Despite being named after Kenya’s River Chania, Chania Hemsley-Smith was born and raised in Britain. She says she got the travel bug when she heard her mum reminiscing about her own Kenyan childhood. Chania’s first big trip was to Australia in 1987, where she spent a year working in Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef, taking every opportunity to explore.
After college she decided to combine her passion for travel with her newly burgeoning career and started work at Pickfords Travel. But she hadn’t given up on her childhood desire to explore the African continent, and took the opportunity a couple of years later to set off on a six-month overland trip from London to Harare via West Africa.
She says that this was a life changing experience for her, and whilst hard to pick from the many highlights, climbing Mount Cameroon, driving through Zaire (now DRC) on un-made up roads, seeing Victoria Falls, and catching a ferry across the Congo River from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, all figure highly in her ‘top 20’. On arriving back in Harare after the six months was up, she couldn’t bear to leave until she’d finally set eyes on the River Chania. She set off for Kenya and, despite being a little disappointed with the river, she fell in love with East Africa.
Her next trip was to southern Africa, visiting South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, with a last minute visit back to Kenya, to round off a wonderful four months. She travelled independently on local transport staying at a mix of great hostels and campsites, giving her valuable experience of travelling across vast distances. Her visits to the Kruger National Park, Zimbabwe Ruins, white-water rafting on the Zambezi and climbing sand dunes in Namibia are all memorable moments, but the best part, she says, was a 5-night horse safari in the Okavango Delta.
‘It was out of this world, riding with game that you usually see from vehicles, and galloping through the waters of the Okavango Delta - it has to be the top thing I have done!’
Chania has been based in London for the last eight years, working for a number of top independent tour operators, including Abercrombie & Kent and Cox & Kings, joining Rainbow Tours in 2004. Over this time she has travelled to Ethiopia, Uganda, Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa, but her heart still lies in East Africa.