There’s something about the bush that gets under your skin and makes you want to return again and again, says Graham Boynton. But what is its allure?
Last year I had a busy and fruitful year, spending time in North America, Europe, India, North Africa, Australia and so on, but easily the most enjoyable trip I took was leading a group of British tourists on an African safari. The reason was simple: this team of worldly, well-travelled Brits were completely blown away by the African bushveld, the wild animals and the sheer adventure of being on the fringes of the modern world. To be able to share my own enthusiasm for wild Africa was a rare privilege indeed and I have no doubt at all that they will all be back soon.
So what is it about the bush that makes it so compelling a place to visit? Well, firstly the obvious: there is nowhere else on Earth where such a variety of animals and birds exist in real wilderness. Anyone who has gone looking for tigers in India’s Ranthambore Park will know precisely what I mean. In Africa you can still find remoteness without having to share it with hordes of shouting, gesticulating fellow travellers.
My guiding sojourn happened to be in Zimbabwe — in Hwange and Gonarezhou national parks — but it could have been in any of the subcontinent’s reserves. Members of my group have already asked me where they should go next and I was able to recommend both Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Kenya’s Masai Mara for their sheer profusion of game, Wilderness Safaris’ Serra Cafema camp in far northern Namibia for remoteness and Singita’s two Kruger lodges, Boulders and Ebony, for the indulgence of fine wines, high-thread-count cotton sheets, butler service as well as wild animals.
The point is that the African wilderness has something for all tastes, and once bitten, people invariably want to come back. Although there seem to be new bush camps opening all the time — Wilderness Safaris’ Linkwasha in Hwange and Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald’s Angama Mara in the Masai Mara to name two — some of my favourites have been around for years. And with regular refurbishments and updates, these are always worth consideration whatever the current fashion.
Thus Duba Plains in Botswana continues to offer breathtaking lion-buffalo interactions; Ruckomechi Camp on the banks of the Zambezi River remains the most perfect riverine habitat; and Little Governors Camp in the Mara offers excellent access to those famous Big Cat Diary lion prides.
Hopefully 2016 will be free of the bad publicity that has blighted African tourism over the past few years, and wealthy foreigners will be putting some much needed revenue back into the wilderness.
Graham Boynton has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Vanity Fair, Esquire and Condé Nast Traveller, and was the travel editor of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph between 1998 and 2012. A regular visitor to Africa, where he grew up, his current consultancies include work as media director for the African Travel & Tourism Association (www.atta.travel). The views expressed in this column are his own.