Magical Mashatu – Kelly’s Trip Report

We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.

Kelly mountain biking in MashatuIn the last week of April, I traveled to the Northern Tuli Block in far eastern Botswana, which contains southern Africa’s largest private game area, the Mashatu Game Reserve. I had never been to this region of Botswana before and I was awed by the natural beauty and incredible wildlife that I discovered while staying at both Mashatu Tent Camp and Mashatu Main Lodge.

I flew into Johannesburg, South Africa and stayed overnight at the clean, comfortable, well-priced and conveniently located Citi Lodge business hotel, a short walk from the customs and baggage area at OR Tambo International airport.

After a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel the next morning, I walked over to check-in for my Angel Gabriel charter flight to the Limpopo airstrip. The Angel Gabriel representative met me at an upright banner near gates 60-65, checked me in and a host escorted me, along with a few others on the flight, through to the boarding area. It was a quick and easy 1-hour flight to Limpopo and the plane buzzed with excitement of a group of women from the UK and France who were arriving to do an overland horseback riding safari.

Mashatu MapUpon landing at Limpopo, clearing customs into Botswana was about as easy as it gets – I simply walked up to the customs window for a stamp. My Mashatu driver, Spike, was waiting for me and within 10 minutes of landing, we were headed on a 45-minute drive towards my home for the night, Mashatu Tent Camp. It started to rain on the drive to camp, so I layered up in my gore-tex and Spike gave me a Mashatu poncho, which I layered on top. My turnaround time at camp was very fast, as afternoon tea was already under way when I arrived. I grabbed my camera gear, had a quick bite to eat and some tea before departing on my first game drive at Mashatu. It was quite wet out there, which is unusual for this area. We stopped to admire giraffe before driving on to a site where an python had been spotted earlier that day. The python had moved on already, so we drove on, taking in the stunning scenery while Marty, PJ and I started getting to know each other. By lucky coincidence, we happened to be staying at Mashatu at the same time, so I got to spend a bit of time in the bush with Next Adventure travelers! We found a huge male leopard just before sunset and got to spend time with him and enjoy a very close sighting before he started moving on. It was a beautiful sight to watch this leopard move through the bush, elegantly hidden by his mesmerizing spotted coat. A hot shower was very welcome before dinner – the canvas tents on raised platforms at Mashatu Tent Camp are cozy and comfortable and have a classic safari vibe, with an outdoor shower and separate bathroom attached to the back of each tent. This is an intimate camp with a welcoming atmosphere, as all guests gather for dinner around a common table for dinner and share stories from the day.

The next morning was cool and crisp – we huddled comfortably under wool blankets in the vehicle as we left camp before sunrise. Our morning was filled with incredible wildlife sightings, beginning with a young injured elephant whose trunk had been caught in a snare, most likely in Zimbabwe, and was now only about 3/4 of the length of a typical elephant trunk. The elephants in Mashatu often times drink water by placing their trunks down through the deep gravel sandbanks in order to filter river water through the earth to ensure greater purity. This poor injured elephant had to kneel down on her knees in order to access water. She was surviving, but clearly her life is far more difficult following this injury and one can only imagine would be shorter than it would have been without this devastating interference of man.

We left our highly adaptable elephant friend and rolled onward, encountering herds of wildebeest and marveling at the giant Mashatu trees, which are the namesake to the area. Mashatu is known as “The Land of the Giants,” which comes from this massive Nyala berry tree and also the many giants of the wildlife kingdom that call Mashatu home. We passed the gorgeous lilac breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird) and stopped to admire this colorful little beauty before driving on to an elusive sighting that our incredible tracker, Goms, was able to spot from a long distance away at the clearing or the edge of the forest – a bush pig! I’ve included a picture below… this was the first time I had ever seen one. Before long, we were treated to some time with a massive black-maned male lion, who is honestly one of the most gorgeous specimens I’ve ever seen. He is eight years old and does not have any notable scars on his body or his face, which is quite rare, as males must fight to defend their territory, sometimes to the death. This male shows such prowess that he has maintained this territory for many years. A hush fell over the safari vehicle while we all sat gazing upon this magnificent creature. He showed such a gentle command of the land, while at the same time exuding extraordinary power and grace.

Mashatu Tent Camp

Very shortly afterwards, we encountered a beautiful, young female leopard. Our guide, Justice, drove expertly through challenging terrain so that we could follow her and watch her move through the wilderness. She walked immediately next to the vehicle and I found myself transfixed, marveling at her intricate coat. We drove through the stunning countryside spotted with acacia trees herds of zebra and black-backed jackals, running alongside their lifelong mate through the grasslands. We came upon a herd of elephant and were able to watch them feed and got to observe the adorable, tiny youngsters following their mothers. I have a soft spot in my heart for all wildlife but eles are one of my favorites. I always take time to study the texture of their skin and to gaze into those soft, gentle, intelligent eyes. Within the herd, there was a massive bull elephant in pursuit of a female – he wanted nothing to do with us and displayed his dominance with loud trumpeting and head swinging. We knowingly quietly drove away, out of respect for this massive and beautiful creature. Our morning drive came to a close and we headed back to Mashatu Tent Camp, where I quickly packed my things and met Justice for the 45-minute trip over to Mashatu Lodge.

I arrived at Mashatu Lodge in time for brunch and was well-fed before settling into my new, quite luxurious room for the afternoon. Mashatu Lodge has a different feel from the tented camp and is a good match for guests seeking more creature comforts and a larger private space to enjoy while at the lodge. The rooms are spacious and very well-appointed, with a sitting area, spa bathroom with double sinks, a soaking tub and a generous shower with waterfall showerhead, along with a full walk-in closet and dressing area. The lodge has a main covered patio overlooking a very active waterhole where breakfast and brunch are served. The food is fresh and delicious with an impressive amount of variety and many healthy choices. The lodge grounds feature a swimming pool, an internet lounge, a curio shop and my favorite – the Gin Trap – a festive gathering place where safari stories are shared over drinks prior to dinner, which is served under the stars, in the glow of torch light in the outdoor boma.

While at Mashatu Lodge, for the majority of the time, I was very lucky to have a private vehicle with Kaiser as my exceptional naturalist guide and Goms as our keenly aware tracker. We had an incredible time together and definitely became friends over the course of those three days…it’s hard not to bond while sharing in such magnificence. Our first sighting that evening was of the same giant male lion that I had seen earlier in the day. We encountered him walking down dirt tracks where safari vehicles had passed, so he was fully visible – it was a special sighting indeed, as he walked directly towards, adjacent to and beyond our vehicle. Our evening ended with a sighting that was particularly special to me – just before dark we got to spend time with a mother cheetah with three female cubs. I had not seen cheetah since my first safari in Kenya, 17 years earlier, so I was thrilled at the chance to spend time with these elegant cats once more. The four of them were lying flat in a clearing on the grasslands. We stayed with them until dark and then drove to enjoy sundowners and getting to know each other a bit more. On the drive home, due to the expertise of our spotter, I got to see a family of African Wildcat, which is quite a rare sighting. The kittens were tiny and peering out of the bush with innocent and curious eyes.

Checkout this 24/7 live feed video from Pete’s Pond on Mashatu

The following morning started with a long-distance sighting of a leopard crossing the massive, dry riverbed that we were driving through. As the sun continued to rise, we followed her on a seemingly impossible driving route up the very steep riverbank and into the heavily wooded terrain above. Kaiser thought that there was a possibility she might be moving her young cub, which would’ve been really exciting to see, but it turns out that she had apparently already moved the cub earlier in the day. We stayed with her for a while and drove a carefully executed route that our tracker recommended, in order to follow her through the bush. Our sighting culminated with the leopard starting to hunt an impala that was just off her track and out of sight. The leopard determined that the impala was too far away to be worth expending so much effort, but we did get to watch her position into a crouch and begin the process of what would have been a hunt, had the conditions been more favorable. Thrilling!

After this very exciting start to our morning, we continued through the beautiful landscape and came upon a mother cheetah with three sons. The young males were playing with each other and exploring the area for a bit before the mother got up and prompted them to follow her, at which point they all walked off through the bush. Almost as soon as we left this family of cheetah, we came upon another family. The Mashatu terrain of open grassland, dotted with acacia trees, which provide shade and excellent cover, is perfect hunting terrain for cheetah so they thrive in this area. We watched this family under a tree and I was just mesmerized by their markings and their affectionate behavior with each other. After a full morning of cats, we stopped in yet another beautiful spot for coffee and fresh baked goodies, surrounded by ostrich walking in the distance, paired off with their mates.

Kelly Mountain Biking SafariDuring my stay, I had a unique treat in store – I got to mountain bike with my guide Mario, riding on the ancient elephant trails that cross the reserve! This was such an exciting adventure and a beautiful way to experience the area. In some ways, it was even more intimate being on a bike, as we peddled across the landscape with herds of impala running through the bush, crossing in front of us and running alongside as we peddled. On our ride, we encountered a herd of elephant almost immediately, so Mario and I stopped and admired them from afar (with my heart pounding), making sure that we weren’t causing them any distress before turning to ride the other direction. One of the unique qualities of staying at Mashatu and being on the private reserve, is that you do have the option to ride mountain bikes and also to choose walking safaris, providing a huge amount of flexibility and variety to your experience. Mashatu is an excellent option for travelers who are interested in being more active while being on safari. At the end of my mountain bike adventure, Mario and I met up with Kaiser and Goms and the vehicle. I said goodbye to Mario and my bike and drove off to end the evening enjoying sundowners and listening to the call to the calling lions. We followed the calls of three females and spent sunset and the transition to complete darkness next to the pride listening to this beautiful, resonant and utterly primal sound.

One of my most memorable sightings at Mashatu was following a coalition of three mail cheetahs who have been together since their birth and are now 15 years old. They look very healthy and are obviously so bonded to each other, it was really heartwarming to see. I’m sure this brotherly bond is one of the reasons for their success as a coalition of hunters and for their long, successful life together. We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.

Mashatu Main Lodge

My final wildlife sighting at Mashatu was extremely special, especially for me, because it was the first time I have seen a pack of wild dogs. I am a self-professed “dog freak,” and it was such a joy to see this newly introduced pack of seven wild dogs, who appeared to be thriving after just two months on the reserve. Mother nature seemed to be celebrating with me, Kaiser and Goms when she delivered an absolutely stunning sunset to close our days together on safari at Mashatu. A magical time, indeed!

photo safari Zebra Fighting

Karen & Hank’s Zimbabwe and Botswana Photo Safari

Karen & Hank are keen photographers who went on their first photo safari last year to Kenya and Tanzania. This year, the focus turned to Southern Africa, specifically areas in Zimbabwe and Botswana that offer exceptional wildlife viewing in November when the dry season transitions with the start of the summer rains.

Mana Pools and Hwange National Parks in Zimbabwe combined with the Linyanti/Selinda Reserve and Okavango Delta of Botswana provided a range of complementary experiences, ecosystems and wildlife, and we selected camps that could perfectly accommodate their interest in a high-quality photo safari.

We just returned from an incredible safari  organized by Kili McGowan at Next Adventure. Kili did an amazing job listening to our needs, and creating a custom photo safari itinerary for us. Each camp was special in its own way, and we felt privileged to be able to learn about some of the history and culture in these two countries, as well as achieve one of our primary goals – to obtain outstanding photographs of wildlife! Kili was extremely knowledgeable about the weather and wildlife we were likely to see in each place. We look forward to traveling to Africa again soon and will enjoy working with Kili to plan our future adventures. —Karen P.

Itinerary in Brief

Day 1 Arrive in Vic Falls, Fly to Hwange, Transfer toLittle Makalolo Camp (3 nts)
Days 2-3 Private safari activities from Little Makalolo Camp
Day 4 Transfer to airstrip, Fly to Mana West airstrip, Transfer toRuckomechi Camp (3 nts)
Days 5-6 Private safari activities from Ruckomechi Camp
Day 7 Transfer to airstrip, Fly to Vic Falls Airport, Transfer to The Elephant Camp (1 nt)
Day 8 Transfer to Airport, Fly to Little Vumbura via Kasane, Transfer to Little Vumbura (3 nts)
Days 9-10 Private safari activities from Little Vumbura
Day 11 Transfer to airstrip, Fly to Savuti Camp (3 nts)
Days 12-13 Private safari activities from Savuti Camp
Day 14 Transfer to airstrip, Fly to JNB via Maun for international departure

See more of Karen’s amazing photography!

Happy Lion near Selinda

A Safari for Sisters in Botswana & Cape Town

Myra came to Next Adventure looking to share a special, once-in-a-lifetime, first-time safari with her sister Toby. After getting to know them and their preferences, we settled on a slightly off-season safari in Botswana followed by a visit to Cape Town.

Early November is fast becoming the ‘not-so secret season’ because it still offers great wildlife viewing but with better availability and lower rates. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Scheduled flight from Joburg to Maun, light aircraft transfer to Selinda Reserve, 3 nights at Selinda Camp
  • Helicopter transfer to Okavango Delta, 3 nights at Duba Plains Camp
  • Light aircraft transfer to Jao Concession, 2 nights at Kwetsani Camp
  • Light aircraft transfer to Maun, scheduled flight to Cape Town, 3 nights at Cape Grace Hotel

Myra says:

I loved the combination in all of our camps of both waterlife and wildlife. My sister and I both bought “real” cameras for the trip and were particularly well taken care of by both guides and camp managers as we fooled around with apertures and settings. I feel that the planning that went into our trip was a wonderful balance of water, land, sky and people.

The weather in ‘early off season” was absolutely perfect — not dusty, a little rain (well, a lot of rain in one deluge), not too warm — mild and temperate. This weather contributed so much to the overall enjoyment and thrill of the safari.

Having great confidence in Kili was the easiest part of the planning. Kili establishes confidence with the first conversation. Her knowledge is unlimited. I was especially grateful for everything included in dossier from tips on packing and gratuities to park and lodge information–all first rate. For a first time visitor to the splendor of Africa, I do not have one thing to complain about. I just put my trust in Kili.

Toby says:

Where will I even begin to comment on the beautiful trip you planned for us? Not one detail was a disappointment: the camps were fabulous, the hospitality so warm and welcoming, the food delicious, the guides so informing, the camp managers were perfect.

My husband and I have been on many fabulous trips around the world but this one was so unique. I do believe that it is my most favorite trip just due to the tranquility of the open plains, the magnificent animals, the splendid sunsets, bumping along in the jeeps, meeting all of the very interesting travelers, etc. The food was so outstanding as well as healthy. Everything was perfect.

Special thanks to all our trusted partners on the ground for all their hard work in making every trip so special. It’s such an honor to put together a meaningful trip, and thanks to Myra & Toby for sharing such great feedback.

Some of Kili’s photos from Botswana 2012. Click any thumbnail to enter gallery.

Flying over the Okavango Delta

Jeremy’s Botswana Camping Safari

Spending nine days in the bush, camping & traveling through Botswana’s most spectacular parks, encountering wildlife, dining & sleeping under the stars listening to the hippos jostle and the lions roar, all without having to cook a single meal or pop a tent or worry about a single thing other than keeping your camera charged!

It is beyond words.

Starting with a light aircraft flight into the Xaxanaka region of the Moremi Reserve for two nights, we went on to a camp near the Khwai River. After a five hour bumpy, sandy drive through the Mababe Depression, we were met by a few elephants checking out our campsite in Savuti. Then we continued on to the Chobe River, and finally ended up in Livingstone, Zambia for a hot hotel shower and a drenching at the edge of Victoria Falls.

Here is the full itinerary.

So many thanks to my traveling partners and the wonderful team, Mike, Bafana and Talu from Wilderness Dawning.

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Photo by Carole M.

The noise was incredible!

Every sunrise and sunset, I found the African skies to be as beautiful as the animals. On arriving at my first camp, I saw zebras right across the river! And, elephants, elephants, elephants!

For Redge and Carole’s safari, we developed a 15-day itinerary in Botswana that included the Kalahari, Moremi, the Okavango Delta and Savuti as well as a visit to Vic Falls.

In Moremi, we followed wild dogs. They cornered a lion by jumping in a circle about 3 feet in the air. At the same time on the other side of the car, a leopard showed up stalking wildebeest, and then, because the dogs were noisy, a hyena came as well. All within 30 minutes!

That same night we had 2 hippos running around our tent! The noise was incredible!

Here’s some photos by Carole & Redge:


Thanks to Carole & Redge for sharing their photos and such an exciting safari moment.

Safari Portraits by Bruce M.

Bruce and Patty’s South Africa, Uganda and Kenya Safari

Bruce & Patty first travelled with us 5 years ago on a Wilderness Dawning camping safari. This time around they wanted to return to some of their favorite camps on a self-driving safari in Kruger National Park.

They also planned their own visit to Uganda for Gorilla-tracking, and we wrapped their month-long safari up with a few days camping in Kenya.

Here are their top 7 moments…

1. Having herds of 50+ elephants move toward and around us, all the while behaving as only elephant ‘families’ can. (Amboseli / Selenkay & Pafuri)

2. Watching 8 rhinos frolic in the mud. (Umlani / Timbavati)

3. Baby cats: nursing leopard cub, leopard cub playing ‘kitten’ with mom, cheetah mom w/ 5 cubs, dozens of lion juveniles from 4 to 18 months (Timbavati, Masai Mara, Amboseli).

4. Being chased (twice) by a cranky mother elephant. (Nottons / Sabi Sands)

5. Being charged by a surprised hippo (Queen Elizabeth Park).

6. Surrounded by chimps who rise to yell, call, false charge, and beat the fig trees (before just as abruptly quieting down). (Kibale Chimp Habituation).

7. Having a gorilla swat at Patty who dared to move a view obstructing branch. (Bwindi)

Thanks to Bruce & Patty for sharing these exciting safari moments and for the opportunity to plan their second safari with Next Adventure.

Here’s a few of Bruce’s photos. Click any thumbnail to enter the gallery.

View of the Coffee Fields - Gibbs Farm

Safari Seasons, They Are a-Changin’

It’s true!

Big 5 game viewing is best during the Dry Season. Usually July-October when water is scarce, a great number and variety of animals congregate without the obstruction of thick foliage or tall grass. Perfect conditions for first-time safari goers: it’s easier to find concentrations of wildlife, animals are easier to spot and it’s easier to take great photos.

However, with such perfect conditions, prices go up, availability at the best camps and lodges goes down, and prime wildlife viewing areas get crowded. Now, as more safari enthusiasts return to Africa and the conservation tourism industry matures, the traditional safari season is expanding.

More small owner-operated camps are open during the Green Season with reduced rates, less crowds and the added thrill of having to search for wildlife through dense bush. It is also the absolute best time for waterfalls, spotting baby animals and bird-watching. It’s also possible to find last minute availability on quality scheduled departures or at the best camps in the Serengeti.

Here’s this year’s top picks for summer adventures and holiday safaris…

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