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Dec 2016

The Okavango seasons explained

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The Okavango Seasons, Botswana.

There are several natural influences on the seasons within the Okavango Delta: the rainfall, the flow of floodwater, annual variations, changes in animal habits and migrating birds, are some of them. Here is an attempt to synthesize it all into a simple diagram:-


You could spend a lot of time explaining the implications of this diagram, but the point is, there is always something interesting going on in the Okavango and there simply isn’t a bad time to visit.

Bear in mind that a camp’s location is also a factor: some camps are built next to permanent water courses (rivers and lagoons) others experience a wet and dry season. If you’re considering a visit, it’s probably best to email or call us, and we can talk you through it. Office manager Mark has made six visits to the Okavango Delta over the years and is always happy to discuss seasons and which camps may suit you best.





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Dec 2016

Riding in the Okavango Delta

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Where’s the best place to ride in Africa? Top of the Bucket List? It’s got to be The Okavango Delta in Botswana.


Riding in the Okavango Delta from Macatoo Camp

The reason? There’s nothing better than cantering alongside a mixed mob of 500 zebra and giraffe. Add in the simply incredible natural beauty of the Okavango, and the zest that comes from knowing lions are probably giving you the eye, and the recipe is nearly complete.

The horses love their work, the guides are fantastic and the accommodation is dreamy, not ostentatious, just spot-on for this environment. Nowhere else in the world has all these ingredients.

There are four stables in the Okavango, marked in red below:-


Here’s a ready-reckoner about herd size, numbers of riders and young rider policy:-

Young riders

Number of
horses in herd

group size
Minimum age
12 yrs
12 yrs
12 yrs
No min age

Working out when to visit the Okavango is not quite so easy. We have prepared a guide to the seasons below, but it’s tricky to grasp, so please call us to talk it through and we can give you an impartial interpretation.


Okavango horses love munch lillies!

The Okavango Delta seasons in a nutshell.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is the largest inland delta in the world at 15,000 Km². It’s sandwiched between two deserts, the Namib on the west and the Kalahari on the east.

Local rainfall, such as it is, falls between Christmas and February (about 3 inches per month).

Ibo Island. Mozambique

Okavango canters can be long and splashy

The rain in neighbouring Angola (to the north) falls in Feb and March and takes a good month or two to flow 1,000 Km to reach the Okavango Delta. Rainfall and flood-flow vary from year-to-year. Water levels vary within the Delta from area to area. So this is not a precise science!

Local rainfall causes a mini-peak in water level in February; the flood causes a larger peak in April. In between May and Christmas the waters gradually recede. The significance is that when local rainfall is zero, the Delta has abundant water which attracts animals from far and wide, contributing to Africa’s greatest concentration of wildlife.

So when to visit? Each month has its pros and cons and there isn’t one spectacular month, as there is for example in the Serengeti or Maasai Mara when catching the Migration is crucial. The Okavango Delta is good, for different reasons, every month. When you add calving and foaling, wild dogs denning, water levels and daily temperatures you have a bit of a Rubix Cube to solve. Here is a calendar with some of the variables marked:-


Mokoro down-time. There’s nothing more relaxing after a few days riding than poling along in a dugout (Mokoro) canoe.

What’s the budget?

Peak demand coincides with the summer months in Europe, when Okavango temperatures are particularly favourable, day and night. But the Okavango is enchanting at any time of year: for example, the diminutive Bell Frog, or “Painted Reed Frog” to give it its proper moniker, serenades you in the evening and is particularly vivacious immediately before the local rains come (Nov and Dec). As their name suggests, they have a charming call that sounds like a blend between a tinkling silver bell and an ever-so-dainty percussion instrument.

The Okavango Delta has hidden gems and remarkable secrets to reveal at every season.

Here’s a guide to the lodges’ seasons:-

Standard Mid Peak Open
Jan, Feb, March, 16th Nov and early Dec Apr, May, Jun,            1-15th Jul & 1-15th Nov 16th -31st Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct & Xmas Dates camp open
Macatoo/AHS £475 £550 £610 All year
Motswiri/RAW £525 £625 £730 All year
OHS £480 £570 £640 Feb to Dec
Thamalakane £415 £415 £455 All year

* Subject to exchange rates

* Transfers not included, except Ride Botswana

* Seasons quoted are approx

OHS (Okavango Horse Safaris) was the pioneer of riding safaris in the Delta in about 1995’ish. Next to establish was African Horse Safaris and their camp called Macatoo, then RAW (Motswiri Camp) and Ride Botswana (Thamalakane) which is handily placed close to Maun.

If you’re travelling with children under 12 then your decision is made for you: it has to be Ride Botswana.

OHS have a lovely camp called Kujwana where their stable is and from where you can ride to their sister camp Mokolowane and two fly camps (i.e. lightweight, fully mobile camps) which allows them to create a thrilling trail riding experience within the Delta.

Macatoo and Motswiri are further in to the Delta than OHS or Thamalakane which means the transfers are longer (35 min flight by plane) but once in camp you are unlikely to encounter other safaris.; though the same is true of OHS and Thamalakane.

The point to stress is that you are deciding between superlatives: all four camps are outstanding top-of-the-bucket-list places.


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Dec 2016

What’s a saucepan lid got to do with it?

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The hidden bonus of a Spanish Riding holiday


Riding in the Pyrennes

There are lots of reasons to go riding in Spain, but the eateries and wine bars aren’t usually top of most riders’ “Wish List”. You tend to think of the outstanding horses, riding for hours without crossing a tarmac road and opportunities to swim with your horse in lakes and the sea. But each evening you are in for a treat: the hostess will produce tapas accompanied by the local wine, which combine superbly.

Taps, which literally translates as “saucepan lid”, comes from the days when most travellers couldn’t read and most inn-keepers couldn’t write. This made a menu redundant. So an inn-keeper would present samples of the meals available, displayed on a saucepan lid, for the traveller to try and chose their evening meal.

People like to graze and besides, if you’re sharing a selection of small dishes, the focus turns to the conversation and camaraderie rather than tackling a serious meal. And the notion is flourishing!

Andalusian grey and red-head rider

Spanish PRE or “Andalusian”

Combine the “saucepan lid” with the local wine, a day in the saddle, and you have a marriage made in heaven. No matter where you are in the country you’ll be close to an outstanding wine ‘label’ – and it’s true that Spanish wine tastes even better in its place of origin. Our Pyrenees to Mediterranean ride  is close Cava and Rioja country; and in the Sierra Nevada you’re close to all the wonderful sherries. And imagine how well that combines with the local tapas …



Journey’s End: the Mediterranean coast


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Dec 2016

Countries That Don’t Exist

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents /


Hidden worlds

Desert - full moon rise
3 ‘Countries’ that Don’t Actually Exist
… but you can still visit.

Here are 3 countries to add to your Bucket List; they have flags, functioning governments and an independent spirit, but the world hasn’t acknowledged them, and they haven’t secured a seat at the United Nations General Assembly, so they don’t officially exist!

1. Greenland
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark travelled to Greenland in 2009 to give it self-rule; she even wore national dress for the occasion: knee-high sealskin boots and a hoodless anorak. She delivered the self-governance law to Greenland’s parliament, so ending 300 years of Danish authority. She remains Greenland’s head of state, but the world’s largest island gained control of its police force and justice system, and Greenlandic became the official language. Nearly there, but not fully independent.

But should I visit?  Definitely. Access the icy isle by air or expedition cruise; sail the fjord-serrated coast, trek to the Arctic Circle and see the Northern Lights.


Glaciers by day, Northern Lights by night!

2. Somaliland
In 1960, former British Somaliland became independent for five days before joining Italian Somaliland (the southern part of the country) to create the Somali Republic. Not a happy marriage so British Somaliland seceded and reverted to “independent” in 1991 complete with its own parliament, currency, car registrations, even biometric passports. But it remains unrecognised by any other state. The rest of the world prefers to pretend the Somali Republic is a viable country.

But should I visit?  Not really; bit of a war zone still.

3. Barotseland
Every year the Zambezi River floods creating a great show at Victoria Falls, but serious inconvenience for people who dwell on the floodplain. Floodplain residents, such as the Barotseland people, are obliged to move to higher ground, leaving their waterlogged villages behind. Barotseland has a history stretching back five centuries; during the colonial period Barotseland was a British protectorate, governed alongside Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) but with greater autonomy. Barotseland has always been a mobile kingdom. When Zambia gained independence, Barotseland was supposed to maintain that element of self-rule, but successive Zambian governments have eroded the agreement. In 2012, the royal household announced a peaceful disengagement from Zambia.

But should I visit?  Yes. The far west of Zambia is magical. The magnificent Liuwa Plains; wonderful Kafue N.P. and only a handful of intrepid visitors to share it with.


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Oct 2016

Flamingo Strut

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /



If you’re not familiar with Africa’s national parks, close your eyes and imagine that opening scene from “Out of Africa”, the one where the bi-plane swoops down low over a lake and sets off a pink powder-puff storm-cloud of flamingos: that sequence was filmed at Nakuru in Kenya!


Flamingos at Lake Bogoria

The floor of the Rift Valley is surprisingly high (1,754 m above sea level) and there are several lakes that lie in a chain running north-to-south. Some lakes are fresh water and some alkaline, or “soda lakes”. The significance is that soda lakes support the algae that flamingos filter from the water and live upon. So if you would like to see flamingos, you first need to identify the soda lakes. The two main ones are Lake Nakuru and the rather hidden-away Lake Bogoria


These two neighbouring parks contain a wide variety of habitats that include savannah grassland, steep wooded slopes and the all-important wetlands. They are best known for their flamingo population (both Greater and Lesser flamingos) which number in the millions; the population fluctuates with food supply (the algae) the breeding season and the water level. The best vantage point is Baboon Cliff which rises sharply from the shore and presents a glorious panorama.


There are 25 black and 70 white rhino as well as the rare Rothschild’s giraffe (the same species that lives at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi). In recent years it has also become one of the best places East Africa to see leopards. Something for everyone!


Think of these parks as a “2 day module” that can be included in any safari itinerary. We can tailor-make safaris and here’s a useful guide to the National Parks of Kenya

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Oct 2016

Love in a Warm Climate

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Love In A Warm Climate

Sue Whitehouse & Lucero with Sara Llewellyn & Llampec

Sue Whitehouse & Lucero with Sara Llewellyn & Llampec

“I’ve fallen in love with a Spanish man”. That’s how it was announced. To say that it changed lives is probably an overstatement; over egging the omelette, Spanish or otherwise, but it certainly had a huge impact.


But to begin at the beginning: Sue and Sara were heading off to Catalonia in the Spanish Pyrenes for a week’s riding holiday. They had done their homework and knew all about the rugged terrain that begins high in the Pyrenes Mountains and follows a tangle of ancient trackways to emerge on a Mediterranean beach one week later. They knew to expect some long days in the saddle of 6 hours, 8 hours and perhaps even longer if the weather didn’t behave or if the trail was impeded. Above all they knew that they would be riding Andalusians, or the Spanish PRE (Pura Raza Española), and that, perhaps, was the strongest draw of all.

If you have never ridden an Andalusian you’re lucky. Because it means you have a treat in store. This is a breed that’s as old as the hills with its DNA in all sorts of stock, all over the world. The Conquistadores took them to the New World for their scrap with the Incas; the cowboys caught on and the Andalusian is the foundation of the American Quarter Horse as well as the various Creole varieties that the Gauchos ride throughout South America. Closer to home you’ll find their DNA in Frankel and throughout the Thoroughbred family tree. Where would we be without the Andalusian? They have ‘presence’; I think they recognise a camera and love the limelight. And they’re smart, they’re able to read their rider and react in the right way. They’re tough too: if you’re looking for a good doer who can survive without a rug wardrobe and special grub, and give an Arab a run for its money in an Endurance event, look no further

The alchemy of a good riding holiday is matching rider to horse, a process that begins with form-filling. If you ask someone “What kind of rider are you?” most riders will under-sell themselves, a few over-sell, not many get it spot on. So we have developed a brief questionnaire which teases out the right information and which we send out to the host stable allowing them to gauge the marriage of rider and horse. Day One in Catalonia is meet your horse and take a trial ride, if all is harmonious, we hit the trail. Sue and Sara knew all was right, very right, by the end of the first day. By the end of the second day, which includes a picnic lunch break on the shore of a pretty large lake, and an opportunity to swim with your horse, the decision had been made though not announced.

This trail is an absolute beauty, one of the loveliest rides we do anywhere in the world partly because the terrain is so varied, partly because the food is always so good, partly because it’s so convenient (the flight’s a couple of hours) and partly because it takes you utterly, completely out of your ‘normal’ into a world of horses, gorgeous scenery and charming hamlets, all wrapped up in just 7 days. As bangs-for-your-buck go, this is a winner.

So at the end of the week, the question was popped, would the stable consider selling these two fantastic horses? And how do you go about wrapping a horse up, sorting out all the bits of paper and bringing it home? Surprisingly easily is the answer. There’s a modest bit of horse-dealing to agree the facts and figures, but quite honestly, buying an Andalusian in the place of their birth is a bit of a bargain. The vet-checks and passports are again, all straight forward, and the shipping is only a couple of phone calls. Meanwhile, you need to prepare the accommodation. These horses aren’t accustomed to stables, they rarely walk on concrete and have never seen grass as lush as a Somerset meadow. Common sense prevails and introducing new horses to a new environment isn’t rocket science. But it is quite handy to keep the husband on board! So the announcement needed qualification: this ‘Spanish lover’ has four legs, can’t fix a stable up and isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. He might be a rival for your time, but at the end of the day, he’s just the ultimate holiday souvenir.

[Footnotes. Budget around £2.5 K to £3.5 K for a good Andalusian bought in Catalonia. £1k more if it’s a registered PRE. Transport should come in at less than a thousand pounds including all the ferry transport, tolls and VAT. The horses are exported from Spain with paperwork completed, microchipped and passport all included.

Sue Whitehouse & Lucero

Sue Whitehouse & Lucero: a quiet moment

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Sep 2016

Gorilla dilemma

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The Mountain Gorilla dilemma.

The BBC recently published an article titled “The Dark Side of Uganda’s gorilla tourism industry”. As the title suggests, it’s all about the recurrent dilemma of human populations coming into conflict with endangered wildlife species. The article is available here


The gist of the article is that the mountain gorillas and specific human communities, and in this instance it’s the Batwa Pygmies, both wish to occupy the same land area in the Virunga Mountains. The dilemma is that the two can’t co-exists so one party has to move, and you can’t move gorillas. So the Batwa were relocated.


It’s a really tricky problem to resolve and I can see both sides of this particular argument. I don’t think that the provocative and inflammatory language used in the article helps the situation. I do think that a responsibility exists for the authorities who moved the Batwa to ensure that their lives may continue harmoniously. Requiring traditional forest-dwellers to live in an urban environment isn’t harmonious.


Mountain gorilla conservation has been one of Africa’s conservation success stories. A significant driver supporting the conservation is the fee paid to the park authorities for each visit, currently $600 a pop. That’s a lot of money. As a tour operator who regularly sends visitors to Uganda to visit the mountain gorillas I have been assured that a percentage filtres down to the local people, so that they too benefit from mountain gorilla visitors. After all, they are the ones who have made way for the gorillas and agreed to leave specific tracts of land for their use.


I’m wary or the “a percentage” reference. In my experience, when it comes to money, you need to be specific. What percentage? Can it be audited? How is this elusive percentage being spent?


There’s very little a small UK tour operator can do to successfully communicate with the Uganda government, national park conservation bodies, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and other mountain gorilla stakeholders. But Venture Co is a long-standing member of Responsible Travel (RT) and collectively we (the members) are able to do something. One of the guiding lights of sustainable tourism is Prof Harold Goodwin And here’s a note from the folk at RT:


“… we’re actually going to be partnering with Prof. Harold Goodwin on a project which aims to help resolve some of the issues here – to ensure that local communities, the Batwa in particular, can benefit from gorilla tourism.

Harold has been out in Uganda for the past couple of weeks and we will then be working with him on possible tourism solutions …”.

Watch this space! And well done to RT for taking this initiative.

Silverback pondering life

Silverback pondering life

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Jun 2016

Namib Wild Horses – An amazing story of survival

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents /

There are wild horses living on the edge of the Namib Desert, the Namib Desert Horse. That’s a remarkable fact; what’s less clear is their origin. Clearly, they’re not truly “wild” rather “feral” but theirs is an amazing story of survival and adaption to a harsh environment.

Namib Wild Horses - Namibia Nomad

The Wild Horses of Namibia

The herd of the Namib Desert Horse probably has several origins, but with a common denominator: in the early twentieth century, before the First World War, the demand for horses declined. The cavalry regiments operating in Southwest Africa had excess stock and the studs that supplied them had excess stock. The solution mutual to both organisations was to turn the horses loose. Not a responsible thing to do, but it’s a practice that still exists today; people shy away from their responsibility and turn unwanted horses loose.

Namib Wild Horses - range

The Wild Horses on their home range

In the Namib it turned into an inspiring tale of survival: the horses, from all the various sources, gradually congregated on the Garub Plain not too far from Luderitz. This is a desert environment and the point about Garub is that it’s where the first manmade waterhole was sunk, to provide water for the steam trains running on the Luderitz line. Most of the wild game in the Namib is desert-adapted and can go long periods without drinking, not so for horses. The horses must have sensed or smelt the water and made their way to it, thus gradually forming a herd.

In 1991 the first aerial census was carried out and identified 276 individual horses. The following year there was a drought which lasted almost 2 years and devastated the herd. This year (2016) numbers have recovered and just topped 150 individuals.

Namib wild horses - Wolwedeans landscape

The Wolwedeans landscape

Namib Desert Horse herd origins

There are three probable sources of the Namib herd. A significant source is probably German nobleman, Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf who lived at Duwisib Castle. He had a stud of 300 and it appears that after WW 1 there was no-one to look after them and they went feral (The baron was killed in action in 1916). At a similar time the South African Expeditionary Force that had taken control of the Lüderitz- Keetmanshoop line during the First World War appears to have had more horses than they required. An astonishing 15,000 horses were shipped from Germany to Namibia in 1904. And the third source is a ship wreck: a cargo of thoroughbreds was en route from the UK to Australia and was wrecked near the mouth of the Orange River. Horses are strong swimmers and it’s not beyond imagination to conject that some of them swam ashore and joined the herd. Genetic tests have been performed, but none so far has proved conclusive.


There have been several population studies in recent years which have revealed fascinating facts about their group dynamics and remarkable ability to survive and thrive in a desert. Dr Telané Greyling, who will be joining the BHS ride in April 2017,  has lived and worked in Namibia for many years and is an authority on the Wild Horses of the Namib. The Namib-Naukluft National Park authorities have now assumed responsibility for the herd and their future looks assured.

 Namib wild horse expert

Telane – expert on the Namib breed


The Namib Desert Horse, a pure breed.

The Namib Desert Horse has developed in isolation for over 100 years and is now regarded as a breed in its own right, “The Namib”.

Our  Namib Desert Ride

Imagine riding through the Namib Desert and seeing the remarkable Namib Desert Horses in the wild. Our 11day  Namib Desert Ride invites you to ride across this ancient desert all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Find out more here


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Feb 2016

Namibia 1,000 Km ride

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

The Epic Ride, Namibia. 6th May – 5th June 2016

Two spaces have become available on the Epic Ride from Twyfelfontein in Damaraland to Luderitz in the Southern Namib, Namibia. That’s the one that covers 1,000 km on a horse!

This is the ultimate riding challenge for anyone who loves all things wild and free and plenty of space!

The last day along the Atlantic beach

The last day along the Atlantic beach

Rate: £9000 per person for the month-long ride.


Sunset in the Namib Desert

Sunset in the Namib Desert

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Jan 2016


Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, South America /

How to make your travel money last longer.

No-one likes getting burnt by excessively harsh bank fees while overseas and we all want to make the dollars, yen or pesos last a little longer. You can do something about the twin worries of running out of money and the charges your bank may apply for accessing sterling from within a foreign country. Here are our top 3 tips:


  1. Get a specialist credit card for overseas use.

If you prefer to pay with plastic, rather than carry a wad of foreign currency, you need to obtain a card that doesn’t apply a “foreign loading fee”. If the card you choose also provides protection against buying faulty items via “Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act” so much the better. Which? Money see here Credit cards for overseas spending show a selection of cards that tick this box. Remember to clear the balance when you return home within the “free” period.


  1. Obtain a pre-paid card.

Think of the Oyster card people use on the London underground: you “load” it with a few pounds and then tap in/out without touching cast. Pre-paid cards work in the same way, pay-as-you-go. The exchange rate is established at the time you load the card and (so long as the currencies match one-another) there are no further foreign exchange fees. There are loads of this type of card around, and to mention five, take a look at Sainsbury’s Bank, Co-op, Moneycorp, Revolut and the good old Post Office.


  1. Timing!

Exchange rates yo-yo; most people don’t pay much attention, but if you know you’re heading overseas within the next six months, then it’ll pay you to obtain one of the cards mentioned in number 2, above and then watch the rates. Right now, for example, the pound is not doing well against the dollar (approx 1.42) compared to a few months ago when it was trading at approx 1.55. That’s equivalent to £13 extra for each £100 you buy. It’s impossible to predict exchange rates, and the best advice is not to be greedy: set a figure you’ll be happy with and as soon as the exchange rate hits it, purchase the currency.Explore India by Car

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