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.

An Instagrammer’s Guide to Zanzibar

Photographers travel the world to find the extraordinary, to capture those scenes that make their hearts race. That make them feel alive. They find it in the yawn of a lion and the leap of a leopard, in the soft eyes of the young and the old and in the flash of the perfect moment between two people, caught by being in the right place at the right time. They find it in the blues and whites of the Indian Ocean islands and the remarkable artistry of the world’s great buildings, paintings, sculptures, doors…

Instagrammers are no different. They too are in search of the beautiful, the distinct colours, shapes and tastes of new lands.

When it comes to Zanzibar, there are so many photographic journeys to experience – and share with the world on Instagram – as you move about this island off the coast of Tanzania. But there are a few things you’re going to want to remember, as you set up home at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.

Right on the beach in Paje, with the horizon in the distance, a stroll to the left or right opens up the eclectic beauty of life in Zanzibar.

10 Rules For Instagramming in Zanzibar

1. Wake up early to catch the sunrise and make sure you’re ready when the first light shows. Hang around once the sun is up – the light is still changing, and the clouds still offering their role to the canvas. At this time of day you’ll catch the local fishermen and women spreading across the water and shore, making for beautiful and dramatic details in your sunrise.

2. For sunset, set one day aside for enjoying sundowners and another for photography. Doing both at the same time is not easy. Although it’s likely you will be tempted. While photographing the sun, don’t forget to turn around and catch its glow across the land and people.

3. The beach is the best place to start for both point one and two.

4. Visit Stone Town on a morning excursion. The markets (with fresh fish and local fruits and spices), mix of people, winding old alleyways, ruins and doors make for exciting subjects. Be respectful. Ask for permission before photographing anyone or ask your guide for advice if unsure.

Read more > A sense of place in the Spice Islands

5. Don’t be afraid of getting into the water. Take images from the sea – that’s why you packed your costume. The kitesurfing school at the hotel provides some great subjects. Play with angles for unique viewpoints. Place a GoPro / underwater action camera on your kayak and stand-up-paddleboards or carry it in your hand when snorkelling.

6. Go island-hopping on a traditional boat, fishing with locals or for a walk through neighbouring towns, for images of real, local life on the island.

7. This is the land of blue skies and white sand. Have fun playing with your partner, different poses and the beauty of island life.

8. The spa garden is often visited by the red colobus monkeys with their funky white hair-do’s. Look out for them playing in the trees and when you do spot them, remember your calm place before you lose yourself for hours, snapping them from different vantage points.

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9. The grounds at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa are beautiful and worth exploring with a photographer’s eye – the large gardens, the villas and bougainvillea surrounding them, the Zanzibari influences in the architecture, design and artworks, and the cuisine, inspired by local flavours and spices.

10. Lastly, the night sky is truly magical in Zanzibar. Play with timelapses, reflections and framing. Just play. There is always time to sleep.


What Leopards Can Teach Us About Being Human

“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” ― Carol Emshwiller.

After three days spent beside a leopard and her cub in a foresty corner of the Maasai Mara, I’d like to add leopard to this mix. I’m sure Carol would welcome it and agree that wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and mildness are all traits of this big cat, and that it’s impossible not to question your own humanity after time in their presence.

I questioned a lot of things after my time with the leopard they call Fig and her new young thing perched in the trees at Mara Plains Camp in Kenya. After game drives, I returned to camp beneath trees of my own and pondered about life, sitting on my deck looking over the plains. In that way safaris make you look at life from a different angle, and think about things like what it means to be a mother, the importance of naps and how we really should climb more trees.

I thought that if anything, the leopard might just be able to teach us how to be better humans.

With these cats, as much as there was a time to chase her mother’s snaking tail while she slept, sloped along a fallen tree, there was a time for Figlet (Fig Junior) to collapse beside her, calm, quiet, still. A time for tenderness.

As much as there was a time to roll and tumble wildly together in the shade of their kingdom beneath the trees, there was time for that charm and elegance leopards are known for, the adults at least. Like wisdom, grace would find the cub in later years, when jumping out of the bush at unsuspecting butterflies with a little too much enthusiasm would become a slow, flowing, elegant stalk toward a lone gazelle.

It isn’t that humans need diluting, we just need some reminding, from the wilderness, from nature. Wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and tenderness – that’s all we have to hold onto, that’s all the leopards were showing me, that’s all that’s needed, Carol was saying, to make the world right again.

Discover more about Mara Plains Camp here.