A TALE OF TWO SAFARIS
National parks, game reserves and wildlife management areas make up nearly 40 percent of Botswana, a land so nature-rich that travellers have the opportunity of sighting a whopping 580 bird and 75 larger mammal species. It’s also a country of wonderfully varied landscapes – making it difficult to choose simply one bush experience – as our lifestyle editor, Helen Clemson, discovered when she did the best of Botswana in just one trip.
Not much has drawn me to bush travel. Even the lure of luxury tented safaris with endless G&T evenings that begin under fiery African sunsets and end with a retreat to an Egyptian-cotton-enrobed bed don’t hold the appeal they do for some. I’m not sure why. Also, I’m no adrenaline junkie; not for me, say, a horse-riding safari (even though I was a keen rider as a child). Actually, galloping next to a herd of, well, anything gets my angst going. That and wake up calls at 5.45am just to be jiggled around on a LandRover in the hopes of spotting a big cat killing something. More lie-ins, less gore please. What does appeal is seeing another country, because travel – no matter how often one does it – is always a privilege. No-one had bad things to say about Botswana. From the onset, I was assured I would fall in love with this vast and gentle place. I’d also look at bush travel in a whole new light. Because a safari experience in Botswana, I was told, is quite unlike anything I would have encountered before.
LOVE AT FIRST LIGHT
For my first rendezvous with this African beauty (my trip was sadly fast and furious), I experienced two very different areas of the country – the Makgadikgadi Pans and the Khwai Private Reserve in the legendary Okavango Delta. While aesthetically very different, the mix of these two particular spots made for an ideal blend of the aridity of shimmering parched earth (literally as far as the eye can see) and the watery cool of lagoon-side life. In both locations, what got me was the quality of the light. Botswana sun (while hot during my late September trip) seems to have all the sharpness knocked out of it. It’s a soft sunshine followed by a gentle sunset that pours golden light onto all it caresses. In short, it makes for the most romantic of skies.
Before I overdo it on the schmaltz and sentiment, let’s talk about beauty of another
kind – that of striking interiors. In the world of luxury tented safaris, none can be grander than the beautifully appointed Jack’s Camp located on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans. Here, an exquisite antithesis takes place: the rich, carefully thought-through interiors of Jack’s play off against the barren starkness of the almost moonscape pans. This only highlights Jack’s opulence further as the camp is an ode to the safari style of yesteryear. That being said, don’t expect mod cons like electricity in your Bedouin-
must-do as one truly gets a sense of the sheer expanse of them – and there are the quintessential sundowners as your motoring reward before vrooming back to camp in the stillness of night. Another not-to-be-missed activity is meeting the area’s wild meerkat gang, an encounter that is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Guests sit quietly in the meerkats’ environment and, if so inclined, a meerkat may well climb onto your head to survey the pans from your peak cap for a few minutes. It’s a big deal, trust me.
style abode – and quite frankly gas lanterns are far more authentic as one pads around on Persian carpets laid on highly polished wooden floors. As for experiences, these too are next level, and while at Jack’s I did them all. Quad biking the pans at sunset is a
Due to my fondness for horse riding, I also chose to saddle up at daybreak and ride with a guide through herds of grazing zebra and wildebeest on a gentle steed. This is probably the most vulnerable, and yet also the most calm, I’ve ever been on a safari adventure.
Leaving Jack’s was a sad state of affairs. Two nights just wasn’t enough. However, what awaited at the Khwai Private Reserve was enchanting. Just flying over the Okavango Delta (if travelling from Maun, fly on light-aircraft carriers such as Major Blue Air directly into Sable Alley) was a bucket-list opportunity to see sweeping views of the vast reaches of this African treasure. More gold awaited. A new build, this comfortably stylish camp has been constructed in a horseshoe shape around the most tranquil lagoon at Sable Alley. That means views of hippos (among other creatures) wallowing from every part of the camp, whether you’re having breakfast in the dining area or having a glorious swimming pool wallow yourself. Activity-wise, there are game drives (and 200 000 hectares of the Khwai Private Reserve to explore on them), yet it was the quiet calm of the mokoro (dugout canoe) that really struck a chord. As our guide poled us through the pristine waterways – carefully spotting hippos as he did – the sense of wonder was as dreamlike as cantering next to the zebra in the Makgadikgadi.
UP IN THE AIR
From Sable Alley, Skybeds (located on the Khwai Private Reserve too) is easily accessible. Transfers to this very special camp via game vehicle take no more than an hour or two (depending on how much game viewing you wish to do) as you wind your way deeper into the reserve. Once at camp, you’ll discover three five-metre high wooden platforms comprising three floors each. Each ‘room’ overlooks the plains, meaning your bed is on an open-topped structure and you sleep under the stars as the wildlife roam below and around you. Each skybed overlooks the waterhole, and while I spent the night ensconced in the enormous double bed, an elephant lumbered to and fro right beneath me. One even lingered for a good hour eating from a tree next to my platform and then slowly plodded off into the inky black. Thrilling doesn’t even begin to describe it.