Picture this: the sun is setting fast over the African bush. Golden-red and magnified. Aaaah. The air begins to cool. A choir of a hundred bird-calls begins to fill the air. Another magical day is over. What on earth could make this magnificent sight even more perfect? Some refreshing sundowners perhaps? Yes please!

In the sundowners family, the quintessential classic would have to be the Gin and Tonic (or G&T as it is most commonly known). This drink was originally introduced by the armed forces of the British East India Company in the early 19th century in India but soon became a staple mix throughout the empire. The drink we now think of as a classic cocktail was in fact born out of medicinal necessities. In the 1700s, Scottish doctor George Cleghorn discovered that quinine –  a key ingredient in tonic water – was effective in treating and preventing Malaria. For this reason, this syrup became heavily consumed in tropical regions throughout the empire to keep the deadly disease at bay. But there was one problem: quinine tastes horrible. To make it less bitter and more palatable, British officers began to mix it with water, sugar, lime and Gin, an alcohol which was given to British soldiers in the Indies as part of their standard supply rations. The Gin and Tonic was born!

The classic Sundowner- Only four ingredients needed. Ice, London Dry Gin, Tonic Water and a Slice of Lemon. Cheers! [Photo credit: Eleven Magazine]

As the empire began to spread through more and more malaria infested tropical regions, so did the popularity of the G&T. Soon enough, it made its way to the African continent, where it established itself as the drink of choice of imperial dignitaries, high ranking officials and officers, to be consumed not only for medical reasons (this became the excuse) but also in social occasions. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how the sundowner originated.

Today, sundowners are a tradition in African bush safaris, with a multitude of cocktails – along with the G&T – to choose from. In this article, we will explore a few. Our guide for this liquid-journey is Makhosi Ncube: safari guide and master bush-mixologist working in African Bush Camp’s flagship luxury lodge Somalisa Camp in the heart of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

“You cannot experience a wilderness adventure without the legendary sundowner, the two go hand in hand and cannot be separated”, explains Makhosi. Often consumed – as the word suggests – at sunset, sundowners have become a ritual to bid farewell to the adventure soaked day and welcome the night when another element of the safari takes centre stage: the people.

“What makes a perfect safari is not just the wildlife”, Makhosi tells us, “it’s the bonds you create with people and most of all it’s the memories you make together”.

But why limit sundowners to a safari?  In this article, Makhosi selects his top-3 favourite sundowners and shows you how to recreate them at home.

In an increasingly digitalised world where gadgets have taken over at the expense of good old-fashioned human relations, we can all use a little sundowner in our lives once in awhile. A chance to escape the grasps of your apps and notifications and enjoy the company of people.

So, ladies and gentlemen, prepare to grab your jiggers, strainers, ice and practice your signature shaking moves as you invite some people over for a sundowner or two… lions and crocodiles optional!

The Makhosi Mule:

Makhosi’s favourite sundowner? Naturally, it would have to be his namesake: the Makhosi Mule, a variation of the classic Moscow Mule customised by Makhosi himself.

“Nothing beats the spicy ginger bite accompanied by vodka with that slight citrus taste”, explains Makhosi, “and the salt glass rim just makes it so much more amazing”. He is not wrong! Word of Makhosi’s variation is spreading fast throughout Zimbabwean camps, as this mule is increasingly up there with the Big Five on savvy safari adventurer’s bucket lists.

Sure to reinvigorate your mind and spirit after a long day in the African heat, the Makhosi Mule is a versatile cocktail: an instant classic perfect at all times, be it sunset, pre-dinner aperitif, or just a companion on a lazy afternoon by the pool as you watch the wildlife go by.

Makhosi Ncube - expert safari guide and bush mixer -poses with his 'Makhosi Mule' behind the bar of Somalisa Camp in beautiful Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. [Photo credit: Makhosi Ncube]
Makhosi Ncube – expert safari guide and bush mixer -poses with his ‘Makhosi Mule’ behind the bar of Somalisa camp in beautiful Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. [Photography: Makhosi Ncube]

The Vodka Sunrise:

Makhosi’s next sundowner is the Vodka Sunrise: an amazing drink in both taste and colour. Unless you are a die-hard Hemingway kindred spirit, we recommend that you leave this sunrise for sunset. Makhosi tells us that this cocktail is perfectly tailored to be enjoyed as you watch the last rays of light glow in the African landscape in the company of Africa’s gentle giants: the amazing elephants.

“It’s an amazing drink that makes you feel as if the sun is rising no matter the time of day” explains Makhosi.

Be careful not to have too many of these feel-good drinks otherwise, your chances of evading a sudden pachydermal charge will significantly reduce… and so will the chances of catching that beautiful African sunrise the next morning!

The Vodka Sunrise enjoyed at sunset as a herd of elephants grazes just metres away. [Photography: Makhosi Ncube]

The Brandy Crusta:

Last but not least in Makhosi’s tour of top-3 sundowners is the Brandy Crusta.

“This is a decades old drink that has been around forever,” says Makhosi, “perfect as you unwind and take it easy after a long day”. But don’t just take our word for it, make it yourself and bring that classic African chilled sundowner feeling to wherever you may be in the world.

The Brandy Crusta: a perfect night cap to be enjoyed by the warm glow of a candlelit night. [Photography: Makhosi Ncube]
The Brandy Crusta: a perfect night cap to be enjoyed by the warm glow of a candlelit night. [Photography: Makhosi Ncube]

About Makhosi Ncube

Makhosi Ncube is a safari guide predominantly operating from African Bush Camp’s Somalisa Lodge in the heart of Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. After spending nearly two years working in the safari industry he knows what truly drives the industry not only for guests but also for local wildlife and the environment.

What makes Makhosi a popular guide is his outgoing and sociable personality which, he tells us (coupled with hard work and support from his family and friends), is the elixir behind his success. He believes you have to connect and see safari visitors as more than simple guests, but as a family or long-lost relatives to forge common ground experiences with.

Makhosi Ncube posing next to a heard of elephants bathing in mud. [Photography: taken from Makhosi Ncube's Instagram account]
Makhosi Ncube posing next to a heard of elephants bathing in mud. [Photography: taken from Makhosi Ncube’s Instagram account]

Makhosi’s drive and passion is infectious, fueled by his love for wildlife, conservation and people. Being able to meet different people from all over the world and showing them how amazing Zimbabwe and its people truly are what drives him the most. And what best way to socialise than to add ‘mixologist’ to his resume? This is why today Makhosi is not only seen as an excellent guide but also a top bush-cocktail maker.

His achievements so far would be obtaining diplomas in both Travel and Tourism and Tourism and Business Studies. Makhosi is a true Ambassador for Zimbabwe Tourism and is dedicated to showing the world its wonders through his fantastic photography and writing, which he shares through his website and Instagram account. As well as his passions for photography and writing, he is a keen conservationist who – one day – hopes to see a world where everyone is as passionate about saving and conserving wildlife for future generations as he is.

Traveling the African continent as a private guide and eventually setting up his own safari company are his ambitions for the future. For now, he’s learning more and more each day from the amazing team at African Bush Camps before he turns his attention to conquering untamed Africa.

Read more about Makhosi and experience life in the African bush through his stories and pictures by visiting his fantastic website: wildlifediaries.weebly.com. Be sure to follow Makhosi on Instagram and Facebook to get your daily fix of wildlife.