On my last three days in South Africa I went on a safari to a private game reserve in the Kruger National Park area, the reserve is called Kapama Game Reserve. It contains 4 separate lodges and a spa. It covers around 13,000 hectares, but it has expanded since it opened.
A small group of only 13 of us, the smallest SAS trip I have been on so far, headed to the Cape Town International Airport to board our 2.5 hour flight to Nelspruit-Kruger International Airport. Cape Town Airport really has expanded and improved its infrastructure. Most of this expansion and improvement was done for the 2010 Fifa World Cup held in South Africa. 10 years ago there were no air bridges, I remember disembarking from my flight via stairs and simply walking into the international arrivals hall. Now there are many air bridges, and there is an integrated departure hall.
We boarded our AirLink flight. On our flight to Kruger, we had a very happy, passionate and bubbly flight attendant. I don’t think I have ever had such a cheerful flight attendant. She was so friendly and did not stop smiling for a single moment on the entire flight which was great! The light snack on board was also quite decent, I had a smoked beef salad, and it was good smoked beef too! The Nelspruit-Kruger Kpumalanga International Airport was small, but it was enclosed and had a conveyer belt for baggage, so it was pretty nice for its size. We then boarded a small bus, with a luggage compartment attached to it in the back. The drive to Kapama Main Lodge, the lodge we stayed at, took around 2.5 hours. The landscape was very different from that of Cape Town, it had a mix of lush green farmland and a dry shrubby savanna like landscapes.
Soon we entered the Kapama lands, and before we got to our lodge and go on our first of four game drives, we saw Giraffes, antelopes, buffalo (one of the Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and Rhino), warthogs, and zebras. We also saw a cat that looked like a leopard or cheetah but was none of those, I forget the name. But I like to convince myself that it was leopard as that was the only 1 of the big 5 that we did not see. We then arrived at our 5 star lodge. Our check in was done in the outdoor dining area next to the bar, where we had welcome cocktails. We then walked to our chalets or villas. The rooms were really nice, very reminiscent of a villa in many South East Asian destinations. After settling into our rooms, we went to have tea time, there were small snack and sandwiches and juices and of course tea and coffee. We ate and watched the animals graze on the grounds of the hotel. There were warthogs, these deer like animals, and a horned animal that I forget the name of. After satisfying our hungry stomachs and thirsty throats we climbed on to our open air jeeps and off we went on our first 3 hour evening game drive.
First Evening Game Drive
Going on a game drive requires a lot of patients, as not every time you go out you will see something. We had a driver in the driver’s seat, and a spotter on a spotter’s seat attached to the front of the jeep. They tracked the animals, mainly the big 5, by looking at their tracks and footprints on the ground, they use this to see which direction they went and based on the time of the day decide if they are about to hunt, went to go rest, or went for a drink of water. We saw monkeys, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, mbualas (antelope/ deer looking animals) and more warthogs and lots of birds, some of which were feeding off of the fleas and ticks on the zebra’s back. They were all so magnificent, and very natural and pure looking. The zebras were actually white and black, whereas often times in zoos they are grey and black because they are dirty. The giraffes were tall and very elegant when they walked or ran. The difference between a male and female giraffe is in the horns. Male zebras have horns that show the bone, female zebras have horns covered in hair. Our guide also tried to fool us into believing that the difference between a male and female zebra is that one is white on black and the other is black on white. In reality there is no real difference only when you look at the butt can you tell the difference, females have a thicket white line down their butts than males. We also saw a type of vulture. As the sun was going down we arrived at a large pond, to watch the sunset. We got off and before we knew it the drivers and spotters opened the backs of the jeep and pulled out coolers and tables. The brought out sodas, wines, liquors, and dried fruits, nuts, and jerkey. We had our refreshments and took lots of pictures of the amazing sunset. Then we noticed a strong odor being carried over by the wind, the guides told us that it was the odor of a dead Rhino’s body rotting, the Rhino was killed by an Elephant earlier that day and it was killed just on the other side of the pond. Indeed it was the circle of life. It soon got dark and then we went on to drive for another hours in the dark, well there were the headlights and the spotter had a brighter search light. The sky was also lit up by the moon and plenty of stars, it was so amazing. On our way back to the lodge we spotted a white tail mongoose, and a cevitt, animals that can only be seen at night, so we were quite lucky.
Food, Safari Lodge style
After our game drive we returned to the lodge for dinner. Our dinner on this night was in an outdoor circular space. There was a bonfire in the center, and the ground was sandy like a beach. There was a bar and BBQ and buffet. I had some ostrich meat from the BBQ, it was not as tasty as the ostrich fillet I had in a restaurant somewhere in the country nearly 10 years ago, yes I can still taste it because it was that good and memorable. The food at the hotel was really great, and it was certainly hard to return to eating ship food after being spoiled at our lodge.
Hot Air Ballooning
On the first day I made reservations for a hot air balloon ride with my roommate on the safari trip. So on the second day we woke up at 4AM and left the lodge at 4:20AM for a 45 minute drive to our launch site. On the way we picked up an Australian woman named Eileen, in the end it was the three of us in one balloon which was quite nice. She was on a long adventure going to South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana I think to experience all of Africa’s natural wonders.
We drove through farmland and arrived at our launch site where we were offered coffee, tea and hot chocolate. I took hot chocolate because the previous night’s freezing temperatures carried through to the morning. The balloons were being “pumped” when we arrived, and soon they added the hot air to let the balloons rise, but not the basket. We climbed into out basket that could fit 4 people plus a pilot. We had a female pilot who has been in the business for quite some time. Before I could take in the fact that I was in a basket about to fly away, we began to float away from Earth. The flame that heated the air in the balloon was indeed very warm and warmed me right up. We rose just as the sun began shining its rays over the vast farmlands of the region. It was incredible to see the other balloon silhouetted against the rising sun’s rays with the trees and farmlands below. When flying over the trees, we took in the sweet smells of the flowers and saw some monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Hot air ballooning is all dependent on weather and the wind, as it is mainly the wind that carries you and the pilot goes up or down based on which direction we want to go and at each altitude the wind is go in different direction. Our pilot explained that by regulation each flight can only last 1 hour, both due to fuel costs and also safety. She also explained that it can take a while to receive a license to fly a balloon and then an extra year is needed to train before you can take passengers with you. She flew us over the farmlands that grew mainly citrus fruits like grapefruit and apples and we arrived at a small private reserve. This reserve was going to be developed into a real estate property where people can buy land and live on the reserve surrounded by animals, and no big 5 can be found here as that would be too dangerous for the future residents! We got to see a large family of Giraffes walking about in the dry trees, and we saw a funny lonely ostrich walking about as well. It was quite surreal to see the world from above. This was no airplane, it was smoother and it was open air, so I really was able to take in the smells and sights around me. Our hour flew by and soon we were lowering and then we landed in a grapefruit farm. It was a pretty smooth landing with only 2 bumps, and our pilot then jumped out and pulled us, the basket, and balloon to a road, where her team came to meet her. After some pictures we got out of the balloon, where our pilot was waiting for us with some refreshments! The team then quickly deflated the balloon, and my experience of ballooning over African lands was over. We then drove back to the hotel. Our driver was the son of the owner of the company, and he has been helping the business all of his life. He also mentioned that his grandfather was the directed of the South African film called “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” It was apparently the first South African film that received international acclaim and put South African films on the map.
It was a great experience, and definitely worth the money, even though I missed the morning game drive where some people saw a baby giraffe that had only been born 5 minutes prior to their spotting. A group in front of them had seen the mother give birth. The only let down of the hot air balloon experience was that we thought we would be flying over the Kapama Reserve and that we would be able to see a lot of animals from a bird’s eye view as the sun rose. Nonetheless it was still an unforgettable experience.
The Day Chilling at the Lodge
After our various morning activities, some people went on the morning drive, some did an Elephant back safari, and two of us did the hot air ballooning, we arrived back at the hotel for a fulfilling breakfast.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing at our hotel. I took the opportunity of having decent free wifi to video chat with family and attempt to upload photos on facebook and here. Sadly the internet was a bit slow near the end and I couldn’t get all the photos uploaded. Unfortunately the spa was 45 minutes away at the Kapama River Lodge, we all wanted to go to see the infinity pool and spa pavilions, but it would have been too rushed and we could only use the pool if we did a massage. So we just used our smaller but equally refreshing pool. And instead of getting a massage, I just took a bath in my bathtub. Equally relaxing. After another fulfilling meal, I got into my swim trunks and went for a quick swim in the cold pool. I then chilled by the pool, and took in the African sun while I uploaded pictures on my computer. This was certainly a change from the previous two ports, and it was a welcomed change. Then I cooled off one last time in the pool and went to get changed for afternoon tea time before our evening game drive.
2nd Evening Game Drive
This game drive was definitely more exciting than the first one. We saw a large family or herd of buffalo that crossed from grazing lands to the other side of the road to go drink water from the pond. There were old buffalos, and really young ones. Buffalo are considered one of the most dangerous animals on the safari, and is the most dangerous of the big 5, this is because you don’t know when they will attack because they seem so calm and gentle and when they do attack they do so with a lot of force and speed and it can be very spontaneous. The most dangerous is the hippo, for much of the same reasons but apparently when they attack it can be even more deadly. Then the sky started to turn bright orange and pink as the sun began to set. We then saw the tracks of three lionesses that the morning game drive saw earlier this day. Sure enough we came upon a pond where the lionesses were drinking from, they soon finished and crossed the road to the other side to begin some hunting. Lionesses do most of the work and hunting in the lion world, and they hunt during the night. So we saw 3 lionesses at work while the lion was nowhere to be seen. They were incredible animal, fierce but elegant and most definitely resembled Nala from the Lion King, or is it the other way around? Now that we saw 2 out of the big 5, we began tracking elephants. Once again we got lucky and came upon a large group of elephants! We saw many trees that were toppled down, and this was all done by the elephants that eat the roots. The elephants were eating, and we saw plenty of young ones, including the tiniest baby one that was so incredibly cute. It went from trying to eat the grass, leaves, and roots to feeding from its mother. They soon moved deeper into the trees, and we drove off the jeep’s road and into the shrubs to watch them. Soon one of the elephants toppled down a small tree in search of tasty roots; sadly this tree did not have what the elephant was looking for. We sat for a few more minutes taking in the animals. It was just so surreal and magical, they were so close to us and they were so natural, it was great! It then came time for our sunset refreshment break again. Afterwards we tried to track down the male lion, but to no avail. We did however spot a nocturnal cat. It has a bushy black and white striped tail and its body was spotted. I forget the name, but it starts with “the Spotted…” It was just laying on a tree branch, when we stumbled upon it in the dark it was scurrying up the tree. We then arrived back at the lodge for dinner.
Tonight’s dinner was a buffet dinner in the main dining room not in the outdoor bonfire. But I was just as delicious. And I had a very tasty glass of South African white wine. After dinner I used some more internet and then went to bed.
Last Day: Morning Game Drive
We woke up at 5AM and were treated to a morning coffee/ tea service with some cookies before we headed out for our morning game drive. I can gladly say that this game drive was amazing and it ended our indescribable safari experience on a high note.
Our guides started off the day by tracking the male lion, as they did see his tracks. We drove out as the sun rose above the safari and the sky went from bright orange to sky blue. We made a few circles, and it seemed we would never find the lion. And then, the spotter got off the jeep as he said he was going to follow the Lion which he saw walking/ hiding deep in the shrubs. Then when we turned the corner, we saw the lion walking and then it came to a rest. The spotter was simply following it without any self defense items, he just walked out into the wild and followed the lion and then came back on to the jeep once we spotted the lion! Crazy!!! But WOW! Was the lion majestic or what?! There was one point when it was resting where only its eyes and mane came out of the bush. He then walked out of the shrubs and walked along the road as we slowly drove behind it. Then he found a spot next to the road and near a pond where he laid down to stretch and yawn, he looked very tired. He was also trying to get a bit warm from the rising sun as the night gets pretty cool. He just lay there majestically, and did not mind us at all. The other jeep soon joined us to watch as the lion just turned his head every so often, open and close his eyes as he was soon going to rest for the rest of the day. The driver in the other jeep roared the engines in an attempt to get the lion to roar in response which sometimes happens, but the lion was simply too tired to bother, he almost roared but decided not to. Oh well, it was still out of this world to see the lion so close. After we had taken in enough of the lion the guides decided it was time to let the lion be, and we drove away. We now were tracking Rhinos. The guides said it was very hard to spot the Leopard in Kapama as it went in and out of the reserve by crawling under the fence. Now they don’t go running wild in town, they just go from reserve to reserve apparently. Before we caught the Rhinos, which we did, we caught more giraffes and the same elephant family that we saw the previous evening. Then we veered off on to a sandy road and there we saw the other group in ahead of us looking at two White Rhinos. A giraffe was feeding on one of the trees and then walked by our jeep, this was the closest we got to a giraffe and I swear it looked right at me, well I think many of the animals looked right at me, but I was sure of this one. We then came alongside the two Rhinos. They were eating the grass, and just minding their own business. Rhinos are curious animals I feel, because they are very dinosaur like, and yet they are like hippos, and also like mini elephants minus the trunks. Their horns looked very sharp and powerful as they put their heads up and down when they ate. The pair soon finished eating grass in the sandy area and moved into the bushes, we drove off and came into an open field where I saw some animal remains. Then we came to the bushes where the two rhinos went off to, and snapped our last photos of the rhino before we drove off to the hotel for an earlier breakfast, since we needed to head to the airport after that for our flight back to Cape Town.
The safari was surreal, magical and really topped off my second visit to South Africa. I would gladly do more safaris in the future in Tanzania or Kenya. The animals are just so amazing, pretty, and pure. The African sun is also an amazing backdrop to it all; it really shines bright orange, and paints the sky pink, purple, blue and yellow. I felt like I was in the Lion King during my safari.
We soon arrived back at the ship, where I changed and headed to the Union (our biggest classroom that is also a theater, performance and lecture space), to grab a front row seat for our guest speaker: Archbishop Desmund Tutu!!!!!!!