African Safari

My African Safari took place at Balule Nature Reserve, a private game reserve about 270 miles northeast of Johannesburg (a six-hour shuttle van ride away).  Balule’s border with Kruger National Park is unfenced, which allows animals to move freely in between the lands.  The advantage of taking a safari at a private reserve is they have the ability to take vehicles off road straight to the animals, whereas at Kruger, everyone must stay on the road.



I stayed at a four-star lodge called Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge on a three-day, two-night safari.  It was all-inclusive – all meals (except for drinks) and two safaris per day were included.  They have private rondawels (round huts – I just call them bungalows) for guest rooms.  It is an intimate and luxurious lodge, with capacity for about 20 guests.   On my first night, me along with a tour group of four travelers plus one guide were the only guests.  On my second night, I was the only guest there.  I had the entire lodge and had two safaris all to myself!  By contrast, on the day I left, a university student group was scheduled to arrive and the lodge was to be at the max capacity!

The bar and dining rondawel; the dining room is behind the doors.


Pool (I did not use it – the weather was quite cool).


The back lawn, looking out to the African bushland.



It was very peaceful.  On the day I had the lodge to myself, I enjoyed the tranquility while blogging and surfing using hotel’s satellite wifi (!), and playing catch with Timber, the lodge’s unofficial mascot.


Guest rondawels.  Each unit has everything you would find in a standard hotel room (including air conditioning and heating, but no telephone or television), private bathroom, and an alfresco shower!  I imagine the shower would be quite refreshing in the summer.


But I was there in the winter (temperature got as low as 10°C on my second night – very cold by African standards).  When I jumped into bed, I unexpectedly found two hot water bottles toasting under the blanket, provided as part of the evening turndown service.  I felt like an old man in bed, but it was a welcome luxury!

A full day routine went like this:

A wake-up knock took place at 5:30 am for the 6 am three-hour morning safari.  By then, the sky was starting to brighten and stars could no longer be seen.  The group met at the bar for coffee and tea served with rusks, which were hard, sweet biscuits, similar to biscotti.


The open-air safari vehicle (either Land Rovers or Land Cruisers, as in our case here), seats nine passengers in the back, plus one next to the guide, who drove the vehicle.  The spotter sat at the very front of the vehicle on a fold out seat over the hood.  Not strapped in, he just hung on while in motion. (!)


With my guide Sully (left) and spotter Roger (right).


Road conditions varied from hard packed dirt (usually found near the perimeters) to varying degrees of rutty trail.  The biggest challenge was not the bumpy road, though – it was the branches.  You really had to pay attention while the truck was in motion.  If you did not duck in time, you got a nice branch in your face.



While on the drive, the guide looked for animal tracks (footprints and droppings) and sometimes, got out for a smell test.  We kept in radio contact with other trucks reporting what they had spotted.


After finding something interesting, we’d stop and position the truck for optimal viewing.

About half way through the drive, we took a break for coffee, tea, and cookies (humans also imitated animals marking territories at this point).  After being in the cold for over an hour, the hot beverage really hit the spot!


The morning ride concluded on-foot for the last half mile or so back to the lodge where our guide pointed out interesting flora – all the while with giraffes in the distance watching us.

We got back to the lodge at about 9 am for breakfast. Made to order eggs were served with fresh guava and orange juices along with toast with homemade Marula jelly.  Marula is also elephant’s favorite fruit!



When I was the only guest, I had my breakfast on the lawn with Lindley, the lodge’s receptionist/concierge/bar tender/activity director, pretty much their do-it-all hostess.


How luxurious and cliché was this breakfast?  This was something you only see in travel magazines!


It was then free time at the lodge until 2 pm, when lunch was served.  Lunch consisted of green salad, a hot main course (quiche and pizza were the two I had), followed by dessert.   Orange ice cream was an interesting and beautifully presented dessert.


At 3:30 pm, we departed for a three-and-a-half hour afternoon and evening safari.  Around sunset at 5 pm, we made a pit stop for sundowners (choice beverages made prior to departure) and snacks (samosas and cheesy bread were the two I had).

 


After sundowners, we continued the drive with spotter Roger holding a spotlight scanning the bushes.  When something interesting appeared, he would shine the light onto the animal for viewing.

We got back to the lodge at 7 pm for dinner.  With the larger group the first night, we ate in a traditional boma – open air dining – around the fire.  Fresh bread was baked next to the fire (yum!).  Appetizer, main course (here was chicken tandori), followed by dessert.




After dinner, we’d retreat to the bar for conversation or sat on the lawn for awesome stargazing.  I had my first sightings of Southern Cross and the Milky Way there!

Bedtime was early as we needed to get up early at 5:30 am for the wake up knock and the cycle repeats.

But I didn’t come all the way to Africa to be comforted in luxury.  Here are the photos from the safari.

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