Liuwa Plain, Zambia
A 3,660 km² expanse of uncharted grasslands in the far west of Zambia, cut off for four months a year (Jan-Apr) by the Zambezi flood basin, Liuwa is reached only by driving across miles of Kalahari sand tracks. Forget road signs – there aren’t even roads in the park; those entering usually have to take all their food, fuel and water. Visitor numbers are unbelievably tiny; just a few hundred each year. Game-wise, Liuwa boasts 35,000 blue wildebeest, zebra, cheetah, wild dog and buffalo. The birdlife is amazing and there’s also a single lioness and two males. Expeditions here are guided by the legendary Robin Pope himself – that is how special it is.
A handful of trips come here in May/June and November/December, led by Robin Pope. An 11-day trip from £4,451 pp with Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com), including flights (Heathrow), transfers, full-board and safari activities.
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi
This is effectively a new national park and an outstanding African conservation success story to boot. The subject of extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s, Majete – thanks to the African Parks Network* and the Malawi government – has now become a model of sustainable development and biodiversity. It boasts 70,000 hectares of mature miombo woodlands, river valleys and lush riverine forest, while thousands of game animals have been moved here to supplement numbers, including elephants, buffalo, sable, waterbuck, eland, zebra and black rhino. A sparkling new luxury camp, Mkulumadzi, was opened in July 2011 by Robin Pope Safaris.
--Featuring Mkulumadzi, Expert Africa (020 8891 4440, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Nxai Pan, Botswana
The Nxai Pans were once part of the great lake that covered central Botswana; they’re known for the ‘Baines Baobabs’, an unusual group of trees painted by Thomas Baines in 1861, and for enticing Prince Charles and his easel more recently. Consisting of fossilised lake-beds (pans) set amid grassland and clusters of Acacia trees, today’s Nxai Pan National Park is home to the usually elusive brown hyena. The park is particularly worth visiting during the rainy season (November – April), when its grass-covered plains attract springbok, huge herds of giraffe and zebra – and, in turn, an army of predators: lions, leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs. Raptors and rhinos also show up, as does incredible birdlife. Nxai Pan has just one permanent lodge which, for a short period, rivals any African safari location.
--A three-night stay at the Nxai Pan Camp costs from £965 pp with Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Located in Namibia’s far north, Khaudum National Park protects an important Kalahari area that’s sustained by omurambas – dry, sandy riverbeds holding subterranean water. The park doesn’t offer a classic safari experience: it’s not wall-to-wall game here; you can't drive yourself in a normal car. However, as part of a visit to Bushmanland, a small 4WD expedition (between May and October) with fly-camping under the stars can really thrill. There are large herds of elephant plus giraffe, the uncommon roan antelope, lion, leopard and wild dog (Khaudum is the centre for Namibia's population of these rare predators). However, the cognoscenti come here not for the game-sightings, but for the sheer feeling of ‘wilderness’
--A seven-night trip with Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Set in the extreme west of Tanzania, Katavi is an exceptionally remote game park that only sees a few hundred determined visitors arrive each year. Two enormous plains of knee-high golden grass dominate the area, providing an unbeatable feeling of wilderness, and it’s a great place for watching lion-buffalo interactions (both species are common here, as are the interactions)
--Featuring Katavi and the chimpanzee-rich Mahale Mountains National Park, Expert Africa (020 8891 4440, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Often overlooked by travellers rushing to the better-known sights of the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, Arusha National Park offers some stunning walking in the foothills of Mount Meru and canoeing on the Momela Lakes. Gentle game drives take place here: don’t expect the same experience as you’d have on Tanzania's northern circuit, but giraffe, buffalo, zebra, warthog, the black-and-white colobus monkey, the blue monkey and flamingos are common, while hordes of other tourists are not. This is a superb stop for a few nghts.
--A three-night stay at the quirky Hatari Lodge costs from £893 pp with Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
Slowly returning to the African safari agenda, Zimbabwe remains something of a secret, with tourist-free parks to go with its top-quality guiding. That’s especially true in Mana Pools, arguably the country’s most spectacular National Park. Bordered by the Zambezi River, which forms the Zambian border, and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mana stretches from a rugged escarpment via terraced alluvial plains laced by oxbow lagoons to the wide river’s islands, channels and sandbanks. Safaris are available between April and December – walking is a speciality here, and the top guides get very close to elephant and wild dogs on foot. Canoe safaris are also first-rate, often closely approaching the elephants and buffalo which swim between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and the islands in the stream.
--A three-night stay at the new-ish Kanga Bush Camp costs from £1,277 pp with Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com)
*African Parks is a pioneering philanthropic foundation which enters into public-private partnerships with African governments to manage and finance forsaken national parks across the continent.
Expert Africa (020 8232 9777, http://www.expertafrica.com)
Wild about Africa (020 8758 4717; http://www.wildaboutafrica.com)
5 October 2011
Press: For further information, or to interview Chris McIntyre, MD of Expert Africa, call Richard Mellor at Travel PR on 020 8891 4440 or email email@example.com.
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