I am a travel agent’s worst nightmare. Finding me the right holiday is pretty much akin to finding the Holy Grail. ‘I want an adventure, but not scary adventure such as bungy jumping or rollercoasters … Oh, and I want total luxury but not in-your-face formal luxury … And a beach, but not a busy beach, a real-life Robinson Crusoe beach. And I want gourmet food and a spa. Not your average hotel spa but a world-class one.’
Heat and tusk in Botswana: The Seychelles and a safari was my Holy Grail of holidays
By SUE CLEAVER
PUBLISHED: Daily Mail 9 September 2012
Usually I watch travel agents’ eyes glaze over at this point, but not at Rainbow Tours. They seemed thrilled to create a bespoke experience just for me. An exciting African safari and a relaxing island retreat in the Seychelles.
Jumbo treat: Sue Cleaver meets new friends Jambo, Morula and Thembi
As a little girl, I’d always dreamt of going to Africa. My mother would say it was a consequence of watching Born Free too many times and endless episodes of Daktari. I do recall the hours spent imagining I was Paula Tracy decked out in appropriate safari gear, riding high on the back of Clarence The Cross-Eyed Lion – accompanied by Judy the adorable chimpanzee.
So with all those memories, I embarked on my first true experience of Africa: Botswana and the Okavango Delta, an area that covers 3.2million acres when in full flood. A lush, green sparkling jewel made up of permanent and semi-permanent channels, lagoons, islands and floodplains.
My trip started where any luxury adventure should: the Virgin Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow. The only place in the world where you are thankful if your flight is delayed. There just wasn’t enough time to sample all the exquisite cocktails, enjoy the complimentary massage or pedicure, grab a quick Jacuzzi and sit down to a delicious dinner with wines. I could happily spend three days there.
All that helped to prepare us for the painless overnight flight to Johannesburg – their 6ft flat beds meant we’d be sure of a decent night’s sleep.
Relaxed and with the benefit of no time difference, we took a two-hour flight to Maun in Botswana and from there a ten-minute light aircraft transfer to the middle of the Delta.
African dream: Turning in on a terrace at Baines’ Camp
Our guide Martin met me and my husband Brian on the landing strip and whisked us off to our new home for the next three days. Sanctuary Baines’ Camp has only five bedrooms, all raised on stilts and connected to the communal dining area by swing bridges. It even sports its own small swimming pool, although the day I wanted to use it, I was prevented by a rather large elephant hogging it and I wasn’t about to argue.
Baines’ Camp was an intimate affair. You felt as though you were a house guest in a friend’s private home. The evenings were spent exchanging stories of the day’s animal encounters and then with the knowledge there would be early morning starts, we’d all head for our rooms. These were luxurious suites with terraces built on stilts over the wetlands with all mod cons, including a complimentary watercolour painting kit for those of an artistic bent.
The bathrooms were luxurious and spacious and I was very lucky to have a family of huge, fluffy bats nesting right outside the loo window. I can honestly say it was hard to leave the pot. I spent hours watching them.
The game drives took place early morning after a hearty breakfast and later after afternoon tea. We were thrilled with the show of wildlife the delta offered us. Large, lazy lions snoozing after a big kill, giraffes, wildebeest, impalas, everything you would expect to see is waiting for you with the right guide to spot the signs.
Luxury living: A beach front spa pool villa at the Banyan Tree on Mahe
We spent one early morning following the tracks of a leopard and cub. Martin was persistent and, after two hours, we came across the pair running away from a family of baboons. Mum was unconcerned about our presence and we followed the pair for about three miles until she and her cub climbed a large tree and allowed us to sit 14ft away and watch their daily rituals.
For a very different view of the delta, I spent an afternoon on a mokoro, a traditional dug-out canoe that drifts lazily on the crystal-clear waters, with the only sounds being the breezes in the reeds, exotic birdsong and frogs.
The sights and sounds of this place will stay with me for ever but none more so than the day spent walking with three beautiful, majestic elephants.
They belong to Doug and Sandi Groves, who dedicated their lives to caring for them after they were orphaned by culling operations years ago. The elephants now act as ambassadors for their wild counterparts and in 1999 the Living With Elephants Foundation was launched, dedicated to relieving conflict and competition between the African elephant and human populations in Botswana. To become personally acquainted, observe and interact with these silent beauties was one of the most joyous experiences of my life.
They all had such distinct personalities. Jambo the alpha male, kind, dependable and confident, and the girls: Morula, mild and gentle, and cute Thembi, who has to be the centre of attention, which she manages by playing helicopter with her trunk.
Their bond with each other and their guardians is mesmerising and I felt honoured to spend my last day with them. Our final evening turned out to be equally special. Our bed was wheeled out on to the terrace for a night under the stars, where the sounds of the bush lulled me into a deliriously deep, dreamy sleep, only to be woken by the wonderful sound of a hippo grunting and munching happily, 5ft beneath my bed.
All thoughts of Daktari gone, I had experienced the magic of the delta and now just dream of returning. We headed east for the Seychelles.
Arriving again by light aircraft on the of Desroches Island was pretty much akin to the opening sequence of Fantasy Island, yet another of my childhood favourites. Desroches is a three-mile long castaway island, with immaculate beaches, azure waters and coral reefs. It offers exquisite gourmet food, luxurious surroundings and a compulsory instruction to lie back and kick off your shoes. Even the general manager hasn’t had a pair of shoes on for two years. I revelled in dining on fresh sashimi, seafood and fine wine while in bare feet.
Luxurious: Days of unbelievable bliss on Desroches Island
Days were spent cycling around the island, visiting the giant tortoises to give them a daily scratch under the chin, cycling across the island via the airstrip with its sign saying ‘Look left for aircraft’, kayaking and snorkelling on one of the most beautiful reefs I’ve ever seen.
The sea is teeming. It felt as if I had jumped into a giant pet shop aquarium. There was a kaleidoscope of fish, lemon and reef sharks, graceful sting rays winging their way past you and – the ultimate joy – swimming alongside an enormous hawksbill turtle.
Spectacular: Bathers can soak in the stunning view over Intendance Bay
After six nights of pure heaven, no makeup or shoes, we moved on to our final destination, the Banyan Tree on the island of Mahe. Calm waters were exchanged for huge, thundering white horses on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, Intendance Bay, famed for its incredible granite rock formations and white sands.
The colonial-style Banyan Tree Hotel, Seychelleswinds up the hillside, and all suites have private pools, Jacuzzis and spectacular views.
Getting around was fun. The resort was steep, so served by golf buggies. I think I irritated the drivers by humming the theme tune from Jurassic Park as we weaved through jungle paths.
We never came across a velociraptor but every night I was treated to a wonderful show while indulging in a sunset massage on our terrace: the sight of huge bats riding the thermals above, swooping for insects, was truly enchanting.
There were still more wildlife treats to come. On two mornings we watched a turtle struggle up the beach to lay her eggs. There were members of staff to keep everyone at bay and watch over mum until she had laid her eggs and then escort her back into the sea. It was very touching to see.
Castaway: After her African wildlife encounters, Sue relaxed on beaches in the Seychelles
This was a holiday I will never forget and although each place was different, they all have one very big thing in common, conservation and the environment is at the forefront. This is ethical tourism at its best and I for one will be singing their praises for a very long time.
Getting there :
Three all-inclusive nights at Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp with elephant interaction, return flights from Johannesburg to Maun and then on to the camp, overnight airport stay in Johannesburg, return flights Johannesburg to the Seychelles, five nights B&B at the Banyan Tree with transfers and six nights at Desroches Island Lodge with all meals, local drinks, nonmotorised watersports and return flights from Mahe. From £9,995 including return Virgin Atlantic flights Heathrow to Johannesburg.