A safari can be a sensory feast, with the heat, smells and sightings of the day accompanied by chanting birds and grunting herbivores. At night, the lions’ territorial claims and the wanderings of creatures, large and small, outside your tent, do not always add up to a good night’s sleep. With early starts and late-night fireside chats, the paradox of feeling both thrillingly at one with nature and dog-tired will hit you eventually. But there are plenty of tranquil waterside escapes where you can unwind and view wildlife. Guy Mavor lists eight of the best:
1 Lake Malawi
Many of the lake’s best beaches are near national parks that are making a comeback. The watersports hub of Cape Maclear is close to Liwonde, where elephants can be spotted during motorboat safaris. Likoma Island and Nkwichi Lodge, both on the Mozambican side of the lake, are not easily accessible but their waters teem with tiny cichlids; the latter’s forested surroundings can also be explored on foot with a guide.
2 The Palace of the Lost City, South Africa
This strange retreat lies less than three hours’ drive from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, hundreds of miles from the ocean. But with its wave pool, slides and waterskiing lake, it is a big, brash impersonation of a beach resort. It makes a good pit stop following a safari at the adjoining hilly, malaria-free Pilanesberg National Park & Game Reserve, or Madikwe Game Reserve, two to three hours away.
3 Addo, South Africa
The Addo region is a ‘Big Seven’ area: the Big Five plus two marine giants, the southern right whale (in winter) and the great white shark (year round). Inland, at Addo Elephant National Park, you will see hundreds of these pachyderms. The pretty town of Grahamstown is worth a visit, too. On the coast, the beaches of laid-back Kenton-on-Sea are beautiful, though the sea is only warm in summer.
4 Indian Ocean hideaways
In the far north of Kenya, Tana Delta Camp is a secluded lodge with a pristine mangrove ecosystem and palm forest to explore on foot and by canoe. There is no large fauna, but it is wild nonetheless. Similarly, in Mozambique’s wilder coastal areas, such as the Quirimbas Archipelago — where Guludo Beach Lodge offers beach, community projects and coastal forest walks — and Bazaruto Island, don’t expect to see a lion or elephant, but marine riches abound. Moreover, Eden Lodge, in Madagascar’s Nosy Be area, is deeply engaged with its community and conservation of the extraordinary local forest, baobabs and reefs.
5 Maputaland, South Africa
The coastal iSimangaliso Wetland Park is 220km of concentrated riches, beginning at Kosi Bay on South Africa’s border with Mozambique. Kosi Forest Lodge, with its lake system and Indian Ocean beaches where turtles nest each year, is wonderful, as is the divers’ paradise at Thonga Beach Lodge. These destinations can easily be combined with inland reserves such as Tembe Elephant Park, home to some of the biggest tuskers on the continent, and Ndumo Game Reserve, which has excellent birdlife. Hluhluwe River Lodge is a good central base for iSimangaliso, Hluhluwe and Phinda Private Game Reserve.
6 Loango National Park, Gabon
Loango is a wild, pristine and largely unvisited coastal environment, with jungle right down to beaches where forest elephants roam and hippo appear to ‘surf’. This is a remarkable, remote wilderness beside the sea. The impressive Loango Lodge is the best place to stay here.
7 Saadani National Park, Tanzania
The landscape here is made up of coral reefs, mangrove forests, tropical coastline, hills, plains and riverine bush. Green turtles visit the beaches; hippo and crocodile lie by the river. It’s possible to go out on walks, game drives and boat trips to spot elephant, giraffe and, sometimes, carnivores. In addition to wildlife on land, the beaches are powdery, the Indian Ocean clear and the marine life makes for interesting snorkelling. Kisampa Bush Retreat, a simple eco-lodge, and the beachside Saadani Safari Lodge offer a gentler-paced safari.
8 The Kenyan coast
In the south of Kenya, the coastal resorts of relaxed Tiwi and busy Diani or idyllic Kinondo and Msambweni further south are all a short drive away from some delightful retreats in and around the Shimba Hills National Reserve, where elephant, giraffe, leopard, hyena and other animals roam.