Get ready, Noosa. The world’s best African Safari outfitter, Leora Rothschild, is bringing her class act our way. This week, Travel + Leisure announced Rothschild Safaris as the number one safari company in the world for the second year running. The magazine’s World’s Best Awards, a benchmark in travel excellence, tallies public votes annually to reveal the hotels, destinations and companies that define the very best in travel. Rothschild Safaris, comprising a powerhouse team of just 6 women at a Denver, Colorado, headquarters, responded to the thrilling news with tears, followed by glasses of champagne. Leora Rothschild, Director and founder, is my sister and she’s decided to expand her reach by personally setting up an office in Noosa. She arrives later this year, with oodles of passion for the African continent and the intention of broadening her niche operation, offering Australians the opportunity to plan the trip of a lifetime to Africa.
“Let an African show you Africa,” the Rothschild Safaris website allures. Leora grew up in South Africa and likes to oversee every booking made for the magical continent she adores, and delights in sharing with the world. She is aware that for some people it is a first time experience and she wants it to be unrivalled. “We spend time with you understanding how you personally wish to experience Africa…We firmly believe there is not one African safari that fits all.“ Leora and her team take annual trips to inspect lodges and wildlife concentrations, making sure no detail is neglected in tailor-making the perfect package.
I have had the privilege of accompanying Leora on 2 weeks of fact-finding in Botswana, so allow me to give you a little taster. The two of us were also catching up on years spent mostly apart, living in different towns and then countries. Together we tracked and illuminated the best of Botswana in stunning succession, but the real scoop was sharing sister time.
Fifteen remarkable safari lodges later I was swooning, love-struck, breathless, at this country’s roadless, pristine wilderness of open savannas, waterways and incredible wildlife. No less notable are the people pushing to preserve the vulnerable natural wonderland and the guides presenting their country with passion and knowledge. Lonely Planet places Botswana third in the world’s top 10 places to see wildlife, (behind Belize and Bolivia, and ahead of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), and with about 35% of the country designated as protected areas, you are destined to see big game. Now, an African safari here has to rate as top of list for a travel experience you should have in your lifetime! Let me tell you how the safari experience wondrously gathers momentum. Your first sleepy, early morning game drive quickly expands into an unpredicted yearning to seek out wildlife from morning till late. I found myself part of a collective endeavour where you zealously discuss every wildlife encounter with fellow safari-goers and quench a seductive thirst for nature with each day’s sightings.
My sister and I were on a tandem ride and our magnificent landscape was a catalyst for deep acquaintance. The guides soon grasped our sisterly quest and joined in our story-sharing. They were our African brothers, adding dimension, aiding and abetting much laughter. We blazed a trail of pure happiness.
There was utter elation when Legadema, the most photographed leopard in Africa, made an appearance close to the baobab wherein she nurtures her own two cubs. The next day she enthralled us with a safari highlight: she stalked and killed an impala Legadema, was intimately documented from birth for three years by award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverley Joubert in a gripping tale of survival, and is the subject of their 2009 book, Eye of the Leopard. The husband and wife team are Botswana’s wildlife warriors and I felt the privilege of their presence here and later at their co-owned Zarafa camp.
At Shinde, on a lush palm-dotted island, we took to the tranquil water on a mokoro (dug-out canoe) after my sister insisted our guide first check it for spiders and got assurance that we would not surprise any submerged hippos! Here, the mokoro is also used for romantic proposals with ensuing private candlelit dinner and celebration.
Sometimes we had a session in an outdoor gym followed by a deliciously cool swim.
We both love the good life and it was laid on with lashings of luxurious moments. I inhaled her energy and exhaled joy. We slept in exquisite rooms with signatory outdoor bathrooms and always the night sounds of wildlife The sun sets on the sublime
At each star-bathed bush dinner, we conversed with nature-bound souls from distant lands, ending around a pit fire coddling a nightcap, revelling in legendary wildlife encounters which take on a life of their own . At Abu Camp I had an intimate encounter with the African elephant which up until now had firmly trumpeted its warning on game drives. Enter a unique herd, each with its own personal history, conditioned to interact with guests. The initiative began in the 90s by one-time circus elephant trainer and iconic wildlife biologist, Randall Moore, who upon leaving the circus was determined to return displaced African elephants to the wild. His dream was fulfilled here at Abu where he pioneered elephant-back safaris in Africa. Today the operation is lead by Brett Mitchell of Wild Horizons where strong ethics dictate in handling the herd. The elephants now have the option of re-entering the wild if they show the tendency. And so I found myself atop Cathy, swaying gently, touching her hide, feeling the fan of her giant ears as she swaggered through the bush. An hour later back at the boma, I was hand-feeding her, revelling in the unique connection just made.
A jewel in the wilderness, Zarafa Camp, is located beside the Zibadianja Lagoon and source of the Savute Channel, co-owned by Dereck and Beverley Joubert and Botswana President, Ian Khama. A maximum of 8 people are accommodated in luxury spacious tents which evoke a sense of old-style safari and Beverley’s decorating touch astounds. My mandatory outdoor showers came to a halt when I spied the copper bath. Dinner was an opulent yet intimate affair at a large dining table, joined by our charming guides. Actor, Susan Sarandon has graced this very table, as has Australian singing legend, John Farnham. But first a mandatory Amarula on the rocks. It’s pure free flow from here on and the only punctuation is a lone hippo grunting nearby, reminding me where I am. The next day we took a short drive across to the fabulous Selinda Camp and en route we spotted a pride of lions, a leopard and a journey of giraffes. Later it’s a dazzle of zebras. Tubu Tree Camp and Shinde Camp are definitive bush tree houses where nature exudes its presence. A traditional bush dinner at Tubu with managers, Dan and Charmaine Myburg and their staff, was a delight. We had a traditional African dinner in the boma and staying true to tradition eat with our hands. Our Botswana odyssey ended with a night under the stars camping with Under Canvas, which humbled me completely. We were driven to remote bushland where a sumptuous mobile tent had been erected, battery lamps shimmering. I took a warm bucket shower in the cutest little adjoining “bathroom” and marvelled at the sight of a flush toilet. A glowing campfire surrounded by chairs beckoned. Dinner was cooked over open flame, including freshly baked bread. Again our charismatic guides joined in and we hooted with laughter into the night sky at Robson’s tale of his first night camping in terror when lions traversed through the camp. My sister did warn me. “A trip like this is life-changing”. Someone also quoted Beverley Joubert: “If no-one goes on safaris we are cutting Africa’s revenue in half”. That should make anyone feel undeniably good about going on a safari holiday. So, is it really life-changing? Let me tell you, arriving at each destination will feel like the warmest home-coming. You will feel changed in that you will love this wondrous life more than ever, it’s people, this planet. You will feel more grateful than ever and in touch with yourself. You will have traversed in great style perhaps, but Africa, birthplace of humanity, place of much poverty and suffering, home to the planet’s most extraordinary yet threatened wildlife will also have gained something.
I am so proud of my sister’s achievements. Till we meet again then, little sis. Big love. See you in Noosa!
Mombo Camp’s Honey and Mustard Dressing
1 cup of mustard of choice
500ml white wine vinegar
500 ml honey
Combine ingredients in a bottle and shake well until combined. Decant into a dish of choice and serve with salads.