Lara Behrens

Lara was born and raised in Kenya and spent several years living in Ireland and England before migrating to Australia. Lara has worked at Bench for five years and previously ran an events company bringing with her a fantastic new insight and a wealth of marketing skills to Bench. Lara’s family owns and operates safari camps in Kenya so she grew up on safari and has travelled extensively around Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa.

Nicky Oosthuizen

Nicky was born in South Africa and lived there until 2011 before relocating to Australia. Having travelled extensively through South Africa, she has had the privilege to stay in various types of accommodation from camping to exclusive lodges. She has also visited Seychelles, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Kenya. She loves working in the travel industry because it allows her to share her passion for Africa with others and help make their travel dreams come true. Nicky enjoys exploring new destinations and has an enormous passion for people and photography. She strongly believes that Africa is one continent that offers something for everybody. Her favourite destination is Victoria Falls. And the Seychelles tops her list for most picturesque islands – no photo does it justice… true paradise!

Gideon Cheilyk

Gideon was brought up in South Africa and lived there for 20 years. He travelled extensively throughout South Africa in his youth, visiting most parts of the country numerous times as well as Mozambique and Swaziland. In 2005, prior to joining Bench Africa, Gideon and his wife travelled on the Northern Experience safari from the Bench brochure and spent 22 days travelling from Cape Town to Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in a multinational group. He was so impressed with the product that he joined Bench 3 years later! Since then he has travelled to Kenya and Tanzania and more recently to South Africa where he reacquainted himself with areas he knows well and also places that he hadn’t yet been to. He experienced the Blue Train for the first time (loved it!) travelling from Pretoria to Cape Town, and also spent 7 days in some of the magnificent private lodges of the Kruger Park. Gideon has also been to Egypt twice, but has not yet seen Abu Simbel which is high on his wish list. Africa is a wonderful destination that is always calling you back for more.

Karen McKilliam

Karen always wanted to visit Africa and had the continent firmly on her bucket list! On Karen’s first trip to Africa she spent 5 weeks in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and fell in love with the people, the animals and the whole safari experience. On Karen’s first day in the Masai Mara she was lucky enough to see the ‘Big Five’ and was hooked! With Africa now well and truly in her blood she kept returning to discover new places and experiences, any chance she got.



Lyndal first travelled to East Africa in 1997. Setting off on a basic camping safari, nervous and excited to be sleeping under canvas, she headed into the unknown. On Lyndal’s first day on safari, in the Masai Mara she spotted so much game that she said that she could have gone home happy! Nevertheless, she continued her trip, through Tanzania and on to Rwanda, where she had her most memorable travel experience, coming face to face with a silverback! She has now visited 26 of the 54 countries in Africa!

“No matter how many times I go on safari my experiences are never the same!”

Cameron Neill

After travelling the world for close to 7 years, Cameron finally made it the continent he had been dreaming of from the beginning and spent three months exploring the different areas of Africa. From then on he was hooked and has since returned many times to explore and experience the many different adventures that Africa offers. From trekking with the gorillas in Rwanda, scuba diving the Red Sea, climbing a sand dune in Namibia to an encounter with a wild elephant from his front deck in the Okavango Delta, he never gets tired of seeing what there is to offer and considers himself lucky to be able to share his experiences with others for a living. He firmly believes that you haven’t really travelled until you have experienced Africa and although there are still some small pockets of the world he hasn’t been to (and would like to) he travels back to Africa any chance he can. In fact he was in the middle of a gorilla impersonation when he met his wife and believes this may have been what set him apart from many other suitors. If you want some help to land a great partner he’d be happy to teach you a grunt or two.

Maria Tropiano

It had always been Maria’s dream to travel to Africa on a safari, and after her first trip she knew she would just have to keep going back. Maria’s first African experience was joining a 7 week tour through Africa. Visiting East Africa, Maria was lucky enough to experience her first ‘Big 5’ safari in Tanzania which included a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. More recently Maria visited Namibia for the first time, self driving around this huge country with its amazing landscapes, game viewing in the mind blowing Etosha National Park, but the biggest achievement of the trip was summiting Namibia’s highest sand dune “Big Daddy” – as Maria says “it was a killer, but definitely worth it”.

Julie De Palo

Julie is one of our longest serving members, having worked for Bench for nearly 20 years. Julies love for Africa first began when she experienced her first safari to South Africa and Botswana.

“Words cannot express what it felt like – it’s not only about the animals, that is a bonus. It is about the people, the landscape, the simplicity of life and how you realise the simple things in life are what ground us and how we forget that. Once you have gone there, you come back with a little piece of the magic that stays with you and makes you want to go back.”

Martin Edwards

Martin has always been interested in Africa – its landscapes, wildlife and people. Martin first travelled to Africa in 2001. His journey began in Nairobi, Kenya and then he spent the next 3 months backpacking alone, using only public transport to get him the 4,000 km to Cape Town, South Africa. Each country Martin visited offered something completely different. Since that first trip, Martin has been lucky enough to return to Africa on a number of occasions, including a flying safari around Namibia, experiencing the turquoise waters of Mozambique, exploring the waterways of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, viewing the dancing lemurs of Madagascar and travelling around South Africa in 5 star luxury. Away from safaris, the ancient history and secrets of Egypt has also been a drawcard with 10 separate visits – Egypt is a fascinating destination, hard to believe that it’s on the same continent as Africa’s safari lands.

Hank Holtzhausen

A South African born and raised, there is little that Hank doesn’t know about travel in South Africa. Hank has lived in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Stellenbosch before moving to Sydney in 1995 to work in travel. Hank’s knowledge and experience covers much more than just South Africa; with over 16 years’ experience specialising in Africa travel he has travelled extensively on the continent and even worked as a tour escort earlier in his travel career.