Joe visits South Africa and Botswana with his father

My past few educational trips have involved me travelling alone. On my recent visit to South Africa and Botswana I was fortunate enough to take my father with me. The reason for this is that we were picking up a hire car in Johannesburg and driving just short of 2,000 kilometres so someone to help with the driving was much appreciated!

We flew overnight from London with British Airways, landing into O.R. Tambo International Airport and collecting our hire car. Departing Johannesburg we drove north out of the city, past Pretoria and continuing into the more rural areas of the Waterberg. After visiting a few properties in the area, we spent our first night in the Welgewonden Game Reserve. Made up of former now converted farm land, the Game Reserve covers 36,000ha and is home to an array of African wildlife. The fact that Welgewonden is malaria free and only 3 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, makes it a good spot for a short safari. The game viewing however doesn’t compete with the private Kruger reserves and the Madikwe Game Reserve. We spent the afternoon watching three white rhino feeding in an open clearing, which was very special and unfortunately increasingly rare.

From Welgewonden we continued to Jembisa Bush Home and Ant’s Hill. These two homesteads offer similar concepts with experiences designed for families in malaria free environments. Both reserves are home to wildlife, but only smaller game that doesn’t pose a risk to children (so no predators, elephant or hippo). Jembisa is more of a traditional bush home, and offers picnics in the bush, sleep outs under the stars, cycling, bush walks and the more traditional game drives. It has a lovely warm feel and the staff are fantastic with children. Ant’s Hill and Ant’s Nest offer slightly more adventurous activities, such as horse riding, archery, mountain biking, walking safaris and are generally suited to slightly older children/teenagers (12-17 year olds). Both have their own style and combine perfectly with a big game stop in Madikwe or the Kruger.

The next stop on our extensive road trip was the Mashatu Game Reserve. We departed the Waterberg and drove northwards to the Botswana border post at Pont Drift. Located in Botswana’s Tuli Block, Mashatu offers a fantastic wilderness experience with excellent game viewing, and also represents superb value. We spent two night on Mashatu, one night in each of their camps. Mashatu is known as the ‘Land of Giants’ due to its elephant population, and the elephant and leopard viewing in particular is fantastic, especially later in the dry season. During our time in Mashatu, we spent a morning in their Matebole Elephant Hide. This is a sunken container at eye level with a very productive water hole. Sitting in silence waiting for game with the superb photography tuition of PhotoMashatu was very exciting and once the game came down to drink it was all action trying to compete to get the best shot! We were lucky enough to be visited by three different elephant breeding herds, large impala herds, banded mongoose, wildebeest, baboons, two jackal and an array of birdlife. It was a fantastic morning and I would highly recommend it – although there can of course be quiet days at the hide. Although being relatively early in the season for the game viewing, we still had some great sightings at Mashatu including a family of four cheetah taking down a young Kudu. It was quite hard to watch as Kudu are such beautiful and elegant creatures, but watching the interaction of the cheetah was fascinating.

From Mashatu, we headed back into South Africa and spent a night at H12 Leshiba in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Located almost in a secluded bowl in the mountains, Leshiba feels almost like the Garden of Eden. The bird life is terrific and the lush vegetation felt a far cry from the dryer Mashatu which was just two hours away. Self-guided walks, mountain biking, birding and general game drives are the key activities here and there is plains game in the area. The freedom to walk in the bush without being accompanied is quite freeing.

Following our time in the Soutpansbergs, we continued north-eastwards to Pafuri in the remote reaches of the northern Kruger. The Kruger National Park has the reputation of being busy and overcrowded with self-drivers. This is true in the central and southern areas – especially in school holidays. However, the northern tip of the park offers wilderness, exclusivity and incredibly diverse scenery. Despite only covering 1% of the Kruger National Park, the Pafuri area contains 75% of the parks biodiversity. From extensive fever tree forests to the spectacular Lanner Gorge, the area offers impressive scenery and an interesting area for walking safaris. Due to how wild the area is, the game viewing isn’t as guaranteed as further south and the game is relatively skittish. However, sightings can still be good and there are over 450 different bird species. We spent two nights in the area, with one night in a walking trails camp and the other in a permanent lodge. The walking really was fantastic and we walked into many buffalo, elephants, kudu and other plains game.

From Pafuri we drove south through the Kruger National Park. We drove all the way down to the Sabi Sands, seeing the landscape and flora change as we went. There was some excellent wildlife sightings on our drive too including a pride of six lion stalking a large herd of buffalo. The scale of the Kruger became very apparent as the drive took us around nine hours! We spent one night in the northern Sabi Sands Game Reserve and then our final night was spent in the Timbavati Game Reserve. The game viewing in both is fantastic and for short luxury safaris these two areas are superb. The easy access from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Livingstone on regional flights means it is very easy to combine with other southern African highlights.

The trip was eye opening, as we visited areas that aren’t necessarily at the top of obvious wish lists. Mashatu and Pafuri in particular were highlights. Photography in Mashatu is superb and it has become well known for it. The hides are bookable in advance and they have a photography vehicle too. Walking in Pafuri was exciting and the landscape suits exploration on foot. The variety of scenery and the quality of the guiding meant that the walks can appeal to both first timers as well as more seasoned safari goers.

During Joe’s time in South Africa he stayed at: Makweti Safari Lodge, Magari Lodge, Mashatu Tent Camp, Mashatu Lodge, H12 Leshiba, Pafuri Walking Trails, Pafuri Camp, Chitwa Chitwa and Simbavati River Lodge.

He also site inspected: Safari Plains, Leeuwenhof Country Lodge & Garden Spa, Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa, Ants Hill, Ants Nest, Jembisa Bush Home, The Outpost, Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Silvan, Arathusa Safari Lodge, Simbambili Game Lodge, Bateleur Safari Camp, Rockfig Safari Lodge, Simbavati Hilltop Lodge and Baobab Ridge.