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  • Jamie Thom

Where is Real Wilderness? Can you find it on a luxury African safari?

One might assume that where there is wilderness there is wildlife and where there is wildlife, there is wilderness - but that is not always the case.

Gonarezhou, Zimbabwe

Take one of South Africa’s private reserves for example, like Madikwe in the north west province. If you visit this reserve you are almost definitely going to see lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino and possibly leopard. It is renowned for sightings of both white and black rhino as well as wild dogs. One might assume that this 65000 hectare reserve is real wilderness if all these species are regularly seen, but on a scale of 1 to 10, as a wilderness experience, Madikwe scores quite low, probably only three or four out of ten. Let me explain.

The reserve was formed by joining a number of cattle forms to create a vast game reserve, as a result however there are a number of dead straight roads that used to be boundary lines and there are power lines that run over and through the reserve, both of which take away from the sense of wilderness. While on game drives you regularly encounter the boundary fence and you are also occasionally aware of vehicles and traffic moving outside the reserve. At night, you can clearly see lights of homes and buildings outside the reserve so there is light pollution. There are around twenty lodges of varying sizes that are spread out in the reserve, each with their allocated number of vehicles, if something exciting is announced over the radio, you may have to wait your turn to get a viewing. Despite this, it is a very well managed reserve with a cohesive team of rangers who love the place.

By contrast, let’s consider northern Namibia, the Kaokaveld and Skeleton Coast regions, where there are only a handful of lodges occupying massive conservancies, you may not see another game drive vehicle for hours out there or barely any sign of human existence! Radio communication is out of necessity only and not to report sightings, which are few, so they just don’t bother. This driest of desert regions may sound lifeless or empty, but it isn’t. Desert elephants and black rhino eek out a life here, oryx and springbok too. And then there is the welwitschia which sends its roots down 90 feet to find moisture. How they all survive here is fascinating. Habitats are varied and vistas are endless, sunsets over the mountains and valleys are just breathtaking. You may never drive the same routes over a couple of days so everything is an adventure and with no mobile signal you get immersed in the present. But which do you want, the iconic and exciting animals in Africa in Madikwe or the vast wild spaces of Namibia?

These are all the questions we have asked ourselves and our clients. The answer of course depends whether you have seen all these animals before, the movie stars of our safari world. If you have not, I believe the iconic animals of Africa should be your focus, and when you have seen them, maybe multiple times, then you may be looking for more of a pure wilderness experience over a game viewing one.

It is possible to get both, in a select few places. So if you are thinking about your next trip, chat to us about what might work for you. The current trend is shifting towards combinations; a mix of simpler more earthy experiences, like fly camping for a few days, together with more comfortable lodging. A couple of active days of horse riding or paddling to go with some up close animal viewing in vehicles. Whatever you are after or wherever you are on your safari journey, we would love to help plan the next one!


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