Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

My wife and I originally planned this trip way back in 2019 and Julian Harrison had recommended Botswana over Kenya for our safaris, based on our interests. Needless to say, things were put on hold for quite some time but we were able to leave for our adventure on September 4, 2023 and arrived in Cape Town on the 5th.

Julian had booked us into the Welgelegen House, a boutique hotel in the Gardens District, with a wonderful staff, led by their manager, Memory. Julian arranged for a private guide to show us around Cape Town on Day 1, including a cooking demonstration and lunch in a private home, a trip to the Cape of Good Hope and surrounding area on Day 2, along with a trip up Table Mountain and, finally, a day of wine tasting in the wine country on Day 3.

We left Cape Town and flew to Maun, Botswana, where we were flown by a small charter plane to the first of three safari camps, Camp Okavango. This camp is in the Okavango Delta and the twice-daily outings included travel by boat, canoe and walking tours. Lots of animals and a different kind of safari camp. Accommodations were superb and food, drinks and daily laundry were all included. We spent three nights there and then flew on to the next camp, Camp Xakanaxa, for another three nights.

Safaris in Camp Xakanaxa were done in jeeps, with no more than six of us, and usually four in the open-air jeeps. The guides were very knowledgeable and we were able to see every animal, save for rhinos, that one would expect on a safari.

Our last stop in Botswana was the Savute Safari Lodge, with much different geography from the previous two camps. As we were still coming into spring, the vegetation had yet to sprout leaves and the area was very arid. On our flight in, I wondered what, if any, animals we could expect to see, but this area provided us with a plethora of wildlife. Because of the dry conditions, the government sponsors some manmade waterholes, as does the Savute Lodge itself. One could probably just sit in the camp and watch almost every animal we saw while on safari just walk up for a drink.

After our third night, we flew to Zimbabwe to spend two nights and one day visiting Victoria Falls. We were led by a private guide and it is hard to put into words the magnificence of this wonder of the world. In the late afternoon, we were taken on a sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi River, where we saw everything from crocodiles to a large group of elephants going for a swim.

Overall, the trip was terrific. From the time our plane touched down in Cape Town, until we left Victoria Falls on September 21, Julian and Lisa had arranged for everything to be taken care of. Usually, I’m a “do it yourself” type when it comes to vacations, but it was a pleasure knowing that I had nothing to do but show up and somebody else was going to look after us.

I would highly recommend Julian and his company, as he took the time to listen to my “wish list” and more than delivered with the itinerary he put together for us.

This was our second safari in Africa with Julian Harrison in two years. It was three weeks from the end of August till end of September. We visited South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. We were really excited as Julian got us into three 5-star Great Plains camps—Duba Plains, Zarafa in Botswana and Tembo Plains in Zimbabwe.

The trip started out great, flying nonstop from Newark Liberty to Cape Town. We stayed again at the beautiful One&Only property for two days. We did not need more days since last year we were in Cape Town for 5 days. We requested Jacqui as our tour guide in Cape Town. She was excellent! We had already been to the major sites so she decided to take us to two places off the beaten path. The first was the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town. It was fantastic and depicted how the Jewish people arrived and built up their culture in CT. The 2nd day she took us down the northwest coast, which was breathtaking. About 90 mins from Cape Town down the coast there is a community that portrays the San people tucked away in a little valley. We got a guided tour on everything San culture and we learned so much about the people, their way of life, language, etc.

Once we got into Botswana, Duba Plains was our 1st safari stop. The first day was fantastic with our guide Ona. It is a wet environment and the bird life was stunning. We witnessed a lion kill of a red lechwe in deep water. It happened so fast we barely had time to photograph it. Had a wonderful dinner in the Duba Plains interactive kitchen.

Unfortunately, that is where the safari took a very wrong, scary and painful turn. While getting into bed at night I was stung by a venomous neurotoxic scorpion. That at least is what the nurse and doctor from Great Plains camp guessed. The pain was off the charts and my husband and I were trying to get help, which only came an hour later. The camp manager was non responsive and my husband had to hunt him down in the middle of the night, which was extremly dangerous! When the camp manager finally called the Great Plains nurse/doctor I wanted to have a doctor flown in as my foot and up to my knee was severely swollen and I could not move the limb. While I was very unlucky to step on this creature, the response in handling this emergency from DP was appalling. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but we received a letter from Derek Joubert (one of the owners of Great Plains) on how abysmal the care I received from the staff at DP was. The doctor said if I did not have any “neurological” issues within twelve hours then I should be OK and continue my safari. He told me to “trust” him.

Once Julian found out from Great Plains he worked behind the scenes with all the camps/hotels so hopefully I could continue my safari, which I did on crutches, wheelchairs, being carried until I could walk which was about a week to ten days.

Julian and Great Plains had us helicoptered to Selinda out of Duba Plains when it was OK for me to travel. We were flown to Selinda. We had been to Selinda last year and it is a beautiful camp on the Selinda Spillway with a good staff and they took good care of me since I still could not walk. I was propped up lengthwise on the game vehicle with pillows (had to keep my legs elevated) so I could at least partake in a game drive or two. When it was time to head to Zarafa, the camp manager from Zarafa (Naledi) took amazing care of me and helped me walk on crutches. She was an angel! Another standout from Zarafa was Baby, who is the chef. She prepared amazing dishes and was another wonderful, caring person. Zarafa is a beautiful camp on the Selinda Reserve and we took a boat on the Channel, which was lovely. The staff at Zarafa was excellent.

Next stop was Batonka Lodge in Vic Falls and Julian made sure my crutches and other things I needed were there. This lodge was a pit stop to get into Zimbabwe. We took a very nice helicopter ride over the falls and it was beautiful. Batonka Guest Lodge was on beautiful grounds, but some of the staff were quite lackluster and not service-orientated. We had a very early fight to Tembo Plains and a group of women also had an early fight to another camp. The staff refused to open the kitchen for breakfast, so my husband had to speak with the owner’s daughter and it was resolved. We would not stay here again if in Vic Falls.

Next stop was Tembo Plains in the Sapi reserve, which is a beautiful camp that was just built about 2 years ago on the edge of the Zambezi River. The Jouberts bought a private 128,000-hectare reserve that until 6 or seven years ago was a hunting camp and the animals were wiped out. From the head vet we learned that 101 elephants have been translocated to Sapi to try and rewild the conservancy. Any elephants we saw were very skittish and ran away at the sound of our jeep. It will probably take many years before the animals are habituated to humans. If you are looking for good game drives I would say this is not the place to come. We were under the assumption that Mana Pools was close by and painfully found out that it was a three-hour journey to reach the game in the Mana Pools National Park. Our reason for coming to Tembo was Mana Pools and then to find out from the camp manager that it was so far away and most people don’t make the journey was very upsetting. Lindy, his wife, told us most people come after their safaris for relaxation. Great Plains needs to market that property accurately.

Lloyd and Lindy were excellent camp managers who took good care of us, and the chef was good. We would say that Tembo is probably the most beautiful camp that we stayed in any of the Great Plain camps so far. We took a canoe ride on the Zambezi and it was lovely. Tons of birds, with a great many kingfishers, eagles, along with huge pods of hippos. At this point I was able to limp, but could not take much advantage of the walking safaris at Mana Pools. Yes, we did decide to take a boat up the Zambezi and a pretty bumpy jeep ride to get to Mana Pools. It was very hot and an all-day affair, but were rewarded with a beautiful ecosystem, the biggest wild dog pack we had ever seen and other wonderful animals.

Our last stop was back in South Africa to Tintswalo in the Manyeleti game reserve. Julian recommended it last year and we loved it. The only camp in South Africa that we returned to. The staff, guides and accommodations were fantastic. Since the team knew what was going on with me they urged me to be seen by a doctor in Hoedspruit since they felt I did not look well and were amazed I had come this far. Tamysn (sp?), the camp manager, and others were shocked that all my correspondence with any of the medical professionals were through WhatsApp at the Great Plains Camps. No one ever saw me!

The doctor in SA was excellent, diagnosed several issues I was having, gave me an IV and meds through it to make me more comfortable. I needed an Rx from the pharmacy and one of the staff went to fetch it—nothing was too much trouble for them. The meds enabled me to go on the two game drives a day and it was wonderful. We even met the owners and can see why Julian recommended Tintswalo last year. Caring, authentic people who love their guests.

To top off this whole trip my husband and I got the flu the 2nd day we returned last week. The doctor in SA warned me that the scorpion sting was going to dampen my immune system and he was right.

Yes, this trip went sideways and in retrosperct we should have used either Travelex or Medjet to get us home, but the Great Plains doctors/nurse assured me that I could continue the trip, even though none of them ever saw me. In no way is this a refection on Julian; and he was working hand-in-glove with Great Plains and other hotels/lodges to make sure I was taken care of. This appalling situation rests squarely on the shoulders of Great Plains and how they need to change their processes ASAP or we will never stay at another one of their camps. Yesterday, Julian, was able to get the Great Plains US director on the phone with me, and my husband. We gave them an earful of feedback on what needs to change so this does not happen to anyone else.

It’s possible that we may return to another part of Africa at a cooler month in 2025/26 and we would use Julian without hesitation.

Just returned from a spectacular 19-day trip, arranged by Julian, Lisa and Carmella. This is our second trip planned by Julian, we went to Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe in April 2022 and loved it so much that I started working again with his office shortly after we returned. Our trip was seamless. We stayed in 7 different lodges/hotels and had 11 flights. Julian and the team had everything in place, our accommodations were luxe and gorgeous, we had amazing guides, and every transfer from flights to pick-ups was on time and perfect. Even when we encountered a blip (missing our Qatar connection on the flight to Kenya), I was unbelievably able to email Carmella and Lisa from the plane and they advised me on our options. We started in Nairobi, stayed at Hemingways. We visited the Giraffe Center (fabulous), the Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary (also wonderful), stopped at a workshop where they recycle flipflops into art products and more. The poverty as you drive along is eye-opening in all these countries, but you will over and over hear that tourism is the main industry and that your visit is important. Following Nairobi, we visited 3 Kenya parks—each with different geography but all spectacular. We stayed at Ol Donyo Lodge, Segera Retreat, and Mara Plains in Kenya—all stunning, welcoming, with the nicest rooms and outstanding food. I am on a salt-restricted diet and every place made me the most delicious meals—best food I have had in ages, seriously! Our Kenya guides were phenomenal, all belonging to Masai tribes. We had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten, 2 bead cooperatives, gardens, our guide’s village, and the anti-poaching dog-training group at Segera. All really enhanced our trip. We moved to Tanzania and had a highlight day waiting for and watching a wildebeest migration of (our guide estimated) 6000-plus animals. The final stop was Rwanda, we had one terrific night at Kigali Serena before moving on to the most amazing, incredible lodge of a lifetime—Bisate Lodge. With only 6 rooms, the service and accommodation is an unparalleled treat. They guided us in getting ready for our Gorilla Trek. I was really nervous and they all kept reassuring me—you will make it—and I did. The Gorilla Trek is a once-in-a-lifetime, the porters are your best friends in making the journey.

Bottom line: None of this would have been possible without the expertise and perfect itinerary prepared by Julian and Lisa. After our first trip, I realized that 3 nights per location was preferable. Somehow Julian and Lisa listen and put together the ideal itinerary. I have referred friends to Julian and they all feel the same way—THE BEST BEST travel agent. If you are thinking about South or East Africa, Julian and Lisa are your new best friends. I promise you.

To quote one of our travel companions, “I would not have changed one aspect of this trip,” and I wholeheartedly agree. My wife, Janis, was apprehensive about being in the Botswana bush and only reluctantly agreed to join our group of four but before we completed our tour, she was already speaking of a return trip. The planning was superb. We were in the right camps with the right level of service and amenities at the perfect time of year. Our time in Cape Town and Franschhoek was equally satisfying, however our anticipation of what laid ahead in Botswana had us looking past these wonderful settings.

Probably the most surprising aspect of our tour was the proximity within which our guides placed us to some very serious predators. On numerous occasions we could have reached out from our Land Cruiser and touched passing lions and we enjoyed several close-range stare-downs with leopards. Upon returning back to our tent one afternoon we found an elephant drinking from our plunge pool.

Our planner, Julian Harrison, did a masterful job of translating our interests and desired level of comfort into four perfectly-matched camps. He guided us to Botswana and the Okavango Delta and encouraged us to select winter as the best season to visit. He recommended we not try to cram both Eastern Africa (think Great Migration) and Western Africa tours in the time we had allotted. After making these basic choices, the rest was all Julian’s doing and we had no argument with his choices. He and his staff were available and patient with our constant barrage of questions during the 12-month period leading up to our departure. His services added tremendous value to the trip.

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