An African adventure where luxurious appoinments, impeccable service and Africa’s best trackers exceed every expectation.
Think Tommy Bahama meets Dr. Livingston. Comfortable and relaxed luxury without compromise or fuss. Anyone can fly to Africa to appreciate the big cats and the Neolithic pachyderms bathing in the pools. However, few have the opportunity to embark on an African safari where they can customize the itinerary for their own specific tastes, not feel crowded by other travelers, and enjoy impeccable service all the while. Wilderness Safaris has created an exclusive experience that will surpass expectations in every regard.
Before you take off for Africa, packing instructions will arrive. They are quite simple, really. Don’t bring much. Two outfits, toiletries and some small personal items such as a camera, binoculars and a notebook. Each camp will wash guests’ clothes daily. So while you are wearing one outfit, the other is being prepared for the following day. To punctuate the minimal list, adventurers are instructed to pack everything that they’re bringing in just one duffel bag. The reason for such a dearth of baggage will become quite clear when the bush pilot stows that duffel bag in the belly pan of their small Cessna. Of course, if more is necessary, an extra seat may be purchased for the additional luggage.
You won’t find any 747s landing on the short, dirt strips that these skilled pilots frequent. Although the flight to South Africa, via Dakar, Senegal, in the business class of South African Airlines is comfortable enough, it is still a long haul. Right around twenty hours, in fact — jetlag redefined. It is highly advisable to arrange for a night or two in Johannesburg to adapt before flying off to the first safari camp.
Two flights remain before climbing into the first Land Rover. First, a regional flight, followed by the flight in the small Cessna. Fortunately, these flights are much shorter than the transatlantic leg. The real adventure may begin in earnest even before the tires crunch the gravel of the landing strip. It is not uncommon for the pilot to suddenly scrub the landing, circle the field and give a guide time to chase baboons off the runway. Landing is a bit of a bumpy affair, but these bush pilots are top notch and unflappable.
King’s Pool camp is in Botswana on the Okavango Delta. Lush and green, the terrain hosts a wonderful array of African wildlife, most of which you will encounter during your stay. Waiting to shuttle us back to King’s Pool was our guide, O.B. He had a disarming smile that welcomed us in the warmest way, and the calm demeanor that one develops only through the experience of having “been there, done that.”
After a warm and sincere welcome, O.B. stowed the luggage in the big, open-top Land Rover and headed down the trail for a short drive to the camp. Fair warning at this point: soon after the big diesel engine pulls the jeep (yes, it’s a Land Rover, but in the bush, they’re called jeeps) around a bend, you are very likely to see some wildlife. O.B. is obviously used to this. Although he knows that the impala grazing on the side of the trail are more prolific than Yellow Cabs in Midtown, he patiently shuts down the jeep, and waits for the cameras to stop clicking. “Don’t worry, we’ll see plenty of those,” he explains.
Indeed, over the next few miles, impala block the trail so many times that they begin to seem like a nuisance, except that they are absolutely stunning to look at. Like an F1 racing car, the impala look impossibly fast and agile, even when they’re standing still.
The camp blends in beautifully with the environment. As we pulled around the circular drive, several people were waiting with drinks, cool towels and warm welcomes. It became immediately apparent that this camp would exceed expectations.
The value of a first impression cannot be overstated. Wilderness Safaris knows that, and made sure that King’s Pool would deliver. Walking up the stairs to the main level of the community area, you take in a view overlooking a large lake surrounded by tall grasses, with stands of trees in the distance. The setting sun creates spectacular landscapes highlighted by blazing clouds in vivid shades of yellow and orange.
As if to punctuate the fact that King’s Pool is in the bush, guests are asked to stay on the raised walkways between tents and communal areas at all times, unless accompanied by a guide. Wilderness Safaris has designed their camps so that they meld into the environment as well as any camp can. For example, the walkways all have lowered portions so that elephants can walk through when traveling through. It’s real out here, and that’s exciting.
While the communal area was impressive, the individual “tents” were positively stunning. The term “tent” is used rather loosely here. After all, you won’t find this tent at any of the local big box retailers. They have almost no common features with a true tent, outside of the fact that people will sleep inside. Pushing the large, carved wooden door open reveals living quarters measured in hundreds of square feet. It is much larger, in fact, than many apartments back in the states. A king-sized bed is draped with fine, white netting to keep any errant mosquitoes away while guests slumber, and the private bathroom has a large, natural stone shower.
The most impressive aspect of any of the tents on property can be found through the large door at the rear to the private deck overlooking the delta. Complete with a plunge pool to relax in after a morning’s game drive, the cloistered space becomes one’s personal African oasis. The delta extends toward the horizon until it finally runs into the tree line. You can sit on the bench surrounding the deck, and feel the cool breezes blow through as they push the afternoon storm clouds across the plain. These are the moments to savor.
Meals featuring local meats and vegetables are all served community-style back in the common area. The food is excellent. The all-inclusive stay features an open bar that is available at all times for guests, and it’s stocked with more than would be expected in the wilds of Africa.
Wilderness Safaris believes in being good stewards, both for the environment, and for the people. Most of the people on staff are local. In fact, companywide, 85 percent of Wilderness Safaris’ staff is from local communities. This serves multiple purposes, including giving back to the local community and taking advantage of the local knowledge. Interacting with the guides brings additional enrichment to the safari as it gives guests the opportunity to learn more about the land than simply what a lion eats for breakfast (zebra by the way . . . they save the impala for dinner).
As well-executed as the camps are, the main reason for being here in Botswana is the wildlife. While the impala are prolific, other animals are a bit scarcer, requiring the expertise of the local guides to locate the animals, and to ensure that viewing is safe for both the animal and the tourist. The guides employed by Wilderness Safaris are the most skilled guides available. They have all undergone an intensive three-year program covering the local animals, fauna, tracking and safety before they are allowed to take guests out on their own. They are incredibly skilled, as demonstrated one morning by O.B. Rambling along one of the main roads (it was a main road because this dirt trail didn’t have a lot of overgrowth), headed for a plain to search for a cheetah family, O.B. stopped the jeep suddenly. He looked down at the ground, then surveyed the area to the front and side of us for a solid minute.
After observing two sets of tracks in the sand of the road, and surveying the area, O.B. explained that two lions appeared to be on the move. He recommended changing our plans to track them, saving the cheetahs for another drive. Agreement came fast, and the jeep continued hot on the trail of two large African cats in the bush. It would be impossible to suppress the excitement of this hunt. As suddenly as the tracks appeared, they disappeared. This is where years of experience begin to show through. O.B. reversed the jeep, and found an area where the cats veered off trail. To the casual observer, it was impossible to see.
Following the tracks brought us into full “bush-whacking” mode. Normally, the guides are careful to stay on trails. However, once in a while, such as now, they will very carefully track animals off trail. Bouncing over the terrain, we passed all manner of small shrubs, trees and termite mounds (these mounds can be taller than a man). Again, the jeep came to a stop in a sandy area, and O.B. showed his first hint of excitement as he explained that two more lions had come in from a different direction, and met up with the first pair. Truly, it sounded like a tall tale to excite the guests.
After a few more minutes, he pointed to more sand where a heard of zebra had apparently been startled and chased by the four big cats. It looked like beach sand, really. Not five minutes later, O.B. stopped the jeep at the edge of a large stand of trees, and pointed to a small hill not fifty meters away where three lions were basking in the sun. A fourth was working on a meal of fresh zebra.
The guides know the areas better than a beat cop knows his assigned neighborhood. O.B. knew where to find any animal in the area, and would take requests before each game drive. Guests may experience giraffes fighting in the style of banging their lengthy necks together. Leopards slumbering twenty feet high in a tree. Warthogs making a show of force at the mouth of their holes. The thundering sound that thousands of Cape Horn buffalo make when tearing grass out of the ground while grazing on a plain.
Each game drive brings another adventure that will become an enduring memory. One note on the game drives: Not all safari companies are created equal. Wilderness Safaris ensures exclusivity in another way — they refuse to fill the jeeps with guests. Many other companies are available to select from, and you can expect to encounter them infrequently. Many of their jeeps were filled to capacity with guests. Not only is it uncomfortable to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger during a game drive, but the schedule is fixed. The guest has no flexibility or choice on the game drive. Typically, only one or two couples will be in a jeep on a Wilderness Safaris drive.
Given sufficient time, guests may create a program that includes multiple camps. Wilderness Safaris has over 70 camps in nine countries throughout Africa. Each camp boasts its own individual style and feel, dictated by the unique aspects of each area. For example, the Little Kulala camp in Namibia will afford guests the opportunity to visit the Sossusvlei where the world’s largest sand dunes are found. Known as the “sand sea,” it features surreal landscapes of deep red sand and white clay dry lake beds.
An African safari is not to be missed. No amount of National Geographic or Animal Planet viewing can prepare one for the wonder of seeing these proud animals in their natural environments. Wilderness Safaris has created a unique and exclusive offering which will please the most discerning guest, and create memories for a lifetime.
Tips For An Enjoyable Safari
Since only one duffel bag is recommended, selecting the proper gear is extremely important:
- Camera: Make sure that you are proficient with your camera before you arrive. Don’t make the mistake of missing once-in-a-lifetime shots with a brand new camera that is unfamiliar to you.
- Binoculars: Sometimes, it is simply impossible to get really close to everything that you want to see. Binoculars will fill the need here. Make sure that you have a good pair. More expensive binoculars, such as the Nikon Monarch line, employ high quality optics that gather more light than lesser binoculars. The difference is up to a half hour of extra use at sunset.
- Clothes: Since you will likely have only a couple of shirts with you, ensure that you have the right ones. Companies such as Exofficio make a line of clothing specifically for safari. Consider a shirt with built-in SPF, and long sleeves that roll up and fasten at the elbows. Although not terribly stylish, pants with zippered, removable legs are very practical.
- Hat: A nice wide-brimmed hat will keep you in the shade as you hike the red sand dunes in Namibia.
- Notebook: Writing notes about the trip enhances the experience and the memories.