October in Africa and the weather is in charge. In East Africa the short rains have begun and the landscape replies with a blanket of fresh green grass. South of the Zambezi, however, it has barely rained since May and animals mill around the remaining waterholes, eyes wide and ears flicking at every snap of a twig.
Botswana was part of my life for five glorious years and I have yet to see wildlife anywhere else that can match it. It's a place where buffalo gather in their hundreds and elephant herds are measured in their thousands.
The vast red sand expanses of the Kalahari Desert rise up to meet us as we touch down in our 7-seater plane in the heart of Tswalu Private Game Reserve – the largest privately owned reserve in South Africa. At over 100 000ha, Tswalu is an endless sea of undulating sand dunes, grassy knolls and rocky outcrops, and the location of The Motse camp, our home for the next 24 hours.
Famous for its Kalahari setting, Botswana is generally a place of empty blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It does have a rainy season, however - often disarmingly called the Green Season - but don't worry too much about that word 'rainy'. The absolute wettest part of the country records as much precipitation in a year as London or Melbourne do, while the rest of the country gets about enough to fill a coffee cup. You're not going to need to pack an umbrella. And besides, nearly all the rain falls between December and April with February accounting for the bulk of it.
August in Southern Africa marks the end of the region’s short-lived winter and the welcome return of warmer temperatures. Down in Cape Town, the last few winter storms wring themselves out and the days get longer, while up in safari country the weather is pretty perfect: sunny, warm and dry.
She pushes her huge tail down, ducks under the waves with tremendous forces and then, with colossal power, launches her huge body above the water, coming down with a fantastic splash. Everything is quiet except for the chorus of ‘Wows!’ from my fellow boat passengers. There’s a shared anticipation and keen excitement as we hope she’ll do it again… Our luck is in as she once again uses her tail fin to propel herself like an aquatic rocket above the ocean off Kleinbaai, a tiny hamlet on South Africa’s Whale Coast, less than an hour’s drive from Hermanus and regarded as the whale-watching capital of the world.
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).
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!
Blessed with abundant wildlife and a temperate climate, South Africa has long been a leading safari destination. Its most famous and flagship national reserve – the Kruger National Park – is Africa’s oldest conservation area. Among South Africa's reserves you'll find Big 5 safaris in malaria-free areas and conservancies for rare and endangered animals, ranging from rhinos and cheetahs to aardvarks and mountain zebras. These attractions combined with a first world infrastructure make South Africa the perfect choice for a first-time safari goer.
You’re woken by a gentle knock and softly spoken “Good morning to you!” as the aroma of freshly-brewed Zambian coffee wafts into your tent. It’s really early and your sleep-fuzzy brain reminds you that you lay awake until late into the night – safely cocooned under canvas in the snug comfort of your four-poster bed, listening to the whoops of hyenas and pensive hoot of an owl.