Christmas in The Bush!
This was one of my most fun safaris to date. The trip was in celebration of Helen’s 60th birthday and I couldn’t have imagined a more fun family (thank you the Cardons and Masons) to spend Christmas with. If you’ve ever wondered if the Green Season/Summer Season (and the most affordable time of year) in Botswana and Zambia are a good time to be on safari the resounding answer is yes. We had an incredible time and outstanding sightings of animals, made even more possible by the mix of Delta and Desert locations. This is how our trip went…
Day 1 – 4 – Chitabe Camp, Okavango Delta
It was so wonderful to arrive in Botswana and see the bush looking so green after the recent summer rains and to see a little more water flowing in the Delta channels. 2019 had been a tough year of drought for the area and the parched landscape was in serious need of the rain.
A herd of elephants leaves a small pan system after a drink and a cooling mud wallow. The much-needed rain bought some reprieve and a new flush of green to the ground and vegetation. Witnessing this sort of transformation is one of the highlights of a summer safari.
We were incredibly spoilt with game viewing at Chitabe. Some of the highlights included seeing a pride of lions’ cubs, which was the first time they had been seen by any of the guides or guests. We also spent a morning following a male lion on the move for a few hours, elephants galore, a female leopard and her youngster feeding on a carcass and resting in the boughs of a Marula tree. We also had our very first sighting of wild dogs at Chitabe and any moment with these highly energetic and endangered creatures is an exciting and treasured one.
One of our guests focuses in on a female leopard as she focuses in on a herd of impala moving towards her through the clearing. Despite having a carcass stashed in the long grass just beyond the shade and cover of the termite mound that she’s using, her instinct to hunt when the opportunity arises has her in its grip. Another advantage of a summer safari is the number of impala lambing at this time, providing an abundance of prey for the predators.
A large male lion that we followed for a morning, watching as the story of his day unfolded. This particular male was resting in some mid morning shade when he suddenly lifted his nose to the wind and smelt something too subtle for us to detect. It was the trigger for the start of a 3 hour mission to find what was on the other end of that smell. He bypassed waterholes, a buffalo carcass that had ample meat on it despite his obviously empty stomach and continued on in search of the lionesses that must have killed it.
Two wild dogs, amongst the most endangered predators in Africa, chase each other past one of the Chitabe vehicles. They had finished feeding on an impala kill and were playing and splashing through the pan, cooling themselves down from the late morning heat of summer.
Another highlight was celebrating Helen Cardon’s belated birthday here. Surrounded by her family, toasted with tequilas at sunset, sung to by the lodge staff around the fire and offered a traditional elephant dung cake (thankfully followed by a real chocolate cake) it was an evening to remember.
Day 4 – 7 – Jackal and Hide, Khwai Private Reserve
From Chitabe we flew further north to the Khwai area and stayed at the Jackal and Hide Camp. One of the major highlights here was having a pack of wild dogs run through the camp one morning while we were having breakfast. Coffee and muffins were abandoned for the vehicle and we followed the dogs out into the bush on their morning hunt. We also saw a much greater density of hippos in this area, which the Cardon family were hoping for, and enjoyed a change of pace with a beautiful makoro ride one evening.
This very hot and green Christmas was out of the ordinary for a family from Utah that has grown used to a White Christmas and with all the fun, festivities and wildlife it was certainly one to remember.
Day 7 – 10 – Kalahari Plains Camp, Central Kalahari Game Reserve
From Khwai we headed to Kalahari Plains in the central Kalahari. This was a complete change of scenery as we moved from the lush and water-laden delta to the desert. We were greeted with a light sprinkling of rain, a blessing in such an arid area.
With a small pan visible from camp we watched many species come to take advantage of this precious resource. Some guests even spotted three lionesses right from the pool; an exhilarating experience that they won’t forget in a hurry. We also found mating lions just west of camp one evening as well as tiny, three week old lion cubs so relaxed with our presence they explored underneath our vehicle! Watch the video of the lion cubs to hear their endearing attempts at roaring.
3 week old lion cubs explore from their den site for the first time. with their mother and father looking on. Wait for the adults to call. It proves how little mewls turn into big roars with practice.
One of the species we weren’t expecting to see was wild dogs and even they came for a drink and swim in the waterhole in front of camp. But maybe the greatest highlight of them all was seeing the much searched-for cheetah on our very last evening.
New species such as bat-eared foxes, oryx and black-backed jackal made an appearance and we even saw a new-born springbok taking its first steps as we were heading to the airstrip on our way home. The summer season also meant we timed our stay with birds like the kori bustards and northern black korhaan performing their mating displays, both incredibly entertaining scenes to behold. Kalahari Plains also has the wonderful option of sleeping out on the lookout decks built above each guest room. Those brave enough to give it a go were treated to a night out in the open blanketed by a sky saturated in stars while lions bellowed in the distance.
One of the experiences offered at Kalahari Plains is a walk with the San Bushman people, who have lived and thrived in this harsh landscape before anyone else. On this afternoon we were introduced to their language, music, games, hunting and gathering techniques, medicinal knowledge, fire making skills and culture. I have always dreamt of being able to live in a purely sustainable way off the land and it was a highlight experience to spend time with the people who carry this ancient hunter gatherer wisdom.
Day 10 – 12 – The Royal Livingstone, Zambia
The last hoorah was two nights in the Royal Livingstone in Zambia. It was the perfect re-introduction back into civilization before everyone headed for home. Some of the highlights have to be the giraffe and zebra wondering the hotel grounds with the incredible spray of Victoria Falls forming the backdrop behind them.
Get up close and personal with the residents of the Royal Livingstone.
One of the best experiences in this portion of the trip was the helicopter flip, aptly named the Flight of the Angels. David Livingstone famously wrote on seeing the Victoria Falls for the first time in 1855 that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” and 150 years later that perspective is possible. The best way to appreciate the true splendour of the Victoria Falls is to view them from the air and the last portion of the flight through the Batoka Gorge below the Falls is arguably the best part of it all. I honestly feel like I’m in a video game as you weave the same path the mighty Zambezi has carved through the canyon. Check out guest, Matthew Cardon-Bystry’s video below to get a sense of why it spiked our adrenaline quite so high. The Zambezi was in drought when we visited in December but follow the link here to read about how it’s currently back in flood as of April 2020.
An insider’s look at the Flight of Angel’s, Victoria Falls.
It was a joy to guide this wonderfully smart, funny and warm family celebrating such a milestone birthday. Well done to Helen and the African-Born team for creating such a memorable holiday. I’m certainly hoping to see you all back in Africa sooner rather than later.