Lush mountain rainforests, wide open savannahs, rolling green hills, a vibrant cultural scene and fast-growing economy make Rwanda a great place to call home. And that’s exactly what this East African nation has become for Australian Sarah Hall.
Known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda is famous for its incredible biodiversity, rainforests, wetlands, welcoming atmosphere and friendly faces. These are just some of the reasons the country has become home for a number of Australians, including Sarah Hall – a conservation, tourism and marketing specialist.
Sarah and her husband, Jes, came to Rwanda through their work with African Parks, a conservation organisation which manages protected areas in partnership with governments across Africa.
Sarah and Jes moved to Akagera National Park, located in Rwanda’s east, in 2010 following an agreement with the Rwanda Development Board for African Parks to manage the park. Their time in Rwanda has given Sarah, who worked as the park’s Tourism and Marketing Manager and Jes, who served as CEO of the Akagera Management Company, the opportunity to play a role in the rehabilitation of the park.
“Akagera is an incredible park with a long and interesting history. The park had several challenges but so much potential. As part of the management team, we were able to be involved in some incredible milestones as part of Akagera’s rehabilitation such as the return of lions and rhinos – both of which had previously existed in the park and been wiped out by poaching and human-wildlife conflict many years ago, the development of park-operated accommodation, Ruzizi Tented Lodge and Karenge Bush Camp, as well as the first lodge concession, Magashi Camp.”
“Living within a national park has enabled us to have very memorable experiences like raising two hyena cubs, among other wildlife. On a more personal level, living in Akagera has been the most amazing experience and a wonderful place to bring up our three children, Noah, Luca and Isimbi,” Sarah says.
In 2020, Sarah and her family moved across the country to Nyungwe National Park, – located in the Southern Province – following an agreement for African Parks to manage the park.
Sarah’s love for the country stems from working with incredible people who have made her feel welcome.
“I’ve lived in Rwanda more consecutive years than I have lived anywhere in my life, it’s the only home our kids have ever known and we feel privileged to have worked with incredible people who continue to take the parks from strength to strength,” she says.
For Australians planning a trip to Rwanda, Sarah has a few tips on visiting Akagera and Nyungwe:
“Nyungwe is a spectacular mountainous rainforest, rich in biodiversity and home to 13 primate species. It would be tough to pick a favourite place in Akagera, and we still have so much of Nyungwe left to explore! But the more time you spend in the parks, the more you take notice of the smaller stuff. Akagera is the perfect place to get into birding, with a bird species list of nearly 500, there is certainly a lot to see! And Nyungwe has seen us learn more about the park’s amazing plants, fungi and butterflies.”
“Nyungwe is so vastly different from Akagera that it’s hard to believe they are in the same small country, and only 150 kms apart. There is certainly a lot to see,” Sarah says.
Ranked by the Travel Lemming as the top travel destination in Africa and one of top 30 must visit world destinations, Rwanda’s safety, economic transformation and conservation efforts are just some of the reasons the country is considered a top travel destination.
“We continue to be impressed by Rwanda’s progressive attitude, particularly in the conservation field. Rwanda banned plastic bags 14 years ago and more recent moves towards banning single use plastics show the country is looking ahead,” says Sarah.