Excitement thrums in my veins.
My husband Ben and I are about to visit Africa for the very first time – and we’ll also be introducing this vast continent to our daughters, Grace and Maggie.
As the honoured guests of luxury safari experts Abercrombie & Kent, we’ll be staying in such wonderful-sounding places as Stanley’s Camp, Chief’s Camp and Sussi & Chuma.
We’ve got no idea what is ahead of us – but we’re confident this trip is going to be an adventure we’ll never forget.
We make our way via a small ‘taxi’ aeroplane deep into the Okavango Delta, right in the heart of Botswana.
The thrill is palpable as we fly low over a landscape dotted with herds of elephant, zebra, hippo and every other animal you can imagine is palpable. We turn this way and that, pointing and gasping, our collective breath taken away by the majesty of the setting.
We eventually arrive at Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp. And after a brief tour of our gorgeous accommodation and a fresh, delicious lunch, we are whisked away for our first African safari.
Every turn of the LandCruiser offers a new magical moment, be it an iridescent lilac-breasted roller darting over a shimmering lagoon; a family of warthogs trotting past a hungry hyena; a lioness hunting with her cub; or a scavenging vulture circling in the air, awaiting a free meal.
I thought travelling through Africa would be hard – possibly dangerous – and rather chaotic with the kids in tow.
But, in fact, we found that the opposite was true.
Not only did Abercrombie & Kent craft a great itinerary designed to provide us with a totally seamless and immersive experience, it also gave us the chance to understand what it is to give back to a people you work with.
Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), was established almost 40 years ago to positively impact the lives and livelihoods of the communities where its guests travel.
Today, AKP has over 40 social and environmental projects operating across all seven continents.
This humanitarian philosophy is really important to us, so the AKP activities on offer were an incredibly enriching part of our stay.
One of these experiences is the chance to engage with the Living With Elephants Foundation.
It’s a privilege to meet husband-and-wife team Sandi and Doug – as well as their orphaned elephants, Jabu and Morula.
We talk with them as we amble through the bush, learning about Jabu and Morula’s tragic stories of captivity and eventual escape from poachers.
Afterwards, we all sit down and enjoy lunch together. These gentle giants, with their expressive eyes, eat fruit and forage on branches and leaves as we humans enjoy a scrumptious African feast in the shade of a spreading acacia tree.
The whole day is so intimate. It is a truly amazing way to learn about the challenges facing the African elephant population – and the importance of conservation in general.
For the girls especially, it is one of the stand-out moments of the trip.
From Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, we travel to Sanctuary Chief’s Camp – on Chief’s Island in the famous Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta.
Walking into the camp’s Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite – our home for the duration of our stay – I almost can’t believe what I’m seeing.
The expansive residence has private bedroom suites, personal plunge pools, and even our very own personal chef, Tracey.
Good for the soul
The three days we spend here are akin to meditation.
The gentle pace of life, the generosity and friendliness of all the people who work there, and of course the stunning surroundings … it just fills up your soul.
Every day we head out on safari with our expert guide, Sky. On our very last evening, as we are making our way back, Sky suddenly stops the truck and grabs his binoculars.
“Something is happening here,” he says. “These zebra know a hunter is about.” We sit up in our seats and strain to see or hear what he can sense. But we notice nothing.
Sky drives further. Then, as we round the corner, three lions with huge manes and powerful paws are there before us, rolling about and grooming each other with abandon.
This is all unfolding right in front of us and yet, no-one is scared – not me, not Grace and Maggie, not the lions themselves.
We sit and coexist. Time stands still.
Surrounding these kings is a ‘dazzle’ of zebras that Sky has spotted – some standing sentry as the rest of the herd make it over the hill. “It’ll be feeding time soon,” says Sky, as we push off into the sunset.
Our last stop is Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma. Set on a bend of the Zambezi River in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, 12km from the famous Victoria Falls, it’s a place where you can spend time surrounded by groups of hippos and observe menacing crocs sunning themselves on the banks.
We pass our first day swimming and fishing on the mighty Zambezi. We then visit Victoria Falls, before retiring to our gorgeous accommodation once again.
We visit the Nakatindi Village, where Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats have worked closely with the village leaders to help support the community, constructing boreholes for clean water – as well as building new classrooms.
Meanwhile, at the village’s Chipego Bike Shop, A&K and Working Bikes have donated thousands of bicycles to help empower the local people through mobility, and establish a tour enterprise run by local women.
And then, sadly, our time comes to an end. As a family, we always want to travel in a way that is holistic and fulfilling – and our journey to Africa has delivered that completely.
So if you are thinking of going, I say do it, and do it now. But be warned – once you’ve been, you’ll find yourself wanting to return as quickly as possible.