A honeymoon kiss from an elephant
Going on safari is becoming an increasingly popular option for adventurous honeymooners. Sarah Marshall recommends Africa’s top romantic lodges
SANCTUARY BAINES’ CAMP, BOTSWANA
I wake up with a jolt, stirred by the crunching of fallen branches metres from my pillow. A heavy-footed intruder is on the prowl and he isn’t doing a very good job of disguising his tracks.
Since I fell asleep, two hours ago, the beaming full moon has traced a perfect arc across the sky, like a ball-bearing swinging on a pendulum.
The thin gauze net wrapped around my four-poster bed billows in the warm night breeze, offering the only protection between us and the lively savannah.
Sharing a bedroom with a herd of elephants may not be every newlywed couple’s idea of bliss, but for a growing number of honeymooners eschewing schmaltzy romance for a spirit of adventure, its a match made in heaven.
Besides, as guests at Sanctuary Baines’ Camp in Botswana’s wildlife-rich Okavango Delta, we’re hardly roughing it: sleeping under the stars on the deck of a luxury lodge is just one of the many intimate safari experiences at which this hotel excels.
Set on the banks of the Bora river, part of the Delta which spreads like a bony hand across north-west Botswana, the five-lodge camp has been constructed with minimal disruption to the environment and is staffed by local communities.
The combination of top-class camps, diverse game viewing (the region is home to 450 birds and 90 mammal species) and far fewer tourists than neighbouring countries makes Botswana an appealing option for safari seekers. With a new international airport terminal due to open in the region’s main town, Maun, in two years’ time, its popularity is only set to rise.
The safari begins as soon as our light aircraft takes off from Maun. During the 10-minute ride, 150m above ground, we sight herds of elephant, zebra and wildebeest marching across parched scrubland, dotted with spore-like mounds of vegetation.
We’re greeted at the airstrip by a welcoming committee of inquisitive buffalo, who raise their heads to catch our scent, and a procession of sombre marabou storks, cloaked in black.
Oddly, the Delta floods in dry season (peaking from June to August) reshaping the terrain, creating new islands and submerging tracks. Our local guide, Tuello, expertly navigates our 4x4 truck through the ever-changing landscape, bumping over mud mounds and blasting through puddles almost a metre deep.
Jittery impala (whose availability as prey has earned them the nickname ‘MacDonalds of the bush’) fly from the path of our vehicle, their hooves barely touching the ground. A family of baboons grapple with pendulous seed pods hanging from ubiquitous sausage trees, while the cacophonous call of a blacksmith bird adds an oddly industrial clatter to the soundscape.
And all this before we’ve even reached the camp.
Wildlife viewing is the highlight of a visit to the Delta, but Baines’ Camp also provide opportunities to learn about local ways of life and survival – from weaving baskets with river reeds, to harvesting water-lily roots to make a dense, earthy stew, and steering a traditional mokoro boat (dug-out canoe) through the labyrinth of shallow waterways.
Our guide, Tuello, demonstrates his ability to follow animal tracks on a frantic hunt for lions.
Of all the animals in the Delta, though, elephants prove to be the most charismatic. More than a quarter of Africa’s 400,000 elephant population live in Botswana, with 80,000 in the Delta. Eating up to 200kg a day, these mighty creatures bulldoze their way through trees, bushes, bullrushes, water lilies and even safari lodges.
There are plenty of conventional opportunities for honeymooners to enjoy romantic moments at Baines’ Camp: join hippos on an early morning boat trip along the Boro river, orange sunlight dancing on papyrus reeds; or watch the sunset, sipping champagne in an outdoor bath.
My most loving memory is that parting gift from Jabu the elephant. Who’d have thought a kiss from another male would be the highlight?
HIPPO HOLLOW, SOUTH AFRICA
Those on a budget should look no further than this comfortable property a ten-minute drive from the Kruger National Park.
Sip fine South African wines from a terrace while visiting hippos mow the lawns.
Virgin Holidays offer four nights from £899pp (saving up to £290pp), including breakfast, flights and transfers.
Price based on two sharing, with departures in September.
Mark the 200th anniversary of explorer Dr Livingstone’s birth with a visit to Zambia.
In mid-June, the new Norman Carr Safaris camp Chinzombo opens, heralded as the first ‘wildly luxurious’ sustainable bush camp in the Luangwa Valley. Six villas, with private plunge pools, will appear to float above the landscape.
Doubles from £750 on full-board basis, including park fees and activities.
New from the Wilderness Collection, this stunning six villa lodge is set on the Laikipia Plateau, looking out to Mount Kenya. Combining luxury and adventure, the camp also has an excellent spa. Along with game drives, guests can take part in a number of conservation projects such as planting indiginous trees of monitoring the endangered Patas Monkey.
From £576pp per night on full-board basis, including activities. Visit www.wilderness-collection.com
Three nights at Sanctuary Baines’ Camp starts from £1,478pp (two sharing) on full-board basis, including park fees, laundry, morning and evening game drives and mokoro excursions, but excluding transfers from Maun. Visit www.sanctuaryretreats.com
South African Airways offers return flights to Maun from London Heathrow via Johannesburg from £1,197pp. Visit www.flysaa.com or call 0844 375 9680.