Many come to South Africa just to go on a ‘Big 5’ safari. That would be lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant in case you were wondering. Pilanesberg National Park is a convenient 2 hour drive from Jo’burg and malaria free, so it was a no-brainer choice for our first weekend getaway.
Upon arrival we had a quick pep talk (or should I say indemnity disclaimer) alerting us to three primary dangers lurking in the grounds of our lodge.
1.Electric fences 2. Foot-skewering elephant thorns. 3. SNAKES
“We are in the bush” the ranger explained, “and it is snake season. Nobody has been bitten so far, but there are 3 particularly nasty customers I have to tell you about. The puff adder is the slowest of the three, although it’s the fastest striker – this fella is able to strike a balloon twice BEFORE IT POPS!
The black mamba is the most vicious and most likely to attack – his bite would require CPR en route to the hospital….which is quite a way away. And lastly there is the boomslang (tree snake) – although fairly non-confrontation preferring to stay wrapped tightly round a branch, should this little treasure bite, your chances are not so good. If it bites your finger, they’ll probably take off your hand, if it bites your elbow, they’d take off your arm……but don’t worry, our staff will check your room for snakes and other critters while you are having your dinner.‘
On that rather cheery note, we diligently followed the white gravel paths to our thatched rooms to drop our bags before heading out on our first game drive accompanied by the gentle patter of rain and lightning splintering the skyline.
We drove seemingly in circles between fields of silver grey thorn thickets and then stopped and watched in silent fascination as a herd of elephants emerged and crossed right in front of us, the alpha male and wannabe alpha male jostling for position to bring up the rear before melting back into the thicket. That was number 1 of the Big Five ticked off in style.
Midway through our outing we stopped for a cheeky beer. We parked up with 3 or 4 other safari trucks in a clearing mostly surrounded by electric fence. We warned the children to stay close and told them to play in the middle of the clearing or in the bird hide and kept a paranoid eye on them. As dusk was creeping in I looked up and realised that the fence was no longer visible and saw the Pickle giggling and hurtling full tilt towards it. Loud maternal screeching was followed by a neat baseball slide by Pickle bringing him to a halt approximately 2 or maybe even a full 3 inches from the wire!
We saw plenty of rhino – so many so that it got to the point where somebody would say ‘ooh, what’s that’ and the reply would be ‘just a rhino’! JUST a rhino?!?! These are rare, prehistoric looking and severely endangered mammals native to Africa! Number 2 of the Big Five – tick, tick, tick.
We also saw oodles of grazing impala and a buffalo in the distance (that’s the Big Five sighting I’m only counting as a half because you could only see it properly through a telescopic camera lense). Shy kudu were watchful amongst the trees and there was plenty of bird life including night jars and comical wobbling bottomed grouse with pin heads of vivid blue. The big cats were all laying low because of the rain, which was a bit of a shame, but looking at the silver lining or in this case perhaps the green lining, the apparently dead and barren landscape began to turn green before our eyes.
We learned, to the children’s delight, a surprising amount about POO! Pickle was wide eyed when he thought we were looking at Gruffalo Poo, thankfully it was only buffalo poo. …..Did you know that rhino poo works like a matchmaking service for hot and ready to trot rhinos? When they come across a pile of dung, they sniff it and stomp around in it to find out the age and sex and vital statistics of the rhino it belongs to.
It seems we needn’t have worried about the snakes and creepy crawlies this time, rather the invisible glass pane in the bathroom that Sweetpea ran straight into causing a nasty nosebleed and 2 near misses with electric fences. The second near miss was when our safari truck was skidding along a slick mud rutted track and spun precariously towards the electric fence dividing the safari land from the neighbouring platinum mine. Oh, yes, we live dangerously! Can’t recommend it highly enough though. The kids are already badgering us to go again.