After seeing captivating imagery of African safaris from the likes of top influencers including Hello Emilie, Chelsea Kauai, Travel In Her Shoes, and Sam Kolder (just to name a few), I decided that Africa could no-longer be one of those continents sitting idly in my bucket list – I needed to get there and check it out for myself, pronto.
Booking a return ticket to Johannesburg (which seemed to be a bit of hub for flights to Africa), then came the hard part… choosing which country and safari to go on. A call-out on Instagram and a high recommendation for Wilderness Safaris – and the decision was sorted. Touted as Africa’s foremost ecotourism operator, Wilderness Safaris comes highly acclaimed (we’re talking publications such as Bloomberg) – so I felt pretty confident with the decision.
Offering a mixture of Premier camps, Classic camps, and Adventure camps in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Wilderness Safaris has a total of 40 camps across its portfolio. With a huge desire to see both Victoria Falls and lions playing in the wild (naturally), I opted to go with Toka Leya on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and Little Makalolo in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (home of a large lion population).
After arriving at the Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone, Zambia, we were picked up by the Wilderness Safaris team and taken to the mighty Zambezi River – where we would catch a boat up to the Toka Leya camp (which is literally situated right on the river). This was a surprise, and definitely not an unwanted one – as we spotted hippos in the water near by about 10 metres after setting off. This would be the first of many hippo sightings. Numerous pictures later (including the mandatory selfie), and our guide gently nudged us in the direction of camp.
Having never been on safari before, let’s just say I was suitable impressed with the spacious luxury traditional-style tents (complete with an en-suite and indoor and outdoor showers) that the camp provided. This was no tent you pitch in the outdoors. To complete the camp’s 12 “tents”, Toka Leya also came with an infinity pool (literally situated right beside the Zambezi), a communal lounge area, dining room, bar, sundeck, spa and gym. Total bliss.
With the sun shining and not long until our sunset cruise, I was in the pool within 30 minutes of arriving. Post-swim, and it was time for our sunset safari cruise on the Zambezi (all part of the package when staying at Toka Leya). My first taste of safari, the cruise had us seeing a myriad of animals – including more hippos, elephants, monkeys, and impala… and of course enjoying Africa’s famous sundowners. Our choice of sundowner? Gin and Tonic. The perfect way to complete our first safari, before heading back to camp and being treated to a three-course meal.
Land safari time! Six of us jumped into a jeep and set off for the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park – where we were treated to our first sightings off rhino, giraffes, and zebras. We also got to get out of the jeeps and walk right beside the rhino – accompanied by two rangers.
After our guide felt he had a jeep full of happy campers satisfied with their fill of animal watching – we headed onwards to the Victoria Falls, where we would do a walking tour on the Zambian side. A world heritage site and the most expansive curtain of water on earth – Victoria Falls is one impressive force of nature that lived up to its name the “Smoke that Thunders”, as the power of the water cascading down had the air thick with mist.
Post walk and some successful bartering at the local markets (I’m now the proud owner of two pairs of African pants and two pairs of shorts – we’ll just have to see if I ever wear these again when I get home…) and it was time to return back to camp for some R&R (or swims in the infinity pool) before the afternoon safari.
The afternoon safari brought with it more rhino, giraffe, and zebra sightings, as well as large spottings of impalas and monkeys. This time sundowner was had on the banks of the Zambezi while baboons played nearby.
In the afternoon we are on the move – so my partner (Jon) and I decided to cram in as much as we could into the morning before being taken off to Victoria Falls International Airport. Jon decided to go fishing on the Zambezi, while I squeezed in a solo safari with the guide (which was a bit of a treat for someone who wants to take pictures from both sides of the jeep). It was then time to head back to camp and say our farewells to the staff.
At the airport, we were met by Wilderness Air – the air partners of Wilderness Safaris, who directed us to our light aircraft (there were just six of us travelling to Hwange). Flying in a light plane over the African landscape is definitely a memorable experience in itself – especially as we got to spot wild elephants at a watering hole while flying past.
Landing in Hwange (which is the largest natural reserve in Zimbabwe), we quickly agreed that we’d rather head off straight on safari rather than being taken to camp and getting cleaned up. Nothing can quite explain the feeling of this first safari in Hwange. Seeing lion cubs play with each other in the grass, herds of elephants flicking dust at sunset, a lioness hunting impalas while looking over at us dubiously, a mother and baby hippo trying their best not to entertain us with a yawn, and a lion roaring into the night sky just metres away – this is the magic of Africa. This is what coming to Africa is all about.
Arriving at the Little Makalolo camp after dark (our choice – not the guide’s), we were shown around the living and dining area before taken to our “tent”. Similar to Toka Leya, our tent was spacious with a Queen size bed, ensuite, and multiple shower options. What we didn’t realise then, but would in the morning, was that it also offered in-bed views of zebras and wildebeest playing out front.
In true African style – before hitting the hay, we were treated to another three-course meal.
Rising early, we headed to the jeep after a quick bite to eat – this time heading out to a different area of the park. There had been murmurings of two lions playing and the guide was keen to track them down for us. About two minutes after taking off, we had a family of hyenas crossing our path. After watching the Lion King, I expected them to be quite ugly – but they were actually pretty cute. We followed them for a bit until they took off into the wild. Time to find those lions.
We’d been told we would come out to an open part of Hwange National Reserve where there would be animals everywhere – but I wasn’t expecting them to be quite so en masse. Literally everywhere you turned, you could see zebras, impala, wildebeest, giraffes and every bird under the sun. And yes, we did spot those lions – one walked so close to the jeep that his fur brushed up against the side (part scary, but mostly awesome).
With a very satisfactory animal spotting morning, we returned back to camp where I spent most of the early afternoon eating, swimming, and watching zebras playing in the field while lying on my day bed. Tough life.
At about 4pm, it was time to head back out on what would be our last safari. Our last evening was mainly occupied with giraffe spotting and watching a giant elephant herd migrate (with their babies having a mild case of A.D.D in the excitement of it all). We held our last sundowners in the near vicinity of the herd before heading back to sit around the communal campfire, all agreeing it had been an epic few days.
One final look out at the nearby waterhole just to check if there were any animals needing a drink (in the right season, the a waterhole at Little Makololo becomes quite the popular hang-out for the local game), and we were on our way. Another spectacular flight with Wilderness Air (this time there was just 4 of us on the plane) and it was back to normal everyday life – but with experiences that we wouldn’t soon forget (especially not with the 2000+ shots I took to remember it all by).
Africa – you were incredible. I will be back.