Staying in a tent or cave with an en-suite bathroom, getting up close and personal with the wild animals — you can expect the unexpected when you go on a luxury safari in southern Africa.
Wolwedans Dune Camp/Lodge: This desert area features stark scenery — golden grass savannah, purple mountain ranges, spectacularly clear star-gazing, and creatures small and large, from white dancing spider to oryx.
Little Kulala: Here in the Namib Desert each beautifully curved red sand dune invites you to climb up its sharply defined ridge where sunlight meets shadow.
San Camp: A meerkat might climb on to your lap, to gain some height for that famous lookaround pose as you sit on the ground near their burrows. Then you meet the Bushmen, who chatter away happily in their click language as they introduce you to their traditional way of life.
Vumbura Plains: Lions, leopards, giraffes, hippos, warthogs, kudu, painted dogs, baboons — all the animals roam free. You see them during the day, you hear them at night.
Elephant Camp: “Walk-ing with Sylvester” literally means walking with and patting a three-year-old cheetah, who has been raised as an orphan. With your face inches away from his head, you feel privileged to be allowed to be so close to him.
Somalisa: You walk out of your luxury tented camp — and look directly into an elephant’s eyes, barely a metre away. Is this when you are supposed to blow the emergency airhorn? Well, no. This is just another one of those amazing, unexpected on-safari moments.
Amalinda: Hike half an hour up to a cave in the Matapos area to see well-preserved and amazingly realistic rock art. Amalinda also supports several local community initiatives you can visit, including an orphanage and a school.
Of course, the true test of a well-planned trip — especially to a remote area — is what happens when something goes wrong.
“As long as the travellers have done their preparation properly — taken out travel insurance, filled out the pre-departure health form — then the travel agent and camps should be able to react immediately,” says Monika Korn of The Safari Source.
Notified of my chipped tooth and cracked eyeglass lens when we were staying at Little Kulala camp, Korn contacted fellow travel agent Ernst Wallner, of Namibian Life Travel, in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, where we had a brief stopover the next day.
Little Kulala invoked its medical emergency insurance to make sure the bush plane picked us up first thing in the morning rather than at the scheduled afternoon time. So when Wallner met us at the Windhoek airport, he had already made appointments for me to see a dentist and optometrist.
“It’s so important to deal with an agent who has on-the-ground experience, resources and local contacts, and who has chosen camps that really take care of their guests,” Korn said.
At Vumbura Plains, where we realized we’d left behind a camera charger, concession manager Roger Carloni arranged for a replacement to be flown out on the next day’s bush plane — without cost to us.
Editor’s note: Coast Reporter personal finance columnist and travel writer Mike Grenby teaches journalism at Bond University on Australia’s Gold Coast.