The word 'safari' means journey and comes from the Swahili word 'kusafari' (to travel). But for so many of us who live and breathe Africa, it's meaning is so much deeper. What does 'safari' mean to you?
To me it's being in the wild among animals of all types roaming free. It's being in a big, comfortable safari tent listening to the animals and birds outside through the canvas and mosquito net walls. It's big, bold sunsets and striking silhouettes of ancient trees. It's the smell of campfire smoke. It's the bright wide smile of my local guide. It's the bright red colour of Maasai shukas as they herd cattle while zebras graze nearby. It's the drumming and singing of African voices. It's a hot cuppa tea just after dawn as I sit up in bed and listen to the dawn chorus of birds as the sun rises. It's spending time with like-minded people from all over the world, sharing stories over a sundowner and feeling humbled by big landscapes and nature in all its glory. And of course, it's always been for me those iconic creatures - elephants, lions, giraffes, rhinos, hippos - that are so unique to Africa.
Photo: Sunset in the Outback of Queensland, Australia (credit Tammie Matson)
COVID-19 has forced all of us to be resilient and adapt. For me it's been a time to think hard over the past months about what constitutes a safari and what makes it so magical, while dearly missing the continent that is my second home and doing all we can to support our friends in Africa. But being in northern Australia, based in Cairns, for a winter season (the best time of year up here in the tropics) has been a blessing in disguise because for several years Andy and I have talked about recreating the idea of a safari in Australia and, this year, we've finally done it. Weeks spent exploring, meeting amazing people, finding the right standard of accommodation that also gives back to conservation and communities, learning heaps about birds and wallabies and finding those little secret places that make our tours extra special and exclusive have paid off. My Great Australian Safari, combining the Outback, Reef and Rainforest, is now ready to go and I am really excited to share it with you!
Photo: Saltwater crocodile (Tammie Matson)
Originally I had planned to run the first one in late August/early September this year, but due to uncertainty around the Queensland border remaining open to NSW, having already closed to our friends in Victoria, we've decided to plan for next June. If you haven't already, please register your interest for our Great Australian Safari next winter. Here's the details.
Like our African safaris, group sizes will be limited from a minimum of 8 to a maximum of 12. In 2-3 of our own comfortable, private 4x4s, each seating up to 4 guests, we kick off our journey in Cairns. I'll be joined by local guide, bird guru and photographer extraordinaire Kelvin Marshall to start our tour by showing you the ancient World Heritage Daintree Rainforest. Check out Kelvin's amazing wildlife photography here. You'll learn tonnes about the rich flora and fauna of the region while in this amazing, energy-reviving region, and we'll also be searching for elusive, highly endangered cassowaries, one of the 'Big Five' of Queensland! We'll explore the Daintree River by boat at sunset, discovering Saltwater Crocodiles and a huge range of bird life, and will be introduced to the local Kuku-Yalanji culture, a rare and very special glimpse into the 'rainforest people' of this region who have lived in harmony with this land for many decades.
Photo credit: Adult male cassowary and his chicks by Kelvin Marshall
Then it's off for a day visit to the Great Barrier Reef where you'll be joined by the one and only, Andy Ridley, my other half and also CEO of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. He'll be taking a day off official work to join us at sea to show you one of his favourite parts of the reef and you can also participate in some of the great work being done to restore the reef, planting new corals! Come and see for yourself why the Great Barrier Reef is world famous. We'll have a boat all to ourselves and also our own marine biologist on board. Your safari will be directly contributing to Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef's work on the ground. Read more about their awesome work here.
Credit: Cairns Post. Photo of Andy Ridley, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef.
Then, as if this journey can't get any better, we're going to drive you over the picturesque Atherton Tablelands into the savannah lands of the Outback, transporting you into yet another world. At Kinrara Station, a cattle station owned and run by the O'Brien family, you will kick back at a unique and very comfortable safari tented camp right on the edge of a vast, volcanic lake, where wildlife abounds.
Pretty-face wallabies and Antillopine wallaroos frequent the camp and happily pick at the short green grass by the tents, while the abundance of birdlife on the lake takes ones breath away. Joined by owner Callum O'Brien, we'll explore the property by canoe, on foot and by vehicle and venture into the neighbouring Kinrara National Park to gain a better understanding of the geology and volcanic history of the region. This is a really epic Australian experience!
Photo: Juvenile pretty-face wallaby (Tammie Matson)
So there you have it in a nutshell - the Great Australian Safari. While we can't get back to Africa it seems like a pretty good nature fix, doesn't it?! If you'd like to register for this safari, planned for June/July next year, please drop me a line now. We are hoping that you'll all be able to join us, both Australians and our guests overseas in Singapore, US and UK too in 2021. Prepare yourself for a real Australian adventure the way only we know how to do it - I look forward to seeing you for a sundowner soon!