Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Here kitty kitty!

I bet those of you who have never visited Africa are sitting there in front of your computer with a nice cup of coffee and a Tim Tam, reading this, and wondering what a day in an African safari lodge would be like. No? Well, I’ll tell you anyway.

Your day starts at about 6am with a knock on the door and cheery “Good Morning!” from your guide whose job it is to wake you up and suffer the abuse of those guests with hideous hangovers. You then make your way up to the main lodge where a welcome cup of coffee and a biscuit or rusk is waiting for you. I should warn you about these rusks. They are delicious but on no account should you attempt to eat them without first dipping them in your coffee to soften them up, they’re as hard as house bricks.

Coffee consumed, guests are then ushered onto their game viewing vehicles, usually an open landrover or landcruiser. It can be very cold on winter mornings so rug up. The lodge always provides blankets and sometimes even hand muffs.

To those who have never before done a game drive it often comes as quite a shock to see a tracker precariously perched on a seat bolted to the vehicle’s bull bar. It’s his job to look for animal tracks and the driver will follow his directions. It’s also his job to look cool and unfazed as lions wander around the truck, pausing now and again to sniff at his feet. The fact is that the animals become familiar with the vehicles, their smell and shape and they don’t view them as a threat, and certainly not as food. You’ll be given a short safety talk at the start of the drive. “Don’t stand up.” “Don’t make loud noises.” “Don’t leap out of the vehicle yelling here kitty kitty when you see a leopard.” That kind of thing.

Halfway through the morning game drive you’ll stop for coffee and more rusks and then it’s back to the lodge for a huge, well earned brunch. You’ll then have the rest of the day to relax, swim, read or whatever before afternoon tea is served at about 3pm. Then it’s off on the afternoon game drive – more great animal adventures with a sundowner drinks break at sunset. Dinner is served at the lodge at about 8pm – and what a dinner! The food at these lodges is first class. There’s plenty of time to sit around discussing the day’s excitement before waddling off to bed with a distended stomach looking forward to doing it all again the following day.

7 Day Phinda & Elephants Adventure from $2295 per person.
Set within easy reach of the Indian Ocean coastline and the famous iSimangaliso / Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Phinda Private Game Reserve is known for its abundant wildlife, diversity of habitats and wide range of activities. The reserve is a leader in the conservation and rehabilitation field for the reintroduction of both flora and fauna.

Phone 0449 689 447 0r email

Thursday, April 22, 2010

24 Hours in Africa

Imagine if you could only spend twenty four hours in Africa - any country you like, but only twenty four hours. Apart from being extremely unlikely and hugely frustrating, where would you go and what would you choose to see? Well, here are a few ideas for you just in case.

In alphabetical order, here's my choice for a few of Africa's 47 countries.

Botswana - The Okavango Delta. A vast inland river delta draining into the Kalahari Desert. Teeming with wildlife.

Chad - Errrmm. I'm sure the people are very nice.

Egypt - The pyramids at Giza obviously.

Ethiopia - The Simien Mountains. Stunning scenery and home to gelada baboons and the very rare Ethiopian wolf.

Kenya - Gosh, hard to choose, but let's say the Maasai Mara, especially during the wildebeest migration.

Mali - Djenne. An ancient mud city on the Niger River.

Mauritania - Great sand.

Morocco - Marrakech. A fascinating red city at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.

Mozambique - The Barra Peninsula. Beautiful clear water with great scuba diving.

Namibia - Etosha National Park. A unique wildlife habitat.

South Africa - Cape Town. Wow! What scenery! Great food, wine and enthralling history.

Tanzania - Ngorongoro Crater. a vast extinct volcano packed with incredible wildlife.

Uganda - Bwindi National Park. Visit the highly endangered mountain gorillas.

Zambia - South Luangwa National Park. Brilliant walking safaris for an up close and personal wildlife experience.

Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls. Simply breathtaking.

All these countries have many other attractions (except maybe Chad and Mauritania), but remember you've only got twenty four hours. At least you won't need much luggage.

From $2920 for 14 days.

Highlights include: Sunset cruise in Chobe Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi pans, Bush walk, Game Drive in the Moremi National Park, Maun, Khwai River Game Drive and Night Drive, 2-Day Okavango Delta experience including Mokoro excursion, Mahangu National Park, Popa Falls, Western Caprivi, Eastern Caprivi, River cruise on the Kwando River, Game Drive in Mudumu National Park, Victoria Falls.

Phone 0449 689 447 or email

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Marrakech and the Spitfire Pilot

Anyone who's read a Wilbur Smith novel (and most of you have judging by the size and quality of his personal wine cellar near Cape Town) will know that Africa is a continent of romance and high adventure. It is a fact that hardly anyone visits that particular continent only once. Nearly everybody returns. Ask anyone, it steals your heart.

I remember standing as a seventeen year old at Europa Point, Gibraltar gazing out across the choppy straits at the hazy, rugged Rif mountains of Morocco less than twenty kilometres away. There were adventures to be had beyond those arid mountains - the wild animals, the incredible variety of cultures, the scenery, the vast plains, the deserts, the mountains. I wanted to see it all, but where t0 start?

Well, Marrakech as it happens. I went with my mother on a chartered day trip organised for the families of Gibraltar's RAF personnel. We were to fly south across the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges in a creaky old Viscount piloted by a former (and equally creaky) world war two Spitfire pilot. He used to take great pleasure in alarming his passengers by announcing -
"We're about to make out first attempt at landing. Please fasten your seat belts" every time he made the final approach to Gibraltar's notoriously difficult and rather short runway. But that's another story.

Marrakech was hot, hazy and hectic - and very red. All the buildings are red, the earth is red. We spent most of the afternoon in the Djemma El Fna (The Meeting Place of the Dead.) Its a huge square brimming with food stalls, snake charmers, acrobats, boxing matches, water sellers in garish traditional outfits, donkey carts - their drivers yelling "Balek! Balek!" (Look out. Look out.) as they ploughed through the crowd.

Then there was the souk - a labyrinthine market spilling through dozens of snaking, narrow alleys, a thorough assault on the senses. More food stalls, carpet shops, aromatic sandalwood carvings and camel leather souvenirs cascading from shopfronts. The tannery - what a smell, they use sheep urine apparently.

Then finally back on the bus, my mother chased by a man brandishing a large, rather cross cobra insisting that she pay him for a sneaky photo she took while she though he wasn't looking. Back on the ancient Viscount and home - totally exhausted by the whole experience, but with an enhanced hunger for more African adventures.

Experience medieval Morocco in Fes, Discover the ruins of one sultan's Versailles dream in Meknes, Have a camping adventure on the sandy dunes of the Sahara, Have lunch with locals in a kasbah, Trek through the impressive Todra Gorge, Relax with mint tea in remote Imlil, Kick back in the stunning coastal town of Essaouira, Indulge your senses in the souqs of Marrakech, Explore the fortified city of Ait Benhaddou.
Phone 0449 689 447 or email

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Africa. You Simply Must Go!

Africa? Why would I want to go there?

I hear that all the time and I try not to take it personally. As an African travel specialist its my job to persuade them that they're not going to get mugged the second they step off the plane in Johannesburg, or eaten by a lion if they leave their Nairobi hotel.

The African continent is the second love of my life. I say that because my wife may read this blog. Actually we met on a steamy West African beach in 1985 and slogged across the Sahara to Tunis via Timbuktu in a Bedford truck. See, I'm still here - safe as houses. The only crime we encountered was perpetrated on an official level by the Algerian government who insisted that we changed 300 US dollars into Algerian dinars and spend it all in the 5 days we would take to cross the country. Believe me, it's very hard to spend 300 US dollars in 5 days in Algeria if you have no use for a second hand camel.

In 35 years of travel throughout Africa I have never so much as witnessed a single crime, let alone been the victim of one. What I'm trying to say is that a visit to most parts of Africa will not end in you being shot, robbed, eaten or trampled. It will result in memories of beautiful, kind people, stunning scenery and hundreds of photos of Africa's exciting wildlife. You're also likely to be planning your next trip before you get home. It's a fact that most visitors to Africa will return, so be prepared to fall in love - again and again.