Category Archives: Travel Styles

Safari by the Seasons

What’s the best time to go on a safari? This is undoubtedly the most asked question we receive. The answer? You can safari year-round in Africa but undeniably some places are better than others at certain times of year.
 
shutterstock_78023380When you should go on a safari depends on many factors including  what you are hoping to see and your budget as well as wildlife movements and weather patterns .
 
We recommend speaking to the team for advice based on your individual circumstances,  but to give you some ideas of what we like to do when and why,  please read our quick safari by the seasons guide below!
 
You can see detailed information about sub-Saharan safari destinations in our country guides here. 
 
 

UK SPRING (March – May)

 
 autumn vineyard cape townSouth Africa is a good option during these months of the year – it is autumn in the southern hemisphere which means South Africa’s Cape is usually beautiful during the Easter holidays enjoying mild dry weather which can continue right throughout May. Temperatures tend to hover around 20 degrees which is perfect for self -drive and sight-seeing. It’s still warm enough to eat alfresco and walk the beach.
 
This time of year offers other substantial benefits too – as well as being cooler, it is much quieter and accommodation rates are lower then during the peak months of November to February. However, if you’re hoping to see whales, they don’t tend to arrive in their masses until July time although you may be lucky…
 
 
Rhino DSC_1693Coral Lodge Kayaking on lagoonGreater Kruger, South Africa’s most famous safari destination is entering its prime time,  which stretches from  April/May until October  –   rainfall subsides, the bush starts to die back and wildlife is usually more prolific/easier to find as it congregates around known water sources.
 
Combine your Kruger safari with time on the beach in neighbouring Mozambique (also good from April/May onwards), or with the Cape coast.
 
WWDSC_6125Looking for a beach escape? The Seychelles are glorious March – May. This time of year marks the end of the north-west monsoon and Manta Rays start to gather in the channels around the islands.
 
The shores of Lake Malawi would be another excellent choice  from April onwards as the weather becomes increasingly clear and warm. Days on the lake and nights beneath the stars can be combined with a safari in Majete and/or Liwonde. 
 
We also like bush and beach combinations during the Easter holidays in East Africa – for example, the Masai Mara and Diani Beach. This choice is not governed by the weather however which can be changeable at this time. Rates are very competitive March-May with many special offers, which reflects the unpredictability of the aforementioned weather –  the long rains can arrive at any time from March onwards and usually last well into May. Downpours can be sudden and heavy but often clear to bright sunshine. The long rains start in the west and sweep towards the Indian Ocean coast, often not arriving on the coast until early May. Rates are as low as they go at this time of year on safari. Baby animals are everywhere and the landscape is increasingly lush and green.  Elephants love to play in the rain. A Samburu day in  late May/early June, after the rains, is a truly wonderful thing.
 
Nxai Pan AldKBs_r.jpegZambia 1In Southern Africa the rains come earlier, from November to March leaving the parched Kalahari Salt Pans in Botswana refreshed. Easter is one of our favourite times to visit this area.
 
Victoria Falls is also resplendent following the rains and you can see it in Full Flood at this time of year – the sheer volume and power of water surging over the Falls means the view is often obscured by spray and walking the Rainforest trails is a very wet activity!  You can try your luck at seeing a Lunar Rainbow if full moon occurs at the time of your visit. This is a dramatic time to visit the Falls.
 
 

UK SUMMER June to August

Migration TZFor the majority of safari destinations, this is the optimum time to be in Africa, with the exception of Cape Town and the Cape coast.
 
You really are spoilt for choice! June is our secret season when conditions are excellent but visitor numbers (and airfares/lodge prices) are not at their maximum until July/August.
 
600UgandaGo gorilla trekking in Uganda or Rwanda, see dramatic river crossings in Kenya/Tanzania as the Great Migration moves from northern Serengeti to the Masia Mara, stake out a waterhole in Namibia’s Etosha, enjoy walking safaris in Zambia or Zimbabwe’s legendary Mana Pools,  or float down the serene channels of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The trademark weather pattern of this season is cool, dry and clear.
 
For beach lovers, the Indian Ocean coast offers good visibility for diving and snorkelling and the southern ‘Kusi’ breeze helps to cool you down. Humpback whales start to migrate along the Kenyan coast from July/August.
 
 

UK AUTUMN September to November

September is one of our favourite times in East and Southern Africa – the short rains do not tend to arrive until November and with the migration on the plains of the Mara throughout September into October you are likely to be treated to some exceptional wildlife viewing both here and in the northern Serengeti in Tanzania.

Southern Right Whales  collect off the Cape coast of South Africa to calve with the Hermanus Whale Festival held in late September – while humpbacks can also be seen in Cape waters. Temperatures start to soar providing wonderful respite from the autumn chill in the UK. Outdoor concerts and picnics begin as the weather warms.

September is a plum month for Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. October sees the highest density of wildlife as water sources shrink.  Temperatures are at their peak in October – it can be very hot and dry – and Victoria Falls can be reduced to a trickle at this time of year before the long rains arrive in November so if you want to combine the Falls with a safari the optimum time to visit is really June to August.  Weather can be unpredictable in November, however many of the seasonal mobile camps stay open for the first week or so.

 
Looking for a beach break? We love Mauritius in September/October.

UK WINTER December to February

East Africa is the place to be. Catch up with calving on the Serengetis southern plains in Tanzania, enjoy the white sands of the Spice Islands and Kenyan coast with water visibility at its best for snorkelling and diving.

Uganda is also a good option in January/February time and is the next best time of year to go gorilla trekking after June-September, which is considered peak gorilla season.
 

If you’re looking for heat – South Africa’s Cape is celebrating the Southern Hemisphere’s summer sunshine, with January and February the hottest months of the year (expect the thermometer to sit around 30 degrees+). Safaris in the malaria-free Eastern Cape are fabulous but further north in Kruger you can expect very wet and difficult conditions with impassable roads – something to consider as safari vehicles tend to be open style with very little protection from the elements.

Don’t rule out Southern Africa –   like Kruger, it is in the grip of the wet and warm Green Season throughout the UK Winter (this means sudden downpours, dramatic skies and a lush landscape), however, in some areas such as Chobe, the Okavango and Hwange there are excellent permanent camps open year-round, offering very good deals.  On safari you’ll be rewarded by many migratory birds and this is the time for young animals to be born.
 

Garonga

The Great Migration – everything you need to know about calving in the southern Serengeti, Tanzania

The Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other plains game  in search of fresh grazing between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is the largest overland migration in the world involving over 1.5 million animals.

Migration TZCatching up with the Great Migration is a spectacle on many people’s bucket list. The first image that comes to mind for many may be the river crossings, particularly the dramatic crossing of the Mara River, the last obstacle before reaching the Masai Mara (July-September time). However, being on the Serengeti’s southern plains in the early part of the year for calving is another excellent time to see the migration .

The migration is not one super herd but a collection of herds moving in different directions and at different speeds. The herds move in search of fresh grazing and so their progress is dictated by rainfall. With rainfall becoming increasingly erratic the path and timings of the migration has become a little more unpredictable in recent years but you can expect to see the migration in Tanzania for around 75% of the year and in Kenya for 25%.

The annual cycle is punctuated by a number of key events – calving being one of them.

Calving season on the Serengeti’s southern plainssLIDER DSC_8606

The migration arrives and stays on the Serengeti’s southern plains and on the edges of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between January and March annually.

During these first few months of the year the wildebeest are grazing on the nutrient rich short grass following the short rains in November. This is the perfect arena for giving birth to their young – the grass is still low enabling them to see predators more easily, and the new shoots are soft and full of goodness, thanks to the fertility of the volcanic soil in this region.

Remarkably virtually all the wildebeest calve within a 3 week window which usually falls between late January and late February. Around 8,000 calves are born each day at the peak of the calving season.

WWshutterstock_139534196shutterstock_128317355Compared to the rest of the year, the herds are fairly sedentary while they feast and calve so this is an excellent time to observe them.

Predator density at this time on the southern plains is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. Many predators also raise their young at this time, with  young wildebeest the perfect target for young cubs learning survival skills.

What to expect

-Epic views – short-grassy savannah studded with rocky ‘kopje’ outcrops – sometimes punctuated by the occasional Serengeti leopard or cheetah.

-Noise! Wildebeest have the nickname ‘gnu’ and this is the sound you will hear.

-Fabulous wildlife sightings with the chance to see predators and predator/prey interaction – short grass means good visibility.

When should I book if I want to visit during calving season?

If you have your heart set on a  specific week, particularly in February and around school half term,  then you should try and book a year in advance – camps are small and it is high season offering good weather and excellent wildlife sightings so the earlier you book the more likely you are to secure your dates and preferred camp.

If you are flexible then 6-9 months in advance is ideal.

Where to stay and for how longKusini your-private-serengeti

Ewanjan18We recommend lodges around the Ndutu area in the first three months of the year.

There are a number of excellent mobile camps including the Serian Mobile, Lemala Ndutu and the Asilia mobile camps.  Sanctuary Kusini, Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ndutu Lodge and the new Ndutu Kati Kati tented camp are permanent options in this area. Depending on the position of the herds and the timing of your visit we also recommend the high quality Lemala Ewanjan and the excellent Elewana Pioneer Camp in the south-central area.

2-3 nights at one camp is the minimum amount of time we recommend – you could easily stay longer. It is great to combine a stay in Ndutu with a camp in the south/central or central area of the Serengeti for a contrast (these areas have excellent resident wildlife), or how about combining your Serengeti experience with a visit to other parks on the Northern Circuit? (Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire).

Tented camps are very comfortable offering walk-in tents,  ensuite bathroom and an outdoor seating area. Camps vary in size, luxury and budget.

You can expect a 7 or 8 day safari trip to Tanzania including the Serengeti to cost anything from £2,040 per person plus international flights (Small Group Escorted Tour) to over £4,500 for a luxury private safari. (Please note: during the migration months these prices rise).

What will the safari day look like?13fac_lemala-1

Custom safari 4×4 vehicles are used to view the migration. You rise just before dawn, and have a snack before heading out with your professional guide on your morning safari for 2-3 hours before returning for a hearty breakfast in camp. In private concessions you may head out with a picnic breakfast.

If you fly-in to your camp, camp vehicles are usually shared with other guests (there are a few exceptions). If you are enjoying a drive-in safari with a private vehicle and driver/guide then you have the luxury of your own space.

You have the day to relax at camp, enjoy lunch and view wildlife as it comes and goes. Some camps offer additional activities during the day.

After a light afternoon tea you depart on the afternoon game drive, usually at about 330pm until sundown around 6/630pm. In private concessions your vehicle can stay out beyond sundown and you can night drive. It is also possible to off-road in the private concessions of the Serengeti.

Can I combine a migration trip with the beach?Breezes beach NCP7775

Yes – December to March offers lovely weather for the beach, and good water visibility for diving/snorkelling. Zanzibar is the most easily accessible destination from the Serengeti and offers a wide range of lodges.

Here’s an example luxury bush and beach combination.

Sample trips

See our Tanzania page for inspiration.

For Migration safari inspiration specifically please click here>>

WWKusini SR001411By March the plains have usually started to dry out and food is depleted so the herds start to move north and west on their epic journey to Kenya, pausing only as they reach the rivers that block their path.

This is the next phase of the migration…

If you are thinking of a wildlife holiday to Africa please contact us on 01603 964 730 or email enquiries@realafrica.co.uk

You can find further information about the sub-Saharan destinations we visit on our website. 

Family safari holidays

Africa offers the best family holidays – you just can’t beat a bit of safari and beach. Enjoy close encounters with wildlife, nights around the camp fire, sleeping under canvas in the African bush, animal tracking, conservation visits and a whole host of activities from horse riding, boating, night drives, walking and whale watching to snorkelling and beach combing. 

Still not convinced? Practicality is on Africa’s side too…

There’s very little time change to deal with – from the UK you’re looking at 1-3 hours time change so you can hit the ground running and not return to the UK 2 weeks later feeling totally spangled.

Easy access – Kenya, for instance, is only 8 hours away on a direct flight from London.

Stimulation – fresh air and lots of new exciting experiences ensures no one nods off on this holiday.

Value for money – a safari is likely to be the most expensive holiday you’re ever likely to enjoy.  However, it’s worth pointing out that most safaris are all-inclusive so you’re looking at a ‘holiday spend’, which you can budget for, rather than a holiday framework.

If Africa is firmly on your family holiday wish-list, you may be interested in the following suggestions:

Robin Pope Safaris - Zambia
Robin Pope Safaris – Zambia

Where should we go?

East – Kenya would be my top pick for a family safari. It’s easy to get to and relatively compact to explore.  There’s amazing density and diversity of wildlife, contrasting landscapes, good family friendly accommodation options and the people are wonderful.

South – South Africa is a brilliant family holiday destination and one of the best value destinations in Africa because of the exchange rate with the Rand (currently about 18 to the Pound). You can see the Marine Big Five as well as the Safari Big Five. Many families ask us about malaria free safari options – the Cape coast of South Africa is the perfect option with the Eastern Cape game reserves all malaria free. Madikwe near Johannesburg is also a ‘Big Five’ option and malaria free. These areas combine well with exploration of the Cape (Cape Town, Winelands, Garden Route) or with a beach break in Mauritius.

If you have older children and are looking for more adventurous options then Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all wonderful. See out Family page for further info.

The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats
The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats

How long should we go on safari for?

3 nights is an ideal length of stay in any one camp/lodge, up to around 5 nights – you can do 2 nights but this tends to feel a bit short in our experience.

Combining two contrasting areas and staying 3-4 nights in each would be ideal. After this most people are ready for a lie in…

For the perfect family holiday, extend your stay with time at the coast or lake/river.

Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya
Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya

Fly-in or Drive-in? There are pros and cons to each… 

Driving -In Tanzania the Northern Circuit lends itself to exploration with private 4×4 and driver/guide – this is a very flexible and economical way to travel for a family and also gives you a chance to see the country in more depth as you pass through villages and communities. However you need to consider time in the vehicle overall – you are driving between destinations and also then in the vehicle for your safari. In addition you will be visiting national parks which means staying to the main tracks and not going off-road. Drive- in safaris are also possible in Kenya.

In South Africa and Namibia you can self-drive, however when on safari (e.g, Etosha) you have the option to park your hire car and join guided drives offering an ideal balance.

Flying – If you fly into a private conservancy you can enjoy a wonderful bird’s eye view of the landscape and you are able to maxime your holiday time. There are other significant benefits – you can off road, usually in custom 4×4 vehicles, and this helps you get much closer to the wildlife. You can also enjoy extra activities like bush meals, sundowners out on the plains, walking and tracking and you are not restricted to being on safari only between sunrise and sunset (as you are in a national park). It is a more expensive option.  Just be aware that there are luggage restrictions (15 kg max in a soft sided bag) and flights are often operated in small 12 seater prop planes, landing on remote and rough airstrips, so not ideal for those nervous about flying…

You can combine flying and driving for a more balanced itinerary. We will often give clients the option to drive in one direction and then fly back to save time/long journeys.

zzDSC_8583Framework for a family safari to Kenya

Nairobi – 1 night

Most trips require an overnight in Nairobi at the start or end because of international flight schedules – don’t waste this time in an airport hotel but get out and explore.  You can stay at a lodge in the national park and enjoy game viewing (very easy to access from either airport) or visit the Sheldrick Trust and/or AFEW Giraffe Centre. We can organise all this for you.

+Safari – 3 nights plus

3 nights per camp is the minimum time we would suggest on safari.

If budget and time allows it’s fantastic to combine two (or even three) contrasting areas. After around a week on safari, unless you are a real safari addict, you may start to long for a lie in so we think 5- 7 nights is the optimum amount of time giving you plenty of chance to see and experience as much as possible.

If it’s your first trip to Kenya we’d recommend including the Masai Mara, for example a 5 night fly-in to the Mara with time on the beach afterwards keeps things simple. Conveniently there’s a flight from the Mara to Diani (without going back to Nairobi).

Here are some of our favourite Mara safari combos:

Masai Mara and Samburu; Masai Mara and Laikipia; Masai Mara and Amboseli/Tsavo

+Beach – 4-7 nights

A few days on the coast is a perfect extension to a safari. Kenya offers several options. We love Diani and Msambweni, south of Mombasa. We also like Watamu. Lamu on the north coast is also very beautiful.

Optimum (and most expensive) time for Kenya is the long school summer holidays of July/August. Also a good time to visit is the Christmas and half term holidays (Oct, Dec, Feb). If Easter is early you can get a trip in during late March/early April (one of our favourite times to go because it is so quiet – this is also the most affordable time of the year) but the long rains tend to arrive in April and last through May so this is something to be aware of.

White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa
White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa

Framework for a South Africa family safari

Kruger & beach –  time on safari + a week in Mauritius (this combination requires 1 night at a Johannesburg airport hotel due to schedules). Alternatively you can fly or take a road transfer across the border to Mozambique for time on the beach. Optimum time for this type of trip is May to October.

Family Caper – 10-14 day self-drive trip exploring Cape Town, winelands, the Garden Route and a safari in the Eastern Cape. Optimum time for this is October to April. You can expect wild beaches, the chance to spot whales from the coast, boat trips, characterful and small boutique style accommodation and a grand finale in the Eastern Cape on safari.page 15 inset FAMILY 5

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of other exciting family holiday options in Southern Africa – how about Zambia and Malawi, or Zimbabwe and Botswana?

Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season
Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season

Things to consider

  • Rooms – family units – it can be a bit intimidating if it’s your first time staying in a safari tent so where possible we recommend family units so that all the family can be together. If you hear a lion roar in the night it’s good to be on hand and share the experience.
  • Camps with swimming pools are great for families, inviting relaxing time after breakfast or before the afternoon drive.
  • Depending on season you may prefer properties with air con.
  • Some camps offer special ‘Little Warrior’ or kids’ programmes as well as kids meals and even babysitting so please do enquire depending on the age of your children.
  • Vehicles – it is usual for you to share game drives with other guests in the camp vehicles. Some camps offer exclusive vehicles for a supplement – please enquire. Some camps insist that families with young children (under 7) book an exclusive vehicle. Most vehicles seat 6 guests but it does vary from place to place.
  • Age restrictions – many camps/lodges have a minimum age of 7 years so please check with us if you are travelling with younger children. We do have some camps that have discreetly fenced boundaries which might be safer for families with young children rather than those which are completely open. Camp staff (known as Askaris in East Africa) accompany you to and from you room after sundown.

Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi
Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi

What does it cost?

Cost depends on a range of factors including time of year you travel, how far in advance you book, availability and number of people/ages of children in your family.  Your preferred style of safari/ length of stay will also impact spend. £3000-£5000 per person is a realistic budget bracket.

More inspiration and suggested itineraries at realafrica.co.uk

 

Captivated by Kruger: review of MalaMala Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sands, South Africa

The Greater Kruger is an unfenced wilderness in South Africa , stretching over 400km from north to south. It combines private reserves and the national park and is known for high densities of lion, leopard and elephant. There are many ways to explore this wonderful and very accessible region which is at its peak between May and October during the long cool winter months. A safari in Kruger lends itself perfectly to being incorporated into a longer holiday in Southern Africa. 

Here, we review our recent stay at MalaMala as well as giving general information about the Kruger and how to combine it in your holiday.

Location

Three distinct camps (Main Camp, Sable Camp, Rattray’s Camp) stretch out along the Sand River in the vast MalaMala Private Game Reserve. The reserve is sandwiched between the famous Sabi Sands region of Greater Kruger and Kruger National Park itself -it  is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa, comprising 13 300 ha (33 000 acres). The borders are unfenced allowing wildlife to migrate unhindered. The size of the reserve ensures guests enjoy an exclusive safari experience – you’ll see other MalaMala vehicles and anti-poaching teams going about their work but very little other traffic.

This area is known to be one of the best in Africa for seeing leopard. Guests have a good chance of seeing the MalaMala Big Seven (Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Wild Dog).

The setting is very beautiful with the Sand River in front of camp. The reserve has lots of contrasting scenery with dramatic granite kopjes (punctuated with klipspringer), mud holes perfect for white rhino and buffalo wallowing,  the river for crocodile, hippo and elephant, open plains, forest, huge sausage trees and statuesque euphorbia candelabrum.

Access

MMDSC_1771The camp can be accessed via fly-in from Johannesburg (and Cape Town), either fly and transfer via Skukuza (about an hour’s drive away) or Nelspruit KMIA (2 hour road transfer) or a private charter to the airstrip moments from camp.

We hired an SUV in Johannesburg and stopped off in Hazyview for a night (staying at Rissington Inn – an easy 4 hour drive mostly on the N12, from OR Tambo) which then made MalaMala a simple 2 hour drive the following morning. The first hour or so is on tarred road, we then registered at Shaws Gate, paying our park fees, to enter the reserve area. There is an undulating  dirt track which is well sign -posted with plenty of passing places. We came across this beautiful male leopard within moments of starting our 20km journey to MalaMala. We also saw elephant and white rhino along with many antelope and zebra.MMIMG_4930

view IMG_4971Accommodation and style

MalaMala Camp Bar3MalaMala Camp Rooms5.6_2We stayed at Main Camp, the largest of the three camps, which consists of 19 luxury air-conditioned thatched rooms and suites. The lodge has been on this spot since the 1930s, originally a hunting lodge and converting to conservation and photography in the 60s – the first to do so. The camp was completely refurbished in 2018 and transformed from the old-school and old-fashioned hunting lodge style,  to a beautiful far more contemporary property – the refurb has been sensitive with the historic exterior, boma, where Nelson Mandela has dined and various artworks all preserved.

MMDSC_1786Travelling as a family we stayed in one of the Waterhole Suites. Other rooms/suites face the other direction towards the Sand River. The children had their own twin room and bathroom which led to a huge double bedroom, bathroom with bath and shower and wonderful outdoor shower.

Along the front of the room and accessed from both bedrooms by sliding glass doors was a wooden deck looking over the waterhole where we had hippo, nyala, kudu and mongoose as visitors. Rooms are extremely comfortable and stylish, retaining an African flavour with a natural colour palate, porqupine quill  lamp and wildlife artworks. There are many thoughtful touches, for instance umbrellas in the hall, USB ports, extensive mini bar and fresh ice, a sweetie jar for the children. Closets had lighting, towels were fluffy and complimentary bath products smelt divine.

Sable and Rattray’s camp are smaller and quieter. No children under 12 are permitted at Sable Camp and no children under 16 at Rattray’s Camp.

Seasonality

MMDSC_1736MalaMala is open year-round. Visiting in April we knew it was the end of the rainy season and the bush would be very lush. As expected the weather was rather unpredictable. One day we had blue skies and temperatures of 38 degrees and the next it was 22 degrees cloudy and raining – we quite enjoyed the contrast – we still saw amazing wildlife, the landscape was beautiful,  and even when we got soaked on the morning drive we knew we were returning to lovely hot showers, coffee and breakfast!

May to October (the cool dry winter) is considered the peak time for this area – the bush starts to dry out and die back, and weather is more  consistent and reliable. Wildlife is easier to see as it gathers around the water sources and is not so easily concealed by the bush.  If you are keen to combine a safari in Greater Kruger with a stay in Cape Town then April/May and September/October are the best months.

The safari day

MMDSC_1734The daily schedule changes with the seasons – for our stay we would be woken at 515am, for tea/coffee and a light snack on the deck at 545am with other guests,  before departing at 6am. We would usually be back at camp for a hearty breakfast by about 9am.

After breakfast there is time to relax and enjoy the camp – for instance the swimming pool with its glorious views over the Sand River. It’s lovely to sit and read, or watch the wildlife come and go from the waterhole. We’d have lunch about 1pm – lunch is delicious!! Depending how much you indulge you may need a lie down afterwards…

Breakfast and lunch are both in a buffet format and very high quality with a good choice. Where possible we dined alfresco on the deck. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juice, a hot buffet including pancakes or waffles and fresh breads. Lunch  always included a lovely selection of salads plus cold meats, quiche and condiments as well as a hot option, for example, a curry. There was a choice of desert from fruit salad and ice-cream to lemon meringue.

In the afternoon we would meet at 3-315pm (more bite size treats on offer plus tea/coffee and cold drinks) and leave at 345pm, returning to camp at around 7pm. On one evening we did stop for sundowners out on the reserve but wildlife viewing certainly takes priority here. Pre dinner drinks and nibbles would be in the bar at around 745pm with dinner following. We enjoyed gathering in the bar and completing the ‘sightings board’ each evening with all the guests and rangers – a very communal activity.

Dinner is chosen from a set menu with Michael the barman suggesting suitable wine pairings from the delicious range of South African wines. We enjoyed a candle-lit dinner on the deck on our first evening and joined fellow guests around the camp fire in the ancient boma, beneath the jackalberry tree on the following evening. Members of staff presented a cake and sang traditional songs around the fire to help one couple celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Staff

MMDSC_1707The staff added greatly to our experience from the efficient management team of Nerine, Alex and Vusi to the waiting staff such as smiling Stephalina with 22 years service. Everyone gets to know Michael-the-barman, who is a joy.  Our guide was Thabisani from Richard’s Bay – he was a lovely chap, a skilful driver and very knowledgeable – we even learnt some Zulu and Shangaan in two days. We enjoyed talking to him about all manner of things from culture to wildlife. It is customary for rangers to join guests for breakfast and sometimes at other meals as well.

The folder in the room dodges the question of tipping and leaves it very much at the discretion of guests which we can understand as it is a tricky one. For many people, a safari holiday is the most expensive trip they will ever make but if you can tip then it is hugely appreciated by the staff.  As a very general budget we usually work on $10-$30 US per person per day.  You tip your guide/ranger directly with the ‘golden handshake’ at the end of the stay,  and place your contribution for behind the scenes staff into the tip box (usually at reception).

Vehicles

The vehicles are completely open allowing for unrivalled wildlife viewing. They have 3 rows of 2 seats meaning everyone had a great view. They are very comfortable and the camp has steps to help those with reduced mobility get in and out more easily. There is a central hatch between each pair of seats for putting your camera or binos. In here you’ll also find blankets and ponchos. There is also a place to put your water bottle (each guest is presented with a smart named metal water bottle on arrival and can refill this with still or sparkling water from the main deck water station as needed).

Wildlife

Leo DSC_1716webIMG_5003Sabi Sands is known to be one of the best places to see leopard in Africa but we really did not expect to come across one within 5 minutes of driving through Shaw’s Gate! This was one of three leopard sightings during our short 2 night stay. We also had the joy of observing a pack of 8 Cape Hunting Dogs (wild dogs) as they socialised and warmed up on the tarred airstrip as the sun came up. I was not expecting to see cheetah with the bush so dense but we were treated to a fascinating face off on the last morning between an injured male and a hyena.

MMDSC_1655We enjoyed numerous and incredibly rewarding white rhino sightings, seeing several young with their mothers and being able to watch really interesting behaviour.

MMDSC_1808We saw elephant on the way to MalaMala and caught up with a lovely big bull on one of the afternoon drives but we had to work hard to see any others which is unusual for this area. Rhino DSC_1699  We were rewarded for our patience in the end with one the most memorable elephant sightings I’ve ever had – a huge herd on the move surrounded our vehicle just before sundown – there must have been at least 80 elephants with lots of babies. It was incredibly special – you can see the short video clip on our social media feeds (Facebook; Instagram; Twitter).

MMDSC_1867Lion were equally elusive – one large pride had been feeding on a rhino carcass for a couple of days (died from natural causes) on the neighbouring conservancy of Londolozi and continued to feast there during our stay, not appearing until we left! (We managed to see fabulous lion feeding on a buffalo kill further south in Kruger National Park.)

Antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, hippo and many different bird species were all easy to see. We even saw a crocodile in the river. The most unusual sighting had to be the honey badger as it raced across the track right in front of us.

Value for money

Make no mistake, MalaMala is at the top end of the safari spectrum. Rates included all meals, drinks, game activities and WiFi. Hospitality, food and drink, guiding and accommodation were all exceptional, generous and wildlife sightings were rich and varied.

South Africa is an excellent holiday choice currently – the South African Rand is about 18 to the Pound (April 2019) so you can enjoy a diverse holiday combining a few days on safari with time on the Cape coast for example, for really good value, in comparison to other destinations.

Staying in a private reserve permits off-roading and the chance to have very close wildlife encounters. You can also drive at night. If you are on safari in the national park you are limited to using the set road routes and you can only drive between sunrise and sunset. They each offer very different experiences.

We offer many different camps and lodges in the Greater Kruger covering a range of price points, from small tented camps such as Garonga and Honeyguide to luxury lodges including MalaMala, Arathusa and Motswari. Please speak to us for advice.

 

cropped-logo-1.pngWild weekend – how we like to incorporate a safari to Greater Kruger within a holiday

How long to safari? 2 nights is really too short – we prefer a minimum stay of 3 nights in any one camp so you can really have a chance to see as much as possible (Kruger is a vast area so it also works  well combining stays in different locations as we did).

Whether you fly-in or drive-in there are many ways to combine safari time in Greater Kruger within a longer holiday. Here are a few ideas:

CPTshutterstock_102271513Stay in the Cape – fly from Johannesburg or KMIA Nelspruit to/from Cape Town. Kruger and the Cape are best combined April/May or September/October.

Visit Victoria Falls – you can fly on to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg or to Livingstone (the Zambian side of the Falls) from KMIA Nelspruit making for a fabulous cross border holiday.

Zambia 1 Coral Lodge Kayaking on lagoonEscape to the beaches of Mozambique or Mauritius – there are many options here – you can travel by road from Southern Kruger across the border to Maputo in about 3 hours, for beaches in Southern Mozambique, or you can fly to Vilanculos for the Quirimbas. Alternatively you can overnight at Johannesburg airport and fly to the island of Mauritius.

Go golfing – wish list golf courses are within reach of Kruger including Leopard Creek on the southern edge. Sun City is also easily combined with a safari to Kruger.

Take the train –  two of the world’s most luxurious trains operate in southern Africa out of Pretoria including the Blue Train and Rovos Rail. The Blue Train has a special Kruger itinerary as well as a 2 night journey to Cape Town. Rovos operates to Cape Town as well as a special golf and safari itinerary.

Explore by car –  self-drive the stunning Panorama route in Mpumalanga or connect south to Durban to explore the battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. The Drakensberg Mountains are another option.

Looking for a malaria free safari option? South Africa has several malaria free Big Five reserves – speak to us about Madikwe or the Eastern Cape.

To find out more about holidays to South Africa please visit the dedicated country page on the Real Africa website or call us for a chat on 01603 964 730.

Big cat central: a review of Mahali Mzuri, Masai Mara, Kenya

Blog DSC_8585Blog DSC_8586“Welcome to Olare Orok” grinned the barefoot co-pilot as he flung open the doors of the Cessna Caravan and pulled down the steps to let the sunshine in.

Waiting at the tiny airstrip were our Masai guides John and Dickson from Mahali Mzuri, Sir Richard Branson’s safari camp, one of five camps in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara, an hour’s flight west of Nairobi.

Branson’s camp opened in 2013 and works in partnership with the Maasai landowners to protect the ecosystem for the benefit of both community and wildlife. We’d had a number of guests stay at the camp in 2017 but I had not visited for myself so was very much looking forward to our stay.

Blog DSC_8592The transfer to camp in open Landcruisers is no more than 20 minutes but easily stretched to an hour as we discovered a beautiful female cheetah relaxing in the shade of an acacia within moments of leaving the airstrip.  We then came across a huge herd of buffalo – 100 or more flicking their ears and munching the lush grass, enriched by early rains in the Mara.

blog DSC_9055I was travelling with my wider family – seven of us in all. For the grannies, who both grew up in Kenya in the 50s it was a welcome, and emotional return. For my children, it was their first taste of East Africa.

Mahali Mzuri means ‘beautiful place’ and we were not disappointed.  The emerald cloak of the Mara in late March was captivating. Early rains had given the landscape a freshness and vibrancy.  The camp itself overlooks a valley with a rocky river at its heart. Giraffe lolloped along the valley as we settled down to an alfresco lunch, ably looked after by Johnstone, who had all our names within the first five minutes. Swahili started to come back to the grannies after a wine or two, much to his amusement and delight. A plump hippo waddled on the river bank and monkeys chattered nervously in the acacias.

blog DSC_8811Blog DSC_8691blog DSC_8820blog DSC_8827Mahali Mzuri does not have the look of your average tented camp.  The striking design, by Kenyan architects, pays homage to the local Ndorobo tribe who in times past used the ridge as a lookout,  while the interiors are inspired by the landscape with a natural palate of stone grey, red-oat rust and sun gold injected by bold prints, art and basketry all sourced locally. All the wood was harvested from sustainable sources and the site’s environmental impact was also addressed, with each canopy structure only touching the ground at three points, and all waste water being processed through gravity-fed anaerobic bio-digesters.

Each of the twelve tents is strung high above the valley, with six either side of the main camp area.  All enjoy wonderful panoramic views and are linked by a series of walkways. Each tent is raised up on a concrete plinth and stretched on a giant arching steel structure, surrounded by a spacious wooden deck. The interior, which is linear in design features a bedroom, living space and luxury bathroom complete with shower and roll top foot and claw bath. The tents are breeze cooled and incredibly comfortable – perfect for our multi generational group. Two of the tents are configured for families and can accommodate four sharing.

Although the tent interiors don’t feel huge, especially the family tent where our teenagers slept on wide sofabeds in the living room,  there’s everything you could possibly need, from torches and filtered water to bug spray and sunscreen. There’s even a complimentary mini bar in case you fancy a cold Tusker on the deck and don’t fancy the stroll to the main bar.  The outside area really does feel generous and has the most wonderful vista.

The communal camp area consists of three main sections. The main dining tent has several large dining tables arranged both indoors and outdoors on the deck, with  fallen trees as their bases and solid glass tops, as well as smaller tables.  The second central tent is a welcoming  lounge and bar area where tasty snacks appear three times a day at dawn, tea and during sundowners.  Both of these two open fronted tented areas are linked by steps to a lower decked tier with a large fire pit and further seating. Softly illuminated by lanterns and the glow of a camp fire, this was a wonderful place to sit with a nightcap as Olare’s big male lions warmed up their roar.

The third section of the communal camp area, also linked by decking, and favoured by the resident camp hyrax families offers a small gift shop, the office and washrooms. Steps down from here lead to a glorious sundeck and infinity pool, with a small spa on the level below.

Stays at Mahali Mzuri are all-inclusive from bubbles on arrival at the airstrip to a warming after dinner amaretto or whatever you fancy  – it’s great to be able to budget for all this from home rather than during your holiday and we found it extremely relaxing to know everything was included from the word go. The only exceptions to this rule are the additional activities, for example the spa, community visits and hot air balloon safaris.

Food was of a very high standard with several choices offered at lunch and dinner – both being leisurely three course affairs. All our dining was private with our own table set up. The chef would often come out to chat with diners which was a lovely touch. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juices, toast and preserves, pastries and an expansive cooked menu from eggs and bacon to pancakes.

Blog DSC_8682blog DSC_9001For the next three days we followed a safari routine,  rising at around 530am in the dark, and escorted by the waiting ‘askaris’ to the lounge for a hot brew and a warm pastry as dawn unveiled the valley. We’d leave at first light, by 630am, kept cosy in the open Landcruisers by lovely hot water bottles,  ponchos and Maasai blankets, provided by camp. We’d be out until 930/10am, peeling off layers as the sun got higher in the sky, ready for a big breakfast back at camp mid morning.

The middle part of the day was spent having a swim, reading on the deck, watching the wildlife come and go from the valley and eating and drinking. The pool was a great distraction in the heat of the day, especially for the children. The pool deck offers some lovely deep shade. We’d meet in the lounge at 4pm for tea, which was always very sociable with the other camp guests,and be out on safari from 430pm till around 7pm when we’d return for a gin and tonic on the deck before dinner. On our final night we dined by the pool, surrounded by lanterns. After sundown the askaris guide you around camp, ensuring your safety.

blogDSC_8904We were able to explore a number of different areas in the conservancy during our stay, crossing rivers and crawling carefully down rocky hills to the wide open plains below, the children taking turns to sit up front with Dickson, completing their ‘warrior’ booklet as they went. Children 6 years+ are warmly welcomed.

On our first morning game drive we explored the valley immediately below camp. Some of our best wildlife sightings were right here. We had not long been on the valley floor when Dickson’s efforts were rewarded. The monkeys were nosier than usual and the birds were squawking. Then we saw her…

Blog DSC_8714Slinking along the valley, on the opposite side to the river from us, with her coat golden in the morning sun was a lioness. Dickson recognised her and said she had four cubs up on the slopes further along from camp. We waited patiently as she crossed the river and came towards us, almost brushing the tyres of the Landcrusier as she went.

blog DSC_8760The monkeys continued to chatter nervously and as we followed the lioness, a large hippo appeared on the horizon – I’ve never seen a hippo so far from water  – it looked like a huge boulder.

Suddenly there was a great explosion of movement from a thicket lower down the slope. What looked to be a leopard shot out of the bushes at lightning speed, pursued rapaciously by our lioness, who stretched herself up the tree as far as she could, clawing at the bark.

We held our breath. All was still again save for the hippo who continued to traverse the hillside. The lioness lay in wait for a few moments before deciding to continue her journey along the valley. We sat and watched. And waited in the hope the leopard would emerge.

blog DSC_8748blog DSC_8738The dark rosettes of the leopard could just about be seen with the binoculars but he was well concealed in the highest boughs of the tree. It took about 15 minutes until we saw any movement at all. Gradually, gracefully he picked his way down the tree. He was a huge thick-set male leopard. He sidled casually along the river bank, standing proudly in the long grass before disappearing out of sight…

We never did catch up with the lioness and her four cubs – we saw them from a distance and we glimpsed them playing in the trees as a dramatic storm swept through the valley one afternoon, pelting our Landcruiser and turning the sky black and moody. The storm curtailed the afternoon drive a little but it was very exciting.

blog DSC_8802We may not have spent time with the lioness and cubs but our stay in the Mara was not short of big cats  – this area is densely populated – we even got to watch a ‘super pride’ of 17 lion hunting warthog, and we also found the two huge male lions who woke us every night with their spine tingling roars. On the second night the roar was so loud it literally felt like the lion was right outside the tent. Thrilling.

blog DSC_8984In the valley and area immediately around Mahali Mzuri we did not see another vehicle – on the other side of the valley, down on the plains, we did see other vehicles, but most of our sightings were enjoyed on our own or with only one other vehicle. This included watching the wonderful cheetah brothers.

One of our highlights at Mahali Mzuri was coming across a one hour old baby elephant being nursed by her mother. Truly magical. We stayed watching until well after 1030am before returning to camp for a late breakfast.

We stayed three nights at Mahali Mzuri and wish we had stayed four – testament to the fact we had a great time.  We loved the staff who were all so warm and friendly, from our superb guide Dickson, to the managers Mariana and Wilson. We were incredibly comfortable, saw some amazing wildlife and laughed continually for three days. What more could you want?

Blog DSC_8597Green season travel

blog DSC_9126We chose to travel in the Green season – we enjoyed hot sunny days, some incredible sunsets and sunrises and only one big downpour which arrived just before sunset and lasted several hours. Some of the roads were badly damaged by heavy rain earlier in the month and we had to travel to the larger Ol Kiombo airstrip an hour away from camp to fly on to our next stop because Olare Orok was too soft to land on but other than that the weather did not impact on our plans. Mornings and after sunset it got quite chilly and you needed to dress with plenty of layers but the middle of the day was blazing hot. There are many young animals during the Green Season, the birding is fantastic and the landscape is beautiful. I love visiting at this time of year.

Special Offers

The benefit of the Green season is that there are very few other visitors in the Mara and you can take advantage of lower rates and special offers, for example Mahali has stay and pay offers and also a ‘children go free’ offer running at certain times of year. Look out for these for travel between March and June and often in November time too.  We include some offers on our ‘Special Offer‘ page on the website.

To find out more about Mahali Mzuri please click here.

To find out more about Kenya as a holiday destination please click here.

To discuss your family journey to Africa, or for a tailor-made itinerary,  please call us on 01603 964 730.

17 April 2018, by Sara White