Southern Africa — the benefits of visiting in the wet season


Nili Olay (right) and her husband, Jerry Vetowich, take a mokoro excursion.

by Nili Olay, New York, NY

My husband, Jerry, and I live in New York City. As much as we love the city, we do like to get to a warm climate for a while each winter. Southern Africa seemed a logical choice until I started to read the guidebooks. They all warned that during the wet season the animals are hard to see. Also, the words “wet season” were discouraging. Did I really want a lot of rain on my trip?

I decided to go ahead and at least research a possible trip —- if nothing else, we could always use the information at a different time of year. I read all the articles that I found in the last 20 or so issues of ITN, then contacted six tour companies that advertised in the magazine. They all responded with brochures, but Leora Rothschild of Rothschild Safaris went beyond sending a brochure; she called me to find out what in particular I had in mind. By the end of our conversation, I knew that I wanted to go to Southern Africa that winter and use Leora as the tour operator.

A sound decision

Nili on the dunes in Namibia.

Leora suggested that we include Cape Town in our itinerary (we decided on five nights there) since this was the best time of year to visit that city. As for game viewing, she assured me that we would definitely see animals but not the huge herds we would see in the dry season.

The weather should be warm and the rain only intermittent, and I would be in a new part of the world: all this seemed enough incentive to go ahead and book the trip from Feb. 15 to March 12, 2004.

I want readers to know that our trip wasn’t just a good winter getaway; it was a fantastic trip. Not having been in Southern Africa in the dry season, I cannot compare, but I feel sure that some of our delightful experiences were unique to the “wet season.” (I use quotes around “wet season” since we actually had very little rain.)

The trip so surpassed my expectations that I shudder to think that the guidebooks almost dissuaded me from going in February/March. Many of our wonderful experiences would not have been possible in August or September.

Cape Town

Baboon and baby spotted on safari.

We started the trip in Cape Town at the Cape Grace hotel. The weather was wonderful, just as Leora had promised. All four days were sunny, with temperatures in the upper 70s and lower 80s.

We had two days on our own, taking a “topless” bus tour (where you can jump on and off the bus) and stopping at the Jewish Museum and Camps Bay on the first day and walking the streets of the city on the next.

We had a private tour of the wine country and a 6-person excursion to the Cape of Good Hope.

In addition to Cape Town, we visited eight safari camps that ranged from dry desert to semidesert and wetlands. Three camps were in Namibia (Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp, Damaraland Camp and Ongava Tented Camp) and three were in Botswana (Sandibe Safari Lodge, Nxabega Okavango Safari Camp and Chobe Chilwero Lodge), plus The River Club in Zambia and Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.

Namibia

Sunset at Nxabega Okavango Safari Camp, Botswana.

February was a wonderful time to be in Sossusvlei and Damaraland because the plants were all starting to bloom and green up. The other attractions in the area plus the desert views and dunes were just as available.

This part of Namibia is not game rich, but we still saw numerous birds, springboks, oryx, steenboks, jackals, yellow mongooses and white squirrels. The only disappointment was that the elephants in Damaraland had moved off.

Ongava, on the border of Etosha National Park, was quieter at this time than in the dry season, according to our guide. The guides had to work harder to find the game in the tall grass and tree cover. However, we saw incredible game, including lions, white rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras, waterbucks, greater kudus, ostriches and many other birds.

Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Cape buffaloes near Makalolo Plains, Zimbabwe.

In Botswana’s camps we saw many of the same game, but added to the list were elephants, 2-month-old lion cubs, leopards, hippos, crocodiles, tsessebes, warthogs, baboons, duikers, red lechwes, vervet monkeys, wild dogs, wild cats and wildebeests.

The floods from Angola came early, so at Nxabega we could actually watch the Okavango Delta fill with water. The high water level allowed us to take a mokoro (dugout) excursion. This experience might not have been available in the dry season.

At The River Club in Zambia, we had a profusion of flowers to enjoy. Victoria Falls were extremely powerful at this time of year after the recent rains. They were beautiful beyond description.

At Makalolo in Zimbabwe, we added buffalo, sable antelopes, bush babies, spring hares and a couple of days-old zebra babies to our list. Here the flowers were just incredible, especially the hibiscus, which were at least as tall as me.

By the end of the last day at Makalolo I had seen 121 different birds in the different camps.

The right time to go

Nili and Jerry at Sandibe Safari Lodge in Botswana.

I feel that we were in Southern Africa at a very special time of year. There were lots of animal babies. The game drives were enhanced by the beauty of flowering trees and many types of grasses, which were lovely with the morning dew on them. We saw magnificent sunsets and sunrises, made especially beautiful because they reflected off the many ponds and water holes.

As for the “wet season,” we had rain on only four days and that rain was intermittent. Most days were absolutely clear, with comfortable, warm (but not hot) temperatures. Maybe we were just lucky.

We were told many times during the trip that we must come back in the dry season to see how different it is at that time of year. We would love to go back to Southern Africa in another season, but for now we are so glad we followed our instincts and had this fabulous trip.

Price, excluding international flights, was $9,615 per person.

For more information, contact Leora Rothschild at Rothschild Safaris, 1685 S. Colorado Blvd. #197, Denver, CO 80222; phone 800/405-9463, 303/756-2525, e-mail info@rothschild safaris.com or visit www.rothschildsafaris.com.