I’ve never been one to dream of travelling around Africa. I guess I grew up with a bit of a misconception that it was a “dangerous” place. I feel stupid for that view now. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When my boyfriends parents offered us the chance to go on safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe a year and a half ago, I happily accepted. They’d been many times before, and having spent some time living in South Africa, knew the area of Southern Africa very well. I trusted them fully, and knew that it would be an experience of a lifetime. The trip was booked very far in advance, as it seems most Safari’s need to be. I spent a year and a half wondering what it would be like. I could never have truly guessed how magical it would really be.
Savuti National Park:
Our first stop on our safari was in Savuti National Park. We spent a night in the town of Maun, Botswana, before hopping on a very small plane into the park. Here, we were met by our mobile safari guide, David Carson. David got us into his open safari truck, and off we went. There was no time to lose; with our bags still packed in the car, we were on our first game drive. Within about 10 minutes of being in his truck, we spotted birds I’d never even dreamt of, a Giraffe, elephants, and hippos. As an all time animal lover (I think I like animals more than people sometimes), I was like a child in a candy shop!
The first four days of our trip would be spent camping in the bush. I’ve never been camping in my life (apart from a few short horse riding trips when I was a child), so this was the part I was most nervous about. I didn’t need to be. The tents were massive, with two single camping beds with mattresses on top. They were lovingly decorated, and everything we could need was in the tent. At the back of the tent was another zipped close section, which if you opened would lead you to the “bathroom” section of the tent. Here was a simple drop toilet (ie. a hole in the floor with a toilet seat above it) and an area for a bucket shower. Honestly? Both were absolutely fine! It was really nice to have, and meant never needing to rush out in the night to a seperate toilet tent.
Our time in Savuti was beautiful. We saw lions, cheetahs, a leopard, many many elephants, birds of all kinds, wild dogs, impala, and many, many more. David, our guide, made an immediate impression on me. David is a Zimbabwean who must be the most passionate person I’ve ever met. I’ve never seen anyone get so excited to hear that there are wild dogs nearby! After almost 20 years as a guide, you’d think that the excitement would wear off. Not for David. His love of the animals was totally infectious, and I found myself getting extremely excited every time we rushed off to see another animal, or caught site of something in the bush that we hadn’t seen yet. David was not only extremely enthusiastic, but also knowledgeable, kind, and funny. I loved not just seeing the animals, but also listening and watching to David tell us about them, and watch his love for them as he did. If you’re looking to go on safari and want a private guide, I cannot begin to recommend him enough.
Chobe National Park:
Our next stop was Chobe National Park, an area of Botswana on the border with Zambia. Again, I had never heard of this place until arriving, and I was amazed by how different it looked to Savuti. The Chobe River is a tributary of the Zambezi river, which flows into the famous Victoria Falls, and then into the Indian Ocean. The flood plane of the river is an animal paradise! When we first arrived we went on a river cruise which was lovely (although our guide was no where near as good as David!). If you’re at all interested in birds, you’d love Chobe. It’s a bird lovers paradise!
Two highlights of this part of the trip were seeing the elephants play so happily (and swim!) in the waters of the river. The second was waking up early to the loud (I mean really loud) roar of a male Lion. We got up early, David urged us into the truck, and by 6am were on the flood plane racing around looking for said male Lion. I kid you not, he felt like he was right next to our tents he was so loud! Turns out, a lions roar is LOUD and travels very far. He was miles away! We did find him though, and followed him for a while as he roared and called to his Lionesses. It was incredible.
The only downside of Chobe is the amount of people there. A lot of other tour guides with private tourists (like us) as well as people in self drive cars, who camp on the public camp sites. Because of the river, the animals are all concentrated on a very small section of the park (well, at least that’s what it feels like). This means that you can sometimes feel like you’re all a bit on top of each other while you try to see the animals.
That being said, the amount of wildlife that there is in Chobe makes it well worth while visiting! We saw so many packs of lions, and thousands of elephants. If you’re heading for a safari in Botwswana, I do highly recommend it!
Camp Hwange & Hwange National Park:
After two nights in Chobe, we set off on a long drive towards Zimbabwe for the second part of our Safari trip. With a short pit stop in Victoria Falls so that I could see the biggest waterfall in the world (totally worth the stop!) we made our way to Hwange National Park. David Carson, our safari guide, also happens to be the owner of his own safari camp: Camp Hwange. I’m not going to lie, after four days of camping in the bush, I was quite excited to head to a proper lodge! I didn’t really know what to expect, but my mind was blown. The lodge is stunning! The rooms are beautiful, and the people working on the camp are all so, so, so nice.
The rooms themselves are actually enormous canvas tents, all sealed off to prevent bugs and animals getting in. They’re very open though, so you can see outside in a panoramic way. Right in front of the camp is a watering hole, which means that there are often animals that come to drink during the day (not that we spent much time at camp itself - David doesn’t really allow for that!). The beds were super comfortable, the showers were hot, we had a real toilet (what a luxury after 4 days of using a hole in the ground!), and amazing food.
One thing I do need to comment on is the food. I had a huge amount of food intolerances, so coming out on safari, this was one of my biggest stresses. I’ve got to say: I have never been fed so well, or been so well looked after, as I have been on my 8 days of Safari. First, during camping, I was catered for perfectly (and our chef, Erotellé (I’m sorry if I’ve butchered the spelling of that!) cooked all our meals on a camp fire! We were astounded when we found out, because our food was incredible. At camp, the quality just was just a high. I never get to eat cake usually (I have to avoid gluten and dairy), but at Camp Hwange, I had cakes and biscuits and everything I could ever want, all made fresh!
The staff, and the learner guides (safari guides in training) all work so hard, always manage to keep smiles on their faces, and never seem to lose enthusiasm for their jobs or the wildlife surrounding them. It was lovely to spend time in Camp Hwange, and I really hope I get to go back someday.
One of the lovely things about attending a safari in Zimbabwe is that here, you can walk. In Botswana, walking in the bush isn’t permitted, so when we got to Zimbabwe, we were all really looking forward to getting out on foot (David even more so, as walking is his passion). On our first morning in Hwange, we set out on an 8km walk, just to see what we could see. In the afternoon, David heard of 3 Black Rhino’s spotted a few kilometers away. Rhino’s are incredibly rare in Hwange, so we all got very excited, and set off an a second walk of the day. It was hot, and we had to climb through all sorts of bushes whilst trying to find out way to the spot where the Rhino’s were meant to be. Sadly, after a lot of effort, we didn’t find the Rhino. That didn’t stop the adventure being really fun, and incredibly exciting.
The next day we headed out again, this time following some Lion tracks. Again, we never actually found the Lion’s, but watching David and his tracker Felix, follow the tracks of the lions was fascinating.
Was I ever scared? Not once, actually. This surprised me, as I thought I might have a few moments where I felt nervous (especially around Lion’s, or with the prospect of seeing Rhino’s), however I found that I had complete trust in David and the teams around us the whole time, which took all fear away.
My eyes have been totally opened up to a new world. I’ve fallen in love with Africa, with the animals here, with the experience of doing a safari, and I truly hope that I get to do this again one day. If you’ve ever thought about attending a safari in Africa, be it in Botswana, Zimbabwe, or any other country within Africa, I urge you to do it. It’s an incredible experience, and one you will certainly adore.
A huge thank you to David, to his teams in Botswana, to everyone in Camp Hwange, and to Tom’s mum and dad for inviting me along with them on the trip of a lifetime! I won’t forget it anytime soon.