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Kate Webster

Kate Webster

Kate Webster is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause. Born out of a life-long love of travel, the ocean, wildlife and conservation and fascination with the world around her, is Kate’s inspiration behind her writing and photography.

Lost and found in Mauritius

Mauritius

An island nation in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius lays about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent. The Republic of Mauritius includes the islands of Rodrigues, Agalega and St. Brandon.

I had always considered Mauritius a part of Africa and fact is, it is. There was little else I knew about the country, so I was delighted to visit its foreign shores and discover more. In just a week, I learnt what the country had lost and found what it had to offer.

Long ago, a giant bird roamed the land in Mauritius. Standing up to one metre tall and weighing in at approximately 20kg, this bulky flightless bird was easy pickings for a meal. The last claimed sighting of a Dodo was reported in the hunting records of Isaac Johannes Lamotius in 1688. I was hopeful, though some might say delusional, that my visit would bring this bird back to life with a sighting as I went in search of the dodo.

On arrival into the capital of Port Louis, I kept my eyes peeled, and what I found was dodo’s were everywhere. From the city of Port Louis to the beaches of Belle Mare and the villages of Le Morne, the presence of the dodo was evident. There in the books I read in the hotel, the beer I drank by the beach and in the trinkets sold in souvenir shops. The dodo was certainly a part of this country and proudly displayed nationwide.

As for a living, breathing dodo, sadly they were nowhere to be found. To my dismay, the dodo is well and truly extinct and lost to the world.

What I did find in Mauritius, is a country that satisfied the senses. Colourful streets were a visual delight and sounds of the Sega set my soul dancing. The smell of the salty air mixed with the sweet taste of sugarcane infused flavoursome rum warmed me from the inside while my toes wriggled in the sand which washed away by the lapping waves, cooling me on the outside. This is what engulfed me in Mauritius. A sensory overload.

I have always enjoyed being by the ocean but have never been patient enough to just flop and drop on a beach. I need to be able to still explore, be entertained and discover. Mauritius offered just that. While there was always a time to sit still and just relax, this came for me at the end of the day while I watched the sun set over the ocean and reflected on my day of discovery.

I tasted my way through Port Louis, the island’s capital, on a food tour while learning the history of the country. I ventured under the water and swam with wild dolphins in Le Morne, snorkelled crystal rock and spent hours floating in some of the bluest waters.

The SALT of Palmar had me in awe of their ability to pave the way for a sustainable and environmentally friendly existence in the hotel and hospitality sector and I discovered some local skills like cooking classes with the chef.

There was rum tasting, dining with a local family, hiking to waterfalls, searching for hidden treasures, picnicking on pristine beaches, road-tripping around the island, drinking some more rum and then finding balance in energies at one of the world’s few energetical vortex locations.

For a country that really was not on my radar and one I knew little about, I found Mauritius had more to offer than I expected, and I am happy I went.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Mauritius, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by LUX* Hotels & Resorts and SALT of Palmar, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

Asian Journeys magazine – Magnetic Mauritian Moments

Captured Travel – Discover Mauritius  

Captured Travel – Mauritius Most Instagrammable Spots

Captured Travel – Hotel Review – SALT of Palmar               

Captured Travel – Flight Review – Air Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Get Adventurous in Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Hiking and Trekking in Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Swim with wild dolphins in Mauritius

PRODUCT REVIEW: Scarpa Mojito Hike GTX

Scarpa-Mojito-Hike-GTX

A perfect combination of style and technicality, the Mojito Hike GTX is the newest hiking boot from Scarpa that has everything taken care of, all you have left to do is enjoy the walk.

While impeccable design, technicality and durability are always key to a good hiking boot, the Mojito Hike GTX is also geared for hikers that are conscious of the aesthetic. They look great and perform well.

FEATURES

The Mojito Hike GTX has strong upper, made of 1.8 mm water-resistant suede with a monochromatic colour palette, and up-to-the-toe lacing that matches accordingly. The fully adjustable lacing system is derived from a climbing shoe, allowing the Mojito to fit just about any foot shape. The Salix sole is comfortable, assures grip on any terrain, is built with shock absorbing features and is designed to be self-cleaning so you won’t be picking gumnuts and stones out of your shoe tread ever again.

The Flex-Point is a special upper design that allows the natural angle variation between foot and leg during walking, and heel support system for better lateral stability, meaning you won’t feel trapped at the ankles.  The Mojito Hike GTX has self-moulding ankle padding made from a special memory foam material that adapts itself to everyone’s anatomy and recovers its original shape after every use, avoiding unpleasant pressure.

WHY YOU WILL LOVE THEM

Look good and feel even better in the comfort of your Mojito Hike GTX. The boots have weather protection from GORE-TEX® lining to keep you cozy and dry. The boots are available in both men’s and women’s versions, the men’s boot comes in a striking blue with lime-green details, and a timeless charcoal with orange detailing. The women’s version comes in a lighter smoke grey with turquoise detailing, and a head-turning purple with coral accents.

SCARPA MOJITO GTX RRP: $329.95

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Tonga’s majestic whales

Tonga’s majestic Whales

Kate Webster dives into Tonga’s waters off Ha’apai to swim with the majestic humpback whales.

There are few wildlife encounters that allow you to get so up close and personal, while maintaining a respect for the animal and their environment. In Tonga, they have found a way to peacefully interact with the whales with minimum impact.

Each year from mid-July to mid-October, Tonga’s serene islands become the resting place for the majestic humpback whales. North of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu are the islands of Ha’apai. Here is a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales from the Antarctic. These calm warm waters of Ha’apai offer refuge for the whales to breed, birth and socialise before making the arduous journey back south.

Tonga is one of only a few countries in the world where you can swim with humpback whales. The experience is carefully managed with sensible tourism guidelines and experienced guides to ensure minimal impact on the whales and their environment.

Read the full article here.

HOTEL REVIEW: Sea Change Eco Retreat

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Visiting Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands, I stayed at the remote island of Uoleva. The island had just a few properties on it, including Sea Change Eco Retreat.

Here is my review of the resort as published on Captured Travel.

For a truly off the grid experience in Tonga, Sea Change Eco Retreat is the place to stay.

Don’t think that off the grid and eco retreat means roughing it though, as Sea Change manages to find that balance between being one with your natural surroundings without losing that touch of luxury.

With the lightest possible footprint, Sea Change is perfectly formed as an idyllic escape for up to 12 guests at any one time – giving you an almost deserted island paradise to chill out and recharge your batteries. 

Managed full time by Becky and Mahe Pepa, who combine extensive experience in hospitality management with Tongan culture, you will really feel like a local when staying at Sea Change.

One of the main draw cards for Sea Change is that the whale swimming boat leaves right from the very beach you stay on. Companies like Majestic Whale Encounters use Sea Change as their base for this very reason.

Hotel

Sea Change Eco Retreat is located on the remote island of Uoleva in the Ha’apai Island group in the Kingdom of Tonga. It is located approximately 165 kms northeast of the main island of Tongatapu, which you can reach by taking a 30-minute flight to Ha’apai and short boat trip to the island. There is a main building where the bar, dinning and general meeting place is. It is here you will meet to go out to swim with the whales, discuss your day, eat meals and general just relax and soak up the atmosphere. There are secluded spots along the beach to sit on chairs or beanbags and a few hammocks scattered around. It is an eco-retreat so guests are asked to make minimal impact on the environment.

Rooms

There are 6 fales (Tongan for house) with a choice of either “glamping” style safari tent fales on elevated platforms with queen sized beds on frames, or the larger luxury fales which have a queen size bed with the addition of either one or two long single beds. Don’t think glamping means you will be uncomfortable though, as the mattresses and linen are high quality and provide a very restful night. Each fale sits at the end of a tranquil pathway through a coconut tree forest and is well spaced from the other, providing an absolute sense of privacy and peacefulness. There is shower and toilet in your private bathroom equipped with eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner and soap. The toilet is a sawdust drop toilet but it is cleaned regularly so there is no need to worry about any smell.

Dining

You can purchase a meal package which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer a wide range of food which focuses on fresh produce, meats and fish available in Tonga. Dinner normally consists of a selection of mains which include beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian options, followed by dessert. If you happen to be there at the right time, you can enjoy a traditional Tongan feast night. Daily continental breakfasts include fresh fruit (including coconut from our very own trees), cereals, toast, coffee, tea and juice. Lunches are a mix of lovely salads, pasta, sandwiches and snacks, which can also be enjoyed in a packed lunch if you are out for the day on the boat whale swimming. Last of all, the bar features amazing daily cocktails, lovely wines, spirits and a selection of local and foreign beers.  

Sea Change Eco Retreat in pictures

To look into a humpback whale’s eyes

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If there is one place I like to roam with the wild things, it is under the ocean’s surface.

There is something about being under the waves, in a world that is so foreign, yet for me feels so right. Yes, breathing is aided by an air tanks, snorkel and mask or you need to be able to hold your breath to free dive. Once you have mastered that however, the ocean is well … your oyster!

I recently travelled to Tonga with extreme excitement as I set off to swim with the humpback whales. Ever since I was a young girl I have been mesmerized by the beauty and magic of whales. I had a record with the sound of whale songs on that I had pulled out of a National Geographic Magazine and played it over and over until it would play no more.

With that hauntingly beautiful sound still so familiar in my mind, I stepped onto the shores of Uoleva Island, part of the Ha’apai Island group in Tonga. Expectant of a South Pacific island, the clean sand licked by lapping waves felt good between my toes. The water was so warm but still refreshing from the even warmer air that hugged me in a humid embrace.

Walking up the beach I was greeted by friendly smiles from the team at Sea Change Eco Retreat. A eco-friendly retreat located right on the waterfront, Sea Change is everything right in keeping things in tune with nature. I was in my element. Glamping in a tent set up on a wooden deck where you go to sleep at night listing to the lapping waves on the shore as a cool breeze blew in off the ocean with its salty breath.

The shower is mostly cold water (you can switch on the hot if you need) with the water pumped and the toilet is a sawdust drop toilet. It really gives a sense of camping, but with a toilet seat for that added luxury.

While the island itself is incredible, it was the whales I was there for. If you are looking for an experience that is unique, life changing and really gets the heart pumping than swimming with humpback whales in Tonga is the ultimate.

There are few wildlife encounters that allow you to get this up close and personal, while maintaining a respect for the animal and their environment, but in Tonga, they have found a way to peacefully interact with the whales with minimum impact.

Tonga is one of only a few countries in the world where you can actually swim with humpback whales. Swimming with the whales is done so with sensible tourism guidelines and experienced guides to ensure minimal impact on the whales and their environment.

Each year from mid-July to mid-October, Tonga’s serene islands become the resting place for the majestic humpback whales. North of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu are the islands of Ha’apai, a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales from the Antarctic. These calm warm waters of Ha’apai offer refuge for the whales to breed, birth and socialise.

Depending on the weather, mornings at Sea Change begin with a healthy breakfast before heading out on the boat in search of whales. Joined by experienced and knowledgeable guides, swimmers are briefed about the importance of respecting the whales in their space to ensure a safe interaction for both whales and swimmers.

Finding the whales and watching them from the surface is exhilarating to start with. They are everywhere in these waters, but there is a lot of water for them to hide in. Adult humpbacks will surface every 20 minutes, expelling the spent air through their blowholes before gulping down fresh oxygen. Known as a ‘blow’, you can spot these some 3km away, a fine mist that rises above the waves.

The boat races towards a sighting and then waits for the whales to surface again. The vast array of interesting behaviours from the whales include a graceful spy hop, powerful fin or fluke slaps to continual full body breaching and inquisitive approaches to the boat. Add to this the use of a hydrophone (waterproof microphone) to listen to the magical whale love songs and the experience above the water in incredible.

The moment had come to dive beneath the surface into some of the bluest clear waters. Swimming towards the whales I did not know what to expect. I tried to remain calm as to not impact on them with my arrival. This was hard. I was soon upon a resting mother humpback whale while her calf playfully swims nearby. Trying to keep the legal distance from the whales can be challenging, with the young whales often keen to come up and investigate the swimmers. As these beautiful creature glide past you, majestic and curious, it is hard to contain the rush of emotions. I had to contain my squeals of excitement.

As the baby whale curiously came closer, it was as if I could reach out and touch her. She touched me though, through a fleeting moment of eye contact where I felt I looked into the depths of the ocean in that one moment. I went to jelly, unable to swim, just floating as this incredible animal glided past me and sank off into the depths to its mother once again.

It was a moment I will remember for a lifetime as I strive to ensure my everyday life from here forward will be conscious of decisions that can impact on the ocean and the very lives of these majestic beasts.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Tonga swimming with humpback whales, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by Majestic Whale Encounters, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE (JULY ISSUE) – A whale of a time

CAPTURED TRAVELFlight Review – Fiji Airways – Brisbane to Nukualofa (Tonga)

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Discover the Kingdom of Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Majestic Whale Encounters Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Hotel Review – Scenic Hotel Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Hotel Review – Seachange Eco Lodge

WHERE WILD THINGS ROAM – Roam underwater with Tonga’s humpback whales

TRAVEL MONITOR

If you want to get involved with the conservation of whales in Tonga, please do get in touch with me. Where Wild Things Roam has launched special whale conservation tours. If you are interested or wanted more information, please email hello@wherewildthingsroamtravel.com.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Trekking Rwanda’s Gorillas

Trekking Rwanda's Gorillas

Kate Webster ventures deep into Rwanda’s forests in search of the rare mountain gorillas.

It is hard work trekking gorillas, but every aching muscle, bruise, scratch and bump are worth the pain for time with these endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda consists of 125 km2 of mountain forest and the six Virunga Volcanoes. The lush forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking.

The mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered ape and are found only in small portions of protected afro Montane forests in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Known as troops, the gorillas live in communities or families of up to 30 individuals. They are led by one dominant, older adult male, known as the silverback because of the band of silver hair down his back, which is otherwise dark fur.

Read the full article here.

Rwanda: raw, reconciled and reunited

Gorilla Rwanda

From past to present, everything about this African country really inspired me, leaving me with a fire in my soul to want to be a better person and do better in the world.

After an epic set of flights (which took me from Gold Coast – Melbourne – Perth – Johannesburg – Kigali) I finally stepped foot in an African country I had not yet been, Rwanda.

Things didn’t exactly start smoothly, as I had opted for the ‘pay by EFTPOS card’ option for my visa on arrival at Kigali Airport. The machines were down and after being escorted out of the terminal by airport guard to a nearby ATM machine only to learn that was also not working, I was having to talk my way into the country already. Tip – just take the USD50 cash it costs for an entry visa.

Heading into Kigali my first impressions (and a sentiment that stuck with me to the end of the journey in fact) is you could be mistaken for being in a different country when visiting Rwanda. Forget the raw, authentic and traditional Africa. There is no bustling streets throwing up dust and muck, there is no excited chaos about the groups of people that congregate around street corners and there is no feeling of having to watch your back every two minutes.

It is unlike other African countries, maybe even unlike any other country in the world. The roads are impeccably maintained, rubbish is nearly non-existent and the feeling of safety is strong.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the excitement of Africa in its beautiful chaos, but it was slightly refreshing to see a different Africa. A progressive Africa that is quickly moving forward, that is considerate of the environment and conservation, that values the expression of arts and culture and where things are going well.

My first day exploring Kigali taught me it was a long and painful road to get to this point however.

Unfortunately, many of us in the rest of the world know very little about what happened in Rwanda and think we do from the stories we are told through movies like Hotel Rwanda. Yes, some insight can be gained from such a movie, but true to Hollywood form, it is a story of heroics that I am to learn were very misplaced.

A phrase commonly uttered on the clean streets of Rwanda is “love means forgiveness”. If you know anything about Rwanda’s history, you will understand the importance Rwandans place on forgiveness. Love and forgiveness have been the driving force behind the country’s astounding progress and development following the tragic events that occurred in 1994.

The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Over a 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as many as 70 percent of the Tutsi population.

Without delving too much into the past, it was a horrific time for Rwandans. A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a better insight into Rwanda’s harrowing past. Thirty-two-year-old Lydie Mutesi guided me around the memorial. She would have been eight years old at the time of the genocide, just a child. Now a mother with children herself, at times she paused to regain composure, the pain still evident in her recollections.

“It will always hurt, but we have to move on,” she confessed.

I had a dying urge to just hug her and any other Rwandan I came across since. Taking some time to absorb the immense emotions that overcame me, I moved to a quieter part of the memorial grounds. Walking through the memorial stirs chilling emotions while reading stories of the lives lost and the survivor’s despair, tragedy and courage as panicked silent screams ring out in deafening imagery. The memorial’s simplicity allows the drama of the story to have maximum impact.

Both sides of the conflict have learned how to ask forgiveness as well as forgive their aggressors and now work beside each other in rebuilding their communities. They have fallen in love with each other and even started families together. Such an inspirational story of reconciliation and reunification is remarkable to learn from and witness first-hand.

It was a tough day and introduction to Rwanda but I felt it was important to honour the victims and survivors today.

Trying to lift the sadness from the experience, I looked towards where Rwanda is today. Ever since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Not only in reconciliation and forgiveness from that fateful event, but in development and conservation. If there ever was a country that the rest of the world can aspire to, it would be Rwanda.

The name Rwanda literally means ‘expanding’, and its capital city, Kigali, takes meaning from something large, fitting for a country that has grown so much in the past 24 years and continues to propel forward.

The sense of community is strong, and everyone is involved in sustaining the country’s movement. I am delighted to learn about Umuganda, where every last Saturday of the month everyone does community work, regardless of status, to clean and look after the environment. I applaud Rwanda for such a thing and wished more countries in the world adopted this approach.

Moving beyond the city skylines, I headed out into the countryside. Known as the “land of a thousand hills”, green is a word that best describes Rwanda. Not only green in colour, with the rich rolling hills that are ever present on the horizon, but green on sustainability and conservation.

Single-use plastic bags are illegal in the entire country and will be confiscated upon arrival. Once again, my mind is blown to think an entire country can adhere to this when Australia recently had a meltdown when plastic bags were banned in just two supermarket chains. I had this sense of embarrassment wash over me.

Due to this effective ban and other factors, Rwanda was ranked number three of the greenest destinations of the world in 2015. Dubbed the Singapore of Africa, you can clearly see why the moment you arrive in Kigali – it is astonishingly clean by any standards.

In addition to the environment care is the conservation of the wildlife and national parks. Famous for their mountain gorillas, Rwanda has put a lot of effort into conservation to protect these precious primates.

The mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered ape and are found only in small portions of protected afro Montane forests in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

I have trekked in Uganda to see gorillas, so I was quite keen to see the difference here in Rwanda. I learn that today nearly half of the world’s 1000 remaining mountain gorillas live at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa.

The destination – Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Consisting of 125 km2 of mountain forest and the six Virunga Volcanoes, the lush forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking.

As the morning sun rose and filtered across the mountains, the mist slowly lifted like a curtain to unveil the main performance, the gorillas. It is easy to see why Dian’s description of ‘Gorillas in the mist’ is fitting.

A permit with set you back USD$1500, of which the money is put straight back into the protection and conservation of the gorillas. It is advisable to hire a porter for your trek, not only for the unfailing assistance as your trek and climb, but to help fund a living to the once poachers that pilfered the national park. It gives them incentive to stay on the anti-poaching path.

Beginning the exhilarating climb to the gorillas’ natural habitat starts off easy and you could be mistaken that you are in for a walk in the park. The stroll soon turns into a struggle as the forest thickens and before you know it, you are fighting with the dense undergrowth one foot-strangling step at a time.

The battle with the vegetation is worth it. Nothing can prepare you for the impact of emotions encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors.

I spent time with the largest gorilla family in the park, the Kwitonda family, which means humbled in Kinyarwanda. To spend the hour with this family was truly humbling. A mother clutched her new-born baby as its wide eyes darted around exploring her surroundings from the safety of her mother’s arms, before heavily dropping into sleep. Nearby the children of the family played in boisterous bursts and rolling acrobatics. The silverback laid sprawled out, looking relaxed but always aware of everything that is going on. There was a real sense of family, each gorilla with their own personality and place.

Later I am to learn that the very baby gorilla I watched adoringly was to be named Urugori in the annual Kwita Izina. Urugori is a crown woman in Rwanda wear as a symbol of motherhood and also a sign of respect of women in the Rwandan culture. The name was chosen as a tribute to the mother of the baby gorilla “Kibyeyi” who is a prolific female in the Kwitonda family. The ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby has been part of Rwandan culture for centuries and is known as Kwita Izina. This tradition has been passed on to the gorilla families.

The ceremony’s main goal is in helping monitor each individual gorilla and their groups in their natural habitat. This year saw the presentation of the names chosen for 21 gorillas born in the past year. The theme of this year’s Kwita Izina was “Conservation is Life,” and the activities in the lead up to the naming ceremony included community projects, educational programs, the “Conversation on Conservation” workshop and an exhibition.

Baby gorilla names were chosen by a variety of participants at the ceremony, including Rwandan and international officials, local and international conservationists, business leaders, sports personalities, musicians and others.

As a result of conservation efforts such as Kwita Izina, the population of the endangered mountain gorilla has increased to 604 in 2016 in the Virunga Massif compared to 480 in 2010. The Virunga Massif is comprised of Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Mountain gorilla numbers in the entire area had fallen as low as 242 in 1981.

To protect anything, you have to care about it, and to care, you have to know that it’s there. When you need to conserve, one of the most important things is education. Nobody is going to fight for it unless they understand it and feel it. To experience the Rwanda’s gorillas, to feel the emotions of the Rwandan people and to understand a country that has fought and come so far was a memory that will be etched in my heart and deep in my soul for years to come. As is an undying urge to protect more, care more and forgive more.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Rwanda, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by Rwanda Development Board and Visit Rwanda, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

MindFood Magazine – Forgiveness and Love

Roam – Where Wild Things Roam Magazine – Issue 2 – Focus on Rwanda

Where Wild Things Roam – Rwanda’s getting conservation right

Where Wild Things Roam – Trekking Rwanda

Travelling Solo – Going Solo in Rwanda

Travel Monitor  – SAA Flight Review

Travel Monitor – How to Sell Rwanda

Africa Encompassed – Hotel Review – Serena Kigali

Africa Encompassed – Hotel Review – Moriah Hill Resort

Africa Encompassed – Hotel Review – Akagera Lodge

Africa Encompassed – Rwanda’s Akagera National Park

Africa Encompassed – Rwanda’s rainforest paradise in Nyungwe

Africa Encompassed – Rwanda Encompassed

Africa Encompassed – Kwita Izina

Africa Encompassed – Rwanda engages in conversations on conservation

Captured Travel – Rwanda Conservation Events

Captured Travel – Best of Rwanda

Captured Travel – Rwanda a rising destination for luxury

If you want to get involved with the conservation of gorillas in Rwanda, please do get in touch with me. Where Wild Things Roam has launched special gorilla conservation tours. If you are interested or wanted more information, please email hello@wherewildthingsroamtravel.com.

MiNDFOOD MAGAZINE: Forgiveness & Love

MiNDFOOD MAGAZINE

Published in the October Issue of MiNDFOOD Magazine is my article on Rwanda. From past to present, this African country inspires and will leave you with a want to be a better person and do better in the world.

You could be mistaken for being in a different country when visiting Rwanda. Forget the raw, authentic and traditional Africa. It is unlike other African countries, maybe even unlike any other country in the world. The roads are impeccably maintained, rubbish is nearly non-existent and the feeling of safety is strong.

It was slightly refreshing to see a different Africa. A progressive Africa that is quickly moving forward, that is considerate of the environment and conservation, that values the expression of arts and culture and where things are going well.

It was a long and painful road to get to this point however.

Painful past

A phrase commonly uttered on the clean streets of Rwanda is “love means forgiveness”. If you know anything about Rwanda’s history, you will understand the importance Rwandans place on forgiveness. Love and forgiveness have been the driving force behind the country’s astounding progress and development following the tragic events that occurred in 1994.

The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Over a 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as many as 70 percent of the Tutsi population.

This widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended when the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame, took control of the country. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.

The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, a conflict begining in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule.

This led to waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. The “Hutu Power” ideology was born as many Hutus reacted with extreme opposition. On 6 April 1994, an aeroplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali. The assassination of Habyarimana ended the peace accords and the genocidal killings began the following day.

The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighbouring countries. As a result of rapes during this time, HIV infection spiked, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. Infrastructure was destroyed, and the severe de-population of the country crippled the economy.

A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a better insight into Rwanda’s harrowing past. Thirty-two-year-old Lydie Mutesi guided me around the memorial. She would have been eight years old at the time of the genocide, just a child. Now a mother with children herself, at times she paused to regain composure, the pain still evident in her recollections.

“It will always hurt, but we have to move on,” she confessed.

Taking some time to absorb the immense emotions that overcame me, I moved to a quieter part of the memorial grounds. Walking through the memorial stirs chilling emotions while reading stories of the lives lost and the survivor’s despair, tragedy and courage as panicked silent screams ring out in deafening imagery. The memorial’s simplicity allows the drama of the story to have maximum impact.

Both sides of the conflict have learned how to ask forgiveness as well as forgive their aggressors and now work beside each other in rebuilding their communities. They have fallen in love with each other and even started families together. Such an inspirational story of reconciliation and reunification is remarkable to learn from and witness first-hand.

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ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Safari for a cause in South Africa

Safari with a cause in South Africa

Kate Webster takes you into the South African bush to experience a hands-on wildlife conservation project with the endangered rhinoceros.

It’s a cold morning in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa, and despite the fact I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes in the chill, the adrenaline was pumping through my veins.

It wasn’t my first time in Africa, nor on a game safari. I have been lucky enough to spend many hours in the bush, tracking wildlife and admiring it from the safety of a vehicle. This time was different though.

I had been briefed about the mission – to go track rhino and take part in the conservation efforts of the Anti Poaching Unit (APU) in South Africa. The members risk their lives every day in the efforts to protect the most vulnerable of wildlife. In this instance, the rhinoceros.

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My time saving rhino in Africa

Rhino Conservation Madikwe

It’s not everyday you get to do something with your life that makes such a profound difference. This particular day, in the cold of a May morning in the bushveld in Madikwe Game Reserve, I did.

It was a cold morning in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa, and despite the fact I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes in the chill, the adrenalin was pumping through my veins. In fact, my face was numb as we drove through the morning mist, bouncing along the rough terrain in the open air vehicle.

It wasn’t my first time in Africa, nor on a game safari. It was actually my second time visiting Madikwe Game Reserve. It was in this very place I first stepped foot in the African bush. You could say, it is where my love of Africa was first born. Some 12 visits to South Africa since, and I have been lucky enough to spend many hours in the bush, tracking wildlife and admiring it from the safety of a vehicle.

This time was different though.

I had been briefed about the mission – to go track rhino and take part in the conservation efforts of the Anti Poaching Unit (APU) in South Africa. The members risk their lives every day in the efforts to protect the most vulnerable of wildlife. In this instance, the rhinoceros. I was in awe and admiration of these men. While I sat in the safety of my home back in Australia, sharing my dislike about rhino poaching across my social media and in conversations with friends, here were these men out in the field, actually doing something practical to help.

It is no new news that rhinos are in grave danger of poaching. Every year their numbers are dropping as they are illegally hunted in reserves across Africa. I had heard horror stories of the ways in which these poachers operated.

I remember witnessing the capture of two men in Uganda in 2017, where they unpacked and displayed the tonnes of elephant ivory onto tarps laid in the car park of the Uganda Wildlife Association Headquarters. The sight made me sick to my core. Such unnecessary slaughter of animals.

One of the ways the APU are fighting the war on poaching is to create a precise biological record of each rhino, which maximises the chances of a successful prosecution of smugglers and poachers, and thereby acts as a deterrent.

I was told there had recently been a prosecution in a nearby reserve in which a poacher had received a 29-year prison sentence, his fate sealed by the irrefutable biological evidence trail back to a specific rhino. It is a process that is working.

As I sit in the back of the vehicle heading out into the bush, I go over the requirements in my mind. My phone and camera had already been disarmed from recording any GPS locations. Due to the sensitivity of the APU members and for their security, no photos were to show their faces or give up their identity.

I arrived at the drop off site and met with the APU members and the vet who would be responsible for the safety of the rhino. There was a helicopter on site, which was up in the air within moments, off to locate an untagged rhino and dart it with a tranquilliser. With the vet and the heavily armed ground team, we took off through the bush to the sedated animal.

There in front of me, the female rhino. Her darted rear end begins to do quite the dance, like prancing through the bushveld. After a number of the APU team calmed the rhino and the sedatives kicked in, it was time to approach the animal and begin work.

All hands were on deck trying to complete tasks before the sedatives wore off. Rhino sized ear plugs were placed in her ears and a towel over her eyes to ensure minimal stress for the animal. Samples of horn and blood were taken. Her ears were ‘notched’ to create a form of identification by half circles clipped from the side of her ears. Next, a drill is produced, just like one you would use to drill into a piece of wood, and the team go to work drilling into her horn. Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in hair, fingernails, and animal hooves, so the drilling does not hurt the rhino. A microchip was then inserted and a spot of wood glue used to seal it over.

Once the procedure was over, the vet injected the rhino with an agent to reverse the sedation and I quickly jumped back in the vehicle, a safer vantage point. The rhino awoke almost instantly, lumbering off through the bush as if nothing had happened.

To see that rhino return safely to the bush, knowing that it’s chance of survival had been increased and the overall survival of the species increased, was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in Africa. I admit, I was a little emotional after the whole experience.

In Madikwe, this initiative is funded largely by visitors to the reserve’s various lodges, who make donations which are dedicated entirely to that purpose.

Talking with the APU team, they suggested I pick up a copy of ‘Killing for Profit’ for some future reading to further open my eyes to the war on poaching. So far I am half way through the book and it disturbs me to say the least.

If you want to get involved with the conservation of rhinos in South Africa, please do get in touch with me. Where Wild Things Roam has launched special rhino conservation tours. If you are interested or wanted more information, please email hello@wherewildthingsroamtravel.com.