Q&A with Renette Hartridge of Sanctuary Retreats

1. You have been working for Sanctuary Retreats for some time now. Please can you tell me something about the company and the lodges in Botswana?

I am passionate about Africa and Botswana and have promoted Sanctuary Retreats safaris to the destination, for more than a decade. In Botswana, Sanctuary Retreats comprises four luxury lodges:

Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, a luxurious safari resort with a glorious elevated view of the Chobe River, Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp where you can walk with elephants at this classic tented safari camp in a private Okavango Delta concession, Sanctuary Baines Camp THE delta safari romance address, with its sky beds and star baths and; our flagship camp that is completely rebuilt,  Sanctuary Chiefs Camp on Chiefs Island in the Moremi Game Reserve

2. We have been hearing a lot about the newly rebuilt Sanctuary Chiefs Camp, when does it open and what makes it special?

Our exciting, new flagship camp reopens on 1 June and offers THE ultimate safari experience in one of the best locations in Africa:
Each of the 12 ensuite safari pavilion features a private cocktail pool, private dining and tranquil outside seating area. The size of the pavilions have nearly tripled from 51 to 140 sqm!

The ultimate luxury suite, the new Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite, named after the eponymous safari pioneer, features a private bar, boma, lounge and kitchen, all serviced by a private house-keeper, chef, waiter, guide and vehicle.

The solar farm is one of the largest in the Delta, with the most up-to-date equipment and technology, supplying the camp with 70% renewable energy.

Brand new fleet of game drive vehicles – including padded arm rests, LED lighting system and radios with headphones for the guides. Other new areas include the designer bar and Pizza oven as well as an orientation suite with interactive maps, a safari gym and a ‘Children’s Retreat’.

3. With Sanctuary being a luxury brand, have any of your lodges welcomed celebrities?

Yes, there is a new film – A United Kingdom – staring Tom Felton (of Harry Potter fame), Laura Carmichael (of Downton Abbey Fame) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) released in September, in line with Botswana’s 50th anniversary, which will put the spotlight on the destination.  Tom Felton visited Sanctuary Chief’s Camp during filming, “Sanctuary Chief’s Camp was a big impressive tick off my bucket list. Taking a break here in the midst of filming made me feel extremely lucky. I didn’t want to leave! We saw unbelievable wildlife, not only on the game drives but right outside our magnificent room.”

4. When I visited Sanctuary’s Stanley’s camp I was fortunate to experience the elephant interaction (Living with Elephants). Do you think letting people get closer to elephants in this way, promotes a better understanding and fosters support of conservation?

Yes. The Living with Elephants foundation was launched in 1999 by Dough and Sandi Groves, this charity is dedicated to creating harmonious relationships between people and elephants. Every year the foundation hosts children from neighboring villages to learn about elephants and encourage positive relationships. Elephants can live for 70 years and the foundations’ commitment is the long term future of these three rescued, orphan elephants.  Guests to Sanctuary Stanley’s and Baines Camps observe and walk with the trio: Jabu Thembi and Morula.   There is one morning activity per day for a couple of hours with a small group of max 8 guests. Our guests do not ride the elephants. The experience is conducted with great respect and care for the elephants and there is a very apparent bond between Dough, Sandi and the tiny herd of pachyderm orphans.  http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/philanthropy-projects-botswana-living-with-elephants

5. Botswana is a country determined to protect its wilderness and wildlife. All companies in the tourism industry are striving to achieve this. What are Sanctuary’s conservation and ecological policies?

At the core of the Sanctuary Retreats philosophy is a philanthropic and responsible approach to tourism.  We create long lasting relationships with communities and develop genuinely meaningful philanthropic projects. Sanctuary Retreats and its guests are regular patrons of The Centre for the Conservation of African Resources, Animals, Communities and Land use (CARACAL),  near Chobe. During a recent Sanctuary staff conference we raised  $2300 for the centres new aviary.   Recognising that protecting wildlife is also core to protecting communities, there are also a range of wildlife oriented projects like the afore mentioned Living with Elephants and we proud partners of Rhino Force & Rhino Conservation in Botswana.

6. When you visit Botswana what is your favourite activity and why?

Sunrise mokoro canoeing is my favorite Botswana nature experience. Seated low in the canoe, your fingertips are able to (but should not!) touch the flooded water.  It is a very gentle-paced safari that fills me with exuberance, immersed and at one with nature. It is tranquil,  but for the rhythmic ripples of the pole through the water and the distinctive sounds of a fish eagle crying overhead. Mother nature wakes to a fresh, new delta dawn.

7. What is the most amazing experience you have had while on safari in Botswana?

So many, it is very hard to choose! Among my top experiences:  Getting a very sloppy wet elephant trunk farewell ‘kiss’ on the cheek from Jabu.  The alfresco, stars and champagne bubble bath and sleeping in the sky bed at Sanctuary Baines Camp. With no light pollution in the Okavango Delta, there is no better place on earth, from which to admire the magnificence of the Milky Way Galaxy.  Very romantic too, a great recommendation for honeymooners or those celebrating a special occasion.

8. What is your most important ‘secret’ tip for people visiting Botswana to help them have the best experience?

Book Botswana’s green season!!! That is January to mid June and November to mid December. Take advantage of Sanctuary’s significant rate reductions, that are further compounded with long stay offers booking two or three Sanctuary Retreats in Botswana, ie in the Delta and Chobe combo. Green season makes for a more exclusive safari overall, as there are less visitors. With the profusion of baby animals the predator sightings increase and with the arrival of migratory birds,  it’s the best time of year for twitchers.

9. More camps and lodges in Botswana are offering spa treatments so guests can relax between activities. Sanctuary’s Chobe Chilwero has a great spa facility. What sort of treatments do you offer?

The Sanctuary spa partner is Africology, a fair trade company who’s spa wellness range comprises Africa’s indigenous plants. It is simply devine and I recommend our Signature Sanctuary Salutation, a 2hrs Sensory – top-to-toes spa experience that revives tired muscles and the stimulates your mind with a soothing and refining rooibos and lavender mud and deeply relaxing massage.

10. I understand that part of your job is to travel round the UK visiting tour operators and agents to inspire them to book Sanctuary’s luxury Lodges. Is this a part of the job that you enjoy and how can people learn more about the company if they are interested?

The best part of the job is travelling on safari in Botswana! It is a natural high when our sales messages inspire bookings and I love being a small part of a global Sanctuary sales team that builds Botswana-safari-memories-of-a-lifetime!