Thursday, April 16, 2015

WE HAVE JUST BEEN ON SAFARI

An amazing African journey. Laila Ă…nestad leaves the chilly winds of Stavanger for the red deserts and enchanting waterways of Namibia and Botswana. Her tour includes bush camping among herds of elephant and the luxuries of lodges deep in the wilds.  

She experiences the newly renovated AndBeyond Sandibe lodge, ideal for land drives and big game, and then flies on to Xaranna, right on the delta - where you do safaris by boat amid the splashing of hippos.

The adventure starts early in the morning with a flight from Windhoek airport to Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. "It felt like sitting in an old car, in the smallest aircraft I have ever been in. The flight was very bumpy because of the wind and heat, so be prepared to get sick!" writes Laila....




Sossusvlei Desert Lodge 

The ”airstrip” was on a big, open savannah surrounded by rugged mountains 1-2 km from the lodge. Upon arrival, we were met by two wonderful ladies who served fresh lemonade and cold wipes. The lodge is located by the foot of the mountains, with wonderful view over the landscape. There are 10 separate desert villas and it is one of the newest lodges in the area. The colours and the interior are in white and beige with nice lamps, cushions, wooden rugs and African pottery and wall decoration.
Normally the lodge has internet connection, but they had technical problems during our stay.

The staff was wonderful, and they gave you very personal attention. You will have your own butler and driver who takes care of you every day, and they know a lot about the nature. Be prepared to change your sleeping routines, as most of the activities starts in the morning around 05:00!
Around this lodge, you can see oryx, zebra, ostriches, jackals and springbok.  But it is the location and ultimate escape from everything that makes it unforgettable.

You are close to the Sossusvlei Nature Reserve, among the biggest National parks in Africa actually. The red sand dunes are amazing, especially when you go early in the morning to see the contrasts when the sun is rising. We climbed the biggest sand dune, Big Daddy – which is 300 meters high! It was a hard trip and took us around 50 minutes!

Our driver went together with us to the top – they are not allowed to leave anybody by themselves in the desert. When we returned to the vehicle, the butler had prepared a delicious breakfast under a big tree, with scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes! We even got cold musli youghurt and different juices!

Food – They have a very good chef and can serve dinner in the main building or in your ”villa” or in the wine cellar (lit by lots of candles - it was very romantic) or under the stars.



We had a beautiful, scenic sunset drive one of the evenings which ended up as a surprise with a fantastic 3-course dinner out in the desert together with a young, German couple. White tablecloth, a selection of wines, candles in the sand!



Another activity you can do in the lodge is to fly with a balloon over the desert dunes. We got up early in the morning around 04:45 to be up in the air before the sunrise. 800 meter was the maximum height, but we also flew low. Amazing experience!

Breakfast was served on the savannah when we landed!

Yesterday we had an afternoon trip with quad-bikes. The bikes are made in China, and according to our husbands, the engines do not have the expected power. To me, it was ok!



The lodge also has a small, round infinity pool from where you can watch the zebras and Oryx not far away. There is a waterhole 150-200 meters away, and sometimes they come up to the pool to drink though they are shy. As the Namibian desert is one of the 3 darkest spots in the world, the lodge had a fantastic stargazing observatory. Unfortunately it was half moon while we were there.

Savute under canvas 

Be prepared for a wildlife experience not like anything else! Stay in a tent in an unfenced campsite in the middle of the Chobe National park in Botswana. The biggest elephant herd in the world and they might visit your tent!



The camp is reached from Maun airport by a small plane, flying time around 30-40 minutes and then a 30 min drive to the lodge. The tents are quite big, with a good double bed, paraffin lamps, a bucket shower in which they heat the water over the fire at night. You also have a flush toilet in your tent, as it is strictly forbidden to open or leave the tent after dark and without the guide. There is no electricity and no air-conditioning, so be prepared for a hot experience when you are resting during the day.



If you stay 2 nights, there could be time for 4 game drives. Get up in the morning at 05 and have a light breakfast before watching the wildlife around the park. Get home around 11:30 for brunch, then rest in the tent until afternoon tea is served at 16.00. After the tea-time, there is another excursion before dark.

All the sounds at night are amazing, and you sit around the bonfire with a leopard behind your back and lions or hippos just behind the bushes in the darkness. This is just not unusual luck, it really happens often, and it did to us!!






Regarding the food – the chef can make the most delicious dishes you can imagine. Always 3 courses which starts with a pre-dinner drink. The driver/guide has a lot of knowledge about all animals and also the country, and we could ask him about anything. He also managed to make us calm even when the lions were resting in the shadow of our open vehicle! But with the leopard 20 m behind our backs in the darkness, I was scared to death, and had to be followed by 2 men into the tent - which felt safer.



2 nights (4 game drives) is enough time in Savute, and we are looking forward to Sandibe tomorrow.

Sandibe 

From the airstrip there was a 45 min drive to the lodge, which also lies in the middle of the bush. We were met by a singing welcoming staff who served us homemade lemonade and fresh, cold wipes. The main building was a mixture of Scandinavian and African – massive, wooden beams and floor with African home decoration around. The lodge was re-opened in September 2014 after a big refurbishment and they are fully booked (80%) up to the end of Oct 2015!

There are 6 huts (all are the same) on each side of the restaurant, each built on poles with private plunge pool and 2 fantastic terraces overlooking nature. Your neighbour cannot see you on the terrace, so you can feel free to wear clothes or not! Laundry included in room rate. Hut nr 6 and 7 are connected with a bridge so that families can stay together. The age limit is officially 12 but the managers can allow younger children.

The food is fantastic! You are served coffee/tea or beverage of your own choice by the butler in the morning when he wakes you before the game drive. Then it’s time for a continental breakfast (which is much more than you ever can expect) and then the game drive starts about 06-06:30.
The lunch is from 12:30 – 15:00 but they are flexible. The afternoon tea/high tea at 16:00, then evening game drive, and then dinner at 19-20:00. On the trips in the bush, they always serve tea/coffee and something small to eat, so there is never time to be hungry






The lodge has a small gym, a shop and a SPA as well. You will see a lot of animals here, and the rangers/guide has good knowledge of everything.

Sandibe had better cars than Savute under canvas, and a better system for reporting to each other if they saw animals, but still we liked Savute because of the staff there.

In Sandibe all the huts have air-conditioning. November/December is a good time for travelling here, all animals have just got ”children” and that is nice to see. It is also very green at this time of the year, but that makes is difficult to see lions and leopards who hide in the high, yellow grass.

The Delta however, is dry - the rainy season starts in December. The rangers are allowed to drive off-road (which was not allowed in Chobe) and that makes it very exiting sometimes.
The staff are wonderful. Xaranna tomorrow!



Xaranna 

Xaranna is in the north of Botswana and in the middle of the Okavango Delta, and here they could offer river-safaris which was a different experience from what we already had done. The camp is not new like Sandibe, but the atmosphere and involvement from the managers was amazing. In November it was still the dry season, and we had no difficulties to go by car. In the rainy season, you will be picked by boat from the airstrip!







There were hippos and crocs in the river, and I was far outside my comfort zone on this afternoon excursion!


Interested in doing this amazing itinerary?

It can be booked through Select Collection - for our web page CLICK HERE.

Images by Laila and Select Collction in informal blog style. Picnic at Sossusvlei, sunset dining at Sandibe (below) and  image at Xaranna (above) by AndBeyond


Sunset dining at Sandibe

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