On a Sustainability Safari in Zimbabwe that Helps Saves Lives
When is going on safari in one of Africa’s greatest game reserves more than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be where the wild things are? When it also lets you make a tangible positive impact on the survival of tens of thousands of elephants, other endangered wildlife, and local villages.
They are called donor safaris – opportunities for paying guests to add a commitment to giving back as part of the cost of their experience. I’ll be co-leading one next June in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park (of Cecil the Lion fame) to help raise funds for sustainable solar hybrid water pumps for wildlife and drinking water for local villages in and around this country’s largest and oldest game reserve.
How did a travel writer become a donor safari leader? It began in 2015 when I first visited Hwange, home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations, to learn and write about its unique conservation challenges.
During the harsh dry season, thirsty elephants compete for scarce water in this unforgiving land with no rivers flowing through it and few other natural water sources. Hwange’s elephants, now numbering nearly 50,000, have long depended, as have many villages surrounding the park, on water artificially pumped from underground boreholes using diesel engines. But they are dirty, unreliable and expensive to maintain. Solar hybrid pumps offer an environmentally cleaner, more sustainable and ultimately more cost-effective alternative, but are comparatively costly to purchase and install.
That’s where donors can help. It was during this 2015 tour of Hwange with Butch Butcher, whose company, Imvelo Safari Lodges, funds and maintains several of Hwange’s watering hole pumps, that I first got the idea to raise funds for solar hybrid alternatives. I wrote several articles based on my visit, including this feature for the San Francisco Chronicle, that touched upon the issue. Then I decided to create Water For Hwange, a website dedicated to raising awareness, and ultimately donor funding, for solar hybrid water pumps.
In early 2018, I returned to Hwange, again on assignment. By then, Seattle’s Wildland Adventures had come aboard, creating this GoFundMe page and spearheading our joint efforts to secure a major Adventure Conservation Fund grant. Partnering with Imvelo, Wildland also created the first Water For Hwange donor safari, scheduled for June 2019. Part of each participant’s fee will go directly toward helping keep Hwange’s water flowing more sustainably.
The safari sold out in just weeks, and Wildland invited me to co-lead it along with Imvelo’s Mark Butcher. We plan to make it an annual opportunity for conservation-minded travelers to make a difference and see exactly how their donations are changing lives and conserving wildlife while enjoying the safari of their lives.
The feature story I’m proposing will chronicle how by participating in a donor safari you can make a real difference, helping to sustain wildlife and indigenous communities in one of Africa’s oldest and most magnificent national parks - one that is world renowned as one of the last great refuges of the African elephant. Through reportage, interviews and first-person narrative, I will explore this unique opportunity to be immersed into a symbiosis of incredible wildlife viewing, village life, community development, and hands-on conservation efforts.
Accompanied by rangers and scientists on the front lines of wildlife protection, our group will venture far beyond game drives and Big Five photo ops to understand the challenges and opportunities inherent in safeguarding wildlife and securing better lives for local people who used to struggle with elephants that ate their crops and lions that killed their livestock. I believe this inspirational adventure travel conservation story can help enlighten and inspire readers.
Machu Picchu too Crowded? Try Explora Valle Sagrado
When travelers think of Peru, Machu Picchu and Cuzco come to mind. But both have become clogged with tourists in recent years. To reach them, many people pass through the Valle Sagrado, a fertile river valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks that once formed the epicentre of the Incan empire deep in the heart of Peru's Andean highlands. Here, ancient agricultural terraces still in use today supply Cusco with much of its produce such as maize, fruit and vegetables, and many beautiful Incan ruins like Ollantaytambo, Moray, Chinchero and Pisac receive far fewer visitors than nearby Machu Picchu or Cuzco.
I’m proposing a travel feature focusing on this fascinating region of Peru. I’ll explore it by foot, mountain bike and horseback from my base at Explora Valle Sagrado, the latest member of the Chilean based all-inclusive adventure hotel family famous for offering luxe yet immersive off-grid experiences in remote landscapes like Patagonia, Easter Island and the Atacama Desert. Opened in 2017, the Explora Valle Sagrado is tucked away in one of the Sacred Valley’s most secluded haciendas, next to the tiny village of Urquillos and close to many of the area’s most important Inca settlements. In line with Explora’s other properties, its mission is to enhance our relationship with nature, grafting sustainably designed hotels into the most remote landscapes, and opening up places previously available only to hardcore trekkers.
One Week in Hokkaido: How to Experience Japan’s Winter Wonderland
The mountainous, volcano-studded island of Hokkaido is Japan’s wild frontier, especially in winter, when the snow seldom steps falling and adventurous locals embrace the outdoors. One of the country’s largest yet least-populated regions, Hokkaido is home to the indigenous Ainu culture and some of the country’s oldest national parks, as well as world-class powder skiing in resorts like Niseko. But even if you're not a skier, there is still plenty to see and do in Japan's winter wonderland.
I’m proposing a roundup of some of Hokkaido’s top winter outdoor activities. They range from heli-skiing in the wilderness near Niseko and backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in gorgeous Mt. Asahidake National Parkto hot air ballooning and paragliding over spectacular wilderness terrain. I’ll also cover more mellow winter activities like canoeing the icy Kushiro river, crane watching near Shibetsu town, and soaking in traditional wilderness hot springs called onsens. Plus, insider accommodation and dining recommendations in Sapporo, Niseko and Furano.
Snowpine Lodge introduces the next level of luxury to Utah’s ski scene
Nestled within a pristine valley, Snowpine Lodge is poised to become a game-changer for the ski resort of Alta, Utah when it opens January 2019. Offering a new, luxury experience far different from the other options in Alta, it is located on the site of the oldest building in Little Cottonwood Canyon, dating back to the 1870s, and the original 1941 Snowpine Lodge. The new Snowpine’s opening also coincides with the opening of an adjacent semi-private ski lift, making Snowpine the only ski-in/ski-out luxury resort in the area.
Completely restored from the ground up, the new alpine retreat will offer modern-day amenities with nods to its historic past. Featuring 59 rooms and suites, it will also offer a scenic slope-side heated pool, hot tubs, spa facility boasting multiple treatment rooms, indoor grotto, fitness center, oxygen bar, game and movie rooms, fire pits, ski lockers, event space, gourmet restaurant, casual bar and more. I’m proposing a review of Utah’s newest luxury ski resort.
Back on the Luxury Map
Pummeled by 2017’s hurricanes, the popular Caribbean islands of Anguilla and St. Martin are making a comeback led by luxury hotel proprietor Belmond.
Located Anguilla, Belmond Cap Juluca is a sanctuary for total escapism located just steps from the pristine white sandy shores of Maundays Bay. After a $121 million investment, the resort will introduce a new era of beach-chic glamour and laid-back luxury to the island - fresh and healthy dining options with vegan-friendly menus, an infinity-edge pool overlooking the bay, authentic Arawak Spa and a complete redesign of the Main House that makes the most of the incredible views and location.
Located on St. Martin overlooking Baie Longue’s mile-long white sands, Belmond La Samanna has just completed a $25M renovation and will be ready to welcome guests from December 10, 2018. Belmond La Samanna offers the best of both worlds – a stylish private beach and spa oasis that embodies the island’s classic French spirit. In that vein, the property is home to the historic La Cave Wine Cellar, the largest private wine cellar in the Caribbean. I’m proposing a story on how the relaunch of these two luxe hotels is leading the tourism recovery on two of the Caribbean’s most coveted luxury travel destinations.
Wild Alaska By Sea
Kenai Fjords National Park proves that small can beautiful, even in America’s land of titanic natural wonders.
It may be the smallest in the state, but Kenai Fjords National Park punches far above its weight when it comes to distilling the essence of wild coastal Alaska in one accessible place. Icefields and glaciers up to a mile thick. Tentacular fjords hiding hundreds of bays and coves. A rugged coastline patrolled by bald eagles, peregrine falcons and tens of thousands of clown-faced puffins. Nearly impenetrable forests and mountain ranges where black bears, mountain goats, wolves and wolverines roam. All bordered by often stormy seas containing harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and sea otters.
I’m proposing a travel feature about experiencing this breathtaking national park in its late summer prime. Created in 1980 in part to protect its star attraction – the vast 936-square-mile Harding Icefield – Kenai Fjords is marking the 100th anniversary of famed American artist Rockwell Kent’s arrival on Fox Island, where Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge is located. Accessible only by boat, this secluded luxury retreat is the perfect base for kayaking, boating and hiking adventures into this heart of Alaska’s most beautiful coastal region.