If there is a heaven, I think I might have found it. If not, I have found the next best thing! Anyone who doesn’t have South Africa on their ‘must-see’ list is simply mistaken. Don’t worry, I understand. I didn’t realize it either until I came here. Now, however, I want you to accept this truth. :)
The drive from the airport to the game park took an hour less than predicted by Google maps. A great start! En route, we came across Impala (Well, I saw the impala. Shaun and Jess were busy in the front seat figuring out directions or something…). Farther along, we saw zebra (pronounced zeb-bra in South Africa, rather than the American Zee-bra), and ostrich. Still good! Then, we came entered the park and were greeted with tea while we waited for the jeep to take us to the lodge. Our driver, Tula – a very happy and friendly man, came by, picked up our luggage, and we began the trek down the valley to our lodge. That’s when things really started to pick up!
A few of the sites on our way in:
Including, our lodge! We stayed in the building with a peaked roof to the left.
We were greeted by Lisl, who informed us that we had the place to ourselves. Totally! We had beautiful rooms, the main lodge, and a staff of twenty or so at our disposal. (Actually, Tula had already told us this, but he swore us to secrecy. I guess he wasn’t supposed to tell us…) We had originally booked the three of us in one room because, let’s face it, it’s expensive here! With no-one else around, we were given two rooms (Thankfully! I mean, I’m kidding Jess….). From our shared veranda, we had some more beautiful sites:
May I remind you this is all BEFORE our game drive?
Our lunch. We were the only guests in the dining room, so we had the prime table overlooking the river. The food was incredible, and the wine….well, we asked whether wine was by the bottle or the glass, and our server laughed and said “Don’t worry, it’s all included. Just let me know whatever you want.” Wine with lunch, and they don’t pour small glasses…
We were sitting by the pool…..’our’ pool, finishing our drinks when Shaun came up and introduced himself to us. Here’s where it’s going to get confusing, because not only was our Ranger named Shaun, he spells it the same was as Shauna, so from now on, I will refer to him as Ranger. Anyway, Ranger came up to introduce himself before our first game drive.
Within the hour we were bouncing along, crossing the electric fence that surrounds the lodge, and on our way to look for animals. The scenery was stunning! The rutted dirt track followed the edge of a river (with erosion, it might follow the bed of the river pretty soon..or need to be re-directed), and the lodge is in the bowl of a valley, so everywhere I looked was dense forest or grassland. Such a beautiful drive, that I caught myself thinking “It would be disappointing, but this drive without animals would still be worth it.” That was about 5 minutes into the drive that I thought that. Before 10 minutes were up, I had started taking photos:
White Rhinos!!! Next time we come back, they should have Black Rhinos, too, as they are getting some next year.
Now, rhinoceros (rhinoceruses?) are among my favourite animals, so I was pretty pleased already, but nothing compares to the Jurassic Park-esque thrill of seeing an elephant up ahead:
Ok….maybe something does:
I really have no words to properly describe how it feels to be within 12 feet of a real, wild, adult male lion. Particularly when it perks up and seems to take a real interest in what is happening in the car. Ranger informed us that a pouncing lion covers 22 metres per second, so the good news is that we wouldn’t even have had time to be scared…..
Ok, seriously, the poor guy is just coughing up a fur ball. He ambled away once he was done.
Once we were on our way, we drove right into the herd of elephants again. The matriarch elephant is over 4 tonnes (that’s right – metric tonnes!)…..happily, we didn’t go right into her path. We didn’t see the bull elephant, but apparently he weighs in at more than 5! According to Ranger, the largest bull elephant on record was found in Kruger Park in the 1930s. 12 tonnes!! (The weight of an 18-wheeler…?)
As we pulled back up to the lodge in the evening, we were greeted by warm, damp towels for our hands and faces, and mimosas. Warmed up by the fire, finished our drinks, cleaned up for dinner, and……we were offered wine the moment we returned to the lodge. Heavenly! We all tried Kudu steak for dinner with a red wine sauce. Poor kudu! Lucky me! Ranger regaled us with more stories of the lodge, the animals, and the dumb tourist who slapped an elephant as it walked past. The elephant replied in kind, and the fool had a large, multi-coloured bruise across his chest for the next several days.
We’ve finished dinner, and – after sitting by the large fireplace – Shaun and I have retreated to another room to briefly check email (and I’ve started typing). Someone just followed us in here to make sure we don’t want anything else to drink. Wow! Someone could become a lush in a hurry here!
As we were finishing up to head to our lodge for bed, one of the staff stopped at the door to ask whether we wanted to see something beautiful. How does one resist that invitation? The moon was rising over the hills beyond the river, so Natasha turned off most of the lodge lights, and we stood enjoying the moon and the stars, and a prawn hopping along the surface of the river to avoid fish. Natasha told us how much she loved working here; the animals, the peaceful surroundings, and the ever-present love for the wild. Everyone here has such an appreciation for the natural world. Based on what we’ve seen today, it’s really not about the money. It’s about having a lifestyle that gets you excited to wake up, and contented in the evenings.