SOUTH AFRICA: Safari on the edge of Kruger Park

SOUTH AFRICA: Safari on the edge of Kruger Park

I had no idea that I would enjoy being on a safari as much as I did.  Going on a safari has never really been on my to do list, because I will always choose an activity or destination where an ocean, river or lake is nearby and I can spend the majority of my time partially or fully submerged in water.  And as much as I love wildlife, I associated safaris with retired white people with accents sweating profusely in their khaki, and essentially birdwatching, but to see larger animals.

When we were out on our game drives in our shaded Land Rover, we spotted a few khaki-clad pasty white retirees bobbing around in other vehicles, but everything else I had in mind about what a safari would be like was off. Within 15 minutes of driving around the bush (which is what they call the terrain out there), we had spotted an elephant, a bunch of wildebeest, kudu and gazelles, and were pulling up next to two male lions taking a nap under a tree, and we just parked directly next to them and hung out for 20 minutes snapping pictures like they were just a couple of ordinary cats.

When Alex and I first decided to include a safari on our trip and started researching, we were discouraged by how expensive every safari lodge was.  There’s “ok let’s splurge” expensive which I expected a safari lodge would be, but these were like five dollar sign, people who own sail boats expensive. One of the game reserves we contacted just to see about availability told us that every single lodge in their reserve was full for our dates, but that they could book us at Honeyguide Tented Safaris in the neighboring Manyaleti Game Reserve.  The price was pretty reasonable and for about $350pp/day it included 2 3-hour game drives each day with a spotter and guide, 3 super delicious daily meals (with more silverware than I knew how to use), and our stay in a LUXURY TENT (thieving monkeys at no extra cost).  Also there was a pool, so my safari was not without water I could submerge myself in.

The tent was less a tent and more like a fancy cottage with the walls and roof removed and replaced with heavy duty tarp material.  I found this to be one of the most ideal lodging situations I’ve ever experienced.  A description of the camp says “Honeyguide Mantobeni Camp is designed to reflect Hemingways’ Africa.”  The entire experience was like living in a Wes Anderson movie about going on a safari, down to the table that was set up on the hood of the Land Rover on each drive at a carefully chosen location at sunrise and sunset, and the vintage cooler that was brought out and its contents meticulously arranged for either morning tea or an evening cocktail with fruit and fresh baked treats.

Alex face down snoozing in the middle of the day between game drives.

Alex face down snoozing in the middle of the day between game drives.

Rear view of our safari tent at night.  The moon and stars would shine in so bright I almost had to wear an eyeshade to get to sleep at night.  Also through the thin tent walls we could hear an orchestra of the bugs and frogs.  Since our camp had no fences separating it from the surrounding reserve we had to be escorted to and from our tent each night so that we didn’t have a surprise encounter with an aggressive buffalo or other wild animal.

Rear view of our safari tent at night.  The moon and stars would shine in so bright I almost had to wear an eyeshade to get to sleep at night.  Also through the thin tent walls we could hear an orchestra of the bugs and frogs.  Since our camp had no fences separating it from the surrounding reserve we had to be escorted to and from our tent each night so that we didn’t have a surprise encounter with an aggressive buffalo or other wild animal.

This converted Land Rover felt more like a land boat as it drove around the reserve, running over any bushes and small trees between it and the elusive white rhino.  Our spotter, Phillip sat on the seat at the very front of the hood and would navigate our guide to the animals he spotted in the distance, and around treacherous spots where the ground had eroded, forming canyons in the road. On several of our drives Alex and I were the only guests, and could lounge with an entire row of seats to ourself.

This converted Land Rover felt more like a land boat as it drove around the reserve, running over any bushes and small trees between it and the elusive white rhino.  Our spotter, Phillip sat on the seat at the very front of the hood and would navigate our guide to the animals he spotted in the distance, and around treacherous spots where the ground had eroded, forming canyons in the road. On several of our drives Alex and I were the only guests, and could lounge with an entire row of seats to ourself.

A herd of cape buffalo. I borrowed Jasons 70-200 lens, and found that even when I zoomed all the way out, the animals were too close to all get in the shot.

A herd of cape buffalo. I borrowed Jasons 70-200 lens, and found that even when I zoomed all the way out, the animals were too close to all get in the shot.

On one of our last drives we came across this entire pride of lions napping in a dry river bed.  There were even more than fit in this shot… again they were too close!

On one of our last drives we came across this entire pride of lions napping in a dry river bed.  There were even more than fit in this shot… again they were too close!

This female cheetah was the last animal we saw on our last game drive.  She had just eaten a baby impala she killed and some vultures had swopped in to finish it off.  Photo by Alex Martin.

This female cheetah was the last animal we saw on our last game drive.  She had just eaten a baby impala she killed and some vultures had swopped in to finish it off.  Photo by Alex Martin.

 

We saw the entire “Big 5”, the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo… most of them several times. We also saw giraffes, zebras, a hyena, the cheetah above, a tortoise, vultures, many herds of gazelles, kudu, wildebeest, nyala, springbok, and several warthogs (which looked EXACTLY like Pumba).  In addition to photographing them I appropriately kept a little Field Notes journal of every single animal we spotted on each of our 6 drives.  But following our safari and drive back to Johannesburg and flight to Cape Town, we were carjacked and robbed of all of my luggage- every single thing that I took with me to go on safari with the exception of the clothes I was wearing.  Instead of having hundreds of digital and film photos and videos of our safari (and the days before and after in Johannesburg and Soweto), I just have these few photos that I either uploaded to Dropbox in order to post on Instagram, or shared with Jason while chatting on Facebook.

I had such an amazing time on our safari that I definitely want to go back and do it again (especially since I lost all of my photos and videos).  If I go on another safari, I’d like to go in the wintertime when the bush is dry and the landscape looks more like the classic African scenery that you see.  The summer was beautiful, but its so lush and green that animals are not as easy to spot as they are in the barren winter landscape.

SOUTH AFRICA: Soweto Township

SOUTH AFRICA: Soweto Township

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