I’ve never wanted to go on Safari.
Is that a shocking thing to admit? I never quite understood the appeal. Being an activities person, I just thought the idea of not being able to run through the game reserve or do yoga on the open plains, a little limiting. However, what I love more than activities, is being proven wrong by a new activity that I have now fallen in love with.
And yes, there it is. I think I get the love affair people have with bush, the whole “Out of Africa” appeal. The linen outfits, round hats and binoculars. The canteens, khakis and cameras. I am sold.
We arrived in the early afternoon on Thursday to the very small and very backwards Hoedspruit airport. Despite being the MOST expensive internal flight in South Africa, you still collect your luggage out of the back of a trailer on the side of the road in a hodge-podge of (sweating) international tourists, excitedly hurrying to meet their tour operator and “go on safari”. The heat smacks you in the face as soon as you get out the plane, it is dry, it is hot and the landscape is exactly “Out of Africa”. In fact, before we even drove away from the airport we had spotted 3 giraffe. How’s that for authentic?
Still, with very little expectation, I pushed my over-large suitcase, next to my wonderful friend, Lizanne’s over-large suitcase in the car, as my parents watched wide eyed, wondering where their small ones might fit. “Out of Africa” – we were obviously going to dress the part, as much as we could. We did it though. All suitcases, in the boot. Success.
And then we started the 50km/hr drive along the very straight road from the airport to our exquisite lodge- Motswari. Recently, my mind has been everywhere else and so I never even took the time to look the lodge up on it’s website. And a little part of me was glad I didn’t, because from the moment we pulled up into the front gates, I was surprised by every step. We were greeted by BIG smiles, beautiful African handshakes and a cold homemade lemonade. Addressed by our names from the outset, guided to our rooms and introduced to the tranquility of the Timbavati.
The area, Timbavati was founded by like minded game farmers in 1956. All passionate about conserving the large area (over 53 000 square hectares). It spans between Mapumalanga and Limpopo and plays house to the most exquisite of game animals, all the Big Five, the Little five, an array of beautiful birds and insects.
We didn’t have much time between dropping our bags and jumping into our Safari Truck. We squeezed a quick bite to eat in, before meeting our incredible Game Ranger, Petrus and Tracker, Patrick. Their knowledge and practical application of this knowledge meant that we had a week of the most unbelievable drives. Beginning from the moment we stepped on the truck.
Petrus, a local from just outside of Hoedspruit, grew up with most of the game animals meandering not far from his home. He told us some amazing stories of growing up with the animals so close by and the way the family used to interact with them and their surroundings. Initially, quite quiet, Petrus’s amazing knowledge slowly started to seep out, especially in relation to his knowledge of birds. There was not one bird that we drove past that he couldn’t name and tell us some fascinating fact about. It was so impressive. His sense of humour was equally brilliant, quietly getting us all into fits of hysteria on a number of occasions with some quick wit and well-timed one liners. By the end of the trip, we were a well-rounded crew, with Petrus’s personality adding the greatest dimension.
While, Patrick, our straight faced tracker, used only hand signals and silence to uncover the secret world of the game animals. Often, signaling us off road, bushwhacking to reveal a pack of lions, a herd of Elephants or an unsuspecting leopard grooming herself under a bush in the shade. His tracking abilities are incredible and his calm demeanour unflappable, even when an entire herd of Elephant are right into front of his face.
I am not going to list all of the sighting we had but only mention the highlights. I guess, it is important to say that we saw the Whole Big Five, almost on our first two drives, leaving only the Rhino to be our last sighting on Sunday afternoon as we were on our way home. But in between the sightings of these Big Five, nature showed us a whole other side of her magic.
After an incredible first evening game drive, spotting Ellies, Giraffe, Zebra, a host of birds of prey, Impala and a wide selection of other bokkies, we woke up the next morning with no clue how the day was going to play out for our sunrise drive. After a beautiful morning of many great sightings, we were on our way back for breakfast, with half an hour to go for the end of our drive. We got a heads up about a leopard sighting and so Petrus turned on the gas and boosted his way through the bushes.
And there he was. An incredible, big spotted leopard sitting under the shade of a tree, tucking into an impala. Not even four metres away from us. After finishing his kill, he gracefully stood up and meandered his way further through the bushes and down into a river bank, taking more shade. We followed him and managed to get close to him, as he groomed himself meticulously. We were so close that we were able to see his tongue sweeping over his paws, the detail in his face and hear his breath. It was magnificent. And, when he was done, he stood confidently and walked off into the distance, leaving us all speechless and in awe of this sighting.
Petrus started the car again and our journey back to the camp. However, as we came around a corner, there was a flurry of activity. Over 100 vultures perched on the banks of a river, crowding around something. Some circling over head and others perched in trees. As we got closer, we saw a single hyena in the middle of them, guarding a half eaten Kudu carcass. As he would start to gnaw his teeth into the carcass, the vultures would come closer and closer, until he would get angry and start to chase them. This allowed the perfect opportunity for some of them to come in and start attacking the carcass while he was chasing their friends. This cycle continued, until the hyena had had enough. He tried, to single handedly drag the carcass into the water and submerge it, out of reach of the greedy Vultures and perhaps hidden for his friends. But, it was boiling hot and he looked exhausted. Eventually, giving up, he retreated to a nearby collection of reeds, taking a few moments to soak up some shade and regain some strength. And then the cycle began again. It was absolutely amazing to see!
With the call of our breakfast in the air, already 20 minutes late, Petrus started up “Shongile” – our truck – and headed back to Camp, only to come across an incredible Elephant, right in our path. It was moments like this that never ceased to amaze me. Just as you are getting used to finding birds or dung beetles, a pack of lions rear their head and you sit watching their morning ritual for half an hour. What an experience.
Amongst many beautiful animal spottings, were the two best parts of the game drive, the moment we stopped for Morning Coffee or Afternoon Sundowners. Again, our wonderful guides were not short of surprises when it came to choosing the perfect location. Our watering holes were often in between or overlooking those of the animals. The staff would have packed a selection of snacks and for breakfast coffee, tea and juices. We got into the habit of including some Amarula cream in our morning coffees. We introduced this to our German friends, who seemed to love the addition 🙂
And while, the mornings stops were awesome. I did favour the evening Gin and Tonics. Waiting for the sun to go down, watching the flurry of bird activity and reflecting on the day, the sightings and all the laughs.
We became quite the experts on birds. Taking queues from Petrus on the various ways to identify the different species. And by the end we could casually name a large selection of what birds were on display for us. And it was through this that we learned to admire the small things along the way. Taking in the dung beetles, the leopard tortoises, the beautiful chameleons, the termites being attacked by chance-taking birds at night. it was the small moments that kept us chatting away for hours while waiting to spot one of the big five or an impressive Kudu, Waterbuck or their counterparts.
And then, post drives, the laziness of being in the 35+ degrees for a number of hours would kick in. And after, a massive breakfast, normally a nap would follow and then some amazing hours of lying at the pool, playing board games, solving and philosophising about the worlds problems and even one afternoon of mud face masks.
Relaxing. Revitalising. Rejuvenating. The perfect way to start the new year, to reflect on the year before, set goals for the year ahead and actually, just take in one deep breath, before the year begins again. A perfect get away. I am sold.