The perfect safari experience
I stay at Rhino Post Safari Lodge with a friend who is a serious meditator. Half way through our stay I inquire how her meditation sessions are going and am surprised when she replies “Terribly!” I ask why and she explains “It’s just too beautiful here. I can’t bear to close my eyes.”
This sums up my experience too. I practice my own form of mindfulness bathing in the luxurious bath overlooking the dry river bed and reflect that this is one of the most beautiful accommodation spaces which the Kruger National Park has to offer. Each thatched suite faces onto the river bed, with wooden walkways all behind the rooms for maximal privacy. The front of the full length of the suite is completely open, and this open design allows the cool breeze to flow in from every side. A deck with two comfortable Morris chairs and footrest futons creates your own private outdoor lounge from which you can view game all day long.
The spacious bed has an African-style cover and patterned cushions. The cool white linen and mosquito net mean you can sleep with all the sides of your suite open, with a feeling of being in a treehouse. The sound of wildlife can be heard all night and you are fully aware of being in the wilds of Africa.
Glamorous double basins, a freestanding bath and outdoor shower means you view high definition screens onto your own private wildlife reality show from every direction.
We gather at the Rhino Post Safari Lodge bar for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, full of enthusiastic stories about our earlier game drive and sightings. The amuse bouche are delicious, carpaccio of crocodile, avocado and asparagus, nuts, dried Mango, and a South African Kruger National Park favourite – biltong, which is dried, salted game meat. A high powered lawyer from Chile is secretly collecting the biltong to leave a trail of leopard bait to the door of her suite for an extra late-night sighting. We notice that she orders her Ostrich fillet rare.
A German guest asks Joey, our guide, “How is the traffic looking behind us?” meaning the flow of animals to the water hole just beyond the deck of the lodge bar. Joey is ever watchful (listenful and smellful) and quickly alerts us to any action. We see a mother warthog with her two tiny babies coming nervously down to the waterhole to drink on bended knees. Suddenly a herd of elephant parade right past the lodge to drink at the water hole and we all hold our breath as a baby elephant falls into the water and it takes the mother elephant a few seconds to pull the baby out.
We watch the elephants move past, I count 24 in all. Finally we decide to move through to the dining room and there is a buzz of excitement as we chase out a hyena which has been sniffing around for scraps. As we settle in the foreign guests remark how despite the excitement of the African bushveld, how peaceful they have found traveling in South Africa. Our conversation turns to our late father, Nelson Mandela, and with misty eyes we discuss the miracle of peaceful transformation which we owe to this great leader. Our other local heroes, Mahatma Ghandi and Archbishop Demond Tutu also receive honourable mention. I am bursting with pride to be a South African tonight, reinforced when the international guests are blown away by the quality of Chef Brian’s food.
Towards the end of the meal we have some intense discussions about what time we should set out for our morning drive. Joey asks us what type of animals we would like to see. The Chilean lawyer says philosophically “Whatever God provides for us to see.” We nod meaningfully and see that Joey appreciates this answer. But I can’t sustain the pretence and blurt out my very specific African fantasy of seeing a large male lion doing his morning marking rounds. Joey plays hardball and says in that case we need to wake at 5.30am, ready to leave at 6am. As South African “Kruger nerds” we are thrilled at this suggestion, but notice the Germans blanche. The brave Chilean lawyer, travelling alone on business, needs some convincing and we sense that she could go either way as first she says “Yes – we can sleep for the rest of our lives – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!” but then she backtracks, saying “Then again if we are still fast asleep we won’t even remember what we saw.” We try to “play it cool” and let the Germans decide. They are, after all, on holiday, and may appreciate a chance to sleep in when they are not fighting morning subway traffic. Our committed guide Joey gives them a little nudge off the cliff, nonchalantly saying “Of course the game drive is completely voluntary and you should feel free to take the morning off.” That settles it and we all agree on the following compromise: If it is raining, poor (now awake) Joey will not give us a wake-up call and will let us sleep in. But if the weather is clear, he should call us at 5.30am. The ever shrewd Chilean lawyer spots a technical loophole. “You can’t actually call us all at once can you? Can you call my room last?” She has outsmarted us again.
At exactly 5.30am the next morning we get our wake-up call from Joey, our dedicated guide. The suite is so beautiful with the dawn light just coming in over the trees on the other side of the river bed, that it is difficult to break the mesmerising spell. But we feel responsible for everyone’s early wake-up and force ourselves moving. It is a warm and clear morning.
We head to the open bar and deck, meeting place and the “happening spot” at the lodge. The Chilean lawyer is already there, quieter than usual and clearly still waking up. Soon everyone has arrived and we gulp down the last of our coffee and head out to the high, open game vehicle. There is the usual mental calculation from the foreigners about where to sit to maximise both safety and viewing and information from the guide. The shrewd Chilean lawyer, who is also the most nervous amongst us, seats herself squarely in the middle of the vehicle. Exactly on schedule at 6am we are off, faces full into the dawn breeze, the smell of dew and animal activity in our noses and our cheeks flushed with the excitement of what we may see.
I simply love going on safari with international guests who have never before been in Africa, let alone on safari. Every critter is a wonder and I find myself rediscovering their unlikely beauty through the eyes of the spellbound foreigners. We pass a giraffe, zebra and waterbuck, back-lit by the rising sun. You can sense that the foreigners would be happy to spend an hour at each of these sightings, but Joey is a man with a plan, and knows we can come back to these sightings later in the day. We head straight out towards Jones’ Dam North of Skukuza.
We do not have long to wait until we are even more rewarded. As we drive into Jones’ Dam we are distracted by a yawning hippo in the water. But we quickly realise that he is not alone and to our right we see a band of four lion brothers who are already asleep next to the dam. We drive right up to them and they reward us with grumpy yawns and morning hair. Their dark manes are just growing out and they look like awkward students trying to impress by growing out their hair and a beard. One blesses us with a spectacularly stinky scat right next to the car, payback for having been woken. Seeing these boys in their natural state is an amazing privilege and we are elated about the experience.
However the morning drive does not end there and we have an unbelievably lucky outing. We come across a huge gathering of vultures, including the pink faced Lappet Vulture, eating on a carcass. We drive right through a herd of buffalo and come up close to a parade of elephants with tiny babies. We feel fully satisfied with our morning, but even as we head back towards the lodge we come across three slim cheetah walking in parallel through the grass, and finally the cherry on the top – we see a large male leopard who is behaving strangely and is unafraid of the vehicle and heading towards us. Joey figures out that he is smelling the trail of a female leopard in heat.
We arrive back at the lodge on a high, too excited to speak. Sophia, from reception, asks us whether it was worth getting up so early. The German banker nods thoughtfully and says “I think so, ja.” We realise this is German-speak for “Oh wow yes absolutely – it was awesome!” Sophia asks “Why, what did you see?” “Well,” replies the German still soberly, “…everything.”
To book for a stay at Rhino Post Safari Lodge, visit www.isibindi.co.za
To book for a stay at Rhino Post Safari Lodge, visit www.isibindi.co.za