Many people underestimate the quality of a safari experience during southern Africa’s summer season. The months between October and March (especially December and January) are normally associated with sunny summer days on the beach, but within the Wilderness Safaris regions a lot more is on offer than most people realise. The following 10 highlights, I believe, are reason enough to plan your next journey with Wilderness Safaris during the summer season.
The youngsters are making their appearance… There is an explosion of new life with many species giving birth to their young during the summer season. This makes for excellent photographic opportunities as the animals with young make for an entertaining time to photograph and to observe the comical and endearing antics of young learning to face life for the first time.
Easy prey… With the birth of many antelope species between November and December, many predators like lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog will take full advantage of the abundance of inexperienced younger prey. Sightings of predators on the hunt are more frequent during the summer season than one would expect compared to the other seasons.
Birds of another feather… The summer season is the best for birding. The return of migratory birds to our regions adds colour and sound with some bird species displaying spectacular breeding plumage. Bird species returning to certain areas include vibrant kingfishers, vocal cuckoos and colourful bee-eaters. Hwange National Park provides sightings of grey-crowned cranes with special species on the Zambezi River including Pel’s fishing-owl, red-necked falcon, African finfoot, half-collared kingfisher and the African emerald cuckoo.
Some quiet times… With fewer people traveling to the wildlife areas, guests have a more personal experience. It’s not only our camps, but public areas like Sossusvlei and Victoria Falls which receive fewer tourists at this time of year – affording a far more intimate experience of these iconic phenomena.
Pleasing conditions for activities… The summer mornings are perfect for early morning and late afternoon/evening game drives and other activities. No need to pack your gloves, beanies and snow jackets. The warmer temperatures in many of our regions allow for extremely pleasant star gazing too.
More daylight, more things to do… Due to the longer daylight hours guests are able to start earlier with their activities in the morning allowing more time to experience the facilities at the camps. There is also more time for siesta or to finish that book you have been struggling with for the last year. You may also be able to release some stress at our spas or get rid of a few pounds from enjoying the camps’ great food at the gyms (at selected camps).
Half empty or half full… The water levels in the different regions offer a unique summer experience. The increased water levels in the Kunene and Zambezi Rivers provide the best time for boating trips and to see a diversity of water-dependent birds. The higher water level in the Zambezi makes the Victoria Falls a spectacular sight of sheer magnificence and power with its immense cloud of spray. When crossing Knife’s-Edge Bridge to view the Falls guests get a free “baptism” of fine spray and some refreshment on the warmer days…
On the other hand, the receding floodwaters in the Okavango Delta allow visitors to explore more islands and plains either on foot or in a safari vehicle. The lower water levels reveal more open areas for the grazing species. Camps with access to permanent shallow floodplains and channels still continue to offer water experiences such as mokoro and boating activities.
Kaleidoscope of colours The Kalahari is normally an arid area with wide-open vistas but once the rains fall the desert is entirely transformed into several hues of green with fields of wild flowers bursting out of the ground, taking advantage of the limited moisture on offer. - An emerald green Kalahari by Fanie Mpiping
Many regions in Namibia become gloriously productive with vibrant floral displays while seemingly barren ephemeral rivers briefly flow. Bright and vibrant colours combined with healthier, more energetic animals and babies equal unrivalled photographic opportunities. - A Glittering Transformation by Russel Friedman
Better rates… Experiencing most of our camps with their amazing wild- and birdlife is more affordable with lower rates during the summer season.
Unique wildlife… The Kalahari offers some of the best cheetah viewing in southern Africa, often with cubs at this time, and is famous for its immense black-maned male lions and their prides of females. Unique mammal species such as honey badger, reclusive brown hyaena, porcupine, bat-eared and Cape fox and even leopard are present year-round.
In other areas in Botswana, the birthing of multiple antelope species and zebra makes for interesting predator-prey interactions. Certain predator species such as spotted hyaena can also den and breed at this time of year. Due to the flowing Savute Channel, the famed elephant population that historically dispersed in the summer months now stay in the Linyanti, albeit in smaller family herds.
Summer rainfall in Hwange brings the plains to life with local populations of grazers in particular concentrating where the grass shoots are best – often many of these species can be seen within one view. The Ngamo Plains practically guarantees concentrations of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, impala, kudu and even herds of eland ranging from 20 or 30 animals to over 100. More reclusive species like roan and sable are often drawn to the more open areas in summer. Even gemsbok (remarkably rare this far west) and reedbuck (more adapted to moist savannah) are seen at times.
Abundant wildlife is seen in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park (Livingstone) in summer – especially in the early mornings. Elephant and buffalo come down to the Zambezi River to drink and can even be seen from the decks of Toka Leya Camp.
The web of ephemeral riverine systems in Namibia can remain dry for years (although flowing underground year round, creating linear oases). In late summer (February-March) however, sporadic rains in the higher-lying catchment areas can turn these sandy beds into a brief rage of life-giving water. Game species such as the rare desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, oryx, giraffe and kudu concentrate along these river systems and natural springs. Enticed by these herbivores, predators follow, and lion and cheetah can sometimes be seen.
I would suggest that you return that surf board and beach umbrella to the attic, dust off your camera and binoculars, grab your safari hat and book the first possible flight for an unforgettable Summer Season safari experience.
Photos by Dana Allen, David Luck, Mary-Anne van der Byl, Martin Benadie and Liz Hart
Carel is the digital manager at Wilderness Safaris. Even though he spends most of his time in the office he believes “a bad day in the bush is much better than a great day in the office”. With a B.Comm in Tourism Management and extensive experience working for a small tour operator in South Africa, his interest in website development and optimisation led him to his current venture within Wilderness Safaris. Over the years he has visited a number of destinations within southern Africa, allowing him to express his love for Africa’s natural beauty, bird- and wildlife through his interest in photography.