Anthony Ham is a travel writer, based in Melbourne he knows where to go + what to do.
The romance of the classic African safari has a long pedigree: When Ernest Hemingway went on safari, he liked to do things in style, and who hasn’t imagined themselves playing the part of Robert Redford or Meryl Street in Out of Africa? It’s in Botswana that such things become possible.
This is a country whose government long ago chose utter exclusivity over mass tourism and in the process sought to protect one of Africa’s least spoiled and therefore most fragile wild corners. Botswana is the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari, names that roll around in the mouth in a rhythmical African way, and places where the focus is on high-end wilderness experiences where luxury is the bottom line. It is the daily drama of lions, leopards and cheetahs stalking the massed ranks of delicate antelope species and bull-headed buffalos. And it is a place where wilderness still means something.
To reach most of the tented camps and intimate lodges of the Okavango, it is necessary to fly from the gateway town of Maun out over the waters of one of the world’s largest inland deltas and into remote airstrips that serve the lodges and camps. Many inhabit islands, while others are barely visible from the air, so perfectly are they integrated into their surrounds. And all are designed to make you feel just like Robert or Meryl or Ernest.
Your day on safari begins with a pre-dawn wake-up call, a soft African voice calling out of the night to wake you with warming tea or coffee in readiness for a quick breakfast. Then it’s out on safari to find the animals we all dreamed of as children. Unless, of course, you prefer a lie in...
Whatever time you emerge, very often, there will be elephants and antelopes wandering through camp as lions roar out beyond the trees. By mid- to late-morning, with the African sun already draining the colour from the day, wildlife heads for the shade as you do likewise for an exquisite early lunch and an afternoon spent on your shaded terrace overlooking the water, or in the swimming pool, or in the bar...invariably the choice is yours.
At the precise moment when the heat dissipates from the day, most lodges offer high tea, that glorious safari tradition of afternoon tea, less to keep hunger at bay than to connect you to an African past that stretches back as long as travellers have been going on safari. Tempted as you may be to spend the rest of your day under canvas, the sunset safari awaits and it’s not one to miss – watching as wildlife emerges from the shadows to graze and to hunt as the sun turns the savannah to gold: this is when Africa truly weaves its magic. And after darkness falls, you’ll dine under the stars and immerse yourself in the thrilling yet utterly safe wild beauty of the African night.
All lodges and tented camps offer all-inclusive rates that include three meals a day, all drinks and all activities (unless you go for a helicopter excursion...).
everything you need to know about ' &Beyond '
One of my favourite safari companies, & Beyond does the safari standards with something approaching perfection – terrific locations, expert guides and brilliant food is just the beginning.
But on top of this, they add some real architectural showpieces – their Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge is simply breathtaking, its main building resembling a pangolin sheltering in the forest, while the stunning rooms mimic the iconic nests of weaver birds. Within lie supreme levels of comfort.
The service I have received at all of the & Beyond lodges in which I’ve stayed has also been the best of any I’ve experienced in Africa.
In addition to Sandibe, my favourite &Beyond camps are the recently overhauled Nxabega, Xaranna and Xudum.
& Beyond also has a couple of mobile tented camps where the experience is of a mobile safari.
Other excellent choices include Kwetsani, Chitabe and Xigera, while Kalahari Plains is a terrific desert camp and best visited from November to March.