An Exclusive Interview with Legendary Cameraman Doug Allan
The second in a series of online interviews with the biggest names in wildlife, travel & conservation. In this episode, Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham speaks to award-winning wildlife cameraman, photographer, author and public speaker Doug Allan.
Born in Fife, Doug Allan spent seven years in Antarctica as a Scientist, research diver and photographer for the British Antarctic Survey, before changing direction to full time freelance filming in 1983.
Since then he has become one of the world’s best known and
respected cameramen, specialising in natural history, expeditions and
science documentaries. In his 35 year filming career, he’s worked for
the BBC, Discovery, National Geographic and many others, filming for
series including The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, Human Planet, Frozen Planet, Ocean Giants, Operation Iceberg, Wild Cameramen at Work, and Forces of Nature with Brian Cox.
An incredible wildlife adventure taking in five continents over four months.
We have launched a brand new wildlife adventure for 2020, inspired by the legendary natural historian Sir David Attenborough.
you’re a fan of the iconic documentary makers’ work you’ll definitely want to
find out more about our incredible new itinerary, focusing on the fascinating
destinations and wildlife featured across the popular documentaries.
brand new itinerary for 2020 combines a selection of our greatest wildlife
adventures across five different continents to take in some of the most
fascinating scenery and species which have been the star of the show in
Attenborough’s recent works.
in Antarctica in February and ending in the Arctic in June, passing through
South America, Africa, and Asia along the way, this intrepid itinerary offers
the chance to see everything from pumas to polar bears, painted wolves and
Read the full itinerary below.
Antarctica – February 2020 (14
intrepid wildlife itinerary begins in Antarctica with an epic 14-night polar
adventure in the Falklands. Our Falklands Birds and Wildlife tour takes in the remote
wilderness of the Falkland Islands, offering the opportunity to see the most
spectacular wildlife this region has to offer, including albatross, 5 different
species of penguin, seals, dolphins, orcas and a myriad of birdlife – many of
which have played a star part in Attenborough’s documentaries.
Costa Rica – March 2020 (11 nights)
tour continues to Costa Rica with our incredible 11-night scuba diving
experience in the Coco Islands. This underwater adventure offers the chance to
explore one of the most impressive diving destinations in the world, home to
over 300 different species of fish. Other fascinating creatures to witness here
include turtles, dolphins and sailfish – all which have featured in
Ecuador – March 2020 (9 Nights)
next leg of the tour is our 9-night Galapagos
adventure, which takes in the west, central and east islands. The wildlife journey
includes the opportunity to see the largest colony of marine iguanas on
Fernandina Islands, a visit to a nesting site for the flightless cormorant on
Isabela Island and pelican spotting on Rabida Island.
Argentina – March/April 2020 (11
up is Argentina, for our brand new Patagonia, Pumas and
Glaciers tour. This 11-day tour offers the chance to see pumas in the wild in the
very location where Attenborough filmed his unforgettable Seven Worlds One Planet episode. This thrilling tour also includes
a visit to Los Glaciares National Park
and a hike along the Southern Glacier.
Brazil – April 2020 (11 Nights)
Zimbabwe – April 2020 (6 Nights)
our time in South America, we head to Brazil for our Amazon, Pantanal and Savannah
This trip offers a unique opportunity to see the maned wolf in the wild, as
well as the jaguars and anteaters which have featured in Attenborough’s
documentaries. This tour includes accommodation in eco-lodges set among the
incredible nature, as you visit each of these three fascinating areas of varied
first Africa leg of this itinerary is in Zimbabwe, where you can visit the Mana
Pools National Park which was featured in Attenborough’s Dynasties documentary. This 7-day Super Sensory Safari is a first of its kind and
provides a truly immersive safari experience, with activities specifically
designed to engage all of the senses, including a walking safari led by expert
Botswana – April/May 2020 (12 Nights)
second African safari stop is in Botswana where you can see the beauty of the
African elephants in the wild at Chobe Riverfront, home to the largest density
of African elephants. This Wild Botswana tour also visits Okavango
Delta, known as one of the best destinations in all of Africa for wildlife
India – May/June 2020 (12 Nights)
Asia, take in our Wildlife Special focusing on leopards, tigers
and rhinos. This 12-night tour includes tiger viewing in two of India’s best
tiger reserves and a safari in Kaziranga Park – home to the world’s largest
population of one-horned rhinoceros.
Arctic – June 2020 (10 Nights)
magnificent wildlife itinerary ends in the Arctic with our Introduction to
Spitsbergen tour. This 10-night polar expedition will encounter polar bears, arctic
foxes, whales and walruses in the wild as you explore the very best of what
Spitsbergen has to offer.
This incredible 4-month itinerary taking in five different continents costs from £40,411pp. This doesn’t include transfers between countries. All internal transport within each leg of the trip, accommodation, and excursions are included as stated in each individual tour itinerary.
As part of his tour of Southern Africa, Prince Harry recently visited Botswana. Harry has been returning to Botswana for over 20 years now, doing a huge amount to raise awareness for humanitarian and wildlife conservation with each visit. But also, returning simply to enjoy this beautiful country and its unspoiled wilderness.
These days, Prince Harry’s love for Botswana is shared by his wife, The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. The couple have enjoyed several dates in secluded safari lodges in Botswana and even spent their honeymoon there. To underline their connection to this natural paradise, Meghan also has a diamond sourced in Botswana as the central piece in her engagement ring.
But aside from simply taking holiday recommendations from the royal family, there are countless other reasons why a trip to Botswana should be on your travel wish list.
Here are just a few of the reasons you should pay this beautiful country a visit.
Botswana’s national commitment to conservation means there is no better pace to see African Elephants. The number of elephants has tripled in the last thirty years and today it is estimated that there are over 160,000 wild elephants in Botswana.
Leopards, Lions and Cheetah’s are a regular sight in The National Parks of Botswana. Today, It is one of the top spots to see big cats in the world.
Perhaps the most threatened of African species, the rhino, which has been hunted through the ages for its horn, can be seen at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in East Botswana. Here black and white rhinos are closely monitored by conservationists, who are keen to increase the number of rhinos living in Botswana.
Almost 50% of the entire country of Botswana is protected as part of a National Park. These carefully and sympathetically managed wildlife parks are vast, and their success has lead to an abundance of a rich variety wildlife.
The Chobe National Park stretches to over 12,000 km in size, with the Chobe river winding through it , attracting all kinds of exciting wildlife and a huge variety of species of birds.
Other highlights include The Moremi & Khwai Game Reserve, which alongside lions, leopards and elephants, is home to packs of fascinating African wild dogs.
The Okavango Delta.
One of the seven natural wonders of Africa, The Okavango Delta is vast inland river delta in Northern Botswana which attracts and nourishes an endless array of animal and birdlife all year round. Travelling through these waterways in a dug-out canoe or ‘Moroko’ will get you closer to wildlife and lead to much more intimate wildlife encounters.
Visiting these vast, remote salt water flats is a breathtaking experience. Taking a quad bike safari will allow you to travel greater distances through this fascinating, eerie moon-like wilderness. Although wildlife is in short supply here. Buffalo and Zebra have been known to migrate across these plains in vast numbers from September to December. This also is the perfect place to get up close to Meerkats, who are resourceful enough to thrive in this arid wilderness.
The clarity and definition of the star-scapes in the night sky is are also completely mesmerizing and something that really has to be experienced on any trip to Botswana.
Ancient Art In The Desert
World Heritage status has been awarded to Tsodilo, which Unesco describes as the “Louvre of the Desert”. Discovered in the Kalahari Desert , Tsodilo is home to one of the highest concentrations of primitive rock paintings in the world. Revered by the Hambukushu and San communities, this ancient art gallery boasts some 4,500 paintings, some of which are 100,000 years old.
For anyone with a passion for history, archaeology and /or art, a visit to this fascinating site can be a spiritual experience.
Whist not strictly In Botswana, Victoria Falls is so close to the border that is would be madness not to nip over into Zambia to see this iconic natural spectacle.
The Scale of this waterfall is utterly breath-taking. The sensation of power that five hundred million cubic metres of water a minute crashing down around you will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Not to mention the noise and the cloud of spray which can be seen from miles away.
Taking a cruise on the Zambezi and watching one of the regular vibrant sunsets across the falls is a vision that you will never forget.
And for those with a taste for adventure, there are many opportunities on offer here including kayaking, white water rafting and bungee jumping.
Wildfoot Travel’s Simon Rowland took a self-drive trip through Namibia recently. Here we gives us his first hand advice on how to organise your own self-drive adventure along with some great photographs form his own trip.
The thought of a self drive in any overseas country can be daunting but a self drive in Africa is usually dismissed immediately especially if you are not a confident driver in the first place. I agree that some locations could be extremely difficult and testing especially if you are driving in diverse locations, perhaps on the opposite side of the road you are used to at home, or close to wet regions such as deltas or during a rainy season. The following is a personal account of a recent adventure through Namibia which will offer practical, sensible advice but above all hopefully dispel any pre-conceived worries and assumptions already formed.
These are some of the most popular questions we receive from clients considering a self drive in Namibia.
1. Is it safe to drive in Namibia?
2. Are the locals friendly and do they speak English?
3. What happens if you break down in the wilderness?
4. Are there likely to be dangerous and wild animals lurking if you stop?
5. Which side of the road do they drive on?
6. Do we need to carry water incase we are stuck overnight in the vehicle?
7. Whats the longest journey I will have to make?
8. What happens if we run out of fuel?
Let’s try to dispel any negatives so we can focus on the positives of driving in such a diverse, exciting picturesque country.
How easy is the driving in Namibia?
Firstly, Namibia is an extremely dry desert country and even in the non dry season it is difficult to come across natural dangers on roads or tracks. Yes there are extreme cases where flash flooding takes place but as Namibia and other parts of Africa have experienced a severe drought over the last two years, even if you wanted to find them its quite improbable you would come across them.
Self drive vehicles are Automatic, air conditioned 4 x 4 trucks. We drove an automatic Ford Truck which was around 18 months old and in excellent condition, a four seat cab with covered compartment in the back. As there were only two of us we kept our luggage actually in the cab whilst driving with any valuables hidden and out of sight. If we stopped our main camera bag with valuables came with us and we left nothing in the vehicle we could not replace if necessary. Our first nights stay is usually at Windhoek and WILDFOOT Travel arrange for the vehicle to be delivered to you at your accommodation in daylight hours. At the same time we arrange our ground handler representative to meet you who also drop off practical items –
Large cool box for drinks inc freezer blocks to keep water cool
Mobile phone pre programmed pre paid (pay as you go) with all the numbers you may need; emergency 24/7 number, all pre booked accommodation, car hire company emergency plus more.
Eco Refill cold drink canisters. You can refill and avoid plastic as in most regions tap water is exceptionally clean and drinkable.
First aid kit
Country road map with you route and accommodations featured already
Detailed maps for the main towns where you will be staying with your accommodation marked.
The self drive company representative then shows you a safety video featuring do’s and donts. This is extremely helpful. You are then taken over the vehicle in detail and you are shown where everything is and how everything works, where the spare tyres are, the jack, fuel type, 4x 4 facility. Nothing is left and you even go around ensuring there is no existing minor damage on the vehicle or wind screens, after all you don’t want to be blamed for existing minor scratches. You have lots of time to make notes if necessary and if there are two of you, both listen and carefully take note. Accident triangle and torch is also supplied.
Is Namibia a safe place to travel independently on a self drive?
The simple answer is yes Absolutely and without a shadow of doubt. Like anywhere in UK, USA and the rest of Europe one has to be careful where you drive, park or pull over. English is the first official language of Namibia but as you can imagine there are many local dialects depending on where you travel in Namibia. Locals are friendly and helpful but may not understand your accent straight away so be patient when asking directions or for assistance. Accidents are usually limited to off road situations where drivers start to feel over confident and then speed. There are strict speed limits and they need to be followed. In the south of the country yo should expect a great deal of off road journeys. These are usually very wide, gravel roads, sometimes smooth and sometimes a little bumpy. Gravel roads are generally maintained well and you my see roads being flattened whilst driving through these regions.
Planning the distance.
With pre booked accommodation, this is already taken care of and there is little need to drive long distances if you don’t want. I cant imagine one needing to drive more than 3 to 4 hours every time you move to a new region but these distances can be shorter or longer incorporating stays if necessary en route. WILDFOOT Experts will assist in your planning depending on what your needs and interests are. We plan your journeys so all of your driving is day time driving, there is no need to drive after dark and this should be avoided only to avoid wildlife on the road or lack of visibility. The car rental company state you should not drive at night only in emergencies.
Petrol stations are always manned and you just need to advise how much fuel you need. Its advisable if you are half full, to fill up totally when you can. This is only a precaution in case your next fuel stop is not available for whatever reason. We found that every fuel station on the map was in deed open. Fuel stations dont take cards normally so take enough Namibian Dollars to fill up through out your journey (South African Rand is also widely excepted by fuel stations as the NAD is common rated with the Rand). You can usually find a good choice of food and drinks at stops with clean WC’s readily available.
What happens if there is a break down
All the way around Namibia there was a wire fence which stopped larger wildlife from straying on the the road, however, wild pigs and larger feeding birds were prevalent so do not speed and drive carefully. In the unlikely evert you experience a vehicle breakdown, simply stay with your vehicle and call the car rental team on the pre programmed number on the mobile phone provided. Poor phone coverage is rare indeed. If you experience an accident depending on the type of emergency either call the emergency services or our Ground handler partners emergency number immediately.
Getting from A to B
We didn’t need a Sat Nav at all and road markings were clear all the way around the country. Road distances are always in Kilometres and signs are in English. Most tracks off road tend to be quiet and you see only a few vehicles of your journey. Driving in Namibia is on the left so no problem for us Brits.
Traffic is usually minor but care must be taken when you are overtaking vehicles on off road situations as stones my flick up and crack the windscreen, its rare but it happens. Punctures are rare but occasionally happen. You will find that its common for fellow drivers to stop and help or at least slow down and ask if you need help. The only time you should not get out of your vehicle is if you are in a National Park where there are signs advising you to stay in your vehicle at all times. This is usually in northern regions and in National Parks or wildlife private concessions where there could be big cats and larger game prevalent. This being the case you simply put your hazard warning lights on and wait for a ranger to come by and help which is never too long. You are provided two spare wheels with good tyres with every rental. If you use one just get the other fixed when you pass the next tyre place just in case.
My wife, Tina and I shared the driving and in 11 days we covered 2000 kms of which half was on off road tracks as described. Self driving in Namibia is an exciting adventure and one we would strongly recommend even if you are a little nervous. It some how liberates you as an independent traveller and at the end of it our epic journey our confidence in driving overseas had increased significantly. This type of trip provided us a structure (all accommodation we pre booked) but a great sense of freedom whilst travelling from A to B, stopping and exploring in our own time en route. We both loved the experience and its provided a level of confidence where we will do the same again maybe in another African region or even back to Namibia on a different itinerary.
Exclusive to WILDFOOT Travel
At no extra charge you can feel confident you have all emergencies covered if there is a problem and back up isn’t too far away. Emergency air evacuation to the nearest hospital is generally covered on all WILDFOOT Self drives in Namibia (* please check at time of booking). This does not take the place of good travel insurance which is highly recommended every time.
Botswana is world renowned for its incredible safaris and the wildlife on display. But there is just so much to see in Botswana that planning a trip can be a complicated and daunting prospect. To make your planning easier, in this short video, Wildfoot Travel’s Dave Cheetham runs you through a brief list of Botswana’s absolute ‘must-see’ destinations.
An update on the AfriCat’s Cheetah Rehabilitation programme – the story so far….
The AfriCat Foundation developed on a cattle farm in Namibia called Okonjima in the early 1990’s, which is now a tourist lodge that you can visit www.okonjima.com . The area 100+ years ago was home to the usual array of African wildlife. Once cattle farming arrived, many of the large carnivores notably the lion and spotted hyena were shot out by the famers as they killed their cattle. Cheetahs are the lightest, smallest by body weight and fastest of the big cats. Any injury means they cannot hunt. To thrive they need to be very wary of the other carnivores. Anyone who has been privileged enough to see a cheetah in the wild will have noticed how alert they are; ready to flee when they sense danger. They eat very fast and will give up their ‘kill’ if another predator comes along. Cheetah cubs stay with Mum until about 14-18 months old. They learn/refine their hunting skills through observation.
Namibia holds over 35% of the world’s population of wild cheetah most of which live on cattle farms. AfriCat researched and developed approaches that helped farmers to reduce their livestock losses from the Big Cats. As a result of their work AfriCat were asked to provide homes to injured or orphaned cheetahs, often as result of the mother being killed. The government asked AfriCat to look after confiscated cheetah that had been maltreated. Looking after a 100+ cheetah was expensive and ran counter to AfriCat’s desire to see the cats in their natural habitat. A decision was taken to see if any of the cheetahs could learn to hunt successfully – nothing like this had been tried at the time.
A small area 2,000ha of Okonjima, with prey, was securely fenced and the first group of cheetah given their freedom. The collard cheetahs were closely monitored. Some cheetah took to the idea of hunting; others did not. With research that indicated cheetah could learn to hunt successfully. The next step was to introduce groups of cheetah into the then fenced 20,000ha Okonjima Nature Reserve. This had naturally occurring leopard and brown hyena populations plus three collared spotted hyena. There were casualties as cheetah took on inappropriate prey, became injured or tried to defend their kills from the leopard or hyenas but there were successes too. It was found for example that cheetah working together in coalitions tended to be more successful. The ‘siblings’ a trio did well for a few years. Being used to humans and vehicles the ex captive cheetah, now living wild, could be tracked through their collars providing guests a rare opportunity to get up close and on occasions walking to get closer.
A pattern emerged that worried the team. Unlike wild cheetahs those released from captivity did have a tendency to try and defend their kills and were paying the price with injures and death. Given the difference in preferred habitat of leopard and cheetah it was hoped that by opening up the bush it could be possible to give greater separation. A grassland management programme had been started to try to restore the land to what it would have been prior to cattle ranching. This project has increased the diversity of plant, bird and animal species. With some cheetah successfully rehabilitated a decision was taken to allow breeding in the reserve, could a rehabilitated cheetah successfully rear young? The answer was yes in favourable conditions. Dizzy was able to raise her cub called Spirit to maturity, she lived and independent natural life in the bush before she died. AfriCat found that the mortality rate of cubs born to rehabilitated cheetah was higher than for wild cheetah. Nature in the raw is never easy. The chance to spend time on foot in the close proximity of cheetah in the wild has been a very rare and special privilege.
The research work on leopards indicated that that there was a very high density of leopards in the Nature Reserve. Research data has shown that big cats have a homing instinct which makes relocating them a bit problematic. The latest leopard study shows a very high density of collared and non collared leopards at Okonjima. While brown hyenas were known to be on Okonjima there has been a steady increase in sightings. Undertaking research into Brown Hyena is now easier to do with collars and camera traps and revealing fascinating information about this little known species.
A detailed analysis of data showed that over 87% of ex captive cheetah being released into the Okonjima Nature Reserve were dying within a year and after some particularly difficult losses and incidents a decision was taken to stop the rehabilitation programme. It’s clear from the work undertaken by the AfriCat Foundation that captive cheetah can successful learn to hunt and raise cubs but they need space and low densities of other predators to succeed. Space sadly is becoming a rare commodity. Cheetahs growing up in the wild it would appear develop ‘better’ survival skills. The AfriCat Foundation does occasional get requests to ‘home’ a wild cheetah that would otherwise be shot. In such circumstances they would be offered a new home in the Okonjima Nature Reserve.
Guests at Okonjima will be able to visit the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre and see cheetah who will be living in large ‘camps’ and helping to support AfriCat’s education programme and research work. Activities for guests staying at Okonjima Lodge will include the opportunity to undertaken wildlife trails in the Nature Reserve looking for a wide range of species including the opportunity to track leopard, and possibly see the white rhino and brown hyena. Bushman walks provide a wonderful way to learn more about nature and how local people like the bushman made use of the things in their environment. A visit to the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre will give scope for photographers to learn about the challenges the Big Cats face in their survival.
Edward Moores joined us on a trip to Uganda recently. Here he tells the tale of his adventures in this natural wildlife-wonderland.
In January this year we travelled to Uganda primarily to see the Kibale chimpanzees and Bwindi mountain gorillas.
The main photographic challenges in Uganda are moisture and light and shadows under the dense jungle canopy. Having previously travelled in Asia during monsoon season I knew bin liners protected against rain and minimum lens changes would reduce risks from moisture and fogging. A full-frame camera with high ISO settings and quality light sensors together with wide aperture lenses addressed the variable light conditions. I used a 70–200mm f2.8 lens with a 2x teleconverter on a full-frame Nikon D800E. A member of our group rented a similar kit set-up; a great way to road test a possible future purchase! Tackling the camera weight on long treks was solved using a cross body strap; an inexpensive but very effective piece of kit that will help you avoid neck ache!
During your travels a good habit is to always make sure you “reset” each morning; select aperture priority mode, use a wide aperture setting and double check you have an SD card with plenty of space. You never know when you will come across something exciting, like monkeys in the trees or gorillas on the track, so be prepared!. During our gorilla trek we stumbled across a wonderful busy troupe of monkeys just 30m from our start point. Having done my standard morning checks I was ready to go and able to immediately capture these charming moments.
Our trip was built around three key events, chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Forest, gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and bird spotting on the Entebbe “swamp”. Three different environments, but the choice of camera set-up worked really well. Shooting in raw and using Lightroom to develop and edit helped me to create some great images. Be sure to look out for the gigantic prehistoric looking shoebill stork in the Entebbe swamp, silverbacks in Bwindi and chimps and monkeys in Kibale. If you’re really lucky then you’ll get to see the tree-climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Keep the amount of kit in your daypack to a minimum. During a very energetic and fast moving chimpanzee trek in Kibale, I had a large camera-kit duffle bag with me which was too big for scrabbling through the undergrowth: I got my photos but also a strenuous workout!
It’s a very thrilling experience being so close to the gorillas. Your guides will do a great job of getting you up close with these majestic creatures in their natural surroundings. A silverback passed me with just centimetres to spare; a heart stopping but thrilling experience. Your photos will create fabulous memories so its important to plan ahead and make sure you are confident with your set-up a few weeks before you head out.
Check out more of Edward’s photos from the trip in this gallery
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”42″ gal_title=”In Search Of Primates”]
Mary Coulson, photographer and long term friend of Wildfoot Travel has just come back from Tuli in Botswana, The Mashatu Game Reserve and in particular the incredible Mashatu Lodge which is high on many wildlife photographer’s bucket lists. Here Mary gives us a first hand account of her trip.
The excitement and anticipation as you climb up into the land cruiser for the first early morning safari drive raises the adrenaline levels so high that all senses are on full alert. Is that a leopard’s tail hanging from that Mashatu tree? Was that a Banded Mongoose running up the river bank? Take a deep breath and pace yourself as you’ll be out for a few hours reaching saturation level with all the wildlife that Mashatu Game Reserve has on offer.
The guides and tackers on the game drive have a vast knowledge of the fauna and flora underpinned with a genuine desire to give their passengers an experience of a lifetime. Ronald and Commando were no exception, patiently answering questions and with a subtle sense of humour there was always a pleasant camaraderie on the drive. I was continually impressed with how Ronald would always take into consideration the light and backdrop for good photographs with all sightings. A lasting memory will be the sundowners at a high vantage point where you can absorb the orchestra of the evening chorus against a magnificent backdrop of a panoramic African sunset.
Mashatu Game Reserve is one of the best kept secrets in Southern Africa. This 29,000 hectare block is tucked away in the South-eastern corner of Botswana, at the confluence of the Limpopo and Sashi Rivers. It is in one of the driest areas with an annual rainfall of 12 -14 in. However, despite the extreme environment, conditions are ideal for game viewing with the vast open plains scattered with small trees and bushes for example mopane, acacia karrooand Shepard’s trees. There are remnants of riverine forest dominated with Mashatu trees and croton thickets, marshes (in the wet season), rocky outcrops and sandstone ridges.The area covers many ecosystems leading to a high biodiversity of flora and fauna.These areas are explored with game drives across flat sandy plains and driving over rocky outcrops and along dry river beds. Low ratio four-wheel drive was required to negotiate up and down the steep sides – this adds to the excitement of the experience! On one of these excursions we met a leopard as we neared a curve in the river bed. Unperturbed she walked straight passed us up the riverbank and vanished into a thicket. We surmised that she had some cubs hidden in the thick scrub.
Having lived half my life in Africa I fully appreciate how privileged one is to see members of the cat family. In Mashutu the opportunities to view and photograph leopards, lions and cheetah is breath-taking. We sat with a pride of lions on various occasions and were able just to observe the interactions between the five cubs with their mothers and a handsome black – maned lion. Similarly, with two separate cheetah families. We were fortunate to see leopard in various situations from walking along the river bed with us to trying to escape the heat on the branch of a Mashatu tree. The photographs from these viewings can be exceptional.
Mashatu caters for professional and serious amateur photographers. There is a Mashatu photo vehicle which has been customised for the game reserve environment. There are sliding gimbal heads and bean bag arches and to cater for the African dust there are cushioned and dust waterproof storage compartments. There will always be a specialist photographic guide and field ranger to accompany you.
One of the highlights of the trip was a couple of visits to the Matebole Hide. This consists of a couple of shipping containers dug into the ground next to the waterhole with viewing windows level with the water surface. Equipped with beanbags this allows for photographs with a unique perspective of the animals coming down to drink. The wonderful Janet Kleyn, the resident photographer, welcomes you to the hide. She guides and assists you as required and her expertise aids advanced and beginner photographers alike. Even those who just accompany the serious or professional photographers are provided with mobile phone tripods and pointers on how to get a good photograph. The evening session was about to end as we neared sundown when suddenly around the bushes came a herd of elephants. They were at full elephantine trot in their eagerness to quench their thirst. The proximity of these animals was awe-inspiring.
With the rich biodiversity of Mashatu each game drive would reveal unusual and unique insights of the African bush. One of these was a peek through the window into the private lives of the hyena clan. The clan have organised a nursery, kitchen, spa and local food source. The den was situated about 200m from a series of pools fed by a spring upstream. The hyenas had stored sections of carcasses in one pool and we were entertained with the retrieving of the meat and generally play fighting. Some of the characters seemed to really enjoy the whole spa experience.
The enjoyable safari experience is underpinned by the excellent accommodation and catering facilities. There are two options with the Main Camp and Tented Camp which are quite different in design and atmosphere. The Tented camp is more intimate with the bushveld with no obvious fences and allows a true safari experience of luxury in the bush known as glamping. There is a breakfast and lounge area on the terrace. Evening drinks at the bar allowed the recounting of the day’s experiences among those staying at the camp and meeting the different guides. The Boma presents a great setting for the evening meal. As the ambient temperature was in the high 30’s there was a definite trend to sit furthest from the fire! The swimming pool at the tented camp is a welcomed relief after a hot game drive or mountain bike safari.
I did a mountain bike safari along elephant footpaths early one morning with Mario, an experienced guide and biker. I found out that dried elephant dung is as hard as rock! I thoroughly recommend doing this as you immediately in tune with the environment and must be aware of the wildlife. Mario was in radio contact and had a rifle for safety purposes. For those of you who are experienced horse riders there is an opportunity to go horse riding in the bush. Both camps also offer bush walks.
The Mashatu Lodge (Main camp) has 14 air conditioned luxury suites set near a waterhole. It is bigger and more suited to families with a swimming pool. Clients can enjoy the sounds of the African bush but within the safety of an unobtrusive fence. There are beautiful views along the walkway from the bar (Gin Trap) to the new infinity pool.
Mashatu Game Reserve is easily accessible. I flew from Oliver Tambo airport to Polokwane, an hours flight and then travelled with Copper Sun courier to Pont’s Drift on the border with Botswana. I was then met by my guide and field tracker and arrived at the Tented Camp after an hours drive through the game reserve.
In conclusion I look back on my Mashatu Safari Experience as a lifelong memory of unique wildlife sightings underpinned with new friendships.
Take a look at more photos from Mary’s amazing trip here:
Sitting around a pit-fire on a decked terrace at a five-star safari lodge in the Okavango Delta, crystal glass filled with ice-cold gin and tonic in hand, my friend turned to me and said “I think I miss mobile camping”. We all laughed a lot but we all understood what she meant. Mobile safari is a very different experience to a stay at a safari lodge. Don’t get me wrong, I love the creature comforts that these lodges provide but there is also something magical about camping in the bush that leaves you with a deeper connection and understanding of the African environment.
What can I expect from the accommodation?
There are a number of mobile safaris on offer with variable sizes of tents, facilities and service. I personally prefer a good-sized tent where you can walk around with an open-air en-suite bathroom. Bathrooms tend to be basic with a bucket shower and dug out loo with a fixed seat. However, showering in the bush under a bucket filled with warm water heated over a camp fire, with the possibility of a thirsty elephant’s trunk appearing (it has been known), is simply joyful. A shaded veranda is also a perfect extension, where you can sit after lunch studying Birds of Botswana, become engrossed in the novel, The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency which is set in Botswana or simply snooze.
How does an average day look?
The average day on a mobile safari works similarly to camps and lodges with an early start to maximise on game viewing. Animals are most active at dawn and dusk as the heat of the midday sun is too challenging for most. Guests will break for tea and coffee and return to the camp around midday. Lunch is served early at camp allowing time for a siesta and many guests prefer to take a bucket shower in the afternoon break, as it is warm and light. Afternoon tea is served with homemade cake before the afternoon game drive, usually setting off around 3.30pm. No game drive is complete without sundowners where beer, wine or G&T’s are usually served with snacks.
How is the food?
Dinner in camp is cooked over fire and the food is delicious, expect to be surprised with cheese soufflé, fillet of beef and chocolate volcano cake. Evenings in camp are simply enchanting. Guests bond with each other around a campfire and life-long friendships are often formed. The skies are clear due to no light pollution, so star gazing is exceptional. The sound of lions kilometres away echo across the plains and nearby hippos can be heard grunting and splashing.
Will there be phone or internet reception?
There is no mobile telephone connection, no wi-fi and very limited facilities. This can be hard to adapt to, for all of about 30 minutes, and then you embrace it, the freedom of being totally unconnected but actually re-connected. You start to feel closer to nature and the surrounding environment and you notice more; you are more alert to your surroundings, and that is very useful in the African bush.
What’s the difference between Private and small group scheduled departures?
A Private safari will be completely tailored to your requirements where a scheduled departure is a fixed itinerary with set departure dates. Numbers on fixed departures are capped at 7 guests maximum and there is more flexibility for private departures.
Type of vehicles used
All vehicles are well maintained and there are always spare vehicles on hand and mechanics based in Maun to ensure that no safari is ruined by mechanical failure. Expect open air vehicles and with a maximum number of seven pax, on any fixed departure itinerary everyone is guaranteed a window seat and uninterrupted view.
Calibre of the guiding
Expect an extremely high level of detailed knowledge on flora and fauna from your guide. Many have specialist knowledge to keep even the most passionate of birders fully informed. Letaka Safaris also own and operate The Okavango Guide School, responsible for training a number of guides that go on to work across some of Botswana’s most prestigious camps and lodges, resulting in the guides being at the top of their game.
Example of the various routes and ‘from’ prices based on 2019 departures
Mobile camp itineraries are usually grouped in three night bundles, allowing time for guests to settle and explore a park or reserve before moving camp to the next location. Fixed departures are available for three, six and nine nights. Itineraries explore the Okavango Delta including Moremi, Khwai and Chobe National Park and there is also a Blooming Deserts itinerary that runs from February to June exploring the Central Kalahari.
Prices start from US$2,065 for three nights, US$3,525 for six nights and US$5,375 for nine nights, on a full-board game package including drinks.
Specialist Photo and birding departures
For travellers passionate about birding and photography, there are set departure itineraries throughout the year that cater to these hobbies. They are open to amateurs and professionals alike.
Who books mobile safaris?
Mobile safaris are suitable for all ages, although there is a minimum age of five on private departures and 12 on fixed departures. There is no single supplement for the first three individual guests on any fixed departure safari making it a great option for solo travellers. This is a great holiday for couples and can be very affordable for groups. There is also a family tent set up for families with younger children. Mobile camping leaves no trace of settlement once the group leaves making it an environmentally sound choice.
Tips for mobile safari:
Take a head torch, there may be solar charged LED lighting but this is not adequate to read a book at night.
Pack a few luxury cosmetics, whilst there is usually shower gel and shampoo provided, there is something rather decedent about lathering in Jo Malone under a bucket shower in the open air in the African Bush.
Pack a decent pair of binoculars; it can greatly enhance your viewing experience. My preferred pair are Leica Sports Optics’ Ultravid HD-Plus they are compact and lightweight and provide outstanding contrast when viewing animals from a distance, plus they are extremely robust.
Pack light, staff will provide a laundry service and fewer clothes makes it easier to be organised whilst camping. Be aware that staff will not wash underwear.
Check out more photos from our mobile safaris in the gallery
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”36″ gal_title=”Mobile Safaris In Botswana”]
The story of the area now known as Etosha National Park began being written after Charles Andersson and Francis Galton made the discovery in 1851. Andersson recalled being astounded by the thousands of animals and birds contained in this area and the splendid surrounding land.
When Namibia (then known as South West Africa) fell under German occupation, Dr. Friedrich von Lindequist, the governor of South West Africa, proclaimed the area as a game reserve in 1907. The reserve encompassed an area of 100 000km2 – which is an area larger than the Netherlands and Switzerland combined!
Throughout the following years, the size of the reserve greatly decreased until the current size of 22 270km2 was agreed upon, and in 1967 the reserve officially became Etosha National Park while under South African Administration.
One might question the existence of seemingly misplaced forts in a game park,but adding to the history of Etosha, military forts were built by Germans in 1889 at Okaukuejo Camp and Namutoni Camp. These were later destroyed and rebuilt but there remains a fort standing at Camp Namutoni which has now been declared a National Monument.
Early tourism in Etosha was decidedly a unique and slightly parlous affair, with guests sleeping in open bomas in the large expanse of the grassland or camping near the fountain at Okaukuejo Camp. While camping, guests often had to seek protection in, and even under,their cars when lions approached!
Thankfully, (or maybe not so much for the intrepid adventurers) Etosha has since established secure camps and lodges within the park. After Namibia gained independence, conservation and sustainable use of resources became an integral part of operating Etosha National Park. The park has now become a premier tourist attraction of Namibia with more than 140 000 visitors recorded annually.
Etosha is largely characterised by a great, dried up salt pan of 5 000 km2which briefly divides the surrounding brown grass area with a splash of parched white colour. Owing to this, the name “Etosha” is derived from the Oshidongo language, meaning “Great White Place”.
Etosha National Park is the 6thlargest national park in Africa. The game park is predominantly composed of golden grassland and savanna filled with dwarf shrubs and thorn bush. Different acacia, mopane, camelthorn and moringa tree species make up the vegetation.
The wildlife is varied and plentiful, with Etosha boasting 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and 1 fish species. Etosha plays a major role in the conservation of animals such as the South-western black and white rhino, elephant, black- faced impala (Aepyceros melampus petersi ) and lion. Namibia is home to almost half the worlds population of black rhinos and most of these are found in Etosha. The sub species of black-faced impalaisn’t found anywhere else in the world, with an estimated 3 000 left in the wild and half of this population found in Etosha.
Furthermore, Etosha is also involved in vital research programmes pertaining to black rhinos and elephants in Namibia. Etosha Ecological Research Institute enables scientists from all over the world to study these animals and collect necessary data. Etosha Game Park has undoubtedly proven to be a conservation success story. Many of these animals were declining, very low in numbers or on the brink of extinction before being moved to Etosha and allowed time to recover.
Other animals that can be found in Etosha include; Angolan giraffe, plains and mountain zebra, various antelope, leopard, cheetah, various wild cats, honey badger, pangolin, spotted and brown hyena, black-backed jackal and various mongoose. As well as diverse bird species such as; ostriches, vultures, hawks, owls, cranes, flamingos, storks, herons, bustards, larks, white pelicans, shrikes, sandgrouse, waterfowl, blue cranes, horn bills, crows and falcons. There are numerous more animals not mentioned above, waiting to be spotted during a visit to Etosha!
Etosha has various natural and artificial water holes throughout the park which provide the wildlife with much needed water. These waterholes also provide opportunities for great game viewing, a few are equipped with flood lights for night time game viewing. All of this makes Etosha a spectacular safari destination, while also allowing one to aid the conservation of these beautiful animals.
The lodges we recommend
Ongava Tented (upmarket)
Ongava Lodge (upmarket)
Little Ongava (luxury)
Anderssons at Ongava – New property opening in 2019 with research centre, focused on eco-tourism (upmarket)
Okaukuejo– overlooking best waterhole for game viewing (budget)
Hobatere Lodge– (midmarket)
Dolomite Camp– (midmarket)
Onguma Tented (midmarket)
Onguma Tree Top (midmarket)
Onguma the Fort (upmarket)
Onguma Bush camp – family friendly (midmarket)
Mushara Bush Camp – family friendly (midmarket)
Mushara Lodge (midmarket)
Mushara Outpost (upmarket)
Villa Mushara (luxury)
Etosha Top Tips:
Pumped waterholes offer better game prospects in the dry season. These are marked on the Etosha maps by a black spot in the centre of a black circle.
Patience is a virtue; find a good watering hole and wait for the game to come to you!
Check the sightings book located at Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni Rest Camps for hot tips.
Don’t be afraid to ask professional guides, who are often linked by radio to other vehicles in the park, for pointers.
If staying inside the park, pick-up some quality fruit, snacks, drinks and maybe a good bottle of wine to enjoy while on safari.
Only pay park-fees at the ministry offices located at Okaukuejo, Halali & Namutoni, and not at the gate.
Carefully check and adhere to the park and rest camp gate closing times, these are strictly enforced.
Plastics are now banned in all national parks in Namibia, make use of alternative packaging such as paper bags.
The speed limit in the park is 60km/h
Watch out for pot holes while driving and keep a good distance from crossing animals.
When to travel?
June to the end of October offers the best game viewing opportunities with large congregations commonly seen at watering holes.
The rainy months of November to the end of February is the best time for bird watching, with migrants retuning and breading plumages on display.
The best value time to travel is the green season from March to June.