Trek Talk - ElderTreks Blog


“I will never be the same again”.

Those were the words of Chelsey Crossland, Operations Manager of ElderTreks, following her encounter with mountain gorillas on a recent Gorilla Trekking adventure to Uganda and Rwanda. But this was only one of many amazing experiences she had as part of this trek, and well worth the challenging hike to track and observe these magnificent apes in the wild.

“Wild” is the right adjective to describe Uganda, because although it may not compare to Kenya or Tanzania when it comes to sheer density of wildlife, Uganda has over 500 species of mammals in the country, making it one of the most diverse destinations when it comes to African game viewing.  Elephants, giraffes, hippos, over 1000 species of birds, and even tree-climbing lions can all be found here. 

Uganda's Tree-climbing Lions

And since the white rhino has been re-introduced through the efforts of the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the ‘Big Five’ are all here again, so you can check all of them off your safari bucket list, too. But without a doubt, the headliners in this country are the gorillas. 

Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas, and is one of the few places in the world where you have the opportunity to view these great apes in their natural environment.  We’ll have to go to where the gorillas live, and the trek is part of the thrill of the adventure, making the reward of seeing them so much better.

Highly social in nature, mountain gorillas live in multi-generational groups, and watching their interactions with each other is unlike any other wildlife viewing experience. If you are lucky, you might visit a group with young babies, as Chelsey did, who witnessed the maternal love demonstrated by a mother gorilla while cuddling her newborn baby, making for a memory to treasure forever.  Or you may see a great silverback male assert his dominance within the group by mediating a conflict, or alternatively, become the centre of attention for youngsters who often include their Alpha leader in their games.  

These gorilla encounters are carefully managed, with very limited permits issued, to ensure minimal disruption to the animals’ lives and to help preserve the integrity of the groups and their social structure. Even though Uganda and Rwanda are home to a large percentage of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the species is threatened, and recent estimates put their numbers in the low 300’s – which is why conservation efforts are in place to help the struggling species survive. 

In fact, efforts to protect these gorillas began a few decades after their discovery in 1902, and famous researchers such as Dian Fossey furthered these efforts in the 1960s by making accurate census reports and helping to establish anti-poaching patrols to protect them.  

Dian Fossey

And while it may seem counter-intuitive that human contact, however minimal, may help preserve the species, ‘habituated’ gorillas are actually showing an increase in their population, as rangers provide protection for them and even medical help when necessary. Responsible tourism is actually a valuable way to provide funding for these initiatives and ensure they continue.

Chelsey on Gorilla Trek

Certainly a trek to visit mountain gorillas is not for everyone. What this travel experience offers is a rare opportunity to observe these sensitive and complex creatures up close and in the most authentic way possible – in their home and living the way they do naturally. That is the best kind of adventure of all.

ElderTreks Uganda and Rwanda adventure really stands out in regards to the sheer number of opportunities you have to experience the unique wildlife. Two distinct gorilla encounters, two chimp encounters, a rhino walk, search for tree-climbing lions and numerous safaris on which you'll get a chance to view many of the other animals which the areas are known for. Learn more about this amazing "trip of a lifetime" here.

Jane Canapini - August 12, 2015

Geographically, there's a reason Peter Jackson chose this location to shoot the Lord of the Rings movies, and not just because New Zealand is his own backyard. This 'backyard' boasts incredibly beautiful and diverse geography in a relatively small area, where you can find alpine, tropical, temperate and maritime landscapes within miles of each other on the two main island landmasses that make up the country. The south island is the larger of the two islands, and is split down the centre by the Southern Alps which has 18 peaks over 9,000 feet, deep fiords and glaciers.

The north island has fewer mountains, but is home to volcanoes and the country's largest lake, formed in the caldera of one of the world's most active supervolcanoes.

The geography is spectacular, worthy of any shutterbug's tripod, or adventure lover's adrenaline rush. (Not to mention the wildlife spotting in those rainforests, marine habitats and inland waterways.)

Whether your passion is capturing landscapes through your lens; rafting or hiking, through those landscapes; or just spotting the creatures who live there, New Zealand is the destination for you.

But it would be a mistake to judge New Zealand only by its physical beauty. New Zealand is beautiful on the inside, too. Culturally, its population is a mixture of Maori, European, and Asian people, whose influence is seen in everything from the government system to the arts and the cuisine.

The Maori's Polynesian influence and tribal heritage is celebrated in traditional crafts such as carving and weaving, particularly their cloaks made of flax and patterned with unique black, red and white geometric shapes. Their songs and dance performances also reflect this south Pacific heritage, and if you've been to luau's in Hawaii, you'll notice similarities in some Maori food and the fire pit cooking technique where meat is wrapped and buried with hot coals to roast. Visiting a Maori festival is always a highlight of any visit to New Zealand.

The European immigrants who followed Abel Tasman (the Dutch explorer who first sighted New Zealand in 1642) brought their own influences to New Zealand as well, especially the British, as the country is officially part of the Commonwealth. Architecturally, you'll find beautifully restored colonial buildings in old Auckland, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Parliament Buildings in Wellington, and of course Botanical Gardens, which seem to sprout up wherever the British settled.

Wellington’s Botanic Gardens

What all this means for the traveller is the opportunity to visit a country of delightful contrasts: somewhat familiar yet different in many ways; discovered, yet undiscovered due to its remote location; and a country that is both urban and rural, yet maintains a friendly vibe in both big cities and small towns. After all, Kiwi's are prolific travellers themselves, so they understand that hospitality and adventure go hand in hand.

Experience a little of that hospitality first-hand with our New Zealand adventure. Learn more here.

Jane Canapini - June 29, 2015

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