Escape the Cape
After a few days exploring Cape Town it was time for the Safari section of our trip. Growing up on stories of the Kruger National Park as told by his Uncle Kevin, John put his foot down and said that it was the only place we would look to go on Safari. Nevermind that it was a 3 Hour Flight away and as would later turn out an additional 3 Hour flight back to start our Road Trip on the Garden Route. This had better be good!!
Within the Kruger National Park itself there are a number of Private Reserves and after extensive research and a gut feeling we opted for the Elephant Plains Lodge in the Sabi Sands Reserve.But first we had to get there. An Early morning flight from Cape Town to Hoedspruit was the first leg of the journey. Hoedspruit Airport is a both a civilian airport and an Air Force base. It is also the smallest airport either of us has flown into. Even smaller than Hamilton Island or Charleroi in Belgium.
An interesting bit of trivia about the airport is that due to the amount of wildlife in the area there was a lot of problems clearing the runway for incoming flights. That was until some clever clogs came up with the idea to introduce 3 Cheetahs to the airport. Result – No more wildlife wandering onto the tarmac. Another interesting point is that the airport also served as an Emergency Landing Site for the NASA Shuttle in the 1980s due to it’s size – It can even accommodate the new Antonov 124s.
After grabbing our bags we met our driver and together with a family from Hong Kong jumped into a van and began our 90 minute road journey which began with a glimpse of our first animal – a Giraffe poking through the trees as we turned out of the airport.The rest of the trip was made of up of random villages, cows and mountains. The only excitement came when the small children from Hong Kong kept shouting out “Buffalo” when we passed a cow with horns.
On the journey to the Sabi Sands Reserve in the Kruger we passed the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. This centre engages in research and breeding programmes for endangered species such as Cheetah, Wild Dogs and the Black Footed Cat.
By the time we hit the gates to the Sabi Sands Reserve the road quality had deteriorated rapidly (see photos below!)
First Drive – Big Five
We arrived at the Lodge and were greeted by a porter whose name we will never forget!!! (His name was Remember), who kindly checked us in and showed us to the dining room for a quick lunch before the afternoon Game Drive less than an hour later.
At lunch we were introduced to our Ranger for the next few days – Neil and our tracker – Derrick. We were also introduced to a South African delicacy – Biltong and Brie salad!! After lunch we quickly got some insect repellent and sunscreen on and grabbed the camera before making it out past the huge elephant skull to our awaiting land rover.It was a big beast. Designed to traverse all terrains within the reserve and to protect us from the unwanted attention of the wildlife.
That first afternoon we were spoiled rotten – we saw all of the Big 5 Animals (Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant and Rhino) as well as dozens of other types of animals and we had an amazing encounter with a big pack of 20 African Wild Dogs – which is extremely rare.
There was so much animal activity that we did not have time to stop for a sunset drink. What really stuck us was the nature of collaboration between the jeeps and lodges. Each one was connected via radio and this allowed them to call in sightings as well as make sure that there was only a few jeeps at each location. Most of the time it was just us and the Kruger.
We turned the Audio Off as all it contained was the sound of chewing (elephant) and some Irish girl chatting the whole time!
We were very lucky to stumble upon a pack of about 20 Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus). These highly social animals are specialised antelope hunters who chase their prey to exhaustion. (On Day 2 we got to follow one such chase but did not stick around for the kill – much to Karen’s delight).
Uniquely among carnivorous hunters it is the mature females that leave the natal pack (rather than the males).
Unfortunately these beautiful creatures are on the Endangered Species List.
Being able to charge 40 miles per hour and weighing 2,000 Kg are a deadly combination. In fact the Cape Buffalo is ranked 4th on the Most Deadly Animals on the planet killing 200 plus people each year. Our Ranger (Neil) spoke at lengths about the skill needed to take a buffalo down by both hunters and lions and crocodiles. The Cape Buffalo is a very impressive creature.
We think they were very photogenic… from a safe distance!
Our final surprise on that first day was to catch a glimpse of a lion.
Next up: Lions, Leopards and Elephants!!!