Q: When and why did you fall in love with safari?
My first safari experience was quite a strange affair and I had the “moment” that blew me away. I was actually on a large site inspection looking at various lodges and going to South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. I flew into Skukuza airport in Kruger during mid-afternoon and although I was to be staying and inspecting the fabulous Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, they were full on this arrival night, so I transferred to Bush Lodge and arrived as the afternoon Game Drive with all the other guests was just departing. I declined an invitation to go (which in hindsight is sheer madness as I will never decline another game drive ever, but I didn’t realise at the time how exhilarating they are) and chose to have a cold beer on the veranda overlooking the dry riverbed that runs alongside the lodge. Now as anyone knows, when the game drives’ leave, the lodge falls silent. So it was just me, a five star lodge and terrace all to myself, a cold beer and a few nibbles.
Call it beginners luck but no more than 20 minutes after I’d sat down, a male and female lion, came out of the distance and walked slowly and serenely along the riverbed past the lodge and then out of sight. I must have had my eyes on them for half an hour and I was spellbound. I’d seen TV programmes, endless pictures and heard stories recounted of safari adventures but nothing prepares you for that first extraordinary, humbling experience when you see it with your own eyes. I have seen so much over many years but will never forget that time at Bush Lodge as it was the time I fell in love with safari.
Q: What is the best thing you’ve seen on safari
I try, but I cannot get past the hour that I spent with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. All safari adventures are exciting. Any game drive can render you speechless and it’s that expectation and hope that adds to the excitement. The anticipation of seeing the gorillas started months before the trip and it just increased the nearer I got to the experience. The night before, the morning of, the trek into the mountains. The excitement just grew. We knew we were close and then under the tree next to me was our Silverback.
I cannot tell you what that felt like. It was wonder, it was nerves and it was magical. When he got up and walked away it just takes your breath away and then one by one the family appear. Five females and eight youngsters made up the family. The kids played, rolled around and got on their mothers nerves, and the Dad just sat there. All 400lb of him; majestic, authoritative and serene. He moved a bit, ate a bit and grunted a bit and every second that I watched him and his family is embedded in my head forever. I’ve got photos, I’ve got video but more than any of that I have my memories of one of my life’s highlights. It was simply extraordinary.
Q: What is the best time of year to go on a safari?
Safari changes with the seasons. It doesn’t get any worse or better, It is just different and choosing the right time to go on safari is more about what you want to see and experience. As an example, the Great Migration ending in the Masai Mara is dependent on the dry season which lasts from July to October. It is an extraordinary spectacle but the Masai Mara is special after the “short rains” of November and December as the reserve is at its greenest, there is an abundance of young animals to see and it is quieter as the peak crowds go for the migration.
The “long rains” of April and May are when it is probably best to avoid the Mara. Some of the lodges close for repairs and renovations and some are cut off. The changes in the safari experience are generally based on the weather and particularly the rain as this changes the landscape and the movement of the animals. Safari destinations, within reason, are a year round experience. It really depends on what you want to see and whether you want the sun to be shining or skies to be stormy. The best thing is to do your research, get a feel for what you want to see and experience and go and enjoy every minute of it.
Q: What is one of your favourite moments on a safari?
The spotters on the game drives are extraordinary people. Their knowledge and love for the animals is beyond comprehension and they will do everything in their power to make sure that you get to see as much of the wonder that you can. I was on a private game drive in Sabi Sabi and the was myself, my colleague, our guide and our spotter. He spotted a black rhino, not a common site so we changed course and went to see him. Now when I say spotted, it was unreal. We had driven for at least 10 minutes and we still couldn’t see him. Literally twenty minutes after the “spot” we got close to the rhino, but how Tobias saw him from that far away and in the middle of the game reserve is beyond me.
Then we did that thing which you cannot explain to anyone. We just sat there in silence for twenty minutes watching this beautiful creature. That is my absolute favourite part of being on a safari. An animal being spotted, getting close to it and then just being the only vehicle observing it. The silence and the wonder are a beautiful moment.