Wilderness Safaris is a responsible luxury ecotourism company that works to protect and support animals and their habitats around Southern Africa. Author and safari guide Peter Allison is a man with a long history on the continent, and his experiences are full of animal encounters, near escapes, and hilarious adventures that have filled two bestselling books. Here Peter talks to us about his all-time favourite camps, his craziest wildlife experience, and why everyone should visit Africa at least once in their lives.
How did you get from Australia to the wild African bush?
I had the most sedate and predictable upbringing in the suburbs of Sydney, but a year-long stint in Japan at the age of 16 awakened the nomad within, and by 19 I was on a plane to Africa, a destination I chose because I have always loved animals. After six months backpacking I was offered a job running the bar of a safari lodge in South Africa, and soon after that became a guide. My trip to Africa was meant to last a year, and began in 1994
So what prompted you to stay for 19 years?
I still love animals! Just as much as that though are the constant surprises and challenges you have living here. I don’t need something extraordinary to happen every day, but want at least the chance of it. That’s why I live in Africa.
Wilderness Safaris has a number of luxury camps throughout Southern Africa correct? Which one is your absolute favourite?
Only one? Out of 70? That’s like asking a Catholic to pick their favourite child! Mombo will always be special to me because I lived there for so many years (and the game viewing is ridiculously good any day of the year), but I also love Serra Cafema in the far north of Namibia, a place that strips away cynicism and complacency and makes you know not just how huge the world is, but feel it. I’m not philosophical, except when I am there. I also love Busanga Bush Camp in Zambia, Little Vumbura in the Okavango and recently did some amazing diving at Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you in your two decades in Africa?
I once heard monkeys going crazy outside my room and knew that a leopard must be nearby. The monkeys went quiet, so I knew the predator they feared most had moved on. Then I looked up from my book and realized the leopard was in the room with me. That was interesting.
What’s your favourite animal and why?
Elephants. They are always busy (they feed 18 hours a day, whereas lions sleep that much so are usually quite dull), have rich family and emotional lives, and still give me a buzz when they come close because no matter how much time you have spent with them their sheer enormity still impresses.
What is the one thing that surprises most people about the whole safari experience?
How much they fall in love with animals less likely to grace the front of a brochure. Baboons and warthogs are brilliant but rarely make the top of people’s wishlist. Another surprise is in camp, where people are often happily delighted in the quality of food on offer, how comfortable their rooms are and the level of friendly service they experience.
In 20 words or less, why should everyone go on safari at least once in their lifetime?
Go to Europe if you just want to see things. For experiences and stories, come to Africa.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank everyone who is interested in Africa. Every time you go on safari you get to enjoy a fantastic trip, but you also provide jobs for local people and send a message to African governments that wild spaces and the animals within them are worth saving. That all sounds very serious I know, so best you know I wrote it while wearing no trousers.