Southern Africa Bush Tails

​Wild Dogs and Elephant Adventures in Botswana — Monica Kowalski

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Botswana is one of my favorite places on earth, but I haven’t been able to find enough time to plan an extended two week safari, my ideal, so I planned this shorter, week-long excursion for a quick dose of safari adventure. We went for 8 days; left on a Friday and back on a following Sunday. Not long enough, it’s never enough – but it was still a fantastic trip!

Touchdown, Johannesburg

We (my husband and I –we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year!) landed in Jo’burg and actually walked to our hotel, City Lodge, which is attached to Johannesburg International Airport. It’s the same distance as walking from the terminal to the gate – a quick 3-minute walk. It was great to be able to stretch our legs after the long flight.

While it’s mostly a business hotel, it was really nice for an overnight – it’s clean and comfortable with a friendly staff, and they served food and drinks until 10pm, so we were able to get a snack after we checked in. The buffet breakfast in the morning offered everything you could want: hot and cold cereal, various yogurts, pastries, fresh fruits, charcuterie, and a station for eggs-made-to-order.

When we left the hotel to walk back to the terminal, a staff member went out of her way to find us a luggage cart so that we didn’t have to carry our bags. Nice touch!

Wheels Up, Botswana, DumaTau Camp

Rested up and ready to go, we caught an Air Botswana flight and flew to Maun, where we got our “bush air” connection for the flight to Wilderness Safaris’ DumaTau where we spent three nights. On our flight we flew over massive herds of elephants that were in the Khwai River Valley near Banoka Camp. It was a spectacular welcome to Botswana.

I hadn’t been to DumaTau before, but I’d go back tomorrow if I could! It’s the perfect camp: a nice, friendly, relaxed vibe; great camp staff (with some familiar faces from previous trips – including camp manager Nick, who was at Vumbura Plains when we visited 9 years ago – he said he remembered us!); super food; and amazing guiding and sightings!

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I loved the rooms – spacious, modern, funky, cool, and airy — a great mix of style’s that add up to perfection. There’s also plenty of room to put away clothes, and there’s easy to use charging stations with converters and adapters.

We arrived in time for lunch, which was nice since the meals are ample buffets, which I prefer since it lets me sample lots of different options. The food was very, very good – and did I mention there was a lot of it? There’s even a full breakfast before the 5:30am game drive in the morning with pancakes and eggs to order; the works. And then again when you get back! (Dining is in small groups, usually with your safari vehicle group, which was chatty and really nice.)

Later we set out for the afternoon/evening game ride. Our guide was Tank. He’s been at the camp for about 4 years – and he was awesome! We couldn’t have asked for a better first experience at DumaTau.

As soon as we headed out we had a leopard leap across the road in front of our car – a great harbinger of sightings to come (especially since I’ve notoriously been unable to spot leopard on past safaris).

Then, an impala raced right alongside the vehicle, pursued by wild dog. It felt like it was going to jump into the car! We saw it from the beginning of the hunt, to the take down, the kill, and then the frenzy of the pack coming to feed. Incredible!

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And we saw another wild dog kill the next day as well!

There was a full moon the whole time we were at DumaTau, which made night drives particularly good. The threat of rain while we were there kept it a little on the cool side and made for some really awesome lightning shows in the distance as well.

The full moon gave us a spotlight view of the hippo that came out of the water at night; we could hear him crunching as he grazed outside the tent. We could easily see the bus-sized back with the light of the full moon.

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Plus, we saw two lionesses with 3-week old cubs – gorgeous! I was able to tick everything on my safari checklist.

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Elephants Ahead, Abu Camp

It was hard to leave DumaTau after such a magical experience; but next up we had three nights to look forward to at Abu Camp, something that’s been on my bucket list for many years.

It was a short flight to Abu, even with a quick touch down in Mombo on the way.

It’s a gorgeous camp: tents are very spacious and well designed, and there’s mini-bar in the room that’s kept filled, a nice “Collection” camp perk, as is the free WiFi.

Of course the highlight of Abu is their elephant herd: we were able to take elephant back rides and also walk with the elephants through the bush. Both were really neat! I just wish there had been even more time with them. The newest member of the herd, Naledi, gets all the attention and stole the show. No wonder her name is Setswana for ‘star’!

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I rode both Cathy, the matriarch, and Sharini, one of the young females – they ride differently, believe it or not. Sharini has more swagger and Cathy has a smoother ride. It was actually quite soothing, not at all what I expected.

Elephant rides last 45 minutes, and only 4 people at a time ride the ellies. You walk with them when you’re not riding, then rotate back the next time out. There are 6 tents on property, with 12 guests max – but since two of the tents were empty when we visited we lucked out and got to ride three separate times — I could do that everyday for the rest of my life! After the ride or walk you go back to the elephant boma and can give the ellies treats. Then they lumber back out to the bush.

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Andy was our guide for the regular safari part of our visit. He was professional, friendly, and very nice – he has been with Wilderness for many years, but isn’t a resident at Abu. We arrived about 10 days after a controlled burn, and there was already a soft-green carpet of grass that had grown over the scorched area. We saw loads of giraffes, loads of Kudu, buffalo, and there were some resident giraffe near our tent, as well.

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The food is outstanding at Abu. Tables for two are set for every meal. There’s a continental breakfast before the morning drive, a full English breakfast after, then a la carte meals (appetizer, entrée, dessert) ordered off a menu for lunch and dinner.

Abu also excels at “surprise” meals and drinks in the bush. Sundowners are planned so everyone meets up and socializes. My absolute favorite was movie night. We watched a movie in the middle of the pan! Lit lanterns guided us to an area where a movie screen, couches, oriental rugs, and chairs had been arranged. In the middle of the wilderness in the middle of Botswana, there was a screen, and drinks, and even popcorn! The movie was about one of the elephant that was brought into the heard at Abu. It was really a memorable experience.

For bush dinner another night, there was a tapas evening. We were taken to a beautiful set up in the bush with rugs and ottomans and lanterns. The chef was cooking nearby, and while we were enjoying glasses of wine, a seemingly endless array of tapas, samosas, and kebabs were passed on trays. It was a lovely social evening, sitting, sipping, and nibbling around a large bonfire.

It was a truly special ending to a remarkable adventure.

We really enjoyed our time in Botswana, the most beautiful place on earth!

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