Blog Archives: Botswana


Is Social Media Really That Social?

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It's a totally solitary experience

It is one of those surreal moments. I am typing ‘zebra1234’ into my phone, to get online to tell the world that I just left where I am. Yet, if I look up from my phone, I can see one, two, three, four and more zebras coming down to the river to drink.

Sitting on the banks of the Boteti River in Botswana, I start to wonder if being social, on social media, really is that social. When you are thinking how to take the most striking photo, how to word your hashtags or who to tag, it’s a totally solitary experience. This is all in the name of getting the most comments or likes – again a solitary experience, as no one is going to be impressed but you.

Elephant Tusk

With my head down, looking at my phone, I start to think how different my first experience of arriving at camp – some 20 years ago – was from today. When I arrived, I was taken in by the views and the elephants down by the waterhole, with the poor camp manager trying so hard to grab my attention for just a moment to give me the safety briefing. Now people arrive at camp and ask “Do you have Wi-Fi?” whilst reaching into their pockets and pulling out phones. Still, the camp manager ends up doing everything possible to grab their attention for just a moment.

I remember the wonderful moments of interacting with the camp staff and playing postman to their letters, which they had spent time writing by hand. After chatting with the all-important barman at sunset and him finding out where I was heading next, I would soon have a line of staff asking if I could take his or her letter. The letters would need to be dropped off at one of the camps I was visiting and given to a brother, mother, husband or wife who worked there. Now that tradition has passed, with the internet taking over. With WhatsApp and Facebook ever present, letters and playing postman seems but a distant memory.

Leopard, Botswana

Soon, I leave the Boteti behind and move on to a mobile camp. Here, the closest thing to 3G or 4G is wondering whether or not to have another G&T. It is wonderful to be so detached from the world. I cannot check emails, post on Instagram or look at the news. It is perfect.

It reminds me of when I was in the Republic of Congo, during the American presidential elections last November. We were sitting in the middle of Odzala National Park, a 14-hour drive from Brazzaville, with the nearest form of civilization hours away. Yet, somehow, we had Wi-Fi and we found out who the next leader of “the free world” was. Instead of enjoying the most amazing thunderstorm that we were taking shelter from, we changed the conversation and with this the mood altered. I was annoyed that our escape from the world had been broken by a simple breaking news update.

Chatting with camp managers that I have met during my trip in Botswana, they too have said how things have changed and that Wi-Fi has become both friend and foe. The camps are not, strangely enough, as social, as they used to be. Guests are sitting with their heads down, looking at their phones. They are distracted at dinner times by messages coming in or are simply just staying in their rooms so they can spend more time online.

Sunset

Camps and lodges are trying different ways to offer clients the best of both worlds, whether that is offering Wi-Fi for a few hours a day or setting up a Wi-Fi tree that is located away from the views. Both of these are attempts to try and limit your time with your head down and not interacting and reacting to your surroundings.

One camp in Kenya offers, what I think is the perfect solution. When you ask if the camp has Wi-Fi, the answer is yes. And soon enough you have a four-legged, furball, called “Wi-Fi”, bringing you a stick to throw for him.

My advice to you whilst on safari: time is precious, holidays even more so. Therefore, #lookup, #putyourphonedown and #enjoythemoment, as it will be over before you know it.

Botswana – Travel Is About People and Time

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Lions from a helicopter on salt pan

I believe in time travel. At home, in your everyday life you have routine – going to work, getting the children to school – and are always looking at your watch (or phone) to see when your next appointment or deadline is. In the bush, on safari, time seems to stand still. You become immersed in the moment — watching an elephant feeding from a marula tree or a meercat surveying the landscape as it emerges from its burrow.

meerkats

Whilst travelling in Botswana recently, this became ever more apparent to me. I had the good fortune to meet people who have transcended the divide between these parallel worlds. Those who have taken their dreams and built new lives and homes in Africa around safari.

helicopter lift off jacks camp

I spent time with Ralph Bousfield, a tousled Botswanan from Francistown and super guide best known for being the custodian of a piece of land in the Makgadikgadi Pans, in central Botswana. His father, Jack, created Jack’s Camp in the 1960s, in what was then and is still now one of the world’s most hostile environments.

Lions from a helicopter on salt pan

He had a dream that at some stage this would be the place that people would travel to. And he was right because today people make Jack’s Camp a focus of their holidays. Jack was eccentric (something Ralph has inherited) and Ralph is curious, so to this day the camp is littered with interesting things picked up in the deserts of Africa. The Bousfield family tree is wide and it seems everyone in the family likes to collect things. Ralph is hoping to create a museum at Jack’s Camp — not only to reflect the past, but also help contribute to conservation in the present, with resident researchers continually collecting and cataloguing using the latest technology.

When you travel to one of Ralph’s camps, be it the quirky Jack’s, uber cool San or funky Camp Kalahari, you will have a personal insight into an interesting family. There is also some great wildlife to be seen, from helicopters, horseback, fat-bikes, foot and vehicles. I particularly enjoyed watching the endemic brown hyena emerge from their burrows at dusk, perform the greeting ritual and then make their solitary ways into the night. At home, I would have been making my way to the gym, maybe walking the dog – a world away.

view from roof seats of vehicle

Knowing how demanding it can be, the passion of the person who builds a home in Africa fascinates me. Marjan and Raphael did just this in Botswana’s western Kalahari — an area so remote and vast that you wonder how they ever got the idea. Here, they built Feline Fields Lodge.

feline fields helicopter

Raphael travelled to Africa and found that nothing was as he wanted it to be – when he visited his first safari lodge, he was appalled that he should be expected to share his safari experience with another guest, making compromises on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He didn’t like the scheduling and lack of flexibility. He decided to realise his vision of what constituted the perfect lodge.

Feline Fields

Therefore, Raphael and Marjan started to look for the perfect location, in which to build the perfect lodge. They were directed to the site of Feline Fields, a concession in the western Kalahari, where they loved the fact that it was a fresh canvas. There was no competition and no comparison, so they embellished it with all their passions.

ground squirrel feline fields

Neither are builders, but they have a sense of style and – importantly – know exactly what they don’t want. Raphael was tired of the postage-size plunge pool at most lodges. He wanted to swim, so the main pool is a full-size lap pool, tended to thrice daily so it is immaculate.

Feline Fields pool

My favourite part of this lodge (and I had many) was the tennis court. Set away from the lodge and made from the mud of abandoned termite mounds, it is a unique clay surface. I could have almost been in southern Spain, had it not been for the gigantic cricket making its way slowly across the court. It was midday; lunchtime in the office – now in a parallel world.

I loved the single mindedness of both, the glint in their eyes when they spoke of their lodge and the way it has benefited the community and conservation.

Throughout Africa I can pinpoint lodges which accurately reflect the people who created them. Many truly mirror the owners, the managers and the architects. Each have a story and a sense of place because they were imagined and built with great care, love and passion. Nicky and Steve’s Angama Mara, Alex Walker’s Serian, Clive Stockil’s Chilo Gorge, Dave Varty’s Londolozi and Mark Butcher’s Imvelo to name but a few.

At all these lodges, you will have the chance to hear a story — your experience will be heightened by the additions to the day, the nuances of that place. And when you get home you will be loading the dishwasher, thinking about what they are doing at that same time in your favourite lodge in Africa. You will still be thinking about that parallel world.

Botswana in 96 Hours

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I stumbled off my plane feeling the ache that an overnight flight leaves on a body designed for a starring role in the BFG, not the seats of economy class. But almost instantly, I was in the air again, this time buffeted by storm clouds as Botswana’s weather welcomed me.

The Kalahari Desert soon appeared below and we coasted down to land on the compacted red sand. Dragging myself into the waiting 4×4, I started to snooze. A hot towel on arrival revived me slightly, but I was still ready for bed.

Sue, my host, had other ideas, however. We had just four days to explore a large chunk of Botswana, so time was short. The essence of Sue’s welcome briefing was “You can sleep when you’re back at your desk.”

What followed was a spectacular safari through some of Botswana’s most diverse landscapes. From the salt pans of the Kalahari, I flew north to the wetlands of the Okavango Delta and then the mopane woodland of the Linyanti. Sleep was at a premium, but wildlife certainly was not. See a selection of my photos – all taken in just four days – below.

Botswana: A Day in the Delta

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Lion in delta

Water here is so vital that even the Botswana currency – pula – is the Setswana word for rain.Water is everything in Africa. In a desert more so. The rains come and life thrives.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. And it is this phenomenal and bizarre geographic accident that I have come to see. Conscious that much of the rest of southern Africa is still waiting for the rains to come, I’m in Maun, the starting point for so many safaris.

Soon, though, I’m in the air. My small helicopter flies over a sparkling horizon of channels and waterways, dotted with wild palms and baobab trees. For much of the year, this northern pan of the vast Kalahari Desert lies waiting for rain that will fall in the distant highlands of Angola.

When it comes, the results are spectacular. 11 trillion tons of water flow into the region, from March to June, creating a myriad of canals, lakes, swamps and islands. The world’s largest inland delta is formed in the middle of a desert, teeming with game.

My pilot flies low over this spectacular landscape. Low enough to enjoy the sensational views; high enough to leave the game in peace.

On landing I’m met by cool towels and ice-cold drinks. As the helicopter returns to the clear blue sky, the thud of the blades are slowly replaced by the sounds of the bush. My first morning on safari welcomes me, as the outside world melts away.

We drive towards the camp and I am reminded that Botswana is a place to be savoured. Time spent here always yields an all-star cast, but the joy of Botswana is in the unexpected.

We pass through a cloud of yellow butterflies, floating over red lechwes grazing in lagoons. I glimpse a porcupine whose spines bristle in the sunlight, before sighting a rare Pel’s fishing Owl, setting off to hunt at dusk.

Game drives are only part of the experience. Here, you can explore on foot, canoe, mokoro, speed boat, helicopter and even paddle board, in the company of some of Africa’s most thoughtful guides.

The wilderness of the delta is immense and exclusive, yet the game is phenomenal. We pass through a meadow of wild sage, with the silhouettes of a family of elephants kicking up dust against the setting sun.

If the drives are good for game, the sensational camps are good for the soul. At the camp, later that night, dinner is refreshingly simple – delicious fine dining and lip-smacking wines. I eat my way through three courses that rival anything served in the restaurants of London or Paris.

The surroundings are luxurious, the atmosphere relaxed and the service as polished as the cut glass. I chat to my fellow guests, who although revelling like newcomers to this unspoilt wilderness, turn out to be here for their third or fourth time.

Throughout the country, these small, beautiful and sensitively styled camps offer the perfect water hole. They combine world-class guides and convivial hosting, with everything on offer from editing suites for the serious photographer to fully stocked wine cellars to enjoy at leisure.

Inevitably, costs are high compared to other safaris, but the wildlife experience is priceless. I ponder this as the sounds of the night-time delta join me on the walk back to my bed: when done well, a luxury safari in Botswana has no equal.

Sitting beneath the stars on my private veranda, a cool breeze blows in from the delta. I’m thankful that this indulgence comes with a clear conscience. The Botswana government’s pioneering policy of high-end, low impact tourism means the generous cost of staying here pays for the ongoing protection of one of the world’s great wildernesses. And it shows.

Be inspired by James Bond on your next holiday

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The new Bond film Spectre premieres in London on 26th October. Shot in London, Rome and Mexico – notably with opening scenes featuring the Day of the Dead festival  in Mexico City – we are inspired this month to take a world tour in the footsteps of 007  film locations past. We hope you are shaken and stirred by our choices.

How many have you visited? How many would you like to?

India

Originally a summer retreat for the royal family built by Maharana Jagat Singh II, this wonderful charming heritage hotel has the most romantic location rising majestically from the waters of Lake Pichola.

Stay here as part of a Golden Triangle Holiday in Rajasthan 16 days from £3,995 pp


Egypt

Cruise the Nile in style on board either the Sanctuary Nile Adventurer, the Sanctuary Sun Boat III or Sanctuary Sun Boat IV. Choose your boat and book before the end of December to save up to 30% on your departure.

3 days from £855 pp as part of a tailor-made holiday to Egypt.


Thailand

Watch out for Scaramanga from your private villa, infinity pool and sun-deck and lap up the glorious views over Phang Nga Bay.

3 night stay in a Hideaway villa from £700 pp as part of a tailor-made holiday to Thailand.


Turkey

The location for three Bond films; From Russia with Love, The World is Not Enough and most recently Skyfall. This city is a vibrant, cultural and exciting destination. Lose yourself amidst the minarets and winding bazaars. Explore the rich Byzantine history of Hagia Sophia and cruise the Bosphorus.

4 days from £650 pp.


Brazil

There’s nowhere like heady Rio de Janeiro. Soar above the city and see Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain, visit the hip beach hang-outs at Ipanema and Copacabana. Then head to the Amazon Rainforest for amazing wildlife.

12 days from £2,950 pp.


Jamaica

 

Recreate your own Dr No scene on the Ochos Rios. For a truly unique experience stay at the former estate of Bond’s creator Ian Fleming. GoldenEye has a choice of private beach front villas or you can event stay in the authors original house.

14 days highlights of Jamaica from £3,995 pp.


Cuba

Head to Havana, a city overflowing with character and personality. We highly recommend a walking tour, strolling around the old quarter, visiting the famous haunts of musicians, actors and authors like Hemingway. Stay at the Hotel Saratoga with unrivalled views of Capitolio before heading for arguably the most beautiful town in Cuba – Trinidad.

9 days from £2,445 pp.


Russia

GoldenEye was the first Bond film made after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War which provided a background for the plot. Experience Russia’s imperial capital over a wonderful long weekend. See the impressive art collection at the Hermitage. Catch a ballet performance at the Mariinsky and visit the Summer Palace of Peterhof.

5 days from £895 pp.


Chile & Bolivia

Scenes set in Bolivia were actually showcasing northern Chile and shot at Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert. You can experience the amazing crystal clear atmosphere that makes star gazing so good here and also visit the surreal Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia.

13 days from £3,495 pp.


Adventure like 007 – Stirred, not shaken

 

See the Okavango Delta from a unique aerial perspective – this exceptional holiday gets to the heart of the action. The option of taking the side doors off the helicopter makes it a safari perfect for wildlife photographers.

9 days from £4,350 pp.

Climb up the rock face in the Sacred Valley on a via ferrata, spend the night sleeping in a perspex pod looking out at the stars before zip lining back down to the valley floor. This adventurous holiday also includes surf lessons in Lima, a ride on the Hiram Bingham Orient Express train to see Machu Picchu and a cookery class in Cusco where you can learn to make the perfect Pisco Sour – shaken not stirred of course.

13 days from £4,250 pp.


Charter Bésame Mucho (Kiss Me Lots) and sail through the crystal waters of the Sea of Cortez between the east coast of Baja California and Mexico with your private crew and chef. These waters are known for superb marine life like whales and dolphins, snorkel with sea lions, kayak through the mangroves and dine on remote beaches.

8 days from £3,695 pp.


For the adventurous among you – spend a night on the slopes of the active Nyiragongo volcano, home to the world’s largest lava lake. This pioneering group tour explores two UNESCO world heritage sites in the heart of Africa. Track lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega and chimps and mountain gorillas in the Virungas.

12 days from £3,995 pp.

Get in touch with us for more information on  planning your holiday like Bond, call us on 01285 601 757 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

Gallery: Botswana Okavango Delta

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Our Steppes client Lindsey Munro has kindly shared some of her images of her holiday to Botswana, exploring the Okavango Delta. Activities are as varied as the landscape in Botswana and the ultimate way to take everything in is by helicopter safari, which is exactly what Lindsey and her friends did, arranged by Botswana Travel Expert Bridget Cohen.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to experience your own Botswana adventure, get in touch with Bridget on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more advice.

Wildlife of the Okavango Delta

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Onward to the Delta, and Tuba Tree camp. Another light aircraft hop, this time into a water landing, even toward the end of the dry season. The flora had become more luxuriant and the fauna had expanded to show elephant, impala ( the desert had been populated by Springbok), leopard, Ashanti Lion and a large range of water-based birds. Black-smith lapwing , Wattled crane, Yellow billed stork and Spoonbill are common. The magnificent African Fish eagle also swooped over the channels, an iconic sighting.

Over the next days we followed many herd of elephant with their young, witnessing the playful rivalry, the power as well as the delicacy of the use of their trunks. The dexterity of this apparently clumsy organ was a revelation. Giraffe browsed while being cleansed by red-billed ox-peckers, this bird illustrating one of the many symbiotic relationships seen on this journey. The first sighting of a leopard is always exciting! Here a young male was found having just stored a kill, and cleaning himself while resting in the shade. He then strolled on to perch languidly on a low branch to wait. Again, the apparent natural behaviour one was able to enjoy from such close range from the back of a vehicle, was incredible.

Termite mounds here may take 50-60yrs to develop, sculpted by the rains into Gaudi-like towers. Baboons, that perch on these ‘observation posts’, deposit seeds in droppings which germinate and grow in this fertile ground. So the phenomena of full grown Sycamore Fig and the like emanating from a termite hillock is characteristic of this place.

On return to the camp over two days we pause at a watering hole attracting a wide variety of birds. So many species so tightly packed is a revelation. Saddled billed stork, Squacco heron, Black-winged stilt, African jacana, greenshank, spur-winged geese and the strange shaped Hammerkop to name but a few! Africa is a continent of outrageous perfusion! In the UK for example we have Kingfishers of one type, here they have five varieties, and one the Pied was a constant companion while the Woodland’s melodious call suffused he camp. With the colourful excesses of the Lilac-breasted roller, Little Bee-eaters and crested barbet this is a bird watchers paradise.

Here among the lagoons and rivulets the local canoe or Mokoro is the ideal means of transportation. Polled, like the punts of our university towns, these narrow craft glide through beds of day water lilies and river lettuce and between banks of high grasses where the Jesus bird or Jacana walks on water.

Mr Bishop recently travelled to Botswana, organised by Jackie, and he kindly gave us this insight into his experience of the Okavango Delta . You can read his previous blog post here.

Kalahari Meerkats

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There was a crackle on the radio. “What time will you be back?” asked a somewhat harassed camp manager.
“Soon, soon” was the reply from Ralph.

I looked at my watch. It was just gone 3pm and only then did I realise the camp manager was asking us in for breakfast and had been for the last few hours. Breakfast, lunch or dinner for that matter, was the furthest from my mind. Who was thinking of food when we were with one of Africa’s finest guides, our appetites being fed by the constant flow of stories and information about this magnificent country they call Botswana.

Ralph Bousfield is renowned for being one of, if not the leading Safari guide in Botswana. My safari with Ralph did not have the most auspicious of beginnings, in that I was taken aback by the traffic of light aircrafts at the airstrip. I was starting to feel that this may not be the private, exclusive, once in a life time safari I was promised. How wrong I was. Bags fastened onto the roof of our land cruiser, we left behind the bustle, making our way through the beautiful Moremi Reserve, away from the crowds and into a world of our very own.

Arriving into camp my heart soared. This is how a safari camp should be. An atmospheric mess tent area, camp fire and sleeping tents which provide you with a comfortable bed to sleep in, a bucket shower and loo. Spending two nights here was truly incredible. There were too many wonderful game viewing sightings to choose my favourite – the lions roaring for territory, the male zebras fighting for business rights, the herd of elephants calmly going about their business or the biggest leopard I have ever sighted sat in a tree watching us, watching her.

On my last night in the Moremi we set off by boat, zig-zagging through the waterways, seeing birds, massive crocodiles and the elusive sitatunga. We stopped for lunch in the clear shallows, not on the boat but in the waters of the Okavango Delta. Sat back on safari chairs with toes in the water, I soon, against my better judgement, found myself swimming. For me, the mark of a great safari is one in which you find yourself outside your comfort zone without ever realising that you have made such a transgression.

Could it get any better?

Yes. Fly camping on our very own private island. Set up with nothing more than mosquito nets, a bedroll and duvet. Our simple camp was short of ordinary. That night sleeping under that stars will go down as one of my best nights sleep. Exposed, vulnerable, yet at peace.

The next day, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans provided a stark contrast. One of the largest salt-pans in the world, the Makgadikgadi resembles a lunar landscape. Remote. Inhospitable. Yet the sense of space and openness was so uplifting. Yes there are lots of places from where you can enjoy the stars but there is nowhere quite like San Camp, creating moments, unexpected and untamed.

On my last morning at San Camp I was introduced to the Kalahari Meerkats. So very small yet so very human. It was incredible to watch these small furry creatures going about their morning rituals. Front paws poised to their chest, they would chatter away to friends and family, then suddenly stop to gaze alertly over the Kalahari, invariably using me, as the highest point around, to survey their surrounds. I was only too happy to cease spectating them and oblige in joining surveillance efforts.

I have been fortunate enough to have travelled throughout Africa but my time with the meerkats has to be one of my most personal and precious experiences. I am certain from their wide eyed interaction and meerkat chatter that they, like me, are fascinated by this land.

Arriving in Botswana

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From the air the Kalahari scrub looked devoid of life.

Our Cessna light aircraft took off southward from Maun heading into squally raincloud. We levelled at 3500ft, twice this on the altimeter, as Maun is 3000ft above sea level. Below the odd shelter and kraal showed, but otherwise seemed empty.We approached the bush airstrip at Kalahari Plains camp and made a preliminary run across to check for animals, then turned in to land in a gusting cross wind. The camp guide met us and we bounced along sandy tracks to camp.

On the ground our airborne impression of lifelessness was confounded! Small, darting steenbok, oryx (gemsbok) and hornbill floating between the bush shrubs said to us that we had arrived again in Africa; that stunning continent!

Botswana, this landlocked haven of stability on a continent of unrest, offers a range of habitat, from the desert, to the Okavango Delta and northward to the Linyanti National Park nearing the Caprivi Strip of Namibiaand Victoria Falls in Zambia. And we were to sample the changing flora and fauna moving up country over the next 10days.

The Kalahari is home to the Black-manned lion, the roar of which awakened us next morning! We set off in hope, crossing the path of a rare Aardwolf, a strange arch-shaped banded creature, the size of a medium dog. Long inquisitive snout matching it’s tapering tail. Then suddenly our Guide’s sharp eyes spotted the dark profile of a lion in regal isolation beneath a shattered tree. We approached slowly without breaking cover. The large male was resting in the morning shade. He would spend some of his day marking his territory by sitting and leaving scent from his anal glands, together with sebaceous secretions from his mane on preening. There had been rain over night so this marking was in need of refreshing. His size and dominance would be shown by the size of his spoor and the depth of his roar. His presence would be in the air of this place.

We moved through the day excited by this sighting. Birds dominated our view with Pallid Harrier, Pale and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Crimson breasted Shrike and Short tailed and Tawny Eagles getting us reaching for the binoculars! By the evening drive we were eager to see our lion again and returning to a water hole close to his last position we heard the roar and saw the response of his group. Out of the brush came a mature female and a young male, maybe her son. They approached the water in circumspect manner, she drawn to his call, the youngster unsure how close he could get and not be perceived a threat. The new arrivals paused to drink as we sat enthralled 20 metres from the pair in our open sided Land Rover. The presence of our ‘big man’ causing anxiety and uncertainty. The female sat looking before and behind, the young male paced forward and back. Finally, her desire set her forward and his apprehension sent him back in retreat! The female padded across to join the big male, they greeted on hind legged raise and settled to roar together. The young man, whose time no doubt would come, headed for cover.

As we drank our sundowners from what must be one of the best mobile bars on the planet, we had witnessed one small episode in the life of the natural world! Night fell on a full day and over a sumptuous supper we looked forward to our journey onward.

Mr Bishop recently travelled to Botswana, organised by Jackie, and he kindly gave us this insight into his experiences of the Kalahari.

You wish you were here

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Despite being born in and having lived in Africa for many years, never have I witnessed such a thrilling sight so close and so dramatic.

After an eventful early morning game drive through Makgadikgadi it was time for a siesta, but little did I know what was awaiting for me in the next few moments. My chalet is built on a raised platform overlooking the Boteti river in the Makgadikgadi national park with stunning views all around me and so I decided to take a seat on the balcony with a glass of ice cold lime and lemon and enjoy the afternoon sun. Suddenly, there was a loud sound of stomping feet. Rousing a stirring sense of both fear and excitement, I suddenly became alert and less focused on my refreshing drink. Heart racing, sweat trickling down my cheek my mouth fell open and eyes wide at the sight before me. A dazzle of zebra, 40 strong, majestically galloped past me, rushing to the river for their afternoon drink. And to the left of them was a surprisingly quiet herd of wildebeest, kudu and one lone elephant, all vying to quench their thirst. In one swoop of exhilaration I was amongst the animals in their everyday lives, caught up in the herd, right in the action.

Once the flurry had calmed, birds calling and the rushing of the river was all that remained, along with the memory of a somewhat momentary yet incredibly memorable few minutes.

Jackie is currently in Botswana as Green Season approaches. In safari speak Green Season is a quieter time to visit, full of dramatic encounters. The desert bursts into life, birthing season begins, flocks of birds arrive and the parched savannah becomes lush and green. Visitor numbers drop during this time offering a more personalised experience, coupled with low seasons rates – this is one of the best times to be on a safari.

Staying in the bush in Botswana

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It’s not until you start flying over the vast panorama of nothing that you fully realise the remoteness and vastness of the African bush. We touched down at Jack’s camp, a collection of luxury tents set up by the legendary crocodile hunter Jack Bousfield, in the 70s which lie on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Salt pans.

We were met by Chaba, who had swapped a suit and tie and office in the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture for dreadlocks, safari gear and a permanent grin. What a great guy. His scientific background gave him an insight into animal behaviour that was both informative and infectious. For George, my 9 year old, it was love at first sight.

We stayed at San Camp, a short drive from Jack’s. Large mosquito proof tents built on polished wooden platforms. Four poster beds, rugs on the floor, a huge wooden flushing loo, power shower, fluffy towels and bottles of smelly things. Meals around a table set for 12, Bushmen artefacts in show cases behind. Delicious food, fresh bread every day and a bar of formidable variety.

An unforgettable morning spent with a small group of habituated meerkats as they emerged from their burrows, using our shoulders or heads as look out vantage points. An afternoon with the indigenous Kalahari Bushmen learning just a little of how they survive in such a hostile wilderness and then it was off on quad bikes across the salt pans following a single set of tyre marks. The odd ostrich, a few birds, but otherwise nothing to see, but the exhilaration was infectious. It is not for everyone. Thumbs got tired, we got very, very dusty and it was a long day. A perfect lunch of salad nicoise emerged from a cool box and at around 3pm we arrived at what is termed the Lost Island of Baobabs. (Did you know Baobabs are a succulent and not a tree?). Bedrolls with two hot water bottles were laid out under the stars, a bucket shower open to the wilds behind a tree and a long drop loo. Dinner under the stars on a white tablecloth and once again delicious food and fresh bread, produced from an open fire. As we lay in bed looking up at the vast canopy of stars above there were whispered discussions as to whether the call in the distance had been lion or ostrich. To the untrained ear it could have been either…

Back to San Camp for a night, clothes washed and pressed within 24 hours (they needed it!) and a flight to Moremi game reserve where a mobile tented camp had been set up for us. Smaller tents but with proper beds, showers and yet again flushing loos (how do they do it in the middle of nowhere?), hyenas walking through the camp at night and lions calling. This is the real safari as it used to be. Why would anyone want to stay within the confines of a lodge where you are isolated from the raw reality of the bush? I wonder if it will last or will the pressure of fussy tourists confine the experience to the history books. I hope not.

Call of the Delta

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“What, you haven’t been to the Delta”?

It was a common refrain amongst colleagues and friends, who, aware of my love for Africa could not comprehend that I hadn’t visited one of the continent’s shining jewels.

Up until now, the lure of the Masai Mara had been too strong to resist but following a conversation with a friend, the opportunity arose to take a trip with & Beyond, staying at their lodges and camps in the Okavango Delta. I jumped at the chance and now here I am…

It is May and so following the long rains, the Delta is fully submerged and in rude health. Give it another 2 months and water levels will be even higher as the flood waters from Angola arrive, gushing in along the Cuito and Cubango (Okavango) Rivers. Unsurprisingly then, many of the activities in the Delta are water based however classic 4WD safaris can also provide rich pickings.

The first camp I stayed at was Sandibe in the Moremi region of the Delta, and within 30 minutes of the first game drive, Gee, our local guide was proudly pulling alongside 3 wild dogs, sat contemplatively next to a termite mound. After a few minutes the alpha female stood up to reveal a nasty wound on her left flank, doubtless incurred on a recent hunting foray. Immediately, her two younger subordinates ran to her side and began licking her wound. The dog’s saliva contains antiseptic qualities and so helps in the healing process.

With the bar set high, I was sceptical as to whether the rest of the trip would match such an exceptional sighting – I was not to be disappointed. Over the next few days I saw inquisitive hyena pups leaving their den to inspect our vehicle, lions stalking massive buffalo herds on Duba Plains (home to the Last Lion), a leopard inching closer and closer to an unsuspecting kudu (her position was ultimately betrayed by a Lilac Breasted Roller and the kudu scarpered) and a marauding honey badger on a night drive.

What has left the most lasting impression though is the Delta’s overwhelming sense of space and endless wilderness. Botswana is wild and beautiful and no more so than the country’s epicentre, the Okavango Delta, where the combination of big skies and seemingly endless flood plains make for a landscape that touches the soul.

For the most intimate perspective on the Delta, take a traditional mokoro ride through lily pad carpeted waters. On our final morning in Botswana, the sun rose and bathed the Delta in a benevolent and serene first-light. As the boatman effortlessly pushed us along in the direction of the current, I felt an overriding sense of timelessness and the warm glow that one gets at times when nature reminds you of your place in the world.

For more information about safaris to the Okavango Delta or holidays to Botswana please contact our Botswana specialists on 01285 880 980.

Botswana – the best safari wilderness

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I left the cold and rainy Cirencester for warm and sunny Botswana, very excited at the thought of exploring this beautiful country that has so much to offer: wildlife, birdlife and flora.

Botswana is definitely an all-year round destination, with Mid November to March being the rainy season and the rest of the year being the dry season. I chose to visit at the end of November, to experience the differences in season – I was not disappointed.

Most of the wildlife areas of Botswana have been sub-divided into private reserves, with most owned by the local villagers or the government which are leased to tourism companies. As it stands, it is one of the few countries in Africa with great success stories of tourism empowering the communities living alongside wildlife. The main focus has been education – promoting the sustainable utilisation of all natural tourism resources whilst encouraging and facilitating the active participation of citizens in the tourism industry. It has managed to curb the mass-market type safari experience by introducing ‘high cost, low volume.’ This has worked really well, allowing tourists to experience a more exclusive safari in pristine conditions.

My journey through Botswana took me through these amazing reserves and allowed me to see firsthand what a success responsible tourism has been in Botswana. The people of Botswana are also incredibly friendly and hospitable.

My first stop was a private reserve that borders the western boundary of Chobe National Park, north of the Okavango Delta. This area is very secluded and uncrowded, with beautiful open floodplains and dense Mopani trees and apple leaf trees that result in a high concentration of wildlife.

My game drive was amazing: I was fortunate to see large herds of elephants, buffalo, zebra, and hippo. The Linyanti swamps are home a large number of different species of birds and I discovered a new passion – birding! So I was thrilled to spot the following birds: fisheagle, brown firefinch, slaty egret, black heron southern carmine bee eater and swamp boubou just to name a few.

Most of the camps offer off-road game drives as well as night drives. This area is also well known for walking safaris, they range from a minimum of three to six nights camping in exclusive areas of the reserves. Over the years the Linyanti area has been the traveller’s favourite because it has a lot to offer in terms of wildlife. Many prefer this area to the riverfront of Chobe National Park because it is less crowded and the camps in Linyanti are small and very exclusive.

My second stop was another area in the western side of Linyanti: the Kwando concession which covers 2,330 sq km. An area very well known for its predator population … lion, leopard and wild dog – expect some action-packed wildlife viewing. The concession has only two camps that share the area for game drives. One camp is located right on the plains, overlooking Kwando swamp. The other camp is on the northern sector and is great for boat trips along the Kwando lagoon with excellent game drives. The wild dogs are usually denning in that area during June. In order to maximise your chances of seeing the best wildlife I would recommend a minimum of three nights in each area.

I departed on a high after seeing my first cheetah in Botswana. My journey then continued to the northern part of the Okavango Delta, visiting two excellent concessions and further great wildlife experiences. I have done several bush walks but this was by far the best – to sit just a metre from a pride of lions was thrilling. In addition there were the elusive sitatunga antelope, Jackalberry trees, several acacia species, grey stemmed leadwood trees that impala, kudu and giraffe and wild dog. Several waterholes provide some of the most exciting game and bird viewing.

Botswana is a great destination for both the first time traveller and seasonal traveller and can be easily combined with visits to Victoria Falls, Cape Town and Namibia.

For more information about a holiday to Botswana, please contact Jackie on 01285 880 980.

A Visit to Mashatu’s Elephant Hide

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Chris Drage, Steppes Discovery client, talks about his most memorable day on the Botswana Wildlife safari:

A Visit to Mashatu’s Elephant Hide

As we set out at dawn for the drive to the elephant hide I couldn’t help but feel just a little apprehensive. After all, the trip brochure did promise us a game drive with Jena, the elephant researcher. But as it happened she wasn’t available this particular day and we were to spend the morning at the newly constructed elephant hide beside the artificial waterhole. My initial disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that this had occasionally occurred on our previous Steppes Discovery trips in other parts of the world but had ultimately always worked in our favour. As it happened, the experience didn’t just compensate us for the loss of a game drive but totally exceeded our wildest expectations!

July and August are particularly hard for most of Mashatu’s wildlife being the height of the dry season and this particular year, a very long and protracted dry season at that. Only the predators were looking fat. For most creatures the artificial waterhole constructed in front of the sunken hide is a life saver. Thus it is very well frequented by all the ‘locals’! For us the major attraction is that it has been located on one of the major pathways for elephants across the game reserve so the chances of seeing elephants en mass and close up was excellent indeed.

As the warming sun slowly rose above the Eastern horizon, our open-topped Land Cruiser bounced its way across the dry, semi-arid landscape, each passenger clutching a hot water bottle and rug (it gets cold at night in Mashatu), cameras, though, were always at the ready. Sure enough, as is the case in Mashatu, we stopped within 15 minutes of leaving to observe the wildlife at close quarters. This morning it was a family of elegant Southern Giraffe browsing the Umbrella Trees near the track and shortly after, a beautiful Black Backed Jackal. Within another five minutes Daniel, our driver pulled up and pointed out fresh leopard tracks beside the ‘track’ – how does he do that, drive and track at the same time? Eventually, we arrived at the hide location where we were greeted by Mike, our host and photography expert for the morning.

The hide is a good 100m from the vehicle park and while we assembled our camera bags and humped our kit to the hide, Dan and Commander (our wildlife spotter) humped insulated boxes full of tea, coffee and nibbles for our mid-morning repast – you’ll never go hungry in Mashatu! Down the steps and into what looked for all the world like a converted ship container with large viewing apertures cut out of it. As the apertures are at ground level you see the wild life almost eye-to-eye. Propped up on our bar stools with cameras and camcorders resting on bean bags at the ready, we settled down to wait.

We were instructed to talk only in whispers and to move quietly so as to not startle the wildlife. Mike was always on hand to help, advise and to identify various species that appeared. For the first hour or so these were mainly birds: Arrow headed Babblers, Dark Capped Bulbuls, Crowned Lapwings, Crested Francolin, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Glossy starlings and Meyer’s Parrot, to mention but a few. By mid-morning we had various small groups of Impala, Kudu and Eland visiting the waterhole. Ever cautious, ever wary, these timid gazelles were only too aware of the dangers posed by drinking at the waterhole. However, for us it afforded the only close up shots we were able to get of these magnificent beasts. It was interesting to watch their relationship and tolerance of the Red Billed Oxpeckers which perched in threes and fours on the backs of the gazelles looking for ticks and flies.

Suddenly they were there – all around the waterhole before us! I counted 30+ elephants of all ages and sizes, some standing so close that any of us could touch their legs from our subterranean hide. The little ones spied us and I am sure wanted to poke their trunks through the viewing apertures. Mike, our guide and a keen photographer himself, quickly had us shooting spectacular shots. His guidance on composition and artistry just added to the moment.

Suddenly, a young ‘teenage’ elephant plunged into the middle of the pool – in outrage the matriarch loudly trumpeted her displeasure at this deliberate flaunting of the protocol. She had stirred up the mud – muddy water is not what elephants want to drink. The little ones were more obedient staying very close to their respective mothers and following the adult’s lead in how to drink properly. Trunk in the water – stir it around a bit to test for quality – swirl it around a bit more and when satisfied take a long suck (sounded like a vacuum cleaner) – place water-filled trunk in mouth and squirt (sounded like water going down an open drain!)

To see the little ones through the forest of adult elephant legs is a picture that will never leave me. So small yet each adult knew where the little-‘uns were. Older sisters would ensure that the young ones were always close into the middle of the group.

Another family fronted-up from out of the bush. They waited patiently until their matriarch uttered a deep, loud ‘rumble’ to let the drinking group know that they were there and were thirsty too. Without hesitation, the drinking matriarch also uttered a deep rumble and all the elephants around the pool stopped drinking and slowly followed her off and into the bush. It was wonderful to watch such ‘civilised’ behaviour from such huge beasts.

The next group moved in to drink their fill. Some elders already knew where the source of the fresh water was and made a beeline to drink there, little ones following suit, copying their elders. Mike had turned on the tap from within the hide and the pool was gradually filling again with fresher water. We were visited by five or six different groups of elephants in small groups and large, during that morning. It was interesting to see, how intolerant elephants are of other species, like impala, whilst at the water hole. No other animals are allowed to drink while elephants occupy the pool! Any who tried were seen off with a loud ‘trumpet’ and flapping of the ears! For us the fact that the elephants were so close to the hide that we could have reached out and touched their feet, was just incredible. To be in amongst these huge beasts, sharing their world, was magical…we all felt so privileged.

As suddenly as they arrived the elephants left and no more seemed to come by. What did appear next was a large troupe of baboons. Looking emaciated and clearly suffering from the effects of the prolonged drought, the water hole was clearly a life line for these creatures. Again, the close proximity to the action and the fact that we could shoot video or stills without hindrance or impact on any way on the animal’s natural behaviour was simply fantastic. The interactions of the baboon hierarchy could fill a book in its own right.

As the morning drew on and the succession of animals continued we gathered some of the most incredible video footage and still shots an amateur photographer could ever hope for. It was interesting to note that Mike too was totally engrossed in obtaining good shots himself as well as offering guidance to us – a true pro.

All too soon it was time to break out the coffee, tea and nibbles and relax and discuss what we had seen. Indeed time was up, we had been in the hide for hours yet it seemed but a few minutes. As Mike raised the hatch for us to climb out, another elephant family appeared from out of the bush and we had to wait until they finally drank their fill and departed before we emerged.

On the journey back to the tented camp, we reflected on the morning and how amazing the experience had been. We were schedule for another elephant game drive the following day…..we secretly preyed that Jena wouldn’t be available again and that we could return to the elephant hide for another wildlife experience unparalleled anywhere in Africa.

Chris Drage
July 2012

Chris has kindly shared some of his fantastic video footage from his trip.

Get the wilds of Africa under your horse

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Would you describe yourself as someone with a passion for adventure? A desire to do something a little out of the ordinary?

Don’t worry; I am not suggesting that you try your hand at base jumping or even ‘planking’, unless you want to! What I have in mind is still designed to give you the thrill of a lifetime … albeit in a slightly more sedate capacity! The one requirement? You must (to a degree) ride horses … or at the very least like them!

I am of course referring to that ultimate in African safari adventure: the riding safari. Designed to get you up close to wildlife, scenery and culture. A truly magical experience and a fantastic opportunity for family and friends to get together on a holiday which has the potential to be both relaxing and exhilarating in the most breathtaking of environments.

If you want to experience that extra special African something that just isn’t quite permissible by foot or 4×4 vehicles, a riding safari is for you. They can be tailored to suit your ability and needs according to both the particular safari camp and expedition you choose.

The star attraction? The opportunity to ride good horses over superb country with just about every landscape dotted with game. In the Masai Mara in Kenya, gallop alongside huge herds of wildebeest and zebra which extend as far as the eye can see. The cultural aspect also provides a fascinating backdrop, with the opportunity to see how native tribesmen live in an environment dramatically different to that of the Western worlds.

One of Botswana’s recent gems is a horse riding safari on the Makgadikgadi pans. Unfortunately I cannot (yet…) tell you about this from personal experience but I have met the owners and seen the photos and – whilst not easily swayed I assure you – am nonetheless a committed advocate. The trip looks like a wonder!

Its highlights include a morning ride through sand dunes covered in palm trees stranded on the ancient lake bed (“land of a thousand islands”), as well as the chance to encounter some unique desert species including the black-maned Kalahari lion, bat-eared fox and the elusive brown hyaena, all consummate desert specialists. Birds of prey abound and on some days you canter through the sprawling open woodlands too.

If Kenya is the destination of your choice, you can take Tristan Voorspuy’s offbeat riding safari experience by storm with a trip around the Mara like no other. (Small aside: this is not for the faint-hearted!) But no need to let this deter you; it all just adds to the exhiliration!

Riding safaris are the answer for anyone wanting to fulfil that thrill-seeking inner quest for adventure. You and will be sure to come away both refreshed and inspired.

Do give the African team a call to find out more on 01285 880980 and we will put something in place to ensure you a five star experience.

Beautiful Botswana

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Botswana remains one of the most thrilling and rewarding of safari destinations. The adrenalin kicks in from the minute you board the light aircraft in Maun for the flight transfer into the infamous Okavango Delta. Seeing this wilderness region from the air is in itself, a sight to behold. Lily-dappled waterways wiggling their way through parched earth, becoming larger and more significant as you enter the very heart of the Delta.

I recently had the great privilege of visiting Selinda Camp in the Linyanti region and, having visited many Botswana lodges and camps, fell in love with its quirky bush comfort, great staff and spectacular views. This is a camp which oozes with subtle style and the passion and experience that co-owners Beverly and Dereck Joubert have for Botswana is strikingly evident.

The Jouberts are award-winning filmmakers and their latest work, The Last Lions, is set in the very heart of the Okavango Delta and makes for
gripping viewing. If you are contemplating travelling to Botswana, I urge you to watch this video below, it is simply spectacular.

Besides the game drives, walks and boating activities offered at Selinda,for the slightly more adventurous, there is also a four-day, three-night canoe trail and due to the high flood waters, the Selinda Canoe Trail season starts in April this year. If you are looking for a great adventure in one of the most pristine wilderness regions, then this is it!

There is no better time to see this spectacular wilderness region, we have a special offer that incorporates some of arguably the best lodges/camps of the area.

See all of our Botswana special offers or our sample itinerary to help give inspiration on the many options available. Please contact one of our Africa specialists for more details on 01285 650 011.

On location in Botswana

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Imagine endless channels of water carpeted with floating lilies, distinctive islands packed full of Africa’s finest game set amidst a riot of colours and a cacophony of sounds. This is the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

In June, the floods from Angola are slowly making this famous area expand into a complex labyrinth of rivers and water channels to become one of the best and most beautiful game viewing experiences on the continent. Flying over in a small Cessna plane is a truly magical experience, where you can see elephants roaming freely, red lechwe running through the marshes and zebra galloping along the islands.

My latest trip was a fairly hectic whistle-stop tour of some of the finest lodges in this area. These included Savuti Bush Camp, where you can observe the elephants at a nearby waterhole – so close you can almost touch them; Kwara where predators are rife and a cheetah kill or wild dog hunt is all part of a normal viewing experience and Little Vumbura, the most stunning, intimate and beautifully designed camp set in the true heart of the Delta, surrounded by water. Baines was another water based camp, that gave me the additional bonus of spending a morning with semi-habituated elephants, who were rescued from death – walking, touching and learning how intelligent these majestic beasts are. I also loved the fact that all the walls at Baines camp are made from recycled cans – 150, 000 to be exact. Durable, long lasting and utilizing the huge amount of waste we create everyday.

Chiefs camp set on Chiefs island inside the Moremi game reserve provided some of the best game viewing experiences in this entire area. In my short stay the game was bountiful. I witnessed lions chasing a leopard away from its recent kill and as I boarded my next Cessna flight, two lions mating! Shinde was the next stop. This is a striking alternative to other camps, designed with the hint of North African decor. Our night by the camp fire was spent listening to a jackal protect its territory from the roaming leopard, whilst the full moon glistened overhead.

However, my absolute favourite would be Macatoo camp, part of African Horseback Safaris. I would classify it as a normal tented camp with all the necessary frills including flowing water and flush toilets. The main area is a mess tent with the standard camp fire setup. A little taste of extra luxury comes with the viewing deck and plunge pool.

What makes Macatoo so special is the atmosphere. John, a colourful character leads horseback safaris in to the bush/delta where one can gallop endlessly through scrub bush, forests and shallow water, alongside red lechwe and giraffes. My personal highlight was riding thigh deep in water through the channels, silently tracking the wildlife.

The camp also offers other activities including game drives, walks, mokoro trips and boat cruises, so for people not so keen on four legged safari there is plenty to keep you entertained.

Macatoo retains a relaxed feel and the staff do much to engender lots of fun and laughter. To round it off the cuisine is fantastic! So, if you’re looking for a real gem, this would be my choice. You will not experience the Okavango Delta in a more amazing way, in my opinion and are as likely to shed a tear when you leave as make the promise to return as soon as possible.

The focus on eco tourism runs deepBotswana and protecting this habitat a key concern. Tourism concentrates on high quality but low volume – preventing the area from turning into a seething mass of tourism. Rest assured, and true to memory, you will be greeted with a huge smile.

Warona the New Elephant Calf at Abu Camp

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In mid December last year we were thrilled to hear the news that Shireni had given birth to her third calf and that it was doing well.

All at Abu camp have been watching her progress carefully and have enjoyed sharing her antics with all the guests in the last month.

Take a look at the video below that shows her at just three days old, exploring her surroundings and working out how to use her legs and trunk!

An Elephant for Christmas at Abu Camp, Botswana

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Sherini, one of the famed elephants of Abu Camp, is due to give birth to her third calf in mid December 2011. Sherini is one of the original six young elephant orphans saved from a cull in the Kruger National Park. Known for her maternal attributes of calmness, patience and a loving nature, she has given birth to Pula and Abu, and all at Abu Camp are waiting with bated breath for the latest arrival of the Abu elephant family.

This wonderful event however means that certain steps have had to be taken at Abu Camp to ensure the safety of both humans and animals, from Sherini herself (to ensure a healthy birth) to the herd as a whole. Therefore, prior to the birth, and in order to have as little stress as possible on the expectant mother, Sherini will not be ridden from the end of November 2011 until the end of January 2012 – only three guests at a time will be able to ride over this period.

Elephants tend to become very excited at the birth of a calf, as well as very protective – particularly for the first few days of a calf’s life – so no elephant experiences will take place for five days following the birth. After the initial five days, the calf should be stronger and move more confidently, allowing guests to participate in our elephant activities. We believe the arrival of a new born calf will provide guests with an exciting and personal window into the life of a family herd of pachyderms. Of course the activity is immeasurably enhanced as the focus of the herd – and the guests – is all on the newest member of the Abu family.

As with all our elephant safari activities, the safety of the herd and our guests during this exciting time takes precedence. For the first few days while the calf “finds its legs,” the elephants will remain close to camp and guests will be able to participate fully in all the other elephant activities in camp – game drives, mokoro excursions, the Star Bed and more – aside from the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching the herd interact with the days-old calf – something only a privileged few get to witness.

For more information on Abu Camp, a holiday to Botswana or a chance to see the new baby elephant please contact Mandy on 01285 650 011.

A love affair with Africa

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I am sitting here at Chief’s Camp – looking out onto the delta and surrounded by herds of Ele’s and I thought (as one does!) that I would write a quick blog!

It is common knowledge that being on safari entails alot of dust and countless gamedrives. But on your next safari (because trust me, there will always be a next one), allow yourself to experience the exception to the rule that is the Makgadikgadi Pans.

Within a few hours following my arrival at Camp Kalahari, I was quad biking through the pans, with the obligatory kikoy wound around my head and with the caked earth of the vast pans on either side of me. It was the most exhilirating experience. The sense of freedom and space was immense and as I followed the dust trail ahead of me, there was something almost exploratory about the whole experience.

But the best was yet to come because once we had ventured out far enough into the pans, where there was simply nothing but space, we set off a very short distance on foot and the true beauty of the Makgadikgadi revealed itself.

The following morning was spent by a privileged few hours in the company of one of the most iconic creatures of the Kalahari, the meerkat. And if that wasn’t enough, the sunset was accompanied by a brown hyena and her two pups. It is impossible not to view this land as inhospitable and unforgiving, but dig just under the surface and you will find the most incredible treasure, especially if you know where to dig, which the Bushman trackers showed us on our morning walk.

If you want to revive your love affair with Africa or if you want to catch a glimpse of its soul, then this is the place to do it. You will leave with so much more than just dust on your boots.