So ( basically a month ago now) after our few days in Cape Town (where I didn’t get to a parkun because our plane landed on Saturday morning after they all ended) we had a 2 hour flight to Jo’burg, and then a 4 hour transfer to our safari place. Yes, four hours. We had chosen the safari as it looked amazing and also was malaria free, which due to the last minute nature of our trip suited us. But mainly because it looked amazing. We could have flown to Botswana as it was close to the border, but changing between countries didn’t seem that easy. So it was either get in a tiny and very expensive plane, get drive, or drive ourselves (we are glad we didn’t choose the final option in the end as I think we would have been horrendously lost).
Anyway, the drive was interesting- the outskirts of Jo’burg seemed like a big US city, with huge motorways and service stations. But soon we were driving on little roads through small villages, past townships and farms, and the more “traditional” African landscape. I loved seeing the painted buildings- we saw a school with numbers and the alphabet painted brightly all over the building. The last hour of the journey was on a very bumpy unpaved road (this was warned about when we booked it)- the drive was not slowing down and I think my Garmin thought I was running as it was jiggling us about so much!
The reserve we were staying in had bookings only, and when we were waiting at the entrance hut for them to check our booking, a giraffe walked across the road in front of us! It was all so exciting! We were still nearly an hour from the lodge. We arrived there just before 4pm, and they told us we could make the safari if we wanted to. Of course we wanted to!
Rhinos on our first day. I loved seeing them- they were so gentle and peaceful. Our guide told us that all other animals were reported over the radio, but because of poachers they never disclosed the rhinos. It was heartbreaking. They also told the guests how many of the other animals that were there, but even the guides would not be allowed to know how many rhinos were in the park.
We were to have the same driver and tracker for our stay, so they asked us about what we would like to see. Around sunset they found somewhere to stop (which felt a bit weird at first- getting out of the vehicle after seeing all of these animals) and we had drinks and nibbles, and then continued in the dark, with our tracker shining a torch back and forth (very hypnotic). It was then back for dinner at the lodge, which that night was a sort of BBQ around a fire pit (loads of salads and veggie options).
Our lodge- the balcony did have a small fence around it but it looked right out into the bush and we saw so many animals from here.
We were there from Tuesday evening to Saturday morning, and each day went like this:
6am wake up call. Head up to the main lodge (in the dark you had to be accompanied by security guards as they were cautious about the wild animals)- there was tea, coffee and rusks (looked like biscotti) if you wanted. Then we got into the open sided jeep things.
It was so cold, so for the morning ones they provided hot water bottles, blankets, and these huge ponchos with fleecy linings- I had it all!
6.30am – Head off and look for animals. The guide was amazing (she was a zoologist) and had so many facts about the animals. It was mainly us and a family of four, so we had a lot of space in there, and no-one crowding to see the animals. She was so respectful of the animals too- she would stay a long way back and would turn off the engine if we were close. Sometimes with the elephants she would show us certain behaviours that meant they didn’t want to be disturbed, so she would back away or leave them.
Sometime after sunrise the safari would stop (the park had special designated drinks areas- nice and wide and open so we would not be surprised by a leopard)- in the morning I went for hot chocolate, but there was coffee and tea too. Plus freshly made muffins (a different one each day- banana, lemon poppyseed, apple cinnamon, chocolate chip..).
One of our morning stops- there were some caves nearby so we walked there (with our guide)- she found that hyenas had been sleeping in the caves overnight!
Then we would climb back on and see more animals before getting back to the lodge.
The landscape was not what I expected- it was far more tree-covered- I was expecting vast plains, but it was much more varied. We saw baboons here- this was an old waterfall and what looks like rock was actually solidified algae.
9.30am approx- Arrive back (welcomed with hot towels)- we could either shower first, or go straight to breakfast. There was a buffet with all the cold breakfast items imaginable (cereal, pastries, toast, fresh fruit platters, yoghurts, even cheese and meats), plus a menu, although they would also cook anything- I had French toast one day which was lovely. On a couple of days I stuck to the cold things, and then on another day had French toast again, even though it wasn’t on the menu, they offered it all.
You had a view of the watering hole from the veranda where breakfast was served and so every day we saw different animals there- zebra, kudu with their amazing twisty horns, warthog, wildebeest…. pretty special indeed. They have artificial watering holes as the reserve is on old farmland and so they needed to create places, although there were some natural ones on the reserve, as well as a river.
10.30-3.00 ish- This was time to chill in our room. On a couple of days I went for a short run on the treadmill, as there was an open air gym (no running in the bush was allowed).
5K was enough for me as it was so hot. I wore my parkrun 50 t-shirt so I felt like I was sort of running one in SA! On another day I went for a neck, back and shoulder massage in the spa (the exchange rate is very good so it was very reasonable indeed)- this was amazing but I put “medium” pressure, and goodness knows what firm would have been like!
There was lunch from 12-2pm, but we didn’t bother as we were always full from breakfast. We spent time reading on the veranda, or listening to podcasts. It was brilliant because you would look up and see animals wandering past. One day a huge herd of elephants went by, including a baby so tiny it was almost hidden under the stomach of another one.
One day we saw loads of giraffes and I ended up watching them for an hour. They were so funny- they would walk, then freeze, then very slowly much on the leaves, and then a few minutes later take a few more steps.
I loved seeing the warthogs too- they put up their tail as they go to leave, and that indicates “follow me”- they trot along in a very comical way. I could have just sat there and watched the animals go by for the whole time, even without the drives.
3.00pm- Afternoon tea was served on the veranda- this was basically iced tea, some savoury canapes and then some sort of freshly baked cake- again often we were not that hungry but most days I had something small.
3.30pm – The afternoon safari set off. This started off nice and warm, but you needed to bring jumpers and coats because it soon got very cold with the air rushing past, especially once the sun went down.
We saw lots of lions on these drives! Here are some lions eating a buffalo- the bone crunching sounds were graphic! They had special “locks” so that only a limited number of cars could be at each sighting- so they would not disturb the animals. Our driver would move the car to a few different positions so we could get different views. She told us that if a lion came up to the car, they would see the vehicle as one item so as long as we sat still we would be OK.
One evening was my absolute favourite- we saw two female lions, two older cubs, and three tiny cubs. The male lion was also there but hard to see as he was behind a termite mound. Honestly it was amazing how well camouflaged they were- they are huge but once they like down even if you know they are there they can be hard to spot. The cubs were so playful with each other, it was just amazing.
The tracking was amazing to watch- the driver and tracker would be peering at the floor for prints- on one of our stops they pointed out various ones to us- we could identify the big cat prints because of the dents in the bottom. We also saw rhino ones- bigger than dinner plates! Our guide knew so much about the birds too- we saw a lot of hornbills (so I constantly had that line from Lion King; “Kings don’t need advice from little hornbills for a start” going around my head), plenty of very pretty birds (I did write them all down) and an eagle.
Sometime around sunset we would find a place to stop, and here we would have sundown drinks. They asked before they left if we wanted anything, so they had freshly made iced tea for me, beer for Andy- some people had cocktails. They also got a little camping stove and cooked kebabs- veggie ones for me, and then they would cook meat ones. There were also snacks like pretzels, raisins and that jerky thing.
We saw many beautiful sunsets. Then we would climb back up and the tracker, sat on the front, would hook up a huge spotlight and gently sweep it left to right, right to left as we drove, looking for eyes reflecting. They had a policy that they would not shine it on animals that should not be out at night as it could confuse them, so if they saw animals like that they would switch off the beam and drive past.
Our first lion sighting was our second evening- this male lion was known to be very calm around vehicles and had been seen near to our camp. At first we found him walking along the road (they prefer to as it’s easier than going through the thorny bushes) but later we saw him again as we were heading back to the lodge.
7.30pm (approx)- We would arrive back (again welcomed with hot towels) and then shown to dinner- sometimes it was around the fire pit, others up on the balcony. One night we were the only guests there, so they set it up for us in our room which was amazing.
They even lit us a fire as it was a bit chilly. The chef would always come and speak to us, and the food was just fantastic. There was always a starter, soup, main and dessert- nothing too large, and so full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Plus the vegetarian option was not a different version of the meat course, it was something totally different. On the day we had dinner in our room we had aubergine carpacio to begin (three slices of seasoned crispy aubergine with some lovely vegetables), then carrot and potato soup, a traditional African dish of baked spiced lentils with some fresh salsa on the side, and then sticky toffee pudding.
When we sat in the main part of the lodge you could see the watering hole as it was lit with a sort of faint orange light- a couple of evenings we saw a rhino there, and one night a hyena!
Then we would have to try and stay awake for a bit and let dinner go down before going to sleep as it would be starting all again in the morning.
We didn’t manage to see a leopard, so we have been told we need to go back as that is the last of the big five (we managed to see lions, elephants, rhinos and buffalo all in one evening once!). It was totally amazing, and I am so glad that we managed to get there and juggle it around our house move. We managed a safari drive on the morning before leaving for our (four hour….) transfer, and I don’t think I could ever get bored of them. There were some guys who left a day early because in their words, “once you’ve seen one elephant, you’ve seen them all”- what??? We saw so many- we saw some younger ones play fighting- they pushed over small trees as a show of their strength- it was fascinating. Also those guys wanted to see lions but didn’t manage it- I am not sure why they didn’t stay to try and see a lion.
When our guide found out I was a teacher, she offered to make a cast of a lion footprint using plaster of Paris, so on one of our drink stops we walked along a bit until we found one, and then went back later to collect it. They packaged it up and I am glad to say it survived the flight home.
Andy got some amazing photos with his zoom lens, so now we have the tricky decisions of which pictures to print!
Would you ever consider a safari?