Big Five in One Drive: Rose’s Trip Report

I recently returned from an amazing 3-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. I couldn’t wait to get back and share all about my adventure!

There were many magical moments on my trip, and I wish that I could share them all with you; for now let’s start with just a few highlights.

Zimbabwe

I began my journey in Zimbabwe, which offers great game viewing as well as the picturesque Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world. I especially enjoyed the beauty of the Falls during this time of year, when the water levels are lower (but still quite impressive) because this allows for better photo opportunities since there is a lot less spray.

One highlight of my Zimbabwe safari (well, in fact, of my entire trip) was to sit back and enjoy a “slow safari” one day at Little Makalolo in Hwange National Park. Observing animal behavior for hours while sitting at the log pile water hole, watching hundreds of elephant come to drink and wallow – and with a Gin & Tonic in hand – now what can be better than this I ask? Incredible! This was a tough act to follow for sure, and Ruckomechi Camp in Mana Pools National Park delivered more WOW moments: a bush walk with specialist walking guide and story-teller extraordinaire Mafaku, who shared tales of his adventures in the bush (complete with termite eating and dung-spitting displays), plus an amazing sunset on our Zambezi cruise. A perfect end to my Zimbabwe adventure!

South Africa

After my time in Zimbabwe I headed off to South Africa which began with a champagne welcome upon landing at the airstrip at Tintswalo in the Manyeleti Game Reserve! I really loved Tintswalo, with just seven beautifully decorated suites, excellent food and service, and incredible game viewing, where we saw four of the Big Five safari animals on our very first game drive. After enjoying a sighting of a stunning leopard, at what we thought was the “end” of our first drive, we took a little detour to come to the aid of another group whose vehicle was stuck…and our good deed was rewarded with an amazing sighting of a pride of 8 lions on the move – simply awesome! Ah, this is Africa, and you never know what you might see around the next bend.

food
Courtesy Rose Loggi

Next on tap was the Kapama Private Game Reserve, where my stay at Camp Jabulani included a special elephant-back safari on a rescued elephant named Sebakwe; some of you might recognize him, since he is featured on the Amarula Cream liqueur label. Another nice lodge choice here is the chic and modern Kapama Karula; both lodges offer game drives and bush walks in this reserve renowned for its diverse wildlife, home to over 40 different mammal species.

Timbavati Private Reserve was my next stop, where I embraced the totally different ambience of a tented camp at the lovely Tanda Tula. This is an excellent option for those who wish to experience the wonders of safari while “under canvas”, but with all of the modern amenities (including a hairdryer, ladies). I loved the classic East-Africa style tents, each with Victorian bathtub and outdoor shower, and the communal vibe at dinner was fantastic, dining with your fellow safari goers and sharing stories of your day’s excitement. The bush breakfast the next morning was another rare treat; dining al fresco along the banks of the sand river. What more can I say about the extremely productive and exciting game viewing here other than to share that we saw the entire Big Five on One Game Drive – now this doesn’t happen every day on safari, let me tell you! You can also view game right from the camp, when elephant and other animals come to drink at the dam.

food
Courtesy Rose Loggi

My final stop in this area was the northern portion of the renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had high expectations for this reserve, and it did not disappoint. Once again, we saw four of the Big Five on our very first game drive (and #5 the next morning), but much more than simply ticking off the boxes of the animal sightings, a safari is really all about observing and appreciating animal behavior. We started with a sighting of a lone male lion doing, well, what most lion do for most of the day – sleep! We then watched a rhino mom with her baby as she chased away a male rhino that she obviously did not want around. Next up was leopards mating – quite an extraordinary sighting. More sleepy lions, a pride of 10 which is usually 13, hmmm, now where could the others have gone? Well, our question was answered when we came upon a huge male lion not typically seen here, who was feeding on a kill at water’s edge; the 3 lionesses had made this kill in the night and then he came along and stole their meal. Life is hard out here in the African bush! There are tons of great lodging choices in the Sabi Sands, and hats off to Louis at Elephant Plains for finding and sharing these magical sightings with us.

Botswana

But wait, we are not finished yet! I topped off my adventure with a visit to Mashatu Game Reserve, located in the secluded and beautiful Northern Tuli block of Botswana, bordering South Africa and Zimbabwe. This picturesque area with panoramic views has many diverse habitats, with exciting game drives across the riverbeds, forests, hills and plains; a true off-the-beaten-path wilderness experience. In addition to game drives, Mashatu offers additional activities as well: observing animals from a photographic hide, exploring on foot on bush walks, experiencing a safari by mountain bike, or galloping through the plains on horseback. It is difficult to say what I enjoyed most at Mashatu; maybe it was the magic moment spent viewing some astonishing animal behavior, with lion chasing hyena, jackal and other lion from a kill, or maybe it was the more serene and surreal sunset on the final evening while I said goodbye to Africa for now…until my next visit.

“All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.” – Ernest Hemingway