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
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.