This past summer was an especially exciting one for AAC, with numerous awards and personal bests. Travel journalist and AAC blogger Melissa Klurman caught up with Mark Nolting to get his take on an epic summer season, what’s new in the world of safaris, and what’s on Mark’s radar heading into 2016:
Q: First, congratulations Mark – being named to both Travel & Leisure's World’s Best Awards and A List of Travel Agents in one summer season – that’s quite an accomplishment!
MN: Thank you – but it’s a group effort – everyone on our safari consulting team at AAC worked incredibly hard, and for a long time, for these achievements. I’m so proud of our senior consultants so an applause to Kyle, Elena, Szilvia, Lynne and Alison.
Q: I heard you were in Africa recently -- Where did you travel this summer?
MN: I came back from an amazing trip that took me to South Africa, Victoria Falls, and Botswana. It was so encouraging to hear how hard the people on the ground go about their work each day in the conservation of their natural wildlife resources.
Q: What were some of the highlights of your travels?
MN: The newly redone Singita Ebony Camp was a highlight – I got to spend 4 nights (a real treat for me) at this fabulous lodge (it’s a stunner) and I had time with the owner, Luke Bailes, which made it a very special visit as well. I also was there for the changeover of the guides at the end of the month and spend some quality time meeting them all.
Q: What was your top takeaway from the “new” Ebony?
MN: The family units really stand out, they’re going to be great for our clients: there are two, 2-bedroom suites – and if a family takes over both units, they have exclusive usage of the huge lounge, private bar, and private pool. It’s really something for that stand out family destination.
Q: Then where did your African journey take you?
MN: I flew up to Livingstone and Victoria Falls and visited Tongabezi Lodge – they’ve been upgrading the property and it looks stunning – there’s a new lounge on the river; the Nut House, that was really wonderful; and the Dog House, which has a living room and two bedrooms as well as private pool, an ideal fit for families. Hard to believe I was there for my honeymoon 23 years ago just after it had opened!
Q: And then I heard you had a full itinerary in Botswana?
MN: Yes, I was at four different camps run by four different companies – plus I visited a number of other properties in between. I was busy, and thrived on all the exciting projects on the go. Botswana certainly leads the way in Sustainable Tourism many of their camps.
Q: Can you give us the quick report on where you stayed?
MN: First up was Great Plains’ Zarafa – a fantastic camp run by the Jouberts' who have a history of running top-notch camps.
After that it was Baines' and Stanley's, Sanctuary Camps, where there’s an elephant interaction program. And then on to Sandibe, part of &Beyond, which has air conditioning and private pools – it was very comfortable and very well done - again TOP CLASS.
I also visited Abu Camp, a Wilderness property. In addition to their elephants (they’re known for their elephant back safaris), I thought the game viewing, both by mokoro and vehicle, was outstanding. The sister camp Seba is a hidden gem.
Q: You’ve experienced some many great guides and wildlife sightings – any on this trip that was new to you?
MN: Actually, I had two sightings that that were completely new to me! At Sandibe, there were two hippos at night having a territorial fight to the death, which was just amazing. And at Zarafa, a young bull elephant, threw a temper tantrum like none I’ve ever seen; flailing so much his front feet came off the ground –it was quite a sight, very funny. He just didn’t quit going on and on, I’ve never seen anything like it.
I made the usual great connections with brilliant guides and use these relationships when planning my extraordinary privately guides trips.
Q: Favorite moment?
MN: In Botswana, a helicopter flight transfer – it compares to that first balloon safari. I really loved flying low over the delta waterways– and half way, we stopped on an island for a Moet & Chandon champagne toast.
Q: And what about for your next safari? Where do you think you'll go?
MN: Kenya – I have the new Angama Mara opened by Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald (of old CCAfrica and &Beyond) on my list. As well as revisiting Mara Plains and Asilia Naibosho to see the results of their ongoing conservancy work. The Mara is definitely trending for 2016.
Q: What’s on the horizon for 2016?
MN: AAC will be celebrating 30 years in 2016 – February to be exact. I know Alison’s working on something for that, an "Out of Africa" party perhaps? And then there has been a number of ideas to mark the occasion that we’re still floating: new editions of the African Safari Field Guide, Africa's Top Wildlife Countries and the incredible Safari Planning Map; and an AAC led safari by Alison and I (first time ever).