Where to go on a weekend in South Africa?
Dec 24th, 2009 01:08
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Southern Africa is becoming a new long-weekend destination for the
British. There's no time difference, the flights are overnight (both
ways), and you waste no precious daylight hours travelling.
The good news is that the aeroplanes depart around 8pm, so dinner;
sleeping and breakfast are at the right time in the right order. The
pleasure in travelling or sleeping overnight on a plane to South
Africa however is that you wake-up to a different and dramatic
landscape; fresh air and smiling warm faces and if you are lucky, some
snarling animals as well.
BEFORE YOUR GO
The best way to travel on your weekend is to pack light and travel
easy. The out-going flight is on Thursday, so carry a bag, small
enough to smuggle in and out of your office:
Hand luggage can include your binoculars, camera and
books you'll need on safari
Arrive at the airport well before time to have a glass
champagne and some smoked salmon at the Caviar House.
Travel in the loose chinos or combat trousers you'll
game drives, plus the baggy cotton or fleece jumper
Take a pure down baby pillow: it squashes up small,
cosy up to it on the plane and it's invaluable in the camps where
pillows are hard.
JOHANNESBURG - MAUN
Your wake-up call is a few thousand meters above Johannesburg. You
have the choice to eat on the aircraft or at the airport café that is
decent and above the excellent book- shop. Buy Sasol's illustrated
guide to the birds of southern Africa and the Sasol mammal book. This
is the old Africa hand's library; your guide will be dead impressed.
From Johannesburg, there's a comfortable connection to Maun in
Botswana. The two hour flight allows another opportunity for a nap or
a quick introductory lesson from your book. At Botswana, we change
into another plane for the last hop to adventure. The time to go to
Botswana is in our summer when the Okavango Delta swells with water
There is mystery and romance of the Okavango's waters. Much of the fun
in viewing wildlife here is by a boat. Some prefer the big boat but
the sound of silence is so potent that I prefer the traditional
makoro. As we glide slowly above water, Hippos pop up on each side. We
paddled to a far island where birds chatter volubly in the reeds. On
ground, there is a herd of buffalo munching the water meadows and
there are tracks of lion and elephant.
I spent my afternoon watching a fluffy, magnificent prince among
raptors � the rarest, Pel�s fishing owl. He stood there contemplating
us as I looked at him through my binoculars and hurriedly reading
notes in my bird book. In the sunset, that was one of the most
spectacular, we could see a lion pride feeding on a zebra.
En route to the tent we met the mamba, rampant, while I was withering
along behind the camp manager. But when someone freezes in the bush,
you shut up and freeze. The mamba dropped from its striking position
and slithered off. I saw the swish of the most scary tail in Africa.
Quite as bracing as my pre-lunch shower.
MOREMI WILDLIFE RESERVE
The next day, I flew to Khwai River Lodge in the Moremi Wildlife
Reserve that has a drier, harsher environment. Moremi lies in the
centre of the Okavango Delta. It is undoubtedly one of the world's
most beautiful wilderness areas. Moremi is a place of lily-covered
wetlands, grass plains and forests, where even at the busiest time of
year you're likely to be the only spectators at even the most dramatic
The lion were at Khwai. Actually, the whole drama of life and death
was at Khwai. Wild dogs are back here � a rare treat � and a pack
drove a baby water buck into the river. The baby made piteous juvenile
water-buck noises, its mother was frantic, the wild dog hovered at the
river's edge. And the inevitable happened: the arrow-like ripple in
the river, the black little eyes (nature's periscopes), the snap, the
squeal, the thrashing hooves, the closing of the waters and Mr
Crocodile had served himself dinner.
The next morning, while on a drive with our guide, we breakfasted with
the lion. We were watching birth of a water buck in the reeds by the
river�s edge when our guide heard the roar of a lion in the distance.
Just as lechwe began its precarious journey in the wild, we drove into
The pride sat at their table without knife and fork but tidily eating
their breakfast, a zebra. A few feet away and in our Land Rover, we
opened our packed sandwiches. The lionesses regarded the vehicles with
a lack of interest bordering on contempt; were one to get out,
however, the time span between touching the ground and becoming a
second course would be minimal.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
Our next flight hop was to Chobe, often described as one of, if not
the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today. Savuti boasts one of
the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent.
Animals are present during all seasons, and at certain times of the
year their numbers can be staggering. Its uniqueness in the abundance
of wildlife and the true African nature of the region, offers a safari
experience of a lifetime.
The most remarkable feature of the Chobe National Park is its huge
concentration of elephants. But it's not just the elephants that make
this special park worth visiting. It's so wild, a leopard made a kill
in the Car park just before I. arrived and blood stains from a wild
dog kill were still visible nearby.
Savuti Channel, a strange waterway that seems to have a mind of its
own, bisects the park. The channel was dry for one hundred years, then
flooded abruptly in the 1950s and remained flooded till the 1980s,
when shiftings of the subterranean tectonic plates caused it to dry up
The journey home is a sleepy crash- out, arriving back in good time in
the morning. Jet lag? Ah, you don�t need to worry about that. There's
nothing but buzz, excitement and a heightened sense of living; about
going so far and seeing so much.
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