Head off the beaten track in search of the Big Five, encounter the time-honoured customs of a nomadic tribe, or enjoy lunch at the home of a celebrity chef on a bespoke safari that’s far from ordinary.
Words: Lauren Romano
Nothing comes close to the thrill of shadowing a pride of lions on the prowl, or spotting a lethargic leopard catching 40 winks in the bough of a tree. Bumping along the dusty sun-drenched savannah in the back of a safari jeep is up there on many a bucket list. But much like the creatures that call the bushlands home, safaris come in all different shapes and sizes. For first-timers, South Africa is the perfect place to start – with more than 600 parks and reserves, it offers a patchwork of rolling harlequin green plains and remote desert sands dotted with diverse wildlife.
What’s more, with subtropical coastline, abundant vineyards and cosmopolitan cities to explore, there’s wow factor everywhere you turn.
But why settle for the same well-trodden trail as everyone else, when you could unearth a truly out-of-the-ordinary experience, like tracking the animal kingdom’s most elusive creatures with the help of a world-renowned guide, or immersing yourselves in the ways of the local tribes with a member of the community who knows them well?
Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and exclusive access to invitation-only places that offer the deepest connections to nature and the creatures and communities that live there is what makes a safari stand out from the crowd. Whether you’re craving an adrenalin-fuelled adventure, want to come within heart-stopping distance of endangered species that elude all but the most seasoned safari experts, or to sip sundowners by the campfire with a world-class sommelier on hand – your wish is Carrier’s command.
First thing’s first, before you dig out your Penelope Chilvers walking boots you’ll need to ask yourself why you’re taking the trip and what you want to get out of it. A safari can be a spiritual and emotional experience, and the chance to fulfil life-long dreams, so it’s important to pin down your motivations and objectives. For example, are you looking to reconnect with nature? Do you want to slow the tempo and focus on your wellbeing? Or are you after adventure? Finding the right place and pace is key.
Across South Africa, from the sprawling Kruger National Park to the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve on the Botswana border, catching a glimpse of the coveted Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) is a given, but how you choose to shape this magical experience is down to you.
For those looking to embrace the great outdoors, opting to camp, with only a piece of canvas between you and the animals that roam freely, will immerse you in the sights, sounds and smells of the bush in the most exhilarating way imaginable – from the roar of lions surveying their stomping ground to the rustle of a black rhino in the thickets. At Madikwe Game Reserve’s secluded Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge, guests can go one step further and shed the canvas to sleep under the stars on a candle-lit platform.
But if that’s a step too far out of your comfort zone, Carrier’s handpicked lodges on private reserves enable you to live in the lap of luxury with four-poster beds, infinity pools and first-rate dining experiences. Staying in a lodge doesn’t mean distancing yourself from the wildlife altogether, however. At Sabi Sands near the Kruger National Park, Londolozi Private Game Reserve features five opulent camps where animal-spotting is high on the agenda. At Founders Camp, experienced rangers, many of whom were raised in the region, offer invaluable insights into the local conservation projects taking place, while over at Private Granite Suites, guests have front row seats of the river and the wildlife it attracts from their private swimming pool or outdoor bathtub.
Planning a safari is far from straightforward and can often involve military precision. Not only are the smallest and most exclusive lodges often booked up 12 months in advance and business class seats snapped up similarly swiftly, organising a safari requires an in-depth understanding of the countless regions, game reserves, camps and lodges, something that Carrier fortunately has in abundance.
Compiling an unforgettable experience comes down to the most minute of details – and having a bulging contacts book filled with renowned guides and animal trackers to take you off the beaten track certainly helps. Away from the savannah, Carrier’s relationships with local experts will take guests behind the scenes at little-known wineries, secure access to private views at cultural institutions and reserve coveted tickets to the hottest tables in town. And if all that doesn’t suffice, being whisked by private jet to acclaimed chef Reuben Riffel’s home for lunch should do the trick.
The beauty of a break in South Africa is that you can combine different regions with ease, for a truly unforgettable break. From wild beaches and verdant vineyards to vast game reserves, the country is a place of contrasts and enriching experiences encompassing the high octane and the tranquil. While a safari is a truly memorable adventure in its own right, branching out and blending it with a stop off in buzzing Cape Town or an epicurean road trip around the winelands will add an extra dimension to your travels and restore and revive you for the long game drives on the horizon
Cape Town’s cosmopolitan charms are seductive. With museums, galleries, boutiques and restaurants in abundance, the city’s magnetic energy will stay with you long after you hit the open road and the dusty savannah terrain.
Or, if you want to unwind and recharge your batteries after a week spent in the confines of a jeep, a visit to the Stellenbosch wine region will provide a welcome interlude. Tucked away between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek at the foot of Botmaskop mountain, Delaire Graff Estate is the perfect spot to kick back and enjoy the local vintages. Book in to one of the stunning lodges that offer views over the vineyards and wile away the time between wine tastings admiring renowned jeweller Laurence Graff’s private collection of contemporary art or unwinding at the spa.
For a more far-flung diversion, and the most enviable end-note to your trip, make the most of convenient connecting flights to combine a safari with a luxurious beach break. Mauritius and the Seychelles are within easy reach; the sapphire waters and sugar-white sands will have you nodding off dreaming of giraffes elegantly gliding by. Relaxing amidst islands ranked amongst the world’s most aesthetically pleasing, you’ll feel thousands of miles from anywhere. So for a safari that tops everyone’s bucket list: curate, customise and combine. Why settle for ordinary when you can have extraordinary?