Super safaris and the call of the wild
“It’s a place full of extraordinary experiences,” IFA’s Kevin Wash tells Living à la carte. “It’s a place where I have seen a young giraffe fight an older giraffe for hours, head-butting each other bizarrely, until they just stopped due to exhaustion. I once watched an eagle swoop down to a lake and scoop up a fish in its talons and I’ve seen a herd of elephants leave a crippled elephant to a rather tragic ending. But I think one of the main highlights was seeing a lion bring down a zebra for the kill.” Wash is talking about the Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa that offers access to the astonishing 22,000-hectare Entabeni safari conservation park. This is where the wild things live; elephants, rhinos, buffalos, leopards and lions. The region is one of the world’s leading safari attractions for the ‘Big Five’ and, famously, malaria-free.
Story by Andy Round
“It is amazing to witness a kill,” says Wash. “It is shocking, gruesome, but spectacular. Entabeni really makes you respect and appreciate the natural food chain. Nature is beautiful and tragic. You see leopards leap quickly from trees to kill and eat quickly to avoid being vulnerable too long. You see male lions feed before the females and you soon start to appreciate what incredible natural machines these animals are.”
Wash believes an essential experience of a Legend safari is to go out into the wilderness at night. “The stars are brighter here than anywhere else, you feel like you could just pluck them out of the sky,” he says. “And night time is when the nocturnal predators come out. It’s fascinating.”
Less than three hours’ drive from Johannesburg, Entabeni in the Limpopo Province is famous has a unique reputation for having five eco-systems in one place ranging from dramatic rocky mountain formations and sandy wetlands to endless lakes and grassy plains. Dotted around the conservation area are Legend lodges that offer mountain panoramas, lakeside relaxation, bush safari camps or thatched ravine stilt houses. Each type of lodge offers a unique perspective on a staggering range of wildlife and the landscape that it inhabits. Lake cruises, helicopter trips and game drives help visitors unlock the safari secrets of Entabeni.
“We are very proud of the conservation work at Legend,” says Wash. “We have bred endangered white lions here and recently released four into the wild. Other species such as rare Sables [a type of horned ‘antelope’], cheetahs and wild dogs have also been raised here.”
Cementing its eco-conscious credentials, Legend has worked with the local communities to build schools and a village that can be enjoyed by lodge guests. A safari college has also been established to train South Africa’s wildlife rangers of the future. “But I think it is the wildlife that is the major attraction,” says Wash. “Legend is an experience that you will never forget.”
The Americas offer a treasure chest of wildlife. From the rich biodiversity that straddles the lush tropics of Central America from Caribbean to Pacific seas to the untouched eco-marvel of The Galapagos Islands, it’s often hard to know where to start. So start with the very best. The Amazon.
And forget Brazil, vicious deforestation has robbed the vast country of much of its terrified wildlife. Living à la carte recently discovered that the best place to book an Amazon canoe and go upstream is in Bolivia. Way north of the capital of La Paz – eight hours by bus or 55 minutes by plane – are the Pampas of Rurrenabaque. Then you just need to take a five-hour canoe trip north to find the most unspoiled areas of the longest river in the world.
Here in the bosom of the Madidi National Park is what it’s all about: giant anaconda snakes (the largest in the world), two-metre long caiman (like crocodiles only nastier), wild macaws and parrots (the most colourful on earth), hundreds of capybara (the biggest rodent in the world) and tree canopies swarming with monkeys and forest floors packed with anteaters.
Of course in the waters beneath your canoe is another world entirely. Giant turtles hug the riverbanks, prehistoric fish and snap-happy piranhas jostle for domination and pink dolphins chase your canoe. Seriously. They are pink. And dolphins. Thanks to a wondrous evolutionary quirk, the dolphins here are rose coloured and just as friendly as their saltwater relatives.
There are numerous local companies that will take you deep into the Amazon’s heart of darkness, but check their safety record, insurance details and the standard of the guides as thoroughly as you can. Because the most extraordinary experience is to go out when its pitch dark night and scare yourself silly watching all those red Caiman eyes watching you.
It was in the middle of crossing the 1,850 kilometres of unforgiving Antarctic wilderness from the continent’s East to West coasts that inspiration struck Patrick Woodhead and his team of explorers. The idea was as relentless as the snow blizzards whipping their tents and as exhilarating as the ice crevasses they crossed; why not create a luxury, eco-sensitive safari camp in the middle of Antarctica?
“We just thought we shouldn’t be the only ones to experience this stunning interior,” Woodhead tells Living à la carte “There were Antarctic cruises but nothing that brought visitors to the heart of this mind-bogglingly beautiful place.” Two years later the 32-year-old was heading up the first of his White Desert adventures, flying 10 clients down on a private jet to the bottom of the world for the experience of a lifetime.
“Our aim was really simple,” Woodhead remembers. “We wanted to take elements of a safari in Africa, but include the world’s best Antarctic guides.” Now in its third year of operation with four adventures between the November-to-February season, the project dream has become a reality. Last season special activities organised by White Desert included – incredibly – a one-kilometre ice swim and a balloon trip across Antarctica’s ice peaks.
If exclusive experience travel is the new currency of the super rich, then Woodhead has captured the market. The price of adventures ranges from €28,000 to €32,000 and only a maximum of 10 guests per trip are accommodated.
White Desert’s adventures are divided into two. The wildlife-oriented adventure takes in three camp nights close to the giant colonies of the Emperor penguin where more than 6,000 birds waddle, mate and breed. Alternatively, clients can enjoy a mountain expedition that traces the frozen footsteps of the earliest Antarctic adventurers building igloos for the night and then enjoying a day of kite-skiing or ice climbing. Chilling stuff.
There is nothing more likely to melt the hardest heart than Asia’s most famous poster super star, the baby orang-utan. The fluffy-haired favourite is a guaranteed showstopper. It’s just such a pity that there are not as many around as there used to be.
Fortunately, tough conservation action across their natural habitat of the Malaysian Borneo region of Sabah has managed to keep in check the poaching that has decimated great ape numbers and the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, for example, has been protecting these ginger-haired charmers since 1964. Daily orang-utan feeds have become an international attraction with thousands of camera memory sticks loaded to capacity with baby pictures and aerial acrobatics.
But sanctuaries such as Sepilok are only part of the story. Hire a guide and it’s possible to explore the mangrove forests that shelter these gentle giants in the wild. To the untrained eye those balls of leaves and vines high in the canopy are just rolls of vegetation, but through the binoculars of your guide they are a semi-detached orang-utan homes.
Although the orang-utans are wonderful, don’t forget your friendly neighbourhood proboscis monkey. The Kinabatangan River area close to Sepilok is alive with the nasally-challenged furry favourites and a boat trip downstream will pass by some of the most stunning forest landscape in the world.
Big island, big range of wildlife. From coast to coast, Australia offers an astonishing variety of animal magic. Clearly, there’s the obvious. Kangaroos, koalas and wallabies crowd out areas such as the wonderfully isolated – and self-explanatory – Kangaroo Island 70 kilometres off the coast of Adelaide or the lush protected reserves of Bryon Bay in New South Wales where night safaris with night vision goggles are a specialty for tracking crocs and dingoes.
But then there are turtle monitoring volunteer opportunities on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland and guided epic However, if you want to answer the call of the wild in Australia, Living à la carte would like to recommend the continent’s west coast.
Famously this stretch of coast attracts some of the most astonishing marine life in the world. And you can swim with it. For example, the dolphins that populate the area known as Koombana Bay are every Flipper fantasy come true. They are friendly, don’t object to swimmers and they are just a fin kick and snorkel breath away. More dramatic, however, are the whales that migrate up the coast from July to October. The annual migration of hundreds of gentle humpbacks and blue whales is a classic water-based safari experience that can be enjoyed through binoculars from the land or on specially charted boats crewed with marine ecology experts. Essential.