Safari with a twist: five unconventional safari experiences

Step out of the jeep and into an adventure. Lucy Jones discovers there's more than one way to take a luxury safari.

Track snow leopards through the Himalayas

With their shaggy white-grey coats and delicate teddy-bear ears, snow leopards look disarmingly sweet, but these are some of the  ercest predators on earth.  ey have adapted to live in incredibly harsh environments – on steep rocky mountains in freezing temperatures – and can leap more than six times their own body length to take down unsus- pecting wild sheep and goats.  ere are just a few thousand snow leopards left in the world, spread across a dozen countries in the foothills of the Hima- layas. In Search of the Snow Leopard, a new expedition from andBeyond in the Indian state of Ladakh, is on the trail.  e journey includes seven nights at Snow Leopard Lodge, from where you will set out each day on foot or in a four-wheel drive accompanied by a local guide to trek through the cold desert in search of these elusive big cats.

13 days from US$5,726 (about A$7,575) per person. andbeyond.com

 

Soar above the Serengeti in a balloon

Get a unique perspective on the world’s most famous national park from the basket of a hot air balloon. Taking off at dawn, the balloon will float gently over migrating herds of wildebeest, lone tusker elephants or lions feasting on a fresh kill.  The flight takes you into remote areas of the park where off-road driving is not permitted, and allows you to appreciate wildlife trails and migration routes that are not perceptible from ground level. The balloon travels with the winds so each journey is different, though animal sightings are virtually guaranteed.

Flight from US$546 (about A$722) per person. balloonsafaris.com

 

Dive with humpbacks off Mozambique

Who says a safari has to be on dry land? Each year from July to October, pods of humpback whales make their way from Antarctica up the east coast of Africa on their way to the warmth of the Indian Ocean for calving season. Mozambique has a front row seat to the migration and is one of the best places in the world to get up close to these giants of the deep. The waters are free of killer whales, the humpbacks’ only predator, so the whales tend to be calm and will take time for underwater acrobatics and powerful breaches. Journeys by Design can create a custom itinerary, staying at a luxurious private-island resort, wilderness lodge or eco camp, and including snorkelling or diving with internationally qualified instructors.

10 nights from US$10,000 (about A$13,234) per person. journeysbydesign.com

 

Explore the Okavango Delta on horseback

It’s one thing to drive beside a herd of zebra, but quite another to ride along with them at a thundering gallop. Horseback safaris present a rare opportunity for humans to feel at one with the animals they are tracking, blending into the everyday life of Botswana’s magnificent Okavango Delta.  e delta doubles in size each year with the annual floods, leaving much of it inaccessible to jeeps. On a horse, you can ride across vast untouched flood plains or through fields of tall grass, perched high above in your saddle. Spot giraffe, elephant, buffalo, antelope and, if you’re lucky, the critically endangered wild dog. You’ll need to be an experienced rider and be prepared to spend up to six hours a day in the saddle, though you can relax each night in a luxury bush camp complete with plunge pool.

Five days from A$3,350 per person. forthandwonder.com.au

 

Take a walk on the wild side in Zambia

The rugged South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is the birthplace of the walking safari and even now, decades later, animals in the park remain unperturbed by the sight of people hiking through their habitat. Groups of up to 70 hippos (known variously as a crash, bloat or herd) can be found wallowing in the shallows of the Luangwa River, and large herds of elephant, zebra and buffalo will be grazing on the plains. Robin Pope Safaris is one of the original operators in the region and has been taking walking safaris for almost 30 years. There’s around 10 kilometres of walking each day, across landscapes that vary from dry grassland to shallow river crossings. Groups are escorted by a guide who carries a gun for safety (though it is almost never used). A mobile pop-up camp follows the group with spacious tents, comfortable beds, showers and good-quality meals.

Nine nights from US$6,611 (about A$8,750) per person. robinpopesafaris.net

 

Groups of up to 70 hippos (known variously as a crash, bloat or herd) can be found wallowing in the shallows of the Luangwa River, and large herds of elephant, zebra and buffalo will be grazing on the plains.

 

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Weather to go

 

The numerous regions of Africa experience a great range of weather conditions. Temperatures are highest in the desert areas, particularly in the Sahara where annual rainfall is low. Alternately, the tropical rainforests in the centre of the continent experience high rainfall, with a humid, sub-tropical characteristic of the southwest. The savannahs experience distinct wet and dry seasons which means safaris should be planned during the dry season so as to avoid floods, mudslides and downpours. 

 

 

 

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