Splurge at Elephant Plains

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End May 09, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More pics are here

Quite a few people recommended that we combine our Kruger experience with a experience on a private reserve.  Selecting one wasn't easy as most of them were extremely pricey - one night at a private reserve runs from $250 to over $1000 per person!!!  But we decided to splurge as it would probably be a once in a lifetime type of experience.  We chose Elephant Plains in the famous Sabi Sands reserve as it seemed to be one of the more reasonably priced ones and had great reviews. 

From Kruger, we had to drive through a few hours of rural farmland, then wilderness on sandy/dirt roads that would probably destroy a regular car's suspension pretty fast.  It looked like people in those villages lived like they did a 100 years ago

Arriving at Elephant Plains was like entering into a very different world,  The lodge had a rustic, yet elegant charm.  We were greeted at the entrance with guava juice in champagne glasses and headed to the deck which had a pool and overlooked the savannah and a man-made waterhole. It was hard to believe this lodge existed in the middle of nowhere.

We totally lucked out here as for some reason, they had to upgrade us to their honeymoon suite for a night.  We had a private deck with our own pool overlooking the savannah.  There also was a huge tub, fireplace, both indoor and outdoor shower (I loved the double shower heads!) with natural slate tile everywhere.  The suite was bigger than Frank's 2-bedroom apartment in Bellevue!  Check out the pics (TBD after we upload to gallery).

The clientele at the lodge was upscale professional and only couples.  Most people like us stayed for 2 nights.  We met a couple from India who headed up BASF's Asia Operations.  Another 2 couples from Germany also seemed to do quite well and we think they frequently stayed at 4 star hotels on vacations.  2 other French couples (one of them is some kind of wireless biz dev guy) and another couple from Sweden.

We started our first game drive at 4pm in an open Land Rover.  Each car had a tracker and driver.  Mike, our tracker immediately spotted a leopard, and the driver went off road through the bush to follow it.  One big difference between this drive and Kruger was that on a private reserve, the cars can go off road to follow the Big 5.  What surprised us is that the driver plowed over trees and shrubs to follow the leopard.  We where thinking how could they do this?  Wouldn't they kill off all the trees this way?  We would love to see if any of the luxury American SUVs could handle this type of driving.  Doubt it. 
The driver got us within couple of feet from the leopard, and the leopard seemed totally unphased by the Land Rover, and kept going about it's daily business.

After lunch, we went on a 1 hour game walk with Mike.  This game walk was completely different than the one we took in Kruger.  It was extremely hot and we didn't see any major wildlife.  Mike did point out some of the local plants and explained some medicinal properties. For example he said to burn dried elephant dung to cure headaches, or to boil fresh elephant dung for flu or diarrhea.  Another plant he said was good to help with STDs. Not sure how true any of this was but it was surely interesting.

Every morning at the reserve is the same routine:
5:15am   Wake up knock at door
5:30am   Tea/Coffee
5:45am   Morning game drive
7:00ish  Stop for tea/coffee break in the African bush
9:00ish  Return to the lodge for breakfast
10:00am  Game walk
2:00pm   Lunch
3:45pm   Afternoon game drive
6:00ish  Sundowner in the African bush
7:00pm   Return to lodge with Amarulla welcome back drink
7:45pm   Drinks in bar
8:00pm   Dinner in outdoor setting around an open fire

In general the game drives got us up and personal with the animals since we were in open-top vehicles and we got to go off road to follow the animals around.  However, the area covered is relatively small so they drive the same roads over and over.  At one point we felt the experience (the planned drive routes and the daily routine) was a little like Disney Land.
Another interesting thing is that small private reserves like Elephant Plains have arrangements with some other private reserves to allow each other access to each other's land.  However, for both days we were there, we couldn't go on a neighboring piece of property where 4 lions made a kill as there was no such agreement in place.  So we saw the lions only from a distance with binoculars.  Also we didn't see the sheer volume and variety of animals we saw in Kruger.

We were glad that we did both experiences - the public Kruger Park and a private reserve.  Both are very different experiences. 

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