I will never forget my first safari experience, I was only four years old when I accompanied my grandparents to the Kruger National Park. It became our annual family holiday. That’s when the safari bug bit and where my love affair with the African bush all started. The bush is in my blood and has been from an early age. The smell of the bush first thing in the morning, the sounds of the animals calling late at night; Africa is a complete sensory overload.
There are many African animals which completely captivate me. You will read more about my favourite one later but the one which I recall as being significant to me was my first elephant encounter. It is still so clear in my mind. We were standing on the river bank in Kruger watching a huge herd of elephants walk by. It was amazing to see how massive they were up close as well as how quietly they moved. I was enthralled and with my heart beating so fast I knew then that I was in love, and the African bush was firmly entrenched in my blood.
My Sensational Zambian Safari
Having travelled South Africa and the neighbouring countries extensively over the years, Zambia has always been on my bucket list of places to see. This amazing country to the north of Zimbabwe offers some of the most remote safari experiences in all of Africa and an “off-the-beaten-track” safari is definitely something which appeals to me. Zambia is also home to the walking safari, which is an experience I have always wanted to do. Luckily Rhino Africa afforded me the opportunity to explore this amazing country and it did not disappoint. This was definitely my favourite trip of the last 10 years of being in the safari industry, and somewhere I love sending my clients, especially those who might have already done a safari or two before.
I arrived at Livingstone Airport and was immediately whisked away by my guide for a walking tour of the magnificent Victoria Falls. I have been able to view the falls from both the Zimbabwean and Zambian side – both spectacular! One of the draw-cards for a Zambian viewing is that you are able to swim in the Devil’s Pool, which I highly recommend doing. After our tour we took a helicopter flip over the falls as well as the gorge and along the Zambezi River and I loved being able to see the scale of the falls from above. This was my introduction to Zambia and my form to transport to my first lodge, Royal Chundu. Talk about a regal arrival.
Royal Chundu is located upstream on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. The lodge consists of River Lodge & Island Lodge. I was luckily enough to spend my night at Island Lodge which only has four river-facing suites. It is intimate, romantic and secluded and the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Despite the amazing rooms and incredible activities on offer, what struck me most about Royal Chundu was the staff. They were so warm and welcoming and attended to my every need, including a traditional Zambian massage on check-in. One of the experiences I would highly recommend doing is the sunset cruise down the Zambezi River. Being able to watch the animals come down to the water as the sun slowly sets is very special. A side note: the food is incredible! All the food is made from local produce with a good measure of skill and love too. The authentic village tour with Edith was another major highlight for me and her amazing story is a great read too.
Lower Zambezi, Zambia
Next, I took a flight from Livingstone Airport to Royal Airstrip, where I joined a small group of safari experts. We had a quick gin & tonic, of course, and headed to the river for a speed boat ride to our next lodge, Chiawa Camp. This was at sunset and it was breathtaking. We were lucky to spot many hippos and crocodiles along the way and on arrival at Chiawa we were then welcomed by a herd of about 15 elephants – all around the camp.
Chiawa is wild, but wild in a good way. Elephants and many other animals make their way through the camp all day long and the guiding team at Chiawa are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. What I liked most was that no day is the same as there are so many activities on offer. The most exhilarating was canoeing down the canals and seeing elephants from a very close-up perspective. They are such massive animals when you are sitting in a canoe looking up to them.
Chiawa is located in the Lower Zambezi National Park and is such a special safari destination. Apart from seeing countless elephants, many with tiny babies, we also saw 14 lions, 9 different leopards, 8 wild dogs and, amazingly, 2 aardvarks during our four night stay. The Lower Zambezi is, without a doubt, one of my most favourite places that I have ever visited. It offers a plethora of activities from game drives, walking safaris, canoeing, fishing & sunset cruises. If there is one place I would choose to go back to, I would be there in a heartbeat.
South Luangwa, Zambia
It is so easy to combine the Lower Zambezi with the South Luangwa National Park, as there is a direct flight between these reserves. After our time at Chiawa, we spent a total of six nights in the South Luangwa National Park. Here, the focus is on walking safaris. It is very different from other safari areas that offer bush walks, where the focus is on smaller animals and plant life. Here, the walk is to experience everything in the African bush.
I am a fan of camps which are off-the-beaten-track, away from the crowds and offer smaller and more intimate experiences. For me, these kind of camps offer a more authentic safari experience. What I discovered in South Luangwa was that the walking safaris are an immensely grounding experience as you literally come face to face with Africa’s wild animals, all done with the safety and expertise of your guides at hand. All the Bushcamp Company camps we stayed at are located within a manageable walking distance from one another, without it being too taxing. It also helps that walking tours commence at sunrise, when it is cool and animals are active. We saw the most amazing sightings, especially a kill of an impala by two Marshall eagles. If you are not too keen on walking, there are traditional game drives on offer as well and even boating safaris when the seasons allow.
Zambia is not often on the safari enthusiast’s radar, but I can say with complete confidence that it is a premier safari destination and that the game viewing never disappoints. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people and such incredible wild spaces.
A Leaps of Leopards
The leopard: easily my favourite animal, if not my spirit animal too. Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of a wild leopard in the African bush. For a while you sit in silence, unable to comprehend that a creature as beautiful as this actually exists: a creature so flamboyant, agile and so full of life. I have been so fortunate to have seen this majestic creature on many occasions throughout my safari trips and I never get bored of seeing them. For those as equally enthralled by this animal, I want to share three of my most special leopard sightings that I have experienced with Rhino Africa.
1. Leopard vs Wild Dog
I was on my first ever Rhino Africa educational with 5 colleagues & we stayed at Lions Sands in the southern sector of the Sabi Sand. While we were having coffee just before our morning game drive on the lodge main deck we saw an impala running to the river and starting to cross. It was immediately followed by a pack of wild dogs, but they were too scared to swim as the river was infested with crocodiles. The impala successfully crossed the river and the wild dogs turned around and headed back into the bush. We thought the action was all over and were still excited by what we had seen. We then heard a loud growl, a screech and out of nowhere a leopard attacked one of the wild dogs. Of course no one was camera ready and we were all stunned into silence at what is still one of the most unique sightings I’ve ever had.
2. Leopardess and Cubs
I spent some time at Silvan Safari in February this year, just before Covid-19. The Sabi Sand had some good rains this year and the bush was extremely green and lush. We had a relatively quiet afternoon drive, but our guide, Kenneth, promised he would find us a great sighting. We came around a corner to see a female leopard in the road walking towards us followed by a tiny cub. Then as they were passing the vehicle, a second cub appeared out of the bush. This was my first ever sighting of a leopardess and two cubs. We followed them for about 30 minutes before they disappeared into the bush again. Seeing the gentle nature with which the mother cared for her cubs was a utterly magical.
3. A Leopard on Foot
My final leopard sighting I wanted to share with you was on my Zambian trip I unpacked already. We were staying at Chiawa Camp and departed on our walking safari early in the morning. We walked along the river as the sun was rising and came to an open pan with a few big trees to have our packed brunch. Our guide called us over to show us that something was killed and dragged away. We were all very excited and decided to follow the drag marks. As we approached a tree, we heard a loud growl and when we looked up we saw the leopard in the tree with its kill. We took a few large steps backwards, our heart in our throats, to give the leopard some space and settled down to watch him. This was such an amazing experience for me and something that very few people get to experience on a safari.
Community & Conservation Projects
Community & Conservations Projects are very important to me. Rhino Africa, and indeed many lodges, are very involved in uplifting local communities. When our clients travel with us, they directly contribute to uplifting some of the most rural and vulnerable communities. Most of the staff employed by the lodges come from these surrounding villages and so these lodges provide jobs and income opportunities in the area. They also assist the communities by building schools, vegetable gardens and learning centres.
When our clients stay at the safari lodges a portion of their fees also goes to conservation projects, to help protect the wildlife in Africa. Poaching is unfortunately a huge threat to the animals on our continent and we have to do everything in our power to protect our amazing heritage.
The Good Work Foundation
The Good Work Foundation (GWF) has six digital learning campuses neighbouring the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve and I am proud to say that Rhino Africa has been pivotal in establishing this. In South Africa, for every 100 children that start school, approximately 60 will reach their final year, 37 will graduate and only 12 will then access university. The sad fact is that the vast majority of South Africa’s youth are not computer literate and thus not equipped to participate in the fourth industrial revolution. The GWF is here to change that. I have visited the headquarters in Hazyview and it is really incredible to see what they are doing. They are currently assisting 7800 learners a week and with a pass rate of 95% they are changing the lives of every one of their students. This is an incredible achievement.
We at Rhino Africa, together with Wildlife ACT, believe that it is important to save our animals. Rhinos are critically endangered at the moment and we are passionate about making sure that rhinos are around for future generations to enjoy.
“It is quite appropriate we are called Rhino Africa, because sustainability is linked to the rhino. If the rhino disappears, so do we. If conservation doesn’t succeed, nor do we.” – Rhino Africa Founder & CEO, David Ryan
When the dust of the Covid pandemic settles
I cannot wait to go on safari as soon as this pandemic is over. Africa needs travellers now more than ever and it is the perfect post-Covid destination. Your holiday is an investment, an investment in Africa’s communities and in her wildlife and her future. Come and explore Africa with me and experience her magic. Lastly, I want to leave you with my favourite African quote:
“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.” – Richard Mullin
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