Lolebezi: Wild, Remote, Luxurious

The Zambezi is one of Africa’s largest and most iconic rivers.

Originating in the highlands of Zambia, it sweeps out to the west into Angola, then back south through Zambia before forming the border between Namibia as it turns to the east, then the border with Zimbabwe, and eventually crossing into Mozambique where it continues its path to the Indian Ocean.

Wildlife is to be found all along its almost 3000km length, but one section in particular is a verdant paradise; the 150km downstream from the Chirundu border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is part of the Lower Zambezi Valley, and it is here that you will find some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing in one of the most spectacular areas in Africa.
It is here that you find Lolebezi Camp, in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park.

Lolebezi is the latest offering in the African Bush Camps portfolio, and is one of the most special. An exclusive kilometre of Zambezi River frontage has guests waking up to one of the continent’s great waterways within a few metres of the deck of their rooms, more often than not with an elephant or two in attendance, and at the very least the local pod of hippos. The river teems with life here, especially in the dry season (July – October), when the inland pans evaporate and animals have to flock to the riverbank to drink.

Elephant herds congregate under the Ana trees to eat the fallen pods, impalas and baboons feed together, both acting as sentries for each other, and where there is a multitude of herbivores, the predators are never far away.
Leopards and lions abound here, and the openness in of the area towards the end of the dry season in particular makes the sightings of these big cats more common.

Large packs of the endangered African Wild Dog have made their home in the park, one of the few areas that provides the space that these enigmatic animals require to operate effectively in the huge home ranges they need, whilst simultaneously allowing for a large enough population to establish itself that ensures healthy genetic flow.

The camp itself is paradise.

Sunsets like no other as the sky and the river itself are bathed in golden, red and purple hues. Fish eagles calling from the trees above and the chatter of monkeys from the tree tops serves as constant reminders that you are not separated from nature here; you are immersed in it.

The contemporary design of Lolebezi seamlessly blends modest elegance with a simplicity that can only be found in the African bush. Designed for both family and romantic escapes, Lolebezi has four superior suites and two double family units. The lodge is fully airconditioned, with a private plunge pool and thatched Sala on the river.

The eco-conscious traveller should look no further, as the camp is powered by an off-the-grid solar farm, and the water supply and wastewater are managed to ensure that no pollution enters the river. Everything is done to minimise the human footprint on the land.

 

Lolebezi is a family friendly lodge, welcoming children of all ages (with the restriction of children over the age of 16 being able to join walking safaris and canoeing).
The small number of suites assures an intimate experience, whether you are travelling as a couple or in a slightly larger group.

The main dining area of Lolebezi is designed out of old railway sleepers, harking back to the long-forgotten days of exploration and giving it a distinctly adventurous atmosphere. The all-day café and pizza bar ensure that you won’t be going hungry whilst on safari here. If you’d rather opt for a more secluded dining experience, you can eat in your own dining room or take advantage of the river-pods for picnics.

Lolebezi is truly a special place. The combination of its immersion in one of Africa’s greatest wildlife areas as well as its superb accommodation and attention to detail make it one of the best offerings in the region.
A short flight from Lusaka (Zambia’s capital) will set you down at the airstrip just two kilometres from camp, and only a short game drive down the road you will be on the banks of the Zambezi, sipping a G&T while taking in the river and its accompanying escarpment in all their glory.

Get in touch to find out more…

How to Get the Most out of Safari

With the world having opened up once more, and PCR tests a thing of the past, I wonder how people feel to be returning to the bush and safari. For some – for many in fact – it’s been a long wait.

I remember chatting about it to other guides: would returning guests be so thrilled to be outdoors, traveling, immersed in nature, that just the whisper of the wind in the grass will be enough to keep them content, or will it be the opposite? Or would there an almost overwhelming need to race around and take in as much as possible as quickly as possible, like a starving person being confronted with an overload buffet?

Don’t race around.
Stop, breathe, listen. Appreciate how magic it is that we can travel again.
Although we’re sure you want to leave with an absolute surfeit of memories and experiences (which you will almost certainly get), the best way to achieve this is actually to slow down.

Stopping to look at birds will help you find the big cats, because with the vehicle engine off you will hear alarm calls that much more easily, or even the calls of the predator themselves. But given that many people have had to defer their safari trips for so long thanks to the pandemic, we thought we’d reiterate some of the golden rules we’ve picked up during our years in the industry…

Stop often

It’s not only about the listening mentioned above when the engine is off. Stopping for the small stuff gives everyone’s eyes on the vehicle a chance to wander, not just those of the ranger and tracker.
Movement is one of the biggest giveaways of an animal’s position, pretty much rendering camouflage moot, but if you’re driving most of the time, it’s hard to spot movement against what is essentially already a moving background. Coming to a standstill and taking the time to scan is far more likely to reveal results.
A tracker I once worked with spotted a leopard at 820m distance because of a brief flicker of movement in a tree, but he almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to do so if the vehicle had been moving.

Sitting still gives you a time to appreciate things more, it gives the tracker a better chance to examine the road ahead for signs of animals that have passed by, and unless you really need to be covering ground, there is very little to be said against stopping. We’re not advocating a regular ten-minute break, but don’t be afraid to have the engine off.
You’ll end up seeing more. Trust us.

Keep the pressure off

The rangers and trackers are well aware of their guests’ expectations. The team conducting your safari also have their own expectations of what they should be seeing in the bush. They want to see the spectacular, just as much as guests. They do their job because they love the environment and the thrill of viewing wildlife. They want the best sightings possible, and are going to do everything in their power to get you into the right position to see nature at its finest.

But, quite often, they need time to be able to do this. The time to analyse tracks, the time to make well thought-out decisions based on the evidence of the bush, their knowledge of animal movements, the weather, where other guides and trackers are working at the same time, and a myriad of other factors that all combine to make them decide to turn left or right at the next road junction.
The more the pressure mounts to see something epic, the more the possibility creeps in that that pressure might influence the decisions being made. Granted, by far the most pressure ranger and tracker teams receive is from themselves, but the less pressure from outside, the more the experience can proceed at the leisurely pace that will ultimately reveal the most.

Tracking in particular takes patience and concentration, and a ranger constantly radioing in and asking for updates is only a distraction. If a tracker or ranger has an update, they’ll give it. Many of most revered trackers are notorious for turning their radio off when on foot. They will radio you only when they find the animal, not before. Frustrating at times for the ranger(s) working with them, but they know what they was doing, and don’t want the distraction.

Remind yourself

We should regularly pinch ourselves when out the bush. “I can’t believe I’m seeing”, should play on loop in your head. Make sure to actively remind yourself just how special it all is. It’s human nature to become used to something, but the last couple of years have been a wake-up for many to not take anything for granted.
Even if it’s something seemingly mundane like a turtle dove hopping around in front of your chalet, take a moment to truly observe it and think about its role in the greater scheme of things. It’s also trying to survive, with a life every bit as dramatic – at least for it – as a leopard’s, and just as fraught with danger as that of an impala constantly sniffing the wind for the scent of a lion.

During the most restricted days of the pandemic, we often pictured international travel opening up again being like the shop doors opening at a Black Friday sale. It wasn’t quite that hectic, but the comparison that can still be made is the anticipation while waiting; excitement and the prospect of something spectacular and imminent. And given the crazy boom in travel we’re currently seeing, that metaphor wasn’t all that wide of the mark…

There the comparison ends, as in the bush, instead of having to rush around madly trying to fill your shopping trolley, you’ll find that if you just take a leisurely stroll down the aisle, the trolley fills up all on its own, and can hold far more than you possibly imagined…

Birkenhead House Voted South Africa’s Best

Travel and Leisure Magazine reaches more than 16 million travellers every month, and their team includes a network of hundreds of writers and photographers across the globe, all providing a local eye on the best places to stay, eat, see, and explore.

Each year the publication asks their readers to weigh in as to their best destinations, and these awards are sub-categorised by continent, by offering and by accommodation type. Winning one is very prestigious as it means that it is the travellers themselves that are endorsing your product, not just one or two judges that happened to visit the location.

Birkenhead House in Hermanus, part of the Royal Portfolio, was recently voted as the Best Resort in Africa by T+L readers, which is no mean feat, especially when you consider it has already received over 20 other awards since 2003.

Birkenhead House sets the standard for luxury hotels in Hermanus, a quiet seaside town just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town. With its exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay, Birkenhead House provides luxury accommodation for those seeking time out to relax and recharge body and mind.

Surfers show their skills in the waves below, and during the summer months the sheltered coast of the town provides a refuge for literally tons of Southern Right and Humpback whales that move through the area, often only metres from the shore.

The hotel’s contemporary décor is an artful mix of beach-house and quirky opulence. The all-inclusive rate means that guests never need to leave the comfort of Birkenhead House, where all meals and drinks are included. Delicious, coastal-inspired cuisine made using fresh seafood and flavourful ingredients from the local shoreline makes for an unforgettable dining experience for guests. Every meal is accompanied by expansive sea views overlooking the Atlantic ocean.

For the more adventurous, Hermanus offers activities aplenty including whale watching, shark cage diving, golf, horse riding on the beach, hiking, surfing, mussel picking and even wine tasting. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is just a short drive away and is one of South Africa’s premier wine routes. Restaurant and wine-tasing opportunities abound in this delightful and picturesque part of the South African coastline.

The 11 rooms at Birkenhead House are located in three different houses which make up Birkenhead House.

Four types of room – from standard to deluxe superior rooms, all of which sleep two people – offer a range of accommodation options. All are 40 square metres and above and all are opulently decorated, offering magnificent sea or mountain views.

The Western Cape has more than enough to do just in and around Cape Town, but if you feel like a bit more peace and quiet, some country air and fresh salt spray, you simply won’t find a better place than Birkenhead House to recharge the soul.
Get in touch to find out about availability and rates…

Mombo: Place of Plenty

Mombo Camp has long held a reputation as being the place to view wildlife in Botswana.
The Mombo concession is located just below where the Okavango River splits into three primary channels, and supports a diversity of game hard to find anywhere else in Africa. When the water levels of the Okavango rise during winter floods, many animals move to find dry land on the 1000 square kilometre Chief’s Island. Mombo Camp is nestled in the northern tip of the island.

The far-reaching floodplains and diversity of habitats invite a number of different prey species in abundance, drawn in particular by the fertility of the area and the high-quality grazing and browsing that results.

And where there is prey, you find the predators.

Mombo Camp underwent a refurbishment in 2018, although the lodge was careful to use much of the same material and not expand their footprint at all so as to minimise impact on the environment in which they find themselves. Beautifully constructed walkways weave through the riparian vegetation to link the guest suites with the large main area, which features beautifully furnished areas to lounge in as well as a well-stocked library of reference works and novels.
The bar, open throughout the day, is well-stocked and just the place to enjoy a cool gin and tonic whilst gazing out over the lush floodplain. The fireplace adjacent to the main indoor dining area is a welcome addition during the winter months when temperatures can drop quickly after dark.

Eight spacious suites, all constructed out of wood and canvas, afford sweeping views over an open floodplain that teems with wildlife. Elephants graze in front of your deck, lechwe saunter parts displaying impressive horns, and a slinking leopard is likely not far away.
Each suite offers a sitting room; separate bedroom and bathroom; indoor and outdoor showers; elegant copper bathtub; and outdoor private sala with a double day bed, sunken couch, plunge pool, and wrap-around veranda, all immersing you deeper into the bush and the wonders of Mombo’s private traversing area.

An elephant grazes in front of a Mombo villa, Mombo, Botswana
Lounge and paths, Mombo, Botswana
View across the interleading, interlinking suite, Mombo, Botswana

The high nutrient density of the soil around Mombo results in a wildlife experience that is truly like no other. Wild dogs, lions, cheetahs, leopards… it is possible to see all over the course of a single morning’s game drive.
The guiding standard at Mombo is particularly high, and a long history of sensitive approaches to game viewing has ensured that the wildlife is completely relaxed around the Land Cruisers.

If you would like to find out more about this incredible destination, don’t hesitate to get in touch so we can start planning your safari…

Abadi’s Iconic Africa Safaris Go Wild

Our Co-founder and director Terri Abadi was recently featured in a wonderful article in the Atlanta Jewish Times. 
We have reprinted the article below for you to enjoy:
Article by Marcia Caller Jaffe.

Terri Abadi provides customized safari experiences from glamping to kosher based on her own love of nature and her native country.

Terri Abadi spent her childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, where she developed a love of wildlife, wild spaces and “her people.” In 2013, she launched Atlanta-based safari tour company Iconic Africa, specializing in planning tours for adventurous and curious travelers. A top choice on most bucket lists, the South Africa safaris elicit remarks such as “life changing” and “intensely spiritual” from Abadi’s travelers.

A young male elephant tests the breeze n Botswana’s Okavango Delta

“I feel the closest to God when I’m in wild places,” the Iconic Africa director told the AJT. “Nature, with its wealth of diversity and unfathomable complexity, is a gift from God and where I feel most spiritual. When I’m out in the African wilds, I often ponder God’s acts of creation and see incomparable genius. Waking up to the sounds of the wild, the vivid colors of the African sunrise, sounds of the coucal at dawn, the roar of a lion reverberating through the night … I breathe in the crisp air and smell the wild sage as we drive out of camp; the cool morning wind on my face makes me count my lucky stars that I get to do this so often.”

Leaving South Africa in the 1990s to be near her brothers in Atlanta, Abadi partnered in 2014 with an old friend, John Holley, who now runs her South Africa office, to turn a traditional travel agency into a superior online travel platform showcasing African destinations representative of her values: most importantly, an authentic commitment to wilderness conservation.

Lion cubs play in a sandy riverbed.

Iconic Africa has teams in South Africa, Kenya and the U.S. staffed by African-born travel experts who are committed to being close at hand on each step of the journey. Beyond sightseeing, the company maintains philanthropic goals focused on facilitating positive change for Africans in Africa, while creating a seamless and unforgettable experience for their clients.

Abadi does not chaperone every trip, but does take three to four tours herself every year, usually with extended family, in June.

“It’s important for agents to know the areas to which they send clients, so I make sure I have experience with every destination included on an itinerary,” she said. “While I do not personally go on each tour, I curate each trip for the particular client from start to finish.”

Each trip is completely customized, from multi-generational family trips, once-in-a-lifetime honeymoons or conservation-driven trips. To make the ordinary truly extraordinary, Abadi probes the desires and expectations of each client ahead of time. Iconic Africa includes boutique elements with customized packages that fit every budget from standard tours to totally private, ultra-luxurious expeditions.

When it comes to safety, Abadi says, “All our tours are completely safe, and we are always in the loop, making sure our travelers’ safety is paramount.”

Yes, kosher accommodations are available. Iconic offers fully Beth Din-approved hotels and lodges. At remote safari lodges and destinations, they offer various solutions, from flying in prepared kosher meals to preparing fresh kosher-friendly food on site, or even arranging private chefs to reside on hand.

Terri Abadi founded Iconic Africa in 2013. She has an unbridled love for her native country and its wildlife.

Being South African, Terri favors the Greater Kruger area, particularly the Sabi Sand Reserve, where game viewing is most incredible. “There are so many wonderful lodges in Africa, each with its own brand of magic,” she recalled. “From panoramas over the Great Rift Valley, to glamping in style in the Botswanan desert, every landscape awakens the soul!”

A female leopard and two cubs get out of the wet grass at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa following a short rainstorm.

One of Abadi’s unmissable sights is leopard viewing in Londolozi Game Reserve. “The leopard viewing is surreal!” she exclaims. “I have seen more than my fair share of these beautiful cats there over the years and have even watched some grow from tiny cubs to having multiple litters of their own.”

Abadi is a member of Congregation Beth Tefillah and has four children. Her other passions include yoga, reading and photography.

Amanzi: Lower Zambezi’s Living Eden

If tranquility in an African bush setting is what you are after, with the gentle current of the Zambezi River flowing past your private deck, a cold Zambezi Lager in one hand, a pair of binoculars in the other and a herd of elephants swimming across the river int he distance, Amanzi Luxury Tented Camp is the place for you.

Set far from the madding crowd in the Lower Zambezi National Park – a place swiftly gaining a reputation as one of Africa’s new hotspots for sensational game viewing – Amanzi is the most remote of the camps in the region, as well as being exclusive-use only, meaning you’ll enjoy a far more intimate wildlife experience.

Guided walks, game drives and river excursions offer multiple exciting ways to explore the area, and all offer their own unique way to immerse yourself in of the continent’s most special wildernesses.

Amanzi is a small camp, being comprised of only four classically styled luxury suites.
Two suites are stand-alone and one is a double-bedroom family styled suite, with the two bedrooms being designed in exactly the same way as the stand-alones.
Wooden walkways link the rooms to the lounge and dining area, and move further through the riparian thickets to the pool and teak viewing deck, situated just above the mighty Zambezi River.

More often than not guests don’t even need to leave their suites to view wildlife, as large hippo pods frequent the area and elephants are an almost constant presence around the camp.

Whilst historically areas like Hwange in Zimbabwe, the Okavango in Botswana, and the Kruger National Park and surrounds in South Africa have been at the forefront of the Southern African wildlife scene, Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park is fast coming into its own as a premier destination for wildlife viewing.
Leopards abound here, packs of wild dogs dominate the floodplains in the dry season, and the local lion population are frequent hunters of the large buffalo herds.

If it’s up-close wildlife encounters that you are after, in a setting almost tailor-made for photography, look no further. The fact that Amanzi is out beyond all the other camps means that a lot of the time, you are all alone with the animals you are viewing.

With amazing rates currently available for Iconic Africa guests (for both international and SADC visitors), this is a fantastic time to think about a safari into this part of the continent. As the area grows in renown it is likely that more and more visitors will want to head there, but for the moment there is still exclusivity and plenty of space to be found.

Get in touch to start planning your safari…

Somalisa: the Elephant Heart of Zimbabwe

Hwange National Park in the west of Zimbabwe is a land of contrasts. From dense teak and acacia forest to vast open savannah, which offers visitors an exhibition of raw and diverse Africa.

Somalisa Camp, under the African Bush Camps umbrella, is tucked away within a quiet Acacia grove on a private concession in the heart of Hwange, and offers the ideal intimate base from which to explore the expansive ecosystem and varied ecosystem of which it forms a part.

Hwange is famous for its elephant herds, and Somalisa provides the perfect place from which to view these iconic African animals. The waterhole right in front of camp provides an oasis for them even during the dry winters, and herds flock down to drink daily. It is not uncommon to have multiple herds come to drink during the course of an afternoon, and their rumbles serve as a constant part of the wonderful African ambience filtering in from the open plain.
Game Drives provide access to the greater reserve, in which Africa’s large predators abound. Lions dominate the viewing and their roars can be heard most nights. Up to 700 of these majestic cats roam the Hwange ecosystem, and the area is in constant flux as prides vie for dominance. Wild Dogs are regularly encountered, and even unusual species like Roan antelope and Brown Hyena often form part of the game viewing.
Experienced Somalisa guides know exactly where the best viewing is to be found, so have your camera ready!

Back at camp, seven elegant and spacious sail tents provide simple luxury, and the small number of guests in camp ensures an intimate safari experience.
All tents are replete with a charging station for camera batteries and phones, a wood-burning fireplace (an amazing addition on those cold winter nights), and a private viewing deck from which you can observe any game that happens to come sauntering down for a drink.
The heat of the African day is rendered almost negligible by the carefully designed tents which are optimal for airflow, allowing a cool breeze to be a constant presence as you lounge in opulence.

Somalisa is leading the way in low-impact tourism and was the recipient of the first GOLD Green Tourism Certificate in Zimbabwe. With a full solar farm and water purity system, the camp is able to be off the grid whilst recycling about 80% of its water usage.

Nature and luxury intertwine seamlessly here, and with Hwange National Park being the largest natural reserve in Zimbabwe – and also one of the oldest, being established in 1928 – there are few places as good in which to fully immerse yourself in an African wildlife experience.

Hwange’s proximity to Victoria Falls means Somalisa is just a short charter flight from this centre of African adventure, so we strongly recommend including Victoria Falls in your itinerary.

With unbeatable specials currently running, particularly our Best of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Cape Town option, there’s no better time to book…

Thorntree River Lodge: Victoria Falls in Style

Imagine a picnic in the middle of the Zambezi River on your own private island.

But this island is barely 40 feet across.

Elephants browse on the riverbank in the distance, hippos cavort in a shallow pool just upstream, and the call of the African fish eagle sounds from high above. In the distance to the east, the constant cloud of spray that hangs over Mosi-oa-Tunya – “the smoke that thunders” – serves as a constant reminder that Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is just downstream, and the real reason you are visiting this magical corner of the continent.

This is what awaits you at Thorntree River Lodge in Zambia.

African Bush Camp’s Thorntree River Lodge sits as a haven of serenity overlooking the mighty Zambezi River, right in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia’s smallest but by no means least impactful national park. Wildlife abounds here, even so close to the town of Livingstone – the gateway to this part of the world – and buffalo, giraffes and elephants are a constant presence around the lodge. The park has many historical implications as well. The Old Drift site is where wagons were floated across the Zambezi in the early days of exploration, and the local guides have endless stories to tell about the forgotten days of the area.

The lodge is therefore perfectly positioned not only from a nature point of view but especially for those who want to enjoy the splendour of the Victoria Falls themselves, which is 90% of the reason people journey to this part of the world in the first place.
The falls themselves – the largest curtain of falling water on the planet –  are simply mind-blowing. Although the strength of the cascade varies seasonally and is linked to rainfall in the Zambian highlands, the setting of the waterfall itself and the subsequent descent of the river into the Batoka gorge is simply mind-blowing.

There are a myriad activities to enjoy from Thorntree as a base. White water rafting, bungee jumping, game drives, casting a line for the fearsome tiger fish on an idyllic afternoon boat sojourn… Thorntree River Lodge truly offers it all. Guests will inevitably feel like they should have stayed longer, there is so much to do in such a small area.

The lodge showcases incredible river panoramas from its unique vantage point, tucked between lush riparian vegetation.
The communal areas flow seamlessly together, and the fluid design of the lodge and its integration into its environment make guests feel like they are one with the Zambezi ecosystem. For those wanting to check the occasional email or post a quick reel to their Instagram feed, the library hosts WIFI connectivity. The health conscious can spend time in the gym or spa; definitely a good option when considers how amazing the cuisine and wine are in this stunning setting.

Only ten rooms and two family units ensure an intimate camp experience, and being evenly spaced along the riverbank ensures each has its own private view out onto the Zambezi. Kids are welcome at the lodge, and the Ngwana Club hosts a wide range of activities for youngsters of all ages, ensuring they will be constantly entertained.

Thorntree River Lodge is a perfect place to start off a safari trip. Its easy access to airports both on the Livingstone (Zambia) or Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) side makes it readily accessible from major airports, and it gives you more than enough of an authentic African experience to have the bug bite properly.

Get hold of us through info@iconicafrica.com to enquire further, or to start planning your safari…

 

 

Rhino Dehorning: the Latest in the War on Poaching

Over the last decade, over ten thousand rhinos have been lost to poaching across Africa.

With both white and black rhinoceroses already endangered, these catastrophic losses have pushed both species even closer to extinction.

In South Africa alone, 451 rhinos were lost during 2021. Although the general trend over the last few years has been a decrease in numbers lost each year, which looks positive (although 2021 was the first time in 6 years that the number went up again), the harsh reality is that these numbers may just as equally reflect the much lower numbers of rhinos left to poach as they do the increase in anti-poaching efforts across the continent.

With increasing pressure on declining rhino populations that are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, the focus of poaching has seen a dramatic spike in private reserves over the last year. Although well-trained, well-armed anti-poaching teams are operational on most private reserves in the region that boast rhino numbers, the staggering and ever-increasing value of rhino horn on the international market has meant that no deterrents seem too great, and rhinos continue to be lost.

More and more lodges and reserves are falling back on the last-resort solution of dehorning their rhinos. By removing the very thing the poachers are after, the hope is that rhinos lives will be spared.
This tactic has proved successful in many areas, although some conservationists hesitate before implementing it as a practical solution because of its potential impact on the rhinos themselves. Although the removal of the horn doesn’t cause the individual rhino any harm (it will grow back after a few years), it is still a functional part of their anatomy, and it is still unsure what long-term repercussions might be felt in dehorned populations with males left without their main weapon that they use to defend territories.

The problem with dehorning in the private reserve sector (or solution, depending on which way you look at it) is that it’s becoming more and more of an all-or-nothing affair, in that every reserve needs to buy in, or none. Since effective conservation is largely a function of space, many operators have dropped fences between them and their neighbours to create larger contiguous ecosystems for wildlife, but the free-roaming nature of rhino populations in reserves like these means that de-horning operations need to be reserve-wide.

If one reserve opts to dehorn their rhinos but its neighbours don’t, the population with horns intact will naturally become the target for poachers; all reserves/lodges therefore need to be in agreement.

The three-reserve system of the Sabi Sand, Sabie Game Reserve and Mala Mala, near the Kruger Park, are the latest high profile group of reserves to dehorn their rhinos, with an extensive period of a 25 days being allotted to the operation.

The entire reserve’s population was dehorned as well as ear-notched, which not only dramatically reduces the poaching threat but through the notching will allow closer monitoring of individual rhinos. The decision to dehorn was not an easy one for the reserves to take, but with over 400% increase in poaching across the protected area in the last two years, reserve management and lodge owners alike felt that it was the best step to take.

Despite the dehorning hopefully buying a reprieve for the area’s beleaguered rhinos, all three reserves continue to increase their security efforts through added technology and inter-reserve communication.

Let us hope that the dehorning initiative will prove as effective in this, one of South Africa’s flagship conservation areas, as it has been in other parts of the country.

Ruckomechi Camp: Mana Magic

When half of the Southern African guiding fraternity view a destination as their own version of Mecca, you know something special must be happening there.

Mana Pools National Park in north Zimbabwe draws people in fo many reasons, but the main attraction is most certainly one’s ability to have close encounters with wildlife on foot. Walking safaris have been conducted in the park since 1963, and as a result of decades of being exposed to people on foot, a large proportion of the local wildlife has become used to people out of the vehicles, and ignore them completely.

Tag along behind African Wild Dogs as they go on the hunt or watch spellbound as an enormous elephant bull stretches up to snack on the pods of an Ana tree, barely thirty metres from you… the experiences one can have here are almost impossible to replicate anywhere else in Africa.

On the western fringes of Mana Pools NP one finds Ruckomechi Camp, nestled into a corner of a huge expanse of private conservation land.
The might Zambezi River flows in front of the camp, the surrounding woodlands are constantly alive with birdsong, and the Zambezi escarpment provides an amazing backdrop to your evening sundowners.

Ruckomechi was one Mana Pools’ pioneer camps, having entertained guests for over two decades.

Ten spacious and beautifully decorated en-suite rooms, including two family units, are unobtrusively placed beneath the spreading Ana trees, the seeds of which are heavily sought after by the local elephant population.
Interiors are peacefully earth-toned, with hints of blue, reflecting the flowing river. The camp’s main area include a fire-pit, for evening chats, delicious glasses of red wine and the awe-struck contemplation of the infinite stars above you. A pool overlooking a broad sweep of river invites swimmers during the heat of summer, as the river itself, with its countless hippos and crocs, is not recommended for bathing!

Ultimately though it’s the wildlife that draws people to Mana Pools and on that front Ruckomechi delivers in spades. The local pack of wild dogs are regular visitors to the camp area, the roar of a lion reverberates almost nightly through and past the guest suites, and huge herds of buffalo flock to the river more and more as the dry season sets in and they seek life-sustaining water.

Ruckomechi is a seasonal camp, only open between mid/late November. Long grass and sodden terrain during the wet season of December-March makes most land-based activities difficult.
As soon as the rains have stopped though, and animals become more and more dependent on the river as the ephemeral pans dry up one after the other, Ruckomechi and the rest of the Zambezi riverfront come alive.

With a more limited window during which guests can visit this slice of heaven, bookings at Ruckomechi are in demand, but don’t worry, as there are a number of other Mana Pools options for those wanting to experience this ultimate of parks.

Email us on info@iconicafcia.com to find out more and to start planning your safari…

The New Vumbura Plains

Vumbura Plains was already one of the jewels in the Wilderness Safaris crown in Botswana, but with its recent refurbishment, it is better than it ever was before.

Lying towards the northern fringes of the Okavango Delta – a world heritage site – Vumbura Plains camp is perfectly situated to take full advantage of the seasonal changes that take place within this unique ecosystem. During the annual inundation when floodwaters arrive from the Angolan highlands, the camp almost feels like it is floating on water. The melapo – the local name for the annually flooded grasslands – lies right up against the camp, and offers visitors a spectacular vista right off the deck of their rooms. Otters cavort in the shallow water and elephants are frequent passers-by, wading through in search of lush aquatic plants.

The refurbished Vumbura Plains features 14 luxuriously appointed guest suites, each with elegant sleeping quarters, indoor and outdoor showers and a broad outdoor living area complete with a private plunge pool. The new-look design of the camp was carefully imagined to create an authentic Okavango experience, with local craftspeople brought on board to help create the finished product.

The nestling of guest chalets under beautiful overhanging trees, the stilted projection out over the floodwaters and the space between rooms gives visitors a wonderful sense of intimacy and immersion into nature. Birds flit between branches outside your window, waterbuck graze within touching distance of the camp walkway, and hippos snort from the pools right in front of you. The truth is that one barely has to venture beyond camp to get a complete game-viewing experience.

But it is beyond camp that you must go to truly experience the wonder of this area. Game drives will reveal the true splendour of this corner of the Okavango. Wildlife is so prolific that within a very short while you start to feel like you are traversing eden. A different wonderment seemingly lies in wait around every corner.

Lions forge across shallow channels, regal sable antelope hug the fringes of the floodplains and an enigmatic leopard is not an uncommon sight lounging in the boughs of one of the larger evergreen trees. There are few places on the planet that display such a constant abundance of life.

And for those who want to experience something different, Vumbura Plains has multiple exciting activity options. A hot air ballon flight in the still morning air is an utterly serene way to experience the Delta; you can drift in total silence above a cavorting elephant herd and they will never know you are there.
A helicopter flip is another aerial option. Although slightly louder than a balloon ride, you cover far more ground and can almost feel overwhelmed with how much you can come across from the air.

When the floodwaters are up different boating activities are on offer. Motorboats get you exploring the waterways extensively, while a traditional mokoro ride offers a more sedate way tog et to grips with the annual flooding.

The old Vumbura Plains was nothing short of spectacular, both from a lodge and a game-viewing angle.
Now, after the refurb, we find ourselves running out of superlatives to describe the place pretty quickly…

Get in touch with us if this sounds like the kind of place you’d like to visit…

 

The Ultimate Botswana Family Safari

Long-time friend of Iconic Africa, Lorin Burgoyne, recently travelled to Botswana with her husband Paul and their kids to take advantage of some of the amazing specials Iconic Africa are currently running.
Any uncertainty they may have had about taking young children with them on safari was quickly dispelled.

Read Lorin’s account of their trip here:

We had an absolutely brilliant Family Safari in Botswana. I must admit that we had our reservations about whether it would be worth it for a 11 and 8 year old but we were blown away by the experience. It was our first trip to Botswana and have a much better idea of what it is all about and how it works in terms of tourism and accessibility. We cannot wait to go back and explore more.

We caught a super easy Airlink flight from Johannesburg to Maun and transferred (via Mack Air) to Little Sable Camp in the Khwai Private Reserve on the Delta. Flying in was fascinating – seeing the rivers bleed and flood plains swell in the desert landscape is incredible.

Our days at Little Sable were busy – we saw the sunrise every morning and had fabulous activities every afternoon – a boat cruise up the Khwai river, a mokoro ride down a tributary and the kids favourite – a helicopter flip over the Okavango!

The camp staff and our guide were wonderful – very friendly – and had little surprises up their sleeves to enhance our experience. Our guide was superb at balancing twitcher parents (overly keen bird watchers) with big 5 children – never easy.
The camp itself was lovely – authentic and beautifully positioned in the environment. Nothing was fussy or overdone – just comfortable luxury. The rooms were tents (always my favourite) on stilts over the edge of a flood plan so the frogs and hippos sing you to sleep at night – we also had a resident Barred Owl that fascinated the children. The tents were luxurious– outdoor showers with a view over the marsh and hot water for days (critical for mums!)!

The game viewing was different compared to South African bush – lots of water meant the game was quite spread out so we had to work hard for sightings, but the landscape was by far the champion. The boat cruise and helicopter flip were definitely the highlights for us – it reinforced how water is the artery of life there.

We then transferred to Jack’s Camp in the Makgadikgadi pans via Maun – again flying over the salt pans was awesome – mind blowing landscapes! The pilot let Tom my son sit in the co-pilot seat on the way there – is there anything more exciting for a 10 year old? He says he is now totally comfortable with how small planes work and can probably fly one…

Chemical (our guide; what a legend!) was incredibly knowledgeable and gave us in-depth understanding of how the plains developed geologically – and don’t think there is a bird on the planet he doesn’t know! As seasoned bush goers, we loved that he could paint the full picture of ecology, plant, animal and bird life as well as the history of the area. We felt an incredible sense of belonging at Jack’s Camp – not something I am prone to acknowledging. I always believe this is down to people – everyone was wonderful there! They have built a family and you really feel welcomed into it – what a privilege.

The camp itself is one of the best places I have ever had the opportunity of seeing – let alone staying. There are treasures all over – my son said he felt like he was in the Natural history Museum in London! He was not far off – I could have spent another week there just looking through the artefacts and books – I’m clearly a nerd at heart. As an Architect I am obsessed with place making and how and why spaces work and Jack’s was really is special in this regard – I don’t think there are many places in the world where you will get this treat!

Our days were packed at Jack’s. We visited the habituated Meerkats – I thought Catie was going to faint with excitement. It was amazing – even as an adult. We loved the experience – pups crawling all over us to play, and we loved that they almost command you to assist them with their lookout patrols to become the tallest sentinels in the landscape!

The vistas over the Makgadikgadi pans are some of the most beautiful we have ever seen– peaceful and quiet and calming.  Paul and I were totally entranced by the landscape – we could have spent a month there happily. We can’t wait to go back to this region to explore, the kids can’t wait to go back and ride fat bikes, go on horse rides and drive across the salt plains on quads.

An unexpected highlight of our trip was meeting the local San Bushmen tribe. I believe they have a long relationship with the Bousfield family and visit the region annually. On the night of our arrival, the tribe did a trance dance – not something I believe they normally do for guests, who went to bed at 11pm and the San at 2am.  What a fascinating experience and a rare opportunity to get insight into a new culture. The Jack’s host was wonderfully discreet about an appropriate time for the children to leave. Hilarious – no hallucinogens on family tour! The next afternoon, we were invited to do a walk with the San. Tom had been studying the Khoi San at school and was completely entranced with the walk which was literally about 300 metres! In that time we dug up root bulbs for water, caught a scorpion, made a bird trap, started a fire and learnt how to play their version of rock-paper-scissors. The best 2 hours of our kids’ lives! All in all it was an incredible experience and opportunity, and let’s just say that rock-paper-scissors will never exist in its original form in our household again, and nor should it!

From a game perspective, we caught the end of the zebra and wildebeest migration (also visible on the flight in) which was surreal, but more up or street was the bird migration. Flamingos, pelicans, terns and according to our kids every unidentifiable little brown bird on the planet. I think we were lucky in our timing but birding mecca it was!

Unchartered Africa know how to safari – every moment from arrival to departure was next level! I cannot recommend it enough – one of the best camps I have ever been to and one I will happily return to.

As a last note, it has become rather unfashionable to bucket list travel with children (if not expensive) but I was reminded about why we choose to take ours along on our adventures. Every single experience on this trip was enhanced because of them and not because the experiences were tailored to them. Authentic places, characters and experiences, and that is what builds true memories.

Life Changing Gorilla Encounters

For many, the film Gorillas in the Mist sits in the fantasy bracket of what is actually possible in terms of wildlife encounters in the modern world.
It just seems too surreal that encountering the most majestic of the world’s great apes in the flesh would be an actual possibility. Yet Wilderness Safari’s Bisate Lodge in Rwanda was constructed to craft this exact experience for its guests.

Perched on the slopes of an extinct volcano in the Virunga Range, the lodge looks out over an incredible view of two more volcanoes, Bisoke and Karisimbi, whose days of eruptions have long been consigned to the pages of history. The former of the two rises above where Diane Fossey herself situated her research centre (the name of the centre, “Karisoke” came from combining the two names).
The coming of morning reveals the tendrils of mist made so famous in Fossey’s book, weaving their sinuous way through the treetops before eventually being burnt off by the African sun. Exotic birds flit through the camp and announce the arrival of the day, and you know it’s time to head up into the mountains on your gorilla trek.

Family gorilla troops are known to the rangers and their whereabouts tracked, meaning that encounters are close to a sure thing, although the distance required to hike each day might vary considerably based on the gorillas’ movements. Due to the gorillas’ susceptibility to human diseases, the time allowed for encounters is limited to an hour per day, but the intensity of the experience is such that these 60 minutes can feel like you’ve fitted a lifetime into them!
Infants play around barely an arm’s length from you, whilst adults move slowly by, feeding as they go. If you are lucky the dominant silverback might be in attendance; imagine looking into the eyes of a 150kg ape at only two metres distance.
The intimacy of these gorilla encounters is what blows peoples’ minds. When you look at them, you know they are looking back at you for the same reasons. There are hidden depths behind their eyes; you can tell that they are working you out just as surely as you are working them out.

While Gorilla trekking is the star attraction of Bisate lodge, it is certainly not the only reason to visit. The nearby Volcanoes National Park offers multiple other adventures: golden monkey trekking; the Fossey hike or even scaling Mount Bisoke itself.
On the property of the lodge itself, explore nature trails where local and unique bird species proliferate and where recent camera trap footage even recorded a discreet visit by a silverback! Get involved in Bisate’s reforestation project by planting a tree, thus helping to lure wildlife back to the area. Or follow the hum rising from the local villages below, and integrate into the community whose lives are so integral to the lodge.

With fewer than 1000 mountain gorillas left in the wild, there are very few places where one can have such a moving, potentially life-altering experience as this. Being on foot with an animal that is so similar yet so different to us is utterly profound, and one is left pondering one’s place in the grand scheme of things long after the adrenalin of the encounter has worn off.

If this sounds like the experience you are after, get hold of our sales team now at info@iconicafrica.com.

There are some unbeatable specials currently running, so don’t wait to get in touch…

Photography Tips #3: Understanding Composition Basics

Because photography is an art form, it is objective; a photograph that appeals to one person may not do so for another. However, there are certain guidelines to follow (I say guidelines rather than rules as they work most of the time, not every time) that will go a long way to making your photo leap out of a page or screen that much more.
Without even worrying what your subject is or even what it is doing, by simply placing it at the right point in the frame, you can add immeasurably to the photograph’s visual appeal. How all the elements of a photograph come together (namely subject, foreground and background) is known as a photograph’s composition.

Although there are multiple compositional tools to make your subject stand out, we’ll stick to a few of the more simple ones for now.

Rule of Thirds

Unless the actual scene or subject being photographed is symmetrical, the human eye finds far more visual pleasure in the subject being placed off-centre­. More specifically, along one of four lines, and even more specifically, at the points where those lines meet.

If you draw two imaginary and evenly-spaced vertical lines and two horizontal lines across your photograph, you will have effectively sub-divided it into vertical and horizontal thirds.

The four points at which these lines intersect are known as the power points, and placing your subject on anyone of them will give the photograph more impact.

Having said this, the choice of which line and/or power-point to place your subject on is all-important. The general idea, particularly with wildlife, is you want an animal looking or moving into the frame. It should have space to move into, or at least the suggestion of space.
If it is walking from left to right, place it on the left-hand vertical line. It will thus have two thirds of the frame to move into. And likewise, if it is moving from right to left, place it on the right-hand line.
Getting more specific with close-ups, if you have zoomed into an animal’s eye and it is looking up and to the left, place it on the bottom right power point. This gives it space to look up and across into.
You never want an animal looking like it is squashed up against the edge of the frame. As mentioned earlier, these aren’t hard and fast rules, but if you stick to the basic theory, 90% of the time you will improve your photo.

If you want to emphasise the sky, place the horizon along the lower third line. If you want to emphasis ether foreground and the sky is secondary, place the horizon on the upper line.

In the below photo, although the rule of thirds was not employed, you can understand the basic principle; the sky is emphasised by placing the horizon as low down in the photo as possible.

A prominent tree should line up on one of the vertical thirds, rather than center frame. By simply playing around with this composition when cropping a photo digitally, whilst adhering to the rule of thirds, you will see exactly which position comes across as strongest.

Leading Lines

By using simple methods a photographer can easily direct a viewer’s eye where to look in the frame. Leading lines help to do this, so it is important to look out for them when composing a photograph. A band of rocks, a herd of antelope walking in single file, clouds photographed with a wide-angle lens…

Notice how in the picture above the lines of the subway tunnel are directing the viewer’s eye towards the people in the background.
One sees a similar effect in the photo below of an airstrip in Kenya’s Maasai Mara; the sweeping lines of the clouds guide one’s eye down to the solo tree on the grassland.

Natural Framing

Achieving a natural frame for a wildlife subject can be tricky, especially as it is very much habitat dependent. This isn’t something you should be looking for with each shot, but something you should simply have in your arsenal, so that you know what to look for when the opportunity arises.

An elephant calf within its own herd and framed by other elephants’ legs; a leopard in a thicket framed by the trees; there are multiple opportunities in nature to achieve some sort of natural frame, and the more unusual the better, as it will add more impact to your photograph.

Ultimately in wildlife photography, you should aim to get as much as you can right in camera, ie. when the shot was actually taken. This will greatly reduce the amount of post-processing you need to do afterwards, composition adjustments included.

The more you head out actively looking for leading lines, natural framing, and placing your subject using the rule of thirds and their power-points, the more your photographs will have immediate visual impact.

SA Resident Specials in Big Cat Paradise

As April draws to a close and lodges across Africa get busier and busier as travellers return, we are delighted to announce that certain South African safari properties will be upholding their resident rates in the short- to mid-term. Mala Mala Game Reserve, bordering South Africa’s world famous Kruger National Park, will be offering these specials right up until December 2022, so make sure you don’t miss out.

It’s no secret that Mala Mala is one of the best places in Africa to view lions, leopards and cheetahs. And not only view them, but have front row seats to some of the most action-packed game viewing on the continent. Leopards in trees, lions moving new-born cubs between dens… it seems like nothing is out of the question here.
It’s not only the cat density on Mala Mala that is so high (a recent study found the greater area to hold the highest density of Leopards yet recoded in Africa) but the general game too, which means that the predators have an absolute buffet of prey species laid out for them.
Witnessing hunts is common, as the unique Sand River frontage (over 20 kilometre of sandy beaches and reedbeds) provides ultimate concealment opportunities for predators on the prowl.

Mala Mala has been one of the iconic Africa lodges since the early days of photographic safaris, opening its doors in the late 1960s. With over 50 years of  experience in the industry it has continued to refine its offering, but its incredible wildlife population has always meant that little more needs to happen than simply driving out into the bush; something will come along, and more than likely a high profile species!

Mala Mala has three camps on offer; Main, Sable and Rattrays.

Main Camp is the largest of the three with 10 luxury suites, 8 luxury rooms and a luxury single suite. Sable, situated right next door to Main, has 5 luxury suites and the Lion’s Den suite (a two-bedroom interleading suite) and Rattrays, lying a couple of kilometres downstream on the Sand River, offers 8 luxury suites.
Main camp and Sable tend to be for families wanting to enjoy the bush together, whilst Rattrays is for the ardent safari-goers and photographers, restricting the number of guests on a vehicle to four, thereby heightening the intimacy of the game-viewing experience.

Whilst the game-viewing is good year-round, seasonal changes meant that different areas and animals become the focus during different months.

May, when these special resident rates kick off, is the impala rut, when rams are jousting for mating rights and as a consequence falling regular prey to leopards in particular.

June through August are the clear winter months featuring chilly mornings and wonderfully mild days. As the dry season tightens its grip, animals of all shapes and sizes flock to the Sand River to drink, and predator activity along its banks is prolific.

October signals the onset of the rains, and the first green flush of spring. More and more rainfall initiates the impala and wildebeest birthing into November and December, when new life is literally everywhere in the bush. No one time is better than another, they are simply different, and finding out a bit more about the various seasons before you book will help you know what to expect. Our consultants will help you with that!

As travel returns to normality, rates are swiftly returning to what they where pre-Covid, so we urge our South African guests not to miss out on this unique opportunity to visit one of Africa’s great safari destinations at these prices.

Get in touch through enquiries@iconicafrica.com to get the ball rolling…