Spying a female leopard through a blanket of long grass; taking helicopter rides over the thundering Victoria Falls; sleeping in beautiful lodges with views of wild hippos. Nowhere else but Africa can this be true.
This year I was lucky enough to travel with my husband Stephen to Zimbabwe and Botswana on a tailor-made 10-day journey with &Beyond that was filled with majestic wildlife encounters, authentic cultural experiences and unsurpassed luxury.
Less than 10 minutes after arriving into &Beyond Matetsi River Lodge we were told: “do not to leave your room – there is a lioness in camp”. Then they came to get us and off we went on our first game drive, tracking her within half an hour of arriving. We found the lioness and it was an absolutely beautiful sight to see.
On another game drive in Savute National Park, we were surrounded by a breeding herd of 30 or more elephants and passed by this a teeny little baby elephant looking for his mum. Then, on a water safari at Xudum, we passed through hippo pathways on the water. Now I can say without doubt, the Okavango Delta is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been!
Africa is all about these kinds of once-in-a-lifetime wilderness encounters.
More relaxing than a beach holiday…
What came as a bit of a surprise was just how relaxing it all was. I think we relaxed more than if we were on a beach holiday.
My husband and I have such busy, busy lives and we are always connected via our phones. That we were able to put them aside and just go out for up to four hours looking for game and admiring the stunning scenery, and just stop. It was amazing.
The ‘under canvas’ aspect of the trip was also sensational for that. I am NO camper, but I absolutely loved the mobile camp at &Beyond Savute Under Canvas and sleeping in a fully serviced tent in true &Beyond style!
Lodges where luxury meets nature…
My husband and I stayed at four different &Beyond lodges while we travelled Botswana and Zimbabwe – all stunning and unique. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but here’s a glimpse:
Why &Beyond Matetsi River Lodge?
It’s located on the mighty Zambezi River – imagine dining outdoors while watching hippos bathing! Its proximity to Victoria Falls and stunning pool villas also make this lodge really special.
Why &Beyond Savute Under Canvas?
Here it’s all about the mobile camping experience. The food and the small team here is amazing. I think I could become a camper after this – as long as I had Swallow and his team to look after me! I’ll never forget being sung the Setswana ‘goodbye song’ by all the team as we drove off… It made me quite emotional.
Why &Beyond Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge?
This lodge is special as it’s right on the Okavango Delta waterways. Many of the activities are water-based. I loved going out on the flat-bottomed boats, surrounded by water lilies that make everything smell of honey, seeing the stunning dragonflies, tiny frogs and the sunsets! So very, very special.
Why &Beyond Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge?
This is the largest lodge we stayed at and it’s architecturally and visually arresting, yet warm and welcoming. The food was sensational and I had a massage in the spa which was divine.
A moving African feast for the senses…
The dining highlight of the trip for me was the food at &Beyond Savute Under Canvas, at the mobile tented camp. The chef there was absolutely fantastic; to produce the loveliest meals for us – especially the ‘sticky chicken and cous cous salad’ – on a two-burner camp stove and a fire oven was truly amazing.
He gave us a little tour of his kitchen tent and the quality of the food was on par with that served from all of the lodges with their big kitchens we dined at.
I think we enjoyed the meal even more as we dined outside with Swallow, the Camp Manager, and Sam our Ranger/Guide. Their love of Savute and their obvious pride in their homeland and all of the stories they told us around the campfire made it a pretty special experience.
Authentic local encounters to remember…
Everywhere we went, we met so many fascinating locals and were able to gain such authentic insights into the local culture.
When we were at Victoria Falls, we invited Abraham – who was our guide for the day – to sit with us for afternoon tea and we asked him all sorts of questions about his life and the recent history of Zimbabwe in general. He was open, honest and a genuine delight to talk to.
He told us about his family life and the culture of the local Zimbabweans. He explained their ‘city’ life and their tribal ‘bush’ life and how the country was coping after the recent civil war. He was such a positive force – it was really amazing to get the feel of a country that is often in the news in a negative context. He made me so hopeful for Zimbabwe’s future.
Everyone needs to have Abraham as a guide in Vic Falls!
Colourful fabrics and cultural designs…
Another aspect I loved about travelling Africa was seeing the beautiful fabrics and beading. I love fashion and design and this aspect of the local women really amazed me. Their beautiful head wraps and scarves, the patterns on the fabric… it was mesmerising. I bought some beautiful dresses from a local designer in the most amazing African prints for my little girls. They are so colourful and bright and like nothing you could ever buy here in Australia. They absolutely love them.
Souvenirs the whole family will love…
The Field Guides that &Beyond provided us with to note down the game and beautiful birds we viewed on our drives were very popular souvenirs with my little girls when we got back as well!
Why Botswana and Zimbabwe?
Botswana is a beautiful place that is easy to traverse for travellers. It's a neat and compact country where you get the very best of Africa but in a smaller package. The people are warm, generous and spiritual, the game viewing is sensational and the scenery is downright stunning.
In Zimbabwe, the people are incredibly resilient. Zimbabwe is also blessed to have Victoria Falls on its lands – a real ‘bucket list’ destination. It’s also a lovely and charming town to visit. I’ll never forget our helicopter ride over the thundering waters of the falls. It’s an absolute must-do highlight.
Travel tips to keep in mind….
I would recommend packing some antihistamines and eye drops! Even if you don’t suffer from allergies, the grasses and dust can play havoc with your senses as you’re sitting in open-sided vehicles for hours at a time. Little things like this are almost impossible to come by once you are ‘in camp’, so take a mini medical kit with you.
Also, a cotton scarf came in handy to wrap around my face when the grasses got a bit dry and dusty.
Don’t forget to pack…
Definitely your camera and extra camera batteries!
There is nothing that I would not recommend from my own experience. It was simply outstanding from start to finish.
If Africa is on your bucket-list, talk to Ann-Catherine today to plan the perfect holiday, filled with majestic wildlife encounters, authentic cultural experiences and unsurpassed luxury.