Go2African safari expert, Mary Keet, tells us all about her adventures to remote and untouched parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe in November 2016. Staying at owner-run camps and hosted by professional guides, Mary was treated to a truly authentic, down-to-earth and eco-friendly safari that included phenomenal wildlife sightings like lions mating and an ellie casually strolling past her tent!
November is generally considered shoulder season for both countries as they move from the dryness and cold of high season to the lush humidity of green season. It’s a time when the first rains are letting the parched landscape spring back to life and antelope start dropping babies. Birders will also be thrilled by the return of migrant species. Don’t be put off by the mention of rain: showers at this time of year usually occur in the late afternoon and are short-lived – in fact, they’re welcomed to damp down the dust, cool you off and wash the air clear for fantastic, pin-sharp photos!
Mary is a keen animal lover and grew up visiting reserves and park in South Africa. Even after years of game drives, she is still an avid safari-goer who revels in unusual sightings – of which she was to see many, some not for the faint of heart…
What were your most memorable wildlife sightings?
It all started at Khwai Tented Camp where we were enjoying watching an elephant and a ground hornbill when our ranger, Partner, was radioed about a hippo and leopard sighting. Given what we’d already been lucky enough to view, I was sceptical we’d be able to catch up with those sightings until I saw the hippo grazing on the edge of a small waterhole.
Sure enough, a female leopard revealed herself on the banks just behind where the hippo had been! The rest of our afternoon was spent watching a pack of African wild dogs playing and later, as we were pulling up to stop for sundowners, we spotted another leopard. I think the staff setting up our drinks were quite grateful when Partner parked the vehicle between them and the leopard walking past!
From Khwai Tented Camp we were also able to enter Moremi Game Reserve, which was all about the lions. After sighting a beautiful female, we came across two males on the move. As we inched closer, we could see that one of them had something in his mouth. At first I thought it was a hare, only to realise that it was a crying newborn lechwe – still with its umbilical cord attached - which he proceeded to lick for a while before devouring it. The lechwe herd stood alert nearby but obviously couldn’t intervene.
All of this happened right in the shadow of our vehicle, a bittersweet display of the forces of nature. If you would like to watch a recording of this sighting, please click below – sensitive viewers may want to skip it.
At Linyanti Bush Camp in the Chobe Enclave, Botswana, we were introduced to our ranger, Esse, who found us a pack of very sleepy wild dogs before we even got to the lodge. Wild dogs are slowly making a comeback across Southern Africa, thanks to concerted conversation efforts to foster new packs in protected areas.
This encounter signalled the start of the phenomenal game viewing that was to come.
Lions can mate repeatedly for days at a time although the actual act of intercourse only takes a few seconds. The male will sniff the female to ascertain her receptiveness and then mount her, often raking her head and shoulders with his claws and teeth in an effort to keep her still as he withdraws his barbed penis. Researchers think that the barbs create grooves in the female’s vagina, allowing the freshly deposited sperm greater purchase and thus increasing the changes of a pregnancy. Immediately after mating, the female rolls on her back for the same reason. Females often sustain cuts to their ears from vigorous mating. If pregnant, she will gestate up to four cubs for about 110 days – who knows, Linyanti may be welcoming little ones in about February or March 2017!
Your favourite travel moment on the trip?
As if our incredible wildlife sightings weren’t amazing enough, our Linyanti experience was capped with a helicopter flight over the marshlands – at some times, flying at the height of a giraffe, less than 20 feet from the ground.
Another highlight was our visit to Victoria Falls which coincided with the 2016 supermoon. We did a Lunar Rainbow Tour of the Falls (full moon is the only time the Falls are open at night time), which was really special because you can see a rainbow refracted in the spray by moonlight.
Tell us more about your itinerary…
My first stop was Khwai Tented Camp, a 30-minute light aircraft flight from Maun in Botswana. I have never had such amazing leopard, lion and wild dog sightings as I did here. The area was dry when I was there, which makes visibility and tracking wildlife a lot easier.
This authentic camp is set in a community-run concession on the border of Moremi Game Reserve. We travelled into Moremi to see a pride of lion that had been spotted, and then we retreated into the private community concession for a night drive as well as off-roading – activities which aren’t permitted inside Moremi. At Khwai you can also go birding, walking, or on a mokoro (canoe) safari when water levels are up.
Our second stop was a stay at Linyanti Bush Camp, overlooking the Linyanti marshland. Here you really do have a front-row seat to the action that lies beyond the reeds. I was here just before the first rains arrived in November, so we got to see the massive herds of elephant and buffalo that congregate around permanent water sources.
The tents at Linyanti are solar-powered and spacious, with camp chairs in front so you can soak up the view. We were surrounded by welcoming staff, treated to wholesome food and were in the care of fantastic, very knowledgeable rangers. It’s a really intimate camp with just six tented suites, one being a very private honeymoon suite with an outdoor shower. The camp was undergoing an exciting refurbishment at the moment to include new decking, glass doors and separate bathrooms for all the suites in 2017.
From Linyanti we travelled into Zambia and went to visit Thorntree River Lodge, located close to Victoria Falls, just outside Livingstone. This lodge is yet to be completed but when it is, it will be a luxurious offering with phenomenal views of the Zambezi River. We then crossed over to Zimbabwe and stayed in Victoria Falls Town, which is packed with activities like white-water rafting, bungee jumping and shopping in the markets.
Our first stay in Zimbabwe was at Somalisa Camp in the heart of Hwange National Park - a vast conservation area known for its huge herds of elephants and the lions that have learnt to hunt them. Game viewing can be enjoyed in the national park as well as in the private concession where Somalisa is situated. Our guide David was incredibly knowledgeable and I just loved his style of sharing lesser-known facts about the bush; I have never learnt as much on safari as I did on his game drive. David knew that we had already had some great sightings so instead of rushing us around to find wildlife, we took our time and got the best bush education that one could hope for.
Somalisa Camp was refurbished in 2015 and is absolutely beautiful. The entire lodge has been carefully thought out so it is spacious and luxurious but also authentic. They have invested in a massive solar plant so you have the pleasure of charging your devices in your own room. There is also grey-water recycling that filters into water holes for the animals – essential in the dry months from about June to October.
Onto Kanga Bush Camp, which took the award for ‘armchair safari’ - meaning that you don’t even have to leave camp to enjoy great game viewing. In Kanga I had my first introduction to Mana Pools National Park, and it was incredible to hear the synchronised chorus of cicadas (a type of insect) - one of the loudest sounds in nature!
The camp offers other thoughtful extras, for example a freshwater pool with no harsh chemicals, a wildlife hide overlooking the pan, and if you spend three nights or more you get a romantic sleep-under-the-stars experience.
After Kanga, we travelled to Zambezi Expeditions, an authentic tented camp overlooking the Zambezi River and escarpment. I fell in love with this camp and all the different ecosytems in the area – from open plains which are fantastic hunting grounds for cheetah to beautful teak forests and then, of course, the abundant Zambezi River banks themselves.
The area has become very famous because of a special elephant called Boswell who has learnt to stand on his hind legs to feed off the taller trees in the park. There are two other elephants who have learnt from Boswell and have started to copy this unusual and adaptive behaviour!
We spent our last night at Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, which is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Kariba. A stop here works well in the middle or at the end of a safari circuit – a chance to de-dust, have a long soak in the bathtub or a spa treatment before heading on.
The Umi River forms a natural boundary between Matusadona National Park and the Bumi Hills Conservancy, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Matusadona is known for its rhino-tracking adventures and great cheetah sightings, while at the private Bumi Hills large concentrations of game can be found at the river.
What did you eat?
The food throughout our trip was delicious, creative and perfectly adapted to being created in the bush. I loved that we had homemade breads and chutneys at the lodges, with toast and porridge in the mornings made on the fire in front of you.
Top travel tips?
Take the time to chat to your ranger – they have a wealth of knowledge that they are eager to share to those that are willing to learn. And when game viewing, make sure you are aware of what is going on all around you – some of the best sightings we had took place while we were looking at something entirely different!
Now that we've tried and tested what Botswana and African Bush Camps have to offer, let Go2Africa start helping you plan your own trip to magical places like Mana Pools and Hwange. Contact one of our Africa Safari Experts today to start planning your tailor-made journey.