Botswana, You Beauty
After a hairy start, which saw us running along the tarmac to leap into a 6-seater hopper before the sun set meant that our heartbeats rose as high as our little aircraft. But landing inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, we instantly felt calmed by the vista – a wide-open scrubland dotted with the occasional acacia tree – which stretched for miles in every direction. We had arrived in Africa.
Botswana is really one of, if not the best place to go on safari. Tourism has developed with sustainability in mind, and a focus on small numbers of high quality, intimate camps. A world away from the tour buses and paved roads you find in game reserves in some other parts of Africa. We travelled in early December, technically the ‘off-season’ in Botswana, but we preferred the lower temperatures in the desert, with striking thunderstorms breaking the heat and, in the delta, ‘green’ season meant that migratory birds arrive, and new life is all around. Seeing cubs, baby elephants and antelopes scamper and gamble totally melted our hearts.
Tau Pan Camp is one of those camps which pays special attention to the safeguarding of its surroundings. For me, that’s exactly how it should be – if we’re going to spend time enjoying this environment, we need to know we’re protecting it. Tau Pan makes use of the sun to create energy and hot water and thatched roofs keep the property cool.
Despite rigorous sustainability standards, you won’t find compromise on luxury here. The rooms are open and breezy with indoor and outdoor bathrooms plus there’s a pool for post-safari relaxation. By day, we learnt about local customs on a walking safari with a bushman, and were lucky to see lions mating. We loved the magical evenings. Guests, staff and guides come together around the fire for sociable story-telling and icy-cold beers, punctuated by the throaty roar of lions, before a 3-course dinner under the stars. One night we slept out on a specially designed star bed platform. Millions upon millions of stars bedded in a velvet sky were almost too much to comprehend and waking up in a dawn-streaked wilderness will be forever imprinted on my memory.
Our second stop, Stanley’s Camp, located in the Okavango Delta, gave us the animal encounters we were hoping for. I’d always dreamed of getting up close to an elephant, and here rescued elephants freely amble through the bush. Walking alongside these giant, graceful pachyderms was a strangely personal and moving experience. Casual animal-spotting continued back at camp, where hyenas would slink past us as we were at the bar having a drink.
Sundowners were made into a very special occasion; every day would be a different set-up with an even more impressive view and cocktail selection. After gin and tonics, it was thrilling to head out on after-dark safari. One night we tracked a female leopard on the hunt. During the day we explored the delta, swishing through reeds on wooden mokoros. We even spotted a pod of seven hippos.
We felt like kings and queens at this luxurious sanctuary, Chiefs Camp, where we were certainly treated like royalty. Our accommodation was impressive: our own plunge pool, a private terrace and a vast bath tub on one hand, but also bleached natural wood, thatched roofs and the comfiest bed I’ve ever slept in. Animals drift in and out of the camp at their leisure. We couldn’t help but be amused that the roving elephant chose our neighbour’s plunge pool to drink dry! We also had the memorable experience of spotting a mother with her playful 5-week old cubs, something I only ever thought I’d see through the eyes of David Attenborough.
Service here is at mind-reading level. One evening after coming back from another beautiful sundowner we discovered our suite had been decorated, the bath run with bubbles and a dinner prepared for us to enjoy a deux on our private deck. Details such as these create incredible memories of which I will always associate with my honeymoon.
New Year’s Resolutions
We spent the last days of our honeymoon on the island of Zanzibar, which was the perfect antidote to the epic sights of our Botswana safari. The island is pure paradise territory, white-sand beaches and the Indian Ocean a jaw-dropping iridescent blue, and an interesting fusion of Swahili and Arabian cultures. We stayed at the trendy beachfront Z Hotel, and spent too many hours drinking in sunset and plenty of cocktails on the rooftop bar to the soundtrack of chilled beats. On the east coast is labour of love Tulia hotel. The hotel is made by hand by local craftsman, taking years to complete but the care and attention that seeps from the walls, happy staff and flower-filled garden shows this is a truly special place to stay.
New Years’ Eve on the island took the form of a huge beach party. Shoes discarded, we danced in the sand and worked our way from one little party to the next, gaping at acrobats, dancers and a cracking firework show. The next day, we couldn’t believe our luck to start the new year snorkelling amongst dolphins, swordfish and an array of neon coral gardens in the gin-clear waters around exclusive private island Mnemba, where a lucky few can stay. We made our New Year’s resolution then and there and promised ourselves one day we would return – next time Mnemba?
Honeymoon Heaven in Africa
Real Holidays' team member, Anneka spills the beans on her epic honeymoon to Botswana and Zanzibar.
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