Safari is a bucket list, winter sun experience many people dream of – but how to make the most of it when you’ve journeyed so far, and how to keep it ethical and sustainable? We asked Nicky Coenen, founder of Last Word Hotels and Safari Camps in South Africa, to share her top tips on how to make the most of safari in 2023. Last Word’s most recent addition, the Kitara Lodge in Greater Kruger, South Africa, opened just before lockdown. Located in the 60,000 hectare Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, former private home Kitara has only 6 suites and fenceless access to the world-famous Kruger National Park and free-roaming wildlife.
The regenerative rhythms of Africa provide an unrivalled opportunity to surrender to nature and reconnect with both ourselves and our loved ones. The opportunity to see the power of nature at play set against dramatic landscapes and breathtaking sunsets are just some of the reasons that the African safari remains firmly on our travel bucket lists. After a two and half year hiatus, long haul travel is once again a reality and the call of the bushveld is stronger than ever.
How To Safari in 2023: Top Tips from Nicky Coenen
Get Away From the Crowds
Seek out lodges that are more intimate and on private reserves. This gives more chance of experiencing a private, uninterrupted game viewing, without throngs of vehicles packed with guests radioing your ranger to move on from a sighting.
By venturing off the beaten track or choosing further flung lodges, you will be rewarded with prolific game viewing, star spangled skies and true sounds of the wild, hundreds of kilometres from any city.
And, crucially, your tourist pounds will provide support to communities that have been hardest hit by Covid closures.
Slow and Purposeful Safari
Make it a sustainable safari by staying as long as your budget allows, so you have more time to be immersed in all aspects of bush life in your own time. At Kitara, guests can spend two hours watching a leopard stalk impala, without another vehicle in sight nor voice over the radio.
Without a network of vehicles and radio communication to let your ranger know where the game is on the reserve, you will watch firsthand as your ranger and tracker put their expert skills into action as they intermittently head off on foot into the bush to determine which way the lion pride or elusive leopard has moved before deciding which direction to take.
But, if watching elephants splashing in the river from the lodge pool or falling asleep on the daybed with the sound of the African birds is what slow safari means to you, well-trained guides will gauge your pace and give you license to choose what makes the safari uniquely yours.
Share and Learn on Safari
Take time to get to know all the lodge staff. Ask them about their families, their culture and traditions and what they love about living in Africa. A big part of the bush experience is sitting around a fire, telling stories and learning about the culture of the remarkable people who bring the safari experience to life.
Head Off On Foot
There is something truly remarkable about the connection you feel with nature on a walking safari – not to mention the heart-racing anticipation of what game you may encounter along the way.
At Kitara, guests can experience the reserve in ways that mean the most to them, ranging from early morning and night drives on private vehicles and walking safaris along a game track or savannah plain.
Embrace Safari Ecosystems in Their Entirety
Big Five (African leopard, African lion, Cape buffalo, African elephant and rhinoceros) game spotting is always thrilling, but try to put away your checklist and appreciate the biodiversity and balance of nature in the African bushveld.
The mind blowing things you will learn about the flora, small animals and insects and the role they play will add a new depth and meaning to your safari experience. Discovering indigenous plants or spotting the undercover chameleon can be just as rewarding as the prized big cats, elephant and buffalo sightings.
Play Your Part
As a result of Covid, many travellers are looking for experiences that facilitate seeking deeper connections with communities, nature, and themselves. At Kitara, for a donation to vital conservation and protection efforts of the reserve, guests can take part in a K9 anti-poaching interaction, witnessing firsthand how these specially-trained dogs detect ammunition and rhino horn, or search for poacher suspects using land and air scent.
Other guests may opt to take part in a rhino dehorning helicopter flight or aerial search exercise. Guests can also volunteer for Eco Children, a not-for-profit which focuses on hands-on environmental education and whole school development for children in some of the poorest areas surrounding Kruger.
The Life Giving Power of Water
Regardless of the season, wildlife is drawn to water. Choose a lodge near a river or waterhole to make the most of it.
From The Pied Kingfisher hunting for its lunch, to hippo wallowing in the river and a leopard coming to drink after a kill, you can spot game all through the day and night – with a large torch from your open-to-the-bush terrace, gin and tonic in hand.
Go Small and Intimate on Safari
Choosing a smaller lodge with a higher staff to guest ratio not only gives you the feeling of having your very own slice of Africa, but it means the guides (and lodge team) will have more capacity to offer you a bespoke experience.
At Kitara, expert guides stay with guests throughout their visit, not only leading the game viewing, but serving drinks, answering all your questions, and sharing their in-depth knowledge on everything from animal behaviour to where our seasonal menu ingredients come from.
From surprise pancake stops on morning game drives, hot coals under your chair for warmth in the boma under the 800-year-old Jackleberry tree, to candlelit dinners beneath the stars and a crème brûlée on your bed at turn down, you will feel like you are staying with your favourite family member.
Reconnect with Family and Friends
The pandemic isolated so many families and friends, but a slow-yet-interactive bush experience provides the ultimate backdrop for reconnection and quality time.
Redefinition of Luxury on Safari
At any safari lodge, comfort should be a given, but the true luxury and essence of any memorable travel experience is hospitality, with warmth and kindness at its core. Before you choose a lodge, read reviews to make sure you choose a destination that offers bespoke service and care. We believe in a ‘beyond boutique’ experience where, at every turn, our guests feel that their needs and wants have been considered.
Safari On Land and Sea
Add a new dimension to your safari by adding an ocean experience. Using the Last Word’s Cape Town properties in Constantia or right on the sand at Long Beach as a base, you can see the famous penguins at Boulders Beach, go paddling at sunrise to see the seals in Cape Town’s bay or free dive among the kelp forests and discover octopus, coral and a plethora of marine species.
Nicky Coenen, Group General Manager at Last Word Intimate Hotels & Safari Camps, leads the four bespoke hotels as a family business. She has been a fundamental part of the team since inception 17 years ago, when their family home in Long Beach (Kommetjie) near Cape Town was converted into the five-star luxury boutique hotel that it is today. thelastword.co.za
Featured Image: Zebras on safari (c) Last Word Kitari.