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.
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!
It was my first week managing a camp on the southwestern edge of the Okavango Delta. I was understandably wary. Not only would I have to learn to negotiate unchaperoned night walks home, drive a Land Rover on roads that often struck uncanny likenesses to rivers, identify the chiming, screeching, bellowing creatures of the day and night - I would have to do it all with the air and ease of a seasoned pro.
As African Safari Experts , we spend every day doing what we love: helping our clients live out their dream African vacations in magical destinations. But it’s not all fun and games – to reach expert level we have to pass serious written examinations (just like college) and personally visit every destination we recommend. In fact, we’re can't advise our clients on a destination until we’ve passed the exams and actually been there. After mastering South Africa – which really is ‘a world in one country’ with every sort of attraction from whales and wine to the Big 5 and resorts like Sun City – we started working on our next destination, Botswana.
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.
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 soggy 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.
The iconic images of African wildlife are typically of large, leopard-studded trees in rolling savannahs, sweeping vistas with wildebeest and zebra stretching to the horizon, silhouettes of baobabs and dramatic heart-wrenching depictions of animals battling it out against the elements in the continent’s harshest environments. Photographs of these scenes abound in the pages of magazines and coffee table books, and are spread thick and wide across the Internet. But there’s another part of Africa, a wild eden, which offers a different safari experience where fresh images can be found. That place is the Eastern Cape, in South Africa.
With an enviable 300 days of sunshine a year, Botswana is a year-round destination but anyone planning a safari should note that it's not always benignly warm and sunny.
If you are planning a holiday to South Africa, you may find it difficult to decide where to go and what to include. Do you prioritise lions and elephants? Or vineyards and historic battelfields? How about championship golf courses and award-winning beaches? If you choose the latter, do you prefer the chilly Atlantic shores with their penguins and seals, or the balmy Indian Ocean coastline with its turtles and whales?