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The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari

The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari

HERE IT IS!

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR COPY!

The updated, in depth Ebook designed to assist you in understanding the Kruger safari dynamics. Packed full of insider advice and info, The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari is your one stop shop for everything safari!

Overwhelmed by the massive choice of lodges and camps? Don’t know the difference between the private and public Kruger? Worried about approaching elephants when self driving? Want to learn game viewing etiquette? Not sure what budget you should choose for your safari? Wondering about which car to rent? Don’t know whether to stay at a lodge or self drive? THIS IS FOR YOU! Fresh off the press, we’ve launched our first ever SAFARI PLANNING GUIDE, packaged in an Ebook format for all you go getters! Sit back, relax, and enjoy our ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR KRUGER SAFARI.

 

We’ve created a specially designed Ebook for all safari goers – with over 40 pages PACKED with insider information and personal knowledge to help you create and plan your ULTIMATE SAFARI.

Along with factual and first hand experience advice, and a breakdown of both the public (self drive) and the private (lodge) experiences, we’ve included many tasty tidbits to assist you;

  • Common animal checklist
  • How to Approach Elephants Safely
  • Top Safari Mistakes – and how to avoid them!
  • All about Tipping
  • Game Viewing Etiquette
  • Safari Cuisine – what your tastebuds can expect
  • How to pick Your Perfect Lodge
  • Budget Guide
  • What to pack for you Safari
  • Detailed Kruger history and Information
  • Transport

And MUCH more!

If you’ve been at it for a while, or you are a safari newbie, this Ebook is perfect for anyone who wants first hand knowledge and advice for their Kruger safari.
Designed with the reader in mind, we break down every portion of your safari experience, assisting you to pick your ULTIMATE Kruger adventure!

Created by Jacqui Sive, owner and operator of Lodge Trackers Safari Specialists (based right in the Kruger area!), your Ebook will provide you with everything you need to know to plan the ultimate Kruger adventure. Lodge Trackers – Bringing you the Best of the Bush!

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR COPY!

Keeping Fit While On Safari

Keeping Fit While On Safari

For some (me included!) a holiday is about total indulgence. It is about experiencing the local foods, enjoying a sundowner (or 5!), and not saying ‘no thanks’ to dessert. But – there comes a time when our bodies begin to feel gluggy (it is a real word!), bloated, clogged, and just not on top form. Add lazy days on a safari to the mix, and it all just multiplies! SO – if you keep a regular fitness routine at home, and you’d like to continue while you’re on your safari… READ ON!

Lets talk FOOD first.
The truth is, keeping fit while you’re on a safari isn’t hard at all. In fact, a lot of the lodges are able to easily cater to dietary requests! Low carb diet? No problem. Vegetarian? No worries at all! Gluten free? Easy. Low fat? No worries!
The majority of lodges are able to provide you with meals to suit whatever regime you are on – be it for medical reasons, or pure health reasons.

On any normal day for breakfast, you will most likely be looking at an array of healthy (and not so healthy) options to fill up on after your morning safari. At most of my visits, I’ve had all or at least some of the below:

  • Fresh whole and cut fruit
  • Plain and flavored yogurts (full fat and low fat options)
  • An array of different breads – usually at least brown and white bread
  • A selection of cereals; Muesli and cornflakes are generally a staple
  • Cooked options such as sausages, bacon, savory mince, scrambled/fried eggs (or, at some lodges, eggs made to order how you like), pancakes, hash browns, baked beans, and so on.

Most lodges offer buffet breakfasts, which allow you the opportunity to choose what you would like on your plate, which assists in staying healthy while on safari.

When it comes to lunch, some lodges present plated meals, whilst others stick to the buffet style. For lunches, it really varies from lodge to lodge – so let us take a look at some of the options I’ve experienced;

  • Pre made wraps (usually either chicken strips, tuna, or beef strips – plated)
  • An array of salads (garden salads, coleslaw, broccoli/cauliflower salad, bean salads)
  • Fresh breads and fresh bread rolls
  • Cous-Cous – either plain or with some cooked veggies mixed in
  • Fish cakes
  • Cold meats
  • Cheeses

Again, a lot of good healthy options you can choose from if your meal is not plated.

As dinner comes around, again it is up to the lodge whether you have a pre-plated meal, or a buffet. At some lodges, you will have an option for plated meals – think fancy ‘chicken or beef’ style. Here are some of the dinner meals I’ve had;

  • Beef fillet seared on an open fire
  • Roasted chicken (or grilled chicken)
  • Pan fried fish
  • Lamb chops
  • Bobotie (check out this link for info)
  • Game meat (Kudu, impala, warthog) – this isn’t a forced thing, but most of the time the option is given for those who would like to try local meat
  • A TONNE of varied and healthy salads
  • Vegetable dishes
  • Roasted/mashed potato

As you can see, the meals that are offered can easily be chosen to suit any diet (if not already pre-prepared to suit yours). Of course there is still dessert after this (think fried bananas in filo pastry with melted chocolate, chocolate mousse, melktart, cheesecake etc).

For me personally, it is not the meals that make it harder to be healthy, but it is the ‘in between’ meals part – the morning + afternoon game drive stops for coffee or sundowners – and the tasty accompaniemants, not to mention the ‘pre game drive’ early morning coffee & snacks, or afternoon coffee and snacks before one heads out into the wild.

This is where I find the least healthy options offered. Usually, for the morning snacks, you’re looking at biscuits, rusks (a South African hard baked dunking biscuit), muffins and so on. All carbs and all sugar. In the afternoon, you’re looking at the same as the above before you head out on drive – but the mid game drive sundowner/snack stop brings chips (crisps), pretzel mix, and more savory items. Usually though, the lodge does at least offer a mixed nuts selection or some biltong – both which would be the healthier alternative to the other sugary snacks. Agian, you can just request your lodge to have some healthier items available for you – if you give them enough time to prepare (and you’re not TOO picky!), most lodges will happily assist. Otherwise, you can of course bring your own snacks too.

 

NOW – let us talk about the other side of health – EXERCISE!

More and more lodges are becoming more conscious of the shifting energy of their guests – health is becoming more important to a lot more people. I am finding a lot of lodges either adding an on-site gym to their offerings, or updating their existing gyms. Some lodges that already have great fitness facilities are Senalala Luxury Safari Camp (Klaserie), King’s Camp (Timbavati), and Ulusaba (Sabi Sands). These gyms all stock great equipment, varying from treadmills or spin bikes to cross trainers, free weights and steps, weight machines and more.

There is ample time for a good workout, as you will have ‘free time’ from around 10am (after breakkie) to around 2pm (before lunch) to with what you wish. Nap, read, watch for animals, chat to your ranger as they thrill you with stories of the wild, take a dip in the pool, get a massage or – you guessed it- start sweating in the gym :-).

Other options also include running sprints if your lodge has a big enough lawn, or perhaps engaging in a yoga session (if your lodge  has a gym, chances are they have mats) with a gorgeous view. There are some fantastic yoga apps you can download (there are some great ones for free too!), or you can give me a shout (I’m a yoga teacher!) and I can come to the lodge and lead you through a session.

Lastly, you can choose a lodge that specializes in walking safaris, which means you will be active for a good hour or two each day on a walk out in the wild.

In short, it is very easy to keep up your fitness and health routine while enjoying the magic of the Wild.

TOP TIPS:

  • Choose a lodge with a gym, or fitness equipment, or a large enough property/lawn for you to run sprints (provided the lodge is fenced! You don’t want to entice any lions, haha!)
  • Let your lodge know about your diet/lifestyle long before you arrive, so they have time to speak to you about options, and to prepare your snacks/meals.
  • If you’re really concerned, pack your own snacks to ensure health at all times!

 

**I just love this lion pic – Photographer unknown – please let me know if it it was you!?

For any questions, send us an email at info@lodgetrackers.co.za and I will be happy to help.

 

Gym at Kings Camp

 

The Top Three Factors that will Make or Break your Safari Experience

The Top Three Factors that will Make or Break your Safari Experience

A safari in South Africa, and particularly in the Greater Kruger, is a once in a lifetime experience for many. You might spend months or even YEARS saving for your getaway, and even longer planning it. There are so many factors that come into matching your wants and needs with a lodge, so here are my absolute ‘non negotiables’ – the Top 3 factors that I think make or break a safari.

YOUR GUIDE
Though this sounds like a TOTAL no brainer, all guides are not actually created equal. Plus, each lodge has different ideas about what makes a good guide. You’ll find some that are purely focused on the Big 5, which is understandable as they receive the most marketing (and bring in the most tips if the ranger can find them), and others that are more holistically focused on a wider experience. There are some lodges that have student programs, and even these differ – for example, one lodge might only employ ‘junior guides’ after they’ve had a year or more experience, whereas others have deals with ranger training programs that they give them 6-12 months experience as a working ranger once their course is completed etc. There are just so many different factors that make a ‘good’ guide, so let me break it down a little more.

It is a common assumption that all game rangers are amazing – and actually, most are – but it really pays to check out the details on who will be making or breaking your safari experience. For example – What level FGASA are they? Do they hold any SKS qualifications (Special Knowledge and Skills)? How long have they been in the industry? And so on.

As mentioned above, some lodges only employ seasoned guides, and some have student programs where guides who are newly qualified work there for 6-12 months to get experience.
I am not at all saying that a new guide won’t be as great as a seasoned one or vice versa – but obviously the higher level FGASA they are, the longer they have been involved in the industry… These are things to be thinking about.

FGASA levels are like the ‘steps up the game ranger career’. I know that they are looking at changing the official names, so don’t pay too much attention here, but for example you’ve got FGASA Level 1, 2, and 3. You then have Back Up Trails Guide and Lead Trails Guide. Further to this, you’ve got SKS – Dangerous Game, Wild Flowers, Birds etc…

To officially work at a lodge, you only need FGASA 1 and maybe Back Up Trails depending on the lodge. So as you can see, there is a lot higher one can go than this. For example – There are only a really small handful of guides that I will trust to walk with out in the wild. And by walk, I don’t mean a quick bushwalk in between breakfast and lunch – I mean focusing on approaching and watching wildlife on foot – once in a lifetime experience! There are others that I really wouldn’t trust to do this with. You can read an in depth example of this here.

There will be an in depth post coming soon where we will explore what to look for when choosing a lodge based on the game ranger, so keep an eye out for further info.

 

THE LOCATION OF THE LODGE
Rates start at around R2,200 per person per night and can go all the way up to R22,000+ per person per night with tonnes of options in between at the Greater Kruger lodges, so it is really important to have a close look at WHY there is such a huge difference. Mostly, any agent or any ranger or anyone who has been on safari will tell you that you are paying extra for LUXURY. The animals really don’t know (or care, haha!) if you’re spending $200 or $2000 per night – they have the ENTIRE Greater Kruger (and KNP!) to call home. So, when choosing a lodge based purely on the opportunity to have good sightings, there are two major factors.

One of the most important aspects that will define your game viewing experience is a traversing area. A traversing area is where the lodge can drive on a safari. So, generally speaking, the larger a traversing area is, the wider variety of habitats it can hold, and this the wider variety of species can call it home. This will enable you to have a more varied game viewing experience, as different animals like different terrains.

Plus, if you’re staying for more than 2 nights, it’ll give you plenty of new areas to explore.

With regards to traversing areas, you’ll find that most lodges have traversing areas that they share with other lodges. They sort of interlap. So a lodge might have, say, 7000ha of traversing space, but they might share this with anywhere from 3 – 10 lodges. This can affect things too, because if you’re in a traversing area that has a tonne of other lodges, your ranger may be able to communicate with the other rangers out on drive to see who has found what where (animal wise!) – but this is a double edged sword, as this might take away from the ‘wild’ feeling of actually finding animals on your own, or you may find you bump into more other vehicles/people than you’d like.
Some lodges also have private land where only they traverse, which makes for a really wild experience.

For a safari of more than 2 nights, I would say 4,000 – 6,000+ is ideal.

Another really important aspect when choosing a lodge based on game viewing is not only whether the traversing area holds water sources, but also whether the lodge itself has any of these attractions. You spend down time at the lodge in between the game drives and for meals (usually having 3-4 hours free time) so it really helps to have a lodge that either overlooks a waterhole, or overlooks a dry (or wet in rainy season) riverbed (or both!!) that will allow you to spot and watch game without even leaving the lodge. If it does overlook a waterhole – is there a spotlight? IF so – is there only a stationary one that overlooks the water, or is there perhaps a roaming one for you to use at night time to search for nocturnal animals? SO MANY THINGS TO THINK ABOUT!

YOUR EXPECTATIONS
I think that many rangers and camp managers would agree with me when I say that probably THE MOST important factor that will make or break your safari experience is what you EXPECT from it. If you EXPECT to see the Big 5 numerous times over, AND at least 3 hunts and kills, you WILL be dissapointed. I don’t mean to sound negative – I just have enough experience to tell you that the BEST way to experience a safari is to go with an open mind. What you see depends entirely on what nature wants you to see – but, there are things (like the above points) that you can do to maximize your chances of having a good game viewing experience.
The best approach is to look at your safari like a ‘who knows’ game. Who knows what you’ll see on drive today? Who knows what might creep past the lodge at night? Who knows which bird you might find in a tree? Who knows how many species you’ll come across? Etc. And to be EXCITED for it all. Yes, I understand that many people want to see the Big 5 and only the Big 5, and this is mainly because they have been marketed the best over and over again. Let me tell you though – as majestic as each and every one of the members of the ‘Big 5’ club are, there are SO MANY other species just as worthy of the excitement felt when you see them. So go forth, intrepid safari lover, and seize whatever the day throws at you for ULTIMATE enjoyment and satisfaction!

Got a question? Want to share your top factors when choosing a lodge?
Throw me a line at info@lodgetrackers.co.za – I’d love to hear from you!
J

FULL REVIEW OF KLASERIE SANDS RIVER CAMP

FULL REVIEW OF KLASERIE SANDS RIVER CAMP

 

Guests on a game drive as the moon rises at Klaserie Sands River Camp
Guests on a game drive as the moon rises at Klaserie Sands River Camp

Nestled among the Mopani trees deep within the Klaserie Private Game Reserve lies the secluded Klaserie Sands River Camp. A hotspot for elephant, this lodge strikes a balance between comfortable luxury and a relaxed, family feel experience.

As you cross the dry Ntsiri Riverbed, taking a slow trundle up the riverbank, one is instantly reminded of the absolute wilderness in which we are surrounded by. The Klaserie Reserve is one of the private reserves that makes up the Greater Kruger area. Covering a space of 60,000ha and holding over 40 years of history within the unfenced borders, the Klaserie Reserve has truly grown wild; The animals have come to settle within the many different terrains and habitats, creating an entirely unique eco zone all on its own.

Home to the Big 5 (of course), along with many other mammal species such as hyena, cheetah, aardvark, wild dog, giraffe and more – along with a TONNE of antelope species, reptiles and bird species – the lodges within the Klaserie have access to some PRIME game viewing.

River Camp is the first in what co-owners Brian and Rozanne hope to be a collection. Rozanne doubles as the Front of House manager, ensuring that the lodge runs smoothly day-to-day, whilst Brian operates as the head guide. Both Brian and Rozanne come into this relatively new lodge with an absolute wealth of experience, having worked at some of the industry’s most well known camps. Brian has over 16 years of guiding experience underneath his belt, and this was demonstrated throughout my time with him. I often stress to my clients that the difference in a good experience and a GREAT experience is the not only the book knowledge that the game ranger holds, but more importantly, the actual field experience he has accumulated. The more knowledge a ranger has, the more he is able to aptly read and decipher the environment and the wildlife, allowing the signs and signals of ‘the wild’ to form a story that he (or she!) can translate back to you as the guest.

Arriving at Klaserie Sands River Camp is like arriving at your best friend’s mansion. As one of the owners of the lodge is also well known in the local building industry, the eye on the architecture of the property can be noticed throughout the design. With a perfectly green grassy area creating a natural cul-de-sac, one is immediately greeted by the main building, which houses the bar, lounge, eating area and of course – the breath-taking deck and pool area.

The outstanding deck area at Klaserie River Sands

One of the best features of this lodge is the outdoor area, designed for guests to relax in Summer or in Winter. There’s a specially designed pool that overlooks the large waterhole and the open riverbed, comfortable sun loungers splayed around for the sun-seekers, and comfortable couches dotted underneath the shade of the ancient trees for those who wish to sip a warm or cool beverage and see what game can be found ambling toward the water.
For the bird watchers, there is a friendly weaver busy building his nest right over the main outdoor dining area – a great way to watch the temporary character of nature in full swing. The Pearl Spotted Owlets call throughout the day, creating a chorus with the Hornbills (think Zazu from the Lion King!) and the Grey Louries (Grey Go-Away birds) that all call the area home. For the tech-obsessed, or those who need to keep in touch with home/business while in the wild, there is free WiFi throughout the main area.

To the left of the communal area are most of the chalets. Modern in design, with a focus on simplified comfort, they are large enough and have everything a guest needs to relax in their ‘off hours’. Catch up on some sleep by taking a nap on one of the most comfortable lodge beds I have ever experienced, or perhaps lie outside on the sun lounger, spying the waterhole or perhaps reading up on the wildlife that surrounds. The bathroom is spacious, with two rooms one room – the most private – offering a romantic outdoor shower at the end of a short walkway that winds its way through along thick trees down into the riverbed area. This room is also slightly more spacious, offering the perfect option for honeymooners who just deserve a little special treatment!


I loved the ‘little touches’ at this lodge – a welcome letter, and a card with a feel good quote –  as the positive person I am, this scored mad brownie points in my books! A signature welcome drink on arrival also helped to set the tone of the entire experience – laid back and relaxed in comfort and style.

As lunch was served, I was interested to see that the tables were set separately – some lodges do this, and some prefer to have all of the guests together. As this is quite a popular lodge with couples and honeymooners, having the tables a little way away from each other allow for private enjoyment and one on one connection with your significant other.
Lunch was simple and light – often what is needed on safari, as one feels as if you are constantly being fed – fattened up for the lions! Marinated chicken kebabs, cous-cous salad and freshly baked bread with warm butter satisfied the appetite and the tastebuds.

After lunch, ample time is given to allow you to unwind, relax and digest before grabbing a warm piece of clothing and heading back toward the main lounge area, where you are greeted by the Land Rover – SAFARI TIME!

The biggest thrill of the entire safari experience is, without a doubt, the actual game drives – taking you into the wilderness, armed only with your ranger and his ability to read the wild.
Brian started with a solid introduction of the standard game drives ‘rules’ – placed there for not only the safety of you and fellow guests, but for the protection of the animals too.
Just before we departed, he turned toward us and asked if we were feeling adventurous. Most of us nodded enthusiastically, encouraging a grin from Brian.

“Great,” he said, turning back to the wheel, “We’re going to do something a little different then.”
Knowing Brian’s fondness of walking, I assumed this would be on the cards! It was the perfect day – the sun was warm, and the breeze was in our favor.

We began the drive by simply crossing the riverbed that the main lodge overlooks, and meeting up with three elephant bulls at the waterhole, enjoying their afternoon drink.
Brian enjoys all animals, but he has a special place in his heart for Elephants, who he regards as the most intelligent animals – far more intelligent than we, as humans, give them credit for.
He speaks to three bulls as if they were old friends, asking them how their day was and conversing with each one in a lighthearted way. He ensures that he has parked the vehicle in a position that allows all guests to have a great view no matter where they are sitting. As someone who is a little nervous of elephant, I am always a little too cautious around them (I reverse my vehicle if one even so much as looks at me!), but I found myself becoming relaxed as Brian explained their behaviors to us (what head shake X means when compared to head shake Y).

As we continued further into their traversing area, I noticed how varied it was – everything from Mopaniveld so common in that area, all the way through to the riverine sections and the open lands – the wider of a variety the traversing area holds, the more opportunity there is to see a higher mix of game!

As we the road curved ahead of us, we approached a dam and were greeted by a magestic rhino bull, something seen less and less these days due to the horrendous poaching the entire Kruger area is facing.
Brian was driving slowly, looking intently upon the road for something – once he found it, he hit the brakes and climbed out of the car, signalling us all to do the same. Lions.

“Now,” he said quietly, “We are only going to do this if every person in the group agrees – it has to be one for all and all for one. I know that these boys were in the area last night, and I know that they have eaten, so if we all agree – we are going to set out on foot and see if we can say hello.” He finishes with a cheeky grin, making eye contact with each of us to gauge our agreement (or lack of!). When presented with the opportunity to do something out of this world, one rarely says no – even if said one is terrified.

His smile widened, and he rubbed his hands together in excitement. It was inspiring to see someone who had been doing this job for so long still hold so much passion for what he does. As we all touched ground, Brian began to explain hand symbols to us, making sure we all understood the importance of each one – stop, come to me, freeze (different to stop – stop is just stop walking, whereas freeze means we’ve encounter the lions in close proximity and need to stay dead still, even if we’re in mid step), turn around etc.

So, with our new sign language in mind, out we set – into the wild once again. Something I noticed immediately (out of fear!) is that Brian didn’t carry a weapon. I am used to rangers having a rifle of some sort with them, if not two (with the back up guide holding the second), so this was a first for me. It definitely brought my adrenaline right up to about MAXIMUM. I made a mental note to ask Brian about this once we’d arrived back at the vehicle safely.

As we trundled through the rocky terrain in search of the lions, Brian kept ensuring we were all doing everything safely – walking quietly, making sure we stay in single file, padding as gently as we could on the ground. I always appreciate when a ranger keeps checking on his guests, as sometimes fellow safari-goers may lag behind, or walk out of formation, causing unintentional danger to the group. Walking farther into the bush, and further away from the vehicle, I began to loose my bearings and was grateful to have someone leading us who knew the lay of the land well. Brian stopped often, crouching onto his haunches, surveying the rough terrain with a furrowed brow.

We walked for  a good 30 mins – and under a beating sun and the last of a hangover – I was relieved when Brian said that, according to the bush newspaper (tracks), they had been lying where we were standing, but seemed to have been pushed away by a herd of elephants that had come through earlier. As we clambered back onto the vehicle and drove toward the sunset, I asked Brian why he didn’t make us of a rifle. His answer took me by surprise at first, but the more I listened, the more I began to understand.

“Well,” he said over his shoulder as he drove, “There are a few reasons. To me personally, body language is something that is really important. If I’m holding a rifle, I am already on the offense – it is already an aggressive action. The animals pick up on that, and will reflect that. Plus, if you’ve got a rifle, I feel like you’re not as cautious and not as careful, not as respectful toward the animal and the environment – because you’ve got a back up.” He finished. It was a side of the conversation I’d never heard before, and it was interesting to hear a fresh viewpoint. This was one of the great parts of being able to visit so many lodges, and meet so many characters within the industry – with each character comes a fresh perspective.

As we drove further into the sunset, and the warmth of the day began to disperse, Brian circled a particular block a few times, keeping us guessing as to what it was we were searching for. Eventually he stopped the vehicle near a small pan, brimming with water thanks to the recent rains.

“This is really interesting,” Brian started, pointing to tracks on the soft ground, “There are actually two separate leopard tracks here – a male and a female!” He exclaimed with excitement. He spent the next few minutes telling us about the dynamic we were seeing; Perhaps they were mating! Excited, we circled the block a few more times while Brian dropped hints as to what he was looking for.

“These tracks are fresh,” he said as he drove through the thick bush, “And they are just coming and going from the pan right back into the bush.” Brian stopped suddenly, grabbed his binoculars, and pointed them toward a large tree far in the distance.

“Right. That is what I’ve been looking for.” Driving us closer through the bush (a real technique!), we spotted what Brian had been searching for. Right up in the crook of the tree lay a carcass, still red and bloodied. But, in true leopard fashion – neither he nor she were anywhere to be seen, despite us hanging around for a good 30 minutes. After discussing many reasons as to why neither of the leopards were around, Brian decided it was time for us to stretch our legs, and we began the journey to our ‘puza spot’, where we would enjoy our choice of beverage as the sun set upon the plains. On our way out of ‘Leopard Block’, we happened upon an extremely relaxed herd of elephants, munching their supper. Brian stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine, explaining that with elephants, it was always best to give them space and allow them to become curious about us, approaching us if they wanted to – and not the opposite way around. And so, we sat for at least 30 minutes with these graceful giants, who gradually become very comfortable with us. A few youngsters came right up to the vehicle, swaying their trunks in an interested way, almost tempted to place the tip onto Brian or the vehicle as they passed. A few of the adults sauntered toward us, sniffing our different scents and coming within a meter of the vehicle as they walked by. This is by far one of my absolute favorite elephant sightings, due to how RELAXED the herd was, surrounding us in such a comfortable way.

A relaxed elephant shows interest in the vehicle, approaching us.

After allowing the herd to pass in their own good time, we continued onto our sundowners spot.
Brian pulled into an open area, surrounded by small hills – there was an old bull elephant that was making his way down the road, and we hoped he would join us for a drink.

Sundowners are always the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day had, or simply to spend a moment alone, enjoying the sound of pure and undisturbed nature. As I sipped my ice cold white wine, and a warm wind flowed around me,  Brian offered around some snacks to tide us over until dinner, which included Biltong – a widely known South African food. It is dried and cured meat, usually made from beef but SOMETIMES, especially at the lodges, it can be made from the wild game too. Delish!

As the sun set over the horizon, and the light changed from orange and reds into purples and blues, it was time to jump back aboard our vehicle. Brian took us straight to the leopard kill and we hung around for another hour or so, listening to the incredible evening sounds. One can’t help to give into the ghostly, eerie feeling that surrounds the bush at night – jackals calling in the distance, bushbabies crying in nearby trees, a lion waking in the night…. all sounds primal enough to humble even the greatest of egos. As we sat, eyes to the stars above us, we were visited by a hungry and curious hyena, brought to the tree by the a smell that only a hyena could find enticing – stomach innards laid so temptingly over a branch.

Spotted in the darkness – A hungry Hyena.

Though it tried, no amount of sniffing or staring would make the carcass budge, so the animal eventually left, sauntering back into the thick bush with its head held low.

With a sigh, Brian deciphered that the Leopards would not be coming back anytime soon, and suggested we head back to the lodge for dinner. He added excitedly that whoever would like to come back out after supper to look for the Leopards again would be welcome to join him. I’d never experienced that before, so I put my hand up immediately. Most lodges will offer morning game drives from around 6, 6:30am and again from around 3:30, 4pm for about 3 hours depending on what is seen. The evening game drive does usually transcend into the night, but it was GREAT to have an opportunity to do a ‘nocturnal specific’ night drive. Most lodges (well, the good ones!!!) will generally wake a guest in the middle of the night to take them into the bush if they hear something like a lion kill nearby, or perhaps there is a rare animal nearby or a commotion that needs investigating etc – but I’d never had the opportunity to do this specifically in search of a certain animal.

As the spotlight guided us back toward the lodge, and disembarked from the game drive vehicle, we were handed warm damp towels to hep us freshen up a little before dinner. Brian instructed that we had a few minutes to head back to our rooms if we wanted, before inviting us to join him at the bar.

As all of your food and drinks are included in the rate at River Sands, there is a wide variety of beverages available and Brian is quick to recommend something refreshing to suit your taste be it wine, beer, or something a little stronger. The pre-dinner drinks are the perfect time to interact with the other guests, sitting at the bar or lounging on the comfy couches around the fire, reveling in the day that was. As stories are shared across ice cold drinks, everyone shares their favorite sightings, and we relive the serenity of the elephant herd.

A few moments later, as Brian announces that dinner is ready, we are directed out toward the deck area, and we take our seats at a lavishly set table underneath the stars.

Guests enjoy a riverbed dinner

 

As we are seated, and our drinks are topped up, the chef of the lodge joins us. He introduces himself and announces the meal for the evening; Cauliflower and Biltong Soup as a starter, Roasted Pork belly with mash and seasonal vegetables as a main, and a fried banana with chocolate in filo pastry to end. BRING IT ON, I thought hungrily.

The food was beautifully presented, and the portions were massive – happily satisfying all around the table. Both Brian and Rozanne joined us all for dinner, which I think speaks highly of the importance of the guest experience to the management team. Some lodges indeed prefer to leave guests during meal times, which can be called for sometimes – but this provided an opportunity for the guests and the management team to chat in a relaxed and social manner – and the red wine always helps! I appreciated that throughout the night, Brian ensured all guests were completely catered for.

With tired eyes and full stomachs, we finished dinner and joined Brian back on the game drive vehicle with a warmer layer of clothes. There stars shone bright above, and the night air was a lot cooler as we drove toward the Leopard kill. Brian turned off the vehicle, and we sat in the eerie night silence, surrounded by darkness, broken only by the light of the moon. Though the Leopards still hid from us, it was primordial experience, having metal between us and the wild, sounds of the night erupting underneath a blanket of stars.

As midnight loomed, we disembarked the vehicle and zombied toward our rooms – thankful they weren’t too far of a walk. I must say that the beds at Klaserie Sands absolutely in the Top 3 ‘most comfortable lodge beds in Africa’. Needless to say, sleep was upon us quicker than you could say ‘roar’.

I found myself waking up only a moment before Brian knocked on our door, croaking a chirpy, ‘Good morning!’. I groaned a Hello back, rubbing my eyes as they adjusted to the soft morning light, pink and golden. This was my favorite time of day in the bush, as the animals all began to wake up, a chorus of birds echoing across the horizon. We piled on a few layers of warm clothes and trundled toward the lounge area, cheeks cold with morning air. Brian was ready and waiting with hot coffee and tea – along with the ultimate South African pre-breakfast snacks – RUSKS! These are raised baked biscuit type things that are rectangle in shape, often with pieces of muesli/nuts/raisins baked into them.

As we, along with the other guests, sipped our coffee sleepily, Brian announced we would of course be hot on the trail of our missing leopard, and he was confident we would find him that morning. So, out we set, blankets wrapped around legs and eyelids getting lighter thanks to the caffeine now in our systems.

After making our way back to the ‘Leopard Tree’, passing and learning about various antelope species along the way, Brian slowed the vehicle and grabbed his binoculars excitedly.

“Folks,” He said with a grin, “There it is!”. Eyelids now turning to slits (built in magnifying, obviously!!), I finally spotted the skulking leopard, walking quickly underneath a thick brush of shrubs and trees – well on his way somewhere. I was overcome with happiness at seeing the most elusive of the Big 5, as quick as the sighting was before he curried away. Brian furrowed his brow and rechecked his binoculars, noting that the animal was acting a little odd. He reversed the vehicle through the thick bush (and let me tell you that this takes real skill!), and promptly began to follow the leopard. He was darting through the bush (and so were we as we followed it!), and as he entered a clearing, Brian stopped the vehicle and pointed into a nearby tree. There was a second leopard with a carcass up in the tree! And – contrary to what we thought – they were both male! We expected a brawl, or at least some commotion, but Brian explained that the leopard on the ground was a young tom, still a little unsure of himself, whilst the leopard in the tree was an older, established male who just could not be bothered with the youngster. We watched them interact for a few moments – the younger cat prowling around the base of the tree, and the older male yawning (if he was a female human, he’d be checking the dirt under his fingernails!).

Eventually, the younger male got bored, and decided to take a stroll back into the bush, taking a new path. We thought he might be going back to the original carcass, so Brian decided to follow him and allow the old man some peace and quiet. Within a few minutes of following the young tom, we were astonished to find him with……. ANOTHER LEOPARD! YES – three leopards in the space for 30 minutes! This was one a female! With three different leopard sightings to choose from, we spend the next hour moving between them and enjoying quality time with one of Africa’s most elusive animals.

 

 

As we arrived back in camp with joyful hearts and hungry tummies, we were greeted with hot coffee and tea, and a full breakfast splay ready and waiting for us. The staff at KSRC were attentive to our needs, and once we had completed our first course – a selection of fruits, yogurts, crumpets, cereals and more – we were invited to order ur choice of the hot meal selection. Bacon, toast, hash browns, eggs, sausages….. Everything one could wish for to eat while reveling in the once in a lifetime leopard experience we had just had.

Thank you to the team at Klaserie Sands River Camp for a truly engaging, entertaining, out-of-the-box safari experience. Klaserie Sands River Camp has the perfect combination of comfort without forgetting the rustic ideal of a safari. The outdoor/indoor flow of the lodge inspires total relaxation, and the peace and quiet of the waterhole allows for hours of game viewing without leaving the comfort of the sun loungers. The staff are top quality, experienced in what they do, but also really relateable on a human level – it feels like you’re on safari or at the lodge with a good mate.

Thank you to the team, and I can’t wait to come back!

 

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There is just so much fun to be had with the team at Klaserie Sands River Camp: Brian, Rozanne, Leanne and myself.

 

 

 

WALKING SAFARI EXPERIENCE WITH JAMES STEYN

WALKING SAFARI EXPERIENCE WITH JAMES STEYN

“THE TRUEST WAY TO FEEL THE HEARTBEAT OF AFRICA, IS THROUGH THE SOLES OF YOUR FEET”

A Walking Safari Experience with James Steyn
Senalala Luxury Safari Camp, Klaserie Reserve, Greater Kruger.

 

 

Experiencing a driving safari, comfortably seated in a large metal vehicle is a wonderful experience. You’re safe, smiling happily as a lion walks next to you, snapping away with your camera, hoping he will turn his scarred grizzly face toward you, so you can get that perfect photograph. And – there it is – his eyes lock into yours for a moment, and you instinctively sink a little deeper into your Land Cruiser seat, forgetting about your photo, thankful for the metal between you and one of Africa’s most dangerous predators.
You’re secretly relieved as the ranger turns the key, and you feel the comforting shake of the game drive vehicle as you bounce toward your next sighting.

But, when approaching some of Africa’s most dangerous animals on foot WITHOUT the protection or security of a game drive vehicle to lull you into a sense of safety, the quality of your guide is the crucial factor in deciding whether you will come back alive or not. Any guide can take a bushwalk, but it takes a ranger of real standard to lead a true walking safari, and a log of over 11,000 walking hours in Big 5 territory is near impossible to beat.

Hidden away in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve of the Greater Kruger lies one of the most authentic safari camps I have ever come across. Overlooking a wide portion of the Ntsiri River, Senalala Luxury Safari Camp is one of a kind. Priding themselves in a ‘real’ safari experience, the team are determined to offer everything a safari is supposed to be about, with a focus on keeping it wild.
Calling this camp home for the last 12 years is James Steyn, who is the head guide and camp manager along with his team mate and wife Corlia. With one of only 9 Scout badges (a highly qualified, experienced and trained Dangerous Game Specialist) in the entire country, along with his impressive walking hours, James is undoubtedly the ‘go to guide’ for an in depth walking safari experience.

As I drove through the thick Mopani trees and wound my way to Senalala’s main camp gates, I was a little nervous for what the day would hold. Approaching giraffe and zebra is one thing, and I have done that many times on a bushwalk at various lodge within the Kruger, but today’s activity was going to be distinctly different. I knew that when it came to James, lions were his favorite to approach on foot. This may be due to the 179 trails he led while in the Sweni area of the Kruger – famous for their man eating lions that roamed the plains – but as we began speaking, he admitted the reason behind his choice.

“Lions are a big part of Africa – for many guests, it is the one animal they love to see. So when we can safely and successfully have an on foot experience with a pride or even just a solo lion, the guests all have these unbeatable smiles on their faces –and that makes me feel like I have done my job properly.”

“This job,” James continued as he offered me freshly brewed 6am coffee, “is just as much about the people as it is about the animals. You have to be able to read your guests in a way that will enable you to give them the best experience – what they’ve flown halfway around the world for. And if you can achieve that, you’ve done well.”

As we began to get comfortable on the cushioned couches, and as they teased my bush walking outfit (jeans and CAT boots – what’s a girl to do?!), Lize (one of the trainee rangers) ran toward us, announcing quietly that one of the lions they’d seen late the night before was back at the waterhole.

Grabbing my camera, I followed the team out onto the wooden viewing deck, and strained my eyes in the early morning light, pretending to see the male lion that they were all viewing. I nodded slowly, trying to look like I was simply looking from side to side while the others were all chatting about what he might have been up to since they’d seen him last.

Then, just like in the movies, my eyes landed upon his massive mane, golden dawn light washing through the strands as he walked swiftly into the clearing. If he’d been a human, he would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger. Tawny skin covered strong and lean muscle, and though he stepped quietly and softly as he walked, it seemed as if you were near enough to him, you might just feel the earth move with each step he took. We observed him for a few moments, and I listened to the bush gossip – it was actually a different male lion, a new one to the area, pushed so far out of his normal territory because of the drought. The team around me concluded that he was walking so quickly because he’d sniffed the females in the area. Men!

As he disappeared into the bush, I followed James, Corlia, and the owner of Senalala back into the lounge to continue our discussion. The owner is a South African born business man, who has found the secret to a successful working partnership – empowering his staff.

As the owner – it is really important to empower the people who you work with. Actually, the most important thing is your staff. I have a really powerful team.” He says humbly.

As the owner and I sat chatting a little more, James reappeared, his rifle resting lightly over his shoulder. He asked us politely but urgently to follow him – the lion was back. I paused for a second, knowing that rifle-on-shoulder-and-walking-boots-on-feet meant it was time to move. I also knew that a lion out there meant James was about to lead me into an experience I’d never undertaken before.

As we left the security of Senalala Lodge behind and made our way into the wild, approaching the wide dry riverbed, James stopped a few meters out of the gate and turned toward us. Had we found the lion already?
He placed the butt of his rifle into the river sand, his eyes sweeping across the open plain, and darting underneath every bush. He lowered his voice, signalling us all to come closer.

“I need you to stand directly behind me at all times, one behind each other, close together in single file. You’re welcome to ask questions, but please try and keep a quiet voice.” James said rather seriously, not helping the racing heart in my chest. For someone who had lived and worked in the bush for almost 6 years, I was suddenly terrified. I nodded hard, said my prayers to the Universe and prepared to set off.

As we took off at a rather quick pace, I made damn sure I stepped directly into the footsteps James left in front of me, probably closer to him than society would deem appropriate. But when your life is in the hands of someone, you do exactly what they tell you. I watched as he took an odd looking plastic bottle out of his pocket, unscrewing the lid with his mouth. He squeezed the bottle slightly, watching it intently as a white powder blew out of it and into the wind. We paused for a moment as he assessed the powder. Not only does a walking safari guide need to focus on tracking game and presenting his guests with sightings – in fact, that is the least of his worries –  but he needs to have an in depth knowledge of his surroundings and the animals that call it home. Which way is the wind blowing? Where were the lions last night? When did they last eat? Do they have offspring – and if so, how old are they?? In this case, James was checking where the wind was coming from, and where it was going to.

James put his bottle away and changed direction slightly, managing to dodge bushes and shrubs all while surveying the land and keeping an eye on the walkers-in-tow behind him. My body began to heat up as we crunched through the bush, and I felt like a rookie as I managed to get snagged on almost every thorn that James had so professionally avoided. Swearing under my breath, I vowed to be more careful each time, and failed each time.
I’m not going to lie to you – I pretended to be hard-core and fearless, excited about the idea about meeting Nala, Simba and Mufasa on foot – and I suppose I was, underneath my fear – but in reality, I was terrified.
Naturally, our logical brain begins to question how smart this decision is in regards to how it will affect the outcome of our survival. But, when offered the opportunity of a lifetime to experience the primality of a walking safari, I couldn’t refuse. There is no other ranger I would trust to the extent that I trust James – and in my opinion and experience – he is the industry leader in walking safaris. His relaxed nature is balanced by his extreme attention to the task when he leads the walks.

“During a walk I stay focused and have an exceptionally high level of situational awareness. If I don’t have a specific purpose like tracking or approaching an animal, I look for things to present themselves to talk about. Throughout the walk I always stay sensitive to the environment, the animals, the people, and most importantly, myself. I let my experience guide me instead of trying to guide an experience.” James says, explaining how he assesses his approach to a trail.

Throughout our walk, I saw him put this into practice in a way that only an experienced old hand could do.
Not only was he extremely aware of us all, making sure we understood what we were doing, but throughout the trail he continuously assessed and re-assessed our movements, interpreted the environment around us, and stopped to teach us interesting bits and pieces about the bush along the way.
As we got thicker into the bush and the lodge was long out of sight, a subconscious shift began within. And, as we trekked deeper into the wild, something primal began to take over.

I found myself less in my head, and more in my gut. Thoughts about getting eaten alive and making sure I exactly in the footsteps that were laid in front of me began to be replaced by a keener sense of what was happening around me.
Though my heart was still pumped by a healthy fear, a growing sense of calm begin to present itself. The internal chatter stilled.

We all fell into step with James effortlessly, and walked in silence as he continued to navigate pathways around thick thorn bushes and crumbling termite mounds. I watched as he constantly scanned the environment, and wondered if his eyes were able to move different directions at once. Just as I felt comfortable with what was happening, James stopped suddenly, raising his hand in a calm manner.

“There.” He whispered, pointing toward a curve in the road no more than 20 meters in front of us. Frozen in my half paced walk, my boots glued to the red earth, my eyes immediately fell upon him. A young male lion stared back at us, the white underlining of his eye catching the early morning sun. He blended perfectly into the bush that surrounded him. So did his siblings – who I hadn’t noticed yet – but that James naturally had.

“Do you see the others?” He asked us quietly, his voice blending effortlessly into the background noise of the bush. I craned my neck around James’ shoulder, not sure where I should be looking, when the others began poking their heads curiously out of the thorn bush. Whether I swore out loud or only in my head, only one word starting with an F summed up the insane amount of adrenaline that was rushing through my body.

There are rare moments in life that require intense exhilaration to be balanced with total peace, presence and calm – and this was one of them. For what felt like hours, we were in an experience that made me feel more alive than I had in years. It was an odd emotion, feeling my body switch to survival mode – blood pumping in my ears, tight chest, and sweaty palms – but not wanting to move in case I missed even a second of this “out of this world” moment. Being mere meters from 8 lions, with no physical boundaries between you and their teeth is a once in a lifetime experience.

As we watched the pride become more relaxed, James motioned for us to drop a little lower. Automatically we listened to his instruction, dropping slowly onto our haunches as a few of the more curious lions began to approach us, their huge padded paws stepping gently onto the sand that covered the road.
There it was – the moment I’d been terrified to witness. But, instead of freaking out like I assumed I would do, I felt completely at ease. James’ total awareness of the situation allowed me to relax into the experience, knowing at a deep level that I was totally safe with him.
It was in that moment, as the lions trotted happily toward us, that I understood the most important factor when it came to enjoying a successful and safe walking safari – and that is the quality of your guide. I soaked in the present moment, allowing myself to be truly humbled by what stood before me – Africa’s icon animal, the King of the Jungle, the fearsome predator – as curious about me as I was about them.

James instructed us in a hushed voice to slowly get up and start walking away, and we again listened without hesitation. Though I didn’t look, I sensed him stay behind for a few moments longer, ensuring we were safely headed on our way while he kept an eye on the curious pride. It wasn’t until he asked me how I felt about the experience that I knew he was back with us.
As we left the lions exactly how we found them, I was grateful to have had such a natural experience. Our presence didn’t affect the behavior of the lions, who were only inquisitive toward us. I think that is what sets James – and Senalala – so apart from everything else. James is not a hotelier, with thousands of hours of hotel management experience – James is man naturally born to be in this role, who steps into his ‘job’ so effortlessly that you wonder how he could ever be anything else. You can’t help but admire the deep level of knowledge and experience of all things wild that James offers.

As we left the lions comfortably behind, and a level of normality returned to our group, I asked James what makes a walking safari guide different from any other guide –what, in his opinion, guests should look for when choosing a lodge based on their walking safari experiences.

“Well,” he said, resting his rifle on his shoulder again, “A lot of average, or not so experienced guides can lead a really great bush walk. But it takes an experienced, well rounded, bush orientated person to lead a successful walking safari. There are the legal requirements of course – as set out by the National department of tourism – but when it comes down to it, the longer you’ve done it the more successful you’re going to be.” After having just experienced what we did, I couldn’t agree with him more. James used his knowledge to create such an intense sighting for us, and this understanding of the wild and the animals that call it home can only come from years (and YEARS!) of experience.

“If you just want to plod along and see a butterfly and an impala and one tree – a Trails Guide qualification is absolutely fine, and this is of course where we all start – with around 150 to 300 hours on foot logged… That’s ok for a bushwalk. Once a guide gets to 500 hours, then you start to see the guide begin coming into their own. Becoming confident. Then, there’s a huge difference between being confident in leading your walks, and being comfortable to lead the walks.”

As Senalala’s thatched roof came into view across the wide open riverbed, and I got a whiff of the delicious breakfast being cooked, I pondered what James meant – the difference between confident and being comfortable.

I guessed that it came down to the amount of times you’ve pushed yourself out of that comfort zone in order to grow. We can’t become comfortable in a situation until we’ve done it time and time again, or until we’ve been faced with overcoming challenges we hadn’t previously encountered before. And that’s where the hours, the weeks, the months and the years come in – in this case, the hard work of putting one foot in front of another, meeting hundreds of different animals, encountering a different situation each time you step out of the lodge, having to make decisions in a split second, all while looking after guests and ensuring the safety of those around you.

 

That sort of comfort only comes from one place.

Experience – and 11,000 hours worth of it.

 

James, Corlia, HJ & me. Truly grateful to the team at Senalala - together, they create an experience unlinke any other. Authentic & wild!
James, Corlia, HJ & me.
Truly grateful to the team at Senalala – together, they create an experience unlinke any other. Authentic & wild!

 

SAFARI MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

SAFARI MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

 

 

MOST COMMON MISTAKES MADE ON SAFARI…
And how to avoid them!

When visiting the reserve of your dreams, you want to make sure that you adhere to all of the norms, right?
If you want to gain respect from your fellow guests and even your game ranger, check out these common mistakes – and make sure to avoid them!

1. DISTURBING WILDLIFE 
As tempting as it may be to whistle or ‘ksss ksss’ at that big male lion while he is chowing down on that delicious zebra so you can get your Photo of the Month,  we need to remember never to disturb the wildlife in their natural environment.

This is for a few different reasons. For example, in a lion case such as above, it could distract the dominant male, allowing a secondary male to seize the opportunity to feed, thus disrupting the natural hierarchy – this could cause a lot of trouble! Secondly, it is not a fun thing for other guests to experience – many would like to simply be in the moment, witnessing the wildlife instead of getting annoyed at the sound or movement of the distracter. Thirdly, and most importantly, it could land you in some serious trouble. The safari jeeps in the Kruger are open topped and open sided – there is not a lot between you and the animals.

I was once on a safari in the Pilanesberg, and we happened across three lionesses relaxing in next to the road. The guide stopped for us to view them, and one guest decided to stand up and call the nearest lioness. BOY, did she listen! She got up, and within seconds was close to the vehicle, with her eyes dangerously fixated on the guest. The guide drove us off at a high speed.

Remember that you are in THEIR domain, and we need to respect their comfort zones.

2. UNCONVENTIONAL CLOTHING
Whilst there is no real need to buy brand new ‘hollywood style’ safari outfits, there are some colors that should generally be avoided. This includes white, as the red dust of the earth often gathers on your safari outfits, and particularly on white! Bright colors should also be avoided, as even though many of the animals are color blind, it still plays a huge role in camoflauge.

Last August, we participated in a walk where a fellow guest wore  a bright red head to toe track suit, which was quite distracting for the animals and for us.
Greens, olives, khakis and beiges are most recommended – but again there is really no pressure to go and buy new clothes!

On this note – high heels are also not needed on safari!!!! It makes getting in and out of the safari jeep seem like climbing Mt. Kiliminjaro!

On safari, comfort is key.

3. SLEEPING IN
I completely understand how tough it is to wake up at 4:30am, especially if you have only recently arrived at your lodge. But, believe me when I say it is COMPLETELY worth it.

In those last hours of darkness is when all the animals come out to play, especially those that are not seen often – hyena, leopard, porcupine, honey badger, civet, caracal, and so on. Even more so, the predators are all beginning to quite down, and one can often observe lions and other carnivores in a relaxed state.
Plus, you will have plenty of time between the hours of around 10 and 2 to relax and do whatever you please (sleeping, for many!), so rather use your safari time to its full potential.

4. NOT ASKING QUESTIONS
Every safari goer has to start somewhere. Be it your first, our four hundredth safari, questions are always welcomed by your guide or hosts.  For many guests, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience, so we always encourage our guests to make the most of it. There is absolutely no such thing as a stupid question, and trust me when I say you’ll regret not asking it.

5. FORGOING EXTRAS
I am not talking about extra cost activities, but more about options that are already included in your rate, such as bush walks or educational discussions that are there for you to do during your free time at your lodge.
Getting up close and personal with the wildlife on foot is an experience never to be missed, and you will often learn things on these walks that you would miss on a driving safari. Plus, it can make for great pictures!

6. BEING A BIG 5 DIEHARD
While this is a huge draw card for your safari experience, only focusing on the famous Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino) can make you easily miss out on ‘amazingness’ of the lesser known animals. Try and have a few animals in mind that you would like to see (should your ranger ask), but try to generally keep an open mind when it comes to sightings. Being in the bush and in the wilderness is about taking everything as it comes, and this includes game sightings. Even the common impala will have something interesting, unique and new to offer you.

**Photography by Ed Hetherington

REVIEW: ARATHUSA SAFARI LODGE

REVIEW: ARATHUSA SAFARI LODGE

ARATHUSA SAFRI LODGE REVIEW

THE SHORT OF IT:
Game viewing: 10/10
Accommodation: 9/10
Staff knowledge & friendliness: 10/10
Food and wine quality: 6/10

THE LONG OF IT

On the 12th of June 2015, I visited Arathusa Safari Lodge, nestled within the famous Sabi Sands reserve.
Sabi Sands is well known for its prolific Big Cat (think Lion, Leopard, Cheetah!) population, and we were lucky enough to find this out first hand.

Arathusa is located about 45km from the Orpen Gate. We travelled along a dirt road through a rural village to Gowrie Gate (one of the three Sabi Sands gate), and from here it was only around 9km to the lodge.

Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted with a smiling face, welcoming us to the lodge, and instructing us to leave our baggage – someone would come and collect it for us! We were already feeling very spoiled.
As we entered the reception of lodge, we noticed how it combined a real indoor/outdoor flow with natural finishes – mostly wood that you would find out in the reserve. We were handed a seriously tasty welcome drink, and given a quick orientation. Lunch at 2, game drive at 3 – and we were not to walk to our rooms alone at night. WHAT?

Apparently, the night before, the lions had been sleeping just outside one of the rooms. I gulped – sure, it would make a great story, but I didn’t know if I was ready for that much excitement!

As we were shown around the lodge, I began to understand their philosophy of luxury without being OVER THE TOP. I think they nailed this pretty well! Looking at pictures never really gives you the entire view of the lodge, so seeing Arathusa in person showed me the size of it too. What struck me most was the HUMUNGOUS water hole right in front of the lounge area, where there about 6 hippos relaxing and snorting (hippos make such a funny noise, kind of like a burp mixed with an ‘aa aa aa’ sound). Absolute pristine beauty. When I say a huge waterhole, I mean literally like the size of a supermarket parking lot. With an infinity pool set just above it, I can image the great views swimmers would have on a hot summers day.

After having a quick peek at the lounge area, we were escorted to our room (about a 5 minute walk!)– SURPRISE! We had been allocated a luxury suite, our one known as ‘Knobthorn’. With a big wooden door as an entrance, the natural flow from the reception carries on through all of the rooms. Check out the gallery below to view the pics of the place.
What stuck here for me is the attention to detail that Arathusa has. Not only do they have plugs in just the right places, but there are even international plugs built into the walls to ensure you can charge everything you want – no matter where you come from!

After settling in, we left for lunch. A beautifully decorated table awaited us (with a great view of the waterhole), and we were offered three choices for lunch – Chicken and cous cous, prawn and fruit salad, or a prego (steak and sauce) roll. We both opted for the chicken, and were surprised at how quickly it came out – within three minutes of ordering! There was a hearty green salad and fresh bread with butter on the table for us to help ourselves to.

We had a table of 8, which included two special clients that we had worked with for close to two years,  and two more American couples. For most of them, it was their first ever safari, so I took great pleasure in hearing their excitement – it always brings me right back to my first safari too.

During lunch, we were asked what drinks we would like on our evening game drive – I opted for red wine, and Ken for a beer. It was time to go and grab our warm things before meeting back in the lounge.

With 10 minutes to spare before 3pm, we changed into long pants and long tops, and filled out hands with scarves and jackets (and Ken with his mighty camera). The dry season, AKA winter (April – August) can be warm during the day, but severely cold during the game drives as the wind chill factor comes into play.
I always recommend to clients to dress like an onion during winter (in LAYERS), and this was no exception. As soon as the sun goes to sleep, the cold can really take over.
The lodges will usually provide you with a blanket (and some even a hot water bottle!), but being cold on safari is really no fun. So, no matter what – TAKE A JACKET (and a scarf, and gloves, and a beanie…) if you are going on a winter safari!

Our room was located a good little trup (walk) away from the main lodge which gave us a lot of privacy, but it meant we needed to cater for the time it took to get back before game drive. Arriving a few minutes after 3, we were stunned – MORE FOOD! Lining a table was a caramel cake, a milk tart, iced coffee, iced tea, warm coffee, warm tea… One thing is for sure, you never go hungry on safari!

Through full mouths, we met our ranger, Sean, who we were assigned to along with our clients, and one of the American couples we had enjoyed lunch with.
Sean had been at Arathusa for 10 months, and had a kind face, always with a joke on the tip of his tongue. Full of knowledge, Sean was genuinely interested in us and our story too.
After enjoying our high tea, he invited our group to board our game vehicle so we could begin to search the plains for the famous wildlife.

The vehicles at Arathusa are Land Cruisers – made by Toyota. They are the typical safari jeeps, with 3 rows of 3 seats made out of khaki material, and with an open top. They have a pocket on the seat in front of yours, which is very useful for holding water, sunglasses, lip ice, a hat and so on – all your safari essentials.

Ken and I sat in the middle row, with our clients behind us and the other American couple infront of us. As we were climbing on (they have special mini ladders that are built in), we were informed about an Italian couple who were running late, but wanted to join in on the game drive (they had only just checked in), so we got comfortable and waited a for a few minutes.
The game drive vehicles collect you right from reception, so it is a really accessible lodge.

Once the Italians joined us, Sean started the vehicle and we were off!
The temperature was already dropping from a balmy 24 degrees to around 20 in about half an hour. Boy, was I glad I had brought a few extra layers!

The safari vehicles are always a bumpy ride, but it is not an uncomfortable bump at all. They are designed to absorb the shock.

Within the first half an hour, we bumped right into a big bull elephant that our tracker (named Rifus) heard from right across the vast dry riverbed. Even though I live right here in the bush, it still puts me a little on edge being with 2 meters of a bull elephant.
This one was quite chilled out, and we spent at least 20 minutes with him. Sean spent the time telling us interesting facts about elephants, and I learned some things that I didn’t know.

After viewing the bull, we drove on for about half a kilometre, where we caught up with the breeding herd of ellies that the bull was following. Among them were about three babies. If you have ever seen elephant babies in the wild, you will agree with me that they are just about the cutest things on this earth.
Again, we stopped the vehicle, and listened to the breaking of branches, admiring the strong trunks these animals possess.

After spending quality time with the herd, the sun began to set. Sean took this as his cue to start the vehicle back up, and he drove us through the bush to an open plain with a small pan (small waterhole) in view. We parked right next to it, and Rifus and Sean began setting up our sundowners table underneath a rising moon.

There is a special time on safari, where both the sun and moon are in the sky. If you look one way, you will see one of the most spectacular sunsets you have ever seen, with colours of purples, pinks, oranges and reds. If you look the other way, you will see a large moon rising, growing bigger with each minute. We were lucky enough to enjoy our beverages underneath this sky.

Served with your sundowners will be snacks, because again – you will never be hungry on safari!
At Arathusa, we had pepperdews filled with cream cheese, some corn chips, and dried fruits. Laid back and delish.

Back on the game drive, and with the red wine having warmed me up a little bit, we continued our safari with the aid of a spotlight to catch the eyes of any nocturnal wildlife. After a little searching, we drove into a low lying area, and spotted a female leopard with a full belly relaxing in the overgrown grass. We watched her for a good ten minutes, when to our surprise a leopard CUB appeared out of the grass, and walked right past the vehicle. Sean put it at around 6 months old.

Suddenly, the mother leopard pricked up, intent on listening to something that our human ears couldn’t pick up. Within seconds, she ran to her unfinished kill lying on the ground (a baby kudu) and dragged it up the nearest thorn tree. Before we had a chance to wonder why, a hyena came trundling at high speed out of the grass, and went STRAIGHT to the kill, jumping to try and grab a leg or piece of fur.

Luckily the leopard managed to get it high enough to avoid the hyena’s first attempts, but her grip wasn’t a lasting one, and she let go for a split second to readjust her grip. The hyena are the biggest opportunists of the safari land, and this one lived right up to that name – as soon as the leopard readjusted, the hyena used that split second to get a grip on a leg. The mother leopard was no match for this hyena’s strength, especially from such an odd angle, so she had no choice but to let it go. Amid many ‘oh no’s!’ from our fellow guests, Sean politely explained the ‘circle of life’ in the bush.
We all began to grow concerned about the baby leopard, but it was old enough to know that hyena = danger, and it stayed well hidden in the tall grass.

After hearing the hyena devour the carcass by crunching through bone, and watching it’s stomach grow larger and larger, we headed back to the lodge for our own dinner. By now it was only around 12 degrees, so we were all ecstatic to be greeted with a tot of delicious sherry upon arrival, accompanied by a warmed hand towel. Attention to detail – it always makes the biggest difference!

Escorted back to our room for a quick freshen up, we headed back to the lodge (escorted, again – damn lions!) and joined the other guests for a pre-dinner drink in the lounge. They had two roaring fires with welcoming couches, so we settled there until dinner. It was a popular idea – we met more of the 18 guests staying at the lodge, including two retired FBI agents!

A beating of a large, traditional drum signalled that dinner was ready, so we all made our way down to a veranda that was built over the waterhole. Bridget, our client, told us that Arathusa had served them dinner in a different location each night – what fun!

The tables were all in a U-SHAPE around a deliciously large fire, and we took seats right in the middle. I always love dinnertime on safaris (and not only because we get more food!), because the ambience is so outstanding. Lanterns, candles, fire, and the sounds of nature all underneath a bright and undisturbed canopy of stars. That is something truly magnificent.

Once we were all seated, the chef came out and personally announced the menu for the night ahead. Four courses. FOUR!

First course was potato and leek soup, which I found absolutely fantastic and perfect for the cold night. It was served with freshly baked bread rolls and butter.
Second course consisted of fish, and the third course consisted of pan seared steak fillet with veggies.
Dessert was a crème brulee, but it was quite overcooked. Other than that, dinner was spectacular.

One of the guests, from India, tinkled his glass with his fork, and announced that he has spent the last day on safari with the other guests, but he hasn’t gotten to know some of them yet. He suggested we all go around in our U-shape and tell the group a bit about ourselves. I absolutely loved this idea, as the people you meet on safari can make a big difference to your overall experience.
So, around we went, and learned all about each other – two couples on honeymoon, many retirees on their first safari, a big group of friends enjoying the outdoors.. It was great networking.

After dinner, we made our way back into the lounge, seeking the warmth of the big fat fire, the dangerously comfortable couches, and another glass of red wine before bed.
We chatted for hours, enjoying the company of the other guests, and even had a listen to Toto’s ‘Africa’. A special moment.

Finally, we were escorted to our room at around 11:30pm. I couldn’t wait to get under the covers, and listen to the night sounds as I dozed off.

At Arathusa, there are phones in the rooms which are used as wake up calls – conveniently located far away from the bed to ensure we get up.
5:15am came far too quickly, and before I knew it, I was showered and ready for our next game drive – again, in some serious layers. Morning was even colder than night.
As Ken and I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee in our room, we heard the lions calling from across the waterhole – a very unique wake up alarm.

At 5:45am, Rifus knocked on our door, and escorted us not to the lodge, but to the game drive vehicle which was 5 metres away. Yup, lions were there – again! I guess they liked the place. We drove to the other guests, and once we picked them up, made our way to the main lodge and lounge area. We were offered hot coffee and tea (snacks too, of course!) before jumping back on board the safari vehicle. Off we went, in the freezing cold, to our next adventure.

Sean excitedly informed us that we would be tracking the lions, which we spent the next hour doing. They were giving us the complete run around – we drove around in circles and on the same road many times, only to see their tracks over our fresh vehicle tracks in the sand. I bet they were doing it on purpose!

Luckily though, we unintentionally bumped into two beautiful rhinos – a mother and a calf of around 1 year. It was humbling to see them in the wild, as so many are being massacred on a daily basis for their horn.

On we went, back on track to find the lions – around and around we went. Driving at high speed onto the airstrip, we finally caught the cheeky buggers! And boy, were they running. Whilst following them in haste, Sean explained to us that a few days ago, a rival pride had come into the area and scattered the territorial pride. So, now a lioness with cubs was calling the remainder of the pride that she had been separated from, and the ones that were running (and giving us the run-around!) were trying to catch up to her. We followed them for a good half an hour before we left for breakfast, and I do hope they eventually were reunited.

During our time with them, four of them suddenly stopped dead in their tracks, lowered their bodies, and stuck their ears back. They had spotted buffalo (which, coincidently meant we had now had our Big 5 fix in 2 game drives!), and were preparing to stalk it. Slowly, almost too slow for the eye to catch, they patted their way through the yellow grass, with the buffalo taking no notice whatsoever.
Suddenly the female at the front shot ahead, signalling to the others that it was time to HUNT. This startled the two buffalo, who for such big animals, picked up a lot of speed in a small amount of time. Unfortunately, the lions didn’t get breakfast – but we did.

Driving back to the airstrip, we were surprised by a luxury breakfast in the bush!
The staff had set up a completely satellite buffet,  complete with any girl’s best friend – champagne on arrival! Again, it was accompanied by the warm moist towel offered to us to use to freshen up.

We were invited to dish up, which Ken I did almost immediately. Breakfast consisted of cereals, yogurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, French toast, pork sausages, grilled tomatoes, baked beans and sautéed potatoes. Every piece of it was divine.

As we enjoyed our champagne and orange juice, we soaked up the view – breakfast was set near the airstrip, allowing for a vast open area to be seen from the breakfast tables.

After a hearty breakfast, we trundled back to the lodge, and began to pack up our things – but not without a quick peek in the curio store!

Overall, our experience at Arathusa lived up to everything a Sabi Sands safari is about; Outstanding game viewing, and luxury living.

Thank you to the team for hosting us.

SAFARI CUISINE

SAFARI CUISINE

Meal times on safari can often be a exciting, exhilarating adventure for your taste buds. However, sometimes it can be daunting too.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually very simple – cereal, salad, and steak, right? Not when you’re on safari…

Many of the lodges in South Africa pride themselves on delivering high quality taste explosions, prepared by trained and experienced chefs with a whole list of credentials behind their title. Some of the dishes that we have experienced during our travels are worthy of winning the title of Master Chef, and have us drooling for days after. However, to a first time safari goer, or an international guest not used to the more traditional flavors, one might ask themselves….What on EARTH is a bobotie, am I really going to eat an Impala, and WHY would I want to eat a tart made from.. MILK!?

If you are staying at a lodge for more than two nights, chances are you will experience a traditional South African meal. This can range from a relaxed braai, to something more formal such as a wild game platter. Let’s take a look at some of the traditional meals you can expect while on safari.

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BRAAI

To the rest of the world, a braai is known as something similar to a barbeque, minus the gas. Traditionally, a braai is is set in a round or rectangular container, with a grill placed on top. Coals or wood are used to create a long lasting, hot fire. Meats such as steaks, boerewors (meat sausage with South African spices), peri-peri chicken (a popular chilli infusion) and lamb chops are ‘braaied’ upon the grill until cooked to perfection. Accompanying the meat are often ‘braai brookies’ which are small breads with a filling such as garlic or cheese inside, and are also braaied until the inside is perfectly melted. To compliment the meat and bread, salads or vegetable side dishes (such as potatoes or corn cooked in foil on the fire, or butternut and creamed spinach) are also served, along with many different sauces and chutneys to flavor your dish as you like.

bobotieBOBOTIE

Bobotie, at it’s most simple form, is a curried mince dish topped with a sort of savory ‘custard’. I don’t like to use the word custard, because it gives the wrong impression. It is basically an egg based topping, but doesn’t taste anything like it. Flavored with curry powder, Bobotie is often also mixed with dried fruit such as raisins, contrasting the curry nicely. There is no proper way to truly describe Bobotie, as the thought of eggs and raisins definitely can lend a gruesome idea, but believe me – this is NOT the case! Bobotie is a delicious dish, and I urge you all to try it if offered.

milk-tart

MILK TART

A traditional dessert, Milk tart (or melktart) comprises of a thin, sweet pastry base, and is filled with a delicious creamy mixture of milk, flour, sugar and eggs. Baked in the oven until set, it is sprinkled with cinnamon and is generally served chilled.

Malva PuddingMALVA PUDDING

Malva pudding, also a dessert, is served fresh out of the oven all warm and moist. It is a spongy and sweet treat, made with apricot jam and served with custard or ice cream. Mm, mm, mmmm!

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BILTONG

Biltong is a type of cured meat, very traditional to South Africa. It is often served on game drives along with other snacks to keep you replenished on your safaris. Biltong is generally made from beef, and spiced with salt, pepper, sugar and other flavorings. For the more adventurous, game meat such as kudu, impala, warthog, hippo, giraffe and ostrich can also be found.

 

While there are many traditional meals served to give guests an opportunity to try the local cuisine, they do not make up the majority of the menu. There are many Western dishes also served, along with other foods from all over the world.

 

**Featured image from Thornybush.

HOW TO PICK YOUR PERFECT KRUGER SAFARI LODGE

HOW TO PICK YOUR PERFECT KRUGER SAFARI LODGE

Pondering which lodge is best for you? Read on for helpful tips and tricks to help you to pick.
Pondering which lodge is best for you? Read on for helpful tips and tricks to help you to pick.

 

 

How To Pick Your Perfect Kruger Safari 

Deciding between the many accommodation options in the Greater Kruger area can be a very overwhelming task – will the lodge be right for you, and how do you know?

To start with, there are a few factors you can decide on that will help you to narrow down some choices!

1. Do you want a tented camp, traditional chalet, or something else?

Tented camps are not literally tents in the middle of a field, but more luxury canvas with incredible comfort inside; large beds, beautiful decorations, a ‘luxury’ experience.
The draw card of a tented camp is the completely wild aspect of it; Hardly anywhere else in the world can you sleep under canvas with wild animals all around you. Listening to the roar of lions through material is unbeatable.
If this all sounds a little too wild for you, never fear – Traditional chalets are also on offer. Usually made of brick, and sometimes coated (and sometimes left natural), traditional chalets are often thatched and offer a real feel of Africa. Otherwise, there are also mixtures of the two, such as nThambo Tree Camp, which offers tented walls but a thatched roof. Another option is something like Nottens Bush Camp, with a modern twist on the traditional.

2. Fenced, or unfenced?

This again relates to your level of wild comfort.
Fenced camps have a full fence around them, a ‘predator fence’, or an elephant fence designed to keep the mentioned animals out.
Alternatively, you can have no fences whatsoever, but be prepared for the wildlife to make your lodge home too!

3. Traversing area size?

Ok, now this is a very important question to think about when choosing your lodge.
A traversing area is where the lodge has permission to conduct their safaris. The sizes vary from 650 hectares all the way to 20,000 hectares.
The bigger the traversing area, the higher your chance is to see a large variety of game, as your safaris can cover more ground. This also means that the lodge will have more contact with other lodges & game rangers on safari, so they can share the animal gossip as to who is where.
For example, this allows your ranger to hear that there is a leopard in a tree on the other side of the area.
Size really does matter with a traversing area!

4. Dining quality

If you are looking for a fine dining experience, or prefer something more laid back, make sure you check what kind of food you will be served during your safari experience.
Fine dining often comes with the more expensive lodges, while the laid back & home cooked style is more of a rustic lodge choice.

5. Beverages

If you’re keen on a party safari, it might be worth it to check if beverages are included in your rate. It could work out cheaper for you.
But, if you’re more of a one-glass-at-dinner kind of safari goer, then paying extra for unlimited drinks would be a waste for you.

6. Extras

What kind of extras do the lodges offer?
Do they have a treehouse where you can escape to and view game? Do they offer bushwalks included in their rate, or do you want a spa where you can enjoy a massage?
Some lodges, such as Tanda Tula Luxury Tented Camp offer Star Beds – The lodge drops you off with a picnic basket and bottle of wine, and sets up a treehouse style structure (overlooking a dam) ahead of time with mozzie nets and more. You are left there with a radio and your partner, and you are allowed to even sleep over there should you wish. Otherwise, you can easily enjoy an entire afternoon game viewing with your loved one in the romance of Africa.

7. Children friendly

If you are a family, a children friendly lodge is a must, as they offer all kinds of entertaining activities for your young ones.
On the other hand, if you are on a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, you may wish to inquire about a lodge with a more romance, less kids kind of vibe.

Once you have answered these questions, you should end up with a better idea of what kind of lodge you are looking for, and you can contact Jacqui to see which options would suit you best!

*Feature image of Simbavati River Lodge.

ON BOARD SAFARI ESSENTIALS

ON BOARD SAFARI ESSENTIALS

What exactly to pack for a safari is always a question we get asked frequently. But what are the absolute essentials?

It’s tough! Khaki? Camera and binocs? Extra lenses? Animal guide books? Bug spray? WHAT?

Over the past few years, I’ve have settled on my ‘must haves’ that I always carry with me when I head out on a lodge safari. Take a peek below at my TOP FOUR, and let me know if you think I should add something!

  1. CAMERA.
    Always, always, ALWAYS. You don’t need a fancy one, I actually mostly use my phone camera or a small compact one. For the most part, especially in the Sabi Sands, you will be getting quite close to the wildlife, so you won’t desperately need a ‘close up’ lens. Also, if you are on a full vehicle, having sufficient space to store your extra lenses securely can be a bit hard to find.  There are usually pockets on the back of the seats for you to use, but as the vehicle jumps around a lot, I wouldn’t want to store it in there!
  2. NOTEBOOK
    Some might argue that this may not be a super essential, but I’ve found it really helps my guests to keep track of everything they’ve seen on safari. Some of the names of our wildlife can be very confusing – Bateleur? Klipspringer? Steenbok? And how on earth do you pronounce them?
    Enter the handy notebook. Not only will this help you remember what you saw on your safari (and what photograph corresponds to it!) but it will also create a life long keepsake of your safari journey.
  3. SUNGLASSES
    This is one that often slips under the radar. In summer, they serve an obvious purpose, but in winter – they help immensely to block out the cold wind that sometimes leaves your eyes streaming with water! Also, if you a cheeky nap overtakes you as you zoom out of the lodge, sunglasses are a great disguise…. Ask me how I know this, haha.
  4. LIP BALM
    Yes, even if you are a man!
    The sun can get extremely hot in the bush (up to 50 degrees in summer), and the wind can be excruciating on your lips in the winter if they are dry. I recommend popping a chapstick in your bag with SPF in it too, so you can keep your lips comfortable, enabling you to focus on your safari instead of your sore, chapped lips!
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