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S.A. - is it possible to have a secluded safari?

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We're spoiled, at least from a wildlife viewing perspective. We have seen so many awesome things. We have been lucky enough to safari in Botswana (3x), Zambia (2x), Zim (1x), SA (1x) and Tanzania (1x). And while everything has been wonderful and all of the wildlife viewing has been very good if not extraordinary, the 1 turn off I have is having to "line up" to get a view of an animal. This was over the top in Tanzania, and somewhat in S.A., but luckily non-existent in Bots, Zam and Zim.

Planning a trip for next year, our 6th safari so we have a really good sense of what we like, for end of May/early June - we are into photography and are pretty easy going, and while we like creature comforts we don't need excessive luxury (but it is nice). I love everything about wildlife, and am equally enthralled by birds and dung beetles as by lions and elephants. However I love wild dogs and try to maximize my chances of seeing them. My husband loves the big animals and predators. I would prefer to spend lots of money on the access to wildlife, private jeeps and quality guides, than to have a hairdryer in my room or a fabulous wine cellar or TV.

We will have about 12-14 days on the ground, and we don't like to rush between camps, so usually pick only 2 or 3 and stay 4-6 days at each. We try to stick to camps that have only 5-10 tents.

Would be interested in hearing your feed back on the following:
- where in S.A. near Kruger can you get that exclusive feel where you don't have to line up for sightings with a bunch of other vehicles? Stayed at Gomo Gomo and Simbambilli and while there weren't a ton of vehicles, there were still some line ups.
- what other parks in S.A. would you recommend for quality of game viewing with low volume tourism?
- Thoughts on Tswalu? Looks awesome, private jeeps, and access to meerkats! But I worry that the fences and radio collars might make it feel less than wild.
- Am leaning towards Hwange in Zim for some of the trip. Any comments on Camp Hwange, Little Mak, Camp Nehimba or Linkwasha? Stayed at Ruckomechi in Mana Pools on our previous trip to Zim.
- Thoughts on Kaingo/Mwamba and Tena Tena in South Luangwa? Stayed at Nsefu before in S.L, and also 2 camps in Lower Zambezi and 1 in Kafue.
- Where in Tanzania can you avoid the crowds on sightings? Been to Selous and Serengti, and while the volume of cars was much lower in the Selous, there were still line ups to see a far away leopard.

I have a fantastic travel agent that I will use and often take her suggestions of places to try as she knows us so well, but thought I would try to get some other ideas from this forum. Thanks for your input.

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    I have a few ideas. Give then a chance, they are a bit different.

    In the private reserves around Kruger, check out Mala Mala (Rattrays is the most exclusive), Singita and Londolozi. If you can't get the experience you seek at any of those then it's impossible. Londolozi has a specialized photography vehicle that looks very cool.

    But I have some odd things that might interest you.

    Last year we visited Zululand Rhino Reserve and did a rhino conservation project - dart, ID, rhino LoJack and id horn of a rhino on the reserve. It was our best day. It is an outing for ten and since it was just the two of us, we were able to arrange to have members of the local Zulu tribe join us. You can't protect wildlife if the local people aren't involved. It was just a perfect day. You could stay at Leopard Mountain which I understand is very nice. We stay at Rhino River Lodge, which we love. Mavela is tented and specializes in birding. All the lodges can arrange the rhino thing. They recently released a pack of six dogs who seem to be doing quite well and seen often.You could spend a few nights at nearby Phinda, which everyone raves about. Tembe Elephant Park is also in the neighborhood - it was just renovated and looks beautiful. It is a community owned and run lodge that has great elephants. We had a top five game drive there. We really love the whole KwaZulu Natal area - it's beautiful and has great birds! Except for Phinda, the lodges are all inexpensive for SA. I'm sure you could arrange private vehicles at all of them.

    Have you been to Mashatu in SE Botswana? It's a wonderful reserve and the staff (we were at tented camp) was incredibly nice. It is owned by the Rattrays who also own Mala Mala so a combination of the two is easy with the charter between them. Or add a couple of nights in The Outpost in northern Kruger and get road transfers between the camps. Three fantastic ecosystems.

    Have you considered !Xaus in Kgalagadi Transfronier Park? It's a luxury lodge in the park. KTP is a predator park, but no big animals like ellie, rhino or buffalo. It is very high on my bucket list, but I would combine it with someplace that has rhino. Maybe a higher end camp in Madikwe or Kruger.

    Kafue in Zambia is a less frequented park. Busanga Plains in the northern part of the park looks fantastic. There will not be a lot of other people there! Last I checked it only has three tents. Check current sightings at Wilderness Safaris. There was a mobile safari a few years ago that went to Kafue called Rivers and Plains - unfortunately it got discontinued before we got the chance to do it. It went to three areas of the park. Not sure if the camps are even still open.

    Those are some of my different ideas for you. Sorry I was unable to answer your direct questions, but I hope I gave you some other possibilities.

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    Your priorities sound quite similar to mine, and my favourite places are South Luangwa, Ruaha and Botswana. For dogs, I have found Botswana fairly unbeatable but I have a few thoughts in on some of the places you ask about-

    Haven't been to Kaingo/Mwamba but I know that area well and it is excellent for game viewing and sightings won't be crowded. That isn't the best area of the park for wild dogs (too many lions I think) but combine it with something in the central area or Nsefu sector and you'll increase your chances with dogs. I stayed at Tena Tena in June last year and I loved it.

    In Tanzania I would highly recommend Ruaha. I've been four times now, and on 3 occasions stayed at Kwihala which is a great camp with excellent guides. One trip was early June which is the start of the season (most camps close in April and May) and I was the only guest for 5 out of 8 nights and it felt like I had the whole park to myself. Game viewing was excellent, especially for cats. Dogs are hard in Ruaha, but combine it with Selous and you'll have a better chance. What time of year did you visit Selous before? You might find June quieter. Or pick a camp that is in a more remote area- I stayed at Beho Beho this year and it was amazing- the guiding in particular, and the camp atmosphere was fantastic. I was there in January and hardly saw any other vehicles but I have been to other camps at peak times so I hear what you are saying about occassional crowds. Beho Beho is expensive, but Kwihala isn't so the two would balance each other out as a combination. Last time I did Selous and Ruaha I did 7 nights in Ruaha and 4 in Selous which I thought was a good balance.

    If you have been to South Luangwa and Zimbabwe, did you enjoy walking? If so, then Kichaka Expeditions in Ruaha is really worth a look. They only take one party at a time so you have the camp exclusively. It's not luxury but very comfortable and they can do fly camping too.

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    Thanks for the suggestions.

    Christabir - you come up with a lot of interesting ideas. I am looking at some of the private concessions around Kruger and will look at the camps you named.

    The Rhino Reserve must have been the coolest thing. Good on you for doing that. It is always eye-opening to have those kinds of experiences. We got to do a similar thing with elephants on one trip.

    We have been to Mashatu, staying at tented camp like you, and really enjoyed the area and the camp, but was not impressed with the guiding, despite the good reviews. When the tracker kept falling asleep, and the guide drove right past the lions and would take off when you are taking pictures, it just didn't stack up the other places we've been. Mind you, we were there a few years ago, and I'm sure we just had bad luck that time and it would be fine if we went again. We just like to try new places when we can.

    I will look into !Xaus, but my husband is a fan of the big animals, so that might be a tough sell.

    We went to Kafue and stayed at Shumba camp. What a beautiful place, both lodge and area. Game viewing was good. Enjoyed it very much.

    Stokeygirl - it's a good sign if we have similar priorities and you loved Tena Tena.

    I've decided to leave Tanzania aside for another trip, but I did stay at Beho Beho (August 2014)and it is a beautiful camp and location, and it was pretty quiet. Guiding was superb, but wildlife was not super abundant. Just timing I guess. We then went to Selous Impala, which wasn't too busy but more so than Beho Beho, but then on to the Serengeti and we had 22 vehicles on a leopard sighting. Since I love going to Botswana and you never experience that volume, it was an odd feeling and a turn off. And I think I will include Ruaha the next time we go there.

    It's great to hear from people who have similar interests and are looking for something a little bit different. Thanks for your input.

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    The idea of 22 vehicles at a sighting makes me shudder.

    You can actually have quite a secluded experience in the Mara Conservancies (especially Olare Motorogi and Naboisho). Also, with Northern Tanzania I suspect the key to avoiding crowds is potentially to avoid the migration. I've heard that the Northern Serengeti can be amazing "off season" and having been to the Mara in non migration months (jan/Feb), I can well believe it. I've looked at the N Serengeti off season myself, and for the few permanent camps up there, the rates in non migration months (ie not July to Oct) can be amazing. The only reason I haven't done it is that travelling solo there are issues with the flights charging for 2 seats, but if I wasn't travelling alone it's definitely something I'd consider. There are also flights between the Serengeti and Ruaha so a combination of the two is perfectly possible. Asilia often have really good deals on their camps (Kwihala which I mention above is one of their camps).

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    In fact, bearing in mind the wild dog interest and this comment-
    "We will have about 12-14 days on the ground, and we don't like to rush between camps, so usually pick only 2 or 3 and stay 4-6 days at each. We try to stick to camps that have only 5-10 tents."

    Kenya could be a great option- have a look at Laikipia Wilderness Camp. Awesome place for wild dogs, and on its own private land and owner run by a Zim-pro walking guide and his wife. You could have 5 nights there then maybe 7 in the Mara split between 2 camps. I like Kicheche Bush camp which has only 6 tents and it's in the Olare Motorogi conservancy which is very uncrowded.

    There are several reports from Laikipia Wilderness over on Safaritalk (see including mine- I was there for a week in June 2013.

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    You sure have experienced a lot! How about a gorilla trek in Uganda or Rwanda?

    I brought up !Xaus because it's a similar ecosystem to Tswalu, just in KTP. KTP is currently next on the list for us. We had entirely different experiences in Mashatu - we got lucky with a private vehicle for most of our game drives because the rest of the camp was being used by a photography group. Our guide was very enthusiastic.

    I wish we could recreate the Botswana experience everywhere. Unfortunately Botwsana has priced me out and I appreciate the affordability that I can get in other places. The small lodges on big reserves in KZN are great value and we rarely see another vehicle.

    I would love to do the elephant conservation, but right now I am working to protect the rhino so that the elephants won't be next in SA. That's the fear - once the rhino are gone, they will move on to elephant extermination. Hopefully I'll never need to. I still get teary every time I think about our rhino experience. Not many people do the conservation things - good to hear of another! Great going!

    No matter where you decide, make it clear that you are more satisfied by missing a sighting than to "wait in line". We were once chased off a cheetah when it was the next vehicle's turn, just as we thought it might be considering dinner. We like to go to Kruger on our own - we have had great luck with being alone with all sorts of creatures and combine with full service lodges so we get a break from driving and fending for ourselves. We have only had two experiences where the crowds were ridiculous and we just left (and found another group of young lions all to ourselves!!)

    Add nDzuti to your list to check out. It is run by true conservationists and might be close to what you are looking for. Mala Mala is huge and has low volume for its size. It might be closest to your needs around Kruger. If budget isn't an issue, there are a couple of lodges that are for single groups only - you could hire the whole place and have a totally exclusive experience. nDzuti does it, too.

    The more I hear about those huge crowds is E Africa, the less I want to go. Someday, but not yet.

    Our next trip is for the 50th anniversary of Botswana's independence in 2016. Not sure how we are going to do it affordably, but we will be there if we can!

    Have fun planning.

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    Tswalu feels wild, the only element disturbing that feeling is the fence separating the two parts of the property. But the entire space is so vast that there is no zoo-like feeling at all, in my opinion. And those meerkats are not to be forgotten….and the private vehicle and ranger are a bonus as well.

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    Check out Djuma! It is rented out as a whole camp only, so it would only be the two of you (unless you want to invite a few fodorite friends). It is rented as a whole unit, including a private chef, ranger, vehicle. Looks perfect for what you are looking for at a realistic rate. The rate for 2016 is R15500 per night, not per person! At the current exchange rate of R12/USD, it might be the bargain of the decade! You can dictate whatever you want with input from no one else. The traversing area is 7000 hectares, I'm not sure if it shares with others in Sabi Sand - check the map on for that info.

    If we ever go with a small group, this might be the way to go! Now I have to find a small group.

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    Hi jimb!

    For safari enthusiasts looking to enhance their experience, I recommend a few things:

    First, lodges/camps that have low guest to traversing area ratios. For example, you asked about SA. In Sabi Sand, this would be Londolozi, Singita and MalaMala. These three also benefit by having the Sand River which flows through their concessions and contributes to great game viewing. Truly beautiful and more private than other places there but, as you can imagine, at luxury rates.

    Second, a private jeep so you can control your time out in the bush as well as what you want to focus on. I personally enjoy staying out all day and while other jeeps return to the lodge at different times, the bush gets more private.

    Third, hiring a Private Specialist Guide to join you. Since you mentioned an interest in photography, I’d recommend one who also has photographic expertise. Many lodges have good ranger/guides but when you hire the services of someone who is a true expert in animal behavior and who can provide the right photographic help for incredible shots, then you've really "raised the bar" for the experience. I have used these Specialists myself for my personal safaris and recommend them to others, especially repeat safari go-ers. Always a hit!

    If you can do one or more of these extras, depending upon your budget, it definitely changes the experience!

    You mentioned some beautiful places in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Since you’ve enjoyed your stays at Wilderness Safaris lodges, you could pick some other ones. Such beautiful camps and lodges and consistently good!

    One’s passion to go back to the bush is about those unique awe-inspiring and breath-taking moments that we crave. It stirs our soul and resonates with us well beyond when we get home! It’s why we keep going back!!! I know that no matter where you will go, you will have yet another incredible time. Once back, you’ll be longing to return!


    Africa Direct USA

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    I realize Djuma doesn't include food, but I read that it is possible to have food provided and delivered according to your preferences. The chef is already included. I'm sure your TA can arrange it.

    For reference, Kirkmans Kamp, a highly regarded &Beyond camp, is 6000 hectares. Djuma is 7000 and there will only be two vehicles on the property! I'm so intrigued by this option. I would stay at the less expensive camp for R11500 and add on the chef for R650. I just think it's likely a great value.

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    Thanks to all for the great and interesting suggestions. I'm like a kid in a candy store when it comes to this stuff. We are definitely doing the private vehicle option as much as we can - it really does offer an amazing experience.

    I did look at revisiting Mashatu Tented camp, but apparently they only offer private vehicles out of Main camp, which is not my cup of tea.

    I'm still a bit all over the map (literally and figuratively) but after a long conversation with my TA yesterday, am now narrowing it down somewhat. I expect it will come down to what's available when I'm ready to commit to the itinerary. Here's what I'm left with:

    Little Kwara - Lebala - Lagoon (all Botswana, which is my favourite place on earth)

    Anabezi (lower Zambezi) - Camp Hwange - Linkwasha

    Tintswalo OR Tswalu - Camp Hwange - Linkwasha

    Tintswalo - Anabezi

    or any permutation of the above that works logistically.

    Planning is almost as much fun as being there!

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