|There is so much to say here I don’t even know where to begin. There are so many details I will try to capture without boring everyone to tears! We arrived at Skukuza Airport around 12:30 and were met by our guide and tracker that we would be with the next 2 days. The guide’s name is Ismael and the tracker is called Wanted. Immediately, we knew we would hit it off with them. They drove us to the lodge in the open-air Land Rover Defender (we would use this for game drives as well), and upon arrival were met by a very friendly staff and our host named Derrin (who is an amazing photographer by the way). We signed our lives away, were briefed on the property, had a nice lunch outdoors. Our first animal sighting was a family of elephants that came down to the river to get a drink. They slowly drank the water and continued on their way. There are also 2 monkeys that like to hang around at breakfast and lunch. Derrin had warned us that they like to sneak up and steal your food. While sitting at lunch 2 people got a surprise visit and their food stolen right off their plate. While sitting at lunch a Kudu and Nyala (types of antelope) also came down to the river. After our lunch with champagne we were taken to our rooms. All I can say here is that I have never stayed in a room like this before. Picture 1950’s North Africa WWII movies where the English royalty would stay. Only the pictures will do it justice (just like everything else I am writing), but the room is huge with a large bathroom and outdoor shower, wonderful king-size bed covered by a mosquito net, separate sitting area, fully stocked mini-bar, and outdoor deck with plunge pool overlooking the Kruger savannah and river.
We met for high tea at 3:30 then quickly loaded into the vehicles. The Big 5 are buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino. Those are the animals everyone comes to Africa to see. We left the lodge and headed out into the park. The terrain could honestly be in west/southwest Texas. Hilly, dusty, different types of trees everywhere, rivers (some dry and some wet), and dry. This is the worst drought southern Africa has seen in 35 years and some of the animals are unable to survive. Ismael was extremely informative about everything we saw, and we made multiple stops as we made our way through the rough terrain.
I really don’t remember the order, but we saw elephants, giraffes, Kudu, buffalo, and other small animals almost immediately. Their beauty immaculate and their power unrivaled. One thing that is interesting is that the cape buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals in the bush. They have a bad temper and can charge very quickly without warning. After an 1.5 hours or so, there was a report over the radio of a Black Rhino sighting. This, apparently, is a VERY rare animal and we were all excited to go on the hunt. Ismael and Wanted were skilled in their approach, and suddenly, there he was standing between the trees. If we had lived millions of years ago, this is the type of prehistoric creature we would have lived amongst. Large and sturdy, rough and tough. This is the Black Rhino. After several pictures and videos, the sun was setting and it was time for sundowners (cocktails) while we watched the sunset. Ismael and Wanted prepared gins and tonic, sparkling wine, Amarula (like Bailey’s), mixed nuts, biltong (like beef jerky), and other snacks and drinks. We saw Mars and Saturn, more clearly than ever before, and then started back for the lodge. On the way back, we saw a pack of wild dogs, and a family of elephants with babies in tow. We arrived back at the lodge, had a drink at the bar, then went to our rooms to freshen up before dinner. As we were sitting at the bar Derrin came and told us how while we were gone baboons got into one of the rooms. They had warned us to always keep our doors locked because the baboons can open doors and will come in and raid the mini bar. They can smell food miles away. They cleared the snack closet and emptied the mini bar (even drinking beer by opening them with their mouth). We are just glad it was not our room!
This is basically a place where everything is outdoors or open-air. The heat can be intense, but somehow it doesn’t really bother us. It was time to eat (we would be doing that a lot) and we ordered onion soup and kudu carpaccio and crocodile carpaccio and Eland loin (antelope) and sea bass and cheese plates and cheesecake. Sound good? It was and was all paired nicely with nice Chardonnay and Pinotage wines. We decided to have another glass of wine and sat on the outdoor sofas off the main lobby and looked at the sky. Derrin (I mentioned him before) pointed out the outline of the Milky Way, and none of us had ever seen the site, as it was, before. There were millions of stars, planets, and galaxies that shone on the African night sky. Again, another incredible view. Off to bed for an early start tomorrow.
Our wake-up call came at 5:30 am but it was no problem getting out of bed as we know what the day had in store. At the main lodge, we had a few morning snacks, coffee, and tea before this morning’s game drive. We loaded up around 6:00 or so with the hope of seeing a lion. We had seen 3 of the Big 5 yesterday, and only 2 were left (lion and leopard). There had been a sighting of a pride the evening before so we set out on their path. After some driving, and no luck, Ismael and Wanted began getting out of the vehicle, leaving us there, and walking a click or two while following the pride’s tracks. This went on for a couple of hours or so and we still had not seen the lions, but Ismael (and our group) was determined we would find them before going back to the lodge for breakfast. We felt a bit like Hemingway in “Green Hills of Africa” where he would track big game for days (we had only been at it for a couple of hours!) After a few more minutes and turns around the park, we began our journey back when all of a sudden we spotted a lion sitting in the road. It was more beautiful than expected and our hearts were racing as we saw another, and another, and so on. All-in-all there were 6 of them with the male being easily distinguishable. They had a slight approach of the vehicle, but made their way across the path and into the bush. It was the highlight of the day, and maybe even the trip, and we thanked Ismael and Wanted for their hard work in helping us see these magnificent beasts. As we were making our way back to the lodge Wanted had Ismael back up the vehicle as he had seen something in the tree. As we backed up a leopard came into view. As we tried to snap photos he jumped down and ran off. His spots and coloring were stunning. It was time for breakfast, and we arrived at the lodge shortly thereafter.
A light meal then back to the rooms to freshen up a bit, relax, and get ready for lunch and another game drive in the afternoon. After the fist day or so, it has been completely successful and enjoyable, and we look forward to our next several drives over the next few days. Two more here and then on to Ulusaba tomorrow afternoon for another wonderful experience.