Sabi Sands Game Reserve
Flying from Cape Town we arrived in Skukuza Airport at 12:30 pm. Skukuza is in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Kruger Park. We were staying at Dulini Lodge www.dulini.com for the next four days.
Skukuza airport was recently reopened after extensive renovations. With beautiful timber floors and ceiling, the terminal is a pleasant surprise in the middle of what appears to be nowhere. As you exit towards the outside baggage claim area, a full size rhino on a high round platform welcomes you to this amazing part of the world.
We left the airport with our driver Colin. Within minutes we came upon nyala, impala, elephant and kudu AND… we were still in the airport precinct.
Our drive took us through small villages, past people walking the dirt roads and over open plains. We arrived at Dulini around 2.30pm. Krystyna was in a suite of her own while Leonie and I were roomies. The luxury of these suites was unparalleled… old world charm, thatched rooves, private ensuite with claw foot bath, private plunge pool, outside shower and resident baboons.
We ate a light lunch and were introduced to Patrick and Tyrone our guide and driver for the next four days. The afternoon drive departed around 3.30pm. We grabbed a jacket, the night air can be cold, and drove from the lodge grounds into Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Three hours later we were in a state of shock and awe…cheetah, buffalo, hyena, leopard and rhino…our faces ached, frozen in perpetual smiles.
This was our first day!!!!!!!
5am the following morning found us wide awake and ready to go. But here on a game reserve there are many dangers roaming in the dark. Guests are confined to their bungalows during night hours. Our escort was due to arrive at 6am. We were forced to curb our enthusiasm and wait patiently.
At 6am there was a light knock on the door. On our way to the breakfast area we stopped to collect Krys. At this hour only coffee was served. Breakfast would be on our return. With the arrival of Patrick and Tyrone we left on our drive…a blanket and hot water bottle provided much needed warmth for the chilly early hour.
This morning we came across elephant, rhino, leopard and giraffe. To our left we watched the sun rise above this wild continent. On the open plain we stopped to watch a leopard as he strolled nonchalantly by our truck. Seemingly oblivious to our presence, he climbed a fallen branch, surveying his surrounds. We were captivated. To be so close to a wild animal was exhilarating. Around 9.30am we stopped at a water hole for tea and biscuits, listening as the hippos grunted from their watery home.
Patrick our guide explained the many different names for groups of animals: a Journey of Giraffe, a Dazzle of Zebra, a Leap of Leopards, a Crash of Rhino, a Coalition of Cheetah and a Raft of Hippos. His knowledge was immense and he happily answered our countless questions.
We returned to the lodge around 10am for a well-deserved breakfast. Joined by Patrick, Tyrone and other guests we revisited our mornings experiences.
We quickly slipped into the routine of life on a game lodge–up early…coffee…game drive…back for breakfast around 10am. Then the rest of the day until 3.30pm was ours to do as we pleased. But of course we couldn’t roam far from the lodge, wild animals did inhabit the surrounding area.
So we floated in our own plunge pool, read, sent emails, we did have wifi in our rooms and at the lodge, went for a walk across a swinging bridge, shopped in the convenient Safari store, rested and chatted. And I wrote, seemed like Africa reached within and rebooted my creative side.
3.30pm arrived. We left in search of a known leopard with her cubs. Some hours later, after extensive bush bashing, we found them. But they were across a gorge hidden within the brush. We watched through our binoculars as they played and scampered over the rocks, but still in a state of awe from yesterday and today’s sightings, we were longing for more of the same.
Leaving the dense thorny bush we drove onto the open plains where we came across giraffe and zebras grazing in the shadows of acacia trees. As dusk arrived and the night air became cool we stopped at a watering hole for Sundowner’s…gin and tonic, wine and nuts…once again watching and listening to the hippos.
As visitors, our main interest was in the animals, which was home was irrelevant.. Left or right, up or down our sense of direction was left in Australia. The only thing we knew was east and west, the sun came up on our morning drive and set during the afternoon drive.
We presumed we were heading home but Patrick and Tyrone had a surprise for us. Bouncing over grassy trails through thick brush we arrived at an open air BBQ. Within Sabi Sands there are many other Game lodges. We were joined by guests from these lodges and together were entertained by African dancers and music. Dinner was lovely under the stars with a huge fire to keep us warm.
We drove home pleasantly tired after another beautiful and wondrous day.
Day three…morning dawned and we were on our way by half-light. By sunrise we had encountered another leopard, resting beside a water hole. Slouching on the outer perimeter of the leopards patch was a hyena, waiting for the leopard to make a kill. The hyena, mostly being a scavenger, will attempt to take the leopards left overs for itself and its family.
From here we followed a mother warthog with her babies, the little ones being very cute. Chatter came on the radio to say lions were spotted. We drove off in pursuit. Some time later we found a pride of six females and one juvenile male resting in the long savannah grasses. We sat in the truck and watched them as they lolled about, stood up, sat down and playfully fought…All the while our presence appearing to go unnoticed.
According to Tyrone and Patrick, the lions see the truck with us inside as one mass. Move about too much, get out of the truck or stand up high and their playful relaxed demeanour may change. We didn’t test this hypothesis.
We left the plains and drove into the thick brush where we came across a large elephant herd. With Tyrone precariously sitting on a fold out seat secured to the bull bar with no protection and no seat belt, one of the female elephants charged at the truck. It appeared we were getting too close to her baby.
We went back to the watering hole for coffee and biscuits…the crisp morning, beautiful with clear blue skies.
Our morning drive almost over we headed back to the lodge and a much anticipated breakfast, but Patrick had other plans for us. At a crossroads he stopped the truck and climbed out. Tyrone took the drivers seat. Patrick suggested we walk back to the lodge. A few four-letter words came to mind, especially as the two South Africans with us declined Patricks offer, but like the dutiful Australians we are, Krys Leonie and I climbed down. With us standing on the track, Tyrone drove off, but not before Patrick took a rifle from the front of the vehicle.
Patrick proceeded to point out the spoor (footprints) of many animals we hoped were not close by. We saw lion and leopard spoor, giraffe, rhino and buffalo. Just off the track was an abandoned termite mound, now the residence of a family of warthogs. Patrick showed us the spiritual thorn bush, how to make a toothbrush from a particular bush stick and explained what can be eaten, what was used for medicinal purposes and what could be used to wash your hands.
The time was 10am. According to Patrick most of the animals were resting. We hoped he was right, but to be sure we spoke quietly and stayed close together. Patrick also told us not to run if approached by a wild animal. Our walk back was forty-five minutes, an extra long forty-five minutes.
We arrived at the lodge safely and enjoyed a well-earned breakfast. The rest of the day was spent resting, catching up on emails, reading and writing.
At 3.30pm we left for our afternoon drive. Not fifteen minutes later, across the track, we came upon a crash of rhino. They didn’t seem to want to move so we drove around them. Continuing on we came upon a huge herd of buffalo, 800 strong. They were spread around a waterhole and over the mountain slopes. We parked in the middle of them and watched. Due to their unpredictable nature Buffalo are highly dangerous to humans. We clicked our cameras, remained quiet and stayed seated within the truck.
Soon rhino joined the buffalo at the watering hole. After about an hour we left, driving onto the open plains where we found a cheetah resting. Tyrone stopped the truck. We watched this exceedingly beautiful animal, graceful in its movements as it strolled amongst the low bushes. Life didn’t seem too hard for him.
On the open plains, grazing peacefully were many zebras including many pregnant ones and the elegant giraffe. As tall as the giraffe are, their camouflage is absolute. Rounding the corner they emerge from the bushes, silent, statuesque. By late afternoon we were back at the same watering hole, enjoying Sundowners once again. Today the water was full of hippos…the noise echoing across the land.
Back at the lodge we were surprised to find our dinner table set up inside…a roaring fire assuring us of warmth and comfort. Tonight dinner was for the three of us; wine, soup, chicken and pudding…a pleasant evening with a sumptuous meal. After dinner we were escorted back to our rooms. The night before our arrival, a leopard passed through the eating area while the head chef was writing up her notes from the day. The lodge is unfenced and open to the elements, whatever they may be.
Early the next day we encountered a large herd of elephant. The mammoth creatures stand just off the track, unseen, until they begin to rip the thorny branches from some unsuspecting acacia.
The two-way radio came to life…lions were sighted in the area, male lions, the king of the jungle. As yet we had not encountered the black maned, tawny coloured, long tailed with distinctive black tuft at the tip, adult male lion.
We set off in pursuit crossing the river, back and forth, driving for what seemed like hours. The radio constantly reporting sightings but we appeared to be missing them in the early morning light. We saw zebra and the tiny brown mongoose before returning to the lodge for breakfast.
3.30pm came, this afternoon we were joined by a new couple, honeymooners from Scotland.
Patrick drove back over the creek with Tyrone out front. A large solitary hippo walked from the water to graze on the grasses along the pathways, surrounding its home. A herd of elephant stood just off the path ripping branches from the acacia trees. Patrick came to a halt on the edge of the waterhole. Before we had time to take out the gin and tonic the rumble of a male lion echoed across the plain.
We jumped back into the truck and followed the sound. Down narrow tracks, over open plains through thick brush all the time Patrick was on the radio taking directions. Eventually we found him sitting in the long grass. He wasn’t the quintessential male lion…no blood curdling roar…no majestically prowling his domain. No this lion was relaxed in the long grass, ignoring the many trucks parked around him. Ignoring the clicking cameras. Like a model that is ‘over it all’ he allowed us a quick photo shoot and then, with absolute indifference put his head down, remaining that way until the sun went down and we left.
Back at the water hole we indulged in a couple of drinks and talked about the afternoon. Tonight the hippos were very loud, their crazy laugh filling the darkness.
On our way back to the lodge we came across a large elephant herd. One seemed to get a fright. He flapped his ears, stamped his feet and trumpeted loudly… was rather frightening.
Not far from home Patrick stopped and pointed out a tiny chameleon sitting on a branch. It was a beautiful green colour, exquisite in its miniature perfection. How he saw it still baffles us.
We got back to find dinner set up inside a compound surrounded by tall thorny walls of wicker. Scattered throughout were small fires to keep the insects at bay. New guests had arrived. We spent the evening introducing ourselves and talking about the events of the last few days.
Our last morning at Dulini…we went looking for the lions. We saw buffalo, rhino, elephant but no lion. Patrick and Tyrone walked into the bush looking for spoor, but the illusive lion stayed away. Our only other sighting for the morning was a cheetah with a full belly.
Back at the lodge we said our goodbyes to everyone and with Godfrey driving, drove back to Skukuza airport…time for our next adventure, the Rovus Rail.