16 March 2017 – Explorations around Tembe
We started off with an early-morning game drive in Tembe Elephant Park (always one of our favorite places)! We enjoyed fantasic sightings of a herd of bufallo, scores of elephant, and some really cool birds!
We then decided to explore the Tembe area. This included a stop in a remote area close to Tembe Elephant Park, to try some of the local palm wine, called Njomane. The palm wine is tapped from the Ilala palm trees and this particular area belongs to the chief’s son, whom granted us permission to visit. Very few tourists get to see this area, so it was truly a treat for our guests, Joy and Andrew!
We also had the chance to visit a local Tembe Sangoma (traditional healer). It was a true taste of local Africa wrapped up into this beautiful day!
14 March 2017 – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve / St Lucia Estuary / Indian Ocean
We sat down for breakfast at 8am before heading off to St. Lucia! On our way to the gate from our accommodations in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, we had some very up close and personal sightings. Joy was over the moon again, and Andrew (her son who has now joined us on the tour) also enjoyed every moment. First up was this old “dagga boy” buffalo – in the mud as expected! This was followed by close encounters with zebra, a young buffalo, and an elephant bull (who hilariously looked like he was both asleep and eating at the same time…)!
10 March 2017 – Pilanesberg National Park
The morning started off bright and early as we entered the pilanesberg gate at 6am. An amazing sunrise greeted us with displays of lilac, teal, and deep orange fading into a turquoise sky!
Although game was scarce to start off, we finally found some zebra and a herd of wildebeest. On one of the loop roads, we came across a number of stationary safari vehicles. We determend that they were looking at lions, which were unfortunately hidden from our view. After waiting approximately 15minutes, the safari vehicles had moved on as they had lost visual of the lions. Hayden decided to turn around and head back in the direction we came. Approximately 100-yards down the road, the lions appeared out of the grass, walked directly towards and in front of us. It was an intimate and amazing sighting that we had all to ourselves!
09 March 2017 – Our wonderful client, Joy Resor, from Brevard, NC, had an amazing start to her safari! On her first day on safari to Pilanesberg, she had great and intimate sightings of a whole plethora of plains game, as well as her first Elephant sighting! Although the grass is very tall after some good rains, the scenery that greeted us upon arrival was truly beautiful, with plenty of water everywhere, and tall, swaying elephant grass as far as the eye can see!
Thursday, 16 Feb 2017 – Friday, 17 Feb 2017
We had another long drive ahead of us. An early rise and we were on our way! We drove through the Free-State, which is another beautiful part of South Africa through which I have never been. Rolling hills, local cattle, cliffsides, huge skies, and a cool breeze accompanied us along the way as we moved towards Johannesburg and northward. The drive was somewhat uneventful outside of some stops along the way to shop at little local markets, braving the traffic of Johannesburg, a pop-in at one of the busiest grocery stores I have visited in a long time (ducking, weaving, and looking like lost puppies as we searched for lunch items and snackable bits) in Pretoria, and finally pulling into our destination just outside of Pilanesberg – a place called Finfoot Lake Reserve.
We were exhausted from the long day’s drive (again, Hayden championing as driver on a lengthy and time-consuming trek), but were told as we arrived that the afternoon game drive was leaving in 5 minutes. We mustered up the energy and hopped on the open-safari vehicle. Finfoot is not a Big 5 Reserve, so no dangerous game was around, but this reserve does have Sable (a couple of which we saw on the drive in) and Red Hartebeest. We saw both of these and I delighted in checking new species off of my sightings list. The drive was very peaceful and we came upon terrapin babies, kudu, nyala, zebra, and more. The most wonderful part was the sunset. We stopped and took some beautiful photographs before pulling back into the lodge (those I will post on the facebook and instagram sometime soon)!
Dinner and packing commenced. This was our last night in beautiful SA and we had lots of rearranging to do in regard to our luggage. How else do you accomodate all the gifts we were bringing home?
We woke up near sunrise for our last day in South Africa. Two cups of coffee deep, we were told the morning’s activity would be Segway Riding through the reserve. Ali was inwardly terrified, and I was thrilled, as neither of us had ridden a Segway before. Ali gave me the skunk-eye as I took to the weird contraption pretty easily. She, on the other hand, took some time to adjust and required a bit of assistance from our guide, Tanika. Finally on good footing, Ali was ordered to follow directly behind our guide as we headed out into the bush. Only a couple of stumbles and falls later, she managed to get the feel for it. I think she was doing a fantastic job (Ali will disagree with this, but she grinned and powered through, even occasionally looking up from the ground to enjoy the scenary and flash me an uncomfortable smile)!
We came upon some wildebeests that stampeded away as we approached (the sight of weird floating people through the tall grass would likely freak me out as well). We also came right up on a giraffe, who stood for a few minutes finishing her treetops before running off in that awkward giraffe-like way. It was such a unique and fun experience and we were both very happy to have done it. Segway riding through the bush in South Africa? *thumbs up* – Where can I get one of these things?!
After breakfast and some conversation with the local staff (this was a site visit afterall and I wanted to learn more about the facilities), Hayden and Jackie picked us up and we started towards Johannesburg. Since our flight was not until the evening, we decided to make a quick stop by the well known Sun City resort, just to check it out.
It was definitely a resort, in a Disney-esque style with a tram to take you from the parking lot to the resort area. It boasts golfing, a casino, a wave pool, and the like. I decided to treat the crew to a Maze on property just because, well, why not? It was actually quite fun, as we got ENTIRELY lost in this human rat-trap. There was a moment of panic (Oh My God, are we in here forever? Are we going to miss our flights? What the hell have I done?!?). I finally found my way out. I didn’t even cheat, which seemed like a great life accomplishment at the time.
Basking in our trip, we headed towards the airport and some sad goodbyes as we left our good friends for the long journey home. As always, I can’t wait to get back to SA again. Working with Outdoor Africa has been a dream for me, and traveling to spend time with my business partner and see new sights to share with our clients is an opportunity I feel lucky to have! Even more, the chance to travel with Ali (my fiance) is one of my greatest joys! “Can’t wait for all the adventures!” (<– inside joke)
We woke up early (as is the norm) and while Jackie did some last minute packing, Hayden, Ali, and I made a last ditch effort to find that elusive cheetah! As you may have guessed, this was to NO avail! This cheetah endeavor will be the death of me, but regardless of the desire to get this sighting, I absolutely love seeing the sunrise over the South African wilderness. This is never a wasted effort for me, as I enjoy the search just as much as any sighting itself. And little more than rolling the windows down and breathing in the fresh morning air of dawn is enough to put me at peace!
Once we picked up Jackie, we headed out of Mkhuze Game Reserve and pointed our tires towards the heart of Zululand. Our destination was a wonderful little lodge called iSibindi Zulu Lodge. However, on the journey out, Hayden was determined to show us the magnificent rolling green hills and historic sights of the long established homelands of the Zulu Nation. We traveled through villages and cities as we went, and stopped for a quick lunch at the well-known Nando’s!
SIDE NOTE: Ali was quickly vocalizing her wonder as to why we had been hiding this national treasure from her for this long! Peri-Peri Chicken and Pap with Peri-Peri Relish certainly went over with a bang!
We climbed into the green hills of Zululand, eventually coming to Rorke’s Drift and making our crossing over the Buffalo River. Hayden took some extra time to take us to Isandlwana. Isandlwana is an isolated, flat-topped mountain/hill at which the Zulu Nation fought off the British invasion in 1879, resulted in the British Army’s worst defeat to an indigenous nation. Now, the mountain is set aside as a historical site. We took time to visit this site and walk around the stacked white stones representing the locations of slain warriors and mass graves. It was an eerie and fascinating visit, to stand in the shadow of the mountain and walk the grounds of such a massive and historic battle.
After such a fascinating history lesson, we made our way to our destination for the evening, the iSibindi Zulu Lodge. What a beautiful place! Set upon 4000 hectares of reserve, this lodge was small and intimate and boasted rooms on a mountainside looking out into the reserve itself.
After dropping our stuff at our room, Ali and I headed out on a game drive on the property. Our guide was Linda, a local Zulu who gave us wonderful history lessons about the Zulu people, plants used by the people and the beliefs behind them, as well as stories and anecdotes. We pulled into an open field next to a stream and the field was full of giraffe, zebra, and wildebeest. Since this reserve has no “dangerous game,” we took the opportunity to jump out of the truck, grab a sundowner, and walk through the field photographing the nearby giraffe and watching as the sun began to set over the mountains. It was other-worldly, and Ali and I felt thankful to be able to experience such beauty firsthand!
…that was until a male giraffe started harassing a very disinterested female by trying to mate, and Ali giggled like a teenage boy at the awkwardness of it all!
Our stomachs knotted from all the laughing, we got back to the lodge and Hayden and Jackie had set up a surprise romantic dinner for us with the lodge (of note: Ali and I are getting married in a few short months and this was in honor our impending nuptials). We enjoyed an amazing dinner outside, filled with great food and conversation, before finally retiring to our room! A single day filled with vastly different experiences…South Africa style!
We woke up early Sunday morning in sunny Richard’s Bay and decided we wanted to go see the sunrise from the beach overlooking the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, after waking and dressing and walking a bit to get to the ocean, our special key to get through the gate to get down to the water failed to work. This is a common theme in Ali and I’s relationship (hotel keys not working, card keys ceasing to do what they are meant to, etc), so we laughed it off and headed up to the Sundowner bar to grab breakfast and watch the sunrise from the deck. It worked out nicely either way.
After some deliberation with management, I got us a working key fab and we managed to get down to the water. We took a long walk Northward, where there is absolutely no development on the beach and almost zero people. It was the perfect, relaxing afternoon.
We ended the day meeting up with our friends Kayla and Hanco! They graciously gave us a ride out to the waterfront area and we all had a long dinner, talking all things philosophy and life, while sitting on the outside boardwalk and watching the boats and listening to terrible music.
On Monday morning, we got out early and hit the grocery store (we were self-catering for the next 2 days) before heading North to Mkhuze Game Reserve. We also stopped at one of our favorite local Zulu markets, the Zamimpilo Community Market, to grab some produce and peruse the crafts. We love this market, because it is set up and run by women from the local community and always has a great array of items both hand-crafted and locally grown. We scored some gifts for friends, as well as much neede produce, and got on our way. It was a beautiful drive through some new (to us) and mountainous countryside as we meandered to another wonderful South African reserve.
Once in the park, we almost immediately came upon some fantastic giraffe, impala, and zebra sightings. It was a great way to start in Mkhuze before settling in at our safari tents. We ended the night with a braai (expertly cooked by Hayden and Jackie), glasses of wine and water, and conversation as we watched the Bush Babies hop from tent to tent.
On Tuesday, we woke up at 4am to be sure to get out into the Reserve by 5am. We made Tuesday a full day of game driving, as we were on the hunt for my elusive cheetah and/or wild dog sighting. We would inevitably fail to catch a sighting of these, but what we missed in predators was quickly made up in a huge abundance of giraffe sightings, as well as two quick sightings of both black and white rhino, and unparalleled scenery.
The day was overcast and a storm was coming in, so a lull set over the land and the animals were quiet. We basked in the stillness of the bush, with windows down and cameras snapping shots of antelope, giraffe, and a cloud-covered sky.
Our night ended back at camp, with a potjie pot full of vegetables and some very brave Bush Babies raiding our kitchen as we cooked and enjoyed dinner. It was perfect Africa, and we couldn’t ask for better.
We woke up fully refreshed at Kosi Forest Lodge and got out early for a canoe excursion on one of the rivers connecting the Kosi Bay lake and estuary system. It was just Ali and I on this one, as Hayden and Jackie had stayed at a different lodge for the prior evening and none of the other guests were doing canoeing this morning. We hopped in the open truck bed with our guide, Gerome, and we took off into the grasslands and sand dunes to make it to our launch area. The drive through the grasslands was a true sight. A nice breeze and the rising sun set a pretty amazing scene as we scuttled along the sand trails, bouncing and swaying to the roar of the engine and the swishing sounds of the trees and grasses.
Once parked, we followed Gerome into the sand and swamp forest, using old hippo trails and feeling like the only humans left on the planet. Gerome was a great guide, as he gave us a history of the park we were in (iSimangaliso Wetland Park), as well as told us about trees and birds as we passed them or heard them sing from the nearby treetops. At the launch site, Gerome pulled out a 3-seater canoe and Ali and I realized that we weren’t even expected to paddle. How luxurious! It was strange for us as we are very used to working as we go and expected to pull our own weight, but once on the water, it was actually quite nice to sit back and just soak in the calm waters and sights. I immediately noticed the lack of man-made noise. The silence (so to speak) was awe-inspiring, as all we heard were the faint sounds of the canoe moving through the water, the wind through the trees and giant palms, the new-to-us songs of many birds, the bees making good work of pollinating the blooming water lilies, and the chittering and branch-hopping of the local samango monkeys. It was a peace we rarely get to experience and just another amazing offering of beautiful South Africa.
When we returned to the lodge, we cleaned up and had a quick breakfast before I met with the manager to learn more about the lodge’s offerings for our clients. It was a fantastic place that we will definitely keep on our roster. Once we packed up and said our goodbyes to the staff, we all headed South to visit another beautiful lodge in a local KZN game reserve. This was a site visit and we spent a couple hours checking out the facilities, learning about their offerings, and speaking to the staff. Another great spot we will be using for our clients! As we left, we drove through the reserve and, cameras in hand, came upon some amazingly close giraffe and rhino sightings! We must have seen at least 10 rhino in the hour drive leaving the park. It was phenomenal and we got some amazing pics to share.
We ended the day pulling into Richards Bay, home city of Hayden and Jackie. We are home-basing here for a couple days before our next stop, Umkhuze. Can’t wait to get my first look at this park. I’ve heard nothing but great things! Here’s to hoping for a sighting of Wild Dog and Cheetah (for those who have been following, you know these are my elusive animals)! From Africa with Love… Until tomorrow!
It was another early morning as we packed up to head south to Kwa-Zulu Natal. In a hazy fog of not-enough-coffee-yet, we departed beautiful Hazyview and steered ourselves towards one of the northern Swaziland borders.
We made the smooth transition through border patrol on both sides, and had an enjoyable ride through the beautiful country of Swaziland! Swaziland is covered in green mountains and free-roaming livestock, which makes the drive through both scenic and sometimes hairy. Luckily we avoided any cattle-caused roadblocks and eventually pulled off for lunch at a very unique spot called Malandela, which is attached to this crazy and fantastic music venue/artist gallery/craft area called “House on Fire.” After walking around the property, which looks like an ever-growing artistic work-in-progress of levels, sculpture, art, bars, and more, I quickly decided that I definitely want to head back sometime to experience a bonfire while watching a band perform under the African sky. #BucketList
Lunch was fantastic, as well as the next stop, which was at a great little shopping area chock-full of handmade Swazi crafts and art pieces. Ali and I quickly honed in on a shop called Yebo, which had unique hand-screen-printed items; her to the beautiful canvas pieces to decorate our walls at home, and me to the awesome shirts and stickers featuring bunny sketches and reading “Rabbits Againt Facism!” It practically defines our amazing relationship!
A very long drive later, and after passing back into South Africa, we pulled into a beautiful spot in Kosi Bay called Kosi Forest Lodge (where we were set to stay for the evening). Kosi Forest Lodge is a small private lodge sitting on the edge of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Nestled in a sand forest, it boasts tented style accommodations with a private porch, comfortable beds, private outdoor shower and bath, and even a little sherry to enjoy as a nightcap.
As we were exhausted, we took quick showers and then headed down to the main dining area where they were doing a romantic outdoor braai under the stars. We really enjoyed the time to decompress and converse as we ate traditional South African fare surrounded by firelight and the sounds of an African evening. We were thankful for another day as we tucked ourselves in and were lulled to sleep by a chorus of frogs and crickets. Good night South Africa!
What another amazing couple of days it has been! Yesterday we woke up bright and early again for a game drive through Kruger National Park. Leaving the house in Hazyview at 5:15am, we shot up to the Paul Kruger gate as our entryway into the park. We started with a little car trouble, to which Ali, Jackie, and I all had minor heart attacks (stuck in the park with vehicle trouble is never preferred). But Hayden, cool as ever, figured out the starter was just stuck and so he popped the clutch and got her going again. Just as we were all sighing with relief, we came upon a big herd of Elephants. It was a super close encounter, with Ellies walking right into the road and hanging out next to the vehicle. And it didn’t stop there, as this would turn out to be our “day of the elephant!” All in all, we crossed paths with over 100 elephant in this one day. Huge tuskers, non-tuskers, and even numerous babies!! Since Ali and I are pretty open about elephant being our favorite animals to watch in the wild, this was definitely welcome viewing for us!
We ended up taking a long trek down to Lower Sabie Camp, and from there we headed North through what is hands-down my favorite part of the park so far, known as the Nkumbe area / eastern grasslands. It’s quintessential Africa, with sweeping plains and bush, and a view for miles, highlighted by mountains in the distance. Our hunt for Cheetah and Wild Dog was unsuccessful (these are my elusive animals and I am always hunting for them in a personal quest to add them to my viewing list). Regardless, it was quite the day that ended up having us in the park for almost 12 hours straight. This isn’t typical for a game drive, so we were pretty wrecked by the end of the day. Sometimes, in the search for those great sightings and because we just absolutely love being in the bush among the wildlife, you just power through.
At the bottom of the post is our sighting list. To read about the next day (today), please scroll down past the first set of pics!
Today was a brand new day and, after the long day in the Kruger yesterday, we decided to make it a day of relaxation and no set plans. Early in the morning a massive thunderstorm rolled through Hazyview (where we are staying) and woke us from a pretty heavy night’s rest. We opened the windows to enjoy the sights and sounds of it from our bed a while before getting the coffee pot boiling and starting our day. It was easy to decide that breakfast was a must, and so we rolled around the corner to Kuka Restaurant for a much needed start to the day. Breakfast was followed by people watching, meeting a guy from Tennessee who was working locally with the Peace Corps, some shopping, and then a random decision to shoot up to Graskop and visit God’s Window.
The view from God’s Window is, literally, just that; a view that, if God had a window, he might certainly make look like this. From the God’s Window viewpoint, you can also hike up a ways into the rain forest to get a slightly different angle of the same amazing view. We spent a good amount of time here and snapped some fantastic photos (see below). We definitely recommend this spot to everyone!
Another stop, as we were in the area, was beautiful Lisbon Falls! Another wonder of South Africa!
We ended the day with a late afternoon lunch stop in Graskop (pancakes at Harrie’s of course).
Tomorrow we head South to Kwa-Zulu Natal. Just loving this trip!
- Leopard Tortoise
- Vervet Monkey
- Elephants (many)
- Cape Buffalo
- Lions (2 males)
- White & Black Rhino
- Common Reedbuck
- Birds: Vulture, European Roller, Lilac-Breasted Roller, White Fronted Bee Eater, Egyptian Geese, Go-Away Bird, Yellow Billed Hornbill, Goliath Heron, Bataleur, White Winged Willow, Carmine Bee Eater, Yellow Billed Kite, Magpie Shrike, Maribu Stork, and Fish Eagle.