Exploring the Bush in Botswana with Wilderness Safaris

Kings Pool, Wilderness Safaris“Mind Branches!” Khan, our zealous Botswanan guide, shouts from the front of our safari jeep. As we whip along the rugged foliage of the Linyanti Region with Wilderness Safaris, in search of the elusive Big 5, I realise we are a long, long way from

Lunch at Kings Pool, Wilderness SafarisDappled sunlight in Okavango Deltahome. The blistering African sun warms our bones as we turn a corner and stumble upon a tranquil watering hole, adorned with a mother and baby elephant refuelling for the day. The baby elephant trots peacefully along the long grass, chasing a bird without a care in the world. The mother protectively guides her baby with a defiant nudge of her trunk, giving us a deadpan stare as she passes by for good measure.

Elephants grazingSuddenly, a radio signal interrupts our transfixed gazes and we are fast on the move again. A lioness and her cub have been spotted nearby and the light is beginning to fade, as a burnt orange, purplish hue announces the arrival of dusk along the African plains. We arrive just in time, the lioness and her cub casually stroll out of the bush, unperturbed by our vehicle near inches away from their territory. Rolling around in the Mother & Baby Elephantsbushland and playfully batting his mother with an oversized fluffy paw, we forget for a second that these creatures are predators that could pounce any minute. ‘Try not to stand up or make any sudden movements’, Khan’s warning words jolt us back to reality. His wide toothy grin quickly puts my mind at ease as I realise that we are in no danger in the hands of our expert guide who knows the bush, and its inhabitants, like the back of his hand. After the light dissipates he seamlessly guides us back to camp, navigating twisting and turning overgrown pathways with ease.

Returning to our tented haven, Kings Pool – a resplendent safari camp bordering Chobe National Park and famed for its basking hippo residents – we let the day soak in. Aptly greeted with a feast fit for kings, accompanied by a display of traditional African dancing and singing, we gorge ourselves beyond civility before crawling into bed.

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Rising the next morning to the melodious sound of bellowing hippos, wallowing in the muddy lagoon in front of our luxurious tent, we leave the camp in search of our next adventure. Following a 20-minute flight with Wilderness Air we are at our next destination – Vumbura Plains – a luxurious barefoot safari setting wrapped around a warming camp fire, opening out to the sprawling floodplains of the Okavango Delta.

Awaking at 5am the next day, having mastered our early wake-up calls thanks to Kings Pool residents, we spring into action with our guide, Emang, eagerly at the helm. Rife with activity, the Delta lives up to our expectations; within hours of our first game drive, we witness grazing zebras, giraffes, buffalo, hyenas and a group of gaggling ostriches.  Just Early rising at Vumbura Plains, Wilderness Safariswhen we think we have seen it all, we receive an all too familiar radio signal. Zipping along through the lush vegetation at full speed, we reach a towering tree. Lithely sprawled across its highest branches, masterfully camouflaged from all predators, lies a solitary leopard basking in the early evening sunlight. Captivated by the incredible beauty of this mysterious animal, we spend the remainder of our drive watching her lazing in the treetops before gracefully slipping off into the distance.

Leopard lazing in the treetops

Leopard on the move

A massive thanks to Wilderness Safaris for a fantastic and truly unforgettable experience. For more information on the camps plus their other camps in Africa, visit Wilderness Safaris.com

 

 

In Search Of Elephant

Before I arrived at Ngoma Safari Lodge, Brian, the fantastic Director of Operations for Africa Albida, told me about his last stay there, and how he had three lions for company on his terrace one night when he was in bed. Cue crouching by my window in the middle of the night just in case I caught a feline glimpse. No such luck for me, but then I was more excited about spotting another animal here in this corner of Botswana…ELEPHANT! And I was not disappointed!

The Camp

Perched up on the edge of a valley with amazing views of Chobe’s open plains teeming with wildlife, Ngoma has pride position. These shots are taken in the green season, when the ground is lush and the baby animals are out and about. In a few months, the picture below will be transformed by a huge lake that takes over this part of the Caprivi strip opposite the camp. Amazing to imagine!

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The 8 private suites here are a real treat – elegant, super spacious and beautifully designed they are open plan with one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept in, facing windows all along the room and that incredible view.

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Outside you have your own private terrace with dining area, cooling sit pool facing the plains, sun loungers and outdoor rain shower. You even get your laundry done for no extra charge – really useful on safari when you’re dusty and hot.

It’s tempting to while away your stay on your terrace!

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There is a central lodge that looks like it has come straight off the pages of House & Garden, with lots of gorgeous little details. The lodge is open to the outdoors facing the plains, with a split level terrace surrounding a baobab tree and small pool for relaxation with a view. Curl up with a book in the library area or sample the cook’s amazing home-made mango ice cream at the dinner table.

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Breakfast is so delicious at Ngoma

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This is a wild camp – guests aren’t allowed to leave their rooms after dark without being accompanied by one of the team due to the wild game that roam the area. This is mainly to avoid guests surprising an elephant that could be standing quietly behind the undergrowth! John and Babs manage the camp beautifully and are fantastically knowledgeable and friendly hosts who ensure a very personal service to their guests.

Chobe

Ngoma sits in northern Botswana’s Chobe National Park, home to one of Africa’s largest concentrations of game and in particular elephant. It’s elephant central. And even in the green season I was rewarded with amazing sightings of hippo, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, impala, baboon, mongoose and more.

Having driven over the border from Victoria Falls, a two hour drive, we set out on a relaxing river safari along the Zambezi where we spotted hippo bobbing about, the most beautiful bird life, crocodiles, and my first glimpses of the elephant of Chobe. Sometime soon Ngoma are going to offer canoeing too and well as walking safaris.

After a picnic lunch in the bush, it was time to swap boat for trusty Land rover and explore the lesser visited areas of the National Park – couldn’t resist sharing a few snaps here…

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For more information visit www.africaalbidatourism.com

 

Emirati Safari

Who would think of setting out to the Emirates for a Middle Eastern road trip? You might not have until now but with the fantastic option of luxury hotels opening in a number of the lesser known Emirates, I was very excited to set off on a Middle Eastern adventure visiting new properties in the ever growing exciting metropolis, Dubai, and its grown up sophisticated sister, Abu Dhabi.

Anantara Dubai is one of the newest and exciting luxury openings on the exclusive Palm Jumeirah. The over water villas are the first of their kind in the UAE and the lagoon access rooms are a perfect option for those who prefer a pool dip rather than plunging in the ocean, accessible right from your room!

The view from one of Over Water Villas

The view from one of Over Water Villas

Everyone is always struck by the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff who make you feel like a veritable Sheik during your stay!

Anantara’s unique culinary and gourmet experiences are a must try for foodie guests and those looking for a bit of an adventure at Anantara Dubai The Palm. T

Dining by Design is a very special dining experience….expect lanterns on the beach and endless courses of exquisite food. We had the Arabian experience so were lavished with delicious mezze!

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Fans adorn the ceiling of the private dining room at Mekong

The Spice Spoons Culinary Journey was led by the charming Chef Piroon Pumicome, who guides you through a three course Thai feast that you enjoy for lunch. We made a deliciously fresh green papaya salad (make sure you go easy on the chili…I was far too ambitious), green curry made with a fresh curry paste (the store bought version will never be the same!) and mango rice pudding. If you weren’t proud enough of the fruits of your labours you are also awarded a certificate and given a bag of treats to go home with!

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No trip to Dubai is complete with a trip to the souks where you can feast your eyes on piles of spice and gold…..

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The Beach House is a relaxed dining option by the beach. Check out the Octopus Carpaccio – one of their signature dishes!

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Next stop was the fabulous Desert Palm Dubai, nestled out of town and in its own haven of stables, polo fields and beautiful scenery.

Desert Palm is one of the world’s leading polo venues. In fact from the 18th – 22nd February, they are hosting the Cartier Cup, when the hotel  will be overtaken by a gorgeous and glamorous crowd.

Make sure to take in one of Desert Palm’s famous afternoon teas over a game of polo. Gosh, how civilised!!

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Taking in a chukka

 

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Where do I start?!

Abu Dhabi was the second stop on the Emirati Safari. Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara provides the Abu Dhabi traveller with a very interesting option. Set upon an enormous mangrove marsh, guests can ride across its waters with Ali who tells tales of UAE history or try kayaking at Abu Dhabi’s only kayaking venue.

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I was most impressed by its Anantara Spa which houses Abu Dhabi’s largest hammam. Try out the hammam experience for total relaxation after a long journey or day at work. Have a drink at the rooftop bar that looks over the mangroves for a perfect end to the day.

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A short flight away from the city of Abu Dhabi is the small private Sir Bani Yas Island, that was set up as a Wildlife Reserve by Sheikh Zahed in the 1970’s. Anantara are the only hotel group to have properties on the island making it feel exclusive from the moment you step off the tiny plane.

Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara was the first property on the island, a 64 room hotel perfect for families with numerous activities on offer and a superb spa.

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Anantara’s Al Sahel Villa Resort is Anantara’s newest opening on the island – a South African savannah right in the heart of Sir Bani Yas Island. 30 villas look out on to the Arabian Wildlife Park so prepare to open your curtains in the morning to an inquisitive gazelle or beautiful peacock. The Savannah Grill & Savannah Bar serve up the finest steaks and catch of the day.

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Over the mountain range is the Anantara’s Al Yamm Villa Resort, 30 villas tucked away along the Arabian Gulf coastline (Al Yamm means by the sea). 10 of the villas are set in front of a mangrove marsh and the rest open their doors straight on to white sands and crystal blue waters.

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Al Yamm villas are so tranquil and it is such a romantic spot for escapist couples wanting to feel like the only people on the island. The hotel’s Olio restaurant serves up gourmet Italian cuisine. I went for the Al Yamm Seafood special – a plate piled high of fresh lobster, king prawns, sea bass and juicy mussels.

And of course there is the unforgettable safari, an unmissable activity on the island where some of the world’s most beautiful creatures are almost at arm’s length.

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The Palm Jumeirah from the sky. See you next time, Dubai and Abu Dhabi!

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Victoria Falls Is Back!

The plane from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls was full on our recent visit – a good sign that tourism numbers to the small town in Zimbabwe are growing. After recent positive signs of rising tourist numbers, Victoria Falls is set to receive a new international landing strip next year at its airport, heralding major growth in tourism from around the world. I visited recently to see for myself.

I was lucky enough to stay at Africa Albida’s Victoria Falls Safari Club, a new boutique property in the grounds of the famous Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Just a few minutes’ drive to the iconic waterfall, the Club has one of the best locations in Victoria Falls, set slightly away from town overlooking a wilderness landscape teeming with wildlife.

Victoria Falls Safari Club has its own chicly-decorated reception lounge and terrace with private game-viewing deck – I loved the cute design details like this fab leather chandelier:

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It feels luxurious and exclusive – there are only 16 Club rooms and 4 Suites, all with a modern, light and airy feel and gorgeous views from floor to ceiling windows that open onto a private terrace. Guests of the Club have their own dedicated Manager to ensure their stay is seamless, and can enjoy all the facilities of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge too, including the Buffalo Bar, a beautiful spot made for sunset viewing and G&T drinking, the MaKuwa-Kuwa restaurant, the library, mini Spa and swimming pools.

Super comfy bed in my open-plan Suite:

bedRoom with a view:

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Take a dip in the pool with a cold beer and watch the wildlife at the waterhole:

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There is a complimentary shuttle service from the Club to the Falls themselves, running until 10pm so you can catch the spectacle of the world’s largest waterfall pretty much at any time of day or evening. Easy to access with lots of viewing points along its course it’s a fantastic sight to behold. Bring a raincoat and waterproof cover for cameras and phones as you get soaked with the spray from some of the best view-points! Exhilarating and beautiful, by all accounts it beats Niagara hands down.

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Life revolves around the magnificent Zambezi in Victoria Falls, and another must-do during a trip here is to get out on the water. Lots of companies operate boat rides – Victoria Falls Safari Club arranged tickets for the Zambezi Queen, a lovely three tiered boat. The top deck is swish – stylishly kitted out and with endless cocktails and canapés, it’s an amazing place to chill out, admire the sunset and spot hippos bobbing about below.

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If I’d had more time in Victoria Falls I would have gone White Water Rafting – it’s one of the best places on earth to do this adrenaline sport amongst others. Africa’s answer to Queenstown in New Zealand, there’s loads going on for the adventurous. Bungee jumping from the bridge opposite the Falls, zip lining, gorge swinging…so our tip is to stay a bit longer to really make the most of your Victoria Falls experience. But I had other plans, and was heading to Botswana in the morning…

 Check out www.africaalbidatourism.com for more information