We flew from Cape Town to Nelspruit Mpumalanga and drove for two hours to Dulini Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. We have been lucky enough to have four nights in this rather special place, so instead of the usual combination of ill-informed opinion and schoolboy humour this episode will (rather gloatingly) depict the highlights of a typical day.
In Sabi Sands the animals have become used to the open safari vehicles driving around. They regard them as neither a threat nor as prey, so they ignore them. This lets the vehicles drive very close to the wildest animals. Of course, if you climb out of the vehicle you could immediately become a leopard’s luncheon. Safety is taken seriously, and each ranger carries a rifle and is regularly trained in its use.
So yesterday, for example, we were woken at 5 o’clock and dressed ready for a game drive by 5.30. After a coffee we set out on the drive, five of us plus the ranger and a tracker who sits on a seat in a rather suicidal position on the front left mudguard.
We drove for, well, about 20 minutes, before we came across two male
lions making their way slowly and majestically across open country. Driving off the road, we wove in and out of their path, probably within two or three metres of them, as the cameras clicked and everyone gasped. To see these huge animals up so close in their natural habitat is quite amazing.
Another short drive brought us to three giraffes happily eating away at the trees. The rangers don’t follow giraffes off the road but we sat close by and watched in wonder for 15 minutes or so.
Numerous lesser animal sightings later we pulled up at a water hole and our guides prepared hot chocolate and a snack for us. The hot chocolate had a dash of Amarulo, making it the first pre-breakfast alcohol we’ve had for a long time.
We then continued our drive until we ended up at a vantage point quite close to the camp. From there we were going to walk back, but of course to fortify us for the walk the guides cooked up some pancakes for us to eat first.
The walk, after a pretty serious safety lecture, was pretty good, focusing on the animals’ tracks and droppings and
other signs the rangers use to track the paths and behavior. From the rhinos’ toe tracks to the bone fragments in hyena shit we saw it all. Then of course the rangers also hear the alarm cries that mean a predator animal is nearby, and they even smell the musk of an elephant with elevated testosterone or the faeces of a rhino that has marked its territory. Actually, everyone could smell that last one.
Back at the lodge by about 9.30, we had our two course breakfast before heading to our room for some downtime. In our case that meant writing some of this piece, lying on the verandah watching the monkeys in the nearby trees and then getting a beer and a G & T from our private bar and having a dip in our private plunge pool.
This arduous morning took us until lunch, served on the pool deck with the staff at the ready with a slingshot to keep the monkeys at bay. We had another three courses – soup, venison pie, apple tart – that weighed us down enough to warrant a sleep before the afternoon game drive at 4 o’clock. Naturally we didn’t
leave before having an iced tea and a snack.
Leopard was on our agenda first up in the afternoon, and we were driven through the bush to a leopard lying panting under a tree, barely moving as his body digested the meal of impala he had just eaten. It was very reminiscent of ourselves just after lunch, actually. As to the impala, the leopard had dragged the remains of the poor thing up into the tree to keep it away from lions and hyenas, and it was a gruesome sight wedged between two branches with its neck in an impossible position and its entrails all awry.
It was then a breeze for our guide to find us a mother rhino with a baby, then a herd of maybe 50 buffalo, then a couple of hippos resting up in a waterhole. By then, of course, it was time for drinks, so our versatile vehicle team pulled out the folding table and turned it into a bar, mixing drinks on request and pointing out the various birds and trees in the area.
As darkness fell we drove slowly home, spotlight flashing through the bushes in case any nocturnal animals
could be seen, although for once we didn’t have much luck. To make up for this, though, as we rounded one of the last bends we came upon a tree decorated by 5 kerosene lamps, a champagne bucket (with contents) and glasses for all. So we enjoyed one last sundowner for the day before dinner.
We had our dinner down by the pool also, competing for conversation with the frogs that played a loud duet nearby. Dinner was another obscenely delicious three courses, largely local and all interesting, washed down with as little or as much wine as we wished.
After an exhausting day like that we stumbled into bed to be ready to face the same ordeal again in the morning.
So that has been our life for the past three very pleasant days. We’ll be sorry to leave the lodge, the food and the people, but most of all we’ll miss the thrill of driving out into the bush in the chill of the morning and getting up close to these massive and beautiful animals.
Next instalment, assuming we don’t fall off the edge, will be from Victoria Falls.
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