Shinde Island Camp Review
by Suzie Jones
(Travel writer, Fodors Gold guides)
Luxury room at Shinde Island Camp
There is something marvelously exotic and frankly epic about flying across the Okavango in a small aircraft. Of course my sense of elation could have something to do with the fact that I managed to stick to the 12 kg (25lbs) luggage restriction (packed in SOFT bags)! Touch down is on a small grass airstrip. Our guide waiting in a Land Cruiser stocked with cold drinks is the only sign of humanity - bringing home the exclusivity of this trip.
Shinde is Setswana for tree squirrel but this large palm island is famous for a huge array of other animals and birds that inhabit the area around Shinde lagoon.
The short drive to camp delivers giraffe, hornbills, lechwe, zebra... in fact a full 23 ticks in the little safari lists that we found in the welcome bags.
Ker & Downey is an old hand at this - they have been running safaris to Africa since 1946 and their experience shows.
Tents are perfectly appointed and somehow manages to offer everything you need on safari, even though you can't dry your hair! (Shower at night - wet hair on your morning game drive is freezing!) We loved our verandah with its comfy chairs where you can relax and read a book during siesta.
The routine of a safari holiday gives one a marvelous sense of accomplishment. You have to leave your bed at a ridiculous hour each day. Having morning tea or coffee sweetly announced with a soft "koko" at your tent door removes the sting from your wake up call and then of course there is the wonderful reward of brunch awaiting your return from safari.
It has permanent water which is great for bird spotting, fishing (float and fly), boating and during peak season (in deep winter and spring) it really offers the best of both worlds with fantastic game. Baboon, buffalo, crocodile, elephant (eating from the marula tree on the lawn when it has fruit!), lechwe and many other antelopes are every day regulars. The Shinde concession is particularly excellent for cats and wild dogs as well as the very special Sitatunga antelope which has webbed feet to help it cope with the wet delta environment.
The camp is in a private concession and it is rare to come across other travelers. The game drive vehicles and motorized aluminium boats are specially designed to exact standards and an effort is made to keep occupancy low.
It is a particularly great area for guided walks and our favourite activity was a mokoro trip - which redefines the art of zen!
The Gadikwe heronry is home to literally hundreds of nesting and breeding birds from July to March. Fishing is good from September to May with tigerfish, catfish, pike and bream all a possiblity - beginners are very welcome and the kitchen will happily cook your fish for dinner!
Gathering around the fire before dinner (help yourself from the drinks fridge) at night is a great time for recapping the day's adventures, planning the next day and listening to the many stories the guides kindly retell. Daintily painted miniature tree frogs click along to the stories.
The dining room is in a tree house, cleverly designed on multiple levels so that you enter it by degrees until finally you find yourself seated under a magnificent crystal chandelier high in the branches of ebony and mangosteen trees.
Meals are enjoyed together and highlights of Shinde cuisine is the freshly baked bread and chilli sauce that mean serious business made by one of the owners. They seem to cater for any special dietary need - although it is worth remembering that much of the food is flown into camp so last minute requests could be an impossibility!
During the day you notice the wagon style high tented roof covering the teak platforms. Shinde is a well executed mix of styles, modern, African, Moroccan and a bit of pure decadence.
Guests are encouraged to take their vacation seriously here - there is no cellphone coverage. The camp does have radio contact (24 hours emergency response with MRI) as well as a satellite phone that guests can use for a hefty charge. It is possible to do a spot of shopping in the curio shop when you start missing civilization too much.
The camp also has a small private pool should you feel the need to cool down or catch up on your tan (remembering that everything you have ever heard about the sun in Africa is quite true and sunstroke will ruin your holiday much more effectively than any other disease!).
Speaking of trouble the Okavango is of course a malaria risk area - remember to discuss this with your doctor and keep using the mozzie spray!
Malaria tablets info»
Shinde enclave can be booked privately - separate from the main camp it consists of luxury tents on raised teak decks and serviced by a private chef, waiter, housekeeper. The enclave also has a dedicated professional guide and vehicle. Shinde is also often booked in combination with Footsteps walking trails.
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