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28 | AUDLEY TRAVELLER |"An excitable hush descended that only comes from spotting something special - lying in one of the branches was a beautiful leopard. What luck!"After a morning dip in the nearby hot springs and a boat safari along the Rufiji, it was back to the 4x4 and to my new obsession: leopard spotting. The fact that leopard are elusive made my desire to see one even more intense. I fervently scanned the baobabs, knowing that these predominantly nocturnal creatures spend much of the daytime resting in them. So when the jeep pulled up alongside another tree I wasn't really hopeful, until an excitable hush that only comes from spotting something special descended. I quickly surveyed the branches and lo and behold lying along one was a beautiful leopard. After a hurried burst of photography, we all watched in silence as it climbed down and gracefully slinked off into the undergrowth. What luck - I smiled to myself all afternoon. And that's one of the most special aspects of the Selous, the fact that it's so vast (45,000 square kilometres - nearly twice the size of Belgium) and little-visited means that you get to experience sightings such as these to yourself. Our final activity of the day was a walking safari led by über professional Mark who runs Sand Rivers with wife Chloe, where we learned more about the smaller aspects of the environment. It's incredible how the trees have adapted to protect themselves. Take the whistling thorn trees, which not only have sharp thorns to detract giraffes from feasting on them, they are also home to stinging ants that burrow homes inside the thorns and swarm out of their nests and attack when an intruder is present. The walk ended with a beautiful Tanzanian sunset and a chilled glass of champagne. Hardened by the fly camping experience the previous night, I slept soundly at the lodge. The sadness that I felt leaving Sand Rivers the next morning was eased by the knowledge of our next destination - Fundu Lagoon on Pemba Island. Water wonderlandPemba r is a verdant island dotted with fruit and clove trees in the Zanzibar Archipelago and boutique hotel Fundu Lagoon is nestled in the southwest corner. There are no roads to the hotel, so arrival was via speedboat, which would have been very Bond-esque if it hadn't been for the intense shower (typical of November) that necessitated donning a rather unglamorous yellow mac. There was a sharp intake of breath from the group upon seeing Fundu's location - it occupies its own stretch of sandy beach, shared only with mangrove trees and the occasional fisherman. The fact that there are only 18 thatched tented rooms adds to this feeling of seclusion.I spent the first afternoon kayaking in and out of the mangroves followed by some windsurfing - if this is an accurate term for standing on the board, pulling up the sail and falling into the water. Though one huge advantage of doing activities Wild landscapes (Clockwise from here) a leopard relaxes in the Selous Game Reserve; sailing in a dhow boat; elephants crossing the Rufiji River at Selous

AUDLEY TRAVELLER | 29such as these in the Indian Ocean is that dropping into the turquoise water is like getting into a bath. That evening we were treated to Swahili Night, where delicious local specialities such as coconut milk curries, fresh seafood and delicately spiced dishes were served. This was all enhanced by infectious drumming, dancing and singing of songs like 'Jambo Bwana' (hello mister), which became the soundtrack to my African experience. And so after wishing each other 'lala salama' (sleep well) another peaceful sleep followed, induced by the gentle lapping of the waves just in front of my room.The next morning we took a 15-minute speedboat ride to Mesali Island, where you can snorkel just off the shore or head further out to dive. It is known as one of the best diving sites in Africa with good reason - the coral and fish are vibrant and abundant here with yellow back fusiliers, blue striped snappers, surgeonfish, angelfish and grouper amongst the 300 species to be found. That evening it was back out onto the ocean for a sunset dhow cruise where we sailed peacefully around the shores with drinks in hand, chatting and laughing as we enjoyed another glorious African sunset. It is such a serene part of Pemba that later that evening, Ellis (one of the hotel owners) said she could hear our laughter from her hotel room.Getting waved offThe following day there was just about time to squeeze in one more activity - an early morning dolphin cruise on the shores of Mesali Island. About 50 of these elegant, fun creatures swam alongside the boat, an incredible sight. And so, all too soon, I was leaving another wonderful part of Africa, fully understanding why so many people choose to combine a safari with a few days' relaxation on a beach or otherwise afterwards - it really is the perfect antidote to all the drama and early mornings.Calling myself a 'safari sceptic' is a bit of a hyperbole but I certainly wasn't someone who had desperately longed to go. I was with a group of Africa experts who'd all told me that by the end of our week together, I was sure to get the 'bug'. How right they were. Safari is an addiction of sorts - you start a mental checklist of animals you want to spot, which grows longer and more obscure the more you see.And like skiing (they have afternoon cakes in common) it isn't just about the game drives - it's the whole package: the wildlife, the beautiful landscapes, the sharing of experiences, the sundowners and the adrenaline. Because although once back in the UK I felt incredibly safe in terms of the wildlife that surrounds us, I was surprised to find that I felt a little bit too safe. I had felt so alive on safari and as I lay in my big comfy bed with only harvest spiders for company at home - I kind of longed to be back in my see-through tent by Lake Tagalala under the magnificent stars of the southern hemisphere.There are numerous other destinations in Africa that would make a superb first time safari. Here are a few of our specialists' favourites:Ruaha National Park, Central Tanzania An ideal add-on to the Selous, just an hour and a half's flight away. The park offers a totally different landscape and wildlife including cheetah (which you won't find in the Selous) as well as large buffalo herds, elephant, lion and wild dog. t Serengeti National Park, Northern Tanzania If you're dreaming of the vast open savannahs of the wildlife documentaries and staying in a mobile tented camp for a true Out of Africa experience, this is the place to be! Wildlife here is excellent year-round, with the added bonus of the migration herds travelling around the park between November and July. yEastern Cape Game Reserves, South Africa The Eastern Cape has superb game reserves offering a Big Five safari experience with expert guides. The beauty of visiting South Africa is the diversity of other experiences to enjoy as well as safari - wining and dining in Cape Town and whale watching at Hermanus to name a few. First time safari destinationsTanzania & ZanzibarGet StartedAn 11 day trip combining a safari in the Selous and time on a Zanzibar beach starts from £3,060pp. For more information please contact our Tanzania specialists on 01993 838 545. We have a detailed safari section on our website where you can find suggested itinerary ideas based on your interests: plus0100 miles0161 kilometresIndian oceanSerengeti National ParkMasai MaraMount KilimanjaroRuaha National ParkKiba AirstripSelous Game ReserveNgorongoro Conservation AreaSand RiversPemba IslandZanzibar IslandRuahaRufijiLake Malawikenyatanzania1324Dar es SalaamArusha56