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.
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.
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.
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.
Game drives cover a lot of ground but it’s only when you get out of your vehicle and set off on foot that you shift from being a camera-clicking observer to an active participant in the wilderness. As your armed guide leads you along well-worn elephant trails your senses sharpen and you notice things you’d otherwise miss in a vehicle: the alarm call of a troop of baboons, leopard paw prints on a sandy riverbed, the rich scent of sweet mahogany blossoms.
If you’ve been on more than one long-haul vacation, you know there’s travel, and then there’s Travel. That capital ‘T’ comes from being comfortable and at ease throughout your journey. It means exploring at your own pace with all the benefits of insider expertise and smooth logistics.
Zimbabwe’s fortunes are as varied as its landscape. Once a British colony known as Rhodesia in honour of empire builder Cecil John Rhodes, it won independence to become Zimbabwe and build a seemingly unassailable reputation as ‘the bread basket of Africa’. Its fertile soil and balmy climate is perfect for agriculture - it’s still the centre of Africa’s lucrative raw tobacco trade - but then came political turmoil once again as the government launched land reform programmes.
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.