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?
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.
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.
This morning, we woke very early to take a walk through the reserve, but there were too many signs of lion and a large herd of buffalo near camp, making it unsafe to go on foot.
My first evening on Botswana’s Chobe River was the stuff of dreams. I sat on the roof of a game drive vehicle and watched in open-mouthed wonder as herd after herd of elephants poured out of the surrounding forest and down to the river to drink. Many younger ones broke into a run, their trunks and ears flapping in excitement; the older ones usually managed to keep to a dignified pace – at least until the last few yards. The countless trampling feet sent dust billowing into the air, turning the setting sun into a huge, hanging orb of fire.
It’s early morning and the still-cool air is filled with the buzzing and chirping of countless insects and birds. You’re walking single file along a dusty hippo trail when suddenly your guide gives the signal and you freeze: up ahead a lioness wanders into view, fixes you in the gaze of her savannah-gold eyes, then with a flick of her tail slinks away again into the surrounding bush.
Blessed with abundant wildlife and a benign 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.
Few countries rival South Africa when it comes to wildlife and convenient travel. Home to the Big 5 and a bird list that nudges North America’s, it’s a country that takes conservation seriously: just one of its game reserves is the size of Wales while many others provide strongholds for endangered rhinos, cheetahs and wild dogs.