African Love Affair

African Safari holidayGETTY

A safari holiday brings out an entirely new world of experience

No, we weren’t intruding on the picnic of fellow safari-goers, but silently observing some of the most impressive creatures on the planet.

We were gazing at two African elephants – so-called not just because they are in Africa, but also because their ears are a similar shape to the continent itself – who were casually going about their business.

On the river banks ahead were at least seven or eight more, a mix of males and females, babies and young adults.

Some were sticking their trunks into the shallows, sucking up muddy water to spray on their backs to cool themselves, while others picked at leaves from acacia trees, or had adorable play-fights.

Walking past our boat, close enough to touch, the mother blinked eyes lined with lashes so long they looked fake.

Encounters like these are so primal and emotional, it’s no wonder romance cast its spell over Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when he took her to Botswana on what was only their third date.

My safari group was in the middle of Chobe National Park – the third biggest in Botswana – situated in the northeast of the country.

Botswana is neighbours with three countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, whose outline we could see just across the floodplain from where our simple but comfortable camp, the Ngoma Safari Lodge, was situated.

Chobe National ParkGETTY

A boat on the lakes of Chobe National Park

With only eight little huts, all spread out and looking over the plain, it felt gloriously isolated; the floaty mosquito nets draped over the bed and the outdoor shower giving it a wonderful, Out Of Africa feel.

I visited during ‘high water’ season, when the rains from January and February have left rivers full to bursting and the floodplain saturated, but in dry season (May to October), our guide Bevan told us, you could, theoretically, walk the 500 metres or so across to Namibia (where it’s rumoured the royal couple will honeymoon).

Prince Harry first visited Botswana in 1997, shortly after the death of his mother, Princess Diana; it was the start of a lifelong love affair with the country, which he calls his ‘second home’ and which has spawned a passion for African conservation projects.

It was from Botswana that he also sourced the centre diamond in Meghan’s engagement ring. After spending three days here, I could see why he considers it so special.

Within Chobe National Park there are hundreds of different indigenous species, from beautiful birdlife to four-legged fauna.

On one of several game drives, we regularly caught flashes of electric blue as lilac-breasted rollers or kingfishers took to the skies.

But the four-legged creatures elicited the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’; elegant zebra, trotting slowly through the bush, accompanied by stumpy-legged hairy little warthogs; lumbering giraffes, their uneven gait taking them from tree to tree; glossy-coated impala, the females twitching their shiny black Bambi noses in the air; or hulking buffalo, their hook-shaped horns sitting on top of their heads, attached by a mass of bone that looks like a barrister’s wig.

We played spot the hippo, looking through the reeds in the water as we drove past to see if we could identify their cute little ears twitching in the sunlight as they came up for air. However, it was the sunsets that made the greatest impression.

People say that African skies are huge – and they are; you can gaze for miles and only see the horizon, with nothing to obstruct your view.

And when the sun slowly starts to sink, it turns the sky blazing orange, then lilac, then purple, until everything goes an inky, velvety black, and the stars start twinkling in the cloudless sky.

With sights this beautiful, it’s no wonder Meghan fell for her Prince Charming.

Meghan and Harry AfricaGETTY

Royal couple Meghan and Harry fell in love with Africa, and it is clear why

Top 10 things to do on your African safari

1 Hitch a ride on a mokoro canoe, used by local fishermen; they pilot them standing up, using a long stick, like a Cambridge punt.

2 Tick off the ‘big five’ on game drives: lions, cheetahs, elephants, buffalo and rhinos can all be found in Chobe National Park.

3 Try a typical dish of pap, a polenta-like porridge made from maize, which accompanies most meals.

4 Do a night-time game drive, when you’ll be more likely to spot nocturnal creatures such as hyenas, genets (a cat-like animal) and even leopards.

5 End any meal with the African liqueur Amarula; made from the yellow marula fruit, it tastes like a creamier Baileys.

6 Start the day with a bowl of madila, a sour, cultured milk that’s a bit like yoghurt.

7 If you visit a local village, take home a craft souvenir, such as carved wooden bowls, spoons or salad servers.

8 Channel an I’m A Celebrity campmate and try local delicacy the Mopane worm. Eaten baked or grilled, they taste like pork scratchings (honest!).

9 Just two hours’ drive away, in Zimbabwe, are the Victoria Falls. Walk alongside them and get drenched, or fly over them in a helicopter.

10 Sample one of the most popular nights out in Victoria Falls town – a dancing and drumming show at The Boma (the boma.co.zw).

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