The Sweetness of the Solo Safari

It wasn’t merely that the animals were all out, on this early morning in the Nambiti wilderness. Not simply that we didn’t have to search too hard to find the rhinos and buffalo, the giraffe and lions, the wildebeest and waterbuck. What made the drive something special was what was not there. That is, other people.

I know, sharing is caring. But have you ever been on a game drive through the African bush, alone, just you and your guide?

No voices disturb the peace. No movement interrupts the stillness. And there’s the matter of time… of being in the wild, with its animal life, its birds and plants, sounds and scents, and having no need to leave before you’re ready.

There’s also the fact that I really like to take photographs. Lots of them. From all kinds of angles and with all kinds of lenses. I need time. I photograph best in silence, too, as a ranger tracks best in a quiet of his or her own.

Even with the camera down, resting in my lap, the peace creates a space to properly connect with the surroundings and myself. Space for me to offer the wild my entire attention. Space to see the little things, the details. The details of a lion’s nose or of the unfolding scenes… like the wildebeest elders gathering around their little ones to keep them safe or the alarm spreading across an impala herd as a predator nears.

Sharing can be sweet. But the notion of “the fewer the merrier” has its magic too. It’s what Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve of South Africa is all about. There are very few staff or rangers, only five suites, only two chefs, and the French owners, Ludovic Caron and Sophie Vaillant, play the role of maitre de maison. It’s a small family. And it creates the feeling of retreating to a villa in the countryside, in the south of France, with your people. Your nearest, dearest, or nobody at all.

Of course this countryside has big cats and great giants roaming its hills and plains, but the sense of nature, of Provençal bliss, is very much there. Dining slowly under the open skies, with fresh breads and pastries, fine cheeses accompanying finer wines, just the crickets chattering and streams trickling, it feels like a moment stolen from the continuance of time. A world apart.

One night, on one of our solo game drives, my guide, Pemba and I watched the sun set from a clearing in the bush, as a lion announced himself only metres away to his approaching brother. His deep gravelly roars seemed to never end. I could feel them echoing inside my very core as night fell over us. As though we were together in a vast ancient cave and not in the open plains.

Another night, we chose to join the owners for sundowners and stories of lions and leopards under a lantern-lit tree, while a giraffe ambled in that slow giraffe way right past us. Even in the company of other souls, sitting around a campfire, the peace of the place held its incantation.

And yes, sharing is sweet, but I felt the real, quite rare charm in being able to return to a big villa on a cliff face looking out over the Sundays River, soaking in the solitude with nothing pulling me away. With no voices to disturb the peace. No movement to interrupt the stillness. And no need to leave it all before I was ready.

8 African Experiences to Transform You

Have you ever gone on a trip thinking from the outset: this will change my life?

I haven’t and yet, in retrospect, each and every trip has in some way transformed me, transformed my life.

What’s most surprising though, looking back at my travels through Africa, is how so often it isn’t simply the expected or the dramatic that starts the change in motion. It’s a myriad of many little spells and sparks.

It isn’t merely seeing Kilimanjaro standing tall in the distance that gives you renewed energy, clarity, understanding. It’s so much more than that. Like walking it perhaps… Experiencing the process.

Or horse-riding in the shadow of the great mountain, with a horse and a guide that you connect with. Or cycling across the wild plains of big cat country, starting out in fear and finishing in joy. 

Transformation is in the release of anxiety and the acceptance of the unknown.

It isn’t merely being in nature, it’s your openness to it, your presence. It’s the healers and elders helping you to find the words to comprehend it all. To show you the path to new truths.

It isn’t merely the elephant rubbing its trunk against your cheek, but the safe space created by the keepers and handlers and other guests in unique sanctuaries.

Africa can transform you in a conversation, a show of kindness and compassion on a drive from the airport to your lodge, with the dirt roads, bush scent and dance of impala across your view. A connecting of minds and hearts and senses.

Sometimes it takes longer, the course of a week-long stay, as your nerve and sinew remember how to relax, release, in the hands of a therapist or the warm sea’s light embrace. In the remembrance of the wisdom of the simple things.

The change can start slowly, at the beginning of a mountain trail, with the natter of the mind still holding your heart in its fist, and might only show itself clearly once the last valley has been crossed. When the fresh air has blown a new course through you. When the clouds lift and light shines in at just the right angle to create the epiphany that everything is, actually, as it should be.

Transformation can come in the form of a book, a concert, heartbreak as much as love, calamity as much as good fortune. It can come instantly or take months, years. And when it does, life is always better for it.

Consider this your invitation to the kind of travel that goes deeper, the kind of journeys that transform, the kind of adventures that Africa has in abundance.

Here are 8 African experiences to transform you.

1. Journeys in Rejuvenation

The newly-launched Londolozi Healing House takes you from the world of doing into the world of being, and combines safari excursions with artful resting, curated bodywork and yoga in the wilderness of Londolozi, in the Sabi Sand. Experience unique treatment combinations called ‘Journeys’ for true rejuvenation, restoration and transformation, guided by a team of wellness practitioners, bodywork therapists, wilderness guides, yoga instructors and a sound healer.

Read more in Londolozi’s blog and website.

2. Canoeing the Zambezi River

Feel the sweet blend of adrenaline, trepidation and wilderness on a ride down one of Africa’s most renowned rivers at Royal Chundu, in Zambia. It is a journey that takes you out of yourself only to bring you more into yourself. Get up close to the watery mystery, its animals and plant life, scents and sounds while paddling with a guide. It’s one of those rare moments in life that stand out, that stay with you and make you feel both, strangely, more peaceful and alive. Alive among elephants, otters, hippo, crocodiles and great African fish eagles, of course…

3. Connecting with Elephants

Spending time connecting with the elephant herd at Camp Jabulani you learn as much about yourself as you do elephants. Discovering the ways these great animals live, love and play is eye-opening – how every part of their existence is geared towards assisting each other, their compassion and depth, their capacity for fun and curiosity. If you open yourself to them and their lessons, their love, you are bound to go home a more enlightened and peaceful person.

4. Mindful Eating

The culinary experience at Greenhouse, at The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town, transforms the way we see food. It goes beyond mere taste and presentation. It is a journey that impels you to think about each mouthful, to be mindful while dining and to give your attention to the story behind the ingredients, the dish, the culture, land and people involved. Eating will never be the same for you after a meal here.

5. A Sense of Time with Rock Art

Learning about how others live, lived, is one of travel’s greatest gifts. It gives you greater clarity when looking at your own day to day, but also your place in time. It reminds you that the ways things are done are not fixed laws, but rather accepted fads. It reminds you of your freedom to live in your own way. Witnessing the tales and art work of the hunter gatherer Bushmen tribes on the rock walls of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg Mountains does just this. With a rock art curator to guide you in the process, you’ll discover the spiritual world of these indigenous people – the most ancient tribe in the world – and likely be moved by their philosophy of touching the earth lightly.

6. Animals Never Before Seen

There is something special about Anjajavy le Lodge in Madagascar. It is one of the most authentic and sincere places you will come across on your travels. A wild land of mangroves, beautiful coral reefs, bays and baobabs, fossil caves, white beaches, traditional tombs, and animals unique only to this Indian Ocean island – lemurs, fossa, giant chameleons. With no threat posed (none of the animals are poisonous), you’ll find yourself overcoming fears, you’ll see the adventurer in you step out, your courage ignited by the ocean air. It’s freeing and when one feels free, anything is possible. Witnessing such a feat of conservation at work in the protected Anjajavy reserve reminds you of the power of a few inspired individuals. Perhaps your inner conservationist will blossom here too.

7. The Mountains are Calling

Cape Town is a special place, with special powers, but much of its magic lies in it mountains. Even the sight of them has had people pop up houses all around their foothills and cliffs. The transformation happens, though, once you put foot to rocky earth. With every step winding up Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, Devil’s Peak, and so many others, you’ll feel your heart pulsing,  sweat glowing and endorphins rolling. Somehow, at the end of a hike in these mountains, looking out over sea and city, answers arise, concerns dissolve, ideas are sparked and that new leaf feeling takes over. Time spent disconnected, away from phones and computers, will do this. Make a habit of returning to the mountains for clarity and energy and you’ll see the transformation start to take shape.

Explore the mountains from your base at Ellerman House, The Cellars-Hohenort or Delaire Graff Estate.

8. At One With A Horse in the Wild

Whether your horse is in the desert or has no name is irrelevant, the magic happens in your connection with this sensitive and powerful animal. One of the most potent and enchanting places to feel the transformative powers of horsekind is ol Donyo Lodge in the Chyulu Hills of Kenya. Traipsing across open plains with leopard, elephant, giraffe, wildebeest and other wild things all around, you have only your horse and yourself to trust. It takes two, as they say… It’s a lesson for professional and beginner riders alike, as this is no country farm. At the end of the ride, you’ll notice how in the moment you are, you might even feel confidence and pride return, you’ll definitely feel in awe of the natural world and the majestic, humane and respectful way the horses move between the other four-legged animals of this wilderness. A great lesson for us all.

The Silent World of Anjajavy

On a morning adventure into the big blue waters around Anjajavy le Lodge, in the north of Madagascar, I discovered a few new things about life, love and myself.

On that early Indian Ocean morning, lodge guide, Jonhson would pop his head out of the surface every now and again and shout out the name of a certain colourful thingamajig flittering past us. I realised, after a while, that it really isn’t only we humans who like to give our kids peculiar names. It’s a pastime that is even more popular with fish.

The epiphany began with the convict surgeonfish and continued with the twinspot snapper and rubberlips, who, with eye-and-nose goggles pulling at my mouth, appeared to me as somewhat of a kindred spirit.

Plectorhinchus playfairi – whitebarred rubberlips

As I started to fret that Jonhson had sunk to the bottom of the ocean bed, it also struck me that I had been snorkelling incorrectly my entire life. I’ve always sort of bobbed about on the top, trying to stay out of the way of wavy kelp and sharks, but Jonhston would take one great breath and then kick his way down, down, down, sailing smoothly into the coral caverns and crannies, seeking out every kind of fish he could find. This was the adventurer’s style of snorkelling, I realised, and I quickly followed suit.

Further down, with my ears well immersed, I experienced the true silence of the ocean for the first time. The kind of stillness that had been limited to the bath tub before. Now I shared my bath and bubbles with other lifeforms. I discovered the kind of comfortable silence that usually comes from long-held friendships.

While I’m sure the boxfish, halfmoon butterfly and emperor angelfish were enjoying a vibrant tête-à-tête among themselves, Rubberlips and I, at least I, in Rubberlips’ presence, was wrapped in quiet awe – in what Jacques Cousteau spoke of when he said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

“I swam across the rocks and compared myself favourably with the sars,” the French explorer and conservationist wrote. “To swim fishlike, horizontally, was the logical method in a medium eight hundred times denser than air. To halt and hang attached to nothing, no lines or air pipe to the surface, was a dream. At night I had often had visions of flying by extending my arms as wings. Now I flew without wings. (Since that first aqualung flight, I have never had a dream of flying.)”

It seemed like the same held for Jonhson.

Back on the boat and goggle-free, he told me that he had never snorkelled before arriving at Anjajavy le Lodge – several years ago. But while working in this unique part of the island, the waters of the protected peninsula and their rich sea life called him day after day, until he had mastered the art. The art of adventurer snorkelling.

He was hooked. In that catch-and-release kind of way, returning to land again, but with more wonder for the silent world than he could ever have imagined.

It’s evident in his growing collection of underwater photography and, like Madagascar’s own Cousteau, he uses each excursion into the sea to seek out and capture the complexity below. Because you can only conserve what you know about, he says. And because, really, he’s fallen in love with that feeling of flying without wings.


Take a look at some images from Jonhson’s Anjajavy collection:

Chaetodon auriga – Threadfin Butterflyfish
Chaetodon auriga – Threadfin Butterflyfish
Acanthurus triostegus – Convict surgeonfish
Acanthurus triostegus – Convict surgeonfish
Zanclus cornutus (Moorish Idol)
Pomacanthus imperator (emperor angelfish)
Ophiocoma erinaceus – boxfish
Lutjanus bohar (two-spot red snapper or twinspot snapper)
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Leiaster coriaceus – red spot sea starfish
Heniochus acuminatus – longfin bannerfish
Chaetodon trifasciatus – melon butterflyfish
Chaetodon trifasciatus – melon butterflyfish
Chaetodon lunula – Halfmoon butterfly