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Come rain or shine

Looking at how the weather influences our safari experience, Morgan Trimble explores the seasonal changes in some of southern Africa’s major attractions, including Botswana’s Linyanti Wildlife Reserve and the Okavango Delta, the Victoria Falls and Namibia’s Etosha National Park, emphasising the importance of considered planning
EMERALD SEASON: A herd of elephant returns to the Luangwa Valley’s floodplains to feast on fresh grass following the rains
ANDY HOGG / THE BUSHCAMP COMPANY

The scorching sun and dry air bake much of what remains. Dust hangs in the air and mutes the colour of animals and plants. By the end of the dry season, a plein air artist could get by with a single tube of brown paint were it not for the the leafy evergreen treetops that escape elephant trunks and giraffe tongues

Hundreds of hooves beat against parched earth, throwing a cloud of dust two storeys high as a huge herd of buffalo arrives at the water to drink. The thirsty buffalo join a family of elephants already cooling off with showers of muddy water. A group of zebra glare at the others, agitated but waiting their turn while a lone hippo basks at the waterline. In the distance, lion with full bellies laze in the meagre shade of a scraggly bush. They’re still digesting their last meal and don’t even glance up at the commotion. It’s the end of the dry season in southern Africa, a time of fighting for survival, and this scene plays out daily at thousands of waterholes across the region.

But just one week later, this pool is nearly deserted. The lone hippo sounds off with a booming chuckle, revelling in his newfound solitude. What’s the difference? Practically speaking, deciding when to go on safari is as important as choosing where to go, so it pays to get a handle on the weather.

Nile crocs bask in a parched riverbed during the park's winter — temperatures rise from August onwards until the rains fall in November
KANWAR DEEP JUNEJA

In southern Africa, the rains delineate the seasons — the annual cycles of vegetation, water availability, and, importantly for safarigoers, the distribution and behaviour of wildlife. While the swing in temperature between the seasons isn’t as drastic as elsewhere in the world, changes in the landscape are every bit as dramatic.

Seasonality comes down to just two notions — wet and dry — a pattern that is consistent across the entire region except for some coastal and high-altitude outliers. In summer, it’s hot and it rains, and in winter, it’s cooler and dry. The former lasts from November to April, give or take a month, and the latter spans the rest of the year — roughly May to October. Of course, the seasons are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere. When Londoners step out to enjoy a summer’s day, the people of Maun, Botswana, layer up to survive the mid-winter chill (never mind that July daytime temperatures in these two cities might not be far apart). There’s no easy correlate to spring or autumn, but beyond simply rainy summer or dry winter, the sights, sounds and smells of the bush paint a canvas of seasonal nuance.

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About Travel Africa

Come rain or shine - how the seasons affect your safari experience • On foot in Mana Pools • 5 Amazing islands in Mozambique • Guide to Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains • South Africa's emotive Battlefields • Why Tsavo West? • Tree-climbing lions in Uganda • Cultural journey through Côte d'Ivoire... and much more!
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