Being in the bush can be slightly terrifying. There was an awful moment on our third game drive when I knew I was going to have to request a loo stop. It turns out everybody bursting and we all took turns to have a wild wee. Even though we had been desperate to see a leopard, were very much hoping, for those few moments at least, that we didn’t come across one.
There was another incident where, as Pickle ran toward me in nothing but swimming shorts and sandals, I spotted a skinny snake and shoved my surprised boy into our room mid stride. It was most likely a harmless garden variety one, but we couldn’t identify it from the guide’s snake manual, so we’ll never know.
Despite these terrors, we loved every minute of our bush break.
There was the gorgeous scenery. There was the fact that we were fed – fed often and fed well. There was a lovely moment in the early evening when a mobile mini bar popped out of the safari truck ready for sundowners with biltong and other treats.
…and of course there were all the magical animal, bug and bird sightings. So let me very quickly finish telling you about those….
Game Drives 3 and 4
We had a rare bird sighting. The wide billed roller was so far out of its territory the guide couldn’t quite believe her eyes. She called it in on the radio and the other rangers clearly thought she had misidentified it, because nobody came to investigate.
It was a round, cartoon-like bird with a perky yellow beak, in fact I swear it was the inspiration for Angry Birds.
The wind was strong and we could hear two separate lions roaring, but it was tricky for the guide to work out where they were. We took a gamble and continued towards the leopard patch. Although the spotted bigs cats remained elusive, we picked up lion tracks and were rewarded with a lioness sighting.
We also got a (to quote our guide) “butt shot” of a slumbering rhino.
We saw baboons. An eagle. I don’t know what type of eagle, but it was huge and we had a great view of it. We had a proper front-side-of-a-rhino sighting. One lumbered right past us. (Number 3 of the Big 5!)
A crowd of hippos peeked at us from a watering hole. We had a fleeting glimpse of nocturnal pigs (highly unusual during daylight hours).
Double Leopard Sighting
We picked up lion tracks – again – and then, abruptly stopping we saw a mother leopard posed and poised by the river. She was mere metres away. (Hooray, our patience had paid off). She was looking intently across the river and on the other side was one of her semi adult cubs.
Leopards are difficult to spot. This is partly because of their excellent camouflage, but also because they could be on the ground, in the river or high up in a tree. We spent 4 games drives playing ‘spot the leopard’. Surely the African version of finding a needle in a haystack must be finding a leopard in the bush…..and we found two!
We saw so many more things, poisonous plants, towering termite mounds and endless impala, warthogs and zebra.
There are plenty of different options for safaris catering to different tastes, adventurousness and budget. You can do self-drive, self-catering and camping. You can do guided tours with an a la carte menu and 5* glamping (that means glamorous camping just in case you’ve never come across the term before). You can bounce around on a safari truck or walk through the bush.
We were spoiled this trip. We stayed at Marataba Safari Lodge, which is beautifully situated among the Waterberg Mountains. It definitely falls into the a la carte, guided tour, glamping category and is very family friendly.
It’s also malaria free and an approximately 4 hour drive from Jo’burg (or longer if you have to change a flat tire en route – we like to start the adventure before the adventure has even begun).
We are so lucky to have these once in a lifetime experiences – and to have them repeatedly. According to an article that ran in the Daily Telegraph on November 21st, titled 20 reasons why the price is right in South Africa , South Africa currently offers “the best value safari on the continent”. With a weak rand, exchange rates for Sterling, U$D and Euros are currently very favourable. If it’s on your bucket list, what are you waiting for?