We have just spent some wonderful time at a very opulent and decadent safari lodge adjoining Kruger National Park.
Two days ago, we left Swaziland, travelling through some hilly country that was forested with both pine and eucalyptus trees. We exited through a much more humble border post than before and came back into South Africa. We reached Kruger National Park by late morning after a fairly long drive. After checking in at the gate and watching all the private vehicles undergo anti-poaching inspections, we drove north through the park to an airstrip where we left our coach and met up with the safari vehicles from the Lion Sands Lodge, where we would be staying. Its opulence was quite a contrast to the more humble environment we had experienced in Swaziland.
The drive though Kruger was a slow paced one. The speed limit in the park was 50 kmh and this gave us good opportunities to look for wildlife. It wasn’t ideal trying to photograph them through the windows but it was still quite exciting. We saw some rhinoceros, a few elephants in the distance and many assorted antelope.
Our safari vehicle was driven by a gorgeous ranger named Tohvie. She had a degree in Zoology and was to be our guide and ranger for the each of our game drives. It took about 30 minutes to reach the Lodge from the airstrip and when we arrived we were met in true ‘pucka’ fashion with a hot towel and a warm welcome. We were told that our package included all food, drink and lodge experiences. We were free to walk anywhere on a boardwalk (but no further) and after dark we would need to call for an escort to and from our rooms. The Lodge its unfenced so animals including elephant, at times, can occasionally be found in the area.
The resort at Lion Sands is quite palatial. In the central area, there is is a large open deck that overlooks the Sabie River. Alongside ii is a covered dining room and bar. Boardwalks led us from there to our individual houses /rooms which were extremely comfortable.
Our room was large and round shaped – similar to the design of traditional village huts. Our bed was totally surrounded by a mosquito net and decorated with a note made out of flowers and leaves that welcomed us by name. The room maid had left a little black board on which we could leave any messages about things we needed. The back door of our room opened onto a small deck that overlooked the river. The adjoining bathroom was something else entirerly.. Not only did it have a large walk-in shower, it also had a big double bath in front of large windows that also overlooked the river.
I understand that the lodge is a favourite place for honeymooners and it had all the trappings of being a very romantic place – lovely linen, toiletries, bathrobes, candles and accessories. It was indeed a very luxurious place. I doubt that tour companies like ours pay the full rate, but I saw in the room directory that the standard rate for our room waa $1000 per night!
immediately after an afternoon tea, we headed off for a game drive wirth Tohvie and our tracker, Lloyd, who sat on a seat at the front of our Lanadrover looking for animal tracks. We spent about three hours driving around and didn’t get back to the lodge until after dark. Our animal count on this first game drive included Rhinoceros, Zebra, Impala, Kudu, Bushbuck and a lot of birds.
Part of the tradition of game driving is to stop at around sunset for ‘Sundowners’. We stopped in an open area where we could see some Rhinos in the distance and within a few minutes, Tohvie had set up a bar on the front grill of the Landrover with wine, gin and tonics along with other assorted drinks and nibbles. It was very pleasant sipping a glass of chilled wine in the middle of the bush and enjoying the romance of a safari.. It was getting quite dark as we packed upon the bar and we noticed there were three rhinoceros moving towards us. I managed to get a couple of shaky shots in the darkness. Returning to the lodge, just after dark, we came across a couple of Giraffes. We couldn’t light up their eyes with our spotlight as they are daytime animals and the light would blind them.
On our second day, we were up at 5.00 am for coffee and a muffin and then off at 6.00 am (dawn) for our morning game drive. First up, we found a large herd of Zebra which we watched for a while and I took a few photos of some breeding herds of Impala. These little antelope are everywhere. They have three black stripes on their bum which are jokingly referred to as the MacDonalds sign for Lions.
Sometime in the middle of the drive, we heard, over the radio, that some animals had been sighted nearby. We drove on at a quick pace and came across a pride of about 16 female lions resting in a dry creek bed. They looked very satisfied, as if they had just eaten and were relaxing after their meal. Occasionally, some would walk across to a nearby waterhole so we followed them and watched them drinking. We sat only a few metres away from and they were totally non-plussed. They don’t recognise the shape a jeep as a threat and Tohvie asked us not to stand and break up the pattern.
We had breakfast out in the bush where a large wooden deck formed a lookout over the river. It was a ‘full on’ breakfast with cooked food, juice and a glass of champagne. Then it was time to head back to the lodge for a shower, rest and then lunch. Soon after, it was time for afternoon tea and then another game drive. (There’s not much time to rest at a safari lodge).
This time, we visited a site along a power line where a giraffe had electrocuted itself on the previous day when its head came in contact with the wires. We knew. from a distance, that it must be nearby as there were dozens of vultures sitting in nearby trees. When we found the giraffe (very dead) it ws being devoured by a pack of spotted hyenas. They were ferocious. Hyenas have the strongest jaws of all mammals and we could hear them crunching on bone as they tore strips of meat from the giraffes head.
A little later, we had a wonderful find. We were driving along a track when I managed to spot a female leopard, just a few metres away. If I hadn’t had my eyes open, we would have continued on in complete ignorance. This find started a series of frantic radio cals and within minutes a number of safari vehicles were driving through the brush to get a look at it. This meant pushing over small trees with the bull bar, driving around thorn bushes and across rocks. We sat within a few metres of the leopard as it appeared to be stalking some prey a little further ahead.
Sundowner’s that night were beside the river, near a hippo pool. It was almost dark and we couldn’t spend too much time there as it now the time of day when hippos move out of the water to start grazing on land. They can be quite dangerous, so Tohvie loaded her rifle with five rounds and escorted us down to the rocks by the river’s edge to see them.
On our way back tom the lodge, we found a male leopard sauntering along the road. This time we could shine our light on him as his eyes are designed for night vision.
We arrived back at the lodge after dark to find the car park illuminated with dozens of lanterns, A fire-pit had been set up in the centre and barbecues were loaded with a variety of meat for dinner. It was a cloudy day but it was almost dinner under the stars. Although I was stuffed full of food, I felt quite sad having to leave this lovely outdoor feast to be escorted back to lour room to pr-pack for our departure this morning.