Pure Magic: My First Safari
A special thank you to luxury travel advisor, Kemi Wells of Wells Luxury Travel for sharing her experience with GateCheck.
Four commercial planes, one bush plane and a helicopter later, we touched down at DumaTau Lodge in the Linyanti Conservation in Botswana. I couldn't contain my excitement as this had been a lifelong dream of mine! I was so grateful for the opportunity to experience travelling with Wilderness Safaris, one of my preferred partners in Africa. Wilderness have been pioneering ecotourism in Botswana and the Okavango Delta since 1983. They own and operate their own lodges and airline, so we were set for an adventure! They pride themselves on having the best circuit of environmentally sensitive and perfectly placed lodges. We stayed at 4 of their camps, did tours of 6 others and took several flights in between. Oli, our expert driver guide and tracker, has worked in the bush for 20 years and his navigation and tracking skills were just remarkable.
Driving around the vast wilderness taking deep breaths to inhale the strong smell of sage. The adrenaline rush of being 2 meters away from lions for the first time and watching 3 of them feast on their kill. The warmth of the sun on your face after a cool sunrise game drive. Trusting your guide and trying to relax as a leopard is literally at arms length from you in the tree. Hearing the hippos right outside your tent at night. Watching an elephant wade across the water right next to you. Feeling your heart beat when you are close to a predator and for a split second your vehicle seems stuck in the bush as you're off roading. Interrupting your dinner as you hear screams in nearby bushes, on holding on for dear life as we sped off in the darkness to go investigate (it was 20 hyenas feasting on a baby Hippo!)…
So many moments that take your breath away, I am already planning my next safari. It's truly the most magnificent experience in the world!
I flew via Newark so I could take the direct flight to Johannesburg with United Airlines and one of the world's longest at 14.5 hours there and 16.5 hours back. I was able to fly Business Class so it was very nice (they even give you Pajama’s and slippers!). We spent the first night at the Intercontinental Hotel right at Johannesburg airport. The lobby was full of excited travellers kitted out in safari gear and soft bags (your limit for safari is 15kg and it must be a soft bag so it can fit in the hold of the small bush planes).
The next morning, after a commercial flight to Maun, Botswana we were met and taken to the Wilderness Air counter to check in for our first bush flight of many. A 12-seater propeller plane with plenty of windows to soak up the vistas. The journey was thrilling, as we started to see so much wildlife from the air and the pilot swooped down lower so we could take a better look. Giraffes and Elephants roaming freely and so many hippos chilling in the rivers, it was amazing!
Once you touch down you are met by safari vehicles to whisk you to camp. Most Wilderness camps are within 25 to 35 minutes from a landing strip. The nearest one was under maintenance, so they surprised us with a helicopter waiting to take us right into camp. It was the tiniest one I'd ever been on with just 4 seats, including the Pilot's!
And finally...we were greeted by friendly staff and a refreshing welcome drink by our hosts at Little DumaTau.
A brand new camp and new addition to the main DumaTau Lodge, Little DumaTau has just 4 tented suites and it is the epitome of luxury. This is what is classed as a Premier Camp. You have a King or twin bed configuration, gorgeous bathroom, separate living room and a huge deck overlooking the Osprey Lagoon. The deck comes complete with your own private plunge pool. Did I mention indoor and outdoor showers?
We were treated to a sunset barge cruise to welcome us to the area, it was spectacular! Everything was still and it was a surreal moment for us all realizing we are finally here in Botswana!
The next day we went out for a morning game drive and then had lunch out on the barge. It was great to see the area in the daylight too. The lagoon was so still and calming. We then saw an elephant appear through the tall grass and proceed to get into the lagoon and swim across to the other side… amazing!
Pinch me, it this real life? Our friend was still hanging out…
Unlike some of their other lodges, DumaTau is right on the lagoon which has water year-round.
Next up we stayed at Chitabe which is a Classic Camp. Our tent was very well appointed and we had monkeys playing on the deck as we walked up, and then we spotted a large elephant in front of our viewpoint. Not a bad place to work before we met the group for dinner.
This is classed as an Adventure Camp and was definitely the most rustic of the camps we visited. Nonetheless it was still beautiful and here we were able to experience the Moruko (basically a dug out canoe).
For our last two nights we were spoiled with a Premier Camp again. Abu Camp has a storied history and was made famous by the Abu Herd who used to be based here.
All of the camps have a lovely swimming pool. Wifi is only available in your room (note to self- I should have be prepared for limited access given where we are… for the most part if was fine, but our first camp was terrible). They want the communal areas to be socializing and creating community, and I do love that idea.
I was so happy to see young, female Botswanan women as the General Managers in most camps. Wilderness has a solid training program and are encouraging locals to step up to run the camps, rather than having people from South Africa fly in to manage them. This is a nice positive change.
The Thrill of The Chase
There is something so special about exploring pristine wilderness and having no idea what you will around the next corner. We were there in April which is the end of the summer, so the grass was high and long, making game viewing more challenging but equally thrilling.
During our game drives we saw: elephants, impalas (100s of them) jackals, lecches, crocodiles, mountain lizard, wart hogs, antelopes (so well camouflaged), giraffes, baboons, water buck, lions and lioness, spotted hyenas, monkeys, baboons, leopards, zebras, wildebeest, cape buffalos, wild dogs (most endangered carnivores, most successful hunter and most relaxed predator), African Civet (wildcat), vultures, eagles and tons of birds.
As you drive through the bush, you sometimes get a whiff of the stench of a dead animal, and then start to look for the feast or leftover kill.
Memorable moments including seeing:
- A herd of Elephants including babies following the experienced female lead
- A pod of 8+ hippos, including a Mother and her two babies
- A young leopard hiding up a tree away from the hyena
- The lioness hunt, chase and 3 of them eating the kill
- An elephant covered in water Lilly routes parading right next to our deck
- A dazzle of zebras including a gorgeous baby one!
- A Hyenas den
- A pack of 13 Wild Dogs doing their greeting ceremony before going off on their evening hunt
- Driving up to Chitabe Air Strip to fly out and it being surrounded by zebras and Giraffes feasting on the grass
It’s worth a reminder that you are in the wild and these concessions are massive. Sometimes you get really lucky and see lots of game, other times you may drive around for ages and not see anything. The animals are on their own schedule. But that’s the beauty of the experience and actually seeing them in their natural environment!
Diverse dry and wetlands...we visited 4 different concessions, and each was slightly different. Many areas are also subject to seasonal flood plains, so we were told how if we came back in 2 months time it would be totally different, with most camps having water right up to their front entrance!
The annual floods have resulted in certain trees being killed and this has left many dead trees which have this stark look with really cool branches.
Piercing blue sky's. Spectacular sunsets. Every.single.night!
Incredible Star gazing as you can imagine with no light pollution.
There were huge termite mounds everywhere, I had never seen ones like this. We learned how important the termites are to the ecosystem now, as they help to raise up the land and create the island areas (which remain above water during the seasonal floodplains).
The guides are so amazing as they know the areas like the back of their hands. Of course there's no actual roads or road names but somehow they know where they are at all times and the bush like the back of their hand. It was remarkable!
Eating Safari & Lodge Hospitality
Be prepared to eat and drink to your hearts content on safari. All of your meals and drinks (including top shelf spirits) are included at luxury lodges, and you won't ever go hungry! Our host, Vasko, joked we were on an “eating safari”, and he wasn’t wrong!
A day in the life of a safari adventurer starts with a 5am wake up call and 5.30am breakfast. I was expecting a quick grab and go but we were greeted by the Executive Chef who whipped up delicious omelets on the wood burning fire.
The staff cater to your every need and were just so lovely!
You can put some breakfast items in little take away bags too and then you are on your way for the sunrise safari. We also did a mid-morning stop for tea and coffee (and maybe a shot of Amarula for some of the ladies!) and a few nibbles.
Not long after you arrive back at camp (the game drives are usually 3-6 hours, depending what you see!) You then have lunch... And typically guests would be free to read, relax and enjoy the pool during the afternoon. Though we were set to work as had to visit the other camps but it was very worthwhile to see them in person to be able to better guide our clients in the future. Each one has it’s own uniqueness.
Around 4pm you meet back in the main area for a delicious Afternoon Tea, with freshly-baked goodies!
Then you are off on your late afternoon safari drive which usually lasts 2-3 hours.
Just as the sun is setting, you will be driven to a spot for an amazing sundowner- another WOW moment!
Once you are back at camp, it’s then time for a 3-course meal and drinks! (I wasn’t joking about the amount of food!).
Laundry is included at luxury camps as well, so that was really handy.
Most also have a spa therapist who can do in-suite treatments. Large lodges may have an actual spa facility too.
All of Wilderness Camps have either sunrise or sunset right in front of the camp. Glorious!
Wilderness Safaris truly have conservation at the core. They have done so much amazing work for the local communities and the precious wildlife. A portion of every room night booked goes towards conservation and they have various ongoing projects, one that particularly drew my attention is their Children of the Wilderness program, set to educate local kids about the importance of preserving their homeland and not going into poaching etc.
Most camps are now 100% solar and use the generator only for a back up. Used to burn 200 liters per day of diesel of generators but now solar technology has advanced. Now only use approx 800 liters a month.
I loved the local product they used Healing Earth, which came in larger refillable GLASS containers, which I rarely see. We also learned about their water filtration systems and waste management programs (ALL rubbish – except what is compostable- is taken back to Maun every week).
And most impressive to me is that each lodge can be broken down and removed without leaving a trace. They even took us to the previous location of DumaTau camp which operated until 2010 and you literally would have had no idea it was there. Amazing!
I could talk about the work they do for hours but for more information you can check out their website.
Dreams Can Come True
Going on safari is often dubbed as an "Once in a Lifetime" trip, but now I understand why so many people fall madly in love with Africa and return again and again.
I am already counting down to my next safari adventure... Hopefully June 2023 for my honeymoon!
If you would like to know more about my journey or start working on your own safari booking, just reach out to Kemi Wells at Wells Luxury Travel, wellsluxurytravel.com to book a complimentary consultation and let the fun planning begin!