset in The Timbavati

Sunset in South Africa

If you’d like to see additional safari photos, follow along on instagram @beachbums88

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The term Big Five was originally coined by big game hunters but is now used by  those wanting to see and photograph the following in South Africa: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo.

I went on safari without expectations of “must see” animals. But our guides were invaluable in finding us the Big Five within the first two days of our nine day safari. Michael from Wildeye, SA not only told us about animal behavior but could predict when they would get up, yawn, walk by us, etc. It helped a lot in capturing the animal’s behaviors. Always good to have a few seconds warning to get the camera ready when there might be only one chance to snap a photo.

A male leopard was the first of the Big Five we saw on our first drive out in the bush. Back at camp, before we started on the drive, some of the guests mentioned they had been waiting days for a leopard sighting. Guests on different vehicles would compare notes as to which animals had been spotted ~ reminded me of Apres Ski talk around the fire when skiers would brag about double-black diamonds & vertical feet. Except at Umlani. talk around the firepit is all about the animals!

We are all so excited when Shadrack pointed and said “leopard” ~

leopard at night ii

The rest of the Big Five were spotted numerous times over our nine day stay.

I’ve had some people question why I would spend the money traveling to a far-away country to see animals I can view at the zoo. Those are people who don’t know me well. I cry at zoos so I don’t go. The chance to view animals in their natural environment was priceless for me. The multiple sightings were fascinating because the behaviors changed each time. My idea of heaven on earth.

Here are some of our sightings of other Big Five:

Rhino large male

Lion eyes

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As we drove through the gates into the Private Reserve, I had to pinch myself ~ it was the start of a safari trip I’d been planning for several months, and had been dreaming about for years!

Our driver asked what animal we were most interested in seeing during our nine day visit and my daughter immediately said “Giraffe.”  No sooner had she said giraffe, we came around the corner and there was one munching on some leaves.  It was a fabulous way to begin our wildlife adventures.

Giraffe over the trees

We arrived at Umlani Bushcamp and were greeted by Michael Laubscher from Wildeye .

Umlani Patti, Logan and Michael at lunch

He would be our photographic guide for the entire time we were at our Africa lodge. Unfortunately, I broke my wrist two weeks prior to going on safari, but both my husband and daughter jumped in with both feet (or should I say “with both hands”) and learned as much as they could about photography from Michael. We didn’t keep track of who took which photos so all photos will be considered “Team Beachbums.”

I’m so glad we chose to go with a Wildeye private- guided safari. I knew personalities would be important and was relieved to find that Michael’s easy-going but professional style was perfect for us. Michael was a safari guide for many years before becoming a photographic guide and his ability to anticipate what an animal would do next was invaluable to getting the perfect photo.

The Bush Camp provided a private guide/driver (Shadrack) and tracker (Cabinet) for the duration of our stay. They were both incredible and I’m still amazed how they were able to see small creatures, sometimes at night, while riding in a vehicle and the animal blending in with their surroundings. Truly amazing.

It was so nice to have a private vehicle so we could spend as much time as we wanted at a sighting rather than being in a vehicle with others who preferred to chase the next Big 5 animal sighting.

The camp we stayed at blends in with the environment and was made from natural materials in a traditional African style. There is no electricity in the thatched rooms but there are solar lights which are placed on the nightstands. All accommodations have en-suite facilities including their open-air bush showers. There is also complimentary bottled water. The outdoor bathroom took a little getting use to but it was nice to shower under the warmth of the sun.

The very first animal we saw on safari was a Jackal. Beautiful but quick…

Jackel

…and then we saw our first of seven Leopard sightings. More on that next time.

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As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

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At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.

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The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

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On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.

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The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

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The amazing view from the rainforest.

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It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

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Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!

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If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.

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I had the opportunity to leave the social media realm and see several of my favorite photographers’ works in the real world. It got me thinking about why I follow certain photographers out of the millions who are on social media.

As a wildlife fan, I find myself skimming instagram, twitter, wordpress and snapchat for all things wildlife and nature oriented. But there are only five photographers I follow daily ~ they bring an extra dash of joy to my life with their amazing skills and ability to capture the essence of majestic creatures. All five have one essential quality in common which is required for me to follow them; they are all conservationists.

My most recent follow is @Davidrphoto on Instagram. Of the photographers I follow, he is by far the youngest, currently a student at Stanford and his photos are from his trips to Africa. His “Youth Photographer of the Year” award-winning photo is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is titled: The 21st Annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. Windland Smith Rice was a nature photographer and conservationist.

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The exhibition includes short videos with footage of the moments the photographer captures the award-winning photo. I was completely enthalled watching the videos and blown away by the amazing talent. I’m especially impressed with the profound patience they possess which is required to capture the perfect shot.

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Video of the “Youth Photographer of the Year” winner David Rosenzweig

If you have an interest in photography, I highly recommend attending the free exhibit when you’re in Washington DC. The current exhibit will be on display until Sept 2017. The museum is located along the National Mall at 1000 Madison Drive NW. The closest metro stop is Archives/Navy Museum (Yellow Line).

There’s more information at the Museum of Natural History and you can view the photos on Facebook. I promise you the images are stunning in person and well worth the trip to the museum.

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Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History ~ Exhibit Banners

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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

Kona Parks and Recreation

The Parks & Rec building in Kona


Kona waters and seawall

Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

Kona sailboat on the waters

Sailboat in Kailua Bay

 

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…Aloha Hawaii. It’s rare for my family to veto me when it comes to travel locations but half way into my Tour of France planning, I got the word that neither my husband nor my daughter wanted to spend their vacation on an extended road trip. They both preferred two weeks on a beach in Hawaii. It’s been six years since I’ve seen my Big Island family and friends so I immediately changed my focus to Hawaii.

I’ve booked my first AirBnB! I was very apprehensive due to several horror stories I’ve read but, even though it’s called the “Big” Island of Hawaii, it’s really a close-knit community. Once I found the “perfect” place to rent, I contacted a friend who lives in the same town & wasn’t surprised that he knows the owner. I feel much better about prepaying the entire stay when it’s the friend of a friend.

A few photos from our previous visit to Hawaii to get us into the Aloha-Spirit…

 

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