The Big 5 (well I saw 4 anyway......)

Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
Trip End Feb 13, 2010

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Where I stayed
Marc's Treehouse Lodge

Flag of South Africa  , Limpopo,
Friday, February 12, 2010

Have had the most amazing few days on safari in the Kruger National Park.  I was staying just outside the main park on a private reserve with accommodation in treehouses.  These were great - a step up from camping but still feeling 'at one with nature' with all the sound effects of the bush around you all night (grasshoppers, hyenas etc) and even with some popping in to say hello in person - I had a 'pet' frog above my bed for the duration of my 5 nights at the lodge!

The safaris themselves were great - a mixture of late afternoon trips on the Motlala reserve where I was staying, and on Balule reserve (another private reserve) and full days in the Kruger National Park itself, all in open sided jeeps which gave great views of the wildlife.

Within a few minutes of arriving last Sunday I was off on my first game drive (on the Motlala reserve) with Tolli as our guide.  We got to see giraffe, zebra, water buffalo (the first of my big 5 sightings), impala, nyala, and the disappearing backsides of a mother and baby rhino!  The best were the water buffalo - 2 bulls lying in a mud bath my the side of the track, so extremely close to us. They had a small bird called a red-billed oxpicker on them picking out parasites from them.

The following day was an early start for a full day game viewing in Kruger National Park.  The viewings were great, especially the elephants.  All the big cats were hiding though.

The following morning (Tues) myself and Birgit (a German girl also staying at the treehouses) visited the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre for rescued and injured animals. Here we got to see lots of large and unusual birds as well as a male and female lion, a leopard and cheetahs, among other things.  Although the centre undoubtedly does good work in helping care for and saving injured animals, and does release some back into the wild, it does also keep a fair few which never get released back into the wild.  As a result it seems like some of these birds and animals are there for the benefit of the tourists they show round.  The centre criticises Kruger National Park as a 'zoo for white people' but in many respects their centre has also become a zoo with the animals in much smaller enclosures.  In particular I thought the enclosures some of the large birds were in were particularly small and gave them very little room to really stretch their wings and fly.  Interesting to visit nonetheless.

After a chance to chill out for a couple of hours back at the treehouses, we went on another sunset drive on the Motlala reserve.  Among the game we viewed was a mating pair of saddled- billed storks, which are pretty rare (only 200 of these still exist anywhere in the world). 

The next morning Birgit and I had an extremely early start (4:45am!!!!) to travel to another private reserve (Balule reserve) to go on an early morning game walk led by an armed ranger (just in case of any charging animals!).  On route to the walk we got word of a pair of cheetah nearby, so we detoured to watch them.  Incredible, and very lucky as only approx 250 cheetah in the whole of the Kruger area.  They were after some jackal pups nearby but the adult jackals managed to scare them off!  While we were on the walk, our guide (Bertus) got word that an elephant was currently in his garden destroying it, so after the walk we headed to his house to check out this elephant.  He was there busy eating marula fruit!  We were only 20 metres from this elephant and we were not in the safety of the jeep - I definitely felt the fear, but it was a good fear!  Luckily the elephant was more interested in eating the marula than charging us!  We spent the rest of the day chilling out at Tremisana Lodge on the Balule reserve before heading out for another sunset drive.  We managed to find the cheetah again, and also found a hippo in a nearby watering hole.

On Thursday I had my final day game viewing in the Kruger National Park.  I had one aim for this day - I wanted to see lions in the wild.  I wasn't disappointed.  In the afternoon we found a trio of lionesses lying in the grass.  In our excitement we startled them so they very obligingly stood up for a minute or two which provided a great photo opportunity!  They were really beautiful.  During the day we also got to see a large herd of buffalo (at least 40), several rhinos at close quarters, wildebeest, a 40-strong herd of elephants, hippos (including a very cute baby), zebras, warthogs, giraffes, waterbucks, impala and a variety of eagles, vultures and other birds.  A great day's viewing and by the end of it I'd seen 4 of the big 5 (I didn't see a leopard in the wild - maybe next time).  I met some great people this day, including another girl from London who bizarrely knew Mark as she used to work at the same law firm as him! Small world!

On Friday morning it was another early start for a 6am bush walk before breakfast and heading back to Johannesburg via the Blyde River Canyon to start the journey home to the UK.

The whole safari experience was superb.  The hospitality at the treehouses was great and it was very easy meeting people.  The safari guides were also superb and I got to know a couple of them quite well over the course of the week.  I learnt so much from them - to the point that I was imparting some of the info I'd learnt from them to one of the other passengers on the last day, and I was asked if I was a botanist!!!! Me!!!!!!  It was very hard to leave Kruger and I'm sure I'll go back someday.

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Jenny Helber on

I really enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing your fabulous pictures! What an amazing opportunity to see and experience the African bush.

Teresa on

Really wonderful to share the experience with you from my PC

Anska on

Have you been taking classes in photography too?...your pictures in the game reserves are AMAZINGI!!!!!!!! What an superb holiday.!

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