The Best of Both Worlds – Tuli Wilderness, Botswana.
There’s roughing it, and then there’s roughing it. Villiers and I are no strangers to the tiny dome tent on uneven ground, the bucket shower (or sometimes just the bucket), or the long drop – we spend so much of the year like this that a soft bed and a flush toilet are sometimes a shock to the system! We don’t do it for the inconvenience, we do it for the thrill of absolute immersion into the wild. Even so, we understand why this lifestyle doesn’t appeal to everyone, and are perfectly aware that these conditions are well beyond the line of comfort and convenience that many travellers are unwilling to cross.
That’s not to say that these people don’t crave the same wilderness experience, however, and the good news is that, with a little compromise, there are places out there that make it possible to combine the best of Africa’s wilderness with a unique brand of African comfort and hospitality.
The Tuli Block in the south-eastern tip of Botswana is as wild as Africa comes. Elephants roam through this dusty landscape freely from neighbouring Zimbabwe all the way through to Namibia, but hang around long enough to give the Tuli a reputation for being one of the best places on the continent to see wild African elephants. The region, though semi-arid, is also home to numerous birds, a feast of antelope, and the healthy population of predators that pursue them, making the Tuli Block one of the most bountiful and beautiful wildlife areas in Botswana.
Tuli Wilderness in the north-eastern corner of the Tuli Block is one such place where this incredible wilderness collides with comfort in the most unique and extraordinary manner. Tailor-made trails see visitors sleeping under the stars, in remote yet comfortable canvas tents beneath enormous Mashatu trees, or in permanent luxurious safari tents beside the Limpopo River in between days walking in the footsteps of Tuli’s elephants or tracking hyenas and honey badgers through the soft, talc-like sands so typical of the region. Game drives are an option, but most prefer to trek across the landscape with owner-manager Stuart Quinn as he reads the veld like the morning paper.
Evening sundowners overlooking the landscape from the top of Eagle Rock, with the resident pair of Verreaux’s eagles checking you out from the sky and curious, colourful flat lizards poking their heads out from between the rocks, are a favourite for those who don’t mind the mild climb. There’s no skimping on comfort, and even in those remote camps under the trees visitors can expect a hot shower at the end of the day, a comfortable bed every night, and more than enough hearty food to see you through those long hours on your feet.
Though we thoroughly enjoy our time in the wild with nothing but our dome tent and a bucket shower, it’s good to know that places like Tuli Wilderness can cater for those times when we crave a touch of luxury in our wilder African adventures.
The Tuli Block with its sandstone outcrops and large rivers is incredibly scenic, so a wide-angle lens is a must in this landscape. Having said that, there’s more than enough wildlife to photograph, so leaving your telephoto lens(es) at home is not a good idea. Eagle Rock must be one of the best places in Southern Africa from which to photograph Verreaux’s eagles in flight, but since it’s quite the climb to get to the top, I suggest you bring a lighter zoom lens (like Canon’s 100-400 mm lens) instead of a heavy prime lens (such as a 500 mm F4).
At the end of the day the biggest challenge is going to be deciding which lenses to carry around with you when you hike. If you don’t worry too much about taking creative or super high quality photos, bring a compact or bridge camera with. You’ll focus less on the weight of your gear and more on the breathtaking surroundings…
If I want to go:
Where: From Johannesburg (South Africa) by car: Via Polokwane, Vivo, Alldays and ultimately Pont Drift or Platjan border posts (6 – 7 hours). It is best to confirm with Tuli Wilderness which border post to use, since some border posts close due to periodical flooding of the Limpopo River. Pickups at the border can be arranged. For complete directions visit www.tulitrails.com and click on ‘Where are we?’.
Vehicle entry: Approximately P200 (Botswana Pula) but is also payable in South African Rands. Vehicle licence and paperwork is essential.
When: Trails can be organised all year round but the drier months (April to September) are the best time for walking, being mild and comfortable, with daytime temperatures averaging 20 – 30 degrees Celsius. The best time for tracking (the driest time of year) is from June to October. October to March can become incredibly hot and temperatures may soar to 46 degrees Celsius at times.
Visas: Tourists do not require a visa when visiting Botswana. However, a valid passport with at least six months left before expiry and two empty pages is required.