Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa is one of my favourite hotels in Dubai. Located on the far end of Jumeirah Beach, the hotel has three swimming pools, two of which have swim up pool bars to really give you those holiday vibes! The hotel spans across a huge grass area which leads onto its own private beach which in turn connects down to JBR beach. The hotel is definitely family friendly with a children’s play area; kids swimming pool; volleyball courts; football pitch; table tennis and mini golf!

Ryan and I have visited Le Royal Meridien many times for brunch at Brasserie 2.0, which is a must if you haven’t done it before, and for pool days (as they often have some great deals, especially during the summer) but we had never actually stayed before. I decided to book a girly weekend (sorry Ryan) and my friend and I booked a one night stay with breakfast for a weekend in October of last year. 

Pulling up to the hotel entrance, the concierge are instantly at hand to assist you with taking your luggage and valet parking your car. I love the lobby with its chic light interior, hammock chairs and seating areas. The hotel has installed clear plastic dividers between the guests and the hotel staff at the check in desk, as well as installing queue mechanics to ensure that a safe distance is left between the guests checking in. We had booked with a great deal on Booking.com and upon check in we were offered an upgrade to a sea facing room with balcony for an additional 60 dirhams, which we jumped at!

The rooms are modern, although on the slightly smaller size, and come equipped with all of the standard items you would expect, including extra-cosy dressing gowns (my favourite). We headed straight down to the pool for a frozen daiquiri and a sunbathe and relaxed straight into holiday-mode. Unfortunately, the hotel did feel quieter than the usual buzz it has about it – but that can only be expected in these times. The staff were great with taking all precautionary measures required as a result of COVID. The sunbeds were well distanced and the beds were frequently sanitised.


Restaurants

The hotel has a whopping twelve restaurants to choose from with the choice of Mexican, Indian, Italian, seafood, steak and international buffet. We wanted to get as much time in the sun and so for lunch we decided to order from the pool bar food menu and eat at our sun-beds. For dinner, as you can imagine, we were spoilt for choice but the steak restaurant, Rhodes 2.0 had a great offer on for starter, two mains, two sides and a bottle of wine for AED500! The food was amazing and the restaurant had a really romantic feel with high ceilings, chandeliers and an intimate feel to it.

I love a hotel breakfast and, I must say, this was one of the best hotel buffet breakfasts I think I have ever had! The choice was huge! We ordered sausage and bacon (yes, real pork), eggs in any way you like, and then headed up to the buffet. There was a great choice of pastries, fruits, juices, coffee, tomatoes, mushrooms, the lot. I didn’t need to eat again until dinner!

Spa 

We couldn’t end our girly weekend without a trip to the spa for a pamper. So after breakfast we spent the morning around the pool  and booked a massage for 3pm. The spa is also on the Entertainer which is great so the massage was buy one get one free.

I would absolutely stay at Le Royal Meridien again, and as we have a few friends that often stay at the hotel, we plan on joining them next time they make it over!

Zanzibar

Our flight landed into Zanzibar at 6.10am, we had applied for our visa online in advance of traveling which saved us a lot of time at the airport. The visas cost $50 for UK passport holders whether this is completed online or on arrival. We were also required to complete a health declaration form on the plane for handing over to the staff when entering immigration. Even with the requirements of the additional forms we were through security in record breaking time and as we had decided to travel with hand luggage only we were out of the airport within 15 minutes!

We had arranged our airport transfers in advance, which I would highly recommend, as it can be quite overwhelming with all of the taxi drivers waiting around the exit. Our hotel in Stone Town had put us in contact with a local driver who organized all of the transfers we needed for our trip. Our driver was waiting outside for us and took us to our first destination which was Tembo Hotel in Stone Town.

Stone Town

Stone Town is the “old town” of Zanzibar with a very active port that has daily ferries that run to mainland Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. Stone Town has a real buzz about it and is full of restaurants, roof top bars, gift shops and one of the main attractions is a museum dedicated to Freddy Mercury! When Freddy Mercury was younger he and his family used to live in one of the rooms at Tembo Hotel (this was secretly another reason I wanted to stay there)!

We had booked a trip across to Prison Island which is one of the main tourist attractions in Stone Town. The story behind the prison is interesting but the main attraction on the island is the tortoise sanctuary. There are over 100 tortoises at the sanctuary with the oldest being 195 years old!

You can easily pick up boats and tour guides around the area and probably for a cheaper price than we paid so if you’re not on a tight schedule I would advise just checking out what’s around when you arrive in Stone Town. 

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant called 6 Degrees South and I tucked into my eagerly awaited spicy prawns – they didn’t disappoint. We were absolutely shattered by this point so headed back to our Freddy Suite (joke) and had a little nap before getting ready and heading out for some sundowners. We had read about a restaurant called the Beach House which is connected to the Park Hyatt hotel and ended up staying for 4 hours watching the sunset and having a lovely meal.

The following day we were up early and excited for our flight out to the Serengeti for a 2 night stay and safari – you can read all about that here. After the 2 night stay, we landed back in Zanzibar for the final 4 night stretch of our holiday. 

COVID Testing

We had arranged to be collected from the airport by the same driver we previously used and he was stood ready and waiting for us. We headed straight to one of the nearby COVID-19 testing facilities as we were required to have our test carried out at least 4 days prior to our flight – this is because all tests are then sent to the mainland for laboratory testing so the results take slightly longer. We had been well informed by some friends regarding the process before our trip so felt as though we were as prepared as could be… oh how wrong we were. Of course, the day we visited they had changed the process, which no one was aware of, and we were required to complete a form online via the Zanzibar COVID-19 Testing app. In the form, you are required to add the date in which you would like your test results dated, although we had the test on the 9th March, we requested that the results were dated 11th March so that it was sufficient time prior to our flight on 13th March.

So, once you have downloaded the app and completed your form, you need to print and take a copy of your form as well as your passport copy to the counter for payment. You can make payment by card or cash, it is $80, but we were advised to have cash as sometimes the electricity goes out! After making payment and with your printed form you can then make your way through to the test itself. After this, you are free to leave and you can check for your results via the app by simply entering your passport number. This was the most efficient part of the process as once your results show up in the app you can then print this for your check in at the airport.

Our Poor Hotel Choice…

We left the test centre feeling very flustered, hot and were excited to get to our hotel to relax as it had been a long day of traveling. But. We arrived at the hotel we had booked in advance, Karafuu Beach Resort and Spa, and without going into too much detail it was horrendous. Ryan and I are well-seasoned travellers and know, most of the time, what we are getting ourselves into. We also have a list of all the hotels we have stayed in together which currently totals 63, and Karafuu is the first hotel which we have asked to move rooms and although our booking was for 4 nights we stayed for one and checked out only 16 hours after checking in!

Anyway… the following morning we walked along Pingwe Beach, which is a gorgeous stretch of white sandy beach, and popped into every hotel along the way, asking if they had availability for a three night stay. Thankfully, the last hotel along the beach was Upendo Beach Zanzibar and they had room at the Inn for us to stay for three nights. We were ecstatic and managed to get a really good rate as we were making the booking so last minute. We headed back to Karafuu to collect our cases (which we hadn’t even unpacked), checked out and took a taxi back to Upendo. That is when we could finally just relax.

Upendo Beach Zanzibar

As we checked in we were greeted with a fresh coconut and the hotels guard doggies wagging their tail; it was bliss.

Our room was available immediately as the staff had been in to make sure everything was perfect before we arrived back with our suitcases. Honestly, our room was world’s apart from the room we had just come from – but I don’t want to dwell on the previous hotel – all I can say is that Upendo was absolute heaven. Our villa was standalone and on the beachfront so when we opened the curtains we could only see the sand and sea. On the front patio area we had a gorgeous hanging double lounge bed which we spent most afternoons chilling on! Inside the room it was nice and light with lots of small windows covered by mosquito nets which meant we had lovely day light.

The bathroom was one of the highlights of the room for us, it was huge. As you walked in, to the right hand side, just under the window was a lovely free standing bath followed by a Jack and Jill sink, the toilet and then the highlight, an outdoor open air shower! The shower had a waterfall shower head hanging from the ceiling; a huge piece of drift wood which was used for holding the complimentary shower gels and other toiletries but the best part of this shower was the plants and trees which had grown up the outside of the shower room and into the shower itself, it just gave it that real jungle feel.

 The room was gorgeous and felt very rustic and authentic yet with modern furnishings. It had a coffee machine with pods refilled daily; a water dispenser so we had unlimited access to complimentary water; gorgeous toiletries in sustainable glass bottles and of course, the best part was our private rooftop swimming pool!

We really fell into the swing of island life and fell asleep early each night and woke up early each morning. We would head down for breakfast which was served with tea, coffee, fresh juice and fresh fruit and worked our way through a different dish on the menu each morning.

Upendo is located at the far end of Pingwe beach so after breafast we would go for a lovely walk along the beach and onto the sandbanks where the tide had drifted out. Also along Pingwe beach is a great choice of restaurants so each lunch time we decided to head out to find some of the local seafood restaurants.

Upendo has a popular restaurant with an extensive menu so each night we stayed at the hotel and tried a different dish on the menu. The food was incredible and we loved the relaxed vibe of the restaurant, we could just lounge around for hours on the sofas.

We decided to book the Snorkel and Starfish trip and booked this direct through our hotel, rather than with the guys along the beach. Although the trip was slightly more expensive with our hotel, they always book through the same local man from the village and pay him a salary of the tours at the end of the month, he then distributes this throughout his village. Ryan and I were the only ones on the trip and so we were able to go at our own pace. It was lovely that our tour guide came in to snorkel with us and for a swim when we reached the starfish.

Our final day in paradise just so happened to be my birthday and we had some friends from Dubai who were in Zanzibar at the same time so they came over to our hotel for some drinks and we had a lunch reservation at the Rock Restaurant. The food was great (as were the drinks) and Ryan and I ended up heading back to the airport rather drunk but at least it meant we slept for the whole flight!

We absolutely adored our time in Zanibar and Tanzania and are so glad with our decision to change hotels at the last minute, we definitely would not have had the same incredible experience otherwise!

Safari in the Serengeti

I started writing this blog as we were sat in a tiny “terminal” waiting to board our flight from Zanzibar to the Seronera Airstrip for a two night stay at the Melia Serengeti Lodge. I’m feeling so grateful that we were able to experience our third African safari, having previously visited Tsavo National Park in Kenya and the Garden Route Game Reserve in South Africa.

In typical Louise style we arrived at the airport super early! As we checked in we were informed that we only needed to arrive 20 minutes before our flight, and there’s us standing there an hour and a half before. But, it was fine we just found ourselves a little seat in the corner to wait. The plane was tiny, the smallest I have ever flown on and seats 12 people, plus the pilots! We booked our flight with Coastal Aviation but there are several other companies that offer the same internal flight route. It was a surreal experience as we chose the seats at the very front within arm’s length of the pilots and we watched them intently as they prepared us for take-off.

We had two other airstrip drops on the way to Seronera Airstrip and as people departed our excitement grew to start our safari adventure. We were looking out of the windows and at one point we looked down and the pilot pointed out a herd of elephants walking under us, it was honestly an unforgettable moment.

Day 1

By the time our plan landed at the airstrip there was only Ryan and I and one lady left on the plane! Our safari ranger, Vincent, was waiting ready for us and took us straight for a gorgeous picnic in one of the segregated picnic areas in the park. We thought we would be heading straight to our hotel but didn’t realise that we were about to start our first safari of the trip which was amazing!

After the picnic the first animal we saw was a crocodile, basking on one of the streams. It was absolutely huge and the safari buzz kicked in instantly!

On our first day we were so lucky to witness six female lions dozing in a tree who then spotted a buffalo in the distance. We watched these lionesses for over an hour and a half as they stalked, one by one, down from the tree and into the grass to approach the buffalo. Thankfully, our ranger had binoculars at the ready for us and we witnessed the lions attack the buffalo, circling it and hanging off its back at one point! It was incredible to watch but I was happy to see the buffalo escape!

As we carried on our safari we saw a huge herd of elephants, my favourite, and I just loved seeing the playful babies in amongst the herd. We also saw giraffes, a serval cat, hyenas, lots of impala, ostrich, monkeys, warthog – to name a few!

When we arrived at our hotel, the sun was slowly starting to set. The hotel had kindly upgraded us to the “Savanah” room and we had a lovely, bright, open room with a cushioned terrace seating area so we sat back and watched the sun set before heading down for dinner.

Day 2

After our first super comfy night’s sleep we were up at 6am to get ready and head down for breakfast before starting our second safari of the trip. The breakfast, I have to say, was one of the nicest breakfasts I have had in a long time. We were greeted with a selection of pastries and preserves brought to the table, as well as juice and coffee and we were able to order eggs any way as well as side dishes. I opted for scrambled eggs with a side of bacon and it was delicious.

We set off on our safari just after 7am with the view of returning to the hotel by lunch time and to spend some time enjoying the hotel facilities. we requested to have Vincent for each of our safari’s. He has been working as a ranger in the Serengeti for over fifteen years so he had great knowledge of the animals, plants and locations of where certain animals liked to hang out. 

There was a lot of chatter on the radios amongst the rangers regarding the location of the leopards and cheetahs that morning so we spent quite a bit of time trying to scout them out, but with no luck. We then saw in the distance several vultures circling so Vincent followed their trail and we stumbled across a pride of nine lions, including a big older male and a younger male, of about five years old. We were so close to them but they didn’t appear phased in the slightest as they lazed about in the grass.

Later that morning we were due to be setting off about an hour and a half drive to the north to see the migration, but we received a call of a further sighting of the leopard. We set off on its trail and almost lost hope until Vincent, somehow, spotted him up in a tree! Even as we approached, Ryan and I still couldn’t pick out the leopard until we were almost below the tree. He just laid up on his branch chilling and watching the world go by, it was amazing. I honestly don’t think you can beat the excitement of searching for animals out in the wild and finally sighting them!

We then made our way to the northern quarter to check out the migration. We could see a sea of dark patches from a distance and as we approached we realised that we could see hundreds of thousands of zebras and wildebeest across the plains. It was an unforgettable sight. Our ranger had been told that earlier in the day there had been a cheetah sighting in the area, we unfortunately didn’t spot him but when we flew back to Zanzibar we were swapping stories on the plane and a lady showed us videos of two cheetahs eating a wildebeest – eek!

We ended up back at our hotel at around 3pm after an amazing almost eight hour safari and were treated to a wonderful set menu lunch, which was included as part of our all-inclusive package. I then treated myself to a dip in the pool – which was absolutely freezing at the time due to the wind – and left Ryan at the bar while I snuck off for a massage.

Day 3

We were so sad to be leaving the gorgeous Melia but counted ourselves so lucky for the amazing experiences we had in such a short amount of time. We sat down for the wonderful breakfast and checked out before setting off on our final safari.

We left the hotel on our journey back to the airport and gave ourselves some extra time in case we saw anything on the way… and did we see some sights!! We first came across a pride of 9 lions with 4 small Cubs! We sat watching them for a while and moved on. About 5 minutes up the road were two males on the road side following a scent. We were so close to them! The strolled in front of our car and carried on into the bushes. We then saw them stalking another female with 6-7 young cubs! The Cubs ran off to the right whilst the mum walked to the left. The largest male began to track her and it turned into a chase as the male started running after the female!! We followed parallel to them and realized behind us on the left side of the road was a family of giraffes who also started running as they had spotted the lions as well! Then a bit further a long we saw some hippos fighting! We felt like we were on a David Attenborough set!

We reached the airstrip and had to part ways with our lovely ranger Vincent (if you are planning a trip to the Serengeti I would highly recommend Vincent, his company can be found here). Our flight back to Zanzibar was indirect so we had a short layover in Arusha before embarking on the final stint of our magical holiday which was four final nights at a beach resort in Zanzibar.

Al Maha – A Luxury Desert Resort

The name really says it all. This hotel took the meaning of Luxury to a whole new level for us!

The hotel is located about an hour’s drive from Dubai Marina and about 45 minutes from the Dubai Hills Estate. We set off relatively early and once we turned off the main road onto an adjacent slip road out to the desert, we were greeted by a security guard who confirmed our check in details before letting us through the gate. What we didn’t realise at the time is that Al Mahais located in the middle of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which is why the security is so stringent. As we set off from security, the next 25 minutes of the journey was off the beaten track, on a small rubble road leading you further into the desert towards the hotel. On this part of the journey we were surprised to already encounter some wild Oryx and gazelles. Before we had even arrived at the hotel Ryan was bored of me shrieking “LOOK” every few minutes!

As some of you know, I changed jobs in July last year and my lovely team from my previous company were extremely generous and gifted me a voucher which we used towards a one night stay at Al Maha. Ryan and I have stayed at several desert resorts throughout the UAE but AlMaha has always been slightly more on the expensive side. We decided to use our gift voucher for a one night stay to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary. Crazy right, heading out to the desert in the middle of the heat in August… but don’t worry, every room comes with its own private infinity pool!

We spent the day chilling around the pool and every so often some of the gazelles would become a bit curious and come over to investigate. The hotel staff said that if we had a small amount of bread we might be able to feed them, so I asked for a side of bread with my pizza at lunch just in case. Sure enough later in the afternoon the gazelles came back and I got close enough to feed them!

As we approached the main reception of the hotel it just felt so calm and quiet everywhere. We checked in and were taken by a golf buggy straight to our room with an early check in (I say it every time, but honestly I love an early check in)! The staff dropped our bags and I’m not sure if they heard the clanging of the wine bottles in our bags, but they conveniently asked if we would like an ice bucket and glasses – which, of course we did!

The room was stunning and so spacious. As you entered the front doorway there was a small cloakroom area with a desk and chair and a small area to make tea and coffee. To the right of the entrance was the bathroom which was huge, with a lovely big bath, Jack and Jill sinks and a double door which opened wide so it felt as if the bath was outside – I got South African safari vibes from this! Located in the main room (which was a bed room / living area) was a huge double bed and a chilled out seating area with two chaise longue either side of a small coffee table which faced outside to the main highlight of the room, the pool. The room was designed in the style of a tent, so there was a pole in the centre of the room, propping up the draped ceiling. The pool was really big for a private room pool, considering that every room in the hotel has one!

As we were there celebrating our first wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves to the private in-room dining experience and the sunset camel ride. We headed down to the lobby for 6pm for the sunset desert camel ride and both shared one camel which took us on a 20 minute journey out to the desert.

When we arrived, there was a small bar set up with champagne, beers, wine, soft drinks, anything you could want, and we sat on the dunes watching the sun go down before heading back on the 20 minute journey back to the hotel.

When we got back to our room, the hotel staff had already been in and set up the dining area outside our room on the terrace in front of the pool, it was so lovely. When we requested the in-room dining we were required to choose our options from the set menu. For starters, we ordered the beef carpaccio and shrimp tempura. The carpaccio was gorgeous and the shrimp tempura was presented on a bed of black rocks which was unique. For mains, I have to say that I made the best choice, and ordered the fillet steak which was served on a bed of creamy mash potato and a side of vegetables. Ryan’s main was also super tasty, he opted for the Arabic mixed grill which came with a selection of beef kebab, jumbo prawn, fish and chicken with a side of grilled vegetables and chips. To finish, the hotel had treated us to a lovely chocolate cake which was personalised to say “Happy Anniversary” which was extremely generous but by this point we were stuffed! At least we didn’t have far to go back to our room!

After an incredible night’s sleep, we requested the hotel to deliver our breakfast to our room and placed our order over the phone. We had an amazing selection of pastries, breads, eggs benedict, waffles, coffee and juices, all set up on the coffee table in front of the doors leading out to the pool.

We were able to have a slightly later checkout and spent the day chilling in the sun in our private pool; it was bliss. Thankfully, the drive back home was short and sweet after an amazingly relaxing stay. Al Maha really is one of, if not the most, luxurious hotel I have stayed it, nothing is enough for the staff and the proximity to central Dubai is great as its only a short drive home after a chilled out weekend.

Sharjah’s Hidden Gem

Tucked away off one of Sharjah’s busy roads is a small entrance to the Chedi Al Bait. The complex opened its doors as the Chedi Hotel in December 2018 and I have to say that it was only this past summer that I began to hear about the hotel. So, we packed our bags and booked up a one night stay at the start of August. The hotel was a relatively short drive from our villa so we enjoyed the little road trip crossing the border into Sharjah – I have to admit that in my almost six years living in Dubai this is the first time I visited Sharjah (as opposed to just driving through it)!

When the maps told us we were only one minute away I thought to myself, “surely we have the wrong address here” but we turned the corner to see the subtle Chedi sign at the side of the road. The concierge assisted us with our luggage through the narrow walkways into the reception.

Upon check in, the staff provided us with a small sanitising pack which contained anti-bac gel and gloves which was a nice touch.

Hotel Facilities

Inside the grounds of the hotel it felt so peaceful. There are courtyards with olive trees and casual seating areas tucked in all corners of the hotel. It really is like a maze wandering around the narrow pathways.

The hotel also houses a library which explains some of the history of the building itself and has a large collection of books in both English and Arabic.

The hotel also has a lovely, albeit small, swimming pool. As we visited during COVID times we were required to book a 2 hour slot at the pool so as to prevent it from becoming overcrowded.

Our Room

One of the highlights of our stay was the amazing bed in our room! No, seriously. This took hotel beds to a whole other level! The mattress is made from horse hair (you should probably check if you have allergies before staying) and it really felt like I was sleeping on air. The bathroom continued the traditional Arabic themed décor with neutral walls, wooden doors and dark basin sinks. It also had a gorgeous waterfall style shower.

Restaurants

We dined in both the International restaurant as well as the Arabic restaurant during our stay at the hotel. We decided on having lunch in the International restaurant whereby we had a range of small dishes from salads to soft-shell crab and it was all lovely. The International restaurant is very light and open and also had a lovely outdoor seating area (which we chose not to make use of in August)! The breakfast also served in the International restaurant and has a great selection of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles etc. of which you could order multiple items! We were also served a selection of freshly baked pastries as well as juice, tea and coffee – as you can tell, I love a good breakfast! 

We ate at the Arabic Restaurant for dinner on the Friday night – we were glad to have made a reservation as the restaurant was quite busy. We shared a selection of Arabic meze starters such as hummus, tabbouleh and falafel, followed by one sharing platter of chicken shish tawook and another platter of grilled seafood. Everything was super tasty!

Sadly, during our stay at the Chedi, I feel ill (which I know now as being the onset of my Bell’s Palsy). As much as I enjoyed our stay it was shrouded by stress with not knowing what was wrong with me at that time. I would love to return because it really was so relaxing and a lovely way to escape the city.

The Magical Maldives

2020 was a tough year for travel but in December we were lucky enough to go on our first holiday of the year and we headed off to the Maldives. The Maldives has been on my bucket list forever, but we have always said we would save it for a special occasion. But, as our honeymoon was cancelled and we weren’t able to travel anywhere else in 2020 we decided to treat ourselves. 

A key factor when booking trips at the moment is whether quarantine is required on arrival and any other COVID restrictions of that country. The Maldives has been open for travel since the Summer and, when travelling from Dubai, the requirement is to present a negative PCR test upon check in and as residents, when returning to Dubai, a negative test was required for check in for the return flight. Apart from that, there were no other restrictions or isolation requirements in either the Maldives or Dubai. 

So, with a five day public holiday approaching, we took the plunge and booked a four night all inclsuive stay at Ozen Life Maadhoo.

Firstly, and most importantly for travel in current times, Ozen’s response to COVID was outstanding. The island is COVID free which means that hotel guests are able to roam the island without the need to wear masks – we had forgotten what that felt like! Our personal Butler, Kunal, assisted us with everything throughout our stay, including scheduling our COVID test for our return flight to Dubai via the hotels onsite doctor. The doctor came to our room for an examination and to conduct a nasal and mouth swab. The results were then sent to the main island for analyzing and we received the results the following day. Ozen provided us with a soft copy of the report and hard copy print outs for the check in desk at the airport. Given the travel situation in the world right now we were anxious about travel but Ozen really took that stress and worry away.

Now onto the fun stuff! 

From the moment we arrived at Male airport an Ozen member of staff was waiting for us. They greeted us at arrivals, took our luggage and we set straight off on the hotels private boat for the 45 minute journey to the island. 

The island was absolutely stunning. On arrival, we were given an itinerary for our stay which included a fishing trip, dolphin sunset trip and a snorkel trip as well as reservations at each of the hotel’s restaurants. We didn’t have to think about anything – it was the ultimate relaxation.

The hotel has five restaurants which were all included as part of our all inclusive package (I will write a separate post about all of the amazing food we ate during our stay). We stayed in one of the overwater villas which was a dream come true. The hotel also has beach front villas which looked just as amazing, imagine waking up and stepping onto your own private beach! We really wanted that Maldives experience of laying out on the terrace watching the fish swim below, and heading down the steps of our room straight into the ocean.

Ryan and I are creatures of habit so every morning we got up and sat out on our terrace trying to spot any sharks or sting rays with our morning coffee before heading down to breakfast. We ate in the Palms restaurant every day for breakfast which had a great buffet selection along with a live cooking station. Ryan followed his three course breakfast with a Mimosa, whilst I had an iced coffee with a shot of Kalua as my tipple!

The island was so relaxing and each morning we would set off on a walk or bike ride around the island after suitably stuffing ourselves at the buffet! The sun was very powerful and even though we live in the sun all year round we still got quite burnt!

Another great benefit of the all inclusive package was the unlimited complementary use of snorkel equipment, kayaks and paddle boards so most mornings on the way back from our walk, we would stop off at the water sports area and head out on the water. I love paddle boarding, Ryan on the other hand isn’t much of a natural so he would always opt for a kayak!

One of the highlights of our stay was dining in the under water restaurant, M6M, which is located 6 meters below the sea! Eating lobster and drinking champagne whilst watching the sharks swim by – that’s an experience that is going to take a lot to beat.

Also included within our all-inclusive package was a complimentary 60 minute spa treatment which we saved until our final morning. The spa is located nearby the gym and saltwater swimming pool and consists of several small huts which each accommodate couples massages and face out to sea. The massage was heavenly and the perfect way to end our five days in paradise.

We cannot fault any part of our stay at Ozen. Every member of staff took time out of their day to speak to us, ask how our day was going and if we needed anything. We can’t thank them enough for making this trip so special. We already can’t wait to return.

The Address Sky View

As most of you know from previous travel blogs, I ALWAYS travel for my birthday. It’s just what I love to do! However this year, as we were due to be going on our honeymoon at the start of April, only a few weeks after my birthday, I decided it would be best to spend this birthday in Dubai. It’s a blessing in disguise really, could you imagine if we had travelled and ended up like all of those other poor people stranded around the world!

Anywho, our honeymoon was sadly cancelled as a result of COVID, but, I digress. This post is in relation to the delightful staycation we ended up booking for my birthday! I have a hotel wishlist on my phone, which appears to be constantly growing! And I decided on checking out the then-recently opened Address Sky View Hotel.

Located smack bang in the middle of Downtown Dubai, the Address Sky View has uncomparable views of the Burj Khalifa and is a stone’s throw away from the Dubai Mall. As we entered the hotel we were greeted with the familiar “Address” scent, our luggage was taken and we were whisked straight to check in. We managed to get a great offer by booking directly on the Address website. Our hotel price included breakfast and we each received three vouchers for use across the Emaar facilities, this was a nice bonus. We chose vouchers for the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Ice Skating Rink and Reel Cinemas. (We used the Aquarium voucher in the summer and it was a great experience, I didn’t actually realise how huge the aquarium is in the Dubai Mall!)

We left our luggage with the Concierge and headed out for some lunch at the restaurant around the pool. I have to admit, I was feeling quite sensitive (and sorry for myself) as I had been out celebrating my birthday with the girls the previous night.

Our room was ready early so we headed up for a quick change and then straight to the highlight of the hotel… the rooftop infinity pool.

We had access to the Lounge included in our room booking so popped there for a coffee and nibble before getting ready for our meal.

Ce La Vie
I was so excited to dine at Ce La Vie! For my birthday last year, we actually visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and had lunch at Ce La Vie. I hope this has become my new birthday tradition…!

The food, service, drinks and view were all spectacular. It was by far one of the best meals we have had in Dubai.

We rolled out of the restaurant (I’m not sure if it was too much food or wine) but luckily didn’t have too far to go. When we got back to the room, the staff had laid rose petals on the bed, wishing me a happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and a perfect end to the day.

The following day we were able to extend our check out. The rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix built in so we decided to give in to all of the social media fuss and start the series Love is Blind. We all but finished the series that day!

I have to admit, this was the first Address Hotel that we have stayed in, but I cannot fault our stay from the service, cleanliness and overall experience. I would absolutely stay here again.

The Staycay Series

I have really missed writing my travel blog this year and I’ve decided that, even though we’ve been unable to travel abroad (so far…) we’ve still had a lovely year of staycays in the UAE! So I’ve decided to write this Staycay Series, giving a shout-out to all of the lovely hotels we have stayed at throughout the year.

It’s still not the quite the same as the excitement of researching and planning a holiday; the super early wake up call to get to the airport; the satisfaction of a full nights sleep on a red-eye flight; and the lists coming out of my ears to make sure I pack appropriately! Nonetheless, we are so lucky to live in the location that we do with the UAE’s versatile range of hotels, and looking back over the past six months, we have done a pretty good job of making the most out of them!

So here is a snapshot of what’s to come…

City Breaks
There’s nothing more relaxing than finding an oasis in the centre of a bustling, vibrant city. And we uncovered two of those this summer! Starting the year at the newly opened Address Sky View hotel with unbeatable views of the Burj Khalifa, it was a birthday to remember.

We then ventured into the narrow streets of Sharjah for our first staycay in the Emirate. The Chedi Al Bait is a hidden gem located in the middle of a busy street, but once you step inside the walls you’re welcomed by the calming sound of silence.

Beach Vibes
As soon as lockdown lifted in the UAE we headed straight for Ajman, the rules were slightly more relaxed, the hotel swimming pools were open and alcohol was being served so we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful stay at the Fairmont, Ajman.

Zabeel Saray – a hotel that has been on the hotel bucket list for a while! But we finally got to experience the hotel first hand (and yes, I did find an amazing deal).

A hotel that we have visited many, many times before is Le Royal Meridien but I was finally able to enjoy a one night stay! It was the perfect girly weekend full of sunbathing, wine, lots of wine, and fun!

Desert Dreaming
The one night stay that, I don’t think, will ever be beaten! Al Maha Luxury Desert Resort is exactly what it says in the name! The hotel really catered for our every need during our stay as well as the needs we didn’t know we had!

At the time of writing this post we also have one more staycation planned for a few weeks time for Ryan’s birthday as we are off to Sir Bani Yas Island. We have heard amazing things about this hotel so I can’t wait to experience it for ourselves!

I hope you enjoy the reviews to come, and hopefully by the time they’re finished, we will be ready to board a plane for our first holiday of the year… (please keep everything crossed for us!)

Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

Stellies and Safari

Our recent 10 day trip to South Africa was split into three parts, four nights in Cape Town (you can read about it here and also about all of the amazing food that we ate here) three nights in Stellenbosch and two nights at a safari lodge – the Garden Route Game Reserve. Each part of the trip was completely different to the other, with each area having a totally different vibe.  This is one reason I loved South Africa; the abundance of activities and beautiful places that it has to explore.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, or “Stellies” as the locals refer to it, is only a short one hour drive from Cape Town. We had pre-booked a driver however, we soon found out that most people simply book an Uber to take them, this is a much cheaper option, although having our hotel transfer was very convenient. As you leave Cape Town, the terrain changes entirely, the towns become more dispersed, it’s much greener and you can see mountains and fields for miles.

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Zorgvliet Wine Estate

When deciding on our accommodation for Stellenbosch there was a huge selection to choose from. So many lovely boutique hotels; farm houses; luxury guest houses and so on. One of our criteria was that we wanted to choose accommodation that was directly connected to its own vineyard, but within a reasonable budget so we decided on Zorgvliet Wine Estate.

When we arrived the sun was beaming down and it was a gorgeous 27 degrees! The hotel only has 12 rooms which sleep from one to six guests so it had a very personal feel to it. From checking in the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and we were able to head straight to our room. We decided to take a walk out through the vineyards and explore the estate. Everything was so beautiful. We made our way round to the chapel and wine tasting room. You are able to hire the hotel and grounds out for private weddings, I kind of wish I knew this a year ago!

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Situated around the back of the hotel was a cute little farm shop (which I spent far too much money in) and they had a picnic basket menu …. yes, a menu for selecting your picnic basket. It was so cute! We chose a basket that came with chicken wraps, cold cuts of hams, a cheese selection, salad, baguette, chocolate brownie and, most importantly, a bottle of white wine! We sat on one of the little picnic benches enjoying our picnic and it was just lovely.

The Fat Butcher

That night, we ventured out of the hotel to visit the Fat Butcher steak restaurant which is located in Stellenbosch town centre. We drove through the university campuses to get there so it was nice to see a bit more of the town. From the outside, the restaurant looks very quaint and relatively small, inside was a different story! There were several different rooms all full of people dining. We were sat in the main room, close to the bar. The interior was lovely and the staff were all wearing lovely brown leather aprons. To start, I ordered the carpaccio which was really thick compared to the usually wafer thin slices of beef, I was almost full with the main part yet to come! Ryan had the bone marrow which most other people appeared to order as well! For our main we shared an 850g T-bone steak with truffle mash, seasonal veggies and a bottle of red wine. There was no room for dessert, but there was space for an espresso martini! The overall bill came to just over £50, we couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if we are just spoilt with Dubai prices or if South Africa really is super cheap!

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Delaire Graff Wine Estate

The next morning, Ryan headed out to De Zalze golf course for a round of golf and I had booked myself in for a spa morning at Delaire Graff Estate. I had a 60 minute body massage followed by a 60 minute facial and then headed out to the infinity pool for a chill, what a treat. Ryan joined my shortly after and we sat and had a few glasses of champagne while chilling around the pool. We had a wine tasting session booked in where we sampled five of their wines, followed by lunch out on the terrace. The food was amazing! I had the pork belly and Ryan chose the sea bass. By the time we left I was quite tipsy and very full. We arrived back at our hotel and Ryan went for more wine tasting (I don’t know how he managed it) whilst I had a little snooze around the pool.

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On our final day in the winelands we headed across to Franschhoek. We had booked a transfer with the Wine Tram company in advance but it wasn’t actually required as it was only around a 15 minute drive from our hotel and we definitely could have got an uber there. The Franschhoek Wine Tram was one of our favourite days in SA! You definitely need to book in advance online to avoid disappointment and do a bit of research to decide which vineyards and route you would like to do for the day. I let Ryan choose this for us and he decided on the orange line. We started by getting on a bus to the first part of the tram line for the orange route. Once we sat on the tram we were each given our first glass of wine of the day … it was 9.36am!

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At the start of the day you’re provided with a schedule which outlines each of the stops, the time that the tram or bus arrives, and the time that it will depart. They stick to the schedule by the minute! The tram/bus picks you up from each stop after every 35 minutes / 1 hour 10 / 1 hour 45 and so on, so you can plan your day according to how many stops you wish to visit.

The first vineyard we visited was Noble Hill. We sat out in a cute little terrace for the wine tasting followed by a stroll around the grounds. We allowed 1 hour 10 for this stop so we didn’t feel rushed and it was just the right amount of time.

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Next, we visited Babylonstoren and spent just under three hours here! As you leave the bus stop on the left hand side they have a small gift shop that sells soaps and creams and you can make your own foot scrub and face clay! I had far too much fun in here mixing up the little potions. We also saw the small factory at the back where they extract lavender and rosemary oil from the leaves harvested around their grounds.

Their wine tasting room was a lovely bright area with floor to ceiling windows so you could look out across the vineyards. It was absolutely packed full of people in there but we managed to get a seat and enjoy the tasting. Some people were pairing their wine tasting with food platters but we had made a lunch reservation at a different restaurant on the grounds, Babel. Just outside the restaurant were two huge turkeys, I made a joke that they were getting ready for Christmas to which the waitress replied “those are actually our pets”… awkward.

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The food in Babel was amazing, honestly we didn’t have a bad meal during our entire holiday! I had the steak with my favourite glass of red wine I had tried during the tasting and Ryan ordered the pork belly. I could have spent all day at this vineyard as there were so many parts to it and if you follow them on Instagram they show different activities they have on at different times of the week, such as gardening and activities within their farm.

Our penultimate stop was at Vrede En Lust. By this point I was 11 glasses in and actually needed a break, Ryan soldiered on though and sampled another six wines there. This was my favourite vineyard for views. We sat outside on the little terrace looking across the vineyard with the mountains in the background and you could see the tram line and watch the tram arrive into the platform.

Our final stop of the day was at Boschendal it was stunning and by far the largest
estate that we visited. I decided to do the Rose Garden tasting which included two “tastings” of champagne which actually turned out to be full size glasses! I’m not sure how we were still standing by the end but we headed back to Stellenbosch and decided to chill in and have dinner at the little restaurant within the hotel.

Safari

The last stop of our trip was a two night stay at the Garden Route Game Reserve. It was a four hour drive from Stellenbosch to the reserve so we booked our driver in advance via the Game Reserve itself. The journey really wasn’t too bad and on the way we saw baboons and a little giraffe out in the distance. As we turned into the Game Reserve I was so excited.

We checked in and were given our itinerary for the three days. We had just enough time to drop our bags to our cute little hut before heading out on our first sunset safari. Our jeep held ten people plus our guide and we headed out in search of the Big Five.

The reserve’s land stretches for hectares! It is separated into different sections housing certain animals. Firstly is the elephant enclosure. The reserve has two elephants, both of which were rescued from elephant back safaris and are now living at the Reserve. As they have been used to human contact, and due to the huge amount of food that they eat per day, the eles have a bit of help from the staff with their food but you still cannot get close enough to touch them.

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The second area houses cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, zebra, water buffalo, ostrich, antelope, gazelles, springbok and many more. All of these animals live life as if they are truly out in the wild. There is no human contact whatsoever and you really have to drive around searching for the animals! We were lucky enough to see a Mummy, Daddy and baby rhino! When asked how many rhinos the reserve has our guide informed us that they are not allowed to disclose the exact number as rhinos are a protected animal and in danger of poachers so they have to keep their rhinos safe!

We were also lucky enough to see a cheetah with her four cheetah cubs! The cubs are around five months old, still a bit fluffy and super cute! The mum has a collar on her neck and when we asked why this was, our guide informed us that they track the mum to ensure that she and the babies are safe while they are growing. The reserve is also part of a cheetah conservation programme whereby when the cheetah cubs are old enough they will be sent to another game reserve to live. This ensures that the cheetahs bloodlines stay pure and there is no interbreeding within the families.

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Part way through our safari we pulled over for a little picnic, we had wine, beer some snacks and watched as the sun was starting to set. At he end of the Safari we were dropped back to the main part of the reserve where the staff had lit some bonfires and stood around having a glass of wine before heading to dinner. The perfect end to an amazing day.

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We were up bright and early the next morning to head out on the sunrise safari. We were told the animals were likely to be more active than the previous evening and we set off in search of the King of the Jungle in the lions section. The gates opened and as we drove through we saw the first of many springbok carcasses abandoned in the grass. As we approached we saw the big daddy with not one but four female lions around him. We stopped nearby, but still at a safe distance, and watched them go about their morning. One of the females started walking around and pulled a funny face that looked as if she was about to sneeze (our little cat Ted actually pulls the same face at home sometimes) and our guide informed as that she was picking up a scent of prey to catch for their lunch! This enclosure also homes springbok, antelope, gazelles etc so the lions are required to hunt for their prey; and the prey are still required to run!

The Safari ended at around 7.30am so we had breakfast and by this point the rain had set in so we sat out in the balcony at our hut over looking the watering hole and decided to crack open a bottle of champagne before our massage at midday!

Our final Safari that evening took us to yet another enclosure, this time in search of the final animal on our Big Five list, the giraffes. This enclosure is the newest piece of land that the reserve owns and only opened last year as it took four year to create the correct terrain for the giraffes and to plot the route for the safari to take. We were searching for around an hour before eventually sighting the giraffes. We stopped off again for our sunset picnic before driving back to the main reserve. As it had been raining that day we were lucky enough to see a hippo out of the watering hole grazing.

We had such an amazing time at be Garden Route Game Reserve and I would highly recommend it for those who don’t have enough time to head down to Kruger or other national parks that are much further away from Cape Town. It’s clear that all of the staff at the reserve are extremely passionate about the welfare of the animals and focus on the importance of allowing them to remain living in the “wild” whilst in the safe boundaries of the reserve.