A personal letter from our founder

A few weeks ago, I was subject to a rather gruelling interrogation from an old friend. “Why should I travel with Extraordinary Africa?” he asked.  Given that we’ve known each other since we were 19, I’d hoped the answer would be obvious.  But then, I probably should’ve known better than to strike up a business conversation with a management consultant. This letter began as an email to him, explaining why Africa’s so wonderful and why I think Extraordinary Africa delivers just that.

“These are my personal African highlights, so please forgive any lack of professionalism in the photography!

Africa isn’t trendy and it’s rarely “now”. It’s far, far better than that. You might have seen photos of a million ravishing sunsets, but when it’s you perched on the bonnet of your Landrover, sundowner in hand, each quiet moment of peace is uniquely its own. Lions do run across vast, spreading, golden plains, just like the wildlife documentaries show. But when it’s you they’re running towards, the last thing you’re thinking is that it’s some boring cliché that you’ve already seen on TV.  When you see a shooting star- and grab the hand of the person next to you, just because that’s what you do- just try saying it was frankly rather dull and has been done a thousand times before.  Visiting Africa just isn’t like any other holiday.

There are hundreds of companies that organise holidays to Africa. But so many of them churn out the same old templates, that don’t do the continent, or their customers, justice. Because Africa isn’t standard, and because people are never the same, I didn’t want to organise the standard holidays. Sometimes following the rules or logistics makes life cheaper, or easier, but if that’s not what you want, then it’s not what you’ll do.  I want to show you the magic that I feel, in a way that works for you.  The idea behind Extraordinary Africa is to set your soul on fire, make it an utter delight for you to arrange, and leave you dreaming of more.  We hope to leave you charmed and excited, full of enthusiasm before your adventure, and remembering it wistfully afterwards.

Anyway- that’s my vision. I want to show you Africa my way, but whatever else happens, please make sure you go, each corner of it is so utterly wonderful, I couldn’t bear for you to miss out.

Alex”

The man-eating lions of Tsavo

The British Government began building a railway at vast expense in the face of significant local hostility. Yet despite huge practical obstacles and opposition in parliament the plan soldiered on. Sound familiar?

Yet this was 1896. Building what later became known as the “Lunatic Express”, the British colonial Government in Kenya stuck unrelentingly to their plan. A railway from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Uganda, was required, and a railway there would be. Even one that included a siding next to the High Commissioner’s mansion so he could head out on hunting parties in privacy. (Thank you Wikipedia, please let that be true). Attacks by local tribesmen, malaria, and huge geographical obstacles wouldn’t get in the way.

Lion on safari in Africa

Lions, not man-eaters. As far as we know.

In 1898 the railway workers hit an obstacle. They needed to build a bridge over the Tsavo River. While building bridges by day was hard work, by night the worker’s camp was troubled by something far more terrifying. Two maneless lions, later known as the Ghost and the Darkness, were killing and eating the Indian railway workers. They built campfires to scare off the lions. They built thick thorny bomas in the style of the local Maasai to shelter their tents. The leader of the project, Lt. Col John Patterson hid out in a tree with his trusty Martini-Enfield rifle. But to no avail.

Hundreds of workers ran away in terror, but still the lions kept coming.  Eventually Patterson shot one huge lion, 9ft 8 from nose to tail. He escaped wounded and returned to camp to stalk Patterson, before eventually dying. It took 8 men to carry his body back to camp. 20 days later the second lion was shot. He was shot 9 times over 11 days before he was eventually killed. They were found to have eaten 10.5 and 24.2 humans respectively. (What happened to the other 0.3 of a person, we can’t possibly comment).

To this day there’s no answer as to what made the Tsavo lions man-eaters. It could’ve been that one was suffering from appalling toothache, than an outbreak of rinderpest meant they had no cattle to prey on, or that they’d grown used to the taste of human flesh by preying on slave caravans heading overland to the coast. The lions ended their days as rugs on Patterson’s floor, and can now be seen in the Chicago Field Museum.

** Please accept our apologies for any inaccuracies. Like all good campfire stories, we’ve told it to the best of our abilities, but we’re prepared to be corrected!

Save £575 per person on a luxurious wilderness adventure in Uganda

Uganda’s long been one of our favourite African countries and it seems the world is catching on to it. Not only is Uganda home to some of the very last mountain gorillas in the world, it also has the sort of game reserves that people come to and sigh “this is what the Serengeti used to be like”… Kidepo (recently acknowledged by CNN as the 3rd finest game reserve on the entire continent- fine praise up against such heavyweights as the Kruger, Masai Mara or Ngorongoro Crater) has spectacular game viewing and a fraction of the vehicles you’d find elsewhere in Africa.

Why? Well it used to be virtually impossible to visit unless you chartered a private plane, but scheduled flights announced in December 2013 have put safari in Kidepo firmly on the map.  Combine this with some of the spectacular special offers available during the green season in Bwindi and you’ve got a great value, utterly magical trip on your hands.

Safari in Kidepo NP

Kidepo

Safari in Kidepo NP

Kidepo Zebras

Day 1: Fly overnight from London to Entebbe, and crash out here for the night. Welcome to Africa!

Day 2: Connect on to your light aircraft flight up to Kidepo, a vast undiscovered savannah ringed by craggy peaks, where the wildlife clusters around the Narus and Kidepo Rivers.  Remote and with utterly wonderful scenery and game viewing, this is a park to visit now before the hoardes catch on that it’s easy to visit.  Spend 3 nights here at Apoka Lodge. Take game drives and look out for cheetah (not found elsewhere in Uganda), leopard and lion. Look out for ellies, skittish zebra and fat little warthogs with their tails firmly in the air. Take a walking safari and trace pug marks in the dust, or a night game drive to watch the glint of eyes as you pass by in the darkness.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi

Bwindi Gorilla © Aurelia Thomas

Day 5: From Kidepo, take a private flight down to Bwindi National Park. Not cheap, no (if you want to do this itinerary at a reduced price, we can send you back to Entebbe for a night in between), but what a way to get a sense of the magnificent Ugandan landscape.  Spend 3 nights here at the utterly wonderful Gorilla Forest Camp- so close to the national park that it’s not unknown to spot gorillas actually in the gardens. Just watch this YouTube video if you don’t believe us… We’ll include two gorilla treks while you’re here so you really get a sense of how special these wonderful animals are.

Day 8: Fly back to Entebbe and relax beside Lake Victoria, before your overnight flight back to London.

Day 9: Arrive in London early in the morning.

Normal price from £5,805 per person sharing. Travel in April, May or November, and pay £5,230 per person sharing, with discounted gorilla permits, and a free night at Gorilla Forest Camp, saving £575 per person!

Includes two gorilla permits (usual price US$500pp per permit), international flights, 7 nights accommodation, all food, internal light aircraft flights (including one private flight), game drives, walking safaris and transfers.  

Where to spot… Leopards

There’s something about spotting a leopard on safari that sets people’s pulses racing.  It’s often men that fall passionately for this slinky cat (sorry boys!)- it’s the ultimate predator, perfectly designed for the silent stalk, the stealthy hunt and the efficient kill.

Luxury Safari in the Sabi Sands

Leopard at Singita Sabi Sand

It’s possible to spot leopards on safari all over Africa, but they’re notoriously elusive. Stories abound about leopards successfully disguising themselves, even amongst large human populations. Legend holds that when a lone leopard was spotted on Nairobi railway station, the storyteller was rubbished. 3 years later, the bones of a recently deceased leopardess was spotted under a rarely used platform… Well, so the story goes.

For those who want more reliable leopard sightings there are a number of places to visit in Africa where a safari of two or three days should give you a very reliable chance of seeing a leopard. We’ve put some effort into personally checking these out, so do ask us if you have any questions.

Okonjima Safari

Okonjima Leopard

3. Okonjima, Central Highlands, Namibia

The AfriCat Foundation at Okonjima is utterly absorbing for anyone who’s ever been fascinated by the big cats. It’s important to stress- these cats aren’t wild. They’ve been collared and are closely monitored by the research team. This makes it possible to get up close to leopard (also cheetah and wild dog) in a way that’s just not possible elsewhere, and learn more about hands on research and conservation than you would in 10 safaris.

2. South Luangwa, Zambia

I’ve had phenomenal sightings in the South Luangwa and a colleague who (though good at rather tall tales) claims to have spotted 7 leopard in one night drive. The leopard here are often spotted on night game drives with spotlights- this is the time of day when leopard are most active, as they’re on the hunt for fresh food. By day, look for the flicker of a tail up in the sausage trees, where leopards like to lounge on long flat branches.

Luxury Safari in the South Luangwa

Leopard spotted with Bushcamps on safari in the South Luangwa

1. Sabi Sands, South Africa

Without a shadow of a doubt, of all the places I’ve done safari in Africa (and there have been a few) the Sabi Sands has been by far and away the best place to spot leopards.  I’ve tracked adults through the grasses at Lion Sands, watched leopards lounging in trees from Nottens, and most satisfyingly of all, clocked a spotted face stalking me through the reeds over breakfast at Singita Ebony. If you’re a leopard lover, go tomorrow, take my camera, and never look back.

African titbits: the Cullinan Diamond

To be honest, I only read about the Cullinan Diamond for a quiz I was setting. Jewellery’s pretty to look at, but it doesn’t really hold the same fascination as watching an elephant for half an hour.  When I started reading about the Diamond however, I was sucked in by Wikipedia, passed through numerous anonymous websites and spat out the other end by the Daily Mail. I was fascinated.

The Cullinan Diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905, and (according to the Daily Mail, though no other sources I can reference) was so implausibly large, it was nearly thrown out with the rubbish. The superintendent rescued it and recognised the diamond for what it was:  3,106 carats and thought to be the largest diamond ever discovered. In fact, a smooth fracture down one side suggests this is only a small portion of an even larger diamond.  The diamond was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan the owner of the mine, and purchased by the Transvaal Government for £150,000. They voted to send it to King Edward VII as a token of their loyalty, and although this was shortly after the end of the Boer war, this was mainly driven by the Boer population and opposed by English settlers.

The Cullinan Diamond was so valuable it had to be sent to London from South Africa by roundabout means. A parcel was ceremonially placed on a steamer ship in the captain’s safe, and guarded by detectives all of the way to London. Meanwhile the real diamond was sent in an unmarked box by normal post. The Cullinan Diamond was presented to the king, but without modern precision cutting tools, cutting it was another challenge. Eventually, Asscher and Co, after many months of studying the diamond, faced up to the task. Legend holds that Mr Asscher had a doctor and nurse on standby, and after breaking one blade successfully cut the diamond straight through. He then fainted clean away.

Today the Cullinan Diamond has been cut into 9 large stones (amongst them the Star of Africa), and numerous smaller ones, which form a significant part of the British crown jewels. Their value is priceless, but one estimate puts the combined value at well over £100 million in today’s prices.

Green season safari- is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Think of African landscapes and the chances are you’ll be imagining an endless golden savannah, broken only with twisted and parched acacia trees. The wildebeest are cantering frantically in search of water and fresh grass (this is the main driver of the Great Migration) and vultures float on the thermals hoping to spot a lion kill.

There’s another Africa however, the Africa that blossoms with life in and around the rains. The green season (sometimes rather optimistically known as the “emerald season”) transforms the landscape.  Rivers burst with life and grasses and trees seem to glow in almost implausibly bright hues. Under thunderous storm clouds young animals learn to stand on shaking legs within minutes of their births, and predators look sleek and happy with a bellyful of food. This is the time when you’ll take the most spectacular photographs and see the bush at its very best (and sometimes at half the price of the peak periods).

Beyond that, the parks are largely deserted, and if you’ve done several safaris it’s utterly fascinating seeing the game reserves in a new light. Birding in particular is utterly glorious- if you’ve never seen a fish eagle swoop for its kill or a finfoot skiddle-skaddle across the water’s surface- this is your moment.

Green season safaris are at their best in Kenya and Tanzania in March and June (catch the savannah with its spring colours) or in Zambia between January and April. The ultimate experience is a boat safari in the South Luangwa– thanks to our friends at Norman Carr for the amazing selection of photos above. Elsewhere, watch the desert spring to life in Namibia, the mighty flood at the Victoria Falls or catch the mini Migration in the Kalahari.

Proposing this Valentine’s Day? We have just the idea for you….

Let’s face it – we’ve all sat through a thousand boring ‘and then, suddenly, he was down on one knee!’ stories. A 2014 Valentine’s proposal demands something a little more interesting. Paris is passé, and New York is just a tiny bit naff ­- with direct flights, just an hour’s time difference (two in the winter), Cape Town has world-class food and wine, Valentine’s Day sunshine, and a certain understated cool that makes your moment all yours.

Luxury holidays in Cape Town

The Mother City: what girl could say no?

If you’re waiting for the right time to propose, a long weekend in Cape Town will leave you spoiled for choice. Take a helicopter flight over the city or spirit your beloved away on a speedboat ride in the bay. Whisk her (or him) up to the Winelands for a gentle horseback trot through the vineyards and a glass of award-winning local fizz.  Cycle through the Mother City by night, or hike up Table Mountain and then, when the timing’s just right…

And – assuming the answer’s “Yes”- celebrate with canapés and sundowners on the Waterfront, a picnic amongst the penguins at Cape Point or dinner in the private art gallery at Ellerman House. So much more interesting than a glass of champagne at the Eiffel Tower – and, once you’re factoring in African prices, not that much more expensive. Who could fail to fall in love with that?