A Christmas Safari
The festive season is, as the name suggests, celebratory and exciting. Add to this the thrill of adventure and surprise, and you have it made for an incredible safari. The family I was to guide had three young adults aged, 21,19 and 17 and their parents. I met and introduced myself to them in Johannesburg, as they wanted to learn more about the history of the country before flying out to our first safari destination. We visited the Apartheid Museum and were immersed in the realities of the toils and troubles of South Africa’s dark past. An uncomfortable but enlightening experience. After three hours in the museum, we headed back to the hotel. After an early Christmas Eve dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for an early start for our flight to Mala Mala.
As we took off in our private Pilatus PC-12 NG aircraft, the excitement from the group was tangible. In only one hour we would have left the city behind and would be deep in the African bush, surrounded by amazing wildlife. On approach to the airstrip I could hear one of the group shout “rhino!” Right there next to the runway were three rhino, startled by the approaching aircraft and looking for cover. Climbing off the plane, we met our local guide, Roan, as well as a scorching heatwave that had settled over the lowveld. We hopped into our private vehicle and went off to see if we could find the rhino we had just spied from the plane! Unfortunately the rhino had b-lined straight for the thickets, so we decided to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee while looking out over the Sand River before heading up to the lodge.
The next few days would be the perfect springboard into the ultimate African experience. Our first afternoon was spent with a massive elephant bull, who seemingly wanted to eat what was under our vehicle as we constantly had to reposition to ensure that he didn’t reposition us! At this stage, spirits were so high that not even the oppressive heat could dampen them. While searching for a leopard at the den site where she had been hiding her three month old cub, we found a rhino bull feeding along a river bed. What luck! To finish off our evening safari, we stopped for a sundowner and were suddenly joined by an inquisitive hyena who skulked around the vehicle, hoping to help himself to some of our leftover sundowner snacks!
The following morning we headed out with no particular plan in mind, we had seen an elephant from the deck of the lodge and thought that would be a great place to start. The elephant was feeding amongst baboons, all having their breakfast together, and we spent a good half an hour watching them all. As we left and started to make our way down into the confluence of the Sand and Manyeleti rivers, we found wild dog pups playing with the remains of a kill! The adults had gone off to drink water while the pups just did what puppies do…ran, jumped and frolicked while waiting for their parents to return. When the adults did eventually return, they collected the puppies and set off on the second hunt for the morning. It was complete chaos as we tried to keep up with dogs as they flushed impala out of the thickets and went barreling after their next meal. An unfortunately an unsuccessful but exciting hunt to watch!
Through the heat of the days we safaried on, and had an absolutely incredible time. On one of our mornings we left very early to try and find a pride of lion. They had been rather elusive and we decided the best plan was to head out before sparrows wake and watch the sunrise from a beautiful rocky outcrop with a coffee in hand before going out in search of them.
From this incredible vantage point we suddenly heard the distant roars of lions! Well let’s just say the urge to continue our morning coffee quickly lost its appeal and we packed up at speed, and almost running down the outcrop we went in search of the distant roars. After some expert tracking, we stumbled on the lionesses settling down in the shade to try escape the oppressive heat.
Later that afternoon a gusty wind picked up as we set out in search of an elusive leopard. We went back to the rock where the leopard had been denning her cub and searched for any sign of activity. We could then see where the mother had entered the den and the tracks of her leaving with the cub. So the search began! She was sure to have a kill if she had come back to fetch the cub. Fortunately, big cats do enjoy using main roads to walk on, but the wind was making tracking her extremely tough as it softens the tracks. We eventually had to leave the guests in the vehicle to go and see where she had left the road and follow on foot into the bush to see if we could locate her. As we walked and the wind shunted through the trees, we suddenly spotted the golden glow of her coat against the green grass as she huddled over her kill.
The excitement was palpable as we got back to the vehicle and tried to navigate the Land Cruiser in to where we had found her. We hadn’t stuck around long enough to see if the cub was with her, but when we eventually got back to where she was feeding, we then saw the three month old cub staring down at us from the tree above its mother. What a sighting! We finally watched her carry the kill up the tree to her cub, groom him and then fall asleep as the cub continued to feed on the carcass.
The next morning was another early start as we needed to get moving on to our next camp… Little Vumbura in the Okavango Delta. This time into the Citation M2 jet we climbed and set off to a new country and a new experience. When we landed we were met by our next guide, Mocks, who took us back to the lodge for a bite to eat, orientation, unpacking and then it was straight out into the field for our afternoon safari. There had been a sighting of a cheetah and her two cubs that morning, and we were keen on following up on them. We headed to the area where they had been spotted feeding but there was no sign. So we started to track again. We eventually caught up with them having a drink from a small pan before they lay down in the shade to carefully watch an approaching herd of elephant. What a way to start!
The next day we were on a mission to find lion, and about an hour in we had been notified of a pride on the move! It turned out to be a spectacular sighting as lioness groomed and fed their cubs and stared out across the plains at potential prey. Eventually the lionesses got up and started to stalk the warthog they had spotted, unfortunately the cubs managed to spoil the hunt with their adorable inexperience at staying hidden…
The next day we took a helicopter flip over the Delta to see the beauty of this incredible wilderness from above. Two Robinson R44s were on hand to take us up, and with no doors to obstruct our view we headed out over waterways. We saw herds of elephant, giraffe, buffalo and plenty other wonderful game. The views were spectacular and everyone’s adrenalin was peaked! Once back on the ground we went back to a leopard we had spotted on the way to the helicopters. She was posing on a termite mound above the kill she had stashed in the bushes below.
Our last drive was topped off by an incredible sighting of the mother cheetah on a kill with her two cubs. We sat for over an hour as they fed and played around the carcass. It was such an amazing experience as we sat alone with them, listening to the sounds and watching their behavior patterns over time.
The next morning we had planned an early mokoro (traditional dugout canoe) ride along the waterways, but as we got onto the water the sound of a huge male lion echoed off the water, and it was close…we tried again to continue with the mokoro but were distracted as the chorus of roars got loader, so we decided to go try and find them. We got into the vehicle and heard over the radio that the one we had heard so close to us on the water had turned on his heels as three other males came to try and chase him out. We proceeded to find the one male that was leading his two brothers and proclaiming his dominance across the bush. While we were following, our pilot was stranded out at the aircraft as the two other males were moving around the airstrip roaring. It was a thrilling and perfect way to finish off our stay in the Delta!
Now it was time to head to a drier climate in the form of the Namib Desert of Namibia. Sossusvlei Desert Lodge was the destination, and what a destination it was! The endless vistas were stretched out infront of us as we arrived at out luxury lodge. Wine cellars, pools in each villa and lavish finishes. This was the perfect place after our amazing water safari in the Delta, and time to do something a little different. We went e-biking across the desert on our first evening, climbed the highest dunes in the world before running down their steep slopes, went quad biking through the red dunes and finally finished with an incredible hot air balloon ride. All of our adventures finally came together in a final stop in the Mother City, Cape Town, where we experienced the vibrancy of the city and all of the history and culture it had to share. What a journey!
Thank you to this amazing family for allowing us to take them on a life changing journey through Africa. We look forward to the next time!
Richard & The Safari Architects Team