29 September 2016

 
Dinner at the river's edge at Sussi and Chuma
Shower with elephants, lunch with leopards
Winter Olympics star Amy Williams swaps the snow and ice for the thrill of a safari in Botswana
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he vibrant sounds and smells of Botswana had been calling me back since I first visited the Okavango Delta area in 2011 - the year after I won Olympic gold in the skeleton at the Vancouver Olympics. I stayed in touch with Rob Barber, one of the guides, and recently he put together a personalised safari for me and my fiance Craig. At Maun airport in northern Botswana, Rob and Charlotte loaded us up in their open-sided game-viewing vehicle. Our first destination was Meno A Kwena, in the Kalahari.

This intimate camp run by David Dugmore and his son Daniel sits on top of a 90ft cliff, looking down on to the Boteti River at the point where animals come to drink. We were greeted by five bull elephants drinking, with a couple of zebras roaming around close by, and a hippo seeming to watch over all of them from the middle of the river.
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Relax in a luxuruious bed at Sussi Chuma
With a gin and tonic in our hands, we watched a beautiful sunset with the wildlife below. As we awoke the next morning to the sounds of birdlife, hot water arrived for our brass bucket showers which overlook the river. You can shower while watching an elephant wander by 150ft away. Rob took us out to the Makgadikgadi
Maybe too up close with an elephant near Machaba Camp
"It looks like something from the style pages of a glossy magazine, with all the homely warmth of a country manor"
Salt Pans, the last remnant of an ancient lake. As far as the eye could see was endless salt pan. That night we slept out under the stars. We continued our journey to Rob's favourite area within Botswana, Khwai in the northeastern Okavango Delta. What will always stick in my mind is the magical sight of 12 giraffes silhouetted in the road with the sun setting behind them. We were staying at Machaba Camp run by Chris Kruger. It looks like something from the style pages of a glossy magazine, with all the homely warmth of a country manor, and set in beautiful surroundings on the Khwai River.

There is nothing more peaceful and relaxing (and thrilling at the same time) than having lunch while watching elephants drinking and a male and female leopard wandering along the river bank on the other side. During our three nights there we saw a big male lion hunting a large warthog, a leopard waking after a day's sleep, three honey badgers, a pack of wild dogs on the hunt, and a hyena den with five youngsters. Next, I was treated to horseriding at the wonderful African Horseback Safaris camp, Macatoo, where they have 48 of the best lookedafter horses I have ever seen.
Rides at Macatoo are more adventurous in the mornings than the afternoons, and we took the opportunity to get some speed up on the open floodplains. It is incredible to approach buffalo, giraffe, elephants and zebra (my favourites!) on horseback.

From Macatoo, we flew off to Kasane in the very north of Botswana and then crossed the mighty Zambezi to reach the final destination in our journey, Livingstone, on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. On our first morning in our very spacious room at Sussi & Chuma lodge, upstream of Victoria Falls, we woke up to the sounds of the Zambezi River. That day we had a scenic flight over Victoria Falls.
Later, Rob took us for a walk around the falls and we were surprised to find a small table set up with snacks and champagne - which we enjoyed as the moon rose and created the effect of a rainbow in the spray of the falls. Back at Sussi & Chuma, dinner was set up for us at the edge of the Zambezi River with a fireplace and yet more champagne. We ate to the sounds of hippos grunting in the distance and the crackling of the fire.

On our last full day, Rob took us to Livingstone Island which sits at the very top of the falls. Here we had a very traditional brunch of eggs Benedict and tea, while being a matter of feet away from the edge of the 360ft waterfall. Before we left Botswana, we headed into the Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park for a walk to find rhinos.

This didn't take long as the park is very small and rangers follow the rhino around 24 hours a day, to protect them from poachers. Being so close to such a huge animal on foot was both exciting and terrifying all at once. Our trip to Botswana was, in fact, not just a holiday but a journey full of experiences. We will go back on safari to Africa again one day because I know I will have to feed the piece of my soul that Africa has claimed.


Original article published in Jun 2015. All info and prices correct at time of publication.


"Being so close to such a huge animal on foot was both exciting and terrifying all at once."
Time to relax in the resort pool at Sussi and Chuma
 
 
 
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