Monday, 15 June 2015

My experience at Shamwari Game Reserve

So, this was my first time in South Africa and also my first safari experience. I spent the first four days exploring Cape Town. I then flew onwards with British Airways, operated by Comair to Port Elizabeth in order to continue by car to Shamwari Game Reserve. I was excited about going on a safari, but I didn’t realise how diverse and knowledgeable it could be.

(British Airways, operated by Comair 737-400 after landing at Port Elizabeth, PLZ)

I Chose Shamwari as it offered a very personal and unique experience. Shamwari is 250km and is made up of what used to be over a dozen farms. The reserve is privately managed in comparison to Kruger National Park, managed by the South African Government, Shamwari initially began by sourcing a wide range of animals and plant species that were originally native to the area and releasing them back into the wild habitat.

The reserve caters for a wide range of different markets and budgets. It consists of the explorer camp, which is effectively rural camping as well as 6 lodges varying in styles and finishes. For example Long Lee Manor offers a spa and gym facility, whereas Baythene Lodge consisted of luxury tents. I chose Riverdene Lodge as it is a farmhouse that has been renovated and restored; it provides a warm environment including 9 cosy bedrooms.

(The infinity pool at Riverdene Lodge)

The lodge rates included a buffet breakfast, a 3-course lunch and dinner as well as two game drives per day (This took me a while to figure out, as I did not actually realise that the food was all-inclusive until the end of the first day!). The daily agenda consisted of a game drive each morning (with a group of up to 10 people from your lodge). I received a 6.30am daily wake up call; a group breakfast starting at 7.00am and a firm departure time at 8.00am. Upon return, there was time for lunch and a couple of free hours. At 2.30pm there was afternoon tea with the group, before departing on another game drive at 3.00pm. Each game drive lasted around 3 hours and also consisted of a break halfway through for 15 minutes. This gave you the chance to embrace nature if you needed the toilet, as well as a hot beverage in the morning and a soft or alcoholic beverage in the evening.

(Venison, main course option at dinner one night)

(A glass of Sauvignon Blanc as the sun went down on the first day)

 I thought I was going to be the person laughing at the bird watchers and those people clutching a pair of binoculars. Of course I had been excited to see the animals, especially ‘the big 5’ in a natural environment, and also get some away time from your average day-to-day responsibilities.

However, after just a few mere hours within the Shamwari Private Game Reserve and in the middle of my first game drive I actually started to appreciate learning about the geographical area, starting with the basics such as the different types of plant species and vegetation that grow throughout the reserve, right through to the smaller birds and reptiles that add to the biodiversity. As of then I wish I had bought a book about the native plant species in South Africa. I was also very jealous of those who had been clever enough to pack a pair of binoculars, as they were able to spot different animals and plants at such a distance.

(Giraffe crossing a plain)

In total, I was able to experience 15 hours in the wild, over 5 game drives.  Shamwari made the experience very personal, by making sure that you have the same ranger for each drive. As I visited the reserve off-peak there was an average of 4 lodge guests in a 4x4 game vehicle each day, usually the vehicle can cater for a maximum of 10. This made the experience very personal as we were all able to bond as a group and the ranger knew which animals I wanted to see. (I really really really wanted to see an Elephant!). 

(The game drive vehicle)

The week before had been very wet and rainy, the elephants had moved into the Northern Territory. As most game drives were focused around the southern territory where the majority of animals were located, this had made the elephants hard to track and locate. Luckily, during my time at Shamwari, the weather had begun to improve. On my second day in Shamwari and my third game drive, we were able to locate the elephants and this made me very happy.

(Two males fighting over dominance of the group)

I was very fortunate that it didn’t rain during my time at Shamwari. The month of June falls in the middle of the South African winter. During this season it is renown for a couple of sunny days, followed by a period of rainy days.  The temperature consisted of a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius in the day and lows of 8 degrees Celsius at night. Each morning and evening was cold in the reserve, but I had prepared for this and had packed layers. During the relaxation and lunch hours, the weather was fairly warm, and I even got a slight tan! The weather in my eyes was ideal, as it was unusually dry and warm for the 4 days that I was there (luckily it did not rain at all) Due to the unseasonable weather, the animals were able to roam and were viewable on game drives, compared to when it is either too cold during winter or hot in the South African summer months that the animals hide in the thickets and rest. It also meant that the lodge was not overcrowded and added to the relaxed feelings that I embraced.

(A lioness approaching the game car)

I was very surprised how much I had learnt during my time on safari, the group breakfasts, breaks on game drives and afternoon tea sessions gave me the chance to interact with my fellow peers and we were able to discuss elements of the reserve and the animals within it. For example, on my last game drive, a new couple from Johannesburg had joined our vehicle. They had been on many safaris before, including destinations such as Botswana. They pointed out that the reserve had very few tall trees in comparison to other safari destinations that they had been too. As I was not familiar with the country and game reserves in general, I hadn’t really thought about the trees like that and after they mentioned this I agreed and it got me thinking further about the characteristics of the area.

I now think that a safari experience is more than just seeing animals in a natural environment. I found it interesting to learn about the biodiversity of the reserve and how this affects animals and plants. For example, the Vachellia / Acacia Tortilis is found in the thickets of Shamwari, although the plant has large thorns, both elephants giraffe and many other game animals feed on it. The plant wants animals to feed on it, however it does not want to be overly grazed on. Therefore, when the plant is feeling vulnerable it will change how it tastes and therefore it stops appealing to the animals. This results in the animals not wanting to eat from that particular plant. This then gives the plant a chance to adapt and increase growth.

(Vachellia / Acacia Tortilis - courtesy of Google Images)

Shamwari was everything it appears to be, advertises itself as and more. I would definitely go on another safari, but I would like to go to other destinations such as Kenya and Botswana and other safari offerings in South Africa, such as Kruger National Park beforehand, in order to give a comparison. I feel that if I were a yearly repeat visitor to Shamwari you would not appreciate the wildlife and terrain that is offered.

Monday, 8 September 2014

What is ATOL?

I have been working at the Civil Aviation Authority for just over two months now. When i started it felt strange to be in a proper full time job, with responsibility and a constant workload. But after not even a week, i felt extremely settled and everything became more and more manageable. I have reflected on the two previous months and I have been engaged in so many exciting experiences and opportunities. I think the most important yet simple life lesson I have learnt so far is, 'Always buy travel insurance', something my case officer taught me early on. After dealing with customer enquiries it has become apparent why that is so vital. You never know when your holiday plans aren't going to go exactly the way you planned, and if the company hasn't gone into administration then your travel insurance may be the answer to your prayers.

So what is ATOL?
The Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL) is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority. Travel providers within the UK that sell package holidays abroad are required to hold an ATOL licence in order to provide consumers with protection, this is renewed yearly. However, ATOL does not only protect package holidays, it can also protects dynamically packaged products. This can be shown through  a flight and accommodation / car hire  not booked as package but by the same travel provider within a 24 hour period, this is housed under the flight plus scheme. In some occasions, a flight only sale can be protected, if it has been booked through a travel company holding an ATOL licence and an ATOL certificate has been issued. 

The URL link below leads to a straightforward guide:

By dealing with consumer needs on a day to day basis, I have been grasping the actual concept of the ATOL licence, by many consumers can be thought of as complex and confusing. However in reality many are unaware of the true value in relation to the ATOL licence and what it stands for. The ATOL licence comes into affect when the company the consumer has booked through has ceased trading. This helps protect the consumers who may be currently abroad, as we are able to provide advice and arrange transport to help them return to the UK. It also protects consumers who are due to travel, we are able to provide advice regarding claims and the current situation. 

Dealing with situations like these on a day to day basis can be challenging, but it has helped grow my confidence when dealing with customers and understanding their individual needs.

 Education regarding how consumers understand ATOL licensing is important and vital in order for consumers to 'pack peace of mind' as our slogan says. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Life update

Dear readers,

I apologise for not posting since the start of the academic year. It has certainly been a busy second year at university. This year was different, as usual it was a step up from the year before (as expected). But the school of tourism at BU had also changed over to semesters. This meant that instead of having 6 units run throughout the university year, I studied 3 units intensely followed by the winter break, and then 6 new units. It was both good and bad. I felt that it was good as it meant everything was fast paced (I find this more motivating), but as we were the first year experimenting it, it also meant that some of the unit topics were rushed and therefore sometimes i felt under-prepared and had to carry out extra reading and guidance to feel confident again. All on all it was a good year! 

I think my favourite unit was 'managing people', basically, it was a unit that was central around human resources. This unit was a coursework only module, which meant it was easy to apportion time to projects and plan out when certain parts of the essay's needed to be done by in order to stay on track. I undertook other modules too, such as financial reporting, research methods (useful for my dissertation in my final year), tourism development and planning as well as continuing on with Spanish. 

One of the modules within my second semester was 'operations management' i was highly intrigued with this unit and thoroughly enjoyed it. This included learning about the aviation industry and cruising industry, both of which I think are very interesting. This included learning about ATOL licences which are managed and certified by the Civil Aviation Authority. ATOL licences protect consumers when they purchase travelling components, such as a package holiday. However, after a number of reforms there are now multiple types of ATOL licences for different purposes, for example, flight only and flight plus schemes, in order to make ATOL more flexible.

I am pleased to announce that I have secured a placement within the Consumer Protection Group of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), that deals with ATOL licensing. I will be starting a week today! 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Happy is not the word

The traffic on the blog this week has been phenomenal, and I found myself wondering why it had suddenly sparked up so much, little did I know, Bournemouth University (where I study Tourism Management) had mentioned me on there course overview as I wrote a post on the course trip we took to Jersey at the end of 2012, how delightful! 

Cropped from Bournemouth Uni's website, below is the link.