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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

OVERVIEW

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 VARDEN

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

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

WILD DOGS
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.

TRAVEL
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.

COSTS
+/-$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

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE EMAIL ME ON explorersclub@me.com

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In mid November we are launching a tiny cottage, sleeping two, with a special view. Lots of availability for season so get booking!!! Some more info on the link below.. Rates from R2,350.00 per night.

CLICK HERE to make a booking

forest-cottages-12

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Having seen close to fifteen years of innovation in our valley it is surprising we see the bar still being lifted each year. A few years ago, during the World Cup hosted in South Africa, a new visitor fell in love with Franschhoek. Since then he has been busy, quietly amassing a hospitality portfolio that he has transformed into a step above the rest. That man is Analjit Singh.

Not only has he and his team created two outstanding new hotels, but he has acquired, and is revamping, the iconic Le Quartier Francais and Tasting Room. He has opened a Micro-Brewery called Tuk-Tuk and is introducing North Indian cuisine into the valley through a new restaurant called Marigold in November of this year. If that is not enough he has formed a partnership with Mullineux, the 2016 Winery of the Year. With an impressive team of architects, landscape and interior designers, they have launched the Leeu Collection, with an extensive collection of art.

We had the fortune of spending a night recently and decided to sample an informative wine tasting at The Wine Studio followed by a massage in the dreamy Spa, and dinner at The Dining Room…. it was my birthday of course… thanks Sarah! We slept like hibernating bears and dropped downstairs reluctantly to say goodbye, but not after a sumptuous breakfast on the terrace on a sunny day in winter.

We should do this more often. It was very spoiling. If you want to stay… let Sarah know….www.sarahjamestravel.com

 

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A boy scout trip with a couple of bushmen at Meno a kwena is always going to throw up some surprises. Fire was always on the cards but it was the hunt for the small things that was particularly interesting.

Matchbox size entrances, on the harder parts of the ground, were indicating the presence of scorpions and we went after one. A foot-long piece of reed was used to show the direction of the tunnel and follow the burrow to where the scorpion lay. It took five minutes to dig an angry little scorpion out of its tunnel. The way you calm its temper is to put the scorpion in your mouth and sooth it with your tongue to made it docile and curiously relaxed. Best leave that to the bushmen.

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Should a bit of bush fatigue set in the perfect antidote is a night under the stars on the Makgadikgadi pans. The contrast to the bush is thoroughly refreshing, particularly if you have been tossed about in the sandy mires of the Kalahari and taken in the somewhat cluttered areas of  Chobe where the elephants have left a graveyard of trees, trunks and branches. There is utter silence away from the chatter of the bush. There are no leaves to rustle, no birds to chirp and no animals to grunt, cackle or roar. A splendid way to finish off a bush trip. Planet Baobab, on this occasion, organised this mini-expedition. We accompanied two filmmakers capturing the essence of the pans, Lloyd and Joelle, and soaked it all up under a thick blanket of stars.

Lying southeast of the Okavango Delta and surrounded by the Kalahari Desert, Makgadikgadi is one of the largest and inhospitable salt flats in the world. The pan is all that remains of the formerly enormous Lake Makgadikgadi, which once covered an area larger than Switzerland, but dried up several thousand years ago. The prominent baobab trees found in the area function as local landmarks. One of them, named after James Chapman, served as an unofficial post office for 19th-century explorers.

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The choice of dribbling along for twenty-two hours across an expanse of water or battling for forty-eight hours across corrugated roads and bottomless potholes was an easy one. It was an especially easy decision as it was like entering a time capsule – The Kariba Ferry. We squeezed onto one of the three available berths reserved for Dogcatchers, turned off the ignition, and headed for a gin and tonic.

After almost two decades in dry dock the old Kariba Ferry, The Sea Lion, has been given a new lease of life and they are making up for lost time with their fares. Still, this is one of the most enjoyable ways to travel. We had a complement of perhaps a dozen passengers; one extended family and us. Our quarters were to find ourselves so we laid out two canvas mattresses on deck for the duration of the journey and made camp. We were joined, sardine fashion, at night, under the stars, by the other dozen which made for a cozy night. Drinks were preceded by plates of salty kapenta, the local whitebait, which made you want to drink more. The main meal was meat and two veg, and so good it was too, as was the impeccable service on board.

We stopped late into the day, in the middle of the lake, to change engines, and everyone went for a swim – crocs or no crocs it is the right thing to do. It is timeless. The chairs in the lounge reclined, and then turned into beds at night and they have never been replaced – nor had the blankets. But this is part of the charm, it was returning to the 70s, just without the bad haircuts, and long may it last.

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We have discovered another twinkling moon called Little Hampton and it sits above Boulders Beach, a sheltered cove made up of inlets between gigantic granite boulders on the Cape Peninsula. The beach also happens to be a permanent nesting colony of African Penguins and is a perfect beach for children to play hooky.

Colleen Nugent, its vivacious owner, has always loved the village atmosphere of Simonstown, just 40 minutes from the centre of Cape Town. She has captured a liberating Enid Blyton existence in this all-wood holiday home. The result is a light and bright welcoming space, where rosy pinks and pale blues set the scene, a few minutes down a track to the water. It’s a place where you want to kick off your shoes and plunge into an idyllic seaside holiday. A perfect companion to combine with one of the Explorers Club houses. For more info visit Little Hampton.

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