Nothing excites our very own Luxury Travel Muse, Yvonne Verstandig, more than travelling off the beaten path. “I am that girl who has always craved adventure,” she confesses, and that’s why experiential luxury adventure travel became her specialty and greatest passion. Yvonne reveals the splendours of a recent 50th birthday celebration experiencing the best of Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and the Seychelles. (photography – Allan Verstandig)

PUSHING the boundaries brings a thrill to my heart so it is no wonder I feel a rush when hiking in the mountains, skiing off-piste in the Alps, a sense of solitude deep in the sea while scuba diving, immersing myself amongst the locals to be engulfed by the most authentic travel experiences imaginable. I had a big birthday ahead, my 50th, so I planned the perfect holiday to ensure I was going to enjoy every single day of my month abroad with my family. I wanted to be thrilled, enchanted, intrigued and absorbed in different cultures. I designed my trip of a lifetime with my trusted African operator and every part of the holiday delivered a highlight. We started the journey in Rwanda, crossed the border to Uganda and then on to neighbouring Kenya before finishing off in paradise, in the Seychelles.

Rwandan resurrection

What a start to our trip to East Africa in Rwanda, a country resurrecting itself from a horrific past. After a night in Kigali and a few hours spent in the genocide museum (with disbelief as we walked solemnly through each room of photos, artefacts and stories), we headed off to the Volcanoes National Park.

Driving through the countryside in Rwanda – referred to as the country of 1000 hills – offered us an insight into Rwandan life in the country villages far removed from Kigali. We headed to Volcanoes National Park for a stay at magnificent Sabyinyo Lodge. The lodge at 2515 metres was set high up at the foot of the Sabyinyo volcano, surrounded by three other volcanoes offering an exquisite backdrop for our two-night stay. Our first afternoon was spent with the local community of Ndabaruhuye, a beautiful and happy community.

Children and adults put on a performance for the 10 of us. It doesn’t get more raw than this. We were in the middle of a lush rural setting, mud houses surrounding us, and the entire community gathered to witness the show this group of locals put on for the foreigners. Pulling us all to join in on their drumming sessions, dancing alongside them and interacting through a common language to us all – song and dance. Bright eyes and smiles abound and we all experienced immense pleasure while spellbound by these beautiful people. How special it was for my children to witness such happiness amongst such poverty in what was truly a humbling experience.

Did you know?

The coffee industry is the second biggest industry in Kenya behind tourism?

Gorillas in the midst

The next day we experienced what most people would only dream about: trekking through the Vurunga Massive in search of the mountain gorilla.

Heading off early with a sense of excitement and anticipation running through each of us, there was a choice of three types of treks – the short, moderate or longer option.

Naturally, we opted for the longest and most challenging trek as far into the dense jungle as possible. Allocated into groups of eight people we were assigned a guide, trackers and porters to ensure the trek went as smoothly as possible.

Our group of eight was given the Amahoro Gorilla family to track down and spent a precious hour observing these beautiful mammals up close.

From trekking through the dense jungle with machetes to cut through some of the vegetation to sitting right next to the family of 18 gorillas… including three silverbacks, females playing with their babies, juveniles frolicking in the bush and hanging off trees as they observed us as much as we were watching them.

Before we set off, my daughter Stephanie said she would love to be hugged by a gorilla. We all laughed along with her, as it seemed impossible. But the head silverback did take a fancy to Stephanie and pushed past our son Cory and another group member until he reached Stephanie. He then climbed over my crouching daughter and put his arms around her for a gorilla hug and then took a seat right next to her in what was a surreal experience.

At no time did she feel threatened by this gentle giant and for the rest of the day, understandably, she had a smile from ear to ear.

Weather in Kenya

Uganda on a crater’s edge

The next three days were spent off the beaten track in Uganda. Staying on the edge of a crater lake gave us the opportunity to enjoy hikes around the rim of the crater, swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding in the cleanest water in Uganda. Kyaninga Lodge offered a magical setting for our three-night stay in Western Uganda with eight thatched roof log cabins, linked together by a walkway, strategically designed and constructed on the edge of the Kyaninga crater.

The views from each cabin were so stunning I was drawn to my balcony every sunset gazing down to the beautiful crater lake below and the valley beyond with the Rwenzori mountains providing a backdrop in the distance. Every night I would soak in this stunning vista tuning into nature and surrendering to the stillness of my surrounds.

The mist had settled in over the rolling green hills on the other side of the crater, further enhancing my state of sheer relaxation. We used Kyaninga Lodge as a base to explore a little of what Uganda has to offer. Our main interest was to head to Kibale National Park in search of chimpanzees. We spent about three hours in the national park walking deep into the forest where we were lucky enough to have many sightings of these interesting primates: so human-like it was unnerving.

Not only were we lucky enough to see the chimpanzees up high in the trees, but saw many resting on the ground, snoozing and “doing their thing”, and were able to follow some through the forest as they walked four legged through the park. What surprised us most was the noise from the dominant males. A shrill and a stamping of their hand or foot on the roots of trees would alert the other chimpanzees to their power in the group, while also getting our adrenaline levels pumping, too, only to be heightened further when we were charged at by a chimpanzee three times as he thought we were too close. At that point, I felt it was our time to leave the park, knowing we were still unharmed.

Valley views in the Congo

Although we went mainly for the chimpanzee viewing, we had the most wonderful and insightful trek to the edge of the Rift Valley with superb views across to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eighteen kilometres of walking through three different villages, stopping to chat with the locals (with our local guide Simon) and learning how these Ugandan communities live together and how their land helps them to survive. This is the Africa I wanted to see and feel, learning how they make their own bricks from mud, walking alongside ladies carrying food, water or sticks on their head and hordes of men and boys pushing bicycles laden with hundreds of plantains/green bananas. We were the only Westerners hiking through these villages. It doesn’t get more remote than this.

A birds-eye view in Kenya

Next stop on our trip was Kenya where we were privy to four very different experiences throughout this amazing country.

THE MASAI MARA is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you will possibly find the best game in all of Africa. Early mornings included a spectacular balloon ride over the Mara complemented by a champagne breakfast amid wild desolate plains, and game drives that made us feel like we were in the middle of a National Geographic episode while witnessing cheetah kills, lions and hyenas devouring fresh kill amongst an abundance of varied wildlife. While staying in Governor’s Tented Camp, right on the Mara plains, we could hear the hippos pass by our tents at night, the not too distant roar of lions, and elephants wandering through the camp. The Masai Mara really is a chapter out of The Lion King.

SAMBURU. We all boarded our Cessna Caravan ready for the next adventure. Met by our cheerful Samburu and Masai warriors as we disembarked our charter flight, little did we know at that point what was in store for us at Saruni Samburu. When we drove past our first Saruni Samburu “a world away” sign we had no idea how remote our next hideaway would be. We reached the bottom of a sheer rock escarpment and wondered, “Where to from there?” At the wheel, our trusted Masai guide Dixon drove straight up the rock face, all of us holding on for dear life as we learnt this was to be the only way in and out of the property.

Picture infinite beauty of the vast and unique African wilderness and you are ‘a world away’ in Saruni Samburu! Saruni Samburu is a true architectural masterpiece with the property perched up so high on this rock face with all six of the oversized villas hanging over the edge offering stunning vistas beyond. A superb spot for a little R&R while going on a journey of understanding the ways and culture of the Samburu warriors and discovering Samburu National Park’s “Big Five” (the Grevvy Zebra, reticulated giraffe, Gerunuk, Somali Ostrich the Besia Oryx). Our nights were spent star gazing with the burly South African Manager Johann and searching for scorpions throughout the property, special sundowners in the elephant hyde and on sheer rock outcrops while listening to the traditions of our Samburu and Masai guides. If you appreciate beauty, culture, architecture and serenity, this place is one to put on the bucket list.

LAIKIPIA was our next stop further north. We knew we were in for a treat the moment we landed. Two vehicles were waiting for us, together with Andrew and Chyulu, our hosts for the next few days.  Their 4×4 vehicles were set up with seats on the roof so naturally we all climbed on top for a fun ride to our home for the next few nights.

Laikipia is geographically located in the centre of Kenya, but Ol Malo is actually the most northern accommodation option in Kenya before entering Nomadic land. Andrew had grown up in Laikipia with his parents, Rocky and Colin, who bought a 5000-acre property in 1992 building their first cottage on this overgrazed cattle ranch which they had transformed into one of Kenya’s most pristine conservation areas. Andrew together with his wife Chyulu had built their own guest house to offer travellers an opportunity to experience a different side of Africa.  Our few days spent in their care was definitely a highlight of the trip. On our first afternoon we hiked to a nearby Samburu Manyati with Ol Malo’s main guide, Hussein, to experience the most authentic village visit during our trip to East Africa.

We watched in awe as the Samburu warriors sang and took turns jumping high into the air, with the young girls also dressed in local attire and colourful beads, chanting in the background. We spent time with the elders in their very basic nomadic hut/home learning about their culture and even witnessed one of the rituals, where two of the warriors slaughtered a goat in front of our own eyes, drinking the blood from the neck before they carefully skinned the goat and ate the organs fresh out it’s body. That was our introduction to Ol Malo and Laikipia. Days followed visiting the Steiner school set up by Andrew’s sister for the local Samburu communities children, spending time with the Samburu “Mamas” in their Samburu Trust beading workshop, horse and camel-riding past giraffes and zebras to sundowners watching another magnificent African sunset by the bonfire, hiking the 7.5km Three Peaks circuit in near record time, enjoying a lazy picnic lunch by the river bed and the highlight being the most incredible day in a “chopper” accessing the most remote parts of Northern Kenya only accessible by air. Andrew, who has been a pilot since he was 19, picked us up in his chopper with doors removed straight from the house.

Strapped in, headphones on with music blaring, we knew this would be a day to remember. We flew low over the Great Rift Valley, soaring through narrow canyon walls, past steep valleys, volcanoes and craters. We stopped for breakfast by springs on the side of a lava flow before chasing crocodiles along estuaries and river beds, landing on the top of spectacular sand dunes, walking on salt pans, flying over flamingoes and salt lakes, to end at the edge of another crater for a dip and glass of champagne in the stunning Lake Tikana.

MARA NORTH CONSERVANCY. After Laikipia we returned back to the Mara, this time spending our last two nights in Kenya at Saruni Mara, in the Mara North Conservancy. The ultimate was our last day on safari where we spent 12 hours with our knowledgeable guides in the wild. It started with a few hours of game viewing including many sightings of lion prides (lionesses feeding on fresh zebra kill with their cubs by their side), followed by a bush breakfast, lunch by the river bank, ending our day with sundowners and another sunset. We had waited eagerly for an opportunity to see a kill and in the last couple of hours of our trip in Kenya, in the Mara concession our Saruni Mara guide, John, delighted us all.  We witnessed a lone lioness on the prowl through a river bed to seize a male wildebeest attempting to cross that very same river bed.  What a spectacle and what a way to end our African trip.

Treasure island in the Seychelles

After the adventures of wild Africa we ended with a week in paradise, in the Seychelles. Our final destination was the famous Fregate Island Private. This treasure island of the Seychelles is where remnants of pirates can still be found. It was the most perfect way to spend our last days in pure indulgence.

Huge expansive villas with stunning views out to sea and butlers to cater to every whim, a choice of seven white sand beaches including a private one just for us, over 20km of hiking trails, bird watching, getting up close and personal to one of the 4000 resident giant land tortoises (including Henry who is over 150 years old), watching green sea turtles nesting, choosing from a plethora of water sports, yoga in the morning, gym in the afternoon, enjoying every meal in a different location on the island.

I spent my birthday deep sea fishing in the morning with the family, snorkelling at the Marina Beach with a picnic lunch by the sea, enjoyed a hike on one of the many trails of the island followed by an hour deep tissue massage. Then it was on to sipping cocktails at the Observatory watching the sun set over this peaceful island and finishing with a BBQ set up on the beach excuslively for us … well, us and about 40 freshly hatched sea turtles making their way back to the ocean to begin their life at sea.

Executive Edge Travel is a globally renowned leader for booking luxury travel experiences/properties.

To book contact your Executive Edge Travel Designer on 03 9519 7777 or email  

Yvonne Verstandig

About Yvonne Verstandig

As one of the three co-founders of Executive Edge Travel and Head of the Leisure Department, Yvonne specialises in high-end bespoke luxury worldwide travel, designing tailor-made holidays including cultural and experiential adventures for discerning clients. Through her enthusiasm and commitment she has risen to one of the preeminent luxury travel advisors globally. Her personal passion is experiential adventure luxury travel, particularly skiing, which finds her dare-devilling all over the world. Yvonne would travel to the end of the earth in search of that next unforgettable experience and deliver the same for her clients every single time.

We are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy. We use cookies on our website to personalise content and to analyse our traffic. You can change your cookie settings at any time.