Southern Africa offers a wide variety of attractions. But if you are primarily interested in its wildlife, this is the safari to do. Moving from one world-class wilderness to the next, each with a very distinctive character and geography, it affords a spectacular insight into its wildlife and the landscapes they inhabit.
This safari heads off to some of Southern Africa’s wildest, most unadulterated wilderness areas.
It kicks off at Victoria Falls for a few days. From here you proceed to the remote and beautiful plains of Hwange National Park. Once the hunting grounds of Zimbabwean royalty, the mahogany and mopane forests hold one of the largest elephant populations on the continent, and game viewing is made easy by the paucity of water and the concentration of animals around the waterholes.
Matusadonna lies on the shores of Lake Kariba, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. This rugged, watery landscape holds large populations of wildlife. Buffalo are especially prominent and herds of up to 1 000 strong often congregate along the shoreline in the dry season. It is also home to the second largest population of lion in Africa.
The final stop in Zimbabwe is at Mana Pools, a lush riverine ecosystem spread out along the fertile floodplains of the Zambezi River. Its fertile soil supports tall stands of mahogany and ebony, and a rich variety and concentration of wildlife, making for a beautiful landscape full of life.
From here, the safari heads off to South Luangwa in Zambia, for some of the best game viewing on the continent. The immense Luangwa River, with its impressive oxbow lagoons, is one of the last remaining unspoilt rivers left on the continent, and South Luangwa is widely considered to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa.
This safari concludes in the wet, fertile high-altitude plains of the Kafue, with its stunning predator populations. The Kafue is a gigantic reserve of open plains, Miombo and Mponane woodlands, Teak forests, and meandering rivers - the ideal conclusion to two weeks in the heart of the African wilderness.
South Luangwa National Park is widely considered to be one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa. The immense Luangwa River, with its impressive oxbow lagoons, is the lifeblood of the South Luangwa National Park. It is one of the last remaining unspoilt water systems left on the continent, and the concentration of game along its length is one of the most intense in Africa. Founded in 1938, South Luangwa is the southernmost reserve out of the three national parks along the length of the Luangwa River, and is by far the most well known. Access to the reserve is very convenient by air, but there are no roads crossing the valley due to its size and rough terrain. This limited access has contributed greatly to the conservation of the area.
The Kafue is situated in the central part of western Zambia. It covers over 22 400km2, making it the second largest game reserve in Africa. The Kafue boasts 58 different species of mammal, and is home to more species of ungulate than any park south of the Congo Basin. The list includes rare and elusive antelope such as the blue and yellow-backed duiker, sitatunga, lechwe, roan, sable and hartebeest. This reserve is not a place to zoom about ticking off the Big 5, but a place in which to enjoy the sheer diversity found in very few other places on earth. The reserve is bisected from north to south by the river that gives the park its name. Miombo woodland dominates most of the reserve, with seasonally flooded plains or ‘Dambos’ interspersed throughout the region. Belts of spectacular teak forests and Mopane woodland occur in the central and southern sections of the reserve, while in the open grasslands, hundred-year-old termite mounds dot the landscape.
Approaching the Victoria Falls by aeroplane is awe-inspiring. If you press your face against the window like an impatient child, you will catch a glimpse of the Zambezi River from above, twinkling silver and blue, calm and deliberate as it drifts towards the inexorable precipice. And then all hell breaks loose. You will feel the Victoria Falls before you see them. It’s like pressing your chest against a bass speaker: the thundering of 500 000 cubic metres of water per minute reverberates though you as it plummets 108 metres into the mists beneath. Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, but it is the world's largest sheet of falling water. It is roughly twice the height of North America's iconic Niagara Falls and is rivalled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls. Apart from its natural splendour, Victoria Falls offers activities that range from the sedate (sunset cruises, steam train excursions, walks through the rain forest or canoeing above the Falls) to the extreme (bungee jumping and white water rafting below the Falls). Flights over the Falls by helicopter or microlight are mandatory.
Named after a local Nhanzwa chief, Hwange National Park is the largest park in Zimbabwe. The park is remote, and off the beaten track. It is accessible from the west through a tiny border post on the Botswana side at Pandamatenga, from the east from the Victoria Falls side, and, of course, by light aircraft. Hwange used to be the royal hunting grounds of the Ndebele warrior-king Mzilikazi in the early 19th Century, and was set aside as a national park in 1929. It is a charming remnant of a bygone age, when vast herds of antelope roamed the savannah. Hwange is home to the most beautiful forests. Its huge canopies of Albizias, Mahogany and Cathedral Mopanis will leave you breathless. Hwange has a tremendous variety of wildlife, and to crown it all one of the largest populations on the continent is found here.
Matusadona, or Matuzviadonha, means ‘falling dung’, and probably comes from the elephants and buffalo that roam the area, and the ‘parcels’ of fertiliser they leave behind. The park hugs the southwestern shoreline of Lake Kariba, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, stretching over 5 400km2. However, the lake was only built in the 1950s, and before then, this area was almost impossible to get to. Even now, access within the 1 500km2 reserve is mainly on foot or by boat from the Lake Kariba shoreline. The park holds strong populations of most mammals occurring in the Zambezi Valley. Buffalo are especially prominent and herds of up to 1 000 strong often congregate along the shoreline in the dry season. It is also home to the second largest population of lion in Africa and is one of the last strongholds of the black rhino. The game viewing opportunities here are endless, it is a true wilderness area – rugged and vast.
Mana Pools lies on the Zimabwean side of the Zambezi River, opposite the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. It is one of the most exciting places you will ever visit, and the only danger is that you will never want to leave. The word 'Mana' means four, in reference to the four pools around the park headquarters: Main, Chine, Long and Chisambik. They are actually not in the river, but on the mainland, in an area of deep, rich alluvial soil along the southern bank of the river. They owe their existence to the scouring action of the flooded river that created a number of elongated troughs that retain their water long after the flood have subsided. This area has a park-like appearance. Massive Acacia trees tower over what appears to be, from a distance at least, a carefully manicured lawn. Further away, a border of Mopani trees and Combretum scrub begins and there is a visible line, like some extraordinary tidemark, a browse line that exactly demarcates the height to which browsing animals can reach.
Overlooking the Luangwa River, deep within the richest game-viewing area of the South Luangwa National Park, Kaingo’s 6 riverbank chalets lie in a grove of ebony trees and are placed discreetly apart, designed with the sole purpose of transporting you safely into the world of the Luangwa without a single distraction. Kaingo Camp is open from the end of May until the end of October.
From each thatched chalet, large fly-wired windows provide stunning views of the river, and a tree-shaded outdoor bathtub offers views of a pod of hippos. A special feature is the private deck built out over the river, perfect for viewing game coming down to drink, basking hippos, aquatic birds, crocodiles, and daily elephant crossings.
South Luangwa is one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. The Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons is the best-preserved major river system in Africa, and is the lifeblood of this 9 050km2 park, making the concentration of game among the most intense in Africa.
The vast volume of species, including Crawshay’s zebra, the endemic Thornicroft’s giraffe and Cookson’s wildebeest, attracts many predators, and ten different leopards have been identified around the camp. As unpredictable as leopards can be, an incredible 95% of guests get to see these stunning cats. There are two very strong lion prides in the area, named the Mwamba Pride and the Hollywood pride; the latter being so named due to the vast amount of time documentary filmmakers have spent following them. The river has an extraordinarily high number of Nile crocodile and the forests here are magical.
The natural plant life in South Luangwa National Park is pristine, and it is easy to lose yourself in this world of huge tamarind and ebony forests. The park spans two different woodland eco-regions, and with large patches of floodplain grassland, the reserve is able to support a very wide variety of animals, including the near endemic Cookson’s wildebeest, Crawshay’s zebra, puku and Thornicraft’s giraffe. Out of the 732 bird species in Zambia, South Luangwa is home to over 400. Imagine flocks of dozens of crowned cranes gliding gracefully over open waters, as hundreds of hippo belligerently snort their displeasure at having to share their stretch of river with elephants, lions, leopards, and indeed any other visitor! South Luangwa holds the reputation of being one of the best locations for walking safaris. It is even possible to arrange a multi-day walking trip, where you stay overnight in luxury tented camps. Experiencing the bush on foot is a unique way of reconnecting with nature. South Luangwa is also one of the few places in the region that offers night safaris. Night time in the African bushveld is an entirely different kettle of fish. The predators are bolder – it is their time now – melting along game paths and roads, marking territory or searching for prey, while a whole new secret world of shy nocturnal creatures like bush babies, porcupines or genets begins to stir after their daytime slumber.
A true original in the heart of the Busanga Plains, Busanga Bush Camp is a remote, intimate safari camp with four well-appointed tents, set well apart on a wetland island, and shaded by wild fig trees and date palms. Each stylish and airy Meru-style tented chalet is appointed with two large queen-sized beds, wraparound windows, an en-suite bathroom that is open to the skies, and a shaded private wooden veranda.
Lying in the extreme north of Kafue National Park, the Busanga Plains are expansive seasonal floodplains that extend all the way to the horizon, covering an area of approximately 750km² of pristine wilderness. Lion are a major feature in the area, and kudu, zebra, buffalo, elephant, hippo and defassa waterbuck are often seen. Cheetah and wild dog can also be seen, while the resident herd of roan antelope is a special treat. Other great sightings include leopard, serval, porcupine, water mongoose, pangolin, caracal and side-striped jackal. As the grassy plains dry out at the end of summer, the camp is perfectly situated to see large numbers of plains game such as puku, red lechwe, oribi, buffalo and herds of wildebeest.
Kafue National Park is a fabulous giant of a reserve, and vast areas of the pristine and varied bushveld remain almost completely unexplored due to its immense size. The Kafue River, which bisects the park, is the only purely Zambian river, starting and ending within the borders of the country, and is the largest tributary of the Zambezi. The seasonal floodplains or ‘Dambos’ of the Kafue hold water until well after the rains, and become a frenzy of activity in the dry months. The large Busanga plains in the northwest of the reserve is the most productive game viewing area, and is also an important breeding ground for the endangered wattled crane. The Busanga lion prides are notorious, and they treat countless guests to fantastic sightings as they stalk through the long grass, hunting the herds of red lechwe, roan and buffalo. These herds are massive, and cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. The reserve is also renowned for some of the best leopard viewing in Africa. However, it is the cheetah population that sets Kafue apart from most of its counterparts. Cheetah only occur in the western parts of Zambia, and are absent from both Luangwa and The Zambezi Valley. Wild dog, Africa’s second most endangered predator behind the Ethiopian wolf, also occur here in good numbers on both sides of the river, and the reserve is heavily involved in research and conservation programs of both cheetah and wild dog.
Set in exquisite surroundings within a private Big 5 reserve, the Stanley and Livingstone is a glamorous Safari Lodge that combines stylish elegance with a sense of bygone grandeur and charmingly nostalgic decor. For a quintessential African experience, there is little to beat this magical destination.
The 16 exquisite thatched suites are large, air-conditioned and immaculately maintained. Each has a gracious lounge and a secluded patio that overlooks the tropical gardens and the constant flow of wildlife at the nearby waterhole. An outdoor jacuzzi is provided at the Honeymoon Suite. Inter-leading rooms are available for families. Nearby Ursula’s Camp is an intimate, private retreat and is perfectly suited to extended families or small groups. The 4 en-suite chalets, accommodating a total of eight guests, include a master chalet with lounge area and satellite television, a swimming pool and Wi-Fi throughout.
The Stanley and Livingstone is a fenced private game reserve bordering the Zambezi National Park. At least three of the Big 5 are sighted on most game drives, and wild dog, sable, eland, giraffe, hippo, crocodile, hyena, bushbuck, impala, baboon, kudu and waterbuck are also frequently sighted. But the highlight is often a close encounter with the ‘crash’ of endangered Black Rhino, some of which have been successfully bred on the property.
The Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls pulse with an annual flood cycle of high and low water. Summer rains in the upper reaches of its catchment area, in Angola and Zambia, flood the river, causing significant rises in its levels. At high water, the spray plume can rise up to 500 metres and is visible from over 20km away. During the dry winter months, before the regional rains return in November, the river recedes to a ribbon of water, and the Falls runs dry for much of its length. It is during the dry season that the sheer magnitude of the Falls can be truly appreciated. Clear of the shroud of spray, one can marvel at the solid rock walls of the gorge, worn smooth by the abrasive power of the water. However, the best time to view the Falls is probably between May and August, when the river is running at mid volume. Apart from being the biggest waterfall in the world by volume, what makes Victoria Falls special is that nature has provided man with a front row seat, as it were, from which to view the whole 1.7km width of the Falls. Except at the point where the river exits through the narrow channel into the whirlpool known as the Boiling Pot, it is possible to walk the whole length of the Falls through the Rain Forest and gaze at every part of this awe-inspiring spectacle.
Zimbabwe has the greater frontage of the Falls, and the deepest channels run along that side. This means that the Zimbabwean side of the Falls will still be running when the Zambian side has long dried up.
The Zambian side, on the other hand, is more intimate, and offers the chance of a swim literally on the lip of the Falls. Whichever side you stay on, take a day pass through to the other side so that you can experience the Falls from both perspectives.
Little Makalolo is a small and intimate camp. It is set on the edge of a waterhole in a section of the Hwange National Park that is known for its high density of game. Camp staff are friendly and warm, and the allure of the camp is perfectly complimented by the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings.
The 6 tented suites were designed with the perfect balance between luxury, comfort and the feeling of the untamed wild. The permanent floors and wooden doors allow some separation from the elements, while the indoor and outdoor showers and the private lookout decks in each suite offer the opportunity to immerse completely in the African bushvelt. The communal lounge, bar, dining and swimming areas are spacious, relaxed and sophisticated, and have magnificent views of the open plains and the waterhole in front of the camp.
Hwange National Park is the largest Park in Zimbabwe, occupying roughly 14 650 square kilometres, and boasts a remarkable variety of wildlife, with over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 bird species recorded, and one of the largest elephant populations in the world.
Hwange National Park occupies roughly 14 650km2, and boasts a tremendous selection of wildlife, with over 100 species of mammals and nearly 400 species of bird recorded. It is the only protected area in Zimbabwe where gemsbok and brown hyena occur in good numbers. The elephants of Hwange are world famous, and the Park's elephant population is one of the largest on the continent. The north and northwest of the park are drained by the Deka and Lukosi rivers and their tributaries, and the far south is drained by the Gwabadzabuya River, a tributary of the Nata River. Aside from that, there are no rivers in the park, although there are fossil drainage channels, which form seasonal wetlands. In these dry sections, pans, grassy depressions and a number of man-made waterholes form oases that attract animals in their droves. Sightings at these points are varied and afford exciting opportunities to see animals at their best. On occasion, visitors are even treated to a stalk and kill, as leopards and lions often lie in wait of the unsuspecting antelopes.
Nestled into the surrounding bush, Changa Safari Camp is a sanctuary of peace and seclusion with 8 luxury tents, including two that cater for families, set in an idyllic landscape. Each luxury en-suite tent is tastefully decorated and with unique African influences, from rustic wood and leather to woven basketry and locally crafted furniture; and features an outdoor bath and shower. The views from the private verandas are incredible and add to the sense of spaciousness and freedom.
Matusadona National Park covers an area of 1 400km2. Its northernmost natural boundary is Lake Kariba. Changa Safari Camp’ concession includes a four-and-a-half kilometre section of shoreline which ensures the privacy of this luxurious tented camp. Elephants that have adapted to a semi aquatic lifestyle, frequent the shoreline, as do buffalo and numerous species of antelope, their feeding patterns governed by the ever-changing levels of the lake. Lion, leopard, hyena and cheetah occur in good numbers and a few endangered black rhino are found here.
Although the Matusadona National Park is largely unknown, in comparison to its more famous counterparts, the contrast between lake, mountains and flat open plains offer such a wide variety of opportunities that it should be high up on any visitor’s list. Lake Kariba is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, and the showpiece of the reserve. But its construction was not without its dramatic moments. After the dam wall was completed in the 1950s, Lake Kariba filled much more rapidly than was anticipated, and many of the animals were rescued in Operation Noah, one of the most dramatic animal rescue operations ever undertaken anywhere in the world. Led by Rupert Fothergill, teams of game rangers and volunteers ferried over 5 000 creatures in makeshift boats to the shoreline. To this day colourful stories of these men and their wild rescue adventures capture the imagination of all who visit. And then there is the legend about the river god Nyami Nyami who was so distraught at being separated from his wife, who was trapped on the other side of the floodgate, that he almost destroyed construction works in two massive floods, and only allowed the dam wall to be completed after he had been placated by the local tribe. Apart from the rich variety of wildlife, there are over 240 different species of birds to search for. The crocodiles here grow to storybook sizes, and there is nothing quite like watching a 6- metre monster glide silently through the shallows, only to disappear without so much as a ripple.
Situated on the western boundary of Mana Pools National Park, Ruckomechi Camp lies on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River and offers superb views of the mountains of Africa's Great Rift Valley across the river in Zambia. The camp is shaded by a canopy of acacia and mahogany trees and is known as the elephants' favourite camp because the albida trees dotted through camp are much loved for their tasty pods. It accommodates guests in spacious en-suite tents, including a honeymoon suite, all of which open out onto wooden verandas overlooking the Zambezi River. Each tent has both indoor and outdoor showers.
Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site that lies at the heart of the Zambezi Valley. It is a remote, beautiful place with spectacular views. The area offers large concentrations of buffalo and elephant, while predators such as lion, wild dog, leopard and cheetah are often sighted. Greater kudu, Burchell's zebra, impala, warthog and common waterbuck can be seen on the plains and the grunting of hippo can be heard all day.
The mighty Zambezi River flows from Lake Kariba through the Lower Zambezi Valley on its way to Mozambique. Over the millennia, it has created a tapestry of islands, channels and sandbanks in this valley. And as it meanders along, it leaves trails of mineral-rich volcanic soils in its wake, supporting the tall stands of mahogany and ebony that gather around its small oxbow lakes. This abundance of water and luxuriant greenery accounts for the valley's wealth of big game. Mana Pools has Zimbabwe’s biggest concentration of hippopotamus and crocodile, and large dry season populations of elephant and buffalo. There is a wide variety of birds, and the game is very relaxed about people on foot, making Mana Pools one of Africa's best parks for walking safaris. But it is not only by Land Rover or on foot that the excitement of the area can be enjoyed. Guided canoe trails are an incredible way to experience the river at first hand. Every kind of wild animal and bird is viewed at close quarters as the canoes glide silently past. One can drift within metres of grazing buffalo, slide by sleeping crocodiles, watch wading elephants and enjoy a sense of openness, freedom and a feeling of being totally at one with the environment that is hard to match elsewhere.
This safari commences and ends in Johannesburg, South Africa