Ampersand’s 7 Natural Wonders of Southern Africa
Victoria Falls is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World, and rightly so. But Southern Africa has a host of other stunning natural phenomenon that should be on the bucket list of all nature lovers. Here are Ampersand's top 7 picks...
Let’s look at Africa’s crowning glory, Victoria Falls, in more detail. You can experience this natural wonder from either the Zimbabwean or Zambian side of the Falls, but whichever side you choose, this awe-inspiring sight will leave an indelible impression: imagine a vast sheet of water thundering over a clifftop, white water churning the river below, and all around mist soaking the surrounding foliage. This is nature at its most powerful. Vic Falls is the place to try adrenaline sports such as white water rafting, bungee jumping or taking a microlight or helicopter flight, but equally is a great place to kick back and enjoy the tranquility of the Zambezi. One of the finest colonial hotels in Africa is the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, where you can gaze out over the mighty Falls a short distance away whilst taking High Tea on the hotel’s grand terrace.
For soul-searching adventurers, nowhere beats Sossusvlei in Namibia. Those who visit Sossusvlei’s sand dunes find its rich colours and poetic stillness will stay with them forever. The experience of being in this other-worldly landscape is utterly surreal: undulating burnt-orange dunes rise up from the chalky ground with only stark trees for contrast and the occasional desert-adapted animal wandering into view. Take the experience one step further by climbing the largest sand dune in the world at sunrise or by gazing down at it on a thrilling helicopter ride. The iconic Dune 45 is the star of the show and the most photographed dune on the planet. Its name is derived from being 45kms from Sesrium gate. Other activities here include exploring the area in open 4x4 safari vehicles to track desert-adapted elephant or enjoying fascinating nature walks – if you are feeling adventurous, try out the exhilarating quad-biking across the endless dunes. Stay at the supremely elegant Wolwedans Dune Camp, which accommodates just 12 guests in light and airy safari tents.
One of the most astonishing things about Africa is the sheer diversity on offer. We’ve mentioned those red dunes and show-stopper Vic Falls, and next up is Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique where you’ll come across picture-perfect tropical islands. We’re talking powder soft white-sand beaches, gin-clear turquoise waters and moonlit dhow trips. These magnificent reefs provide some of the best snorkelling and scuba diving on Earth. There are good flight connections with Johannesburg so Mozambique works perfectly as a beach break post-safari, but it is a sublime stand-alone destination for those wishing to escape for a week of pure unblemished nature. Stay at the dreamy Azura Benguerra for barefoot luxury, freshly prepared seafood and deserted white beaches. This secluded eco-chic resort offers sunset dhow cruises, snorkelling, scuba diving and horse riding along the beach.
Hermanus, on the lush Garden Route, should be a stop on any nature-lover’s itinerary. This area is famous for its wild, white-powder beaches and its abundant marine life. The quaint coastal town of Hermanus offers whale-lovers the unique opportunity to observe these huge mammals from the beach or cliff at Walker Bay. The whales come here in their hundreds on their annual migration between August and November and visitors can view the impressive creatures at close range as they breach and thrash in the water. There are also fantastic dolphin watching opportunities. Treat yourself to luxurious beach pad Birkenhead House over Walker Bay – book a sea view suite and admire the incredible Indian Ocean framed in its vast windows. Or at luxury eco-paradise, Grootbos, the whole family can go horse riding along the beach or go on treasure hunts through the ancient milkwood forests. Other than its wild beauty, Hermanus is known for its artisanal food and its access to the Hemel-en-Aarde wine route, specialising in cool climate Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
Botswana is a brilliant diamond in the crown of the safari world and at its heart lies the Okavango Delta: a real life Garden of Eden, brimming with natural diversity. The utter beauty of the Okavango is complemented by the high concentration of wildlife located in its vicinity. This unique ecosystem is home to a huge and diverse number of animals and birdlife, including many endangered species (it has largest population of wild dog in Africa). Here you can glide through the Okavango Delta in a ‘mokoro’ (a traditional dug-out canoe) through the lush waterscapes spotting crocodile and aquatic birds before bedding down at some of Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges where superb bush food awaits. Enjoy a thrilling safari at Camp Okavango – small and luxurious, it is one of our favourite safari camps. The emphasis is on savouring the magic of the large expanse of still waters and the gentle call of the fish eagle. In the ‘dry-season’ months of July through to October, the Okavango attracts a reported 5 million mammals in their search for water and game viewing is outstanding.
You may be more familiar with Lake Niassa as Lake Malawi and, although they have different names, the lake is in fact one and the same (the lake is located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania). On the Mozambique side, you will find untouched Africa at its best. Expect secluded tropical bays backed by virgin woodland and ancient rock formations. This secret gem has been off the radar for many years, perfect for those seeking seclusion, tranquillity and raw nature. Niassa is the third largest lake in Africa – 100 km across and 585 km long – and the lake's tropical waters are incredibly biodiverse. It is home to more species of fish than any other body of freshwater on Earth, including more than 1000 species of cichlids, as well as crocodiles and hippos. Stay at Nkwichi Lodge, secluded within the Manda Wilderness Conservation Area. Set on a pristine white sand beach (nkwichi translates as 'squeaky', as the sand is so clean it squeaks when you walk on it), this eco lodge accommodates just 14 guests in unique dwellings steps from the beach. Go on guided forest walks – great for birdwatchers – or enjoy the lake with activities such as snorkelling, canoeing, fishing, sailing and stand up paddle-boarding. Treat yourself to a spellbinding night sleeping in their open-air ‘Lake of Stars Bed’ set on a secluded beach.
The eerily-named Skeleton Coast in Namibia showcases the awesome power of nature. Crashing waves collide with warm breezes that run down from the desert to create a hauntingly beautiful mist-clad landscape scattered with shipwrecks and the bones of whales who met unfortunate ends in this wild area. The Skeleton Coast stretches from the south of Namibia all the way to Angola and is an entrancing landscape of fossil beds, rolling sand dunes, uninhabited desert plains and unique vegetation. At Cape Cross, visit the breeding ground of the Cape Fur seals, which are in fact species of Sea Lion, and you may also spot opportunistic jackals or hyenas. Around the sand-bedded Hoanib River you’ll get the chance to see how the desert-adapted mammals and plant life survive in this harsh environment - including Albiba trees, giraffe and springbok. Stay at the extraordinary Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, part of Wilderness Safari’s portfolio, which provides a remote yet stylish stay in solar powered tents with a swimming pool. Here you can visit the proud and fascinating Himba tribe as well as go for nature walks and game drives with a chance to view the elusive gentle giants of the Kalahari – the Desert Elephants.
So these are Ampersand’s top natural wonders of Southern Africa. Which will you pick to visit this year? For more information or to start planning your tailor-made holiday to Southern Africa please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org // +44 (0) 207 819 9770