Imagine…standing in a hot air balloon, ascending slowly as the sun rises over the African plains. Skimming across the horizon, you lock eyes with a leopard perched up in the tree. A lion’s mighty roar is heard from far below while you take in the heart-pumping great migration…sometimes called the greatest miracle on earth! Nowhere else in the world does wildlife better than Africa. Few wildlife experiences can beat the sheer thrill of a face-to-face encounter one of the BIG 5: Africa’s most dangerous animals – Lion, Rhino, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, and the ever-elusive Leopard. This collection of “safari royalty” is sure to add an exhilarating edge to your bucket list safari experience!
Some of you may have been following my recent adventure to South Africa a couple of weeks ago. Let me tell you, it was LIFE-CHANGING! As bucket list trips go, this was the perfect introduction to this amazing continent, and some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen. No question, I’ll be back soon!
There are many ways to see the animals in their natural habitats. One is to go to a region that is more water-based, with rivers and marshes. Another is to see them in the drier climates of the savannah. We were fortunate to see both on this trip!
After our week in Cape Town and the Winelands (which I’ll write about next week), our group headed north on a small commuter plane from to Zimbabwe: home of Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Here, we settled into our new home for the next couple of days: the Old Drift Lodge, a 5*, air conditioned tent camp. Overlooking the Zambezi River, and only a stone’s throw from the Falls, this was the perfect location for our luxury glamping experience.
The first night, we were treated to a nocturnal visit from a thirsty herd of elephants who thought nothing of taking a drink out of our group leader’s plunge pool! Stay in your tents, everyone!
There were sunrise/sunset boat rides up the river, game drives, and a visit to an elephant sanctuary where the group channeled their inner Van Gogh, painting these marvelous creatures! The adventurous souls of the bunch took part in bungee jumping and ziplining over the falls. Talk about exhilarating!
After Zimbabwe, we flew back to South Africa to the Kruger National Park airport in Nelspruit. The fun didn’t end there – rather than endure the bumpy dirt road for 3 hours to our camp, we then boarded two private bush planes, crammed our duffles in the tiny cargo hold, and flew off to a private airstrip in the middle of the bush. Upon landing, I was taking a photo of our plane’s shadow, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a lone giraffe! That was all the sign I needed – I knew we were in for an adventure!
Our friendly hosts (guides/trackers during our stay) at the Tanda Tula Safari Camp greeted us with huge smiles and warm hugs as we deplaned and whisked us off in their safari jeeps to the camp.
The tents at Tanda Tula were a bit more on the rustic side compared to Old Drift, but accommodations were comfortable, and the friendly staff and gourmet cuisine more than made up for it! There are no fences, so wild animals wander through camp (and past tents) regularly.
Every morning a mama Vervet Monkey, with its baby clinging to her, would visit us each morning before our 5:30am game drives, hoping for a crumb of biscotti-like biscuit to be left behind when coffee time was over. It wasn’t uncommon for bush bucks to feed outside the tents, and occasionally, zebras would drink from the nearby watering hole. While we were checking in, a hyena actually walked by the pool!
After settling in, we headed off to our first night game drive. Luck was on our side, because someone had spotted a P A N G O L I N (an endangered species believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammal for its scales that many people believe have medicinal properties). They resemble a scaly anteater (and this one was not shy in demonstrating his ant-eating prowess – look at that LONG TONGUE)! Pangolin are so rare that many guides and trackers who have worked at the lodge for over a decade had never seen one until that night, and one guide who had worked there for 26 years had only seen one four times! You know that it is the best sighting when all the guides are taking photos!
By the end of the first full day, we had seen three of the Big Five, and by the next morning, we had seen all five. Our guides and trackers were JUST.THAT.GOOD. When they learned that my life’s dream was to see a baby elephant in the wild, they moved heaven and earth to make sure I saw it! I thought I was gonna cry! The most memorable moments with these animals was with “the kill.” Our trackers can see a kill hanging in the trees from seemingly a mile away. That’s what leopards do to keep their food away from the hyenas, so when we would spot a hyena roaming about, we learned a leopard might be close by, hiding behind a bush. On our last morning in camp, some people heard a loud cry (that turned out to be a lion killing a Cape Buffalo for its breakfast, and that of the other 5 lions in the pride). Of course, we rushed out there to see the aftermath – the circle of life in full view! When our tracker spotted a pair of rhinos, he immediately suggested we dismount our jeep and creep up on them (with only a small shrub to conceal us all). I swear the male was looking right at us and at any moment he would charge in our direction! It wasn’t until we were safely ensconced in the vehicle that he informed us that rhinos have poor eyesight. Well, THAT’S a relief!
If you’ve ever watched a giraffe drink water, it’s fascinating! They have such an intricate cardiovascular system that at soon as their heads go down they get deprived of oxygen! They can only drink for a few minutes then shake their heads to get the blood circulating again!
In Kruger, the zebras are everywhere! They are also dazzling, which is why a herd of zebras are called a “dazzle.”
If you are a birder, this place is a goldmine! We saw vultures, storks (in a tree!), African hawks, magpies, lots of hornbills (think “Zazu” from Lion King), owls and the colorful Lilac Breasted Roller, among so many others I can’t remember the names of. One of our guides named Scotch told me that in Pigeon/dove language, they are saying ”in the morning work harder in the afternoon drink lager.” 🤣
One thing is for sure, on safari you won’t go hungry! They are constantly feeding you (game drives take a lot of energy 😋), and the food is incredible! There’s a certain aspect of private dining in the middle of nowhere, lunch in national park reserve with a private chef talking about the flora in the area, and cocktails near Victoria Falls- it is just gorgeous. On afternoon game drives, the thing you have to look forward to are the nightly sundowners: we enjoyed Gin & Tonics, a Zambezi Lager or Amarula (a South African cream liqueur made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree) along with snacks including biltong (dried, cured meat made from wild game like Kudu). They took our orders right after lunch so that we would have our preference out in the bush. The sunsets were merely the cherry on top!
Why should you go on an African safari vacation? Going on a safari means a change of scenery. Enjoy the time traveling through Africa at a slower pace, taking in nature, and forgetting about the daily grind. Relax, enjoy, and recharge! A safari allows you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
There is a truly magical quality and indescribable energy about Africa, which you’ll feel as soon as you step onto its soil. If nothing else, go for the restortative power of nature, spectacular scenery, and plentiful wildlife. South Africa and Adventure go hand-in-hand! If you’re ready for your own Safari adventure, you’re in luck! I’m creating an exclusive small group safari adventure (no more than 12 people) for mid-2023. We should have the details all lined up by the end of 2021, so if you want to be on the first to receive the itinerary and pricing when it’s reay, please reach out to us (Click HERE) and we’ll put you on the list!
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