From Norfolk to Uganda: Luxury lodges to go wild about
From a leopard camp in Rajasthan to a rhino retreat in South Africa, Aaron Millar looks at the latest bases for spotting animals up close
Saturday 21 December 2013
Whether it's watching big cats from the deck of your safari lodge, or camping beside a river as grizzlies gorge on salmon nearby, few travel experiences can match the thrill of being close to animals in the wild. Forget joining a phalanx of 4x4s through the savannah: lodges and tour operators are meeting demand from inquiring travellers by offering ground-breaking new wildlife trips and one-of-a-kind accommodation that puts you at the heart of the action, as these new openings demonstrate.
The call of the wild in Ethiopia
Opening early next year in the pristine cloud forest and remote moorland of south-central Ethiopia, Bale Mountain Lodge (00 251 912 790 802; balemountainlodge.com) offers the chance to see the world's rarest carnivore in the wild: the Ethiopian wolf. Each of the 15 luxury, thatch and bamboo suites has a private viewing deck, wood-burning stove and access to a nearby waterfall rock pool for a dip. Black-maned lions, vervet monkeys and giant forest hogs are also nearby. Cabins cost US$220 (£147) per person per night, including full board and one activity per day.
Go grizzly in Canada
Dozens of grizzly bears descend upon the headwaters of the Chilko River, in British Columbia, each autumn to feed on the thousands of sockeye salmon swimming upstream to Chilko Lake to spawn. The new, luxury Bear Camp, composed of six safari-style tents fitted with hot showers, cosy beds and a private deck perched over the river, provides guests with the closest possible view of the action. ROAM Adventures (001 888 639 1114; iroamtheworld.com) has a six-day Bear Camp trip; the price of $2,495 (£1,663) per person includes full board, activities and return flights from Vancouver. International flights not included. Departures between May and October.
Gorillas in the mist in Uganda
Recently renovated Mount Gahinga Lodge, in the volcanic foothills of Uganda's Mgahinga National Park, is perfectly placed to see gorillas in the wild. Each of the lodge's nine huts features designs by the local Batwa pygmies – widely considered to be the oldest surviving people of central Africa – as well as handmade furniture and local art. Volcanoes Safaris (0870 870 8480; volcanoessafaris.com) offers a six-day "Gorillas and Culture" trip, with two nights at Mount Gahinga Lodge, from £2,835 per person, including a guide, most meals, activities, park fees, permits and transfers. International flights not included.
The top spot in India
Experience the vast wilderness of Rajasthan from the new Jawai Leopard Camp (00 91 1146 172 700; sujanluxury.com). This collection of eight contemporary tented suites, opening this month in the Aravalli hills between Udaipur and Jodhpur, ooze old-world opulence and come with a strong chance of spotting the notoriously elusive feline in the wild. Other activities include visiting the Unesco World Heritage citadels of Kumbhalgarh and relaxing in camp with sundowners, spa treatments and mouth-watering Indian cuisine. Doubles start at R40,000 (£400) per night all-inclusive.
Primate time in Tanzania
Rubondo Island on Lake Victoria has been protected as a national park since 1977, allowing the ecosystem to thrive. Guests at the new low-key luxury Rubondo Island Camp, the only property allowed on the island, have a unique opportunity to explore this undiscovered wilderness, filled with elephants, crocodiles and a remarkable troop of chimpanzees, rescued from zoos in the 1960s and now habituated to the wild. Audley Travel (01993 838 545; audleytravel.com) has a nine-day Rubondo Island trip; the price of £3,435 per person includes five nights at the beach camp, full board, most activities, return flights from the UK and transfers.
Pack your trunk for Zambia
The recently opened Machenje Fishing Lodge offers solar-powered thatch cabins overlooking the Zambezi River, with easy access to Victoria Falls, wonderful river safaris spotting hippos and crocodiles, and some of the best sport fishing in Africa. On top of this, the region is home to roughly a quarter of Africa's elephants which need our help and support. Not only is there a good chance of spotting a herd in the wild, but revenues from the lodge help conserve a vital corridor which enables the animals to pass safely between feeding grounds without risk of poaching or other human conflict. Day trips to the game-rich Chobe National Park nearby are also available. Machenje Fishing Lodge (00 260 977 333 184; machenjefishinglodge.com) has two-person chalets from $280 (£185) per night including full board and river safaris.
Shake a tail feather in Norfolk
You won't spot lions or elephants, but the birdlife at Wild Luxury's new safari style lodges on the North Norfolk coast is almost as spectacular as Africa. Each canvas tented lodge has a double bed, wood-burning stove and outdoor deck overlooking the Holmes Dunes National Nature Reserve: an area of outstanding natural beauty. Spot waders, wildfowl and, perhaps, even a rare Ruppell's warbler. Wild Luxury (0845 544 1757; wildluxury.co.uk) offers three-night weekend stays at Thornham Bay, for up to six people, from £295. Open April to November.
Pride of Kenya
The Naboisho Conservancy has the world's highest concentrations of lions, including the largest pride in the Mara region. The award-winning new Basecamp Eagle View (00 254 733 333 909; basecampexplorer.com), overlooking the animal-rich Koiyaki River waterhole, offers spacious wood and canvas suites, understated luxury and an exclusive safari experience far away from the crowds of the neighbouring Maasai Mara National Park. Enjoy walking safaris with local Maasai guides, game drives and sundowners perched on a viewing deck above the watering hole. Doubles start at $390 (£260) per person including full board, activities and local transfers.
Horns of South Africa
Located on a 54,000-acre private game reserve in the Eastern Cape, at the end of South Africa's Garden Route, Melton Manor (00 27 46 603 3400; kwandwe.com) is ideally situated for you to be in with a chance of seeing a dazzling display of wildlife – including the chance to see rare, and endangered, black and white rhinos in the wild. Originally an old settler's farmhouse, the new four-suite lodge blends antique frontier touches with lavish contemporary design. Use of the manor costs £275 per person per night, based on four people sharing, including full board, activities and local transfers.
Canada's deer diary
Watch the migration of a 350,000-strong caribou herd from Arctic Haven (001 855 459 1794; arctichaven.ca), a new hotel in the Nunavut barrenlands, north of Manitoba. Enhanced from an original timber-frame fishing cabin, the new luxury lodge overlooks the frozen Ennadia Lake where, following closely behind the spring and autumn crossing, are hungry Arctic wolves, grizzly bears and other polar predators. An eight-day "Caribou Migration" trip costs £3,933 per person including full board, most activities and air transfer from Yellowknife. International flights not included. Scheduled departures May and September.
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