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Posted on December 3, 2023
Lois tells us of her time in Botswana on the Tuli Safari. This was her first ever safari and she loved every second!
Towards the end of my time in Botswana, the following quote popped into my head. I remember it was on a sign at the riding school I grew up on, and this adventure really made me think about how important it is to get out there and do things while you can:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” – Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967.
The Tuli Safari was a trip of ‘firsts’ for me; my first long-haul trip, my first experience of catching connecting flights, and my first ever safari. And none of it disappointed!
The adventure started on a Friday. The long journey meant I would have to take an overnight flight to ensure I arrived in time to meet the transfer on the Saturday morning. The taxi driver asked where on earth I was going with all my kit, and I excitedly told him, “to Africa! It’s my first safari!”
My first flight from Birmingham was to Frankfurt where I then caught the ‘big’ flight to South Africa. I flew with Lufthansa and I must say I was very impressed. On the long flight I got a big bottle of water, a full evening meal, breakfast, various other drinks, a set of earphones, a pillow and a blanket. However, I do now understand why people pay to upgrade as there wasn’t much space to try and get comfortable for ten plus hours.
Waking up in the air, opening my window blind and seeing my first African sunrise was a moment I’ll never forget.
We landed in good time and I was eager to get off as I had the transfer to catch. But just getting off the plane took 20 minutes (I assume because of the size of the plane) and I anxiously messaged the WhatsApp group to let them know I was nearly there. [The safari operator creates a WhatsApp group for each safari so that everyone arriving can keep in touch and find each other at the airport – a great idea I thought].
The security and baggage collection was very efficient and I was soon following the signs to arrivals. The hall was as described, opening out to a semi circular design with the meeting point on the right. I first spotted a fellow Tuli rider who was wearing the pink jumper that she’d described on our WhatsApp group, and we were soon chatting away.
It took us a few minutes to spot our driver, but once we had, he checked we were on his list and showed us to the minibus. This was just the other side of the Intercontinental Hotel which is right outside the airport doors.
The drive from Johannesburg International Airport to Lanseria Airport took about 45 minutes. At Lanseria there was a small team to help us with our bags and to get through the airport. They handled everything from paperwork, bag security, passport control, meeting our pilot and just reassuring us about what to expect from the flight. We were split into two groups of four to travel in two six-seater planes. These small planes really are a tight squeeze and it was very apparent why the strict luggage restrictions are in place.
We all squeezed in and our knees became well acquainted. The pilot had to wait to get the “all clear” for take off which took some time and so we didn’t take off until around 12:40. The flight was a bizarre feeling; a little like a fairground ride. As we got higher it became quite cold and we all had to put jumpers on. The view was brilliant and the pilot pointed out things of interest and where we were. About an hour in, we started to descend. Then it got very warm very quickly and it became a bit bumpy. I started to feel quite sick and I knew I had to say something to my fellow riders (if nothing other than a warning!). A slightly awkward thing to bring up to people you just met a few hours ago; none the less, they rallied together with brown envelopes, a hand massage and some banana bread, and we touched down at Limpopo Valley Airfield without any dramas.
When we arrived at the airfield we met Tsaone, our Lead Guide for the safari ahead. He helped us through the passport security point and filling in the entry forms before taking us the short drive to the stables.
Kat, the manager, greeted us all and helped us out of the vehicle. We were given a little pouch so we could leave our valuables in the office safe and tags so that we could label our bags clearly for those who would be transporting them between camps. Our first lunch was incredible; huge deep fried dough buns with chilli, chick pea curry, coleslaw, and roasted veg. There was a large range of drinks on offer too (both alcoholic and soft).
As we were eating Kat began going through the initial horse allocations. She gave a great description of the personality of each one and why she thought it would suit us based on the information we sent. We then had our first safety briefing – a clear guide on how the horses are used to being ridden, and making the expectation clear that we must listen to our guides’ instructions at all times. This is a truly wild area and the animals are dangerous.
We were then introduced again to Tsaone and also Festus who would be our Back-Up Guide for the week. It was immediately obvious how experienced they both were and how well they work as a team. Tsaone gave us another briefing on exactly what the plan is when we encounter the different types of game. Elephant and lion are the most dangerous and with both of these the first rule is to be completely silent. Elephant we move away from, which might be at a fast pace. Lion you stand your ground and face them (what?!). This is so we do not appear like prey to be pursued.
We went to meet our horses and all the team came to help us mount. I was on the infamous John Smith – a small Boerperd who had carried Laura Collett (British Olympic Gold Medal winner) when she did the Tuli Safari. He was the most well matched horse I’ve ever been given, and is now proudly ranked in my top three horses of all time (a list I’d never considered prior to meeting John, that’s how perfect he was). Although much smaller than I’d usually go for (around 15hh), he was super smooth and comfy. He knew exactly where his feet were at all times and was doing two time changes as we cantered through the Mopane bushes.
Off we rode and immediately there was game seemingly everywhere: baboons, giraffe, wildebeest, impalas. All of us were so excited and eagerly remembering our briefings.
This safari includes a riding test in which each rider must do a collected canter away from the group, turn and open up the canter, then bring it back and return to the group in a steady and controlled manner. This ensures that each person is fully in control of their horse independently and is safe to take out on safari. If anyone does not pass the test, they are given the option of doing the safari on a push bike (with their own guides), or returning to South Africa.
The Tuli block is in the very south-eastern tip of Botswana and within that area is the Mashatu Game Reserve where the safari takes place. This is the largest privately owned reserve in Botswana. Mashatu means Land of the Giants, which is very fitting given the large herds of elephant, big cats, and mashatu trees that you find here.
The horses were all wonderful. All of us felt we got exactly what we asked for and that our personalities seemed to match. We all fell completely in love with them and there were many tears on the final morning saying goodbye to them. They were all solid, never spooked or silly; true safari horses. The breeds ranged from Friesian crosses, warmbloods, Irish Sports Horses, and Boerperds with a few other crosses thrown in.
From left to right: John Smith, Luna, Art, Satchmo, Gunzo, Monate, Seafood, McGuiness, and Allegr0
Obviously the real highlight of this trip was the game viewing and I have never done anything nearly as exciting. It genuinely felt like an honour seeing the wildlife in the most natural of settings.
The elephants were a real highlight. No matter how many we saw each day, we never wanted to move on.
The Riding was varied, fun and fast in places. The scenery changed more than I expected it with each camp being in quite different terrain. There were a lot of steep ascents and descents of river banks, sandy tracks, rocky terrain, grasslands and the occasional jump. Some of the canters were up to eight minutes long so it is important everyone is fit enough to support their own weight and control their horse for long periods. There were also times were we suddenly had to set off trotting or cantering due a surprise elephant, so you’ve got to be balanced and calm enough to just ‘go with it’… even if you are part way through putting a glove on or having a drink.
Wow. As this was my first safari, it was also my first experience of ‘sundowners’ – the activity of enjoying a drink and some snacks as the sun sets. I’ll let the photos explain…
Views for days
Over the seven nights I stayed at three very different camps in the reserve. These are called Two Mashatus, Treehouse and The Kgotla. Two Mashatus was home for the first, sixth and seventh night, Treehouse for nights two and five, and The Kgotla for nights three and four. All the food was fresh, homemade, hearty and just what was needed. I actually put on weight despite the heat, long days, physical activity and adrenaline. Each day we had breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
At this camp we stayed in safari tents. The camp also has a plunge pool, a central lounge/bar area, campfire, and dining area.
This camp is really spectactular. As a child I’d always wanted a treehouse but was never lucky enough to get one.
Staying in The Kgotla is a really special experience since you sleep in the open air, within the safety of the kgotla fence.
I was lucky enough to trial the Kentucky Bareback Boots on this safari. They are designed to be used in these adventurous settings. They were comfy, supportive, robust and stylish – all I could have wished for. I didn’t have long to break them either and yet I did the full safari in them with no issues what so ever.
The Tuli Safari was truly a once in a lifetime experience for me (you never forget your first time!). I am still in contact with all the group who I shared this week with and we hope to meet up soon.
Game viewing from horseback felt so natural and even though we got closer to the animals in the vehicles, it always felt more special when on the horses – you are part of their surroundings, rather than just being this outside entity that comes and goes.
The Tuli Safari is is an excellent way to experience true wild Africa and to stay at unique camps although it is imperative that you are capable on a horse at speed and are fit enough for the long days in the heat.
If you would like more information, or to reserve your place email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Lois directly on +44 01299 272 240.