Diving around Diani beach in Kenya we saw lots of octopi, turtles, sting rays, schools of reef fish, dolphins and coral in good condition.
Diani Beach is about 30km south of Mombasa on the Indian ocean coast of Kenya. It takes about 2 hours to get from Mombasa airport to Diani including the ferry (you stay in the car when it goes on ferry). The place you stay at can help arrange pick up from the airport. Accommodation is a mix of large hotels and lots of smaller bed&breakfast and self catering options.
The main white sand beach stretches for miles. Along the beach there are several huge abandoned hotels as it seems that unrest in Kenya a few years back scared off tourists. But things are definitely picking up especially during the good weather season that goes from November through March. April through October has rains and sea can be rough.
There is a couple of dive shops on the beach. We dove with Diani Marine which runs a solid professional operation. The boat goes out for two dives and comes back around lunch time. We were in a self-catering accommodation nearby but one can also stay at Diani Marine. Generally the area around Baharini shopping center is quite convenient as there are several nice restaurants and supermarket all within a walking distance. There are quite a few tricycle taxis to get around or one can hire a motorbike.
Other than beach and diving, there is a kiteboarding scene including an annual competition and kiteboarding school. There is also a very cool colobus conservation center. The Center rehabilitates and returns to the wild former pet monkeys and those that get injured in traffic accidents. You get to see at the center but also all around colobus, Sykes, velvet monkeys and yellow baboons.
Diani beach is a quieter less crowded option than Zanzibar with fewer tourists, nice beach, good food options and very good diving. It is also easy to combine Diani stay with a safari in one of Kenya parks but for some reason this does not seem to be happening on the scale that Tanzania have managed to organize. We have gone to Amboseli with stunning views of Kilimanjaro and Tsavo East and West are also good options.
Serengeti national park covers about 15,000 square kilometers bordering Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya in the north. Serengeti is most famous for the migration of more than a million wildebeest accompanied by zebra, gazelles and assorted antelopes. It has one of the largest populations of wild life anywhere in the world. Endless grassy rolling planes are perfect terrain for safari. Binoculars and 200m plus camera lens helps.
We left Lake Manyara for Serengeti early in the morning, passing through Ngorongoro conservation area, getting to the Serengeti gate at about lunch time and then heading to the west part of the park reaching at sunset time. Migrating animals were meant to be in the west of the park at the time of our trip in late May.
The drive through Ngorongoro conservation area is stunningly beautiful. As you descend from the crater Serengeti planes open up and you pass small Maasai villages where you can stop for a somewhat touristy experience. We saw quite a few giraffes on the way moving between Serengeti and Ngorongoro.
As we drove through the planes towards Serengeti gate we encountered the tail of migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra. Rains were late this year and animals were still on their way to the west. It is incredible sight – as far as you can see all the way to the horizon there were animals.
We then came across a cheetah sitting 2 meters away from the road and watching intently a herd of impala. We waited hoping she would go hunting but she was not in the mood.
On we went and came across lions who just finished their lunch as evidenced by fat bellies of chilling out lions and meatless carcass next to them. Seeing endless herds of wildebeest and zebra, a cheetah and lions before even reaching the gate of Serengeti was very impressive.
After the gate there is a large resting area where most vehicles going in and out of the park stop, get permits sorted out and eat boxed lunch. The resting area is at the foot of a hill from which you get a nice 360 view of the planes. From here we continued on what now was a “proper” game drive since we were inside of the park, towards our lodge in the west. All along the way we saw herds of impala, wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, all sorts of birds, troop of baboons and even jackals. We made it to the lodge just in time for sunset. Sleeping in the tented camp to the purring of lions nearby was surreal.
The next day we went for game drives all around western section returning back to the lodge for dinner.
After the second night in the west we headed to the central section of the park. The bird life in the park is equally spectacular
After we crossed one of the rivers we suddenly had a hippo standing right in front of us in the middle of the road – a rare site. After staring at us for a minute it wondered off into the bush and back into the river
On the way to the central we came across a troop of baboons feeding on the white flowers looking hilarious.
In central part we saw a leopard in a tree with its half finished lunch of impala hanging on a branch. We came across a pride of lions chilling out on a rock outcrop. And saw plenty of elephants, buffalo, giraffes, wild hogs, zebras, gazelles, and all sorts of birds.
We spent a night in the central part with stunning views of the planes around. Next day we headed back to the gate and towards Ngorongoro crater coming across migration on the way back again. Serengeti lived up to high expectations.
Tarangire national park is about the same distance to Kilimanjaro airport as Manyara but for some reason does not seem to feature as prominently on tourist itineraries. The park is located along the river Tarangire and attracts a lot of wildlife during the dry season. We were traveling at the end of May and rainy season was just starting. We only had one half-day game drive in the park but got to see lions, giraffes, all sorts of gazelles and excellent bird life.
We spotted a lion in a tree – similarly to Lake Manyara lions here climb in the trees which they do not do in most other places. We then came across three male lions resting on the road. We followed them as they went towards the river later. On the river we saw a big group of giraffes – apparently properly called a tower of giraffes. At some point we counted fourteen of them coming down to the water for a drink.
Tarangire was a nice end for our Tanzania northern circuit safari. Lake Manyara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire are each brilliant with lots and lots of wildlife. After spending all the time driving around we were also ready to head out to Zanzibar for some underwater time.
Ngorongoro crater has the highest density of wild animals anywhere in the world. It is also the world’s largest inactive, intact volcanic caldera. Topography is stunning and you can get really close to the animals. We reached Ngorongoro from Serengeti driving through some very nice scenery and coming across giraffes moving between Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
We arrived to the lodge on the rim of the crater as the sun was starting to go down. Sunset over the Ngorongoro crater was spectacular as we watched clouds pouring over the rim and rays of lights reflecting in the lake at the bottom of the crater.
After very nice breakfast watching the sunrise over the crater we started the game drive. Ngorongoro is a very popular tourist destination and the crater does get quite busy with the vehicles. Animals do not seem to be disturbed by this though and we could get very close to them. We saw herds of wildebeest, zebra, all kind of antelope, wild hogs, buffalo, black-backed and golden jackals.
We were lucky to see caracal though it was a little in a distance. Then we came across a lion on the road walking past parked vehicles. We saw a pride of 8 or 9 lions in a distance and they went hunting wild hogs. Wild hogs got away and looked hilarious running with their tails straight up like antennas. We then saw 3 more lions sleeping. Elephants and hippos are plentiful and we saw a rhino but it was really far away.
Bird life is very good as well with all the greenery and water.
We had only one day in the Ngorongoro and had to leave the crater by about 1:30 since we had to be out of the park gate by 3pm as we had one 24 hour permit. We overnighted in a hotel not far from the gate outside of the park and then headed past Lake Manyara to Tarangire national park for one more game drive and 4th park on this trip.
Lake Manyara national park is about 3 hours drive from Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. We visited it on the way to Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks in late May. We stayed at a lodge on top of the hill overlooking the lake with phenomenal views.
After overnighting at the lodge we went for a game drive down at the lake. Lake Manyara and nearby Tarangire national parks are less known than their famous neighbors Serengeti and Ngorongoro which means there are not as many tourists and excellent wildlife – not the least due to the permanent sources of water.
The drive starts through the jungle forest where we saw blue and velvet monkeys, baboons, elephants, wild hogs and impala. Animals seem to prefer to use the road rather than making their way through the thicket of the forest.
Once past the forest the drive heads to the shore of the lake to the flat grassy areas with some bush. There are lots of zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, more elephants, hippos and all sorts of birds
Lake Manyara is known for the unusual behavior of lions who climb the trees along the shore of the lake – something they do not normally do. We saw two lions sleeping in the trees – or rather a part of a paw of one lion barely showing between the branches of the tree and a tip of the tail of another lion.
The most exciting sighting of the trip was the leopard. Unlike normally sleepy cat, this one was a restless one running up and down the tree, then settling briefly on a branch and staring at us and then running around again. All the cars actually put their roofs down and kept windows closed just in case it decides to jump on a car. Leopard eventually just left but we got some very nice shots.
After a full day drive through the park – with lunch boxes provided by hotel – we returned to overnight again at the same lodge before driving off early next morning to Serengeti.
Around Exmouth you can dive and snorkel Ningaloo reef, fish, enjoy endless pristine beaches and hike in Cape Range National Park. Exmouth is a small town of about 2,000 people tripling its population during the high season. It is located 1,270km north of Perth on the coast of Western Australia. We dove Exmouth Navy Pier considered to be one of the best shore dives in the world and among top 10 Australia dive sites. We snorkeled along Ningaloo reef at Turcuoise Bay and Oyster stacks, walked along and picnicked on perfect white sand beaches, and drove around and hiked for stunning views in Cape Range Natural park.
What to see
Yardi Creek, Cape Range National Park, WA
Our trip to Exmouth was a part of a longer West Coast trip camping near Coral Bay as a base. We drove up to Exmouth and spent two nights there staying at Ningaloo Lodge. On the first day after arriving around noon time to Exmouth we went to Cape Range Park which has an impressive terrain of cliffs sloping into ocean with many beautiful beaches all along the shore of the park. We hiked around Yardi Creek which flows through a strikingly red canyon.
Exmouth Navy pier, Western Australia
Next day we went for our Navy Pier dive with Dive Ningaloo. Exmouth Navy Pier is a functioning Navy Pier and only one company is licensed to run the dives. The pier has been closed to public access for more than 50 years and has lots of marine life as a result. We did two dives of about 50 minutes each – very precisely timed for slack tide as currents can be very strong and saw big schools of fish, sharks and huge cods.
Kangaroo, Cape Range National Park, WA
On our last day in Exmouth we went back to Cape Range park to snorkel at Turquoise bay and Oyster stacks and picnic on the beach. It is a stunningly beautiful place and Exmouth is an excellent base to explore Ningaloo coast. There are several nice restaurants, two supermarkets, several hotels and self-catering rentals, and good roads making it possible to get around without four wheel drive.
Coral bay 1,100 km north of Perth on the coast of Western Australia is where Ningaloo reef touches the shore and one can swim and snorkel over the reef directly from the beach. Coral bay has a hotel, two caravan parks, a handful of restaurants and a few permanent residents. The shoreline is a sequence of pristine bays with perfect white sand beaches protected by sand dunes where kangaroos hop.
Corals at Coral Bay, Western Australia
We snorkeled off the shore and did a dive/snorkel trip to see mantas, sharks and impressive corals. There is also whale shark and humpback whale watching depending on the season – with spotter planes significantly improving chances of seeing them. We were there in June and Humpback whales were just starting to arrive.
What to see
beach near Coral Bay, Western Australia
We did Coral Bay as part of a longer road trip from Perth to Exmouth camping about 15km north of Coral Bay at Bruboodjoo camp site as a base. This camp site does not have any amenities and one has to be fully self-sufficient including water and portable toilet. There are two caravan parks with amenities in Coral Bay itself, a hotel and backpackers (with rooms with private ensuite bathrooms).
Oyster bridge, Coral Bay, Western Australia
We snorkeled off the beach on the corals in Coral Bay itself and also did an organized tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive which included two dives and snorkeling with Mantas (spotted by spotter planes). We also went exploring the shore on a quad bike driving on the beach and inland sand roads around the dunes.
Sunset, Coral Bay area, Western Australia
The scenery is pristine – there are endless empty beaches, oyster reefs and we even saw a guitar shark about a meter off shore with its dorsal fins sticking out of the water. It is am amazing place of largely untouched nature and out of this world sunsets.
438 sq km Danum Forest or Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of the best remaining protected lowland forest areas in South East Asia. This primary forest has reach variety of flora and fauna. We saw orangutans, gibbons, various monkeys and variety of birds on tracks through the jungle.
What to see
Danum river, forest and lodge view
The only option for tourist on a visit to Danum forest is to stay with Borneo Rainforest Lodge. They have 3 day and 4 day packages which include guided walks through the jungle with excellent guides – we did 4 day 3 night option. Given what a production it is to get there and variety of things to see 4 days is definitely worth it. The lodge is comfortable and well maintained. There are beautiful views over the jungle from chalet room verandas and from the restaurant area. We saw all kinds of exotic birds while enjoying a sun-downer at a restaurant deck. And we were told that a week before we arrived there were orangutans in the area and they would even walk up to the lodge. We were not so lucky – but deers did come very near.
trails in Danum feature helpful signage
The walks are along the well maintained tracks. When we were there in August 2013 it drizzled most of the time which made tracks a bit muddy but passable. You do need proper hiking shoes. Long pants are very much advisable as leeches are widespread. You can get basic cotton leech socks at the lodge.
The guides are excellent and are able to track and spot all kinds of creatures. We saw orangutans and it was definitely so much more exciting to see them in the wild than seeing them at a feeding platform at Sepilok.
We also saw gibbons, red monkeys and variety of other monkeys as well as variety of birds. Being wild creatures, they do not come very close. It is difficult to get good pictures and for any close-up serious optics would be needed.
Borneo Rainforest Lodge package in Danum forest includes airport transfer from Lahad Datu. We flew into Lahad Datu from Kota Kinabalu. After Danum forest we were going to Sipadan and arranged private transfer with the Lodge to Semporna.
Mount Kinabalu summit is the highest mountain between Himalayas and New Guinea. Low’s peak is 4,096 meters (13,438 ft) above sea level. It is a strenuous hike but not too difficult and a person of average fitness can easily do it. Views from the top are stunning and the terrain at the summit area is fascinating. I am not much of a mountaineer and this is so far the highest mountain I came up to. My legs hurt for a week after, but it was definitely worth it.
trail “steps” at about 2 km
What to see
A permit is required to climb the Mount Kinabalu and currently only 2 day/1 night option is available (it was possible to climb the mountain within a day before). The official info is here. Currently only 135 permits are issued per day. I hiked in August of 2013 using Ranau trail from Timpahon gate – which it seems is the only available option now after the earthquake in 2015. The trail is well maintained and first 4km or so is along the laid out “steps” through the jungle.
trail at about 5km
view from the hut to restaurant and clouds
sunrise view from the summit
crowd at the summit
going down, glaciers were here once
As you climb higher the trees get shorter and path less of a “staircase”. Most of the first day hike is through hot steaming jungle. T-shirt and long light pants worked fine for me. Definitely bring plenty of water. Mandatory guide – paid as part of the permit package – can also help carry your bag if you wish.
At the end of the first day hike is Panalaban where there is a restaurant and several huts to eat and have a nap before waking up for the summit portion of the hike at about 2am. The views keep getting better as you go up. On the day I was there the hut and restaurant were above the clouds and sunset views were majestic.
The huts have bunk beds with sleeping bags on them so you do not need to bring your own sleeping bag. We were awaken at 2am, had some coffee and cookies and headed for the summit. It took me less than 3 hours to hike up to the summit and as a result I had to wait for almost an hour for the sunrise.
The air gets really cold – even in August – I had a sweater on, windbreaker and even bought a hat at the base camp. I was fine while hiking but got really cold waiting for the sunrise. On the upside though for some time I had the summit almost to myself. By the time of sunrise the remaining 100 plus climbers with their guides came up and it was quite busy at the top – good thing there is a permit system.
The hike to the summit feels like being on another planet. The surface of the top of the mountain has been chiseled by sliding glaciers, wind and rain over millions of years into striking structures. The walk down after the sunrise is spectacular as you look past the mountain down to the lands below shrouded in fog and passing clouds.
view from thee bottom after descending through via ferrata
I did Walk the Torq on via ferrata down the steep part of the descent (this is the highest via ferrata in the world apparently). Never having climbed steep mountains, first I was not sure about getting hooked to the cables and having a helmet on, but the climb down was great fun and actually I thought that if I could I would descend like this all the way to the bottom rather than hitting the “steps”.
After reaching the base camp and enjoying nice hot breakfast it was back to the trail and rock “steps”. At some point light rain started and my guide pulled out an umbrella and continued to stroll down the trail. Seeing that umbrella was sobering as in my mind I was a tough mountaineer scaling the mighty Mt. Kinabalu not a casual walker. We then came across quite a number of asian hikers that appeared to be Korean and Chinese retirees cheerfully walking up the trail with umbrella in one hand and walking stick in another. Further humbled by encounter I tried my best to finish the hike without dragging my tired feet too much. I was down and back to the gate by about 1pm.
You must book through one of the agencies to secure the permit and guide. I booked my trip through ABC tours. It seems a number of operators offer the same package including pick up and drop-off to a hotel in Kota Kinabalu, climb, guide, food, overnight at one of Panalaban huts, and via ferrata as an optional add-on.
You are guaranteed to see orangutans at Sepilok orangutang rehabilitation center. The experience is not quite the same as seen them on a track in a jungle but is still fully worth it. On Kinabatangan river safari you get to see variety of monkeys, macaques, might see orangutang and Borneo pygmy elephant, as well as rich variety of birds and reptiles.
What to see
Orangutang getting to the feeding platform, Sepilok
Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Center cares for young orangutans orphaned as a result of illegal logging and deforestation and those illegally caught and kept as pets. There are dedicated walkways in the Center and a viewing platform where orangutans are fed as part of their rehabilitation process. Recently rehabilitated individuals have their diet supplemented by daily feedings of milk and bananas. The additional food is purposefully boring to encourage the apes to start to forage for themselves.
tourists looking at the orangutang feeding platform, Sepilok
You are guaranteed to see orangutans and get good pictures if you have a reasonable lens /zooming capability on your camera. It gets quite crowded around orangutan feeding time and the place is quite touristy. But orangutans seem to not mind and do their own thing which is come out on to the feeding platform, eat, hang around for a bit and go off back to the wood.
Kinabatangan river view
Kinabatangan river is the second longest in Malaysia and its lower flood plains are part of Sukau-Kinabatangan nature reserve. A number of lodges mostly concentrated around Sukau offer river tours along the river to see variety of wild life.
Proboscis monkeys along Kinabatangan river
The boats go out early in the morning and later in the afternoon when animals are more active and conveniently, light is also better for pictures. We have seen a variety of monkeys including proboscis monkeys endemic to Borneo. We have seen a couple of groups of proboscis monkeys in the trees along the river and followed one group hopping along the river bank from tree to tree.
We have also seen several groups of macaques, a wild pig, a python and variety of birds. We almost saw pygmy elephant.When our boat reached the place where a couple of elephants were sited (guides from different lodges inform each other by mobile), the elephants went further into the jungle and all we could see we think was a silhouette of elephants and trees moving where they walked away.
The night river tour departs after dinner. We saw several birds including owls and a variety of reptiles – crocodiles and a few frogs. The experience of gliding quietly on the river looking out into the darkness and listening to night jungle noises is definitely recommendable even though you might not see any big animals at nigh.
We were booking last minute and most places, especially on Kinabatangan river were full. It seems staying in a lodge on Kinabatangan and doing a day trip to Sepilok is a good option – but most of the lodges on Kinabatangan were full when we tried to book. We stayed one night near to Sepilok at Paganakan Dii Tropical retreat which was fine. We then proceeded to Kinabatangan river and stayed in one of the basic lodges that was still available and that Paganakan Dii helped us book. From Kinabatangan river we took an overland transfer to Semporna to dive Sipadan.