Archive for the ‘Safari and Wildlife’ Category

Twelve months ago we started plotting an expedition over lunch, on a rain-soaked day in the Franschhoek Valley. The resulting brief was to combine good exercise with a pioneering adventure and an exhilarating wildlife experience – the old school way. The redoubtable James Varden was to lead this inaugural adventure into the unknown. Its purpose was to test-run future mini-expeditions for our guests and create some lasting memories for us, so we threw together a motley crew for the first run in June and told them absolutely nothing apart from:

• We are going to Zimbabwe
• We will walk +/- 20 km per day in a remote wilderness area, thick with wildlife
• Bring a day pack which carries at least 3 litres of water
• We stay in bush-camps
• Make sure you wear in your boots and bring bush-coloured attire, and a sense of humour!

This was no ordinary walk, traversing three blocks, in the remote Savé Conservancy, in the lowveld of South East Zimbabwe. James had gone down in advance to recce a route, between four bush-camps, and we drove down to meet him from Harare for six nights in the bush absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. We heard lion every night and morning, tracked black and white rhino, navigated through herds of ellies and around buffalo and walked through some magnificent scenery. The food and hospitality was superb and we all came away beaming, knowing we had been privileged to have sole access to this wonderful part of Africa, for a piece of time.

This year we are organising the same walk for two groups of four to six people, led by James, between the months of May and July. You need to be bush savvy (it is in an area of dangerous game) and be prepared to walk 20 km per day for five days. It is led by one of the best guides in the business for his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for his country and its flora and fauna, not to mention his pranks. This is an adults only walk but older children may be considered. The overview is below and for some drone footage of the Chishakwe area we walked in CLICK HERE


You will be walking through the bush on bush trails and the occasional dirt track through parts of the Save Conservancy in South East Zimbabwe. It is a Big 5 area so there is a possibility of bumping into animals considered to be dangerous game. James will be armed and will know how best to react in this eventuality.

In addition to Big 5 the Conservancy is home to a large diversity of game animals and you are likely to see zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, eland, kudu, impala, waterbuck, sable, bush buck, nyala, duiker, warthog etc. You may well see wild dog, hyena (brown and spotted), jackal, serval etc too. Though it is rare you might see cheetah.

The bird life is spectacular and those who are interested will not be disappointed. James will be able to point out a myriad of small species (mongoose, squirrel, porcupine etc). Naturally there is also abundant insect and reptile life which can also be a source of fascination.

Save Valley Conservancy is famous for its huge and abundant baobabs and there are at least two trees which are recorded in books for their size and age. It is also well known for its vast mopane forests … in fact a BBC documentary was made on them just after our walk.

You will not see roan antelope, tsesebe, hartebeest, gemsbok or blesbok as they do not occur in the conservancy.
There is no shortage of any of the big 5 species in the conservancy so there is a reasonably strong chance of you see seeing most or all of these species. They would say you are pretty much guaranteed elephant and buffalo, the cats will be trickier as you will be moving around in the daylight. Rhino tend to be very secretive but it is not that uncommon to come across them, but you will have the opportunity of tracking them. One of the highlights of the walk.


James has established himself as one of Southern Africa’s pre-eminent guides. He has conducted walking trails in Mana Pools, Hwange and Matusadona, all dangerous wildlife areas. His passion for all aspects of nature, particularly birding and botany, combined with a keen emphasis on very active, adventurous and energetic safaris meant that guests left with as full a safari experience as one could get.

From November 1997 until now, James has focused on the guiding (including on horseback and on water) and wildlife issues, becoming more involved in issues that threaten wilderness values and areas. James and his wife Janine have started Community Projects in the Mavhuradonha Wilderness 600 sq.km boundary, including Honey for Money.

James has guided in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda. Twice scaled Kilimanjaro and done the three main peaks of the Ruwenzori Mountains.
He has also birded extensively in the Far East, Australia and visited Antarctica. Sir Ranulph Feinnes has been one of James’s clients. More info on http://www.vardensafaris.com

There will be an opportunity to fish for bass, bream and barbel

It might or might not be possible to see the dogs on foot depending on where they den. If we are lucky and they are near a camp you are staying in you will be able to go out of foot. We can arrange a visit to the dog den with the researchers, or perhaps we convince them to join you for dinner. This is a rare occurrence and is charged separately by the African Wildlife Conservation Fund should you want to do it.

Guests arrange flights to Harare and can either take road transfer in, between 5 and 6 hours, or you can private charter from Harare into a bush airstrip. We would recommend a road transfer one way to see some lovely scenery on the way down and private charter out.

+/-$220 – 250 per person per day for accommodation and food. Not including drinks (6 nights x $250 = $1500 pp)
$500 per day for guide – split between you
$50 per day for guide accommodation and food – split between you

Extras – Drinks, flights, transfers, hunting, wild dog research



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The Dogcatcher was sitting idle, in Kasane on the northern Botswana border with Zimbabwe and Zambia, and it needed to return to roost in Franschhoek, some 2,400 kilometres across the central Kalahari. A very generous extended pink ticket was granted to me, so I asked my nine-fingered friend, Dorian Hoy, who runs Great Plains Conservation in Botswana, if he needed some help. I had two weeks to fill, before the drive.

His answer was surprisingly swift and encouraging “I am sure we can, and I will get back to you next week.” That’s when my mind started racing. I had visited the Selinda Reserve a number of times over the last five years and the area is remote and very, very special. It is the size of the Masai Mara, with two all-year-round camps and one seasonal tented camp, it also operates an incredible canoe safari, and a total of just sixteen tents. In my heightened sense of anticipation I could not think of much else, but being in that environment.

This is the first in a series of dispatches from the region, and some of the memories, of previous visits, are depicted below.

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Rear-Admiral Dorian Hoy, able-fisherman master Sam Hoy and I (tackle-master, bottle washer, deck-scrubber) threw caution to the wind and took off up a channel from Maun to see how far we could get into the swamps in a day.

Laden with drinks, snacks, binos and fishing tackle we launched at dawn, following a GPS route which we had downloaded from a contact in Maun. Our aim was to get to Gunns Camp, in the middle of the swamps, about 90 km from riverbank in Maun, and come back via an adjoining channel, stop for a swim, lunch and catch as many species of fish that time would allow. It made for an interesting day out carving through forests of papyrus and keeping on track – it is very easy to lose yourself in the maze of channels with no clear landmarks to identify.

The first third of the journey was getting up to the Moremi Reserve post and after that point the wildlife began appearing in greater quantities. The water is clear and cool and very inviting. Once the coast had been checked for all manner of beasts we climbed in, fished, ate and drank some cold beers. Altogether it took around 8 hours and I landed my first African Pike. We hardly saw a soul.

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Andrew, at the end of the night, suggested an adventure at dawn the next day.

“Let’s fly to South Island on Turkana, see if we can catch a Nile Perch, and if we can’t we can have some breakfast anyway, and take in some views.”

Chiyulu added “We can break the doors off to get some air-conditioning and you wont feel cramped at all”

We went and this is what we saw:

We started at Ol Malo and then in a north-westerly direction over the Lerochi Plateau, Painted Valley, the croc pools on the Rift Valley floor and ancient lava flows. Heading north up the Suguta River, across the sand dunes to Lake Logipi and over the ridge of the Teliui volcano to the Nabaitum crater on Turkana Lake shore landing on South Island. It took two hours with some low-level aerobatics – we even had some of Andrews’ afro-pop in our ears. After a splash and two small tilapia we returned Via Mount Nyiro, the Horr Valley, the Ndotos, Milgis Lugga and the Mathews Range to Sarara. There are 30 slides.

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We spotted Gabriel from across the swollen river, in his striking red shukka, standing aside a large dome-shaped back of a camel. Steve Carey ferried us across the chocolate waters and we slipped into walking boots. We had a hike ahead lead by Gabriel though the Tumaren Ranch to rendezvous with Kerry Glen in the evening. Camels were on hand and we could see a landmark of the koppie to walk to on the horizon. The morning was cool and we set off to absorb the surroundings, with Gabriel imparting his knowledge on us as we stepped out.

The scenery from the koppie stretched out for miles and you could sit there for hours spotting movements in the bush below. We returned to the outcrop for sundown and the view takes your breath away. Kerry moves her camps and they are small and intimate, simple and comfortable. Just what it should be like. The one we claimed is in a pole position on a bend in the river.

You get to camp after a long walk, take a cooling shower, are handed an ice cold Tusker, slop in a chair and look at the river. Dusk falls, another Tusker and a fabulous bush meal arrives and Kerry brings the region alive. In bed by 9, listening to the prrrp of the diminutive Scops owl. It does not get much better.

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On a dusty bend in the road north between Nairobi and Nanyuki, Gordie Church lurked in ambush sporting flat cap and razor sharp side burns. A long awaited re-union with a gangly old friend and Felicia on their shamba, resting in between safaris. A fitting start, over a few Tuskers, to 5 weeks in Kenya, exploring the north and then onto Lamu Island, an original Swahili settlement on the coast of East Africa.

Next stop was to see some friends of Sarah’s, Jordie and Steve Carey, who have just opened Laikipia Wilderness Camp a couple of hours drive from Nanyuki, set in striking scenery overlooking a bend in the river. We flycamped, swam in the river, tracked wild dog, gorged on wild honey, listened to a lion kill a zebra to be attacked by hyena, at close range, in pitch blackness – a thrilling experience. We saw a community in harmony with nature, with wildlife and cattle living side by side, and experienced a remarkable region of Africa.

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In between injections of gin and quinine we went to test the health of gill-bearing aquatic vertebrae off Linene Island, on the southern tip of the Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique. On the surface there were plenty of healthy signs; breaching whales, popping heads of loggerhead turtles and pods of spinning dolphins. Below the surface too there was plenty of action. We were ‘taxed’ catches by sharks and even ‘upgraded’, when the fish on the line was swallowed and became part of a larger catch. Most of the fish were tagged and released save some sashimi and seared tuna, succulent king mackerel and ‘chicken of the sea’ dorado. Seven species were recorded, although the estimated 250 kg of Black Marlin escaped after 10 minutes of blistering bursts, and the yellow spotted kingfish was de-bodied by a shark.


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