I had spent time in the Kruger before, on a brief educational trip in 2014 and several times independently, so I was venturing into the familiar. However I was not quite prepared for the excitement and extent of the game viewing I was about to experience. South Africa excels in sophisticated service, friendly hospitality, extremely comfortable accommodation, delicious food and drink, and an overall slick polished experience. Not only this, but the game viewing is hard to beat, particularly in the private game reserves bordering the Kruger. Not one day passed without an exciting incident on a game drive.
I began my time in the Northern Sabi Sands at Chitwa Chitwa where there are apparently over twenty different leopards in the area. Three vehicles went out on a drive on the evening I was there and each vehicle came back having had different leopard sightings. The waterhole at Chitwa Chitwa is a big part of the lodge and it was extremely active. I spent the afternoon on my deck, watching two different large herds of elephant come down to drink and play in the afternoon sun, not a bad way to start the trip off!
April is traditionally not the optimum time to be in the Kruger as it is near to the end of their summer rains, but the concentration of the wildlife is so great that the rains do not really affect your experience. However the Kruger has had a severe drought over the last few years and everyone was desperate for rain. One lodge had a resourceful hippo take up residence in the swimming pool – clever hippo, stressed lodge manager!
Over the next few nights, I made my way up further north to the Timbavati Game Reserve via the Thornybush Game Reserve. In Thornybush, I was fortunate enough to come across an extremely relaxed, but rarely sighted, black rhino, followed by an equally relaxed female leopard, resting by the side of the road. At the lovely Kambaku Safari Lodge in the Timbavati Game Reserve, we spent the evening with a majestic male leopard perched in a tree, posing perfectly for pictures. The following morning as we were eating breakfast, a herd of elephant turned up for a morning drink from the pool, mere metres away from us. I returned to my room to pack my things. I found that on my return to the main area, the herd had followed me to my room and I was in fact surrounded by elephant! I realised I wasn’t going anywhere soon and it was a good chance to take stock of how lucky I was, there really isn’t another experience like standing so close to a relaxed herd of elephant.
I then moved down south again back to the Sabi Sands to stay at the exquisite Dulini Lodge. Here we watched lions display their voracious appetites as a pride of nine devoured a fresh buffalo kill. It was a raw and provocative sight to see, and all of my five senses were challenged. The next evening challenged my senses even more, with a kill happening before our eyes. It was all completely unexpected and everything happened so fast. We were watching three majestic male lions pad through the bush as the sun was setting, and suddenly a panicked warthog shot out of an old hyaena den, the lions didn’t even hesitate and the warthog had no chance. The gruesome noises, the power of the lions and the adrenaline everyone felt was something I won’t forget for a long time. We spent the good part of an hour watching before everyone decided it was time to head back to the lodge for our own dinner. We set off, but we had only been driving a few minutes when the guide announced excitedly a leopard had arrived on the scene so of course we had to turn back – just another evening game drive in the Sabi Sands!
To end my trip, I made use of the direct flight from Kruger Mpumalanga to Livingstone in Zambia. It was a quick and convenient flight and makes the combination of a safari and Victoria Falls easy. The Falls are at peak flow in April and the power and volume of water is impressive. Top tip – wrap your camera in a ziplock plastic bag if you intend to walk all the way along the Falls at this peak flow period and wrap yourself in a poncho, you will not stay dry! I arrogantly walked past the poncho hire, got about 30m, quickly reconsidered my decision and sheepishly turned back! I stayed at Waterberry Lodge and Islands of Siankaba on the Zambian side, both about an hour upstream from the Falls and located on the banks of the Zambezi River and Ilala Lodge in Victoria Falls town on the Zimbabwe side, about a ten minute walk to the Falls. There is a clear difference between the two types of experience, the lodges upstream on the Zambian side offer a serene and relaxing experience, the sunset boat cruise in the evening will be completely peaceful, you may see just one or two other boats. When you wake up in the morning, you can hear the morning bird song, the hippos bellowing in the distance, perhaps an elephant trumpet from the opposite bank of the river from Zambezi National Park. These type of lodges become an extension to your safari lodge experience, you’ll be personally looked after and maintain that feeling of peace that you get from being on safari. Staying at a hotel in the Victoria Falls Town or Livingstone feels exciting, you can walk to the Falls, and the epic mist (or smoke as it is affectionately known locally) that the Falls make towers above you in the sky. I have to say I really did notice the constant sound of the helicopters throughout the day and the boat cruise in the evening, while still beautiful was a much livelier affair. There are a range of hotels to choose from to suit most tastes from the elegant Anantara Royal Livingstone Resort, the grand old dame The Victoria Falls Hotel, the cheerful Avani Victoria Falls and small charming guest houses like Bayete Guest Lodge, there’s something for everyone.
The game viewing in the Kruger really did blow me away, but you also can’t deny the comfort and luxury that a safari in South Africa can offer. It doesn’t excel in offering a pristine unspoilt wilderness feel, but it does excel in providing fantastic game viewing and a sophisticated experience. That combined with Victoria Falls at the end makes for an exhilarating trip.
During Fran’s trip to South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, she stayed at Chitwa Chitwa, Waterside Lodge, Simbavati Hilltop Lodge, Kambaku River Sands, Dulini Lodge, Rattrays, Umkumbe Safari Lodge, Islands of Siankaba, Waterberry Lodge and Ilala Lodge. She site inspected Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Simbambili Game Lodge, Royal Malewane, Chapungu Tented Camp, Jackalberry Lodge, Thornybush N’Kaya Lodge, Motswari Game Lodge, Makanyi Lodge, Kambaku Safari Lodge, Rissington Inn, Singita, Leopard Hills, Kirkmans Kamp, Lion Sands, Nut Grove Manor, Belgrace Boutique Hotel, Tongabezi Lodge, The River Club, Avani Victoria Falls, Anantara Royal Livingstone Resort, The Victoria Falls Hotel, Bayete Guest Lodge and The Elephant Camp.