My blessings are twofold. Not only do I live in South Africa, just a short hop away from the world’s greatest game reserves but I have a job that compels me to go and see them. My latest directive was to nip off to Mashatu in Botswana.
A thirty second gander on Mashatu Main Camp’s TripAdvisor page quickly shook off my jaded traveller cobwebs but I try to keep an open mind. Five star ratings and nothing but effusive praise can set a place up for a fall, so I shut down the page and wiped my mind clear of preconceptions.
Mashatu is in the Tuli Block (or enclave) of Botswana, the cleft between the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana share borders. This large conservation area has a diverse landscape positively heaving with wildlife, particularly elephant. Indeed, Mashatu is sanctuary to the largest elephant population on a private game reserve in Africa.
Mashatu, meaning ‘land of the giants’, is home to large herds of elephant, the world’s tallest mammal (the giraffe), the world’s largest antelope (the eland), the world’s largest bird (the ostrich) and the world’s heaviest flying bird (the kori bustard), as well as lots of baobab trees!
Because we had our son with us, we chose to stay at the child friendly Mashatu Main Camp and I immediately knew that this would live up to its much heralded billing. Beautifully renovated chalets provide plenty of space in which to luxuriate; a verb I use to describe my particular indulgence which is to lie about musing on how utterly marvelous life can actually be on this rather special continent. All rooms have space for two extra beds for those with children.
The camp has a children’s programme, which we did not partake in. Whilst I cannot comment directly I can say that is packed with fun and educational activities that make for a lifetime of memories. This sounds quite appealing for those who are happy to see their children fleetingly whilst they relaxing themselves. That said, our son had plenty to amuse himself with within the camp with its large pool and plenty of fenced space to him to safely gambol around in.
Although relentless bush activity is not my thing (you may pick up a thread here) for those who can’t sit still there is plenty to do. Should you, like me, wish to dispatch an antsy other half whilst indulging in some top level sedentary luxuriating, there are mountain bike safaris (and yes, you get to wear that very fetching lycra and silly hat), Horse Safaris ‘good going with natural ditches and logs to jump gives an exhilarating ride’, it says. I think I would rather go for the lycra… Or Walking Safaris – which sound mercifully saddle-free. The half day walking trail was more my speed and offers a different aspect to game viewing; focusing on the smaller things that can go overlooked, like plants, insects and some of the smaller creatures that might be less imposing looking than the big animals but are no less wondrous to behold.
The game viewing Mashatu is outstanding and offers a unique little innovation that I really appreciated: The tracker actually sits in the vehicle with you which means that he is able to answer any questions that you might have whilst the ranger is driving. In my opinion this is a very good use of the tracker as they have so much knowledge and one otherwise seldom gets to converse with them.
Speaking of unique, without a doubt the highlight of the game viewing is the underground hide which has been sunk into the ground right next to a waterhole. This puts game viewers breathtakingly close to the animals at a worm’s eye level. Sitting quietly, watching all the animals and birds slurping away at their local is quite magical. The serenity is resoundingly shattered when the elephants arrive. Having snuck up quietly they announce their arrival with a great rumpus of noise and activity. From this angle, one can get a completely new perspective and some remarkable photograph. And no lycra or saddle required!