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Thinking of Adventure, wildlife, big skies
Best Portrayed in Out of Africa, Don’t Let Go of the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Safari, epitomized by the thrill of the chase, holds the same appeal today as it did more than a century ago when hunting, rather than game viewing, was the order of the day. To be in tune with your natural surroundings, your senses and emotions heightened by an awareness of the myriad sights, sounds and smells of the veld, is the very essence of safari. With the growing urgency to protect Africa’s last remaining wild places and endangered wildlife, authentic safari travel has definitely given the continent the edge in deep and meaningful, life-changing experiences. While the deep-dish comfort of a five-star safari is irresistible to most, increasingly there’s a yearning among adventurous-spirited travellers for something far simpler - a return to basics, to tented camps, sand between your toes, and dinner cooked over a campfire under a star-lit sky. Whichever way you choose to do it, going on safari has become less about bringing back stuff and more about returning home with photographs, thought-provoking stories and sowing philanthropic seeds. Best of all, through reconnecting with nature in all its savage glory, there’s the possibility of embarking on a completely different journey—rediscovering your authentic self.
As a safari destination, South Africa is a great choice for families and first-timers who want easy access to guaranteed game viewing year round. The Kruger National Park, which extends over almost 20,000 km², remains one of Africa’s largest and most iconic safari destinations. Kruger shares unfenced borders with several private reserves, including the Sabi Sands. Divided into private pockets, or concessions, private reserves such as the Sabi Sands have plenty of small and exclusive lodges where guests are almost guaranteed to see the big cats, elephant, buffalo, rhino, giraffe, zebra—and perhaps the elusive wild dog, if they’re lucky. South Africa offers many excellent opportunities to do this, and it is still the best place in Africa to see rhino, despite relentless and rampant poaching of the endangered beasts. Beyond the top-end properties in and around Kruger, there are equally luxurious lodges in the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve (northwest of Johannesburg) and private game reserves, such as Kwandwe, in the Eastern Cape.
“Ultra-luxe safari camps are fabulous, I’m not going to lie, but I yearn for the authenticity of something much, much simpler––a tented camp, bucket showers, and rustic food shared around a campfire under a star-studded sky.”
Ecca Lodge, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Eastern Cape
With an exclusive footprint of only four lodges sharing 22,000 hectares, the ratio of guests to space is the real luxury of choosing Kwandwe, a privately owned reserve outside Grahamstown. One of five small lodges dotted in the reserve, Ecca is named after the dramatic ecca shale cliffs characteristic of the Great Fish River that flows for 30km through the reserve. The six, colorful and contemporary suites—deeply romantic hideaways—each have a large living space, bedroom and en suite bathroom. From the deck with its plunge pool and outdoor shower, it’s not unusual to spot elephant, kudu or giraffe.
Ngala Safari Lodge, Ngala Private Game Reserve
Ngala was the first private reserve to be incorporated into the Kruger National Park when fences were dropped between the reserves bordering the park. Well known for cheetah, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino sightings, the 36,325-acre reserve has only two lodges, one being Ngala Safari Lodge on the Timbavati River. Its 21 thatched, light-filled suites have spacious verandas ideal for private dining. Warthog and antelope graze on the lawns surrounding the pool, and the spa has a fitness sala for al fresco massages or yoga.
Those who prefer to explore on foot or by canoe will appreciate Botswana’s pristine reserves. Birders in particular will appreciate the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta system. The Delta is Botswana’s best-known safari destination, followed by the Makgadikgadi saltpans and the semi-desert grasslands of the Kalahari, the rolling savannah of the Savuti and elephant-dense Chobe National Park. The Kalahari Desert covers three-quarters of the country, emphasizing the wetland marvel that is the Okavango Delta, which floods once a year as a result of the rains in Central Africa to the north-east. The Delta is 1931 square miles in extent, yet has only 1000 beds—guests have almost two square miles of exclusive space each, which may justify the premium rates.
Qorokwe Camp, Delta
Solar-powered, steel-and-canvas Qorokwe treads lightly on the 64,692-acre private Qorokwe concession, separated from the Moremi Game Reserve by the Gomoti channel. Its nine spacious suites, elevated above a lagoon, are the last word in cutting edge, contemporary cool with glass-walled bathrooms and private plunge pools. Day and night game drives and nature walks are year-round daily activities, complemented by mokoro and boating trips when the water levels are high enough.
Savuti Camp, Linyanti
Unrivalled access to both sides of the Savute channel has always given this authentic, recently rebuilt bush camp in the private Linyanti concession the edge over other camps in the area. In between sighting lion, cheetah, wild dog, leopard, buffalo and elephant herds on game drives and boat trips, the eight ultra-spacious, en-suite tents with private decks overlooking the channel are the place to be.
Jack’s Camp, Makgadikgadi salt pans
Untouched for millions of years, the Makgadikgadi salt pans are filled with fossils and Stone Age artefacts. Covering some 10,000 km of the Kalahari, the pans (the remains of a super lake) are interspersed with grassy islands like the one on which Jack’s Camp was struck by the Bousfield family. Glamorous, vintage East African safari style epitomizes the elegantly appointed tents filled with antiques and Persian carpets, and lit by kerosene lamps. After quad biking, walking with bushmen, marveling at the meerkats or tracking the brown hyena, sink into one of the stripy deck chairs around the pool and appreciate the deafening silence and endless views.
If you long for wide open spaces that you don’t have to share with anyone else, the stark beauty and dramatic contrasts of Namibia’s vast landscapes are waiting to be explored. This sparsely populated country of big skies, wide horizons, desert-adapted wildlife and traditional tribes, like the Himba, is a safari destination unlike any other in Africa. From the desert landscapes of Etosha and Damaraland to the monumental red Sossusvlei dunes or the shipwreck-strewn beaches of the Skeleton Coast, Namibia is also a photographer’s paradise. It’s as far off the grid as you can go, but these days you don’t have to forfeit luxury or comfort. Existing lodges are being transformed and beautiful new lodges are opening up previously inhospitable, remote parts of the country to travelers with a sense of adventure and an eye for the small, magical details waiting to be discovered once you take a closer look.
Air access to Namibia continues to improve with international flights from Frankfurt (Lufthansa) and Doha (Q’atar) flying directly into the capital, Windhoek. Namibia also offers value for money as camps are priced in Namibian Dollars, a currency tied to the South African Rand, rather than the US Dollar like most of Southern Africa.
Shipwreck Lodge, Skeleton Coast
This unusual property, opened mid-2018 by Journeys Namibia in collaboration with Trip Travel and Natural Selection, consists of 10 solar-powered timber bungalows marooned in the coastal dunes, resembling in their design the many ships that have met their fate along the treacherous, foggy Skeleton Coast. Designed by architect Nina Maritz with port-hole windows and ribs jutting into the sky like an upturned, broken hull of a shipwreck, the ocean-view bungalows were built from pre-manufactured panels, assembled on site to minimize the carbon footprint of the lodge’s construction. On misty days, a wood-burning stove keeps things cozy, while on clear days a private deck is the place to be. Besides beach combing, birding and dune walks, activities include tracking wildlife in the Hoarusib River valley and visiting the seal colonies at Mowe Bay.
Omaanda, Zannier Hotels
This 10-villa property in a private 9000-hectare reserve, not far from Windhoek, is part of a small portfolio of eco-luxe properties owned by Belgian-born Arnaud Zannier. The businessman was introduced to Namibia and this particular tract of land, which borders the N/a’anku sê conservation area, by Namibia devotee Angelina Jolie, who was a guest at his resort in Cambodia. The circular adobe and thatch huts—as the spacious villas are rather erroneously called—were inspired by the traditional architecture of the local Owambo people. Guests can track rhino on foot and visit the neighboring reserve where wildlife like elephant, rhino, cheetah and zebra find sanctuary from human-animal conflict. Back at the lodge, guests can enjoy spa treatments incorporating indigenous botanicals, like marula oil; cool off in the infinity pool with majestic views (heated in winter); and feast on local produce-driven meals in the dining room.
Long overlooked in favor of more fashionable safari destinations, such as Botswana, Zimbabwe appeals to savvy safari-goers who don’t like hefty price tags or sharing their wilderness experience with lots of other people. The thrill of varied activities, such as walking, canoeing, boating, game drives, and fishing, is matched by being in the hands of Africa’s most qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced guides. Zimbabwe offers incredible wildlife viewing in some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes on the continent. New investment by privately owned safari operators, most obviously in Vic Falls, Kariba and Hwange and Mana Pools national parks, has led to the opening or refurbishment of several luxury lodges, rustic-chic explorer camps and fly camp operations in remote settings.
Singita Pamushana, Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve
Recently refurbished, Singita Pamushana has enjoyed a long-held reputation for being the most sophisticated lodge in Zimbabwe. It now has exquisite new interiors and a relaxed approach to dining with healthier, lighter menus introduced by Singita’s in-house food guru Liam Tomlin. Pamushana is located in an enormous private concession, the pristine Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve which borders Gonarezhou National Park. Built high upon top of a densely wooded kopje, Pamushana has panoramic views over a majestic landscape encompassing kopjes, ancient baobab trees, rock art-filled caves and the Malilangwe Lake. Days are spent fishing, cruising or bird watching on the lake, walking, mountain biking, visiting some of the sacred rock art sites and, of course, enjoying exclusive access to exceptional wildlife sightings, including wild dogs on the hunt.
Matetsi Victoria Falls, Victoria Falls
Located on the banks of the Zambezi River, Matetsi is about 25 miles from the World Heritage Site of Victoria Falls. Guests have easy access to all the adrenaline activities in town, as well as boat-based game viewing on the Zambezi River and game drives and expertly guided walking safaris in the 123,500-acre Matetsi Private Game Reserve with 17 miles of private river frontage). The 18 suites and four-bedroomed River House villa have enormous round baths, private plunge pools, and outdoor showers—post-game drive refreshment made easy. There is also a 66-foot lap pool for a proper swim with front-row views of the Zambezi as it meanders downstream to the famous falls.
If space is the new luxury, then Tanzania guarantees masses of safari appeal. The country’s northern safari circuit, encompassing the vast Serengeti National Park and fascinating Ngorongoro Crater, cemented Tanzania’s future on the tourist map and remain bucket-list destinations in East Africa. The more remote eastern Serengeti is slowly being opened up to tourism, after being accessible only to big cat research projects for over 20 years. Camps and upscale lodges are continually reinventing themselves, adding the likes of star-bed sleep-outs, guided walks and helicopter flips to the mix. While a beach break at one of the exclusive resorts in Zanzibar is always popular, conservation-minded travelers are gravitating towards stylish low-impact camps in private concessions and remote, unexplored reserves in southern Tanzania, such as Ruaha National Park and the Selous Game Reserve. The presence of these new properties is helping to secure important animal migration corridors and displace poaching.
Mwiba Lodge, Southern Serengeti
With only eight glass-and-canvas suites in 125,000 acres of pristine wilderness, Mwiba Lodge is for those who crave off-the-beaten-track privacy but don’t want to relinquish any creature comforts. The suites are tucked between boulders and candelabra and fever trees on a kopje high above the southern Serengeti’s plains. From the glass-walled bathroom, watch animals drinking in the river below camp. The cliffside pool is the perfect setting for rustic-chic lunches under a shady gazebo, while witnessing migrating herds kicking up dust in the distance. Guided walks, night drives, sundowners on the edge of the escarpment, and helicopter flips are just some of the privileges of being in a private concession.
Jabali Ridge Lodge, Ruaha National Park
With their futuristic spherical shape, Jabali’s eight suites look like space ships tucked between the enormous boulders on a kopje high above the 7800-square mile Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania. Open-sided dining and lounging areas, an infinity pool and spa command 360-degree views over the park’s trademark baobab forests. This is definitely East Africa’s new safari frontier with noticeably fewer vehicles than the Serengeti, prolific game viewing and those giant baobabs. For families, Jabali Private House offers three bedrooms, a plunge pool, and in-room spa treatments.
Kenya is synonymous with the annual migration that moves through the wildlife-rich Masai Mara National Park, part of the Great Rift Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The country has many other exceptional reserves, including Tsavo and Amboseli national parks, evoking images of a classic East African safari epitomized by spectacular scenery and excellent game viewing. Then there’s Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain peak in Africa. Stretching from the slopes of Mount Kenya to the rim of the Great Rift Valley, the Laikipia Plateau is a true wilderness with breathtaking scenery. On the coast, Kenya’s beaches are as fine as any lapped by the Indian Ocean. Recent renovations and upgrades to well-loved camps in the Masai Mara has given Kenya renewed clout as one of Africa’s best safari destinations. Some of the most abundant, year-round game viewing is in the Mara triangle, known to be less crowded than the Greater Mara especially during the migration. Visiting a Masai village is a fascinating way of gaining insight into the traditions, culture and history of these fiercely proud, regal Kenyans. In fact, Kenyans are what make Kenya one of the easiest, friendliest safari destinations to visit.
The fertile, grassy plains of the Masai Mara teem with life year round, but during the annual migration, over a million wildebeest, zebra and other plains game make their way into the Mara in search of fresh grazing. Angama Mara has 15 glass-fronted tented suites perched 1,000 feet above the Great River Valley floor on the series of small hills made famous in Out of Africa. With sophisticated dining and polished hospitality, it’s a fine base from which to explore the remote, less crowded stretches of the Mara triangle or simply stay in camp for a morning, sink into a designer chaise longue and survey the scene with a pair of binoculars.
Laikipia is known for its large elephant populations and is also one of the last strongholds of the endangered black rhino. In the heart of Laikipia is Segera Retreat, the vision of Joachim Zeitz. A recent addition to the retreat is the solar-powered Bird Nest, an above-the-ground, sleep-out platform consisting of two circular levels. Woven organically from branches and other natural materials, from up here guests have 360-degree views of the surrounding savannah grasslands, rivers and woodlands.
This tiny, extraordinarily beautiful country provides sanctuary for more than two-thirds of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas who live in the high-altitude cloud forests of Volcanoes National Park. Dominated by six extinct volcanoes, the national park forms part of the Virungas massif - 45,000 hectares in extent, that straddles Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of the three countries, Rwanda is the most progressive, advanced, accessible and safest tourism destination in which to track and observe rare and endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Besides gorillas, there is much to see and explore, from the the montane forests of Nyungwe National Park with its chimpanzees, golden monkeys and white colobus monkeys to the vibrant and sophisticated capital city, Kigali.
One&Only Nyungwe House
Situated on a working tea plantation, the newly opened One&Only Nyungwe House borders one of the largest and best-preserved montane rainforests in Africa in the dramatic mountainous southwest of Rwanda. Every element of the resort has been carefully considered, from the wholesome farm-to-table dining to holistic, nature-focused spa and wellness offerings that embrace local traditions.
There are 22 luxury rooms and suites, all overlooking the forest. Days are filled with diverse activities, depending on guest interests, including chimpanzee trekking, hiking to waterfalls along beautiful trails, birding (the Nyungwe National Park is home to over 300 bird species, 27 of them endemic to the local Albertine Rift), learning about tea production, cooking classes and more.
Wilderness Bisate Lodge
Adjacent to Volcanoes National Park, Wilderness’s first lodge in Rwanda offers excellent access to Park Headquarters from where gorilla treks depart. And that’s what guests come here for: Africa’s most immersive wild primate experience, getting up close to one of the gorilla groups hidden in the forest. The lodge
is located in the natural amphitheater of an eroded volcanic cone, with dramatic views of the peaks of the Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes rising up through Afro-alpine forests. There are only six forest villas, built along stringent environmentally responsible principles while reflecting the rich culture of rural Rwanda. Other activities include guided walks, birding, tree planting and visiting the on-site nursery, and cultural tours.
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