These beautiful animals are unfortunately being hunted into extinction by poachers.
So this is it. I’m down to the final week of my South African adventure. The day I touched down in Cape Town feels like a lifetime ago.
Cape Town was amazing so you could say that I started with a bang – I intend to end things the way I started them so I am spending my last week doing what most tourists come to South Africa to do; a safari!
Kruger Park is arguably the most famous wildlife park in the world to do a safari in, so I thought that’d be a good place to start. Loads of travellers that I have met have said it was the highlight of their entire trip.
My friends Kevin and Nikki recommended a company called Tydon Safaris who they did their safari with and they claimed that it was one of the best holidays they’ve ever had. That’s a pretty big statement, so I figured that Tydon can’t be a bad company to go with.
This was to be a bit of a budget blowout – eight game drives in Kruger Park and the adjacent Sabi Sand Game Reserve, on-site accommodation in luxury safari tents, all meals and pick-up from
Father and child.
Johannesburg paid for and included.
I was picked up by the company owner himself as we took the five hour drive up to Kruger Park.
The highlight of the journey was near the end when we stopped at a butchery to pick up some quality biltong
. Gavin tells me that you should only ever buy biltong from a proper butcher and that the biltong should still be a little wet and a little red. Seasoned with a rosemary spice mix, the biltong was divine. There is usually one item of local food that I get addicted to wherever I go to in the world and in South Africa, it is most definitely biltong – I always made sure I had a packet on me wherever I went. So imagine my rage when I discovered that ants had got stuck into it while I was out on a game drive. You could’ve made coffee from the water boiled by my rage. I later bought some delicious kudu
biltong to replace it, but it was not near the standard set by the butcher’s beef biltong. In saying that, I will still say that the biltong picked up in Clarens
The sort of scene we would enjoy a sundowner to during the evening drives in Sabi Sand.
the best I have had – I think I do prefer my biltong a bit drier and harder.
After getting settled in to my own luxury tent, it was time for my first game drive.
I will now give a drive-by-drive summary of everything I saw and everything that happened on each game drive, which will be interspersed with other events and random musings; Drive #1 (Sabi Sand Game Reserve):
Sabi Sand Game Reserve is adjacent to Kruger National Park and there are no fences on the boundary – so the animals can roam freely between the two. The advantage of going into Sabi Sand is the fact that it is a private reserve – so your drivers can go off-road and you are allowed to get out of the vehicle.
Almost immediately we came across three elephants and we got very close to them – not quite touching distance, but not far off. We then got up close and personal with some water bucks and some zebras. At the watering hole were three rhinos who passed by just a couple of metres away from the truck. After enjoying a sundowner as the sun set, a wounded hyena
Two impalas go at it in rutting season.
walked past the truck. The journey back to camp was a bit uncomfortable as while it is boiling hot during the day, it becomes very cold once the sun goes down. For some reason, whenever we hit a dip in the road the temperature just plummeted. Add to this an urge to pee, and you can understand why I couldn’t wait for the drive to end.
I think however, that I surprised myself a little in that I wasn’t as scared of the animals as I thought I’d be, despite their close proximity to the truck.
That night, there were helicopters constantly flying overhead – they were part of the anti-poaching police.
As Gavin’s son Tyron explained to us, poaching is a real scourge of the parks. Rhino horns are extremely valuable on the black market as they are known as a ‘cure’ for cancer, an aphrodisiac and a status symbol in certain countries – I’m looking at you Vietnam – which has led to an army of poachers illegally killing rhinos inside Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand.
An anti-poaching force is set up to counter the threat and save the rhinos – but it is unfortunately a
Part of a herd of several hundred that we encountered.
losing battle, something sadly recognised by the Tydon safari guides. Rhinos are apparently being lost at a rate of three per day.
To me the simple answer is to decrease the demand for rhino horns – there are no cures for cancer and rhino horns do not make you er, horny…they are simply untruths. It really saddens me that an entire industry – and an illegal, lucrative one at that – has been created on the back of complete lies. Educate people with the truth and stop the demand.
Once again however, the South African government is again culpable – according to Tyron, the South African government has built up a stock of confiscated rhino horns so big, that it would flood the market and supply demand for 25 years. So, why don’t they release them? Corruption, again – someone is getting kickbacks to hold the stock back and keep the price up.
Also, apparently most of the rhino horns illegally procured are not even being sold but are being stockpiled instead. This is because the day rhinos become extinct – which is sadly looking more likely than unlikely – the price of rhino horns will skyrocket. Tyron also tells
Vehicle & Rhino
This is how close we were getting to the animals at Sabi Sand. Amazing. Note the guide sitting at the front - he is a spotter who looks for tracks and shines the spotlight during the night drives.
me that if a poacher spots an anti-poacher, he will open fire – so in response, anti-poachers basically have a licence to kill. So not only are rhinos being slaughtered to extinction, human lives are also being lost. It’s a literal war out there in the park between the poachers and those trying to stop them. All this because of lies, money and greed – I just find the whole thing beyond absurd and absolutely unnecessary. This is why I’m a left-winger.
While in bed that night, I could hear groans in the distance – they were lions roaring. They were apparently about three kilometres away but they sounded a hell of a lot closer. Apparently if a lion roars next to your vehicle, the whole vehicle shakes. Cool, but slightly scary at the same time. Drive #2 (Kruger National Park):
My first drive in the famed national park. Tourists are allowed to drive their own vehicles in here so there is actually traffic to deal with; a lot of the roads are tarred and there is much more ground to cover here than in Sabi Sand so the drivers generally drive faster in Kruger, meaning you get
Hopefully this gives you an idea of just how close the elephants came to the vehicle.
a lot more wind in your eyes. Apart from two scenic viewing spots that we visited, you are not allowed out of the vehicle at any time.
It was a very quiet drive – we didn’t see anything of note apart from a glossy starling, a purple-chested turaco and an impala fight. It is impala rutting season so male impalas fight each other for to gain a harem of females to mate with – so just like male humans fighting each other for chicks. We’re all animals after all. Drive #3 (Kruger):
The total opposite to the morning drive and the best drive so far by a distance. I basically saw the Big 5 in one afternoon; a huge, testosterone-dripping elephant, a baby rhino, lions from afar, buffaloes, and a leopard on the side of the road to cap off a brilliant drive.
The lions were only just visible with my camera’s zoom lens at a maximum, so I would like another lion sighting a bit closer up. The leopard however was special, just as it was last time
because they are usually so hard to see. It was the end of the day as well and we were on our way out of
If you look closely at the middle of the picture, you can see three lions having a sleep. This unfortunately, was to be my only lion sighting.
the park so it was totally unexpected.
In addition to the Big 5, we also saw giraffes and baboons, as well as helmet-clad guinea fowls and a pied kingfisher.
I also really enjoyed our guide Kara’s guiding – she always positioned the truck perfectly for us to take photos and she was so enthusiastic about animals, which really rubbed off. She was also very knowledgeable, so I learnt a lot about the animals I was seeing.
Along with me for the drive was Karl, a German school teacher who comes down here every chance he gets – he flies down here from Germany at least twice a year if not more, and is a Tydon veteran. He loves it! Gavin is considering making him an honorary guide. It was nice just having two of us on the truck for all three drives so far as we weren’t scrambling over anyone to get good photos. Drive #4 (Kruger):
Replacing Karl the next day on the early morning drive were the well-travelled American couple of Bill and Ann. Bill has been to 151 countries and Ann 145, making my tally look positively amateur. The drive itself was OK, as we saw
It was moving so quickly that I didn't have much time to take the photo. If I had managed to keep this in focus, it would've been a perfect photo.
a big herd of buffaloes, some rhinos, a couple of elephants and loads of giraffes. No lions however, although we did hear them. We waited for them near a pond but they never showed up. For the last hour of the drive we saw nothing – we were just basically cruising around with the wind all up in our grills. Drive #5 (Kruger):
My final Kruger drive got off to a promising start as we saw buffaloes before we even got into the park, and elephants just after. It was a false dawn however as the only thing of note we saw afterwards were kudus
after we stalked the river for almost the whole drive.
That night I moved from Tydon’s “safari camp” into their “bush camp”. The safari camp is bigger and has bigger tents; the bush camp is actually inside Sabi Sand so you get antelopes and monkeys walking through the camp. The night before, they even had an elephant walk into the camp which knocked over a couple of trees. This was properly in the wild. Just hoped that a leopard wouldn’t come in, as has happened before!
You hear all sorts of animals during
Notice the wound on its butt - our guide reckons it was the result of fighting other hyenas.
the night – lions, hyenas – and I heard an elephant growl for the first time which was quite scary. I thought it was a lion or a leopard. Drive #6 (Sabi Sand):
It was back to Sabi Sand for the rest of my drives and although the drive was quiet at first, we spotted some giraffes that we drove towards. That was when we noticed there was a leopard sitting down right in front of us! It quickly walked away so we gave chase. Unfortunately it strayed into a neighbouring property (the reserve is split up into several territories – one of which can be traversed by Tydon – and it is a bit of a big deal to trespass into a neighbouring property) so we weren’t able to stay with it. Still – the leopard is supposed to be the hardest of the Big 5 to spot, yet I have now seen just as many of them as I have seen lions. I was very close to all the leopards as well. We also saw rhinos and kudus before we were surrounded by a massive herd of elephants, about 50-strong. It was an awesome experience though I
Just casually standing in the middle of the road.
was admittedly a little nervous when one of them came within two metres of the truck!
The general daily schedule at Tydon is a 6am wake up call for a 6.30am game drive, followed by breakfast between 9am and 11am. Lunch is at 1.30pm and then you have an afternoon game drive at either 2pm (Kruger) or 3.30pm (Sabi Sand). You have dinner when you get back and then you’re usually knackered so you’re in bed before 10pm.
As a result, there is a lot downtime between drives which can be up to five and a half hours. I didn’t mind it so much as it gave me time to catch up on writing – otherwise there isn’t too much to do apart from catch up on sleep. Drive #7 (Sabi Sand):
We saw the same rhinos, kudus and elephants we saw in the morning with the added bonus of seeing a baby elephant playfully charging around the place. Cute. For the evening Sabi Sand drives, you usually stopped somewhere for a drink while watching the sunset. This time, we stopped with the truck from the safari camp and I got talking to Bill and Ann again, as
They make some tasty biltong.
well as some other very friendly Americans who were all in awe of my two-year trip around the world. There was plenty of encouragement and admiration from the group and I was admittedly feeling a little chuffed. Maybe I’ll visit as many countries as Bill and Ann one day. I think I got myself some new blog followers – so Karl, Bill, Ann, Joe, Debbie and Andy…I hope you’re all reading this!
Night spotting after dark revealed a bush baby and a genet but no nocturnal big cats.
The next morning, we did something a bit different by trading in our morning game drive for a bush walk instead. Animals are a different proposition when you’re on foot – when you’re in a vehicle, the animal just sees a big vehicle and you are pretty safe – as you are suddenly a lot more vulnerable. You can’t outrun any of the Big 5 – if you do encounter them, you just have to stand your ground and stare them down. If you run, you die – as they will know you are intimidated and will run you down. Our walking guide Steven had a rifle and minimum of ten
Always fun to see.
bullets just in case.
Given our vulnerability, we always walked in silence keeping our eyes and ears peeled for any sign of danger – we would be fine as long as we spotted any dangerous animals before they spotted us. Along the way, Steven showed us the different tracks made by animals, the direction they were travelling and the age of the tracks; he also talked about dung (made by herbivores), faeces (omnivores) and scat (carnivores) and how you can use them to track animals; and he also told us about the different plants present on the reserve and their relationships with the animals.
We didn’t encounter anything for the first hour of the walk, before we came across some rhinos – we made sure we kept 100m away from them – and then some buffaloes. As the herd was blocking our path back to camp, Steven decided to call the truck to pick us up. And lucky he did – just a few minutes later, a massive herd of some several hundred buffaloes were migrating across the clearing. These aren’t just glorified cows – buffaloes are dangerous, hence their membership amongst the Big 5. It was an incredible sight
They can get big. And vicious.
to see however. Drive #8 (Sabi Sand):
What turned out to be my final game drive yielded kudus, elephants, giraffes and zebras. There was a reported lion sighting but sadly they were on the neighbouring property. I did however, learn some interesting facts about termite mounds; did you know that they can be hundreds of years old, spread underground for hundreds of metres and have trees growing out of them because they are a rich source of nutrients? Yeah, I would rather have seen the lions too. We managed to spot a couple of hyenas on the spotlight drive, animals which I have only seen at night.
My favourite animals?
I would have to say the leopard. I love the silky smoothness and gracefulness of their movements, the epitome of power and agility.
I also love the languid movements of giraffes. When you spot them from afar, you just see these giants among the trees, floating across the landscape. They’re look slightly uncoordinated as well, like a slow, tipsy, runway model.
A giant male elephant is also an awesome sight – they have this regal and majestic presence about them…a lion certainly wouldn’t f*ck with them.
A good place to spot wildlife. On a good day.
also say that with so much focus on mammals and the Big 5, it goes forgotten that there is actually a plethora of beautiful and colourful birds in the area as well.
Unfortunately however, I never got that close-up lion sighting.
Overall, I have to say that Tydon run a very tidy operation and they were very friendly and accommodating. The guides would sit down for dinner with the guests and having spent all day with them, you really got to know them and it became a very personal experience. I also appreciated the intimacy of both camps, meaning you that got to know your fellow guests fairly well too. The accommodation was comfortable and the food was great – two thumbs up!
In terms of the game viewing experience, it was awesome to see all of these wild animals in their natural habitat and to get really close to them. Cat sightings always brought the most excitement although seeing huge herds of elephants and buffaloes was also an incredible experience.
I’m not a huge animal fan but I appreciated seeing nature at its finest and I found six days on safari was just right. If you love animals,
One of a massive variety of birds that live in Kruger Park.
then six days won’t be enough and you’ll keep coming back like Karl. But it really depends on what you see and even with the inside knowledge of the guides, it all comes down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. If you’re not that into animals and/or you are just keen to tick off the Big 5, then one awesome game drive could be enough – but I went on eight game drives and I would only say that three of them were awesome. And that is the beauty of a game drive – you just don’t know what you are going to see. I wouldn’t say I was excited before every game drive but I was always hopeful and it is this hopefulness that keeps you interested. Sure, there are many moments when your mind starts drifting after not seeing anything for hours – but when you do see something cool, it makes it all worthwhile. For me, it was the hope of seeing lions that kept me going.
A safari is a true African experience – and probably the best and most fitting way to end my South African adventure.
Adorable. But could still break your leg.
this is my last entry from a seven week journey through South Africa, I suppose I should leave some final thoughts.
South Africa is a beautiful country and is so geographically diverse, from the beaches on the Wild Coast, to the mountains of the Drakensberg, to the bush lands of Kruger Park. It was a holiday where I have been closer to nature than I normally would be. It is not a country without its problems however – crime, poverty and corruption are the biggest issues and having talked to a lot of locals, the governance of the country needs some serious improvement. The inequality in evidence was often hard to reconcile.
There were very few moments however, if any, where I wished I was somewhere else. There have been a lot of quiet times where a younger me would have complained of the boredom, but I have learned to appreciate quiet and solitude. I do think however, that things would have been more fun and exciting had I come during the summer.
In terms of highlights, I liked different places for different reasons. Cape Town
is the most scenic and tourist-friendly of the big cities by quite a distance and
A journey is what you call a group of giraffes apparently.
I had a lot of fun there; I loved the slow pace and the remoteness of the Wild Coast
and the backpacker’s paradise of Coffee Bay in particular; the Drakensberg
is by far the most beautiful part of the country. Lowlights? I do think the Garden Route
is a little overrated and I didn’t think much of Durban
My most memorable experience was walking a cheetah like a dog near Plettenberg Bay and my most memorable day out was the day I spent driving through iSlimangaliso Wetland Park; at the start of the day, all I thought I was doing was visiting a nice beach – I ended up picking up a travel companion, visiting a nice beach, seeing rhinos on the road, taking in some beautiful views from the lookouts dotted around the park, and ended the day seeing a leopard walk within two metres of a car and almost landing a warthog for dinner…a dinner that could have been us had we walked back to the car just five minutes later. Life is all about timing – literally.
Though I will stop short of saying that it is one of my favourite countries, I have seen some wonderful things and have
Waddyu Lookin' At?
A couple of giraffes are intrigued by our presence.
met some really cool people – I have had a fantastic time in South Africa.
I now go back to London for a month to visit friends, sort myself out, attend Glastonbury and squeeze in some travelling around the UK. To be completely honest, I am really excited and have been looking forward to getting back – it has been my home for the last seven years and it is a place that feels more like home than anywhere else at the moment, and it is always nice to go back home. I can’t wait to see my old friends, visit all my old joints and to be back in the familiarity of home
. I really have missed the place.
Next up however, you’ll be reading about my stopover on the way there – a twenty hour one in Abu Dhabi
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