Timing is everything. If you want the best seats in the house, you need to book your place well in advance. When it comes to once-in-a-lifetime journeys to Africa’s vast playground, you definitely want front-row seats to all the legendary spectacles.
Halfway through the year, Africa’s mostly dry winter months arrive along with safari season.
You follow a narrow hiking trail through the lushness of a tropical rainforest, wiping sweat from your eyes and feeling grateful for your gators. Suddenly, a tracker returns from scouting ahead and excitedly halts your group - it's time to drop your backpack and move forward slowly with nothing but your camera and the thrill of anticipation. Grinning, your guide turns and whispers the words you've been waiting to hear: ‘There they are.’
The arrival of May during my northern hemisphere childhood promised the long, warm and sometimes sunny days of summer. South of the equator, however, things are heading in the opposite direction. Days are shortening and chairs are getting pulled a little closer to the campfire.
Namibia is a land of endless blue skies, vast horizons and crisp mornings: pure joy for photography enthusiasts. It is also safe, clean and organized with an excellent infrastructure, making it a favourite destination for family vacations, especially self-drive safaris (that’s travel lingo for independant road tripping - an ideal way to vacation with teenagers).
April is when Africa’s great summer starts winding down and the year catches its breath before winter. Down in the sun-baked Western Cape, the city of Cape Town welcomes its first autumnal showers. Further north, safari destinations like the Kruger, Botswana and Zimbabwe emerge after months of heavy rain. Cloaked in green, they offer lovely scenery and birding but big game is often hard to find.
Lions are the most sought-after sighting on a safari. The excitement of seeing them is partly because we expect to see them in Africa and are reassured when we do but there’s also something a bit more primal behind our fascination with them. Thanks to their reassuringly feline name – Panthera leo – we know we are technically dealing with ‘cats’ but lions are startlingly huge, almost bear sized. Their muscular, barrel-chested bodies and arrogantly jutting chins let everyone know who the boss is – and it’s not the 2-legged creatures wearing sunglasses!
Spring is slowly coming to the northern hemisphere, luring many people from their hunkered-down hibernations, but in the south, winter is coming. But winter in the south is nothing like winter in the north – in fact, its cool evenings and balmy, dry days are perfect for game watching. High season for both safari and the Great Migration is fast approaching and lodges and camps are gearing up to welcome guests from across the globe.
March is not a relaxing month.The poet Ogden Nash described it as that month of 'wind and taxes', but March in Africa is an interesting ‘shoulder month’ between high summer and the start of autumn.
They say that the third Monday in January is ‘the most depressing day of the year’ as the bloom wears off your Christmas and New Year’s memories, you get back into the work grind and the bills start arriving again. Then around rolls February, usually the coldest, wettest and generally most miserable month in the northern hemisphere. Is it any wonder at this rather bleak time of year that our hearts and minds focus on escaping to warm beaches, sunny climates and tropical islands?