All posts by Shamsa

Kaingo: Where Time Stands Still

Time doesn’t seem to exist here.

Out here in the bush, in the middle of the remote African wilderness, time seems to melt away. The wall clocks and wristwatches and phone screens that we use to chart our every activity become irrelevant. The sun’s movement across the sky becomes the gauge with which to measure time- the way nature intended.

Things move more slowly, more purposefully in the bush- time is stretched, somehow. Perhaps it’s the absence of tall buildings, of traffic, of crowds, of unpleasant smells, of rubbish strewn everywhere, of the endless tooting of car horns…

In the bush, you notice things you simply wouldn’t elsewhere. You feel the relentless beating down of the midday sun, you welcome the cooling breath of a breeze, you hear every strange call of birds and animals to each other. There’s no chaos, or rush, no inexplicable “go, go, go” mindset you always seem to find yourself in in a city. Here, you can relax. And the Kaingo team makes sure that you do just that.

Kaingo Game Reserve is located in South Africa’s Limpopo province, within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. This is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, made up of rolling hills, open plains, vegetated valleys, and montane grasslands. Kaingo is approximately 9000 hectares in size, and features massive cliffs, sandy beaches, natural causeways, and potholes and waterfalls. Over 50 mammal species call the reserve home, including 4 of the iconic African Big 5, as well as over 300 species of birds. Kaingo employs a genuine conservation-focused philosophy, and bases its management and operations on this ethos.

There is just one safari lodge found inside Kaingo Reserve. Elephant Lodge is designed in a style that is reminiscent of a traditional African safari camp, while still offering complete luxury and comfort. The lodge is built from natural stone with thatched roofs, with nature-inspired décor. Only 28 guests are accommodated at Elephant Lodge, ensuring personal attention and superb service.

The staff at Kaingo are incredible. It sounds clichéd, when describing a luxury establishment, but they genuinely go out of their way to make sure that you have everything you need. From the minute you step out of your car at reception to the minute that you leave, they are ready to pamper and spoil you. The chef will change her menu to suit your dietary requirements. The lodge manager will welcome and greet you personally. The reservations manager will show you around, make sure you have everything you need, and even accompany you on the game drive. And the guides and rangers are the stars of the show. Their knowledge of the bush and passion for what they do truly shines through.

The Safari Index team arrived at Elephant Lodge in the early afternoon. After a warm welcome, a refreshing dip in the pool after the long and dusty drive, and a refueling bite for lunch, we headed out for the afternoon game drive.

Don’t expect a typical safari experience when you go on a game drive at Kaingo. The reserve’s unique conservation policy means that the emphasis is on experiencing things as they are, instead of heading out on a crazy high-speed search mission to tick the Big 5 off a list. Instead, you drive through the reserve at a leisurely pace, stopping to appreciate whatever happens to cross your path. Andre, our guide, stopped frequently to point out interesting or unusual trees, take note of a rare bird-call, and relate stories about the animals we encountered. Since there are no other lodges in the reserve, you encounter no other vehicles when out on safari. This is a major plus- it’s something that is a rather frustrating problem in many other safari areas.

Andre drove expertly through the reserve’s maze of roads, appearing to know exactly where he was going, even though there wasn’t a single signpost in sight. At this point, the sun was sinking rapidly, and the bushveld was suffused with the magical light of “golden hour”.  We saw impalas and kudus aplenty as we drove- but it was as we arrived at a clearing that the most delightful sight greeted us- a baby giraffe and its mother! Andre moved the vehicle as close as was possible, warning that the protective mama giraffe could possibly charge if it detected any potential danger. We learnt with delight that the little one was just a week old, and spent some time watching as it went from tree to tree, stopping now and then to observe us curiously.

After spending a while with the baby giraffe, we headed on. We moved further downwards into a valley, towards the Mokolo River. Sunset had arrived as we stopped on the most beautiful spot on the riverbank. Andre set out the sundowner drinks and snacks, and we enjoyed them in the most magical setting imaginable: the myriad colours of the sunset sky and clouds reflected in the river, slowly darkening as the sounds of nocturnal creatures started to amplify.

It was fully dark by the time we started to head back to the lodge- so were treated to a nighttime safari en-route! Andre cast an enormous flashlight into the surrounding blackness as he drove, now and then catching the glowing eyes of various creatures in the beam. Back at Elephant Lodge, a delicious three-course dinner was waiting for us. The first course included warm bread baked in the shape of a crocodile- another quirky little touch!

After dinner, we enjoyed some time around the campfire. The campfire deck is wonderful place to sit and swap stories of the bush, out under a multitude of stars, which shine much more brightly without a harsh city glare to diminish them. We then retired gratefully to our luxurious rooms, where amenities like tea-and-coffee stations, bathtubs, and soft beds (with little chocolates on the pillow!) were most welcome after a thrilling day.

We were woken early the next day. Early mornings are one of the best times for going out on a game drive. The unpleasantness of an early morning is almost unnoticeable in a place like this- sunrise in the African bush is definitely something worth waking up for.

After tea/coffee and biscuits, we set out on safari once again.

An unexpected and wonderfully special treat awaited us on our safari today. After driving for a while, Andre stopped the vehicle in a small clearing. We were then asked to disembark. With excitement (and a little trepidation), we followed him along a path. He stopped to point out interesting plants and trees, and, thrillingly, some lion prints! A short way away, a spectacular view over a dry riverbed greeted us. We followed Andre down the path into the ravine, where, under an overhang, we came to a rock art site.

Many times, when you visit a famous or important historical place, the experience can sometimes be diminished by the presence of newer, more modern developments that have appeared or been built around it. This isn’t true of the rock art sites in Kaingo Reserve. Out here in the wilderness, surrounded by the pristine bushveld that has remained unchanged for thousands of years, you are easily transported back in time. You can see the Bushmen painting the art without even closing your eyes. You can imagine the Khoisan standing right in front of you, conducting a religious ritual.

We spent a long while at the site, Andre explaining the various stories and meanings behind the incredible artwork. We visited two beautiful sites on our drive, but Andre informed that us that these were just two of many on the reserve. Kaingo can arrange specialised rock art safari packages for anyone who is interested in this fascinating subject.

The second notable experience on our morning safari was seeing a large herd of sable antelope. These are stunningly graceful creatures, with rich black-and-brown coats and formidable horns. They are also endangered, and it’s a special privilege to be able to see them in the flesh. We were introduced to Prince, the patriarch of the herd, whose distinctly large horns and unmistakably self-important expression showed that he knew exactly who the boss was.

Much to our delight, a giraffe ambled over into the midst of the antelope, who were supremely unconcerned by the arrival of their tall visitor. As we sat in the vehicle with this extraordinary scene in front of us, it felt as though we were sitting at a drive-in theater watching a National Geographic documentary- with the smells of the bush as a bonus!

We returned to the lodge in time for a hearty breakfast out on the deck, before getting ready for a reluctant departure. The end of our stay had arrived all too quickly. Our bags were packed, our car was waiting. But Kaingo had one last parting gift for us. Just as we made our way through the garden to reception, our farewell party arrived: two enormous elephants, with a young bull in tow! The magnificent creatures had come right up to the lodge’s perimeter fence. We were able to stand just metres away from them as they munched away on the grass, completely oblivious to the awestruck humans ogling them. We were utterly delighted; there is nothing quite as breathtaking as being so close to such majestic animals. A truly wonderful send-off!

They say it’s the little things that make a big difference- and this is certainly true at Kaingo. From the fresh warm towels waiting for us when we arrived or returned from a game drive, to the personalized water flasks that we were allowed to keep, to the welcoming postcards with our names added by hand, to the adorable elephant-shaped towels on the beds- it was these original and personal touches that put the cherry on top of an already incredible experience.

As we got ready to start our journey back home, the sense of time being warped was palpable again. We had only arrived at Kaingo the previous day, but in less than 24 hours, we had been treated to a wealth of sights and experiences. And while it felt like we’d been there for ages, it also didn’t feel like enough.

Visit Kaingo. You won’t regret it.

Something Different: Non-motorised Safaris

The mention of an African safari usually conjures up images of bushveld landscapes, gravel roads, and 4x4s. While traditional game drives in open safari vehicles are still one of the best ways to experience a classic African safari, a variety of new safari methods are now on offer. These non-motorised safari techniques offer fresh and unique ways to explore the African wilderness.

Walking safaris

Walking safaris are undoubtedly one of the most thrilling ways to experience a safari. Being on foot allows to you experience your surroundings up close and in a much more personal way than you would in a vehicle. You are able to take in every little detail; you can see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste your surroundings! Encountering wildlife on foot will bring an unforgettable rush of adrenaline.

Plenty of safari destinations now offer guided walking safaris- but one of the best places for this experience is the South Luangwa in Zambia.

Horseback Safaris

Explore the African wilderness in the same way that early travelers and explorers once did- on horseback! As with a walking safari, a horseback safari allows you to get much closer to your surroundings than a vehicle would. There is a wonderful variety of parks and reserves that offer guided horseback safaris, catering for everyone from young children and beginners to experienced riders. Explore iconic safari destinations like the Kruger, the Masai Mara, and Victoria Falls on horseback, or chose to visit places such as the Tswalu Kalahari or Ant’s Nest Reserves in South Africa. You can even choose to do a multi-day horseback trail in the Mashatu region of Botswana.

Mokoro Safaris

A mokoro is a traditional dugout canoe that is mainly used for water-based safaris in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana. The guide stands on a flattened platform at the back of the boat, propelling it using a long pole. You are taken on an exciting journey along the waterways and channels of the area, using your unique vantage point to help you spot wildlife species.

While Botswana is the prime mokoro safari destination, a number of other regions where you can enjoy them as well, including Victoria FallsKafue National Park in Zambia, and Mana Pools in Zimbabwe. Excellent camps in Botswana to visit include Pom Pom Camp, Machaba Camp, and Pelo Camp.

Timbavati Lodges

Timbavati Nature Reserve is found in South Africa‘s Lowveld region, bordering the world-famous Kruger National Park. This private reserve comprises 53000 hectares of open woodlands, mopane tree belts, rocky outcrops and dry river beds that teem with an abundance of wildlife and birdlife species. The reserve is also home to the iconic African Big 5. Large herds of buffaloes and elephants are seen regularly, and it is a good place for spotting the elusive leopard. The Timbavati is also home to a rare and unique specie: the white lion. These stunning animals have been the subject of many books and documentaries.

A major advantage of visiting the Timbavati is that the reserve has a much lower density of lodges and camps than most other reserves and parks in the Lowveld. This means that there are much fewer safari vehicles on the roads, allowing for a more exclusive and less crowded safari experience, especially around game sightings.

The is a small selection of lodges found in the reserve, offering accommodation options to suit various budget types, from super luxury to mid-range to more affordable. These are some of the best lodges and camps to stay at when visiting the Timbavati:

Walker’s River Camp

This self-catering camp is set on the banks of the Klaserie River, and is the perfect option for families and groups. It accommodates a maximum of ten guests in en-suite chalets. Each chalet has its own private outdoor shower, as well as mosquito netting on the beds. The kitchen is fully-equipped and has a gas stove, fridge, freezer, oven and microwave. The lodge has to be booked out it its entirety by one group, making it perfect for those a budget. Guided game drives and bush walks are offered to guests, providing thrilling encounters with wildlife in the reserve. Relax with family and friends after an exciting day of game-viewing: enjoy a drink around the pool or a braai in the outdoor boma.

Umlani Bush Camp

Umlani Bush Camp is a charming, rustic safari camp set in the heart of the Timbavati. This delightful camp provides a genuine wilderness experience and the chance to truly reconnect with nature. The accommodation is made up of traditional-style round huts. Each hut is constructed from reed and thatch, helping them to blend wonderfully with the surrounding wilderness. The huts have en-suite bathrooms, open-air bush showers, comfortable beds with crisp white linen, draped mosquito netting, and soft towels- all ensuring comfort in the bush. Enjoy waterhole views from the bush bar and deck, cool down in the sparkling pool, end enjoy award-winning meals in the outdoor boma.

Kings Camp

This ultra-luxury lodge is the perfect destination for those who want to experience their African safari in the ultimate style and comfort. It is designed in a colonial style, with lavish decor and classic, antique-style furniture. The lodge is set among beautiful gardens and overlooks a busy waterhole- you can watch the wildlife come to drink while sitting back and enjoying a cold drink or reading a book. The service is exceptional and the staff cater to guests’ every need. The spacious rooms are air-conditioned with en-suite bathrooms, as well as secluded outdoor showers. Facilities include a pool, gym, spa, library, business centre and WiFi connectivity. There is also a private 4-bedroom luxury villa, where guests can enjoy the services of their own personal butler, chef, game ranger sand game-viewing vehicle.

Serengeti Walking Safari

The Serengeti in Tanzania is one of Africa’s most iconic safari destinations. The wide open plains of grassland and savannah are home to thriving populations of Africa’s quintessential wildlife species, including vast numbers of plains game, fearsome predators, and the famous African Big 5.

While it is true that African safaris are traditionally conducted in open game-viewing vehicles, there are many other unique and exciting ways in which the African wilderness can be explored. A walking safari is one of the most thrilling ways to have an African bushveld experience. On a walking safari, you are able to connect with your surroundings in a much more intimate and up-close way.

These Serengeti walking safari tours are led by experienced guides and armed rangers, who will enhance your game-viewing experience and make sure that you feel completely safe out in the wilderness. You are also accompanied by a safari chef and camp assistant, all of who will ensure your safety and comfort, and strive to ensure that you have the best possible game-viewing opportunities.

There are two walking safari tour options: a 7-day/6-night tour, or a 5-day/4-night tour. On the tours, you spend approximately 4 to 5 hours a day walking, with some of the nights spent at luxury wilderness safari lodges, and others out “camping” under the stars in the African bush. The “camps” are fully-equipped and feature walk-in dome tents, bedding and mattresses, bush toilets and showers, mess tents, chairs, fridges/cool boxes, and camp lighting.

The tours are conducted in pristine wilderness areas inside the Serengeti National Park, away from busy crowds and safari vehicles. The 7-day/6-night tour also includes a visit to the Ngorongoro Crater, another of Tanzania’s iconic wildlife destinations, where wildlife is found in abundance and the chances of spotting the members of the Big 5 are high. There is also the option of stopping at the Olduvai Gorge, a world-renowned paleoanthropological site. Guided game drives are also included in the safari tour package- but it is the walking safaris that are the undoubted highlight.

What is there to do in Victoria Falls?

Victoria Falls in one of the most iconic travel destinations in Africa, and indeed the world. Magnificent and breathtaking, the Falls are known locally as the “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, or the “Smoke that Thunders”. The name refers to the smoke-like appearance of the spray that is generated as the mighty Zambezi River plummets 100m into the yawning gorge below. The Falls provide the perfect base from which to enjoy a variety of adventure and safari activities.

For the more adventurous, there are several hair-raising activities to try. The Victoria Falls Bungee Jump is one of the most incredible bungee jumps that anybody can experience. It is 111 metres high, one of the highest in the world. Its setting against the backdrop of the Falls only makes it more spectacular.

Adrenaline junkies can also have a go on the Victoria Falls Bridge Swing. The swing is done from the railway bridge that spans the Second Gorge of the Falls, linking the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Those looking for a more relaxed experience can enjoy a leisurely boat cruise down the Zambezi. Or, just take a tour of the Falls, simply to marvel at their brilliance.

The splendour of the Falls can also be witnessed from above. Soar above them in a helicopter or microlight aircraft. Aptly known as the “flight of angels”, this is one of the best ways to see the Falls.

Wildlife lovers will also find plenty to appreciate in the region. The area surrounding the Falls is a national park and protected area. Wildlife species are found here in abundance. Experience a safari in a unique way on a boat, canoe or horseback safari, exploring the channels of the Zambezi and the surrounding forest and riverine bush. Look out for species such as hippo and elephant. You can also embark on a traditional game drive into the adjacent Zambezi National Park, for a chance to spot the famous African big 5.

The Zambezi is also an excellent fishing destination. You can try your hand at catching one of the more than 75 species found in the waters, including the elusive tiger fish, one of the most sought-after fish in the world. Guided fishing tours are offered, and the boats are fully-equipped.

Uganda Safari Tour

Uganda is a small landlocked country located in East Africa. It is one of the continent’s top safari and wildlife destinations, and is known as “The Pearl of Africa”, due to its breathtaking beauty and diverse habitats. These include everything from vast savannah plains, to snow-capped mountains, to dense rainforests. The country offers a host of unique attractions and experiences that will delight even the most experienced safari-goer.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the country’s most well-known destinations. It is made up of thickly forested slopes that are home to one of the most fascinating creatures in the world- the endangered mountain gorilla. In Bwindi, you can hike through the forest to track the gorillas and see these incredible creatures in the flesh in their natural habitat- an awe-inspiring experience. There are a number of well-established lodges, camps and tour operators that offer excellent accommodation and guided treks in the park.

Wildlife lovers can enjoy a big-game safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This stunning park features rolling hills, grasslands and acacia woodlands, and is home to an incredible diversity of big game species, as well as over 600 species of birds. The Ishasha region of the park is famous for its population of tree-climbing lions, a fascinating species.

Visitors to Uganda can also stop by the town of Jinja. It is here that the source of the mighty River Nile is found. The world’s longest river, the Nile goes on to flow through eight other African countries before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

The snow-capped mountains of Rwenzori and the might Murchison Falls provide fantastic photography opportunities for visitors to Uganda. Murchison Falls National Park is the country’s oldest and largest park. It offers the chance to enjoy a wonderfully comprehensive safari experience: go on traditional game drives or walks to see the big game species, while also getting the chance to enjoy unique boating safaris on the river. Visit the spectacular Falls, and take part in adventure activities on the river.

Another unique destination in Uganda is Kibale National Park. It is found in the south of the country, and is home to one of the richest diversities of primates in Africa. Here, visitors have the unique opportunity to go on a chimpanzee-tracking safari, to see these these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.

Uganda is also an excellent destination for birders, with over 1000 species recorded, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Try out a special 10-day overland Uganda birding tour, on which you will visit all the main destinations in the country for a chance to experience its incredible birding opportunities.

Gorilla Safari Tour

For many nature and wildlife lovers, an African safari is top of their must-do list. When most people think of an African safari, what comes to mind are images such as vast savannah plains, fearsome predators on the hunt, and spectacular bushveld sunsets. But there are so many more life-changing safari experiences to be had on the incredible continent of Africa. One such experience is a gorilla safari tour.

On a gorilla safari tour, you are given the chance to trek through the dense rainforests of central Africa, as you search for the magnificent mountain gorillas that are only found in a handful of African countries. You are led by armed and experienced guides and trackers. When you finally come upon the gorillas, you spend some time in their presence, observing them as they go about their daily activities. Being in the presence of these gentle giants in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience that will resonate with you on a primal level, and is one that you won’t easily forget.

There are only three African countries in which it is possible to do a gorilla safari tour: Uganda, Rwanda, and the Republic of the Congo. These countries are home to a host of game reserves and national parks, each protecting and conserving the dense rainforests that house the endangered gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda is the prime destination for a gorilla safari tour, with several well-established lodges offering comfortable accommodation and excellent guided treks. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park offers exceptional gorilla safari tours, as well as a chance to see a host of other species, including buffalo, forest elephant, and giant forest hog. Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of the Congo is lesser-known, but is still a fantastic destination for a gorilla safari tour. This remote park is perfect for those seeking true wilderness, and its luxurious safari lodges complete the experience.

Victoria Falls Lodges

 Located on the border of the Southern African countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most iconic travel destinations. Here, the mighty Zambezi River plunges 100m over the edge of the basalt cliffs, crashing into the gorge below in a breathtaking rush of raw energy and power. The Falls are known locally as the “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, or “The Smoke that Thunders”, due to the incredible amount of spray that is generated by the force of the water.

The Falls provides the perfect base from which to experience a host of exhilarating adventure activities. Go bungee jumping, with the backdrop of the Falls adding an extra thrill. Take a leap and swing off the railway bridge that links Zambia and Zimbabwe. Witness the majesty of the Falls from above in a helicopter or microlight airplane. There are also options for those looking for a more relaxed experience. Enjoy leisurely cruises down the Zambezi, taking in the sunset, or embark on a unique horseback safari in the surrounding area.

There are a variety of accommodation options for those wanting a Victoria Falls holiday, suitable for various guest preferences and budget ranges.

For those who prefer to holiday in the ultimate style, a number of super-luxury lodges are found in the area. Thorntree River Lodge enjoys a gorgeous setting on the banks of the Zambezi, upstream of the Falls. It features facilities such as private plunge pools, secluded outdoor showers,  WiFi access, and a gym and spa overlooking the river.

The Elephant Camp is set within its own private concession just 10km away from the Falls. It affords wonderful views of the gorges and spray of the Falls from its ultra-luxury canvas suites. Each suite also features private decks with plunge pools, as well as outdoor showers.

Mid-range to luxury options include the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa. This resort-style lodge features various accommodation types to suit a variety of guest types, including families and disabled persons. Many of the rooms overlook the Zambezi, and the lodge has a full range of facilities, including a pool, spa and conference facilities.

Chundukwa River Lodge is another mid-range to luxury option. It is also set on the banks of the river, in a quiet, tranquil area. It is a 30-minute drive to the Falls, making it ideal for those who want to experience the Falls, but also unwind away from the crowds. Its African bush-style chalets are built on stilts with river views.

More affordable options include Greenfire Lodge Victoria Falls, which is located just outside of Victoria Falls Town. It features comfortable en-suite rooms, a sparkling pool, and a lovely garden.

Taita Falcon Lodge is also suited to the more budget-conscious. It enjoys a spectacular location above the Zambezi, overlooking the famous Batoka Gorge, just 11km from the Falls. Its charming grounds and gardens are home to a variety of plants and birds, with each en-suite room featuring its own private garden with outdoor showers.

Those looking for a self-catering option can stay at the charming and rustic Lokuthula Lodges, which feature fully-furnished units that are perfect for families and groups.