An exceptional experience in every respect
As expected, the representative of the ride safari was at the prescribed location next to the Johannesburg Airport information booth at the designated time holding a placard.
Departure was delayed due to late arrival of one flight, but this did not present a problem. The van was in excellent condition, clean and comfortable with water and ice placed in the vehicle for guests to use. A rest stop at a cafeteria was made at the halfway point. Customs formalities at the South Africa / Botswana border crossing at Pont Drift were efficient and proceeded without delay.
There were eight participants on the Tuli Safari during the week of October 6-13, 2013 as follows: five English women, a German couple and me. One of the participants from England had taken the same ride years earlier. All were experienced horse people so there were no problems with respect to ability. About half of the participants owned horses and two of the riders from England actively compete in horse shows. All participants were well matched with their assigned horses.
Upon arrival we were given a warm welcome by Louise Carlesen, Director, and other members of the staff. (We would meet Cor Carlesen later at a camp in the course of the ride). Afterwards we were treated to lunch and given a thorough briefing about the ride itinerary and safety procedures. We were also asked about our riding experience and preferences prior to the horses being assigned. Following the introduction we changed into our riding gear, mounted the horses and set off to the first permanent camp. Soon after our departure each rider was asked to individually demonstrate their riding skills at a walk, trot and canter over a short triangular course in the open. This ride should be suitable for all experienced and confident riders.
The ride was accompanied by the highly experienced guide, “West” Mmanoke, who led the group, and the assistant guide, Tsaone Radedibo, who brought up the rear. Both were highly skilled and knowledgeable and shared their experience about the region and wildlife throughout the week. They were very alert in spotting game and in keeping ample distance from elephants to avoid risks.
All horses in the ride were excellent. All were geldings of pure and mixed breed and included one Boerperd. Each horse was well-schooled, responsive and in excellent condition. During long canters in hot, dusty conditions no horse showed signs of tiring and there was no sweating, other than under the saddle pads. The horses went over jumps smoothly and without hesitation. They also got along well with each other.
Four grooms (one also served as a driver) took excellent care of the horses and the tack. The horses were properly fed with good quality hay and feed, given plenty of water and thoroughly checked in the morning and evening.
The tack was in excellent condition and was well maintained throughout the ride. I chose English tack and was very comfortable after many hours in the saddle. Saddlebags were provided and two bottles of water were placed in them at the beginning of each ride. The grooms were responsible for tacking and untacking the horses each day.
The ride was well planned and executed. This was to be expected in light of the fact that the Tuli Safari is conducted weekly from March through October.
The ride from camp to camp was thoroughly enjoyable given the variety of terrain, the spontaneity of game sightings and the wide range of wildlife species encountered. The outgoing personality and knowledge of the guide and his assistant were a big plus, as was the camaraderie among participants. Long riding times gave us the opportunity to “take it all in” and to appreciate the open space and exotic nature of this adventure. The route each day was particularly rewarding: galloping across open plains, crossing riverbeds, admiring the terrain, vegetation and wildlife, etc.
Evening game drives by safari vehicle were also a highlight, giving participants the ability to see a variety of animals, including cheetah, elephants and lions up close in comparison to the distance maintained while on horseback.
Sunsets spent with drinks/ Sundowners in hand atop rock outcroppings with spectacular views of the riverbeds and the vast plains below provided a heavenly end to each day as the sun slipped below the horizon.
The ride was well paced and varied between walking and cantering, nearly always in single file. There was very little trotting. Canters included some enjoyable long stretches in open areas. Frequent stops were made when encountering wildlife as well as gallops near other animals including zebra and giraffes, generally at a distance of about 75 yards. The guides were particularly sensitive about maintaining a safe distance from elephants.
Each day there was generally a rest break of about half an hour in the morning and afternoon in the shade of huge Mashatu trees. During these stops, participants were given light snacks, including apples and cakes. There were numerous crossings of dry riverbeds, some of which had moderately steep inclines. A number of stops were made at waterholes and streams for the horses. On several occasions riders had the opportunity to jump over downed trees and natural obstacles.
The ride took place in the spring. The climate was dry as were nearly all riverbeds. There was no rain throughout the week. The temperature during the day was hot and, in my estimation, approached 100 degrees by midday. Rides departed around 7AM each day. There was also plenty of dust kicked up by the horses, especially during canters, as we were riding in single file. Evening and overnight temperatures were pleasant.
All camps were located in attractive areas. Tents were spacious and equipped with water, bowls, soaps and towels for shaving and freshening up. Each tent had its own flush toilet or drop latrine. Two nights at the Kgotia Camp featured sleeping outdoors, which was very enjoyable. Adequate shower facilities were present at all locations. Luggage was transferred from camp to camp during the ride and placed in the respective tents prior to arrival of the riders in the afternoon.
All meals were excellently prepared and included a variety of drinks, salads, meats, vegetables and desserts. The quality and variety of food were excellent and better than expected. This was particularly noteworthy in light of the logistics of moving from camp to camp each day. Hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate was delivered to each tent at the time of the morning “wake up” call. Early breakfasts included fruits, cereal and breads, together with coffee, tea and juices. The varied menu for lunch and dinner were particularly noteworthy. Plenty of food and a variety of drinks ( water / soda / wine / beer / coffee / tea ) were available.
The Tuli Safari is an incredible adventure enabling equestrian enthusiasts to thoroughly appreciate spectacular landscape and a profusion of wildlife that is unique to the Tuli District of Botswana. Experiencing this majesty in a small group aboard willing horses under the guidance of personable and knowledgeable guides is unrivaled. The magic continues after dismount with evening game drives, spectacular sunsets savored from high vantage points, animated conversation over excellently prepared meals beside the fire and culminating with the awe of gazing upon the majesty of the Southern Constellation before drifting off to sleep. This is a lifetime experience not to be missed.
Ride Review by Robert Savarese