Memorable travel moments: African elephants

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.” Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life

One of the most exciting wildlife encounters I had was in Botswana, when a herd of about 100 elephants surrounded our safari truck.

I know, it sounds unbelievable; but we came across this herd just as they were coming in from bathing (and playing) in the Chobe River. The safest course of action was to stop the vehicle, turn off the engine, and just wait until they were gone. So we sat inside the truck, whispering excitedly as the entire herd came within a few metres of us.

The bull elephant, in the photo above, stopped right beside the truck and turned back, as if to look at us inside the vehicle. The silence was deafening.

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African sunsets

Matopos Hills, Zimbabwe

Matopos Hills, Zimbabwe

As the sun drops lower in the sky, I gaze out the window of the overland truck, trying to commit everything to memory. It’s my second-last day in Africa and I really don’t want this moment to end. Nor do I want my travels in Africa to be over.

The landscape surrounding us is mostly rural; cornfields stretch to the horizon, there’s a spattering of acacia trees and a couple of ramshackle huts. It’s not a particularly remarkable sight…

…but, there’s this golden light slowly working its magic… transforming that mundane scene into something truly breathtaking… changing its hue, getting progressively darker. It’s another masterpiece by nature.

Of course, sunsets and sunrises are always beautiful, no matter where they occur. But, what can I say, photographers notice the light and, for me, Africa owns the world’s best sunsets!

Here are some of my favourite photographs.

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The Jewel of the Kalahari

In the middle of Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, there’s a vast wetland. It’s called the Okavango Delta, and it’s the largest inland delta in the world – over 16,000 square kilometres during the wet season. Its source is the seasonal flooding from the highlands of Angola. The water travels via the Okavango River before spilling into the desert sands, creating a maze of lagoons, islands and swamps. Known as the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’, it’s a paradise for wildlife.

Travelling in a dugout canoe, called a mokoros, we glide across lily-covered waters and past palm-lined islands. Although wildlife is scarce in the midday heat, I spot an African fish eagle perched on a tree, and zebras meandering close to the shoreline. I dangle my hands in the cool waters as we ply along, but quickly withdraw them as our guide nonchalantly reminds me of crocodiles. Almost on cue a hippopotamus emerges fifty metres ahead of our mokoros.

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Botswana’s elephants

Botswana is home to more than 120,000 elephants. It’s the largest population of elephants in the world, with the vast majority of them in Chobe National Park. Seeing these incredible creatures in the wild was truly magical and this is my recap of an unforgettable day in Chobe.

It is early morning and I’m sitting in a roof seat above the truck’s cabin – a great spot with 360-degree views. Immediately, I begin to see herds of zebra and wildebeest, and giraffe reaching into the treetops to feed. At first, the elephants are elusive, but we see hippos, crocodiles, warthogs and baboons. We even spot a pack of African wild dogs, which is a rare sight, as they are one of Africa’s most endangered animals. It’s not until the afternoon that we find a herd of elephants at river’s edge, gradually making their way out into the water to bathe and splash.

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