Pouring rain drowns the sounds of the bush and for a brief moment, the sky becomes as wild as the earth below her. Under cover of a nearby tree, three male lions stand tall as they patiently wait for the downpour to stop. Suddenly, the dark sky clears and the sun peeps between fluffy clouds. A little leopard turtle emerges from its shell to amble across the road and once again, the bush comes alive.
…Waking up at the crack of dawn to go jostling in a 4×4 over unpaved paths to see wild animals was not my idea of relaxation. Yet, there I was at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands Reserve of Kruger National Park, somehow awake at an ungodly hour and ready for a game drive with the husband, our friendly guide, talented tracker and a few fellow guests. The supremely comfortable Land Rover roared to life and off we went.
Birds chirped out greetings as we made our way through the bush. Our first sighting had us smiling: a herd of Impalas that capered about as they chomped on juicy grass. A little further, we chanced upon a baby elephant following its rather large and protective mama. We watched in admiration as they passed. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, our guide whipped out a tablecloth that he spread on the hood of the Land Rover along with some refreshments.
After the brief ‘picnic’, we set off again. Suddenly, the guide killed the engine. He and the tracker got down on one knee to examine fresh droppings and some pugmarks. Just as suddenly, they veered off the road and onto the long green grass, slashing and forging their own path before stopping a few feet away from a lounging leopard. How they managed to pinpoint the leopard’s exact location remained a mystery, but we chalked it down to experience.
Later that day, we spotted a lion and lioness awakening from their siesta and moved in close enough to see their teeth as they yawned. As we drove into the sunset, we stumbled upon most of the wild animals on our bucket list, including catching: giraffes wandering, rhinos sunbathing, male lions prowling, a lioness walking with her cubs and zebra grazing. However, just as the husband aimed his camera at the zebra, our naturalist became very excited and asked us to be seated immediately.
Quickly, he maneuvered our vehicle over the grassland and sped in the same direction as a few other vehicles. Apparently, someone had just spotted the elusive wild dog. For wildlife-simpletons like us, abandoning zebra to watch dogs seemed strange.
Nevertheless we chased the pack of wild dogs and reached just in time to watch them hunt a baby Impala. Wild dogs are vicious, relentless and merciless and do not bother to kill their prey before eating it. We saw the poor baby fight to its death. The sight was too horrific to watch, yet we could not stop watching. Our heart went out to the baby Impala and yet, we understood it was the natural order of life at work.
In the bush, life is unpredictable. It is this reality that is at once thrilling and humbling. The images of life at its simplest, fill the mind until all other thoughts are erased. There are no mobile phones, laptops or televisions; only the bush, its inhabitants and its guests. The clarity of thought, depth of relaxation and the extent of grounding experienced with a safari holiday are unmatched.
Think safari, think Africa. Where in Africa, depends on the purpose. To witness wildebeest migration, Kenya and Tanzania; for an out-and-out safari holiday, Botswana or Namibia; for the first-timer or a light taste of adventure – South Africa.
We fell into the latter category as safari was a part of our trip to South Africa and not the sole purpose. Selecting the right property is important as besides the safari and bush walks, relaxation is the only item on the agenda.
While there are some incredible properties, the Lion Sands River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve ticks all the right boxes:
- Luxurious rooms with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows that overlooks the river and offers an opportunity to spot wildlife from bed
- Experienced and knowledgeable guides and trackers
- Warm and welcoming staff; every time a vehicle enter or exits the property, the security guard performs a little jig
- Delicious African-inspired meals, with the highlights being vegetarian bunny chow (curried vegetables on a bun) and homemade chakalaka sauce (special hot sauce)
Travel tip: The property offers a unique experience for those brave enough to face the wild alone: dinner and overnight stay under the stars in a lone treehouse amidst the bush.
To safari or not to safari…
Watching wildlife in its natural habitat is at once humbling, exciting and enlightening. While wildlife spotting largely shapes the safari experience, the property, people and land complete it.
There is something almost magical about the land. Maybe, it is the rarity of finding something so raw and unspoilt. Or maybe something as simple as watching the land and its creatures awaken to a new day.
Or maybe, the sheer beauty of silence. A silence so profound that every breath and whisper is audible. A silence so peaceful that it calms the soul. A silence so complete that it frees the mind. A silence that, if heard, conveys what it means to be one with nature.
Sometimes, we have to disconnect from the world and connect with nature to reconnect with ourselves.
Additional Travel Tips
For the luxury traveler: incredible high-end properties abound, but two unique options are Ulusaba and Singita Boulders Lodge
For local booking assistance: contact Cape Portfolios
For the safari enthusiast: Game reserves may be fenced or unfenced. The unfenced game reserves – such as Sabi Sands – allow free animal movement and are considered a more ‘natural’ safari experience
For photography enthusiasts: properties may offer cameras on hire, but memory cards need to be purchased