Flying South for the Winter: Winter Sun in Africa

It’s no surprise than when the weather turns cold, phones start ringing at Extraordinary Africa HQ. As much as we love snuggling up beside a blazing fire and listening to the windows rattle, sometimes we’d really just rather feel the sun on our skin and the warmth breathing out of the sand. So, if we could fly south with the swallows for summer, this is where we’d pick.

Cape Town: Food, wine, and African sunshine…

For an easy winter break with reliable sunshine, an incredible gourmet scene, and barely any time difference Cape Town would be difficult to beat. During the chilly northern hemisphere winter, there are direct flights from London to Cape Town, so you as you leave work on a Friday evening,you can wave goodbye to your colleagues, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow be eating lunch with a glass of rosé on the Waterfront. Hotels in Cape Town are boutique and effortlessly chic, the glamorous beaches of Clifton and Camp’s Bay are the perfect place to spend a few days snoozing, Table Mountain provides incredible views and fabulous hiking if you really must, and there are world class restaurants scattered throughout the city (just ask us to book early for you- many of them fill up months in advance).

If you have longer to spare, hire a car (we love whizzing around in a soft-top mini) and head out to the Winelands, where you can ride from vineyard to languorous lunch, or head down to Cape Point to see the utterly adorable penguins.

Tanzania’s Tropical beaches

For something a little more remote and wild, Tanzania’s beaches are incredibly low-profile, but utterly gorgeous.  During our winter temperatures are hovering at a balmy 30 degrees, conditions are perfect for diving and snorkelling and deep-sea fishermen will have a serious challenge on their hands.

Zanzibar’s beaches are the real show stopper, and perfect if you want to combine your beach with island life- exploring the ancient streets of Stone Town, being guided through spice plantations, and cycling through the fishing villages. There are some seriously lovely 5* hotels here, as well as some adorable boutique options, so we can almost always find a perfect option for you somewhere.

For divers and snorkelers there’s really only one choice: Mafia. We probably wouldn’t rate the beaches on Mafia Island as highly as those on Zanzibar, but if you want somewhere utterly unspoilt and charming and impossibly laid back, this is it.  If you want to cut yourself of from a frenetic job and the rest of the world, Mafia is the place to be.  Plus there’s the chance to dive with whale sharks. And if that’s not worth travelling for, we don’t know what is.

Finally, over on Tanzania’s mainland coast, visiting Pangani is like stepping back in time to a Zanzibar of 40 or 50 years ago.  You’re more likely to see a fisherman, pushing his bike along the beach with a cheery wave, than you are to see another tourists. Ladies sing as they wade into the sea to haul in the nets, and dhows potter past, sailing gently by as they have for centuries. Bliss.

Our dirty secret: we think twitching is really rather cool

It took a journey of nearly 2,000 miles before the secret came out. We’d travelled through the Pyrenees, the Atlas Mountains and crossed the Sahara. We’d been impossibly drunk in Marrakech, and crossed a minefield into Mauritania, but we still hadn’t talked about it.  Then, as we were ducking down a back road to the Senegalese border, one of the girls in our vehicle muttered “Actually, I quite like birds…”

Birdwatching safaris in Zambia

Bee Eaters in Zambia (with thanks to our ever-talented friend Katie for the pic)

Somehow being a birdwatcher (or, that rather dodgy-sounding alternative, “twitcher”) still carries a certain stigma. Say you like birds and people assume that while you might be able to wax lyrical about wattled cranes, you probably aren’t all that much fun at parties, and they strongly suspect that you might find it a bit tricky looking members of the opposite sex in the eye. But birds are utterly marvellous.  As we drove through no-man’s land that day, each of the four passengers in our vehicle slowly admitted that twitching was pretty damn cool.

Malachite Kingfisher on a boat safari from Selous Impala Camp

Malachite Kingfisher spotted near Impala Camp in the Selous

The first thing you learn when you go on safari in Africa is that everyday birds aren’t limited to the typical LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) that frequent British back gardens.  Take a boat safari in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve for instance, and you’ll see the bright blue flash of malachite kingfishers diving in and out of the water, and hear the endless call of fish eagles overhead. I was instantly seduced.

Later, in Kenya’s Meru National Park I watched, traumatised, as a Bateleur Eagle swooped down and took a baby dik-dik (a tiny, impossibly sweet antelope). Later, in Kafue in Zambia and South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetlands, I met the African Jacana. Better known as the “Jesus Bird”, the blue-headed Jacana seems to actually walk on water. It skiddle-skaddles across the surface at a remarkable, if comedic, speed- who could fail to be impressed? However, my all-time favourite bird is the black egret, which cunningly tricks fish into thinking its night time and floating close to the surface. Perfect timing for a black egret evening snack, though this spoonbill doesn’t seem too impressed…

So- if you do just one thing on your African safari- take your binos, you might just be surprised…