High speed rail, long-haul flights, cruise liners and now social media and the internet; these are things, facets of modern society that today many travellers take for granted. The emergence of new technologies continues to make our planet a smaller place and it seems those frontiers that were once undiscovered and those paths once un-trampled are quickly disappearing. Perhaps it is for this reason that a growing community of travellers are now endeavouring to find new and exciting experiences and unusual ways to interact with the world around them.
One region that does seem to still embody that sense of mystery, wilderness and wonder is Southern Africa and it appears that more and more enthusiastic travellers are looking to the remote and unspoiled nature of this area and its fascinating, if not at times tumultuous history, in order to recapture some of the thrill and adventure that had once defined international travel.
An African safari is a wonderful way to connect with nature; to gain a true insight into the geography and ecology of a nation as well as encounter some of the most iconic wildlife on the planet. The word safari itself in Swahili can be translated as journey but how you make that journey is entirely up to you. From canoeing tours down the great Zambezi to balloon flights over the vast sands of Namibia’s Sossusvlei region; gorilla trekking in the dense forests of Uganda’s highlands to horseback adventures around the wetlands of the Okavango Delta there is something to satisfy every persuasion and predisposition.
As we as people become increasingly conscious of our place within the world and how we interact with the environment around us conservation is becoming an overriding consideration in almost every aspect of our lives including travel. Environmental and zoological research is becoming more and more important as an increasing number of our great animal species come to face extinction. In a move to encourage awareness as well as aid the work of these dedicated individuals a new and rather privileging experience is to take part in an animal research safari.
Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa is particularly renowned for its study of one of the most elusive large carnivores in Africa, the leopard. The continuing efforts of the staff at Phinda has produced invaluable data to help scientists and zoologists understand in much more detail the lives of these beautiful animals and today visitors can too contribute towards this programme. Guests are invited onto the private conservancy to help track, guide and collect information on the community of resident leopards not only promising a rewarding experience but allowing individuals to get up close and personal with these beguiling big cats.
Another way to immerse yourself into the culture and heritage of Southern Africa is to partake in a bushmen safari. These experiences are favoured in countries including Zambia and particularly Botswana. Some concerns often expressed are that these encounters are for the native tribesmen and women a patronizing and rather insensitive ordeal but in reality by moving away from the more choreographed and archetypal ‘cultural tours’ and truly immersing yourself into the every day lives of these intelligent, humble and fascinating people you are able to gain a real perspective into the true Africa.
Walk side by side with real bushmen trackers and observe as they guide their children on a coming-of-age ‘initiation hunt’ providing a rare glimpse of an ancient ritual that has been past down though the years; a transfer of practical skills and knowledge that ensures the beliefs of the tribe will continue into the next generation. Although many Southern African tribes are founded upon a patriarchal concept of society female members of the community have just as important a role to play and guests can join them as they go out into the bush to collect herbs and medicinal plants to be used as part of a traditional healing ceremony.
Southern Africa is an unfettered and beautiful part of the world and having the opportunity to interact with this environment, however you choose to, not only promises a wonderfully rewarding and memorable experience but also helps to educate and instill within people the awareness and need to preserve this vibrant but fragile ecology.
Mahlatini is a luxury tour operator specialising in safari holidays and tailor made breaks to Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.