I was recently fortunate to be invited to spend a few days in Rattray Reserves’ Mashatu Game Reserve tucked deep into the far eastern corner of Botswana where Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet.
The drive up is a long one, but if you can see it as part of the experience, it becomes a modern-day Hemmingway journey in itself. Leaving the mayhem and crush of Johannesburg and travelling north east to Polokwane and due north to Pont Drift, the roads open up, urbanisation gives way to farmlands and eventually to game farms and you can literally feel life the pace of life easing and “real” Africa getting closer.
Celebrated for it’s diversity of wildlife, Botswana is a land-locked country located in Southern Africa bordering Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Thanks to a land rich in diamonds, the economy is today one of the most robust on the continent.
Areas like the Chobe National Park, Moremi National Park in the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve offer a very high concentration of wildlife and flora. The bulk of the Kalahari Desert falls within Botswana’s borders and is home to most of the world’s San population. Be mesmerized by these locals as the speak using a series of ‘clicks’.
Visit the Tsodilo Hills and marvel at the 100 000 year old rock paintings illustrated by the San people in a time long forgotten. Try a walking safari – this exhilarating experience is reserved for the brave and those with an experienced guide. It’s the best way to experience nature thrillingly close up. Float along on a mokoro, a traditional hollowed out canoe, expertly poled by a local guide. Experience some of the best sport fishing in Africa, in the Okavango Delta and on the Chobe River.
Location: Southern Africa, between 20° and 30° east, and between 18° and 27° south.
Climate: Subtropical. Summer (Nov-Mar); 19-35; winter (Jun-Aug): 5-23. Rainy season Nov-Mar
Population: 1,680,863 (2001 census), almost 225,000 (2008 estimate)
Other main towns: Francistown, Lobatse, Selebi-Phikwe, Orapa
Economy: Major earners, diamonds, copper, nickel, beef, tourism
Language: English (official), Setswana (national), Shona, other local languages
Religion: Christianity, traditional beliefs
International telephone code: +267
Time: GMT +2
Electricity: 220 volts
Flag: Broad, light-blue horizontal stripes, divided by black central stripe bordered by narrow white stripes.
National anthem: Fatshe leno la rana, which translates to ‘Blessed be this noble land’
Botswana’s most popular areas:
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park takes its name from the Chobe River, which forms its northern boundry and protects about 10,700km² of the northern Kalahari. Its vegetation varies from the lush floodplains beside the Chobe River to the scorched Savuti Marsh, dense forests to cathedral mopane to endless kilometres of mixed, broadleaf woodlands. This is classic big-game country, where herds of buffalo and elephant attain legendary proportions, matched only by some exceptionally large prides of lion. Much of the park is devoid of water in the dry season, and the vast majority of it is inaccessible.The four main areas of Chobe are the river front, Ngwezumba Pans, Savuti, and the Linyanti.
Linyanti, Selinda and Kwando Reserves
Almost parallel to the Okavango, the Kwando River flows south from Angola across the Caprivi Strip and into Botswana. Like the Okavango, it starts spreading out over the Kalahari’s sands, forming the Linyanti Swamps. Also like the Okavango, in wetter years this is a delta, complete with a myriad of waterways linking lagoons: a refuge for much wildlife. It’s a wild area, much of which is on the Namibian side of the border, in the Mamili National Park, where it’s difficult to access. A faultline channels the outflow from these swamps into the Linyanti River, which flows northeast into Lake Liambezi, and thence into Chobe.
Both the Kwando and the Linyanti rivers are permanent, so for the animals in Chobe and northern Botswana they are a valuable source of water. Like the Chobe and Okavango, they have become the ultimate destinations for migrations from the drier areas across northern Botswana – and also sought-after safari destinations, especially in the dry season. In recent years in this area, between the Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, has been split into three larger concessions – Kwando in the north, Linyanti in the east and Selinda in the middle. In some ways these are similar, as each encompasses a large area of mopane woodlands and smaller, more prized sections of riparian forest and open floodplains on old river channels. Away from the actual water, two fossil channels are also worthy of attention: the Savuti Channel and the Selinda Spillway. Both offer contrasting and interesting wildlife spectacles.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta, is the world’s largest inland delta. It is formed where the Okavango River empties onto a swamp in an endorheic basin in the Kalahari Desert, where most of the water is lost to evaporation and transpiration instead of draining into the sea. Each year approximately 11 cubic kilometres of water irrigate the 15,000 km² area and some flood-waters drain into Lake Ngami. The Moremi Game Reserve, a National Park, spreads across the eastern side of the delta.
The Okavango Delta is produced by seasonal flooding. The Okavango River drains the summer (January–February) rainfall from the Angola highlands and the surge flows 1,200 kilometres in approximately one month. The waters then spread over the 250 km by 150 km area of the delta over the next four months (March–June). The high temperature of the delta causes rapid transpiration and evaporation, resulting in a cycle of rising and falling water level that was not fully understood until the early 20th century. The flood peaks between June and August, during Botswana’s dry winter months, when the delta swells to three times its permanent size, attracting animals from kilometres around and creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.
The Okavango delta is both a permanent and seasonal home to a wide variety of wildlife which is now a popular tourist attraction. Species include African Bush Elephant, African Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Lechwe, Topi, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nile crocodile, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Brown Hyena, Spotted Hyena, Greater Kudu, Sable Antelope, Black Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Plains Zebra, Warthog and Chacma Baboon. Notably the endangered African Wild Dog still survives within the Okavango Delta, exhibiting one of the richest pack densities in Africa. The delta also includes over 400 species of birds, including African Fish Eagle, Crested Crane, Lilac-breasted Roller, Hammerkop, Ostrich, and Sacred Ibis.
The majority of the estimated 200,000 large mammals in and around the delta are not year-round residents. They leave with the summer rains to find renewed fields of grass to graze on and trees to browse, then make their way back as winter approaches. Large herds of buffalo and elephant total about 30,000 beasts.
Papyrus and reed rafts make up a large part of the Okavango’s vegetation. During the flood season they float well above the sandy river bed with roots dangling free in the water. This gap between bed and roots is utilised as shelter by crocodiles. The plants of the Delta play an important role in providing cohesion for the sand. The banks or levees of a river normally have a high mud content and this combines with the sand in the river’s load to continuously build up the river banks. In the Delta, because of the clean waters of the Okavango, there is almost no mud and the river’s load consists almost entirely of sand. The plants capture the sand, acting as the glue and making up for the lack of mud and in the process creating further islands on which more plants can take root.
This process is important in the formation of linear islands. They are long and thin and often curved like a gently meandering river. The reason for that is that they are actually the natural banks of old river channels which over time have become blocked up by plant growth and sand deposition, resulting in the river changing course and the old river levees becoming islands. Due to the flatness of the Delta, and the large tonnage of sand flowing into it from the Okavango River, the floor of the delta is slowly but constantly rising. Where channels are today, islands will be tomorrow and then new channels may wash away these existing islands.
The Kalahari’s Great Salt Pans
The great salt pans lie in the heart of the northern Kalahari, forming an area of empty horizons into which the blinding white expanse of the pans disappears in a shimmering heat haze. In winter, dust devils whirl across the open plains; in summer many become undulating seas of grass beneath the turbulence of the stormy skies. It is a harsh, spare landscape, not to everybody’s taste, but it offers isolation as complete as anywhere in southern Africa, and a wealth of hidden treasures for those prepared to make the effort – including Stone Age ruins and prehistoric beaches.
The wildlife is rich, but highly seasonal and nomadic. At times you’ll find great concentrations of plains game, with all their attendant predators, and, in good years, spectacular breeding colonies of flamingos crowd the shallow waters of Sua Pam. At other times the stage seems empty. But even then, there is always a cast of smaller Kalahari residents behind the scenes – from coursers and korhaans to mongoose and mole-rats.
The Central Kalahari
Covering about 52,800 km², the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the world’s largest game reserves. It dominates the centre of Botswana. This is Africa at its most remote and esoteric: a vast sandsheet punctuated by a few huge open plains, occasional salt pans and the fossil remains of ancient riverbeds.
The Kalahari is not for everyone; the game is often sparse and can seem limited, with no elephants or buffalo. The distances are huge, along bush tracks of variable quality; and the facilities have been limited to a handful of campsites. So unless you have a fully equipped vehicle and lots of bush experience, it is probably not the place for you. The converse is that if you’ve already experienced enough of Africa to love the feeling of space and the sheer freedom of real wilderness areas, then this reserve is completely magical; it’s the ultimate wilderness destination.
Under a warm African sun, a world of adventure awaits. Experience South Africa, the land of the big five, bustling cities and breathtaking beauty. With more than 2500 kilometres of coastline, South Africa also boasts some of Africa’s very best beaches. In fact, South Africa offers something for everyone.
Visit the cosmopolitan city of Johannesburg built as a result of the 1886 gold rush. Today the city boasts an eclectic mix of visitors, restaurants and world-class shopping. Jo’berg as the locals call it, is also the gateway to the Kruger Park, where lion, elephant, cheetah, wildebeest and an abundance of other species roam freely. The Western Cape, located on the southern tip of the African continent, is today regarded as one of the great holiday destinations of the world. With renowned wine estates, imposing mountain ranges, white sandy beaches and the magical city of Cape Town itself, it’s easy to appreciate why.
Dive with great white sharks, experience the natural wonder of the sardine run, hike through the snow-capped Drakensberg mountains, track big game with an experienced guide and feel the spirit of the rainbow nation. South Africa has it all, a world in one country.
Location: Tip of Southern Africa
Size: 1, 233, 404 sq km
Population: 46.9 million
Capital: Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative)
Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
Language: English, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Sepedi, Setswana, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Tshivenda, Venda, Xhosa, Xitsonga, Zulu
Religion: Christians accounted for 79.7% of the population. This includes Zion Christian (11.1%), Pentecostal (Charismatic) (8.2%), Roman Catholic (7.1%), Methodist (6.8%), Dutch Reformed (6.7%), Anglican (3.8%); members of other Christian churches accounted for another 36% of the population. Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hindus about 1.3%, and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 2.3% were other and 1.4% were unspecified
International telephone code: +27
Time: GMT +2
South Africa’s most popular areas:
Good looking, fun-loving, sporty and laid back. If Cape Town was in the dating game that is how her profile would read. And – for once – it is all true. The Mother City occupies one of the world’s most stunning locations, with an ironic mountain slap-bang in its centre. As beautiful as the surrounding beaches and vineyards can be, as cosmopolitan and lively as its cultural scene, it is the rugged wilderness of Table Mountain, coated in a unique flora, which is the focus of attention.
Complementing this natural beauty is Cape Town’s eye-catching way with design and colour – in everything from the brightly painted facades of the Bo-Kaap and the Victorian bathing chalets of Muizenberg, to the contemporary Afro-chic décor of the many excellent guesthouses, restaurants and bars. The city’s multi-ethnic population is proof of South Africa’s ‘rainbow nation’ and a visual record of the city’s tumultuous recorded history over 350 years.
It is a place of extremes, with the wealth of Camps Bay and Constantia side by side with the poverty of townships such as Khayelitsa. Even in the townships and the deprived coloured areas of the city – home to the vast majority of Capetonians – there are huge differences in lifestyles and many great examples of civic pride and optimism to balance against the shocking crime and HIV/AIDS statistics. Discovering the Mother City’s true diversity and spirit is all part of getting the most out of a visit here.
The Western Cape is without a doubt one of the world’s premier destinations, a place often so picture-perfect it is hard to describe without using clichés. The diversity of the landscape is unparalleled and the number of adventures to experience almost over whelming. Dive with sharks, jump out of an airplane, surf some of Southern Africa’s best breaks, cruise with whales, eat fresh crayfish at a beach barbeque, stand at the southernmost tip of Africa and sample some of the world’s finest wines.
The region is the country’s most popular tourist destination, so at times you may feel a bit like a zebra in a herd travelling around a here, particularly along the Garden Route. But it is a magical place, with ample opportunity to flee the crowds. Whichever way you go, however, in the Western Cape there is no escaping the beauty.
Covering nearly a third of the country, the vast and sparsely populated Northern Cape surely is South Africa’s last great frontier. With a restless air of untamed energy, this is a place where the Africa of storybooks comes alive. In this land of stark contrast the red sands of the Kalahari tumble into the churning inky waters of the desolate Atlantic Coast; while the Karoo’s strange shaped kopjes (small rocky hills) collide with the sun-scorched lunar landscape of Namaqualand, where roads dissolve into oblivion of endless space and burst into a miraculous sea of technicolour wildflowers in spring. Lions stalk prey across crimson plains in remote Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at dawn, and in the evening big, orange-ball sunsets made for Hollywood movies steal the show.
The Northern Cape is one of the only two provinces in South Africa where coloureds, and not blacks, make up the majority of the population. Afrikaans is the most widely spoken language with about 66% of the province speaking it.
At once semi desert, forested, mountainous and subtropical, for its relative size the Eastern Cape has a remarkable range of differing climates, topographies and vegetation. Your entry into the province is likely to be along the N2 highway from Cape Town, where you will be struck by the beauty of the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park, before the landscape flattens out past Cape St Francis and Jeffrey’s Bay, through to Port Elizabeth and the Sunshine and Shipwreck Coast to East London. Yet just inland to the north are the rolling hills of the former British stronghold of Grahamstown and surrounding ‘settlers country’, which itself soon gives way to the desolate majesty of the semi-arid Karoo, dotted with intriguing towns such as Graaff-Reinet. Beyond East London, as far as Port Edward just over the border, in KwaZulu-Natal lies the spectacular, subtropical Wild Coast, and to the north the dramatic mountain ranges of the Northeastern Highlands.
Rough and ready, smart and sophisticated, rural and rustic, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is an electric as its cultures, people and landscapes. It has its metropolitan heart in the port of Durban and its nearby historic capital, Pietermaritzburg. The beaches along this coast attract local holiday-makers and visitors looking to soak up the sand, sea, surf and sun. Head north and you enter Zululand and the Elephant Coast, home to some of Africa’s most evocative traditional settlements and cultural sites, where Zulu culture and heritage are proudly displayed. The region also boasts alluring national parks and isolated, wild coastal reserves.
Head northwest of Durban and you enter another realm, the historic heartland where the history of the province was thrashed out on the Battlefields during the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boar Wars. The province’s border in the far west, the heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Range, features awesome peaks, unforgettable vistas and excellent hiking opportunities.
From the sluggish flow of the Crocodile River to the relaxed rhythm of its old mining towns and peaceful silence of its nature reserves, unassuming Mpumalanga (Place of the Rising Sun; pronounced M-poo-ma-lan-ga) adheres to a quieter pace of life.
This inland province, South Africa’s smallest, is where the plateaus of the Highveld begin their spectacular tumble into the lowveld plains at the dramatic Drakensberg Escarpment. Many travellers zip through on their way to Kruger National Park, but it is well worth setting aside a few days to explore the historic towns, roaring waterfalls and some of the best hiking trails in South Africa.
If Africa, as the cliché goes, is the mother of all life, then Gauteng is a province born of the Western love for her gold-bearing ore. Fast, bustling and a cabaret of contradictions, Gauteng covers just 1.5% of the country’s land surface, yet accounts for 34% of its gross domestic product and, perhaps more extraordinarily, 10% of the GDP of the whole of Africa.
The laid-back, friendly atmosphere of Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital, belies a turbulent past. Fifty or so kilometres down the M1 motorway away is Johannesburg, the provincial capital and third-largest city on the continent. Sprawling and booming it is a strange conurbation of opulent suburbs set alongside some of the country’s starkest urban poverty.
This is a place here farmers in floppy hats and overalls drive rusty bakkies full of sheep over bumpy roads; where giant fields of sunflowers languish by brightly painted Sotho houses. It is true that Free State does not hold any trump card when it comes to South Africa’s not-to-be-missed attractions. But if you travel to dig beneath the surface, a journey through the Free State can be a mind-opening experience. In this staunchly Afrikaans region it often seems the clock stopped ticking in the early 1990’s. The line between colours is stark, and dreams of an Afrikaner Arcadia live on. While there is no question that Free State has a long way to travel on the road to racial harmony, progress is happening. Today, even in the smallest rural villages, the once impenetrable barrier between black and while is beginning to break apart.
With some of its most revered attractions just two hours from Johannesburg, the North-West Province provides the perfect antidote for escaping big-city clutter. Home to some of the country’s best kept secrets, the region offers something for anyone – from music lovers to safari addicts to gamblers.
The Disney-esque Sun City and Lost City casino resort are South Africa’s most opulent and kitschy theme parks. Once an exclusive sanctuary for the white elite, today the apartheid-era’s most famous retreat is a multi-cultural place popular with South Africans of all colours. When you tire of artificial beaches, head into the wild. Nearby Pilanesberg National Park is our pick for a quick safari. Further afield, Madikwe Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s best open secrets. Even though it is closer to Johannesburg than Kruger, and teeming with the same animals, it sees far fewer visitors.
Modern Limpopo sits at a key crossroads between Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kruger National Park and Gauteng, and is often considered a doormat into more exotic destinations. But driving along the busy N1 highway that connects these places gives little impression of what gem lies off the beaten path.
Heading north from Johannesburg, southwest Limpopo undulates into scrubby hills that are home to several wildlife parks, lodges and resorts, including the hot springs at Bela-Bela. Big five spotters will be better heading off north to the spectacular Mapungubwe National Park, a World Heritage Site that gives Kruger a run for its money.
East of the N1, the dry landscape gives way to the tropical fruit farms of Letaba Valley and the intriguing traditional homeland of the Venda people.
After spending an exhilarating day under the African sky watching wildebeest roam freely on open plains, you may want to spend another day, and another, and another. We’ve been here for more than twenty years now. In fact, it is safe to say that each of us have travelled extensively in our specialist areas. And it’s this on the ground knowledge that separates Pulse Africa from our competitors. Choose Pulse Africa to plan your next holiday and relax. After all, it’s our sole aim to enhance your holiday experience through our expertise.
Every one of our destinations has been personally selected to be of the finest in the region. And we should know, we’ve actually been there. Memories are made of moments like this. When you select Pulse Africa to plan your holiday you’re also selecting some of the best guides on the continent. Pulse Africa’s private guides have years of experience and an extensive knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work.
The object of this new website is to blog about our travels, as well as inform you of our thoughts about hotels and lodges we visit. We pride ourselves on being able to give our clients first hand knowledge about the areas we promote.