There are trips that, just by looking at the itinerary, you can tell it is going to be good. Not necessarily because of all the animals the guests might see, because that is never a guarantee, but just by the sheer variety of places and flow which, in itself, is like a story being told. I get especially excited when a trip shows a bit of everything in a way that is not rushed or overwhelming but perfectly balanced. My last trip was one of those … Imagine experiencing the best of the best: from the remote and vast saltpans of the Makgadikgadi with barely a living critter in sight, to the Okavango Delta with its abundance of wildlife, then moving to the exciting city of Cape Town and everything it has to offer, to a quaint and quiet fishing town on the West Coast of South Africa to relax before heading to the surreal and fascinating landscapes of Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve in the Cederberg and finishing off with culinary highlights in the Winelands.
I knew I was in for a fantastic time when I met my guests at Maun International Airport and I could see their excitement on their faces. Bracing the sweltering heat and not being fased by the dusty and dry air of Botswana’s Tourism capital, the group was in high spirit and ready to start their adventure. After a rejuvenating night in Maun, we set off to our accommodation near Gweta for the first of the many highlights that this Safari was going to offer – sleeping under the stars in the remote Ntwetwe salt pan. The drive there was already more exciting that I could have hoped for. Due to the ongoing drought and high temperatures in Botswana, elephants gathered in big numbers next to the main road to drink from the exposed water pipes. We were blessed with sighting after sighting of these gentle giants quenching their thirst. A herd with a small baby resting in the shade of trees right next to the road was instantly capturing everyone’s heart and we were off to a brilliant start of this adventure!
The sleepout excursion is a favourite amongst guests, even those that tend to be a bit nervous at first. It offers such big contrasts of scenery – driving past massive baobab trees into the grassland edges of the salt pan and ending on the empty and dry crust of the pan with absolutely nothing else in sight except the white soil and the sky. On the way we visited the resident meerkat colony for some animal entertainment and picture opportunities. These adorable animals are always up to something and never disappoint with their antics. The drive to the sleepout spot is done on quadbikes which is always a lot of fun. The timing of this trip allowed for a spectacular night sky with hundreds of stars visible, under which we fell asleep.
Leaving behind the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, we started the next part of the Safari – mobile camping in the Okavango Delta in Moremi Game Reserve. A mobile camp is set up for the number of guests and the nights booked on a designated, wild campsite and then removed again. There are no permanent facilities and after the camp has been dismantled, there must be no evidence that people have «resided» in this place. A wonderful, authentic and ecologically friendly way to spend nights in the bush. A team consisting of a cook with assistants who are responsible for the showers, serving and general camp housekeeping, plus a private guide accompany this adventure.
The drive to our camp alone was simply spectacular. We started off with lots of elephants gathered around a waterhole, continued on to a pride of sixteen! lions sleeping under a tree and ended with a leopard resting in the shade of a sausage tree. We arrived at our camp having seen three of the Big Five within a couple of hours of a transfer drive. Everyone was in high spirits and to end the day we simply took a slow bumble past the leopard again, which was still resting, to a dried swamp to watch the sunset in complete awe of what nature delivered for us on that day.
Even though sleeping in a tent provides complete safety, the first night in the wilderness can be a bit daunting and often times guests don’t get a good night sleep. I usually get the best sleep during mobile camping stays but not this time … I saw the Honey Badger before I went to bed as he ran off behind my tent. Little did I know that he was here to stay and brought all of his friends. All five of them!! We were quite literally terrorised by six honey badgers throughout the night and apart from our deep-sleepers (most of the guests!), none of us got much sleep. From chewing plastic bottles (our candle holders) to entering the kitchen trailer and pushing over everything, the noise was constant. My sunscreen that was left in the car survived but with bite marks. We all had a big laugh the next morning – these cheeky buggers really kept the kitchen crew on their toes!
The three nights mobile camping provided us with amazing sightings such as a huge buffalo herd passing in front of our campsite, hyenas chasing each other and jackals, lots of zebras, wildebeest, giraffe and other general game as well as many elephant herds and hippos in just about every waterhole. But it was the amazing staff of the camp that made our stay truly special – tending to our every need and always with a smile on their face. The clients were blown away by their kindness, the food served and the overall experience. And everyone had two wonderful, quiet nights after the honey badgers must have found another camp to terrorise …
Leaving the simple but special mobile camp behind, we were spoiled with an amazing sighting of two big male lions resting by a termite mound on our way to the next accommodation. Everyone was in such high spirits even though the heat was almost unbearable but nothing could damper the mood.
Our next stop was a lodge – a stunning small, luxurious tented camp at the edge of a water source and close to the Khwai river. Any sighting at this point was a bonus and we were spoiled to the maximum. A lion pride with cubs and males present on a kill, leopard in a tree, leopard on the ground with a kill, elephants, wild dogs, another leopard with a cub, more elephants … We couldn’t believe our luck!
We spent our last night in Botswana sleeping outdoors under the stars in Khwai Private Reserve. What a way to end an already unforgettable Safari in the bush! Not one second was the waterhole in front of us without animals. Elephants were constantly coming and going and never moving far. The lions were close-by and we could hear them during the night. The breakfast we spent watching elephants drinking and a pair of lions moving around them but getting chased every now and then by worried elephants. A huge herd of eland was hoping to drink but were too weary of the lions and eventually ran away. And so it was time for us to leave this place and Botswana …
Next up was Cape Town where more adventures awaited us! The temperatures were mild, the weather was mostly friendly and trading a dusty wind for an ocean breeze was nice.
A day trip of the Cape Peninsula provided a fantastic opportunity to see the local penguin colony at Simon’s Town, experience beautiful views from different points along the route, stretch our legs and get our cardio exercise in during a walk up to the lighthouse at Cape Point, and admire the stunning flowers of the fynbos that were in their prime after some good rains the weeks before. The friendly ostriches at Cape of Good Hope were so close to the famous sign, it felt like they were there to greet every visitor.
When we visited Table Mountain, we initially had on all the layers we packed and had almost no view. The fog was quite thick but in constant movement that allowed us split seconds of photo opportunities of the city. During a leisurely walk on top of the mountain, the clouds started to clear up and we were blessed with some amazing views of Cape Town and the surrounds. Luck just kept on being on our side! Our visit to Signal Hill the next day was under perfect weather conditions and we left Cape Town in good spirits.
Our next stop was in the beautiful little fishing town of Paternoster right on the coast of the Atlantic. This was the time for the guests to relax, take strolls along the beach, gaze out to the ocean in hopes to spot dolphins or the occasional whale and eat the most amazing food. Small, local shops provided ample opportunities for souvenir shopping and the quietness of this small town allowed everyone to recharge their batteries for the last leg of this Safari.
It was clear from the roads that lead to Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve in the Cederberg that this stay was going to be special. The gravel roads with its bumps and drains made for an interesting last hour of our journey. The bizarre but incredibly beautiful scenery that surrounded us had everyone in awe and excitement. The cave rooms added to the fact that this was no ordinary place. A sunset drive was giving everyone a first impression of how vast and off the grid we really were. Almost every rock formation could be seen as a figure and provided lots of photographic opportunities. We visited the San rock art that was found on the nature reserve and did a nature drive in the morning to complete this experience. Now the guests could add Oryx, Springbok and Klipspringer to the list of animals that they saw on this Safari.
This wonderful trip was slowly coming to an end and the last two nights were spent in a beautiful boutique hotel settled between Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch – the perfect place to discover South Africa’s winelands. A lovely stroll in the historic town of Franschhoek that is full of great little shops, followed by two wine tastings on a beautiful but hot spring day was the ideal way to spend the day. At the second wine estate we were treated to a very informative and interesting cellar tour and outside, in the middle of the trees, sat a beautiful Spotted Eagle Owl for one last picture.
This trip was unforgettable and had it all – the best of the best!
Stefanie, originally from Switzerland, has been living in South Africa since 2014, where she trained as a safari guide and has been showing guests from all over the world the wonderful beauty of southern Africa ever since. She is an enthusiastic nature lover who can spend hours watching elephants feed or spotted hyenas play, making her own observations and theories of behaviour. Nothing excites her more than showing like-minded people the wonders of nature, big and small, and seeing their reactions and emotions.