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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!

 

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.

INTERVIEW WITH A GAME RANGER

INTERVIEW WITH A GAME RANGER

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Where is the BEST seat on a game drive vehicle? Read on to find out!

 

In June, we were lucky enough to secure Ranger Matt for an in depth interview created to give you a guide, from a guide, to making the best of your safari experience.

MATT’S TOP TIPS:
1. Have the RIGHT MIND SET, and the right expectations about coming on a safari.
2. The middle seat is the best seat!
3. If we say DON’T run, DON’T RUN!
4. You don’t need to buy a new khaki wardrobe.

Tell us what your job is like – what does a typical day hold?
Well, it starts with an early wake up, around 4:45am because I need to wake my guests up for their game drive. Before that though, I set up the coffee stations in the main lodge, and I do checks of the vehicle to make sure we are set for our first game drive.
I usually wake the guests at around 5, and meet them in the main lodge area at around 5:30 for coffee and snacks before we head out to see what we can find.
After the first game drive, we share a hearty breakfast back at the lodge, and then the guests usually disperse for a little while to freshen up or to nap.
During this time, I offer our guests the opportunity to do a bush walk out in the wild, which allows them to get a closer look at the things usually missed – tracks, trees, plants, insects and so on. Of course, it also allows them to experience a different level of game viewing – on foot!
Otherwise, if the guests want to relax, I usually use this time to complete my other work – being a ranger is not all fun and games! If an elephant has knocked over a tree on one of our roads, we have to get over there and clear it, or we have to do things like bush clearing, lodge or vehicle maintenance and so on. If there is absolutely nothing to do, I usually take this time to relax and read a book, or prepare myself for the evening’s activities.
After a light lunch with the guests, I’ll check with them what they would like to drink on their evening drive, and after packing it along with snacks in the cooler box, we head off.
After about 3 hours, depending on what we see, we share dinner and share stories, and I am constantly answering the great questions that are asked.
More than anything, my main priority is guest safety! Even when we are at the lodge, I am on the lookout – often we have had animals like honey badgers, elephants and lions all coming extremely close (a few meters away from the lodge, or, like the honey badger, right into the lodge!), so we need to ensure our guests are safe at all times.
After dinner, we then usually all relax in the lounge or around the fire outside.

Luckily I haven’t had any hard partying guests, so we are all then usually in bed before midnight, ready for the next day of activities!

Why did this position interest you, and how did you get started? What kind of qualifications does someone need to do your job?
I spent 13 years of my life living on a farm, so the love of nature was instilled in me at a very young age. I tried doing the city thing, and I worked as an electrician for 3 years, but it was not my passion. So, I did my training through Bush Wise bush college, which is a year divided into two sections; 6 months learning and getting our Field Guiding FGASA qualifications, and 6 months doing an internships at a lodge.
I started at our sister camp, Africa on Foot, and I absolutely loved the idea of it all – The walks, and getting up close and personal with everything.  I am also a qualified trails guide, and that’s where my heart lies – walking in the bush is an incredible adventure.

What parts of your job do you find most satisfying, and what parts do you find most challenging?
The most satisfying aspects are de definitely being out in the bush – and the unknown. You never know what you will see, or what kind of guests you will have, so every day is completely different. There are infinite developments and so many different scenarios that unfold in the wild, but this can also be challenging, as it affects the dynamics of the sightings too. We have to explain to the guests that this is not a zoo – we can’t guarantee anything will be seen, and it really all is a luck of the draw!
Sometimes, it can be daunting to deal with guests too, as we meet people from ever background possible, all with different levels of knowledge, and all with different expectations, so we work hard to make sure we can meet them all.
Even communicating can sometimes be tough, so sign language comes in handy!
I have to say though that it is all part of the package, and the reward is being out here.
Some people save up for many years, and only come on safari once in their entire lives, and we get it every day. I am so grateful for that.


What do you think the three essential items are for any safari?
Binoculars, definitely! A camera to capture everything forever! And a good attitude – the guests are here to observe and make memories. We take care of everything else for them.

What has been your absolute top sighting so far?
My top sighting involves a very brave pack of Wild Dogs and a courageous warthog!

A pack of 10 dogs were walking around, and they finally settled around an old warthog lair. They relaxed for about half an hour as we watched them, and they were all looking away from the seemingly deserted hole. Suddenly, a big warthog bolted from the hole giving all of the dogs a huge fright. Instinctively, they got up and chased the warthog, but it was too late.
After this, the dogs settled down again, and began to sniff the air – impala were around. A few of the dogs found them standing in a clearing. Some of the dogs separated and formed a net around the impala, and one unlucky baby impala shot off right into the area where the dogs were waiting! It was gruesome, but seeing a wild dog kill is so incredibly rare.

In any situation, we want to make sure our guests are comfortable. So, if there is something that makes them uncomfortable like a kill, we play it by ear and discuss with the other guests what the plan of action will be.


Any horror stories?
Luckily I’ve never had anything too bad, but there was one family from Argentina that had some terrible luck with snakes! During their time with us, I intervened on numerous occasions where they stumbled across snakes out on a walk, or at the lodge. Most of them were quite dangerous, and were mistaken by the guests as a stick, or they were curious about them so wanted a closer look. It just goes to show that the safety is once again our main concern!

I’ve also had plenty of elephant mock charges – one particular one was when we had guests in camp, and a grumpy old bull was approaching the lodge. I said to the other ranger, ‘He’s going to charge, isn’t he?’. The ranger nodded and said yes, but he was very calm. So we instructed the guests to stay inside the lodge, ‘just in case’, and if he did charge – do not run! You are supposed to walk away slowly in situations like that. But, of course – as soon as he charged, the guests scattered as fast as lightning! It was okay though, and the situation was controlled – but it created some great photo opportunities for the guests!

Why nThambo?
So many reasons! The setting, first of all. We cater to clients who are genuinely interested in all aspects of nature and the bush. We draw the really passionate people. nThambo has a comfortable, quiet and relaxed vibe, allowing for the focus to be on the wild. My co-workers are all really nice people. I’ve worked in industries where people see their job as a chore, but here, everyone is in love with their life – we are so much more in touch with nature. This is essentially home.

What do you do in your time off?
We work 6 weeks on, and 2 weeks off, so I usually see family and friends.
In my time off at the lodge in between working, I like to read and further my bush knowledge. We are disconnected from TV and media here, so reading is my best for of entertainment, and my life is better for it!

What are your top tips for planning a safari?
My top tip would definitely be to get the RIGHT expectations. Often we have guests who come in with a full on checklist for the animals they want to see, which is fine and can be fine, but it is incredibly important to remember that this is the wild, and not a zoo, so no sightings can actually be 100% guaranteed. If you come with an open mind, you will have the best time. Nature can’t be controlled, so it’s just about having the right mind set.

Clothing wise, I definitely recommend neutral colours, especially if you are planning on doing a bush walk. It’s also important to bring your good pair of binos, a good camera, and a torch.
I also recommend planning your safari for at least 2 nights at the same lodge, and a perfect amount would be 3 or 4 nights in each. This way, you get a good feel for it and you don’t miss out. If your lodge offers it, I definitely recommend partaking in a walking safari too – make the most of your experience while you can, and get to know the smaller things in the bush too.

If you are also self driving in the public Kruger, I recommend coming to your lodge first so you can work with your guides to get to know the wildlife, so you have some good foundation knowledge when you self drive.

Etiquette wise, we do explain everything at the lodge, but generally it is to respect the rules of the rangers, and to respect the animals and nature first and foremost; No flashing lights at the animals, no standing up around elephants and so on. It’s pretty easy going though. We love it when our guests ask questions, it’s great to see genuine interest and curiosity – plus, it helps us further our learning too! An interactive experience is the best experience.

TIPPING – this is a huge question we are asked by our clients. Can you give us some insider info?
You know, tipping really varies. First and foremost it is up to the guest what they want to do. We are not here to become rich, we are here for the passion, so what we earn from tips does help us a bit, but it is completely up to the guest and not expected.

When out on game drive, where is the best place to sit?
I personally think the front row, or the second row is the best. The third row is the tipping point and is quite bumpy, and next to me would be the last position I recommend, because I position the vehicle so that the guests on the back can see – this often means the view from where I am sitting is compromised to ensure great viewing for the rest of the team. So, the front or middle generally has the best height to see the game.

 

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You can check out nThambo Tree Camp’s stunning unique property HERE! If you would like a safari with Ranger Matt, send us an email or any of your questions to info@lodgetrackers.co.za. We look forward to hearing from you!

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