Wednesday, December 19, 2018

First full day on Safari! Day 5, 11/1/18

We found out quickly that life in the bush meant getting up early, very early!  Continental breakfast was from 5:30 am to 6:00 am and we had to be on our vehicles by 6:00 am. I was very lucky to have a roommate that was quick to get ready in the morning. The two of us worked very well that way. We could get a 5:30 am wake up call, be up and dressed and to our meeting point by 5:50 am.  Of course when the promise of seeing the amazing animals was why we were getting up so early, it was pretty easy to get out of bed!  

We set out and our first sighting was of this hyena family. There were some young hyenas in the den and a mother watching close by. We were told that one "mom" usually stays back and will watch over several of the young hyena while the rest are out for the day. She is sort of the babysitter, taking care of all other mom's babies!







We watched them for a bit and then moved along. Our tracker spotted this nice little Leopard Tortoise along the side of the road. We were so excited when he said "stop, a leopard!.....tortoise!" HA!



But shortly after that things got quite interesting, as Rector actually did spot a leopard! 



We were truly "wowed" at this moment! 



It turns out this leopard was actually hunting, and we would not only going to watch, but follow along, off road!  Into the bush behind him!







Just look at how close he was to us!  







In the picture above you can see the leopard waiting for his chance to pounce on the unsuspecting nyala. 



But he waited too long, and the nyala just walked away, unharmed. We were actually glad. The thrill of watching him hunt was enough for us. We really didn't want to witness the actual kill.  I'm sure he'll find another meal, without us as his audience! 

Next we came across a herd of elephants! 









And then more giraffes!








We drove along further and Rector and Morne spotted a white rhino. This day was so amazing to us! The rhino was pretty far into the bush and we couldn't really see it. So Morne asked us if we wanted to do a bush walk so we could get a closer look. The six of us gave an enthusiastic, but at the same time, if you say it's safe "um yes!' answer! So we got out of the vehicle and got very, very specific instructions on mostly what not to do while walking in the bush.  We had to stay in a single line, not speak, don't stop to take a picture unless he stopped.  Safety things like that.  We were ready for this!



So the rifle.... in all of his years of being a guide, he's never had to fire it. And he said it's not really to fire at an animal. It would be more to fire in the air to scare the animal.  Shooting an animal would be an absolute last resort. We set out, walking, ever so quietly, and got close enough to take a fairly decent picture of this amazing white rhino!



While we were out there, we even had to be sure that our locations services were off when taking pictures. This was so that any poachers couldn't track the location of these animals. 



After our bush hike, we went back to our vehicle and had our morning coffee, hot chocolate and snacks.  Wow - just wow, what a morning we have had! 





After our morning drive, we got back to the lodge and had a "proper" breakfast! And then we would have a couple of hours to relax until, well....lunch!  It seems that being on safari is very much about animals, relaxing and eating! After lunch, we had more time to enjoy the lodge, which could be spent at the pool, if it was warmer, or maybe at the spa!  And then it would be afternoon tea and time to go out on our afternoon game drive!

I spent my time sitting on the deck outside of my room. It was so relaxing sitting there by the river, watching the animals! 




There was even a couple of cape buffalo by the river today!






The view from my deck looking out towards the river



These two guys weren't camera shy at all! They came right up to the deck!



After tea time, we set out again for the afternoon drive, and first thing we came upon this family of giraffe! See the baby!










They would look right at us, as if they were just as interested in us as we were in them!



Next we made a quick stop to look at one of the Tree Houses that the Lion Sands Lodge has!  For an extra special night, you can enjoy a romantic sleep-out under the African sky! This tree house above, is open to the sky! 

We then stopped at the second tree house which is a bit more enclosed. We had our sundowner, cocktails and snacks here.  I could definitely imagine spending the night here!



















 After our time at the tree house, we drove back to the lodge, looking for any night critters on the way.



It looked so beautiful all lit up by candlelight at night!



Tonight was our last night at Lion Sands, but we still had one more game drive in the morning before heading to our next safari lodge. We had a nice Goodbye note in our rooms tonight.


While every day so far had been amazing in Africa, I think today was definitely the most exciting so far! Seeing the leopard up close, and then walking out to get closer to the white rhino were experiences to never forget! We couldn't wait to see what tomorrow would bring! 

Monday, December 3, 2018

And now we Safari!! Day 4, 10/31/2018

We all loved our time in Cape Town, and I would love to go back to spend more time there! It was so beautiful! When we woke up this morning there was a definite excitement among us because today, we were heading to the airport for the safari portion of our trip! This type of itinerary was great, 3 days in Cape Town, exploring wineries, the beautiful coast line, seeing the penguins and having the opportunity to shop and see the city area was just perfect! And now we were going to spend 4 whole days on safari!  Off we go!


The flight wasn't too long, and the plane wasn't too small.  The views of South Africa below were great! And it was nice to have a short nap!









Believe it or not, this is the Skukuza Airport for Kruger National Park! To be honest, it really wasn't what I was expecting at all! 


We were met at the airport by our guides and we were on our way!  We were staying at the Lion Sands River Lodge which is in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.  The Sabi Sand Reserve shares its border with the Kruger National Park, which is one of the first national parks in Africa. Kruger covers over 7600 square miles of bush country.  There is no fence between the borders so the animals wander freely between the national park and Sabi Sand which allows for excellent animal sightings!


We climbed into our Land Rover, Safari vehicles for our ride to the lodge from the airport and off we went! There were 12 of us, so we split up between the two vehicles.  For our time at Lion Sands we would remain in the vehicle we started with on this ride so we became familiar with our designated guide/driver, and our tracker for our game drives.


As we started down the road almost immediately a couple of us spotted something on the right of the vehicle.  We yelled "hyena"!  Our guide Morne quickly backed up, nearly backing up into a ditch actually, which we all laughed about, but we spotted this female hyena!  


Morne certainly was proud of his group for spotting her right off the bat, and so close to the airport!  This was for sure a great sign that we were going to have a great safari experience here at Sabi Sand! 

As we drove to the lodge, Morne told us about the area, what kind of things we could expect while we were there, asked us what we all hoped to see and pointed out what we were seeing along the way. We hadn't even gotten to the lodge yet, or gone on an official game drive, and already we were "so wowed" it was just unreal! 


This tree is one of the oldest trees on the reserve, if I remember correctly it dates back over 1000 years, even though it's currently dead.  

Driving into the camp, and not having seen any animals yet, of course we're excited about the antelope! Is it an impala? Possibly!  We don't believe Morne that by the end of the trip we won't even notice when we see them. He stops the vehicle, we take out our cameras and we ooohh and ahhh..... We'll see!


Here we are! At the Lion Sands River Lodge. We meet for our briefing and learn about our daily schedule for the next two days.  


This is the patio area between the restaurant, bar and gift shop. There is a fire pit in the middle and it overlooks the river. Animals wander freely here and once the sun sets guests are not allowed to walk to and from their rooms unless escorted by a staff person for safety reasons. They have had elephants, lions and other large animals up in the guest area. The most we saw were nyala and kudu on the paths.



























This is our deck looking out towards the river. We were told it's safe to sit out on the deck, but don't step off of the deck!















We would often see nyala grazing by the river here


During our briefing we learned that each day from 3:30 until 4:00 was High Tea and then promptly at 4:00 is the afternoon safari.  We all met in the lounge area for some snacks and were ready to go right on time!





Our tracker, Rector, was now in place in his seat in the front, and the roof was off. We were all set!  The vehicles have three rows of seats, each at a different height. While we stick with our same group in the same vehicle, for each drive, we did rotate seats so that each of us got to be in the front, middle or back seats for at least one drive.






Just one of the antelope species, and still taking pictures of them!  And from there we were really rolling! First we spotted this crocodile. He was big, although it's hard to tell from a picture.





If I remember correctly, this is the saddle billed stork



Then we came to our first giraffe spotting!  



I believe this is the African fish eagle looking very majestic!



Our first warthog! You gotta just love these guys!



The guides use radios to communicate with one another, and Morne got word that there were lions spotted by the river, so off we went!  

This was our first lion sighting and while it was exciting to see them, we decided that they were a bit far away and we definitely hoped to find some closer!  Without a zoom lens it was a bit difficult to tell that they were lions and not rocks!


Next we came upon a young elephant. This was a real highlight! 



He was so close to our vehicle! 



He spent some time checking out this old skull with his trunk. We wondered if he was playing with it? Or was he just trying to see what it was?







And then off he went down the road in front of us. Amazing, really...



Next we saw some hippos! 





We also saw these Hadada Ibis up in the trees



And some African Guinea Fowl


As we were driving along, Morne said he had to move along because he had someplace we had to be, and we pulled up to this



What would be in store for us up the hill?



This was our first "sundowner" experience! A stop for drinks, snacks, socializing and watching the sunset!










The absolute beaming smiles on everyone's faces sums up the experience we are having, and this was only the first of several safari drives we would have.  We had only just arrived at Lion Sands River Lodge hours ago. 

It was time to head back to the lodge for dinner. We'd have a night drive back, hoping to spot some nocturnal animals maybe!  And then it would be up bright and early for a morning drive!