Best for the wild at heart: South Africa

I was expecting to see the wildlife, not eat it. Yet here it was in front of me – springbok shank, with mash, washed down with a fine Cape red. I'm not quite sure how this reconciles with the avowed "eco tourist" mission of Richard Branson's Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa, but I suppose my meat was free-range and organic. If you haven't tried it, the national animal is like lamb, only gamier – and surprisingly fatty.

Springbok was, in fact, one of the few creatures that I didn't meet in a three-day stay at this luxury-in-the-bush resort, ideally located next to the famous Kruger National Park. I soon bagged the "Big Five" for the digital camera – lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard and, most satisfying for me, a rhino, with calf, a rare sight. Big game hunters knew these as the most dangerous to them, but the deceptively docile-looking hippo kills many more South Africans than lions, crocs or mamba: they're quicker than they look.

You inevitably feel like tinned food on safari. I wondered why the killing machines round us didn't see half a dozen humans in a Land Rover in the same way as we might a can of meatballs – not your usual fare, but edible all the same.

Instead, you get almost insultingly ignored by the lions, who just kip, conserving energy for their nocturnal forays. Maybe they think we are the predators. There are two prides on Branson's estate, and sometimes the mega-cute cubs are visible. And yes, they really do play just like your tabby at home. So what I else did I spot? A couple of cheetah, plenty of impala (bottom of the mammalian food chain), bigger kudu, wildebeest, water buck and eland, giraffes, vultures, eagles and eagle owls, and much else. A walk in the savannah will add the smaller fry, just as alienly fascinating – tortoises with hinged shells, fat, glossy black millipedes, a deadly puff adder, chameleons, termite mounds with millions of denizens below, and deafeningly loud frogs.

So visitors make the most of the two game drives a day, each of three hours (things don't happen as rapidily as on David Attenborough's shows), at about 5am, and 4pm; cooler times when the creatures are most active, but you can also easily see them. When to go? African summer, our winter, is hot and rainy; African winter, our summer, is drier and leaves the vegetation more sparse, so there's more chance of seeing wildlife – especially on a true night safari, when you get to see lions stalking and hippo roaming (though this isn't offered at Ulusaba). Still, my knowledgable guide and sharp tracker taught me plenty. I now know why leopards take their kills up a tree (so dinner isn't stolen by hyenas), how to distinguish hippo and rhino tracks (hippo drag their feet) and how to age a lion (the darker the mane, the older it is).

Ulusaba also offers its guests the chance to see, and support, its charitable arm, Pride 'n' Purpose, in the surrounding villages, helping to secure, for example, care for the many children left without family, or many chances in life, because of HIV/Aids; a moving encounter. It's a reminder of the challenges facing South Africa, another of which is escalating crime. All tourists – including World Cup fans – are more likely to be prey to petty theft than to big cats, and are well advised to lock up valuables. Africa is full of surprises, some less pleasant than springbok shank. (0800 716919). Double occupancy rooms from 4,600 Rand (£372) per person per night, including meals

The wild side

# Track wolf and lynx through the white wilderness of Slovakia's Tatra Mountains on a conservation holiday with Biosphere Expeditions (0870-4460801; Help to create a sustainable future for these icons of the Carpathian wilds. £960 per person, per week.

# Zimbabwe is cautiously opening its doors to tourists again, its local tour operators much in need of the adherent funds. Wilderness Safaris (020-8232 9777; have new trips out of Zambia that cross the border into Zimbabwe, to such fabulously empty wildlife parks as Mana Pools. A week from £2,173pp.

# With Sri Lanka now back on the tourist map, so too is Yala National Park, one of the planet's best leopard-spotting sites. And with its current low costs, this tropical island is looking very enticing this year. 15-day Sri Lanka packages (including Yala) from £2,285pp with Real Holidays (020-7359 3938;

# Inspired by watching Stephen Fry facing our hairy forebears in Last Chance to See? Then try this eco-tourism initiative that gets close to gorillas without disrupting their environment. A 12-day Uganda and Rwanda gorilla trip with Baobab Expeditions (020-8951 2854; baobab costs £1,484pp.

# Dive with humpback whales in the Caribbean waters between Dominica and the Turks and Caicos. Between February and March these whales and their babies get within eyeballing distance. Year-round expect sperm whales, spinner, spotted and Fraser dolphins. Seven nights from £1,345pp, Dive Worldwide (

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas