Another busy and happy safari year draws to an end - a year filled with yet more wonderful memories of amazing sightings and old friends reacquainted, new friendships made.
It was brilliant having David and Debby Mackenzie and Terry and Elsa Williams return to Africa with their families. Tony and Jan van der Linden returned to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and Rob and Sue Clark's sister and brother-in-law accompanied them for a first visit to Africa. Ann Horn stoically endured the heat (but also some great game viewing) in Zambia; Marcel and Ingrid Burgauer also joined us in Zambia and we loved having Joe Wright's group of fathers and sons in Mana Pools.
Marv Carruthers and his wife Fiona really got our thinking caps on when Marv asked us to design a safari right off the beaten track - literally! We couldn't even find one of the places he wanted to visit on a Michelin map!
Two newlywed couples, Ed and Catharine LaPuma and Temp and Kerry Keller, decided to enjoy more adventurous honeymoons with John on safari in Zimbabwe and Brian Davis returned with his son Brad for another adventure in the Zambezi Valley.
We saw many old friends but it was also a year to make great new friends; Diana and Mallory Walker and Judy and Alan Nussenblatt joined John early in the year and the Bolton family arrived mid-year, both for safaris in Tanzania.
There were many highlights, some captured better than others on camera, as you can see below.
This photograph of Diana and Mallory Walker relaxing outside their tent was taken in Tanzania in February. We were camped on the short grass plains of southern Serengeti, the magnificent wildebeest migration happening all around us!
This female rhino took us by surprise when she approached our game-viewing vehicle; she proceeded to nudge the driver (pictured on the dashboard) out of his seat, then lay her head down and promptly fell asleep! Reared on Imire Game Ranch as part of the national rhino-breeding project and named Mvura (Shona for water, as she was born during a very rainy time of year), she was introduced into the Matusadona National Park in 2000. Mvura's calf, (we think her second born in the wild), remained some distance from the vehicle and was probably the only reason she finally decided to leave her comfy spot! It was a fantastic experience for all of us, but especially so for my very enthusiastic guests Ed and Catharine LaPuma from New York.
I couldn't resist including this photograph, which was taken at Ol Donya Wuas Lodge in Kenya's Chyulu Hills. This group of hornbills waited patiently while the little squirrel nibbled away at some nuts!
One of the wonderful things about family safaris is the incredible interaction that quietly plays out between the generations; it happens naturally and doesn't get any better than this. Here, Perry Bolton is engrossed in conversation with his grandson, Spencer, while enjoying a picnic lunch in the Serengeti.
There are so many images depicting happy family times and these have a particular appeal! The Mackenzie family and I stopped at a school in northern Serengeti and ended up playing a game of soccer with some of the locals, including a Masai warrior! The first photograph speaks volumes about the concern Elizabeth felt for her dad, Roger, who didn't do so well stopping the ball. Fortunately, the final score was 3-3!
I am told this is the largest mammal migration in the world. Straw-coloured fruit bats return to roost in the Kasanka National Park, northern Zambia and form an incredible spectacle that never ceases to amaze. Those of you who read my 2007 Christmas newsletter might remember that I was here at the same time a year ago; this year, Fiona and Marv Carruthers shared in this amazing visual display.
I couldn't resist including a photograph of this beautifully regal crowned crane taken at Sosian Ranch situated on Kenya's Laikipia Plateau.
We found these three hunting on the plains in the Masai Mara in July; three young cheetah brothers watching an approaching gazelle, virtually oblivious to our presence. The hunt was ultimately unsuccessful.
This peaceful scene of elephant crossing the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe to Zambia provided the perfect finale to Robert and Sue Clark's September safari in Mana Pools.
As every day on safari ends
the return to our base and a refreshing shower; in this case, in a tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River. (Pictured here - the shower is filled by happy and willing camp staff.) We then meet around the camp fire for a well-earned drink and delicious camp supper. An idyllic ending to another perfect day on safari.
Presently, the entire Stevens family, John, Nicci, Briar, Sarah and Jess, are together in Melbourne, Australia for Christmas and then we will all celebrate Briar's wedding early in the New Year.
We are thinking of our friends scattered all over the world and send you and your families our very best wishes for a Happy Christmas and New Year. Let us hope it is a year filled with joy and peace in the world.
We were inspired by Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, in particular a section from Chapter 8, The World Beyond Our Borders; he acknowledges that Globalisation makes our economy, our health, and our security all captive to events on the other side of the world.
We hope that all of us, as part of the global community, can take heart from Barack Obama's dream of reclaiming the American dream - that as he strives to attain this, the world could become a safer, more caring place.