Tuesday, 01 November 2016 00:00

Bedazzled in the Bush

Written by  Roberta Sotonoff
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A herd of about 30 elephants come within about 50 feet of our open safari vehicle. Suddenly, one turns toward us, lowers its head and starts running. Our driver coolly eases out of its path. He says it is a false charge. You could have fooled me.
You never know what to anticipate on a Southern African safari. But, the many luxurious bush lodges are no surprise.  
Here is a sample of some in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. Each is unique and all-inclusive including game drives. Note that many are only accessible by charter jet.

If you don’t want to wander too far into the bush, visit Gondwana Game Reserve (www.gondwanagr.co.za). It sits in the Western Cape near Mossel Bay. That’s about a four-hour drive from Cape Town. Huts resemble alien space ships. These comfortable digs include domes for stargazing, antelope skin rugs, chocolates on the pillow at night and fresh flowers. Electric blankets, fireplaces and hot chocolate help to take the chill out of the night air. The new Ulubisi House comes with a pool, private chef, butler and field guide. It accommodates six adults or a family. Request an accommodation close to the dining room.
Kapama (www.kapama.com), near Krueger National Park, is a departure from the usual bush camp. Modern in design, it is more like a hotel. A family room has two very large bedrooms, infinity pool, two huge bathrooms with oversized tubs and an outdoor shower. Buffet dinners are served in the Boma, a tree fenced outdoor area with a bonfire in the middle. Sometimes Elvis, the resident oversized porcupine, joins diners. Two things make this reserve unique. HESC (Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre), a zoo-like rescue center, focuses not only on cheetahs but also saves other animals including wild dogs and hyenas. Its Elephant Interactions is amazing. Pachyderms are trained to imprint with humans. They are not chained but come willingly and choose to sleep in opened door stables. When called, Javelin, a huge bull, comes jogging down the road. About 10 of us get to hand feed him, touch his tongue, feel the bottom of his feet and pose with him.
The melodious greeting by the staff at Komati Tented Lodge, Nkomazi Game Reserve (www.newmarkhotels.com)echoes through Barberton Mountains’ rolling hills. Situated just above the river, Relaxation Retreat, the lodge’s spa, opens to a stunning view of the water. The landscape in this reserve will knock your socks off. The animals will, too. A path that snakes around the bush passes the dining/lounge tent and leads to 10 posh, tent suites. Each has a plunge pool, modern furnishings and a patio overlooking the Komati River. From decadent chocolates placed on pillows to whimsical animal tales on the nightstand, the lodge’s attention to detail is impeccable. An intimate, candlelit dinner for two can be set on the tent patio. The rushing river is dinner music. Service and food are first-class.

The world’s highest sand dunes at Sossuvlei Park are the iconic image of Namibia. Except for a few sprinkles of green, this land is as naked as a jaybird - just sand, mountains along with amazing sunsets and moonrises. Animals have adapted to this pristine environment.
Kulala Desert Lodge (www.sossusvlei.org) is near the park. Thatched roofed, square adobe huts, much like you’d see in Arizona, sit between mountains and a dried up river. Bedrolls are provided for guests who prefer to sleep under the stars on the flat rooftop deck. Overlooking a waterhole is the lounge, bar, dining area, veranda and plunge pool. But, what makes it first-class is the service, which even includes laundry.
Silent, stark and stunning, Damaraland’s lunar-like landscape, mountains, tall grasses, rocks and wide open spaces set the scene for the highest concentration black rhino in all of Africa. Expect to see elephants, giraffes plus untold numbers of springbok and Oryx.
Located in a valley, Desert Rhino Camp boasts eight, large, comfortable tents with en-suite bathrooms. The dining/lounge tent is comfortable and partially open. There is also a small pool. In the evening, guests relax around an open bonfire.

Copious wildlife dominates the Duma Tau, Linyanti Private Reserve camp near Chobe National Park on Linyanti River’s Osprey Lagoon shores. Ten canvas tents overlook the lagoon, but this is not roughing it. They are tastefully furnished with an en-suite bathroom, nightly turndown service and terry robes. The lodge offers great food, a pool and pleasant rides on the river. My memorable experience here was getting up close to a pack of wild dogs.
Vumbura sits in the northern section of the Okavango Delta. Its international airport is a runway and a sign. There are two camps, Vumbura Plains and Little Vumbura. They look rustic but each has posh tented accommodations. A Vumbura highlight is being poled through the swamps in a mokoro (dugout canoe). The craft sits very close to the water and passes lily pads, papyrus stalks and hippos.

Perched on the banks of the Zambezi River, Sausage Tree camp brands itself “bush chic.” Remodeled in 2008, its well-furnished, eight circular tents boast four-poster beds. An outdoor, stone bathroom enclosed with a low bamboo wall looks like it was designed by Fred Flintstone. Low hanging branches serve as its roof. Bamboo doors slide open for a better view of the river. It’s not unusual to see elephants close up, walking to the river. Though meals are served in the lounge/dining tent, you can eat in the bush by a campfire, on an island or in your tent. Other perks include a lap pool, bush walks, canoeing and cruising, sport fishing.
Multi-award winning agency Gilt-edge Africa (www.giltedgeafrica.com) arranges fabulous trips.

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