The last time I went camping - and I admit it was some time ago - conditions were less than glamorous. It meant arrying everything on my back in an overloaded backpack that got heavier and heavier as my encounter with the outdoors continued.
Camping isn't even called that these days unless you are really roughing it. In the "beam me up, Scotty" era of gadgetry and devices, those who encounter the wilds now go "glamping" or glamorous camping.
So it was a glamping safari that I set off to enjoy in the wilds of Zimbabwe just prior to the end of the dry season.
My trip was organised by Asia to Africa Safaris and involved visiting two camps in what are considered some of the best wildlife reserves in the whole of Africa.
Travelling around this landlocked nation in southern Africa is best done via small fiveseater aircrafts that fly in and out of bush strips all over the country.
Pools and pans in paradise
Mana Pools National Park, a World Heritage Site on Zimbabwe's northern border with neighbouring Zambia, was where I first headed after resting for the night in the capital Harare.
After touching down on the laterite strip in the middle of nowhere, my guide in a safari jeep was the solitary welcoming committee to take me to Kanga Tented Camp operated by African Bush Camps. No matter how much research I had done for this trip, I was totally unprepared as to what to expect at the camp.
Kanga Camp is immediately adjacent to a waterhole or "pan" as it is known in these parts of the world.
The dry season was about to break and threatening bolts of lightning flashed from dark clouds. I was greeted by staff who thrust an ice-cold Zambezi beer into my eager hand and then urged me to pull up a chair for what they called an "armchair safari".
I couldn't believe my eyes; it was if I were seated inside a zoo. There were elephants, zebra, kudu and impala drinking from the nearly dry waterhole literally metres away. It didn't take long to realise that I had discovered wildlife paradise.
After lunch beneath an expansive mahogany tree immediately adjacent to the menagerie of animals, I was escorted to one of six tents. This elevated tent with luxurious designer interiors was simply amazing and totally unexpected.
From the open and shaded verandahs I could safely observe the wildlife and could even shower in the open while watching elephants do basically the same in the waterhole next to me.
During my two days at Kanga Camp, I went on several wildlife safaris on the back of a covered jeep and ticked off an impressive wildlife list that included a pack of rarely seen painted dogs.
However, I kept returning to my armchair and thoroughly enjoyed my time in it, especially when a pair of leopards came to the waterhole one evening in addition to the many sightings of lions.
Scavengers and predators
It was hard to bid farewell to a place like Kanga Camp but the decision was made easier when the next port of call was Somalisa Camp in Hwange National Park. This meant a two-hour flight and another dusty bush airstrip and another solitary guide to transfer me to the tented camp.
Visitors are very dependent on their guide as I was reminded on the way to camp.
A squadron of hyperactive vultures soon had my guide Armstrong heading off road to find the source of the commotion. It wasn't long before he sighted the carcass of a recently deceased zebra.
Our presence momentarily caused the vultures to retreat but an opportunistic jackal took a moment to feed on the carcass. After getting the photos I needed, we headed off to look for the lions, which would be resting, said Armstrong. Sure enough, the pride was sleeping and preening beneath a nearby tree.
Somalisa Camp offers similar luxuries as Kanga Camp, with my tented room being a tranquil retreat from the wild scenes outside.
The camp "lounge room" here was a raised and open area around a large fireplace where elephants freely roamed beside a waterhole. A vast area of semi-open savannah within the park supports numerous animals especially elephants, lions, hyena and giraffe.
At dusk on the nights I was there, I settled back with a cool drink and watched the active wildlife around the waterhole. After yet another sumptuous meal, the small group of adventurers in the camp traded tales around the fireplace while watching the electric night sky light up with the storms that heralded the onset of the wet season.
It was then time to retreat to our individual tents with an armed escort as there are no fences and some animals roam freely close to camp.
On the day I left for my flight to Victoria Falls and then back to Harare for the journey home, the heavens opened. Immediately, the wildlife around the waterhole thinned out as the animals retreated to other parts of the park as other waterholes began to fill up.
I quietly congratulated myself for the perfect timing and for getting reacquainted with the joys of living in the wild - especially as it was more glamorous than my childhood camping adventures.
We flew from Singapore to Harare via Dubai on Emirates and then travelled domestically by air to the safari camps in Zimbabwe.
- Seeing wildlife is a daily occurrence in Zimbabwe but the dry and cool season (May to September) is the best time as animals congregate around the various waterholes near the safari lodges.
- The best photographs are taken with a long lens and a camera with a fast shutter speed. Lenses of 300mm or more (if budget permits) will produce the best results. A pair of 10 x 42 binoculars is the other piece of essential equipment.
- African safaris are mostly inclusive of three meals per day, early morning snacks, afternoon tea and all beverages including some impressive South African wines.
Asia to Africa Safaris (www.a2asafaris.com) can plan tailor-made luxury adventures in several African countries.
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