Back in January, the first thing we booked for our trip was a safari at Nkorho Bush Lodge in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa, just outside of Kruger National Park. We planned it with our friends Johnny and Kyle who found the place and had already reserved their spot, so we couldn’t wait to share this adventure together with them!
After an amazing time in Cape Town and a road trip along the Garden Route, all four of us were thrilled to head to the safari. Not only was this the first thing we booked, but it was also by far the nicest and most expensive thing that any of the four of us were planning for our entire trip abroad. So, staying in some fine accommodations for a few nights on top of the incredible experience that lay ahead all sounded quite nice.
In order to get to the lodge, we first flew from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, where we were picked up by a van and driven six hours to our place. When we came within a couple hours, we left the world of paved roads for dirt roads full of potholes that were absent from our driver’s GPS system. He certainly didn’t need GPS — but we quickly realized that we made the right decision not to rent a car and drive ourselves. This last stretch also had us driving through villages where the Shangaan people live, which provided us with a very quick snapshot of the way of life yet another South African community. When we finally arrived, we learned we had only a few minutes to put our things away before joining our first game ride. See below the pictures for a full recap of our days.
It took no more than 10 minutes before we found a group of elephants enjoying some delicious tree branches for a meal. We were immediately blown away by how close we could get to the animals. Kyle was situated in the back right seat and, after we parked quite close to the group, one elephant came up so close to her she could nearly feel it breathing down her neck. Throughout the safari, it was a recurring theme with how surprised we were by how close we could be to the animals. Our wonderful guide, Ari, told us that most animals are quite comfortable with the safari jeeps since they have generally seen them their whole lives. Additionally, with all of us remaining seated in the jeep, we appear to be a single, large unit rather than individual little pieces of human prey.
This first drive continued to delight us, as we then came to see cape buffalo, a pack of six lion cubs, a female leopard, and even a couple of warthogs. Not to mention, it’s quite common to see herds of “impala” — very reminiscent to deer — all over the place. Our favorite part of the day was following around a group of baby lion cubs. They were coming to a specific watering hole, on what was a bit of a risky mission without their mothers. Ari became worried for them, as not only did he think the nearby elephant might trample them, but later when we saw the female leopard he thought she was hunting them. Fortunately, no one was injured or eaten!
Our second day was likewise fascinating. On our morning ride, we saw more elephants, another leopard, a charging white rhino, a hippo bathing in a pond, a giraffe off in the distance, more warthogs, and a wounded Cape buffalo that looked like it had narrowly escaped a fight. Safari guides and tourists alike are often in search of “the big five,” named long ago for the five animals most difficult to hunt. Today, they are revered as some of the most exciting animals to see: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and cape buffalo. Seeing four of the five made for an exciting morning!
In the afternoon, our drive took a different path, where we came across a giraffe that had recently died. Absent of any indication of a fight, Ari thought the giraffe likely died of old age. While off putting at first, it was an incredibly interesting sight to literally see the circle of life in motion. The scene included eight hyenas eating the giraffe and protecting the prey from about 40-50 vultures that were surrounding the area and hungrily awaiting for the hyenas to leave. After following the interactions between the two sets of predators, we headed back to the lodge — and were delighted to see a beautiful live giraffe up close on our way back!
Our alarm sounded at 5:30am, but not from our alarms … There was a male lion roaming right outside our room, roaring loudly as he made his way across the lodge’s property. We jumped out of bed and could not wait for our drive to get started to go find the lion. Ari knew right where to go, and within just two minutes there was a large, maned male lion walking within just a couple feet of our jeep. Our jaws were sufficiently dropped; we could not believe it. He was absolutely stunning.
The excitement of this day never stopped. We next came across a “dazzle” of zebras, which were not only beautiful, but also provided us with our favorite term for a specific group of animals (we also liked learning that a group of vultures is called a “parliament”). We saw jackals, elephants, warthogs, water bucks, vultures, hyenas, another white rhino, blue wildabeasts, and more cape buffalo. On foot during mid-day, we watched a group of nearly 30 elephants walk right by us. Beyond all of this, we came across a pair of leopards mating. Seeing this moment so closely just after the giraffe scene the night before, we truly felt like we were live on the discovery channel.
On our final drive, we had already seen so much more than we had ever imagined, so anything we came across was simply icing on the cake. And in the drive, perhaps my favorite moment of the entire trip came with another small group of elephants. Throughout our safari, these animals showed the most personality to us and were more interested in interacting with us than any other. However, the baby elephants, while incredibly adorable, had so far been tucked tightly against and behind their mothers at all times. This time, the baby elephant we came across instantly sauntered right up to us, stuck its ears out to scare us, gave up on scaring us, picked up a stick, dropped the stick, and then stumbled back to its mom. It was amazing.
We feel so lucky to have seen all of these incredible animals in their natural habitats, to see them eat, sleep, mate, drink water, and even pass away. The experience we had was certainly unforgettable, and we can only dream that it’s something we can share again with our families one day!