Destinations Cities

How travelling to Africa changed my life after my marriage ended

‘Travel changes you,’ said the late Anthony Bourdain. In the case of Robyn Preston, it did so in dramatic ways.

By Alexia Santamaria
I spent 28 years living on a farm, raising four kids in rural New Zealand; it's all I'd ever really known.
But my marriage ending changed everything, and eventually led to a holiday to Africa which totally altered the course of my life.
I now live over half the year in Kenya and take photos of wildlife that have been internationally recognised by organisations like Barcroft and Mercury Media.
It's an incredible existence, full of excitement.
I have to pinch myself some days when I think about how it's all turned out. When my marriage broke down I went to live at Baylys Beach, I was single at 47 years old, depressed and living in a tiny town. I didn't know what I was going to do. Those were really tough times, and I'd sometimes go a whole week without seeing anyone. I was so lost.
Robyn's childhood fascination with African wildlife has become reality thanks to her work photographing them.
My daughter told me I needed to do something to break the negative cycle, but when she suggested travel I told her I couldn't possibly do it.
After all those years in a small town, the thought of trying to navigate the big wide world on my own terrified me. But I knew she was right, and that I needed to do something.
I finally got the guts to book a package trip to Europe. I clearly remember arriving in Copenhagen and knowing I had to go to another counter for excess baggage just as a cruise ship full of passengers disembarked. Seeing all those people and all that busyness at once, I just thought 'God, if I navigate my way through this, I can do anything.'
Robyn now runs safari tours in Kenya Image: Robyn Preston
I did navigate my way through it, and in that moment I realised I was more capable than I knew, and the world was just waiting for me to explore it.
I'd finally found the courage to visit the place I'd wanted to go since I was a 10-year-old, drawing pictures of African animals at school.
So some years later, in 2009, I went on my first safari, and have since visited 12 African countries – most more than once. But, after just two days in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, I knew I needed to go back. There was just something about that place.
I went on to visit many more times and started studying animal behaviour from books and doing further conservation courses as I went. I fell in love with this part of Africa – the colour, the people, the animals. My whole life had changed entirely and before I knew it I was living in Kenya six months of the year.
My photographs started gaining popularity too – first Facebook, then Instagram, then both New Zealand and overseas magazines.
I now also run a small company called Robyn E Preston Kenya Safaris for people who want to see the real Africa. Living here I know lots of things about seeing animals that others don't, and I love sharing that with my guests.
It's been a crazy 10 years and I'd never have believed, back then, that I would be where I am today. Imagine if I hadn't discovered all of this!

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