Cape Town

Meet the Expert: Nadia Eckhardt

Zegrahm Expeditions|July 20, 2020|Blog Post

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Where are you from and where have you lived?

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, immigrated to Sacramento, CA in 1987, and then settled in Seattle, WA in 1995. Before and after Sacramento, I spent six months on the Island of Corfu in Greece as well as London and Surrey, UK. I traveled around Europe in a camper van for a summer and about a year later, I explored with friends in a van from Mexico and up the US Pacific coast into Canada, and finally ending up in Aspen, Colorado. 

Tell us about yourself—what path led you to becoming a Zegrahm Leader?

My first job on an expedition ship was as a shopkeeper on board the Society Explorer in the South Pacific in 1989. First, I met Werner and Susan Zehnder in the Seattle Society Expeditions office and then flew off to Biak, Indonesia in September 1989. Over the next few years, I was very fortunate to work and had so much fun on many expeditions worldwide as Assistant and then Cruise Director with many of the Zegrahm Expeditions Cofounders and other great staff. After moving to Seattle in 1995, I finally gave up trying to be a land based regular working person and I longed to go back to sea with the Zegrahm Team! I was hired by Zegrahm as Cruise Director in 1996 and am still a part timer today, working as Cruise Director, Expedition Leader, and Tour Manager for West Africa.

What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have?

I work as a tour leader in Africa for a few months each year and design custom, private family, and small group safaris to East and Southern Africa. After earning a business diploma in Cape Town, I started working in an advertising agency and then took, what I thought was going to be one trip only, on a cruise ship around South Africa and the Indian Ocean in 1982. I was first hired as a Children’s Hostess and then an English Language Hostess and Cruise Director in the Greek Islands and Turkey. Finally, in 1989, I was introduced by a dear friend to expedition cruising! Since then, I have worked on several different ships as Tour Leader, Cruise Director, or Expedition Leader on all seven continents and I have also co-led overland expeditions and fly programs.

What other fields are you passionate about?

  • Child education and organizations that feed, house, and support under-privileged children.
  • Water skiing!
  • Exploring the outdoors in the Pacific North West.
  • I thoroughly enjoy learning about different cultures and spending time shopping for artifacts and being with people, especially children from around the world.
  • I enjoy planning trips for guests, especially to Southern Africa and then love joining them on game viewing safaris. The highlight for me, is going out on early game drives in search of wildlife…..absolutely exhilarating!  
  • I have also started becoming fairly interested in bird watching, but shhhh, please don’t mention this to my colleagues!

Any awards, publications, appearances documentaries etc. do you have?

In 1994 I received an Award for Bravery from a cruise company I worked for in South Africa. 

Nadia Eckhardt

What organizations are you a part of?

I was a member of APTA PNW (Africa Travel), until the travel chapter closed in Seattle.

What excites you (or what do you enjoy) about working for Zegrahm?

The amazing and lasting friendships formed amongst the staff and guests from around the globe. It is like traveling and working with you best friends and having a great time doing it. The wonderful small ships that Zegrahm charters with familiar crew members, is always such a treat and the diverse itineraries never disappoint. There is nothing more thrilling than a first time/new landing….not really knowing what to expect and then either getting into the water and snorkeling in new territory or enjoying a welcome ceremony ashore on a remote island or having a special experience with a first time guide in a country few visit, like Monrovia, Liberia! I enjoy dining with guests and trying to work out ‘so when did first travel together with Zegrahm’ and ‘where was it’ and ‘on what ship’….always fun!

What is your favorite Zegrahm memory?

Oh my gosh….where to begin regarding my favorite Zegrahm memory…….I have many favorites from over the years, including some from the ‘Africa By Air’ and ‘Cape to Casablanca’ fly programs from the early 2000s…..and then the first Wind Song charters in the South Pacific in 1997. We did a very unique and once only turnaround in the Marquesas by helicopter! It was excellently planned and operated involving disembarkation of 123 guests and embarkation of 128 guests with just two helicopters, that were six-seaters and amazingly talented pilots. Fortunately, the baggage came by road.

Crashing through the ice on a nuclear-powered ice breaker to the North Pole aboard the Yamal was also very memorable!

But, probably my top memory is snorkeling with humpback whales in Tonga from Clipper Odyssey Zodiacs. More than half the ship was in the water (having been called out of recap!) snorkeling with a humpback family, including the Captain. We made it back in time for a slightly late dinner…but what an experience that was!

Nadia Eckhardt

Can you tell us about a time that you were on an expedition that ended up taking an unexpected turn or made an unexpected discovery that took you off the planned trail?

There was a trip in the late 1990s, I believe it was on board the Wind Star. We were sailing the Arabian Sea and then suddenly, we were advised that within 24 hours we would ALL have to disembark and run the trip overland from Aden, Yemen, and no longer by ship! That was quite an adventure!!…but in true Zegrahm fashion, Mike Messick, Jack Grove, and many other Zegrahm staff members ensured it was a roaring success.  

There was also a time that the ship Zegrahm chartered did not arrive on time and we ran the Indian Ocean Islands voyage flying between Zanzibar, Seychelles, Reunion, and Mauritius, instead of sailing. There was a cyclone hovering around and the night we flew into Mauritius, there was no power, which was, on that occasion, a good thing as many of the palm trees had been flattened. We were met at the hotel entrance by lovely staff who escorted us to our beautiful rooms with candles…. We ate many cold delicious meals that trip and had a delightful group of guests and leaders and really enjoyed the experience…. we got to see another side of the Indian Ocean Islands!!!

I could go on! But I think my favorite Unexpected Turn on a trip was a Zegrahm trip to Mongolia! We were stranded……. the helicopter that was supposed to pick us up after we camped for three nights in the Gobi Desert, did not arrive. The day we were due to leave, we took down the tents, packed up everything as planned by noon, and our delightful Mongolian guide/drivers waited with us, for the helicopter that was coming to take us back to Ulaanbaatar. We waited and then we waited…nothing came….so…we pitched the tents again and set up the loo and kitchen tent and shared what little food we had left. Next day, we packed up again, and by 3:00 pm when no helicopter came, we had to make the decision to climb back in our jeeps and drive towards Ulaanbaatar. We drove three or four hours…..and then we heard that familiar sound of a big helicopter overhead, pointing us in the direction of a landing area in a field. Our guides and Zegrahm staff got all the guests into the helicopter in record time and then we started throwing all luggage into the open heli door and the pilots said…”hurry, hurry forget the bags, the light is fading, we must leave right now”….we got all the bags in and then the staff piled in, thumbs up from the ground and off we went. We made it to Dalanzadgad (halfway) and overnighted, which is another whole story on its own! Maybe for the next installment I can share the next 12 hours of this story with you all!!

What non-for-profits or causes do you support or feel strongly about?

  • Seattle Children’s Hospital and St Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • -  Save the Rhino
  • – Conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species and their landscapes

Nadia Eckhardt

What are your top three countries or regions in the world to explore?

Okavango Delta, Botswana – Incredible wildlife and birding

South Georgia – Shackleton history, king penguins, and seals

Seychelles – Snorkeling, cuisine, and the people

What’s left on your explorer’s bucket list/where do you still want to go that you haven’t been yet? Why there?

The Kimberley, Australia


Myanmar & Laos

Pantanal, Brazil

 Zegrahm’s Snow Monkeys & Cranes of Japan

I have heard Zegrahm staff and guests raving about the above-mentioned destinations and I would like to go and experience these areas for myself.   

What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you? 

It means a lot! Spending time with friends, having fun exploring the world with guests who love being out in nature, visiting villages, and learning about different cultures and sharing special experiences below and above the water.

Who is the Zegrahm Explorer/Traveler? 

Guests that are interested in unique outings and spending time with knowledgeable staff and local specialists. Even when things may not go as planned, Zegrahm guests make the most of the remote regions that Zegrahm travels to and enjoy the cultural, birding and exclusive wildlife experiences.