Members of the United States Tour Operators Association know the best way to experience a destination is through the local people. While in South Africa with Swain Destinations, Kelley Ferro, travel expert, video journalist and contributor to Tripfilms.com, had the opportunity to visit, meet and interact with locals and gain real insight in the South African life today.

More on how to tour South Africa like a local:

Get Off the Tour Bus

by Nina Dietzel, AFAR Ambassador

AFAR’s co-founder Joe Diaz likes to boil ‘traveling like a local’ down to “Get off the tour bus and sit at someone’s kitchen table”. On our first day in South Africa with Collette, that’s just what we did. We got off the bus and visited Alina Mlotshwa’s home in Soweto to have lunch. Read the full post here.

Being Hugged by South Africa: Behind the Scenes of our Swain Destinations Tour

by Kelley Ferro

Our 20-seat plane skipped and bounced down the dirt runway and I had to blink a few times to realize that I was looking out the window at the African bush. Just 20 hours ago, I was waving goodbye to glittering Manhattan and now I was on a charter flight over the rolling plains of the Sabi Sands. Our pilot joked that he usually saw lions on this airstrip as he touched down. This was Africa and here it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are coming from, you all just dive right in. Read the full post here.

A Local Perspective in South Africa

by Nina Dietzel, AFAR Ambassador

To me, South Africa is one of the most fascinating countries to visit. It is furiously multi-cultural; a young democracy struggling to grow up fast to meet the country’s many challenges.

When I was invited to join Collette’s tour back in April, I was overjoyed, and at the same time I was a little hesitant to accept my assignment. The charge was to ‘travel like a local’ and I wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish that in a group, dashing from highlight to highlight across South Africa. Read the full post here.


by Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador 

Expectation has a way of bringing travel into perspective. But when expectation is paired with long-distance travel – in the case of my trip to Australia’s Northern Territory, a 14-hour jaunt book-ended by a pair of 4-hour flights – expectation also can shape the way you think about place and space.

Flipping through the pages of the remarkable itinerary prepared for me by the folks at USTOA, Tourism Northern Territory, and Goway Travel, I began comparing the unseen Australia to my own Canadian homeland, if for no other reason than to ground my trip on experience I already understood; I’m big on wide open spaces, the sort of which both Canada and Australia boast in spades. I’m comfortable in the Wild, in places where bison outnumber people, and was excited about arriving in the Outback, where I expected camels and kangaroos to outnumber man five-to-one. I like to think of myself as the rugged frontier type, always game for an adventure, and couldn’t wait to exchange knowing glances with the Paul Hogan-esque wardens of the Outback. Sure, my knowledge of Australia begins and ends with Crocodile Dundee, bushranger Ned Kelly, and poet Banjo Paterson, but there are worse icons to idolize. I was promised camel rides up and over desert dunes; campfires and cookouts under starry skies; and a glimpse at the Australia rarely seen. In short, I was set to experience the NT the way locals see it, and I’d have ample opportunity to compare the Oz in my head to the Oz in my heart, though I promised myself, under no circumstance whatsoever, would I at any point on this trip discuss shrimp on the barbie, dingos and babies, or the abomination that was Mick Dundee in LA. As my plane bumped across the tarmac at the Alice Springs airfield, I scrawled this promise across a page in my notebook, and underlined it twice in red ink. I polished off the last of my James Boag Lager, and set forth for adventure.

“… so I took a nasty bite from that big bugger, and that’s when I decided to give up spearfishing down south, and move to the Northern Territory for a look at the quiet life,” Laurie said, as he spirited me away from the airport and off into the NT’s red sand. I’d amused Laurie by trying to get into the driver’s seat when he picked me up – “you’re not driving my bloody car, I just had it washed,” he said with a smile – and we’d become fast friends. At first I thought someone from Goway Travel was putting me on; Laurie was so hyper-Outback that I thought he might have been a hired hand. But after twenty minutes together, I realized he was just a genuine bloke with a story to tell. “Mate,” he said, as he dropped me off at the gates of the Camel Cup, “you call me if you need a ride anyplace – even if you need a lift all the way up to Darwin, ‘cuz I got some family up there – or if you just feel like shooting the breeze. You’ve got my number.” And with that Laurie was off like a shot, no doubt to spend his day boxing kangaroos and wrangling venomous snakes.

And there I was, on the doorstep of my first great Outback experience. With abandon I stepped through the gates at Blatherskite Park and into a world of camels, sand, and costumes. I arrived in time for the Ms Camel Cup pageant, and was gobsmacked by peacocking ladies in full flight. The young and young at heart loaded their partners into antediluvian rickshaws for a zip around the dusty track, while something called the Honeymoon Handicap captured the attention of the 5,000 folks in attendance. Would-be husbands raced their snorting camels half way around the track, where they popped off, hoisted their future wives aboard the beasts, and continued on toward the finish line. All this before one of the “proper” races had been run. My first impression of the Northern Territory is certainly one I’ll never forget.

Ah, but those races! Gallant riders atop ornery steeds – some significantly more ornery than others – spiriting around the track in the pursuit of glory. At one point I was convinced I saw Santa Claus, mounted atop a yellow camel, being chased by a viking riding a brown camel. The moment was singularly captivating, difficult to express in words or images. You really had to be there. I realized in that moment that this was exactly what this trip was all about; the being, the experiencing, and the doing.

Be there I was, indeed; I can’t remember another trip where I felt so wrapped up in the moment. Goway Travel and Tourism Northern Territory thrust me in the center of the action. I was more than a spectator; had I told my guide I wanted to race, I probably would have been given my own camel (for the record, I didn’t ask, for fear of a positive response). I spent an incredible afternoon watching these massive “ships of the desert” sail across the Outback, marveled at the skill of some riders, and giggled at the utter terror strewn across the faces of others. I was caught firmly in the grip of even-toed ungulate madness, and toasted my good fortune alongside other revelers at the Lasseters tent, where post-race conversations ranged from “did you see that,” to “I can’t believe when…” The guests in the tent, probably more than a hundred strong, seemed to be split evenly between foreigners and visiting Aussies, each of us grinning slyly like we were in on some precious Outback secret. In more than one way, we were.

I couldn’t have wished for a better way to kick-start my adventures Down Under. The Goway Travel operators and Tourism Northern Territory had promised a truly unique Aussie experience – one that was “fully customizable.” Instead of itineraries carved from granite, my outfitters worked with me on making sure I got the most out of my time in Australia; they asked what sort of things I wanted to see and experience in the Outback, filling in the gaps with their fantastic local knowledge. That’s how I wound up deep in Thai bliss at Hanumans, Alice Springs’ finest upscale dining option, and toasting NT craft brews under the outdoor heaters at Monte’s, the social center of the town (as far as I could tell). Half a day with Goway Travel and Tourism Northern Territory and I had already sipped handcrafted suds, made fast friends with the local folk, and witnessed Santa Claus fall off a camel – the holy trinity of experiential travel. I expected this trip to be good, but should have listened carefully when they told me to expect the adventure of a lifetime. To think, the first day had barely come and gone.

For highlights of Flash Parker’s tour through Australia’s Northern Territory, click here.

Flash Parker is an AFAR Ambassador, photographer, travel writer and author from Toronto, Canada. His work has been published by Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Canadian Living, USA Today, Get Lost Magazine, GQ Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine and more. Follow Flash Parker on Twitter, FacebookInstagram or on his website.


by Kelley Ferro

Never have I been anywhere that has more “sky.” I know what you are going to say— “every place has the same amount of sky” but trust me, when you are standing in the desert of the Northern Territory, you might rethink that statement.

As I stepped onto the tarmac in the Northern Territory, I felt like I had just stepped onto a different planet. The Earth was glaringly red, sharp mountains jutted out of the expanse of desert, the trees looked like they had withstood millenniums and the sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. This place felt like it had seen the dawn of time—it felt ancient and primal. However the people of the Northern Territory could not have been more vibrant, youthful and fresh.

Kirsten, our Northern Territory guide, welcoming us at the airport.

Kirsten, our Northern Territory guide, welcoming us at the airport.

I was met at the gate with the biggest smiles and that warm, welcoming feeling continued throughout the trip. The Northern Territory Aussies were just happy to have us there. Everyone seemed so healthy and full of life and very much in tune with the natural surroundings. I was blown away by the nonchalance of Rex the Reptile Hunter, who cracked jokes while catching a lethal Western Brown Snake slithering by our feet. I listened to stories from the trio of brothers at Earth Sanctuary who knew just about everything about the sustainable living in the Outback. And I can’t leave out Mark, our cameleer and owner of the Camel Farm, whom I swear was having conversations with these leggy creatures as we rode across the plains into the sunset. This dry Outback sustained so much life and much of it was not in human form.

One of the three brothers that run Earth Sanctuary.

One of the three brothers that run Earth Sanctuary.

I had ridden a camel on a previous USTOA adventure in Egypt, so I assumed that I knew basically all that what was need to know about camels. They make funny, Chewbacca-like* sounds, they look at you as if they are unimpressed and they are really, really tall—much taller than any horse. But it wasn’t until I was plopped in the middle of Australia, in the expanse of beautiful Outback that is the Northern Territory, that I realized camels are SO much more.

Wally & I, ready for our jaunt into the desert.

Wally & I, ready for our jaunt into the desert.

Camels are not native to Australia, they were introduced in 19th century to help build up central Australia as their hardy nature makes them perfect for the harsh desert climate. When they were no longer needed, they were let go and these dromedaries flourished. At one point there were over one million feral camels across Australia. (Disclaimer: I learned all of this while watching Australia’s new hit movie, Tracks, on the plane. Tracks details the solo journey of one woman and four camels across the unforgiving outback and it’s a very good watch). All this feral camel information came in handy when I was 4 wheeling through the remote Kings Canyon. Our guide casually told us to watch out for wild camels as he sped off. I was expecting lizards or maybe a bird, but it’s not every day that you are dodging camels while racing through the Outback on a quad!

Though feral, these camels that we stumbled upon were so cute!

Though feral, these camels that we stumbled upon were so cute!

Besides being important in developing the Northern Territory, camels are also loved for sport. Alice Springs hosts an annual Camel Cup, where the fastest camels come to race for the grand prize. I once thought that these lumbering beasts could only chew their cud sideways and amble on their bony legs. I was wrong. These beasts can move! When they were speeding around the track, they were quite a dramatic spectacle. In addition to the races, there’s plenty of camel related entertainment for everyone. From the dancing camel mascot, to the human rickshaw races (we came in dead last) to the food-filled fairground atmosphere. Aussies come from far and wide to attend this camel fueled day. And the icing on the cake? While donning my most American get up, I was honored to be crowned Miss Camel Cup by Australia’s famous Big Brother star, Tahan.

Holding my winnings as Miss Camel Cup!

Holding my winnings as Miss Camel Cup!

I held a python, I took a photo of the horned lizard up close, I smiled face to face with a crocodile, and I fell asleep to the lullaby of the dingos outside of my tent, but I can’t deny that my favorite Northern Territory experience did indeed involve the camels. At the Uluru Camel Farm, I learned that each camel has his or her own personality. The owner, Mark, explained that some are mischievous while others just want to play, some are stubborn and some require humans to earn their love. The baby of the farm was named Milkshake. Unlike her fellow brethren that were caught in the wild and trained to take guests on tours, Milkshake was born on the farm and hand-reared by the cameleers. She thought she was a human and she had no qualms about getting friendly with all humans around her. She also seemed to be a bit of clotheshorse (see below).

Milkshake really liked to nibble my jacket and shoes.

Milkshake really liked to nibble my jacket and shoes.

Mark led us on a camel ride at sunset and these slow moving vehicles made me turn into a lower gear and breathe in the intricacies of Outback life. Sitting on top of Wally, a recently caught and trained camel, I realized how life out here was so synchronistic. Every plant, animal and human had to work together to survive in the stunning but severe landscape of the Outback. And as Wally and I ambled into the sunset, I felt like I was a part of that balance for just a brief moment in time.

Kelley_NT_7_a Kelley_NT_7_b

*Little known fact: Did you know that the voice of Chewbacca in “Star Wars” was actually made by a camel? 

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Kelley Ferro, travel expert, video journalist and contributor to Tripfilms.com just finished traveling in Australia’s Northern Territory with Goway Travel for our Travel Together campaign. Full videos of Kelley’s travels are coming soon, but in the meantime, enjoy a preview of her time in Australia’s Outback:

My first 4-wheeling experience was quite thrilling- especially when we were told "go as fast as you want but watch out for feral camels." Um ok...

My first 4-wheeling experience was quite thrilling- especially when we were told “go as fast as you want but watch out for feral camels.” Um ok…

Learning about the Aboriginal stories at Uluru (Ayers Rock) on an early morn in the Outback.

Learning about the Aboriginal stories at Uluru (Ayers Rock) on an early morn in the Outback.

Meet Wally, my ride to dinner. Not the fastest or most comfortable ride of my life but it was definitely the most memorable!

Meet Wally, my ride to dinner. Not the fastest or most comfortable ride of my life but it was definitely the most memorable!

Her name is "Milkshake" & she us a diva. She kept eating my shoes & nuzzling me to pet her. Who needs a dog when you can have a pet camel!

Her name is “Milkshake” & she us a diva. She kept eating my shoes & nuzzling me to pet her. Who needs a dog when you can have a pet camel!

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.


Kelley Ferro, travel expert, video journalist and contributor to Tripfilms.com, turns her perceptions of tours upside down while in South Africa. USTOA Members like Swain Destinations provide flexibility, access to hot spots and lesser known hidden gems, and insider knowledge of the best places to sip regional wine, see the best sunset, meet locals and explore natural wildlife… resulting in a customized trip perfectly tailored to meet travelers wants and needs.

For more up close and personal looks at the people and experiences of South Africa, check out these specialized videos from Kelley Ferro on wildlifeluxury travelfood and touring like a local.

Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.


by Nina Dietzel, AFAR Ambassador

AFAR’s co-founder Joe Diaz likes to boil ‘traveling like a local’ down to “Get off the tour bus and sit at someone’s kitchen table”. On our first day in South Africa with Collette, that’s just what we did. We got off the bus and visited Alina Mlotshwa’s home in Soweto to have lunch.

Alina’s carport/restaurant

Alina’s carport/restaurant

Alina’s story is quite infectious. She used to take visitors through Soweto, but over time there was too much competition and work became scarce. Soweto was flooded with ‘guides’ taking visitors to the famous Vilakazi Street, but neglected to share Soweto’s vibrant Township life. Alina decided to change that, and began to invite strangers into her home for a more authentic experience.