South Africa is one of my most favourite places to visit. If you go, I can recommend a million things to do and to try, but the very top of my list is a
South African Safari.
In 2013, we arrived at the Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport where private transportation was waiting to bring us to our camp Kambaku Safari Lodge in the Timbavati Nature Reserve within Kruger National Park. The drive took approximately an hour to our destination and on the way, we saw Giraffes, Impalas and smaller animals like warthogs running across the road. For more information on what to bring during a safari drive, take a peek at my South African Safari Packing Essentials blog.
Our camp was absolutely amazing. From the second you walk through the Elephant tusk entrance way, it opened up into a courtyard and the lodges formed a semi circle. This provided great views of the nearby watering hole where some smaller animals would come and visit. At that moment, there were elephants passing through our camp and I could not get my camera out fast enough. However, it was not the last time we got to see these lovable giants.
I dropped my bags off into my room and found that it was quaint and cozy. I had mosquito netting surrounding my single bed and on top was a little chocolate, freshly picked flower and a Bedtime Story. Follow the link to read about Kambaku, one of the Magnificent Seven Elephants and the inspiration behind the Safari camps name.
Some people might not think the bathroom was incredible, but I’m a campin, country girl, who can rough it with the best of them. When I found a giant bath tub and a separate stand-in-shower in my bathroom, I was in heaven.
Let me tell you, After long safari drives, that tub came in handy for setting a nice relaxing atmosphere before bed.
Day 1- Half Day Evening Drive
The day consists of two driving tours, but since we arrived in the early afternoon we still got to go on the evening tour. The open vehicles held up to 9 people, not including the driver or the tracker who sat in front of the vehicle. I was surprised to learn that they don’t carry weapons in case of emergency encounters or attacks. Our first drive was in the afternoon and not even 10 minutes down the road we came across a family of Elephants (I told you we’d see them again). They were amazing to see because they would walk right up to the vehicles and pass through while minding their own business.
Continuing on our drive, we came across a dead carcass in a tree. Our tracker and driver have been keeping an eye on this location for a few days because it belongs to a leopard. But after waiting for a couple of minutes with no activity, we decided to drive around some more and return later. The next animal we saw was an impressive Kudu, which belongs to a species of antelope. (For those of you who don’t know what a Kudu looks like, it’s like a fat deer with black zebra stripes on its back and cork screw horns on the top of its head.)
We saw a lot of Giraffes on our first drive and I was ecstatic. I love Giraffes as much as I love Elephants. Fun Fact: Did you know that Giraffes do not lie their heads down while they sleep? You’ll hardly ever see a giraffe lay their head and neck down on the ground. Not only are they the tallest mammals in the world, but giraffes actually have the shortest sleep requirement of all mammals, surviving on an average of half an hour a day while laying down or standing up. If they do take a power nap, it’s only for minutes at a time because of the risk in the wild. The younger Giraffes lie down with their neck wrapped around and their head resting on their rump because they are closer to the ground and can get up quicker incase of an attack.
Continuing on….. We got back on to the main road because our driver got a message of a lion sighting. We were driving and that’s where we spotted a female lion laying on the warm pavement. She was beautiful to see up close but she looked a little thin. When we got closer she let out a low growl. The tracker proceeded to tell us that that was her mating call and she was looking for some “action”. While we were admiring a lion up close, we failed to notice a male lion running up the road from behind our vehicle. For a split second, there’s a flicker of fear as the male charged at us… but he kept going till he somersaulted into the female. They both went off into the trees and we followed pursuit, leaving them no privacy. You could tell she was frisky because she kept positioning her rear in front of the male, purring softly, and pestering him. He, however, did not want any “activity”. The tracker estimated that the male was not even two years old and was too immature to perform in lion mating habits. This little lion didn’t have the energy to partake in these fun activities.
After a while, we decided to continue on our drive. We stopped at a nearby watering hole and got out of the vehicle to stretch our legs. Kambaku’s tour guides were great. They provided snacks and refreshments for us as they encountered tales of what they’ve seen over the years.
It was starting to get dark and it took a while to get back to our camp. When we arrived home, they greeted up with hot towels, shots of brandy and a fantastic dinner for everyone staying there. It was great because they made it feel more like a Barbeque while everyone ate under the stars and recounted what they saw that day. The food was incredible!!!!
Day2- Full Day (2 Drives)
We woke up early in the morning to start our drive while the animals were beginning to waking up. Kambaku provided us with lights pastries and coffee to get our drive started.
The very first animal we saw in the morning was an adult female leopard. I love leopards and it was incredible to see how close we got. She was just laying there but you could tell we disturbed her. So she got up and started walking away when she heard something. Her head whipped back and she stood absolutely still,
Within a Millisecond, six warthogs ran out of a hole in a dirt mound and she took off. She took down the biggest one and clamped her fierce jaws around its neck slowly suffocating it until its death. Her paws and mouth fur were covered in blood and we were impressed with the thrilling experience. Even our guides were excited. They told us that in 20 years of tracking, that seeing a kill is very rare. We were all mesmerized. I felt bad that the warthog had to die, but if the lion king had taught me anything, it’s that we are all part of the circle of life. When a second vehicle came to check out the scene, that’s when she got very nervous and moved the warthog carcass under a shrub, laid down in front and protected it from “potential thieves”. She snarled at us a few times but when we tried to inch our way a little closer, she mocked charged at us with her teeth glaring. That’s when we knew our time was up and we continued with our adventure.
Below is the short video of the leopard chasing the warthog.
There’s always something to see no matter where you look. Up in the trees, we saw vultures and eagles. I even got to see a Wildebeest. Not my most favourite animal because of their portrayal in the lion king, but he was wandering around alone amongst hundreds of impalas. Around the corner, we came face to face with five white rhinos. This encounter also showed us another natural wilderness display. Two of the rhinos were challenging each other for dominance and mating rights to the other three females. They charged and thrust their horns around while using their body weight to their advantage. It didn’t get too violent or aggressive because the younger one submitted, leaving the older male to protect his females. It was very interesting to witness.
Next up on our tour, we took a small breakfast break and got out of our vehicle at a nearby watering hole. I was super excited because I saw something bobbing out of the water. It was a sleeping hippo! Every six minutes like clockwork his nose would breach the surface for air and go back down. What a strange way to sleep!
During our drive around we also came across a couple of Zebras. It was strange to see zebras because they like to be in open fields and we were driving in treed in areas. I’m not complaining. It was awesome to see the animals up close in their natural habitat.
We made our way back to camp to have a proper brunch before taking some free time to ourselves. I was hoping to walk around and explore but the guide was busy so I took a well-needed nap.
Our second drive of the day consisted of seeing more giraffes and warthogs running around. Elephants eating at trees. And finally being able to track down water buffalo. That was the last animal on our list to complete the big 5 game. The big 5 game was coined by big-game hunters referring to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The African lion, African elephant, African leopard, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo. The buffalo are on the list because when they are threatened, Cape Buffalo do not mock charge. They simply charge without warning and can do the most damage due to their horns.
It was a gripping experience. We arrived at the location ahead of where other trackers spotted buffalo tracks, we stopped the vehicle and waited a couple of minutes for the cape buffalos to arrive. Two buffalos made their way out of the bushes and we were finally content. We got to see the big 5! As we were watching them pass across our vehicle, more cape buffalos followed and within a minute we were surrounded by a couple hundred….. They just kept coming. Kind of intimidating while the driver was telling us about how Buffalos don’t mock charge. Gulp.
After they mozied along, we headed off to find a place to stretch our legs. Down the road we found a lion tracking the buffalo’s tracks, probably looking for a late meal. A second lion quickly joined them and they took a break while lying amongst buffalo droppings. We weren’t about to get out of our vehicle while lions were around. We drove off in search of another location. Unpacked our little snacks and refreshments and enjoyed talking amongst ourselves. By that point, it got very dark and we got to see the nocturnal animals come out.
By the time we arrived back at our lodge, the Kambaku staff had hot towels, brandy shots and dinner waiting for us. It was so nice to be pampered after a long day. After supper was held inside, I went back to my accommodations where my room had been prepped. My mosquito netting was down, lights were dimmed low and another bedtime story was waiting for me on my bed. It looked amazing, but what made it even better was a nice long soak in the tub.
Quick side note, I went to the front lobby to access the internet connection to double check our flight time when I found out a friend of mine was shot in Johannesburg a couple hours prior. He was fine, he’s still alive but he was a little shook up and had to get stitches on his shoulder. To read his full story click here.
Day 3- Half Day Morning Drive
The next morning was chilly, I still can’t believe I had to wear a sweater and a jacket in the month of October in Africa. By our third day, we saw every animal on our list, but it was still enjoyable to see them again and again. You never know what will happen. Our drive started off again by seeing a leopard wandering around, probably looking for its breakfast. A couple more giraffes eating leaves, a rhino or two, more lions and plenty of impalas. Our morning drive group consisted of only 5 people and the tracker and driver. It was great because it was like having a private tour. The other couple were fantastic to have around and by that time we all had become animal experts in spotting them in the wild.
When we got back to the lodge, it was hard to say good bye to our new Safari family as we had so much fun and didn’t want the adventure to end. But another adventure was calling our names in Johannesburg, so we got on the plane to the largest city in South Africa.
Next Stop….. Johannesburg….
Where my friend was shot the night before.