It is five in the morning and already the warm, red sun plunges its rays in the savannah at the Kruger National Park, the biggest animal reserve in South Africa. We had reached the night before, still fighting the jet lag of the rather long and circuitous travel from India. Yet, I was not feeling too tired as I had jumped on the plane nearly 20 hours ago, there was one thing that kept me going. I was going to see a lion in the wild for the first time…
Luxury Amidst Wilderness
The savannah is more or less plain and dry, with very few tall trees and that allows visitors to spot the animals from far away. We were in Sabi Sabi, the oldest private reserve in the country, and lucky us ! We just got upgraded to the best suites in the resort: the Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge. The concept is interesting. All the cottages, which come with a private jacuzzi and an amazing bathroom overlooking the savannah, have been built under the earth in the shape of a cave. A naturalistic approach that copes perfectly with the top luxury services provided in this private resort.
The Sabi Sabi private reserve is situated in the north eastern part of the country, juxtaposed with the Kruger National Park. Spread over 65,000 hectares, it has an amazing biodiversity thanks to the rivers Sabi and Sand which flow there. In the reserve, one can find over 200 species of wild animals including elephants, lions, rhinoceros, leopards, zebras and giraffes.
The good thing about private reserves like Sabi Sabi is that the safaris are not limited to a particular time and you can actually drive when you want and for as long as you want. The guides can also take you on walking safaris to be closer to the animals, but we won’t try that for our first encounter with the African fauna…
An Elephantine Surprise
The Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge has an amazing contemporary decor and a beautiful terrace overlooking a small pond and the open savannah. As I sat down to enjoy the scenery, a large elephant approached the pond carefully. Standing about 30 m away from me, he was watching me and surprised by his sudden appearance, I jumped to grab my camera to freeze the moment. ” It’s a wild elephant, do not make any rapid movement and stay far ” , said a guide adding that ” He comes here often with his family ” . But where was the family ? After making sure that the environment was safe, the male elephant called his troupe with a trumpet. Few minutes later, to my delight, an army of 7 elephants including 3 cute calves appeared on the scene. A perfect start to our safari experience.
At around 4 pm, it was time for our afternoon safari. Under a hot sun, we jumped onto the open jeep. Everyone wanted to see the lions, so our driver took us to see the beasts first. As we drove in the savanah, the temperatures began to fall rapidly. We enjoyed the tricks played bv the sky, hidden behind the trees. The savannah is also home to hundreds of birds species including some amazing ones that are almost as big as a human.
The Animal Cycle
The wildlife here follows its natural course and hence the environment is prosperous. A vibrant tropical forest provides enough food to the impalas and other deers, which are in turn food for the predators such as lions, leopards and wild dogs.
As we moved forward, the guide got a call from another jeep, a leopard has been spotted not far from us. Leopards are one of the most difficult animals to spot as they usually are very volatile, solitary, secretive and nocturnal. But there she was ! Lying in the grass, a young female leopard was taking a nap. She had just killed a baby impala, whose remains she had hung by a tree behind her. Despite the excitement flowing from tourists in two jeeps and innumerable cameras flashing, the leopard was hardly bothered. She closed her eyes and opened them from time to time to watch us unblinkingly in the eyes.
Soon, the red sky embraced the trees and drew a beautiful canvas. As I raised my eyes, I could see billions of stars forming the Milky Way. A vision that I could not even dream of while living in a large city.
We did not spot any lions, but as we returned to the resort we encountered a hyena. I was almost asleep in the jeep when the guide suddenly stopped the car and directed the lights toward the animal. As surprised as we were, the hyena immediately ran into the forest. “It’s a great catch, hyenas are not easy to spot! ”, said the guide, who himself was excited by the vision.
From Kruger to Hluhluwe Umfolozi
Early morning, before the sunrise, we left Sabi Sabi to take an early flight to Durban. In just an hour we reached the city where Mahatma Gandhi had lived when he was a young advocate practising in South Africa. Hungry for more safaris, we decided to head straight towards the Hluhluwe Reserve.
Here, the landscapes are totally different from dry lands of Kruger park. With rolling green hills and open savannah, the reserve is incredibly scenic. The area is particularly known for the conservation of black and white rhinos. And as we entered the park, we spotted a few of them sleeping far away on the hills’ slopes.
Everywhere, the beautiful giraffes often accompanied by their zebra friends greeted us. A giraffe stands head and shoulders higher than any other animal on the Earth. It can measure 5.5 metres from hoof to head. As we got back in the jeep, it had begun to rain, but we were more than motivated to meet the lions. And our prayers did not go unanswered. Just a few minutes from our hilltop camp we came across a young lion sitting near its prey – a big buffalo – that he apparently had killed in the morning. His mane had not yet fully developed and at least from a distance, he appeared to be lean, but his roar was enough to immobilise us and remove all doubts about his ferociousness. I just sat there, imagining his brutal force, having killed such a large and powerful bovine of 750 kg, simply by using his claws and jaws. Not a mean task!
As he remained hidden behind his kill, we spent a good hour trying to get glimpses of his majesty. His large face was particularly expressive and impressive. In just two days of safari, we had managed to meet all the big 5 and yes, I have no doubts that the lion is definitely the king of the African jungle.