Africa is a feeling

There is a first time for everything. Some of these firsts are lessons, some are experiences that have the ability to change something inside of you. The way you see the simplicity of life and its beauty. Some experiences leave you in awe, without words. And some you didn’t even know you needed, but nevertheless, they affect you in a special way.

To travel to Africa for the first time, has to be one of the most inspiring experiences one can have. It is a time to come together, slow the pace and reconnect. Connect with each other, without the distractions of everyday life. Connect with your surroundings, with no desire for your mind to wander home. Connect with yourself. Find yourself, together, here in Africa.

This journey began in the heart of Johannesburg, where we boarded our private aircraft and set off into the wilderness of Southern Africa. It was a safari that would see us explore some of the most sought-after destinations in Southern Africa, venturing from through the swamps and the desert, to the bushveld and the cape.

The start of an amazing journey.

Safari by private charter.

There is a certain uniqueness in flying half way across the world, into a large city like Johannesburg, then boarding another plane and before reality sets in, you are parked next to an enormous African elephant. There were moments of disbelief, nervous giggles and loud gasps scattered around the vehicle. Excitement, intrigue or panic? Perhaps the latter as this was our first encounter with one of Africa’s largest mammals, just moments into our first adventure.

We had found ourselves in the Selinda concession, at Selinda Explorers Camp. An immersive, luxury tented camp, in the middle of a vast, wild place. If David Livingston was alive today, this would be his camp of choice. Placed lightly on the banks of the Selinda spillway, unfenced and open to nature, we couldn’t have found a more perfect camp to start our 2-week safari.

Having sole use of this camp allowed us to plan our time and activities at our leisure. From game drives to bush walks, canoeing down the spillway and enjoying drinks on its banks, Selinda spoilt us all. And being at a camp like this, you are just that much closer to the soil. A true welcome to Africa.

First moments on safari.

Wild dogs hunting on the first afternoon

First game drive, first unsuccessful hunt.

Welcome to Africa.

Afternoons spent cruising down the Selinda Spillway.

Canoes and herds of elephant.

Taking it easy in Botswana.

Sharing special times in the heart of the Selinda.

Our first leopard sighting, just behind our camp.

Story telling could have a better home.

Families of the bush.

A lion pride killing a buffalo just feet away.

Every man for themselves.

Goodbye Selinda, next stop Vumbura.

After a sad farewell to the Great Plains Conservation team at Selinda Explorers Camp, we boarded our private aircraft and flew a few minutes west, toward the Okavango delta, touching down in the Vumbura concession. The Okavango was in full flood, which meant a 25minute boat ride through the channels of the swamps was necessary for us to reach our next destination.

Little Vumbura camp, situated on a small, remote island, in the middle of the northern delta, surrounded by water, is a peaceful retreat that calms the soul. A group of 3 elephant bulls frequent the island, and make for some entertaining encounters, but this is the wild and the camp is all the better for it.

Exploring the concession is done by boat, vehicle and traditional mekoro’s. Water activities were taken advantage of, and we found ourselves on the water at any opportunity. Fishing, boating and cruising through the channels in our trusty land cruiser, no obstacle was too great.

A warm welcome by the Little Vumbura team.

Water lilies of the Delta.

Peaceful elephant in camp.

A beautiful morning sunrise on the delta.

Drinks with our feet in the water.

Mekoro rides, a traditional mode of transport in the Okavango.

Sunset cruising.

Where memories are made.

Warming by the fire, before the morning out.

One last sighting before we say goodbye to the Delta.

Aggression between mating lions.

Thanks to Ban and the Little Vumbura team.

There is something so strange yet so appealing about leaving the Okavango Delta, a world that is based on water, and within hours, stepping out of your plane into the barren, dry, desolate landscape of the Namib desert.

A place where water is a scare commodity, one that is cherished and never taken for granted. A place that can go for years without a drop of rain, and where the few plants that do survive, have adapted themselves to collecting moisture from the air, from mist and fog that rolls in from the coast.  Animals that call this place home have also adapted to this is way of life, a life of such harshness and extremity.

The desert is a unique place, and unique in all its offering. At Little Kulala, we had the ability to ride ATV’s (4 wheeler’s) through the desert to the most magical sunset spot, atop a mountain range. We dined and slept under the stars, with night beds set up on the roofs of our luxury rooms. We woke in the dark only to hop into a hot air balloon and float over the dunes and then we tackled them on foot, climbing the largest sand dune in the world. We ventured over the landscape of Deadvlei and we raised a toast to another special location.

Welcome to the desert.

Moments before our hot air ballon ride.

Getting prepped.

A magical morning.

High above the dunes.

Landscapes of the Namib.

Grass tufts, balloons and mountains.

The big daddy.

We made it to the top.

The beauty of Deadvlei.

As the suns position changes, these dunes comes alive. Shadows cast create amazing lines and contrasts.

An evening sunset around the Little Kulala bar.

Some fun and dance with the staff.

Contrasts became clear as we set off to our 4th destination. This time, back in South Africa at Singita Ebony, in the Sabi Sands. Having spent some time in the desert, we were all excited to see some wildlife again, and our expectations were certainly met. From leopards with cubs, to mating leopards and leopards jumping across rivers. We engaged with the local communities and dine to our hearts content.

The diversity of landscapes we had experienced on this safari ranged from savannah’s to woodlands, the lush waters of the delta to the Namib desert and the bushveld biomes of the lowveld in South Africa. We made the journey across the southern part of our continent, from east to west and back, ending in the Cape floral region exploring her beauty.

A female leopard crossing the Sand river.

The same female crossing back, this time with a mate.

Community visits with Singita.

Gumboot dancing in the community.

Elephants in the sunset, and the ever opportunistic drongo.

A boma dinner around the fire.

A young leopard cub.

Our final morning in the bush.

Below is a video diary of the entire safari from start to end, and all the magic that we played witness to.

There is no better way to experience the beauty of what our continent has to offer than to experience multiple destinations with varying habitats and diverse wildlife. To join us on a journey that will not move you emotionally, but will also be a learning experience for all that are involved, get in touch with our team.

Written, filmed and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland

Chimpanzees, Gorillas and the Serengeti

The great African Rift Valley, forged over millennia from forces deep below the earth, created a “crack” down the African continent. Associated with this crack are the consequent valleys and mountains formed by the splitting apart of the earth’s crust. Wherever you have ancient volcanic activity, a multitude of thriving habitats are formed, sustained by the geological forces themselves and the highly fertile volcanic soils. The length of the “rift valley” is dotted with crystal clear lakes teeming with magnificent fish and aquatic life. These vast swathes of water are watched over by huge mountain ranges with forests full of wonderful creatures both big and small. Our safari was to be focused in the East African portion of the rift valley, namely Rwanda and Tanzania. The goal was to spend time with Chimpanzees and Gorillas, with an interlude stay in the Serengeti to observe the remarkable savanna wildlife on show there.

Our journey kicked off at Legendary Lodge in Arusha Tanzania, which is surrounded by a lush coffee plantation and beautiful views of the surrounding grounds. Our time there was limited to one night so we spent dinner catching up with old friends and meeting some new, sharing memories of past safaris and chatting about our upcoming adventure. The following morning, we boarded our own private Pilatus PC12NG aircraft and headed to the Mahale Mountains and Lake Tanganyika. Flying in over the lake, we landed at the airstrip and walked to the water’s edge to board the charming local Mahale dhow. Taking a very leisurely boat trip, we searched the waters for crocodiles, hippos and any sign of chimpanzees both up in the tree canopy or out in the open. Finally, against the backdrop of a majestic view, we arrived at Greystoke Mahale. With smiling faces and open minds, we were ready to experience the wonders of this wild and unique location.

The Mahale dhow, our chariot on Lake Tanganyika.

Our fearless captain, navigating the mighty waters of the great lake.

Approaching Mahale, with the forest that the chimpanzees call home in the background.

The suite of Mahale, opening up to the beach in front of the camp.

After being briefed on the correct chimp trekking etiquette the night before, we woke anxious to hear news of the troop we were hoping to find. The trackers had radioed in saying that they had started to follow their footprints and would inform us once they had located them. We were therefore able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and relax a bit before we anticipated going out in search of the chimps. Unfortunately, we discovered that the troop’s leader had led them up into an area on the mountain that was not accessible to us. However, there are smaller groups that splinter away from the main chimpanzee troop from time to time, so that afternoon we headed out on a walk to see if we could get lucky. Just being in the forest is special enough. We saw signs of bush pig, leopard, antelope and spotted a few of the local monkey species but no chimps on day one.

The next morning we started early, hot on the heels of the trackers. It would be a day of patience, as the troop were feeding and changing direction often. This meant we were to wait at the apex of a few paths that split in different directions. A patient wait in a lush equatorial forest is pretty easy with all the noises of life that surrounds you. While we were waiting, our guide Matheus, also decided to put some extra effort in and check another area for a breakaway group. Thank goodness! The main chimp group had disappeared again, but just as we thought we were going to be thwarted, Matheus came running towards us with a massive grin. He had found another group and had even run 6kms up a mountain to alert us. Luckily this smaller family group was still there when we eventually arrived at their location and so we were able to spend an amazing afternoon in their company. We did manage to lose them once or twice, but again Matheus and the trackers pulled through, even braving an angry charging hippo and a swamp to stick with them. It was a magical experience that allowed us ample viewing opportunities and close-up encounters with these fascinating primates. We finished that afternoon with a swim in the middle of Lake Tanganyika, followed by a memorable sundowner and true sense of fulfillment.

Matheus (far right) and the local Tanzanian guides waiting for the call from the trackers. Matheus would ultimately be the one to find the chimps, and run 5 km to come fetch us!

A family unit of 3 was found. Here a mother and her daughter gaze up the remaining family member.

Wait for me mom…

A magical experience to be in such close proximity to these great apes.

Deep in thought…

Such human like expressions.

Playful and full of learning.

We followed them as they were feeding and foraging.

Periodically stopping to rest, they go about their day.

King Julian, the camp manager at Mahale. What a fantastic and fun character.

Chris and Nic, enjoying the last afternoon sunset.

Sunsets from the dhow on our last afternoon.

Tanzania is a rather large country but with your own aircraft, Mahale to the Grumeti region of the Serengeti is just a 2-hour hop. Singita Sasakwa in the private Grumeti concession of this African wonderland, was our next stop. Perched on top of a hill, the lodge offers one of the best views of the region. The migration had sadly already passed through but zebra and other plains’ game had remained behind; and the short grass that the wildebeest had created amplified predator viewing so we were thoroughly spoiled with some incredible interactions and sightings. This concession is testament to the hard work and conservation efforts put in by many dedicated individuals over the last 10 -15 years. Before Singita arrived, there was nothing in this area except snares and domestic animals / livestock. Where there was nothing, today there’s abundance. The pictures below, tell the story.

The classic scene on arrival at Singita Sasakwa.

A Singita Sasakwa suite.

Lunch with a view. The excellent game viewing aside, the culinary experience complimented by the best wine collection of any lodge really made the difference, and we did leave rather satiated.

A Serengeti leopard, posing like a cheetah for us.

She also sat up rather nicely for us on a fallen branch.

Exquisite wine on offer.

We had many lion sightings. Here a lioness and her sister with 3 cubs walks towards us.

Elephants looking for shade under a lonesome tree.

A definite highlight was observing the fastest animal on the planet at full speed… This all came about when we spotted a cheetah in the distance, moving slowly with her head down – a classic sign of hunting mode. When we approached her, we saw she was literally on top of a baby Thompson’s gazelle. Having never seen a cheetah before, the poor baby had no idea of the peril it was in and just sat down. For the cheetah whose instinct is to chase, this was most confusing and surprisingly actually proved to be the right thing to do as she seemed to lose interest. When another calf set off right next her, she gave up chase leaving this lucky baby gazelle out of immediate harm’s way. A couple of seconds later, in a blur of full speed she had her quarry – something truly remarkable to witness. Shortly afterwards, the huntress dragged the carcass to some shade and started to feed. This was when we noticed a big lone baboon a couple of hundred meters off. He had witnessed the hunt and being hungry, omnivorous and opportunistic, was quite keen to investigate. The cheetah was visibly nervous but was saved when the baboon bumped into the same Thompson’s gazelle calf that had so narrowly missed death not minutes before. This time the baby did take off but with a surprising burst of speed, the baboon had its prey. What a unique sighting! It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife can constantly surprise you. We were so lucky to have been in the right place at the right time and witnessed such phenomenal animal interactions.

A once a lifetime experience… A cheetah hunt!

Unfortunately it didn’t end well for this Thompson’s gazelle.

An opportunistic baboon preyed upon another thompson’s gazelle while we were watching the cheetah feed. Unreal!!!

Another cheetah, this time a young male.

A few of the large herds of Zebra remaining after the migration.

A masai giraffe with a building storm in the background.

We said goodbye to the Serengeti and headed back to the mountains of the Rift Valley, this time with Rwanda as our destination. Rwanda’s past is one of pain and suffering. A brutal civil war with a genocide that one cannot comprehend nearly wiped out a tribe of people off the face of the earth. The wildlife and animal populations in the country were equally affected with the mountain gorilla population dropping severely low. However, both man and creature have somehow managed to turn a story of horrific tragedy into a shining light of hope and a tribute of what the human spirit can endure. Just barely two decades after the killing stopped, Rwanda is thriving and its conservation success is continually being shown as an example to the rest of the world. Diane Fossey was famous for introducing us to the gorillas of the region and through the Rwandan government and the national park structures, both animal and human are living side by side, thriving; and most importantly, in peace.

Consequently, we were all eager to experience the country, its inhabitants and the mountain gorillas that call it home. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was our base where we spent the next few days soaking up the culture, meeting new people and spending time around some rather large human-like apes.

The View of Volcanoes National park from Sabyinyo silverback lodge (Photograph courtesy Sabyinyo silverback lodge).

A lodge with a very classy, old school feel that has all the comforts needed after a long day of gorilla trekking (Photograph courtesy Sabyinyo silverback lodge).

A welcome at the Volcanoes National park headquarters.

Our first sighting… Mahuza fast asleep while the rest of the troop was feeding around him.

Mahuza, the dominant silverback and the leader of his group.

A curious youngster. He proved to be rather mischievous, exploring and getting into trouble throughout the hour we spent with the group.

Predominantly vegetarians, Mahuza stops to feed on some vegetation.

Looking up into the canopy at her sister…

Hold my hand dad.

This little chap came right up to us and said hello.

Being around gorillas and spending time immersed in their company is a feeling that cannot be described. The grunts, smells, playfulness and family dynamics you observe when with a troop of intelligent animals such as these, can be likened to the politics and social behavior of any human grouping. The feeling that Diane Fossey must have felt when she first gained the trust of these beasts when she was studying them, must have been exhilarating. On the whole, East Africa delighted us with all her splendor! Combining the Serengeti with a primate experience is an incredible way to experience this part of Africa and we highly recommend this combination to future guests we will have the pleasure of hosting.

We bid this mecca of wildlife goodbye, while basking in the new memories of some unforgettable African moments.

Regards,

Chris and the Safari Architects Team.

Written and photographed by Chris Renshaw

 

A photographic journal of Mana Pools

The magic of Mana Pools is something that has been documented on many occasions. By the seasoned traveller, the professional photographer, a bush loving family and the intrepid explorer. Each time I read about this place, I am able to relive my memories of Mana. It is easy to reminisce of the colours of the forest, the blue haze that is now known so well.

Each image I see from Mana Pools takes me right back into the moments where I found myself sitting quietly on the floor, watching a huge elephant bull feeding on fallen Albida pods, a safe distance away. I look back at a pack of wild dogs, denning their pups in some thick undergrowth, coming out only to provide for their pack and to a gentle canoe ride down the Zambezi river, floating past 2 elephant bulls as they jostle for dominance in water 4 feet deep.

My sentiments of Mana are personal, but I am sure they are shared, by a large community of people who visit this special place. However, in this post, my intention is to portray a recent safari I guided to Mana Pools in photographs alone.

This particular trip was based on photography, and photographing wildlife on foot. Our main focus was elephants and the forests. To capture these majestic creatures from low angles, giving the viewers of the images an understanding of perspective. Another goal was to find interesting ways in which to frame them using the browse line, the long arching branches of the trees, and trying our best to catch the best moments in the wondrous light.

Come on this photographic journey with me as we relive the moments from Mana Pools.

Elephants in the blue forest.

Low angles creating unique perspectives.

Colours that are hard to find elsewhere.

In Mana, small elephant herds are a common sight.

Youthful confidence.

Framed by protection.

Completely in touch with the surroundings.

A unique attraction of Mana Pools, photographing on foot..

Head held high, she is watching.

Small souls, chasing big dreams.

Being left behind the herd.

Your breathe becomes shallow and the air is still.

Close encounters with young bulls.

Textures and intensity.

Cautious approaches ensure safety at all times.

It gets its name for this reason, the blue forest.

A common technique of reaching for pods and branches of Albida trees.

Always important to hold your nerve.

A family of elephants move through the dry Ruckomechi River.

Close up textures of an elephants ear.

Giants are present in these forests.

A well known elephant bull reaching for the higher branches.

Tusks that are in need of protection.

Quintessential Africa.

A large bull feeding in the marshland in the late afternoon.

2 young bulls tussle for dominance.

By canoe, it is easy to approach and photograph these bulls as they cross the Zambezi.

Drifting past, without the slightest sound.

The Zambian mountain range adds huge depth to every scene on the river.

A big bull after fully submerging himself whilst crossing the river.

Low angles of some mischievous elephants in camp.

The egrets make for some interesting additions to each image.

2 young bulls crossing a channel to the Zambian side of the river.

4 feet deep, jostling for their rights as growing bulls.

Trunk to tail, they wade through he fast flowing waters of the mighty Zambezi.

Thank you to our amazing guests who made the journey with me to Mana Pools this year. We were shown a secret side of Africa that not many are fortunate to witness. From the comfort of a vehicle, an intimate moment on foot or drifting down the Zambezi in a canoe, each moment was one to cherish.

Planning a safari to Africa? Get in touch with us.

Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland

Miavana lodge, Madagascar

Madagascar is one of those places that is a mystery to most. However, we know some of it through legend and a rather interesting Hollywood animated feature film with names like Alex, King Julian, Marty and Mellman. Luckily the film brought out a lot of the “character” that is Madagascar. It described its beauty, diversity and in a weird and wonderful way, its strangeness. It is an incredibly unique island that split from Africa millions of years ago, allowing it to create and evolve into its own true self. This has paved the way for some interesting and rather different creatures. It is also home to an array of habitats, all diverse and wonderful. Unfortunately, the nation lives mostly in poverty so due to massive deforestation to clear land for agriculture, the wild tracts of land have been reduced to a few protected areas. However, ecotourism has paved the way for the protection of some of these areas and its unique inhabitants. It would be a tremendous global loss and a real negative reflection on humanity as a whole if we let this happen and lost what is arguably the most ecological diverse island on the planet.

This is where Time and Tide have stepped in with a visionary conservation model.  They have purchased the island of Nosy Ankao and now manage the island itself as a broad ecotourism model.  It is part of approximately 15,000 hectares of protected marine space, which along with the adjacent mainland, makes up the Loky Manambato Protected Area. This has allowed for a protection of a number of endemic lemur species and other wildlife, along with nesting grounds for 4 turtle species and a protected area for the huge array of other marine life. It also encompasses a small neighboring island which has breeding colonies of number of bird species (Click here for a full species study). The luxury lodge that has been created is known as “Miavana”. In the local Malagasy language, this means “to bring together”, which they most certainly have done in terms of bringing together all the elements to create an island paradise which can offer all the best aspects of what Madagascar can offer. The Safari Architects team thought it would be a fantastic place to visit and to see for themselves what this new exciting location had to offer.

From our international airport of entry at Diego Suarez, we met our friendly chopper pilot and began our exciting journey to Nosy Ankao and Miavana. This scenic ride blew us away. We lost count of the number of turtles we saw from the air. Literally hundreds of different species feeding on the shallow coral reefs and sand flats. A first for both Brad and I! There were also a number of manta rays and even large fish species that could be seen. A real testament to the conservation in this section of Madagascar and how the projects put in place are keeping these species safe.

On our way to the island from Diego Suarez in style.

Manta rays, various turtle species and large fish (including huge giant trevially) were seen on the chopper ride into the island.

An old engine block from an unfortunate ship that ran aground here.

On landing we were welcomed by the team and were immediately treated as old friends.

On landing at our private villa’s doorstep, we were met by all the staff and escorted to our home for the next few days. Strung out along the island, every Villa has direct access to the white sandy beaches, turquoise water and coral reefs. The colors of the sand, wood and water have been brought inside the Villas and appear in hand dyed curtains, hand crafted chairs, and light fittings resembling old glass buoys. Every 1, 2 and 3 bedroomed Villa has their own kitchenette, lounge, private deck and pool overlooking the Indian Ocean and Madagascan mainland in the distance. Each Villa also has an ensuited study which can be turned into a child’s bedroom for up to 2 children under 18. A butler service that the queen would be proud of is at hand, and we even had our own electric buggy to traverse the island and transport us to the village piazza, aquatic center and beach lounge. There are a number of activities that can be done at Miavana which will be highlighted below. However, these villas and the beaches that look out open are immaculate and if you are one for just relaxing and taking in the island lifestyle, they are most certainly ideal for it.

The two bedroom villa that was to be our home.

Just as we were about to explore our new home, this little guy caught our attention. A Malagasy giant or Oustalets chameleon, one of the many unique species of chameleons that make Madagascar their home.

The main bedroom of the 2 bedroom villa.

From the reverse angle. Unique styling and comforts.

A very unique shower with an open skylight

The main lounge area.

Fully equipped kitchen in case you would like meals in the villa.

A second relaxing area that can also be used as a children’s bedroom.

The 2nd main room, in a separate building.

A unique take on an interesting and spacious bathroom.

Attention to detail.

Miavana’s main bar area in the piazza and village.

The dining areas.

That afternoon, we did a scenic quad bike tour of the island. Driving through the local village, we waved to the people who live and work closely with the Miavana team. There was even a local chapel that we visited where a couple had decided to share their wedding vows. A real intimate and local affair! We were on our way to the islands old lighthouse, the highest point of the island, and the best place for a sunset. This really gave us a perspective of Nosy Ankao and the 360 degree view showed us the size of the island and the remoteness of what it encompasses. A lot larger than expected, with large sections of unspoiled coastal forest to explore. A Sundowner drink was had with a few laughs, and then we were off home for dinner.

A local church on the island. What a cool little chapel to swap wedding vows…

A remnant of different times in Madagascar.

The old lighthouse of the island. A fantastic way too get 360 degree views of Nosy Ankao.

Brad enjoying the views…

It is also a fantastic police to have a sundowner cocktail drink.

Ancient engineering and machinery.

With Chris being an avid fisherman, we went out with the boats and the experienced crew. Wayne Haselau of Alphonse island fishing fame was luckily on hand to guide us. Wayne has fished all over the world and in fishing circles is one of the most respected chaps in the industry. This is fantastic to know as the marine reserve will need someone of Wayne’s experience to help preserve it and guide local people and the staff on how to manage the future of this incredible marine habitat. We had a small window to catch game fish feeding on a Bonita (small tuna species) shoal, so we followed his expert guidance and tried our luck. We managed a few Bonita on fly rods and lures (light tackle) and ended off with a bit of trawling. This technique really is luck of the draw with anglers alternating each strike, but I was the fortunate one to bag a large Giant Trevally (Kingfish), the sports fishing pinnacle of the ocean. These incredible hunters fight intensely hard, but luckily, we got him on board quickly and released him safely back to swim another day.

The fishing boats ready and waiting.

Brad with a Bonita, a member go the tuna family.

A Giant Trevally, the master predator of the ocean.

Simon, the local Malagasy guide and head of all things wildlife related on the island was on hand to offer us nature walks day and night. We took up his offer and headed into the coastal forest of Nosy Ankao. As mentioned Madagascar is home to large array of endemic species all round and Simon was enthusiastic to show me what he could. A Malagasy paradise flycatcher, Soimanaga sunbirds, a Mahafaly sand snake and number of species were seen. It is always so much fun exploring new and interesting places. We were like kids on an adventure trying to find new treasures! I also took up his offer on a night time expedition. A few interesting species were found, the highlights being a native gecko species, some interesting insects, a Madagascar nightjar and a night walk on the turtle beach in hope of finding a nesting turtle. No luck with the turtle, but a few ghost crabs kept us entertained.

Simon, our local Malagasy guide.

Malagasy paradise flycatcher.

A Mahafaly racer snake. A non-venomous harmless species.

Beautiful patterns and natural designs.

An Oustalets chameleon.

A remote bay of the island.

The remote side of the island. Just around this corner is where 4 different species of turtle come ashore to lay their eggs.

The turtle research project monitors closely every turtle that comes ashore to nest. Stakes are put in the ground to mark the nest, so they know the exact date the eggs were laid. If you are lucky, you can be there at the time the eggs hatch, and witness a once in a lifetime phenomenon of the mad dash to survival for the hatchlings.

A beetle of sorts, hiding in the shadows.

A spider waiting for a snack.

A local gecko species.

Having some fun with ghost crabs whilst searching for turtles.

We were also surprised by a private lunch setup in a remote part of the island. With our own swimming bay, a stocked cooler box and some sumptuous snacks, we enjoyed the view – what a great way to have a relaxing afternoon.

A private afternoon lunch with your own swimming bay.

One of the highlights on offer at Miavana in terms of biodiversity, is a helicopter trip to the mainland in search of golden crowned Sifakas, an endangered lemur species. With Simon as our guide and Wayne as a backup, we headed off in search of these unique species. After an hour or so of searching, Simon pulled the proverbial cat out of the bag. Bouncing soundlessly through the canopies, he had found the family group. Big orange eyes stared down at us and we watched these unique creatures for as long as they allowed. A first-time experience, we felt quite lucky and privileged to be a part of this conservation project. There is a future plan to reintroduce golden crowned sifakas onto Nosy Ankao itself, which would be a fantastic addition to the island. They did historically occur there so it would an even bigger win for the conservation of the species.

En-route with choppers to the mainland.

A golden Crowned Sifaka, an endangered species and a real privilege to see.

A pair relaxing and looking down with interest.

A last look before they disappeared into the canopy.

Manamphao island is South East of Nosy Ankao. What makes this place extremely unique is that it is huge nesting colony for a number of tern species. It is internationally known in conservation and birding communities, and the fact that it is now protected is a huge win for the species breeding there. A morning or afternoon trip with a packed lunch here is well worth it! The boat trip there is an adventure and once there, you can experience what it feels like to have thousands of birds flying all around you completely relaxed with your presence. We had a fabulous time exploring and photographing the spectacle. I real intense experience for the senses, completely immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of what this interesting island can offer.

A few tern species backlit by the sun.

Brad and Wayne chatting about the experience, with a beautiful view.

A sooty tern.. here’s looking at you.

A nesting sooty tern.

Sooty terns dominate the colony, but their are few other species nesting there. A here a group of greater crested terns are nesting.

The view from Monomphao.

Tracks in the sand from a turtle that came ashore to lay her eggs. Awesome to see!

Exquisite packed lunch…

We finished off the day with a last bit of fishing, and then watched the sunset with a glass of wine and few laughs, with a genuine feeling of content. Miavana is a great conservation story in the making and we will watch and follow with interest. It is also a phenomenally luxurious island destination that is magnificent to just relax and enjoy what the lodge can offer with all its amenities and what the staff can provide. An all-round great island holiday destination.

A last fish of the island before we headed home.

The last sunset in a magical place. Leave only footsteps, take home only memories.

Farewell Miavana, we will be back.

The Safari Architects team.

Written and photographed by Chris Renshaw.

A family’s journey through Africa

 

 

Do you believe that a journey or an experience can alter the way you see the world? Or, your place in it? There are many famous quotes from gifted people who encourage these journeys, but until you physically embark on one, you cannot comprehend the true meaning behind what the quote or phrase was intending. I firmly believe that once you find yourself out of your comfort zone, are available to learn new things, experience new cultures and actually observe the world with open eyes and hearts; you will be blown away by everything you feel, experience and really ‘see’ – often for the first time. This is something that I have personally strived to achieve for every guest that travels with Safari Architects

I would say that the Arrix family can attest to the above, as from the moment they arrived, everyone truly immersed themselves in their new environments; taking every opportunity to fully experience whatever this beautiful continent, its people and wildlife had planned for them. 

 

Our trusted private aircraft, a Pilatus PC12 NG.

Team Arrix ready to roll… bring on the safari!

We started our journey in the world-famous Kruger National Park. More specifically at Singita Lebombo Lodge, a private concession within Kruger on its Eastern border with Mozambique. To kickstart the subtle process of integrating into Africa, we had arranged to meet and greet some children from the local school adjacent to the park. These communities are so vital to the conservation of these parts; and this is one way in which the lodges can give back to the young people that are so important to the future of our wilderness areas. Singita School of Cooking is a program teaching aspiring local cooks how to become chefs, so that someday they might find full time employment in one of the kitchens of any of the Singita lodges. Team Arrix jumped in; and under the guidance of Paul (head trainer), got their hands dirty preparing some local delights for lunch.

The local kids and soccer team from the the Hluvukani community, with their principal and Singita’s community manager, Morris.

The Singita school of cooking.

Getting their hands dirty ands making some local cuisine.

A lot of laughs and good family time.

The school kids that we met were actually the best players of the local soccer (football) team. We were introduced to them by their school principal, shook hands and were told to kit up for a game. This was to be one of the highlights of the whole trip, as we literally dove head first into a soccer match! Nelson Mandela famously brought together our divided South African nation during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg. Whilst playing with the staff and the local team, there was a moment when I realized how powerful sport can be in uniting people from different backgrounds. The team experienced first-hand what a dose of hearty exercise and positive interactions can do – we played like brothers and sisters and celebrated as one. Afterwards over a few laughs with new friends, we enjoyed the simple pleasure of eating a meal together; an experience made even better with the thought that the food had been prepared by team Arrix.

The Singita soccer field with its new friends and players.

Some intense soccer action…

Kathy skillfully passing the ball to T-bone.

Tom having a shot at goal. Still got it…

T-bone swapped sides at half time and joined the local chaps. Good job!

Inspecting the cuisine we help prepare with Paul, waiting for the soccer team to join us.

After starting on this high, we arrived at the lodge, settled in and got ready for our afternoon game drive. The next few days were spent crisscrossing this magnificent concession searching for a myriad of amazing creatures inhabiting it. We placed our trust in the people around us and watched as our local guide (Nic) and tracker (Christopher) wowed us with their skills and knowledge of the African bush. A definite highlight was the intimate experience we had with one of the lion prides of the concession – the Shishangaan Pride. Our first major sighting of them was having all 17 lions spread around us, fast asleep in the beautiful afternoon sun. We sat with them for a while until Nic suggested leaving them for a Sundowner drink and returning later to catch them after sunset. Oh, and something incredibly unique about this group is that there is a “white” lion amongst them. One of the only two true wild roaming white lions left on earth (click here for more info).

The team on safari, scanning for any wildlife.

The whole safari team, with Nic and Christopher up front. ready to rock and roll!

Our first lion sighting, a young male of the Shishangaan pride.

The whole Shishangaan pride, all 17 members spread out, including a rare white lion.

Our fist African sunset.

After a first successful African sundowner, we returned to the lions just in time to see the whole pride get up and move. If you have never seen a lion before or experienced a pride moving in the dark, this is definitely one for the bucket list. We sat in apprehensive awe as 17 lions moved on soft, quiet paws around us, into the night in search of a meal and to patrol their territory. Christopher then said something that at the time seemed inconsequential but later proved to be pretty impressive. He confidently stated that the lions would go in one direction, but finish in another and that we shouldn’t worry as we will find them tomorrow afternoon and all would be well. We just have to wait and see… On our way home, amazingly, we even had fleeting glimpse of a mating pair of leopards. The perfect ending to any day!

The whole pride on the move.

That night and over the next few days we dined in many different places and had some sumptuous meals, danced around fires and and drank some amazing South African wines. There is so much to say about the food, service and wine over the three nights,  but I think I will limit it to just a two words. Absolutely amazing.

The staff choir performing local songs, dancing and having fun.

The following morning, we explored different terrain to where the other vehicles expected the lions to be, trusting in Christopher and Nic who calmly mentioned they would be able to find the pride that afternoon. So, we looked for other species and came across a variety of wildlife including elephants, giraffe, rhino, hyena, waterbuck, hippo and crocodiles.

A group of young bachelor elephant bulls.

This young fella stood his ground and tried to show us he was boss.

A lone bull giraffe. These interesting animals were from then on commonly know to us as “Darryls”.

T-bone the Tracker…

A lone rhino bull. With the poaching problem in South Africa, we were so lucky to catch up with this ancient looking beast.

A couple of hyenas. These predators/scavengers are so important to the ecosystem, but are interesting and rather imposing characters.

A waterbuck, with it’s characteristic circular markings on it’s rear end.

A majestic kudu bull.

The dinosaurs of the world, Nile crocodiles.

Morning coffee on the banks of a watering hole. Nic, the barister.

A little competition with the air rifle…

The kids all took their turn in Christopher’s seat. Kit owning her turn.

The afternoon drive provided one of the best “tracking” experiences I have ever witnessed. As Christopher predicted, none of the other vehicles had located the lion pride that morning. So, we began our search for them where he said they would be and straight away found their fresh paw prints in the sand – the search for them was on! Zig zagging through the rugged Lebombo hills, Christopher with 35 years of skillful bush and tracking experience, keenly guided us where to go, mentioning we’d eventually find the lions on the move. This is exactly what happened. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but wow, what an experience!

The infamous young male white lion of the Shishangaan pride.

The whole pride, a lion road block.

The young white male, completely unique.

Hearts in our mouths as the whole pride relaxed around the vehicle.

The next few game drives we focused on exploring new areas. Finding the two male lions that had kept us awake the night before with their territorial roars, was definitely a thrilling experience, especially as they had come so close to the lodge. Driving around the Lebombo mountains was also something we all really enjoyed. The unique rock formations that hide a rich diversity of fauna and flora are incredibly beautiful and the N’wanetsi River that cuts through them is the lifeblood for the whole concession. After the last few years of devastating drought, this area has recovered so well and it is wonderful to see all the wildlife thriving again.

On the last afternoon, with a couple of charming elephant encounters along the way, we headed to a very special place where the river cuts through a gorge and enters Mozambique. It is known as “the Poort” and is one of my favorite places in South Africa. The newly acquired Singita Mozambique concession is on the one side, and the whole of the Kruger National Park on the other, providing an elevated vista for epic views. Brett, the manager of Singita Lebombo joined us for a magical surprise sunset stop where we bid farewell to this incredible part of the world, with good laughs, great wine and even better company.

One of two male lions in the coalition that owns the territory around the lodge.

Looking back at Singita lebombo lodge.

Strolling on – such an impressive animal.

Crossing the N’wanetsi River in front of the lodge.

A young bull elephant having a little swim.

Lebombo lodge, it really is a part of the world surrounding it.

Watching a massive herd of elephants all around us.

A final sunset at the Poort. What a location…

A final goodbye for the Shishangaan pride on the way to the airport.

Good bye Singita.

Botswana was the next leg of our journey. This is a country with only 2 million people that has basically become one big wildlife refuge. Wilderness Safaris’ Jao Camp, located right in the middle of the Okavango Delta, is a place of plenty with its waterways and islands. It is hard to explain what the Okavango is all about. It has to be seen and explored to truly understand the sheer beauty, diversity and the unbelievable sense of being in a completely untouched natural wilderness. The annual flood had begun to ebb which allowed us to do a number of water activities. Dennis, a friend to the Safari Architects’ Team, was to be our guide and met us at the runway. With his enigmatic smile and presence, the team was immediately intrigued as to what to expect. The camp itself is also something rather special.

Flying into Jao you really of get a perspective of how lush and green the okavango delta is.

Dennis and the team and Jao airstrip.

The Jao floodplain and main channel for the bridge crossing into camp.

The Jao main area. The whole camp is raised so that the animals can freely pass through and so that you can see and be apart of the wilderness.

For our first Delta excursion, we explored the waterways and crystal-clear channels of the Jao concession. Dennis guided us expertly around these navigable channels. We were halted at one point by a rather large elephant bull but he was an extremely relaxed individual and we were able to spend some time with him taking in the surroundings and snapping a few “selfies” with him.

The camp from the boat and main channel.

Kathy with a custom made lily pad hat…

Dennis modeling his custom made hat design.

Safari selfies with a giant.

A surprise Sundowner stop awaited us but this one came with a twist. With an instruction to remove our shoes, we waded into the warm water and enjoyed our drinks and snacks literally feet first in Okavango Delta, now a world heritage site. The hand massages on offer also helped us further relax.

Feet wet, in the water and loving it!

Kathy and Dennis celebrating.

Intimate moments in a magical place.

Laughter and memories.

Boating home just in time to see some stars, but light enough to find our way.

Another exciting way to experience the Delta, is flying over it in helicopters. With the doors off, we were able to see so much and get a real feel for the sheer expanse of its wilderness and wetlands. Low level flying ensured the rush of wind in our faces and allowed our adrenaline to flow freely like the waters in the channels below.

Our chariot awaits…

Both teams in one shot, soooo cool!

A magical landscape.

Some adrenaline filled low level flying.

A bull elephant from the air. Hippos and elephants are vitally important to open up new channels and keep water flowing.

Father and daughter moments.

We landed at Hunda Island, a large expanse of bushveld in the middle of the concession. This has arguably the best game viewing in the Okavango; brought to the fore as we rushed off to see a pack of African wild dog on the hunt. Some sneaky hyenas were following in the hope of a quick meal so, the interactions between the two species was fantastic to see. This was not the last wild dog encounter we would have. These extremely rare carnivores would at a future stage on this journey, provide us with an experience we’d never forget…

Hunda Island didn’t fail to impress. It showed off a huge array of wildlife, from feisty warthogs, to its local lion pride. We finished off our time spent there with a bush brunch, in a hide perched up in a Jackelberry tree. Later that evening, back at the lodge we took in the sunset around a fire accompanied by a great dinner.

One of our last activities we did in the Delta is a ‘must-do’ for the area – a traditional Mekoro ride. Again, this experience can put guests out of their comfort zones but really is a wonderful way to experience the peace and tranquility that floating down these beautiful flood-plains and waterways can offer. The soothing ambient noises you immerse yourself in are misplaced on a vehicle. Without knowing it, you become a part of this great and soulful place and it is like a battery charger to the body and mind.

 

African wild dogs. Intense and beautiful, we were to have some memorable sightings of these carnivores.

Hyenas trailing the wild dog pack.

Blue wildebeest, attractive in their own unique way.

A burchells zebra, making friends with the wildebeest.

A sounder of warthogs digging up underground goodies.

A young baboon. Playful and inquisitive…

A hamerkop. A bird that feeds on frogs, fish and variety of aquatic animals.

Dennis showing us our rather lovely brunch location.

Fireside chats and reflection.

The team getting ready to Mekoro…

A beautiful morning to cruise these waters.

We made it!!!

A nile monitor lizard, a common reptile of the okavango.

Cruising, contemplating and enjoying the silence.

Team Arrix, watching some storks and other birdlife.

A simple pole will do as a motor…

We bid farewell to Dennis and the Okavango with fond memories and memorable experiences,

The Linyanti region in North Eastern Botswana is located along the Linyanti River floodplain. Basically, it is an environmental haven and the river at this time of the year attracts all of the wildlife in the area. This, as well as the bushveld habitat is a recipe for amazing animal interaction. We stayed at Wilderness Safaris Kings Pool Camp. As team Arrix so accurately described it: “This is wild Africa at its best. You are definitely in the bush here.”

This region is famous for its wild dog populations. Yes, this where our story with these canine hunters continues. Who knew we were about to experience something rarely seen and certainly something I had never experienced before? Not 10 minutes into the drive, Ban our regular local guide, took us to where a wild dog pack had been seen that morning. The pack had already started to move and it was not long before we caught up with them. Running along the tree line, they were bound to encounter some antelope or prey. This time, it was to be a troop of baboons foraging in late afternoon. Usually wild dogs will leave these impressive and strong primates to themselves. But for some reason on this day, they didn’t. In a flash, chaos erupted and the whole troop and wild dogs were scattered everywhere. The cacophony of sounds around us made it quite confusing to work out what was going on. But soon it became evident when two of the dogs shot past us in pursuit of a female baboon. She was carrying an infant, and on saving it’s life by throwing it up a tree, she lost hers… It was brutal to watch this rare behavior but fascinating to see how the troop tried to rally behind and attempt to rescue her. The big male baboons (with canines larger than a lioness) did their best, even injuring one the pack members. But alas, it was not enough to rescue the now deceased female. I think an image that was burnt into our memories was when of one of the wild dogs came running out of the bushes with the baboon’s head in its mouth. Nature at its most raw and intense. When we left the scene, we searched for a quiet spot to have a sundowner drink and get our heart rates back to normal.

Dinner that night started off with the staff singing and dancing around the bar in a very animated and entertaining show. This was followed by a boma barbecue around a fire, to mark the end an intense yet incredible day of animal sightings.

 

Captain T-bone. This is your captain speaking…

Kings Pool, with the floodplain in front and the lodge in the tree line.

Kings pool and the team.

Hurtling after the mother baboon and baby.

Feeding on the unfortunate baboon.

The lucky youngster that the mother gave her life for.

One of the pack member with blood on her neck form the carcass.

An intense picture… deep eyes of both hunter and prey.

Having a drink to calm the nerves and take in what we just saw. Mixed emotions all round!

A festive night and some superb dancing and singing by the kings pool staff.

The next few days Ban and the King’s Pool team wowed us with their stories, individual personalities and general great service. On the animal side, we found a few different groups of lions, including two brothers’ famous for surviving a crocodile attack (click here for more). A mating pair was also found and we followed them through some thick bush, ending up with a fantastic viewing opportunity. We were also in search of a day time leopard sighting, as these spotted creatures are so incredibly beautiful in sunlight. ‘Ban-the-Man’ was up to the task. One morning, stumbling upon some fresh leopard tracks, he turned to us and said: “Let’s follow and see if we can catch up to her”. After an hour or so of following the leopardess’ footprints, we came to a crossroad. As with all great trackers, Ban flowed his inner guiding instincts and decided to go off path a bit. Halfway down a now unused road, we bumped into a journey of giraffe (known to us as Daryll’s) that were behaving slightly strangely, all staring in one direction. Tom (T-bone) suddenly exclaimed: “LEOPARD!!!” At the base of the shrub, in clear view of us, we saw the leopardess cooling herself in shade. Ban’s instinct had paid off and we were rewarded. We followed her for a while, getting some great views and photographs. Lactating, we presumed she had a hidden den site she used to nurse young cubs and was just taking a break for a bit before she had to continue her motherly duties. We decided to give her some peace and headed back for breakfast.

 

The two dominant male lions of the area.

Battle scarred and big teeth!

Two grumpy Cape water buffalo.

A beast hides in the shadows.

A group of Darryls. They were a big help in finding the leopardess.

What an absolutely magnificent cat

A last pose, and then she was off…

After a soccer match with the staff,  our last afternoon of the safari was all about taking it all in and just enjoying ourselves out in this special concession. We had a memorable sighting of large family of elephants drinking and feeding along the floodplain. Much like our team, this family unit was extremely close and we just watched them doing their thing, as intelligent beings do. The last drinks stop was on the floodplain watching the sunset with some old school music tunes in the background and a cold drink in hand. We had some fun and spirits were high, yet emotional as we knew this was the last day.

However, there was one last little sneaky experience planned… The Kings pool team had arranged what can only be described as a night of kings and queens, a bush dinner under the stars! In the middle of nowhere, amongst the wilds of Africa we sat around a warm bushfire with a full bar service and sumptuous cuisine cooking in the background.  All the characters of the lodge team that had become friends were there to share this night with us.  We chatted about our experiences, how we had all fallen in love with Africa, it’s people and the wildlife, and what was the best experience for each individual. The stars shone bright that night and those memories will  forever be in our hearts and minds.

One of many elephant herds we spent time with. This young bull was quite inquisitive.

Ban and Chris. Friends and safari partners.

Relaxing with some elephants.

The last sunset for the trip.

And then having some fun…

A dinner under the stars, in the wilds of Africa.

A last goodbye on the way to the airstrip.

Goodbye Africa, from “Ban the man”.

Sad farewells, but not goodbyes. Thank you to team Arrix for being so completely into the safari experience, embracing whatever we put forward. The safari would have never been as amazing if you all weren’t so keen to put yourselves out there, meet the people and hear their stories. This is also true of our wildlife encounters; Africa delivers all of her wonders to people that are willing and open to accept them.

Thank you for letting me be a part of this incredible family journey. We hope to do this again with you all, in the not too distant future.

Regards,

Chris and the Safari Architects team.

Written and photographed by Chris Renshaw

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