Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Wayne Allanson aboard our 10-seat KeelowCraft on the 52 kilometer Waiatoto River in New Zealand
I didn’t know quite what to expect during the off the beaten track Waiatoto River Safari in the 355,000 hectare Aspiring National Park, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (U.N.E.S.C.O.) Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Park in the South Island of New Zealand. My first clue was Ruth Allanson’s smile when we stopped to check in and sign release forms. It lit up her face and put me at ease. She and Wayne, her husband, owned the company.
Ruth Allanson of Waiatoto River Safari
During the tour Wayne stopped in a sheltered corner of the river to tell us about the park.
Our departure point
The simple indoor stand housed a desk, promotional brochures and a few local stonework souvenirs. From there a two minute drive led to our departure point, where moments later we met Wayne on the bank of the 52 kilometer Waiatoto River. We were 23 kilometers from Haast and about 200 kilometers from Queenstown.
The Waiatoto River, 23 kilometers from Haast and about 200 kilometers from Queenstown
Although it was a clear summer day when we arrived (by the time we returned clouds had descended) there was a chill in the air that promised it would be cooler still on the boat. After applying liberal amounts of insect repellent against the sandflies and donning a loaner coat and I was ready. Veronika Vermeulen, owner of Aroha New Zealand Tours and my guide on an Intrepid tour of the South Island, and I followed Wayne onto a 10-seat KeelowCraft for our two and a half hour private tour. Our boat was 5.7 meters long, 2.2 meters wide, required 125 milliliters of water to operate, and could accommodate up 11 passengers plus driver. It had a Chev 350 V8 petrol engine with a Hamilton 212 jet pump.
The Waiatoto River, part of the U.N.E.S.C.O. Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Park – click to enlarge
The setting was beautiful. The tour was one of the highlights of my trip to the South Island. The river and lush green vegetation were all around us. After the many crowded attractions we had passed on previous days it was wonderful to be alone on the river. This was in part because the tour was the only way to visit the unspoiled area by land and water. Later Ruth explained by email that the scenery and nature are unique to New Zealand.
One of my favorite aspects of the tour was that we were the only people visible on the river.
One of few boats we saw although during the whitebait season hundreds of locals descended on the river for their share of the popular fish
The loud engine sounds ensured we focused on the scenery rather than conversation. Wayne slowed down or stopped to show us points of interest, share information and indulge my photo needs. On one of the stops he offered us whitebait snacks. During the whitebait season, hundreds of locals descended on the river for their share of the tiny fish. Although it was past whitebait season Ruth and Wayne had a frozen supply from which they made the snacks.
White water on the Waiatoto River
We covered 23 kilometers until the rapids became impossible to navigate. There Wayne tied the boat to the shore. It was easy to step onto land through the front of the boat. Veronika and I gazed at the rushing water, while Wayne secured the boat. Once he joined us we walked 500 meters into the quiet landscape before heading back down the river to the Hindley Stream. By the time we returned to our departure point we had covered 50 kilometers during the tour.
When the river became unmanageable we stopped for a short stroll.
It was nice to know the boats operated with Qualmark Environ motors specially imported for their low fuel use and clean running. I saw no pollution in the water or on land. The Allansons encouraged their clients to “take photos and leave footprints only.”
We encountered lush greenery on our short walk.
With advance notice they were able to accommodate some travelers with disabilities. Babies from about 5 months old (provided the life jacket fit) could join their tours and there was no upper age restriction. Life jackets were available up to XXXXL.
At our first stop – click to Enlarge
Once we glided over the river I was glad for the extra loaner layer and the safety of the life vest. Although at one point there were sandflies, perhaps because of the copious quantities of natural repellent I lathered on, they didn’t bother me at all. Waiatoto River Safaris Limited (975 Haast-Jackson Bay road, Hannahs Clearing, Haast, 7844, New Zealand, +64 3 7500 780, www.riversafaris.co.nz, firstname.lastname@example.org) was owned and operated by a local family since 1997. Theirs was the only company with permission to offer boat tours on Waiatoto River (helicopter companies were allowed enter the park). Ruth and Wayne held Martime New Zealand commercial jet boat licenses, first aid and commercial pilot licenses as well as airplane instructor ratings. They had 12 years of jet boating experience.
According to the U.N.E.S.C.O. website, Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Park covers 10 percent of the landmass of New Zealand. It has fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. It was worthy of a detour. I especially enjoyed seeing it by boat.
Article and photos by Elena del Valle
A panoramic view of the cottage and its grounds (click to see full size)
During a recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand I spent two nights at Ferry Mans Cottage, part of the 40-acre Birds Ferry Lodge and Ferry Mans Cottage (163 Birds Ferry Road, Westport, New Zealand, +64 21337217, birdsferrylodge.co.nz, email@example.com) luxury boutique lodge established in 2004 by Alison and Andre Gygax. They had embarked on the development of the property relying on Alison’s love of cooking and her degree in hospitality as well as Andre’s 15 years of experience as a South Island tour guide.
A sign by my cottage door
One of two bedrooms at Ferry Mans Cottage
From the main house it was a short stroll to my two-bedroom one bathroom northwest facing 1,200 square foot (estimated) cottage. Although at night the road that connected the cottage with the lodge was rather dark during the day it was an easy sunlit walk. On the first night I had dinner in the lodge with other guests and my tour guide. I enjoyed a refreshing pinot noir on offer along with several cheese filled dates Alison prepared. Dinner was a set menu.
The well equipped kitchen included a washer and dryer.
Andre and Alison served snacks and drinks at 6:30 p.m. sharp to everyone together before we dined at a shared table in the lodge main room. Because in the evening there were mosquitoes and sandflies, when we stepped out on the terrace to admire the sunset we were invited to apply repellent. At the conclusion of the meal, two guests climbed into the lodge hot tub in the back porch. I returned to Ferry Mans Cottage.
A view of Ferry Mans Cottage from across the manmade pond
The night of my arrival the owners explained that a photography team was scheduled for the following day, asking if I would mind if they photographed my cottage while they were there. That meant making myself absent from the cottage during the only full day I would spend at the property (check out was at 10 a.m. the following morning). I got the impression the photos were important to them so although it was inconvenient I agreed, ensuring my belongings remained packed before I left for breakfast at 8 a.m., earlier than I had planned to go out. Later I found out the photos were necessary because the property was for sale. The “Business will sell as a going concern and we will be involved in the handover to ensure all services and standards remain,” Alison replied by email when I asked about the listing.
Alison and Andre Gygax in the Birds Ferry Lodge kitchen
Inside Ferry Mans Cottage, including the dining table, fireplace, sofa, bathroom and kitchen
The main course at dinner
Perhaps my favorite feature of the handicapped friendly cottage was its serenity and its views to the onsite rain forest from the back, and to an expansive lawn and a pretty manmade pond from the front. Cottage amenities included WiFi (limited to 500 megabytes), television, fireplace, homemade cookies, fruit bowl, and well equipped kitchen, including a washer and dryer. I was strongly urged to hang my clothes on an exterior clothesline instead of using the dryer to conserve energy. Since they didn’t want to photograph the cottage with my clothes hanging from the clothesline the owners agreed to hang the clothes at the end of the photo shoot. When I returned that evening they were damp and crumpled in the hamper.
One of the many pretty flowers in the lodge’s kitchen garden
Children and “well behaved pets” were welcome in the cottage. Cottage guests could prepare their own dishes in their private kitchen or request meals in advance from the lodge. Alison used as many fruits and vegetables from her garden and ingredients from local producers as she could in the meals, she explained later. Breakfast consisted of continental options as well as cooked to order pancakes or eggs and sides.
Alison used as many fruits and vegetables from her garden and ingredients from local producers as she could in the meals.
On request it was possible to visit the kitchen garden and the rain forest. I visited the garden in the morning while the photography team was in my cottage. In the early evening, Andre guided me through the rain forest until we were caught by rain showers. He pointed out scented orchids, sterile moss, berries, rimu and beech trees.
During the day, the road that connected the cottage to the lodge was an easy walk although at night it was rather dark.
One of the property features I liked was that the owners were kind to the environment, recycled whenever possible, including plastic, metal, glass, cardboard and paper. They fed kitchen scraps to their chickens, harvested their own water, used solar water heating, and relied on a chemical free cleaning system.
Photos by Gary Cox and Elena del Valle
Despite the subtropical heat the sisters were surprisingly relaxed.
We recently spent a few precious minutes inside an enclosure with Lura and Malee, two female clouded leopard (nebulosa) cubs at Panther Ridge Conservation Center (2341 D Rd Loxahatchee Groves, Florida 33470, +1 561-795-8914, www.pantherridge.org) in Florida. A warning about how sharp their teeth were did little to dampen out enthusiasm once we had caught sight of the junior cats through the chain link fence of their enclosure. Lura, seven months old, and Malee, five months old, looked healthy and were full of energy, mock stalking each other and jumping with ease from one side to another. Despite the heat the sisters were surprisingly relaxed, allowing us to watch them and take photos as they played. Their brother was unable to join us because he was recovering from an injury.
Lura and Malee played while we watched.
Clouded leopards are beautiful and like so many species may be in danger of disappearing in the future. According to CloudedLeopard.org, a Washington State nonprofit (per its website), in 2014 there were only 166 clouded leopards in zoos in the world, including 37 of them in the United States.
Sadie Ryan, head keeper and facilities manager, holding one of the cubs in her lap
To raise funds for its residents and increase feline awareness Panther Ridge offered tours by appointment and private time with the clouded leopards. Special thanks to Sadie Ryan, head keeper and facilities manager, and Barbie Jetter, assistant director, who welcomed our photographers at their center during an especially busy period. The staff and animals were in the midst of a cumbersome move from Wellington to Loxahatchee in Palm Beach County.
Barbie and one of the cubs
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN), clouded leopards are Vulnerable. The Swiss based membership organization defines the term as “facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” Although exact numbers seem elusive one website estimated only 10,000 of them remain in the wild.
According to the IUCN Red List clouded leopards are Vulnerable.
Panther Ridge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to combining “feline husbandry with conservation awareness to educate the public on wild felines.”
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox*
On a spring visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida we discovered the Mable Ringling Rose Garden (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243, +1 941-359-5700 ext 2109, https://www.ringling.org/, Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org). It was one of those sunny yet chilly and breezy days that is perfect for outdoor strolling. We saw the garden on our way to John and Mable’s storied home, now a museum, and made a point of stopping.
A signs described the history of the rose garden.
It was one of the highlights of our visit. I especially enjoyed the often fragrant flowers in 18 hues (the American Rose Society recognizes 18 colors of roses, a Ringling spokesperson explained by email), each with a name tag at the foot of the bush. The new name tags indicated if the rose was fragrant, Karen Smith, MSc., curator since 2015, Mable Ringling Rose Garden, explained when I asked about a particular flower a volunteer had suggested I see.
Flower fragrance is not a straightforward matter it turns out. It varies, according to the ratings of the American Rose Society, from Strong, Moderate and Mild, to None. So many roses were scented I was not surprised to discover 81 percent of the roses had some scent.
One of the paths lined with statues
At the time of our visit, excluding the miniatures and miniflora’s, 40 percent of the roses had a Strong scent, 19 percent Moderate, 22 percent Mild and 19 percent had no fragrance.
Ms. Smith is a former research scientist in the neuroscience field. Throughout thirty years in science, horticulture was always a part of her life. Care of the garden was no accident. Although she was the only employee dedicated to the garden when needed six estate gardeners were available to lend a hand. And 26 volunteers, including 15 seasonal visitors to the area, worked in the garden from three to 12 hours per month.
Karen Smith, MSc., curator, Mable Ringling Rose Garden
There are many challenges and stresses that can affect rose plants, the garden curator explained. She relies on Best Management Practices and a weekly monitoring system during which more than 100 bushes are inspected each week.
“A rating is given for pests and diseases,” she said by email. “If it is determined that the disease or pest is at a level that is unacceptable, treatment occurs. We use the safest treatment possible for each situation. For example when the weather is cool enough we will use Neem Oil as our pesticide for Aphids, Mites, Thrip, and Scale. Every spring we remove the old mulch and bring in 75 cubic yards of compost, fertilize, and re-mulch
When asked for fertilizer specifics she shared details generously, “Currently for fertilizer we use a 4-3-4 Turkey Manure (Mighty Grow) and 16-0-0 Blood meal – each four times a year. Supplement with a Sul-Po-Mag (0-0-22) twice a year. For example to fertilize once using the Mighty Grow takes 650 lbs.”
What are the best months to see the roses in bloom and at their most fragrant? December and January as well as March and April. In 2017 Hurricane Irma caused some damage to the garden so it was not at its prettiest during our visit.
“We have two cut-backs a year, one in February and one in September, the garden curator said. “The large blooms occur approximately 8 weeks after cutback. It take us 3 weeks to complete the cutback- therefore the bloom is in phases comparable to the cutback.”
Many visitors strolled through the garden on the day of our visit.
We later discovered the garden dates back to 1913. Sadly, none of the plants from Mable’s era remain. The garden consists of 1,200 rose plants introduced between 1793 and 2002, among them Tree Roses, Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniature roses, shrubs, Old Garden Roses (varieties introduced prior to 1867). Among them was a rose dedicated to Mable.
The Italian inspired Rose Garden has a circular wagon wheel design.
(Click photo to view full size)
The 27,225 square foot Italian inspired Rose Garden has a circular wagon wheel design and pathways lined with garden sculptures of courting couples in pastoral scenes. By the late 1930s the estate and the garden fell into disrepair. Many years passed before it returned to a state similar to the one we saw during our visit. By 2004 the garden was restored thanks to the efforts of the resident horticulturist, Ron Mallory and the volunteers he recruited.
It received accreditation from the All-American Rose Selections in 2004, and recognition in 2006 as the most outstanding All-American Rose Selections Public Rose Garden in the nation.
*Aerial photo of the Rose Garden (date unknown) courtesy of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
We go on safari to see nature. Thankfully that does not always mean missing out on exercise.
While on safari safety is a priority. Frequently wild animals, some of them dangerous, roam freely near the luxury lodges where guests stay. They may stroll through the property. This means that in many places staff escorts are required for guests at night and sometimes in the early morning around dawn. At the dozens of properties where I have stayed, with some exceptions, jogging and running were discouraged or not allowed. This makes exercising beyond in-room basic stretching difficult.
The two swimming pools at Singita Ebony were large enough for laps.
The workout room at Lukimbi was open air.
I suspect that many fitness aficionados smile with pleasure on discovering somewhere to safely stretch their legs while in the African bush. Yet running, jogging and exercise in general were difficult or not possible in many of the Big Five properties I have visited, especially in those without electric fences surrounding the property itself. That is why I remember the lodges with a full length swimming pool or a dedicated workout area with particular fondness.
While at Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge we had access to the Jock exercise room a short drive away.
The open air workout area at Camp Jabulani was covered
While on safari days fly by in a blur of activities, mainly twice daily game drives and sometimes guided walks. Early mornings and three course dinners make finding time to exercise a challenge. For those willing to do so having a pool to swim laps, treadmill, elliptical machine or free weights can be the ultimate luxury. On our 2017 trip to South Africa, several five star safari lodges, Lukimbi Safari Lodge, Fitzpatrick’s Lodge at Jock Safari Lodge (www.jocksafarilodge.com, +27 (0) 13 010 0019, Fax +27 (0) 86 601 9961, Reservations@jocksafarilodge.com), Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, Singita Ebony, Simbambili Game Lodge, and Camp Jabulani, had fitness facilities.
The air conditioned exercise room at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge with a pretty view was a favorite.
The workout room at Jock’s had a rack of dumbbells and a slanted bench
Lukimbi, on the southern end of the well known Kruger National Park, had an open air fitness and treatment room facing the lawn and bush across the Lwakahle River. The pool was visible from the workout room as well. The room housed a workout space with weights station, Running Machine, Cycle, and Step Machine.
I liked the glass wall at the air conditioned Singita Ebony workout room, which was in the same building as the spa.
Earth lodge featured a variety of aerobic machines and a resistance circuit machine.
As a guest at Fitzpatrick’s I had access to the small workout room within the Jock’s Safari Lodge 150 square meter spa building. The sister properties were within a two minute drive. Anelda, our friendly host, kindly drove me over from Fitzpatrick’s to Jock’s. The visit also provided me an opportunity to browse in the curio shop as Fitzpatrick’s was too small for its own shopping space. When I was ready to return I asked the staff person at Jock’s to call her. Within minutes she picked me up. Thanks to the room’s glass wall I enjoyed bush views during my workout. A thirty minute careful jog along the property’s wet pathways (it rained during most of our three night stay) rounded out my morning.
Simbambili had an indoor workout room in the same building as its meeting room.
While this cub could exercise safely in the reserve the humans had to stay indoors.
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, one of our favorite properties on that trip, had a dedicated air conditioned 50 square meter (5 meter by 10 meter) workout room in a stand alone building. Some of the workout room’s glass walls faced the bush and a water feature. I especially enjoyed watching the many birds attracted by the water feature in the morning during my workout. The fitness room housed two treadmills (Impulse AC2970), spinning bicycle (Gym Source Tour), water rower (Water Rower Club), Multigym (Impact FIT200 Classic), freestanding bench, Kettle Bells in two kilo increments ranging from four to eight kilos, two Pilates balls, three yoga mats. Amenities include chilled sparkling and still mineral water, Powerade, hand towels, sanitizing spray and paper rolls. I later found out there is an adjoining shower for guests who wish to freshen up.
“The beauty of the location of the gym is such is that it does not impact on the main lodge but is hidden away and also blends into the environment,” said Heath Thompson, lodge manager, via email when asked what makes the gym stand out. “The structure is built with the same concept as that of the main lodge with a natural, organic type structure and the majority of the gym is glass, with views of a waterhole – allowing for uninterrupted views of the bush veld whilst training or exercising. We have often had remarks from our guests who have spotted elephant drinking from the waterhole. The bird life is also phenomenal due to the availability of a water source.”
A fan of bush walks he added, “Whilst this performs the mainstream basis of keeping fit (from all that delicious food of course), there is also the opportunity to go on one of our environmental awareness walking safaris, so whilst this is not traditionally an ‘exercise’ based excursion and the idea behind this is to expose guests to a safari from a different angle and experience the “small stuff” that one generally misses whilst out on a an open vehicle, it does nonetheless necessitate walking (up to 1.5 hours). So whilst gaining a holistic experience of the African bush from a walking perspective, one’s body also benefits from the walking.”
The workout machines at Camp Jabulani were under thatch next to the massage area.
Singita Ebony’s fitness room shared a building with the spa. The air conditioned space had wood floors, a row of machines, and a bush facing glass wall. In addition to our en suite heated private plunge pools (a favorite) Singita Ebony also had two common area swimming pools. Although the water was chilly it was wonderful to have a midday swim to offset the blistering summer heat.
“Singita Ebony Lodge has a very unique bush spa with gym attached,” said Chantelle Maritz, co-manager, Singita Ebony Lodge. “The two rooms at the spa are comfortable and decorated alongside the classic safari look with sliding doors that open. The gym side is a rock wall with large glass windows.”
The 49 square meter (11.3 meter by 4.3 meter) gym was stocked with individual size bottled water and coconut water, towels, television and two showers (shared with spa guests).
As of May 2018 the gym offered the following weights in kilos: 10 to 20 sizes, kettle bells in 4, 8 and 16 kilos, medicine balls in 3 and 5 kilos. There were: foam roller, five floor mats, yoga block, two wellness balls and Technogym equipment: bench, two treadmills, two exercise bicycles, multi-functional trainer, shoulder press machine, chest press machine, cable station, leg extension, and vertical traction machine.
While seeing the animals is still the best part being able to exercise is healthful.
Camp Jabulani had a steam room and sauna.
Our three-bedroom, three bathroom Zindoga Villa accommodations at Camp Jabulani were so spacious and comfortable I had little need to spend time in the common areas with the exception was the dining room at meal times. The pretty 53 square meter open air workout area, equipped with: Johnson multipurpose machine, static bicycle and Johnson rowing machine, Trojan treadmill, six sets of free weight Trojan dumbbells and Detecto scale, was inviting. There was also a new looking six square meter sauna with a glass wall. Had we spent another night at the property I would have made time to work out; and should we plan a future safari trip to the area Camp Jabulani will be high on my list, among other reasons, for its workout facility. For more South Africa safari properties with workout facilities when we were there see Safari properties that offered exercise facilities among favorites.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
The Berlin Falls in Mpumalanga, South Africa
On a recent safari trip to South Africa earlier this year we had an opportunity to visit the Blyde River Canyon. One of the owners of the Belgrace Boutique Hotel, who also owned a tour company, invited us to a half day visit of the area as part of our transfer from his hotel to our safari property. Visiting the canyon required us to leave extra early. Our efforts were rewarded as the parking lot at the first of our stops was nearly deserted, except for curio vendors setting up for the day and staff cleaning the public bathrooms.
It was a little hazy, but the view from the God's Windows lookout was breathtaking.
According to SouthAfrica.net, the 29,000 hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is carved out of red sandstone and is one of South Africa's most remarkable geological features. Salient areas of the "green canyon" we saw were the Three Rondavels or Three Sisters, God's Window and Bourke's Luck Potholes.
Over time the flow of water carved out circular "potholes" in the limestone of the valley.
The river flows rapidly just above the potholes.
The same photo with a long exposure filter to smooth the water (just for fun)
The further along we progressed the more tourists we encountered, including several buses packed with travelers speaking foreign tongues. There were also more curio vendors in make shift structure and later inside a building. In lieu of lunch we snacked on locally produced cashews, macadamia nuts and dried fruits from a plastic container our tour escort brought with him. There were also chilled juices and water.
The Three Rondavels were our final stop as we made our way through the canyon.
The series of attractions were part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
The added attractions were worth the extra effort and time. Although we had few moments to spare for much beyond photos and quick rest stops we enjoyed the sights and the opportunity to see yet another beautiful natural wonder in the vast country full of natural treasures.