Chobe, Botswana, and Madikwe, South Africa
Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a series on the amazing sights of Africa I witnessed this spring. Part One focusing on Rovos Rail and Victoria Falls can be seen here.
When we stayed at the beautiful Victoria Falls Safari Cub, one of the many excursions offered was a daytrip to Chobe, Botswana; however, recognizing that there was more to see there that can be accomplished in a day, we booked three days at the Chobe Bush Lodge.
The Bush Lodge arranged car transportation for us and picked us up at Victoria Falls Safari Club. The crossing of the border was an interesting experience, and I was glad we had hired drivers who were knowledgeable on the process. Our initial driver drove us to the border and helped us with our visas and immigration paperwork while we were in the small roadside Zimbabwe office. He then transported our luggage to a colleague on the Botswana side, who then drove us to Chobe. Along the way we saw dozens of baboons and other wildlife and had to stop once as a herd of elephants decided it was their time to cross the road.
The Chobe Bush Lodge is a new property to complement the adjacent Chobe Safari Lodge. Guests can dine at the onsite restaurant or head over to the Safari Lodge for more dining options, including a buffet-style dinner. We preferred the Bush Lodge as it was quiet, had few guests and had a private pool.
We arranged a river cruise the first day, and along the way we saw elephants, hippos and beautiful birds. Our guide was a fountain of knowledge and was great working with children to make sure they were able to see the animals.
The next day began with a 5:45 a.m. game drive (we learned that it’s mandatory to forgo sleeping in as the animals are most active early in the morning and in the evenings). It was a cold morning, but our guide gave all of us blankets, and we stopped early on for coffee and biscuits prepared by the guide in the middle of the bush.
Along the way we saw buffalos, crocodiles, baboons (including a mother feeding her small baby) and the African Fishing Eagle (the national bird of Botswana and Namibia). But the highlight was a chance encounter with a female lion devouring a buffalo in the bush. Our guide educated us on Botswana’s proud anti-poaching efforts and strict conservation efforts. He also explained to us that male elephants have stronger front legs to hold up their larger head and tusks, while female elephants have stronger back legs to withstand the weight of babies during pregnancy.
Madikwe, South Africa
Safari options in South Africa are endless; however, a friend of ours in Johannesburg recommended the remote, malaria-free Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge. I will be forever grateful for his sage advice, as our experience there was one of the most amazing of our lives.
Madikwe is not easy to get to (I highly recommend booking through the Portfolio Collection as they handle the accommodations, flights and all other necessary items), but a quick one-hour flight on Federal Air from Johannesburg is the best option. We were fortunate in that we could leave our large luggage at our friend’s house, as luggage is limited to small, soft-sided duffel bags. (The airline will store other luggage for you.) We were transported from the Johannesburg airport to where the smaller, charter planes take off and land and were surprised by Federal Air’s large, elegant lounge. Upon arrival in Madikwe, all guests are greeted by guides in Land Rovers to take you to the lodge. The scenery along the way was beautiful, and the entire staff greets you upon arrival at the lodge.
We were escorted to our “room,” which was actually a massive villa that more resembled a house. It was easy to actually get lost as we roamed from the bedroom to the den, study, dressing room, indoor bathroom with soaking tub and shower, outdoor shower and private pool. Within an hour, we looked up and saw a family of elephants drinking at the watering hole right outside our villa. It was almost as though the resort had somehow sent the elephants onto stage for us to enjoy, but it was simply Mother Nature at her finest.
Game drives are help at 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day, and everything is included at the Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge. On our first drive, we saw a family of five lions resting along with ample elephants, giraffes and impalas. Our personal guide, Jaces, and spotter, Lebo, worked in tandem to spot wildlife, and Jaces’ agile driving got us close to the action. (The lions were actually so close, yet somehow we did not feel threatened.) Lebo rode in a chair on the front hood to be able to spot animals in the distance, while Jaces educated us on all animals we saw along the way. His story of the daily miracle that is a giraffe’s life – their unusual circulatory system and large heart allows them to get blood properly to the brain, and yet it also prevents too much blood going to the head when the giraffe lowers its head to drink water – is one that I cannot wait to share with my niece. Jaces also showed us how when giraffes walk – they move both legs on one side of their body and then both legs on the other side – and explained why zebras tend to stay close to giraffes, taking advantage of their friends’ height to alert them of danger.
Dinner was served outdoors with propane heaters for each guest. On our second night, Jaces joined us for dinner and prepared us for the last game drive of our trip. He asked if we were willing to get up 30 minutes earlier as there were reports of a cheetah nearby and he wanted to get out before other guides were awake. It was this type of personalized service – where Jaces wanted to do everything he could to give us an unforgettable experience – that makes this place so special. He called us at 5:30 a.m., and in case we missed breakfast before we flew out, he arranged to have the kitchen pack us a breakfast to take with us on the flight back to Johannesburg.
Jaces drove us to the airport and stopped along the way, as somehow he was able to spot a leopard sleeping in a nearby tree. He assured us that Federal Air would not leave without us and he made us promise to return one day. It’s as though he and everyone at Madikwe Hills are as excited for you to visit them, as you are to visit their amazing resort.