THE BEST OF THE BUSH

WE ARE BLESSED TO LIVE IN A COUN­TRY – AND ON A CON­TI­NENT – TEEM­ING WITH AMAZ­ING WILDLIFE, GAME RE­SERVES AND GAME LODGES. SO JUST HOW DO YOU NAR­ROW THEM DOWN FOR YOUR NEXT TRIP? IT’S NO EASY FEAT, BUT HOPE­FULLY SOME OF OUR FAVOURITES WILL BE­COME FAVOURITES

In Flight Magazine - - IN THIS ISSUE - { TEXT: NICKY FUR­NISS | IMAGES © RETURNAFRICA, AZURA RE­TREATS, KARONGWE PORT­FO­LIO, WILDER­NESS SA­FARIS, ROYAL CHUNDU, KWANDWE PRI­VATE GAME RE­SERVE, THE RES­I­DENCE PORT­FO­LIO, NICKY FUR­NISS & ISTOCKPHOTO.COM }

1 BEST PLUNGE POOL

When the African heat hits full force, hav­ing your own plunge pool is the ul­ti­mate lux­ury. The plunge pools at Azura Selous (www.azura-re­treats.com) – in Tan­za­nia’s best kept se­cret, the gi­gan­tic Selous Game Re­serve – dis­tin­guish them­selves not due to their spe­cific make-up, but rather to their set­ting.The Ruaha River is home to large fam­i­lies of hippo, whose dis­tinc­tive grunt­ing are the sound­track of any stay here. As each of the suites over­looks the river, a dip in your pool is usu­ally mir­rored by a hippo or two hav­ing a wal­low of their own, and mere me­tres from you. It is a sur­real and won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

Spe­cial men­tion: When you take a dip in The Royal Suite’s pool at The River Lodge @ Thorny­bush (www.thorny­bush.co.za) there is al­ways the chance that an ele­phant or two may si­dle up to have a drink with you.

2 BEST SUN­DOWNER SPOT

If you’re like me, one of the high­lights of any game drive is the af­ter­noon sun­downer stop – toast­ing the set­ting sun while in the mid­dle of the bush. Some sun­downer spots add a touch of dra­matic scenery to the mix, and few could beat the one from atop Lan­ner Gorge in the Makuleke Con­ces­sion, bor­der­ing the north­ern Kruger Na­tional Park. The gorge is a spec­tac­u­lar mon­u­ment to the power of na­ture, as the Lu­vu­vhu River has carved out its steep sides – in some places as high as 150 m – over mil­len­nia.They’ve even found di­nosaur fos­sils here.The lovely staff from Pa­furi Camp (www.returnafrica.com) put on a de­li­cious spread to com­ple­ment the spec­tac­u­lar view, and you may have a visit from the res­i­dent ele­phant shrew who has learnt that sun­down­ers mean snacks!

3 BEST LODGE WATERHOLE

There are two op­tions of rooms to choose from when you stay at Madikwe Hills Pri­vate Game Lodge (www.sea­son­si­nafrica.com) – those look­ing over the ex­pan­sive plains of the Madikwe Game Re­serve, and those at the foot of the kopje over­look­ing the waterhole. At first glance, you may think the room with the view would be the prefer­able op­tion, but you’d be wrong, be­cause this waterhole is some­thing spe­cial. Here, vir­tu­ally any an­i­mal you can think of stops by for a drink – you need only sit on your deck and wait for them to wan­der past. Gi­raffe, an­te­lope, warthog, ze­bra, a host of bird species… But per­haps the most en­ter­tain­ing are the herds of ele­phants – in their num­ber – who stroll by, es­pe­cially if they have young calves with them. Few things can beat watch­ing the joy of a baby el­lie rolling in the mud, spray­ing wa­ter ev­ery­where and trum­pet­ing in de­light.

Spe­cial Men­tion: Botswana’s Camp Kuzuma (www.camp­kuzuma.com) over­looks a waterhole that is a hive of ac­tiv­ity all year round. So much so that it was listed as one of the 25 most in­ter­est­ing Earth­cams in 2015.

4 BEST CHANCE OF SEE­ING LEOP­ARD

The Karongwe Pri­vate Game Re­serve (www.karong­we­port­fo­lio. com) bor­ders the Greater Kruger Na­tional Park, but its real claim to fame is that it has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of leop­ard of any re­serve in South Africa.That does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that you will see th­ese beau­ti­ful, elu­sive crea­tures, but you have a bet­ter chance here than pos­si­bly any­where else.The re­serve of­fers a num­ber of lovely ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, but our favourite is the new­est ad­di­tion, the five-star Becks Sa­fari Lodge, which has won­der­fully warm staff and dé­cor that’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the rest.

5 BEST BUSH AC­TIV­I­TIES

• No trip to Botswana’s Oka­vango Delta would be com­plete with­out a tra­di­tional mokoro ride through the river chan­nels, keep­ing your eyes peeled for birds, reed frogs and an­i­mals – per­haps you may even spot the shy Si­tatunga an­te­lope. The river guides from Wilder­ness Sa­faris’ Xig­era Camp (www.wilder­ness-sa­faris.com) in the Moremi Game Re­serve are su­perb.

• KwaZulu-Na­tal’s Kosi Bay lake sys­tem is best ex­plored by mo­tor boat in case of a run-in with a grumpy hippo, but for a qui­eter ex­pe­ri­ence, Kosi For­est Lodge (www.kosi­forest­lodge.co.za) of­fers ca­noe rides up one of the smaller chan­nels where you glide past wa­ter lilies,

ser­e­naded by the sound of raf­fia palms in the wind, and keep­ing your eyes peeled for the en­demic palm nut vul­ture. • While most peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily think of the sea when they think of the bush, iSi­man­gal­iso Wet­land Park com­bines both. Wilder­ness Sa­faris’ Rock­tail Camp (www.wilder­ness-sa­faris.com) of­fers guided for­est walks, trips to Lake Sibaya, some of the best scuba div­ing in the coun­try, and the op­por­tu­nity to see Log­ger­head and Leatherback tur­tles lay­ing their eggs on the beach in sea­son.

6 BEST OUT­DOOR BATH

While once the sell­ing point of many a game lodge, out­side show­ers have be­come the norm th­ese days, and in­stead, an out­side bath has be­come the ul­ti­mate in­dul­gence. Royal Chundu Is­land Lodge (www.roy­alchundu.com) takes out­side wal­low­ing to a whole new level. Si­t­u­ated on a pri­vate is­land over­look­ing a serene stretch of the mag­nif­i­cent Zam­bezi River, each suite boasts an ex­pan­sive wooden deck, and with it a de­li­ciously large bath­tub. Come back from a sun­set cruise and you will find your deck lit by the soft flick­er­ing of paraf­fin lamps, your bath filled with bub­bles, and a bot­tle of bub­bly chill­ing on ice nearby – heaven!

Spe­cial men­tion: Azura Quilalea Pri­vate Is­land (www.azura-re­treats.com) in Mozam­bique also of­fers a fab­u­lous out­door bath, set up on your deck over­look­ing the ocean and cov­ered in a moun­tain of bub­bles dec­o­rated with trop­i­cal leaves and flow­ers.

7 BEST NOC­TUR­NAL AN­I­MAL SIGHT­INGS

While South Africa is touted as the home of the Big Five, there is some­thing to be said about tick­ing off some of the smaller, lesser known bush in­hab­i­tants from your “to see” list. Many of the most ex­cit­ing ones wait till night­fall be­fore they make an ap­pear­ance, and un­doubt­edly one of the best places to spot some of th­ese notable noc­tur­nals is at Kwandwe Pri­vate Game Re­serve (www.kwandwe.com) in the Eastern Cape. As night falls and the spot­light comes out, you will of­ten see scrub hares bounc­ing across the road, plus there is al­ways a chance that a bat-eared fox may make an ap­pear­ance, or per­haps a por­cu­pine. If luck is re­ally on your side, you may spot the ter­mite-eat­ing aard­wolf, which is re­lated to the hyena, or the other ter­mite-munch­ing mam­mal, the elu­sive aard­vark.

8 BEST WALK­ING SA­FARI

Ex­plor­ing the bush on foot is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from that of see­ing it from the back of a game drive ve­hi­cle. For one, you are closer to the ground so that you can ac­tu­ally touch the plants you brush by, see the var­i­ous tracks on the an­i­mal “high­ways” that in­ter­sect the bush, poke a fresh mid­den of rhino dung, and smell the un­mis­take­able smell of the bush. More and more lodges are of­fer­ing th­ese types of walks, but Rhino Walk­ing Sa­faris (www.rhi­nowalk­ing.co.za) in the Kruger Na­tional Park boasts one of the best “sleep out” ex­pe­ri­ences of th­ese. An af­ter­noon walk from the main camp brings you the sleep out plat­forms, built on el­e­vated stilts over­look­ing a wa­ter­ing hole. While it is rus­tic, you can en­joy a drink around the fire be­fore you feast on din­ner from the braai and then crawl into your sleep­ing bag in your tent – the sides of which are made of shade cloth to al­low you an unim­peded view of the stars and per­haps even a herd of ele­phants lit by only the light of a full moon.

9 BEST CUL­TURAL EX­PE­RI­ENCE

Wilder­ness Sa­faris’ Kala­hari Plains Camp (www.wilder­ness-sa­faris.com) is a tiny dot of a set­tle­ment in the north­ern part of Botswana’s Cen­tral Kala­hari Game Re­serve – South­ern Africa’s largest game re­serve, but pos­si­bly one of its least ex­plored. It is also home to a num­ber of bush­men set­tle­ments and what makes any stay here so spe­cial – in ad­di­tion to dra­matic scenery, un­par­al­leled star-gaz­ing and fan­tas­tic an­i­mal sight­ings – is the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about the tra­di­tions of South­ern Africa’s orig­i­nal in­dige­nous peo­ple. Sev­eral mem­bers of the com­mu­nity visit the camp to show guests their favourite games, dances and songs. But by far the most ex­cit­ing ac­tiv­ity is to join them on a bush­walk where they will show you which plants can be used for medic­i­nal pur­poses, as well as how to catch scor­pi­ons, snare birds and small an­i­mals, hunt larger ones (for show only), store wa­ter and start a fire us­ing only sticks.They also share sto­ries of their lives with such hu­mour and open­ness, it is a truly life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

10 BEST MAS­SAGE

While just be­ing in the bush it­self does wonders to re­lax weary city dwellers, hav­ing a mas­sage or two in-be­tween game drives is cer­tainly a worth­while added touch of pam­per­ing.The spa at Camp Ndlovu (theres­i­den­ce­port­fo­lio.co.za) in the Wel­gevon­den Na­ture Re­serve sits nes­tled in amongst the trees, its one side per­ma­nently open so that you can look out onto the stream that me­an­ders by, and lis­ten to the sounds of an­te­lope feed­ing on the grass out­side, while the res­i­dent mas­sage ther­a­pist works her magic.Th­ese mas­sages, by ther­a­pists trained in Jo­han­nes­burg at the camp’s sis­ter prop­erty, The Res­i­dence – which in­ci­den­tally of­fers ar­guably the best mas­sage in the city – are a cut above the rest.

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