You know what they say about that travel bug … once it’s bitten you, you never recover! Armidale resident Abbey Lawlor says she has a never-ending bucket list of places she’d like to visit, but her African holiday allowed her to tick off quite a few items.
Experiencing elephants, rhinos, lions and buffalo, camping out in the wild, sharing new foods and learning about different cultures … Abbey shares her adventure, and tells us where she hopes to jet off to next!
Hi Abbey. What’s your background in the New England area?
Armidale has always been home for me, living just out of town with my siblings, Claire and Harrison and with Mum and Dad. We have a large extended family in the area, which has meant never a dull moment.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit with my family and friends. I work with a great team at Yarm Gwanga Childcare Centre in Armidale, and I’m studying as well. I have a great group of adventurous friends, so there is always fun to be had.
You were fortunate enough to enjoy a holiday in Africa – which is a “bucket list” destination for many people! What parts of this continent did you visit?
During this tour, starting and finishing in Johannesburg, we travelled in a 4WD overland vehicle. We were lucky enough to visit four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, including the Okavango Delta, Caprivi Strip, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Matobo National Park and Kruger National Park.
How long were you away on this trip, and who were your travelling companions?
I travelled with my younger brother, Harrison. We were travelling for three weeks, which included a seventeen day “Best of Southern Africa” tour with “Gecko Adventures”, now operated by “Intrepid”.
Whilst on the tour, we met many people from the UK, Sweden, Germany, America, Canada and a few Australians, as well as our vehicle driver, Siya from South Africa and tour guide, Robert from Zimbabwe.
Many talk about seeing the “Big Five” when they refer to African animals – especially if they enjoy a safari experience. What wildlife did you experience while you were away?
We were fortunate enough to experience four of the big five: elephants, rhinos, a lioness and buffalo. During a Mokoro (dugout canoe) ride through the Okavango Delta, we experienced tracking a wild elephant on foot, with the polers guiding us through the scrub. This was an amazing experience, which gave us a true appreciation of how amazing these animals are in their own environment.
We had two close encounters with rhinos, one at the Karma Rhino Sanctuary on our first driving safari, where we saw a group of three rhinos; this was the first of many more animal encounters. The other was an on-foot tracking experience in Namibia, where we were able to walk through the Motobos National Park with a local guide, and find and observe a baby and mother rhino from a very close distance.
During this time we were told about the impact that poaching has on the population of rhinos. The Matobo National Park have rangers working 24 hours a day to help protect against the poachers.
During a safari in Hawange National Park, we followed a lioness for quite some time. While we were following and observing the lioness, she began to follow a group of zebras; however, she did not follow through with an attempt of an attack and rested under a tree instead.
We also experienced seeing many other animals, such as hippos, crocodiles, impalas, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, monkeys, warthogs and vultures.
What struck you most about the people and different cultures you experienced while away?
I found the people of Africa to be extremely connected to their heritage and to the earth. Even the youth have strong beliefs, but are still interested in the rest of the world and understand the importance of education.
During a village tour at the Caprivi Strip, we saw how the people who seem to have so little are still so contented and welcoming.
You no doubt enjoyed many experiences while in Africa, but what were a couple of highlights you definitely recommend others try?
Both the scenic flight over the Okavango Delta and helicopter flight over Victoria Falls, as well as exploring Victoria falls by foot were a few of my favourite moments and definitely recommended.
Camping in National Parks with no barrier between us and the animals, listening to the animals from the tent of a night was an incredible way to experience Africa.
When driving through Kruger National Park, we had to wait with a few other vehicles while a herd of elephants crossed the road close to us; this was a definite highlight.
What were some of the challenges (if any) you faced on your trip? Many travellers recount tales of lost luggage, mixed up bookings, extreme weather … How did you fare in this regard?
We were fortunate enough not to have any dreaded travel mishaps. A very expensive meal in Johannesburg before we had the currency under control was a good lesson, but also a good laugh.
What was the favourite new food/drink you tried while on this trip?
Our tour guide cooked up some wonderful traditional meals. Pap (a cornmeal porridge) served with peanut butter cabbage sounds terrible, but was one of my favourite meals by the camp fire in Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe.
What’s the favourite souvenir you brought home from your African holiday?
Dad was in Africa 30 years ago and bought a hand carved stone statue of a tribal man. I managed to buy a matching sculpture of a tribal lady. They have pride of place on the shelf at home.
If you could share one piece of advice with others planning to travel to Africa, what would it be?
Just do it! Book through an agent, who can help you tailor your trip to your needs. Harrison and I were really happy to camp and experience Africa up close, but there are many other options available. Your guides will look after you.
Now the “travel bug” has well and truly bitten you … where do you hope to travel to next?
I’ve recently returned from a road trip adventure in a Wicked Camper with my friend Mel (and Claire joined us towards the end). We drove from Darwin to Broome and down to Perth, with many amazing stops and experiences along the way. Swimming with Whale Sharks was a definite highlight!
I’m off to the Cook Islands in February with five friends and trying to organise a mid-year adventure with my family. Morocco is also on my never-ending bucket list.
Thanks Abbey. Happy travels!
Interview: Jo Robinson.