I often share with my clients that a journey through Africa has the unique power to change your life. At first, some brush the comment off as me being a Travel Designer trying to build their excitement, and some take to heart in eager anticipation for what’s in store. I can guarantee that no matter what the initial response, all my clients have returned with a new outlook on life and have been humbled by the experiences they encountered.
As a child, I fell in love with the continent of Africa. Watching movies like the Lion King, Ghost and the Darkness, Tarzan and Power Of One, I dreamt of one day exploring the vast flat plains of the Serengeti during Migration, trekking across barren landscape in search of lions, sitting at a watering hole and watching a baby elephant learn to use his trunk for the first time and participating in the cultural celebrations of goat milking with the Masaai, basket weaving with the Himba and singing and dancing with the San people. I also grew up reading stories of David Livingstone’s explorations, which inspired me to one day stand in awe of the great Victoria Falls. This last year, I was able to one-up Livingstone and take in the breathe-taking view from the air above. These experiences, are but a few of which I have had the great pleasure of partaking in my travels for Pique Travel.
Earlier this year, I was able to spend three weeks traveling through three distinctive regions of Southern Africa: the Okavango Delta in Botswana, Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe, and Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe.
If you are looking for a landscape unlike any other, and to feel like you are truly in the middle of nowhere – Botswana’s Okavango Delta is the place for you. Each year the Delta is flooded by an abundance of rains that flow south from Angola and Namibia. These rains provide a wet and wild wonderland for the water-established animals including: the Sitatunga, an antelope species known to sleep underwater with only their nostrils above water, and the Malachite Kingfisher, a small yet strikingly colorful bird whose wings whir low over water in search of food, and the vast populations of African Elephant. Botswana is also home to one-sixth of the world’s Elephant population, with herds migrating yearly to the flooding waters of the Delta. Nothing beats enjoying your morning coffee on your private patio, as a full-sized African Elephant is munching the marula fruits less than 15 feet away.
The accommodation in the Okavango Delta is second-to-none, providing luxurious waterfront escapes with the added draw of being one of the world’s predominant eco-lodge environments, many of which have the ability to remove their entire footprint from the landscape in a matter of months.
One of the most underrated safari destinations in Africa is that of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a nation that has endured a lot of hardship in the late 20th Century, however it is bouncing back strongly and it is slowly becoming the hidden gem of Africa. Not only is Zimbabwe where you can experience the famed Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe Ruins, it is also home to two of Africa’s stunning national parks: Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.
Hwange National Park hosts over one-hundred mammal species and over four-hundred bird species; it is a true photographer’s dream destination. With many of the water-holes pumped year round to support the large animal populations, it is very easy to spend a full afternoon sitting and watching the procession of animals coming down to drink. A handful of lodges in Hwange have taken the viewing experience to the next level, creating ‘hides’. A ‘hide’ is a purposely built structure, often semi-submersed underground, nonchalantly located next to a corridor or water hole. From the ‘hide’, you are able to view and photograph the wildlife at an extremely close angle all while never disturbing or even being noticed by the animals.
Every time I travel through Zimbabwe, I am taken aback by the friendliness, genuine care and dedication of the guides. Zimbabwe’s safari guides are regarded to be the best in Africa as the process to become a certified safari guide in Zimbabwe is more strenuous in length and depth of knowledge than any other country. Having the right safari guide is extremely important and can turn a trip from ‘simply okay’ to ‘absolutely amazing’. I have had my fair share of average guides, including some who did not want to talk, to one who was almost falling asleep as two lioness’ were stalking their prey. During my last trip into Zimbabwe, I had the pleasure of getting to know Clancy my guide. Husband and father of three beautiful daughters, Clancy shared with me his life, his culture and his love for the African wilderness. The day I spent with Clancy as my guide was one of the best experiences I’ve had on safari, and what makes me laugh to this day is that I don’t remember the animals we encountered, but I remember the names of his daughters: Aneni, Maita and Zendaya.
One of the more unique experiences in Southern Africa is visiting the northern regions of Mana Pools, located along the tail end of the Zambezi River. ‘Mana’ is a Shona word for ‘four’ – named after the four large pools in the region, and it is a hot bed for indigenous culture, wildlife and lush vegetation. As the majority of the accommodations are located close to the water, there is a nice mixture of game drives, guided walks and water based activities. Mana Pools is principally known for its great density of general game, however there is a nice abundance of predators that can be found including lion, leopard and hyena. Of most importance, this region is one of the last strongholds of the rare African Wild Dog, a species that is extremely social and playful, yet dedicated and focused pack hunters. One of my favorite things about Wild Dog is the social structure of the pack. If a member gets hurt or old-age is taking its toll, they will not move on or forget about them as other predators do. Instead, they will secure the fragile member in the den and continue to feed, often regurgitating the meal in the hope it will bring strength.
As I mentioned earlier, a trip to Africa truly does have the power to change your life. It is easy to expect the once-in-a-lifetime encounters with wildlife such as having the roar of a lion in the distance drift you off to sleep, watching the male and female African Fish Eagle, partners for life, dance through the sky as they search for their next meal, or witness a mother warthog care for its babies as it kisses and caresses their delicate skin. It is easy to expect the once-in-a-lifetime views and stunning scenery of the Waterberg Mountains as the morning sun brings about a peaceful orange glow, the smell of rain incoming rain as the plants get ready to receive refreshment, or the stunning African sunset on display each night. However, many never expect to have their lives changed by the people of Africa; the friendliest, most genuine and loving people. I can personally say that my life has been altered each time I have had the pleasure of stepping foot onto the African continent; and I hope that one day you will too.
Contact me at KrisN@PiqueTravel.com if you want to hear more about my experiences, or better yet, start talking about some that would be perfect for you!