Good morning, everyone! Today’s post is a little different from our usual recipe postings as it is a travel post. If you came for a recipe, we are hoping you will enjoy reading about the adventures of our South African Safari instead and not be disappointed by the lack of a recipe.
This dream vacation was six-months in the planning. Putting this all together with eight family members to consider was a daunting task of coordinating work schedules, best plane fare prices plus the mundane and necessary details. All kudos go to Jon Boquist and his coordination with Andre at Intrepid Expeditions.
We planned our South African safari adventure for mid-May as that is Africa’s wintertime. It is the perfect season to visit South Africa. The temperatures in the morning and evening were around 60°F. However, it warmed up to the mid to high 70’s°F in the middle of the day. The weather could not have been better, and throughout the entire journey, we experienced rain only once. The rain was on an early morning safari, and it only lasted for three or four minutes. It did not dampen our spirits one bit and the safari guide, Grant, provided ponchos for us.
Our adventure began with a twenty-four-hour flight from Seattle, Washington to Cape Town, South Africa. We spent the first day recuperating from the cramped seats and airplane cuisine. While staying at the Cape Grace Hotel, we experienced true gourmet dining and some exceptional South African wines which tempered our mood and relaxed our bods.
Cape Town, South Africa:
On the first evening in Cape Town, Wayne, Sylvia, Josh, Sara, Jon, and Dahn took a hike up Lions Head mountain. It is a fabulous hike with stunning views of Cape Town. The first half of the hike was quite easy, however, closer to the top, it got more challenging. They met a series of ladders, chains, and large staples to hold onto and assist with a more vertical climb. Although Jon and Dahn stopped where the ladder system started, the whole group experienced a breathtaking view of the sun setting over Cape Town.
The next morning, we met our tour guides. Half of our group went on an excursion by cable car up Table Mountain, while the other half adventured to the top the old-fashioned way by hand-over-foot on a two-hour hike up the rugged sides.
Table Mountain and the Rock Hyrax:
Table Mountain is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Our guide explained to us the reason why it is flat. This chunk of earth’s crust was originally beneath the surface of the water and ice. As the earth plates split and shifted the earth’s crust was pushed upward from beneath the surface, and the pressure of the ice made it flat.
The view from the top of Table Mountain looking across the city of Cape Town and at the crashing waves below was spectacular! We saw unusual and beautiful flowers, foliage and the local resident, the rock hyrax. Clans of these small animals were lolling in the sunshine and seemed to love the natural, weather-worn, warm rock indentations.
The rock hyrax is also known as the rock dassie. This little fellow is about the size of a large rabbit, and interestingly, his closest relative is the elephant. The elephant? God does have a sense of humor! Our guide told us that the rock hyrax has two side teeth that are actually tiny tusks and that there is a similarity to the elephant by the bones of their feet as well.
Penguins and Baboons:
The following day we the visited the Cape of Good Hope and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Our road trip took us along the beautiful coastline where we saw African penguins, also known as ‘jackass penguins’ because of the braying sounds they produce.
We saw baboons along the coastline and warning signs advising against feeding the wild baboons. There were also signs for people to keep their cars locked and windows closed in the area. Apparently, baboons are known for carjacking!
Shark Diving and Winery Tours:
On our last full day in Cape Town, the group split up again. Half of us went on a scenic winery tour while the other half of the group went on a shark diving tour with Marine Dynamics.
The group on the winery tour had a beautiful and relaxing day. The South African wineries are relative ‘newcomers’ to the wine industry, but they are producing some remarkable wines that rival the competition. Since South Africa is still forging a place in the winery scene, the wines are priced very competitively, but they definitely pass the taste test.
The group that split off to go shark diving didn’t have quite as successful of an adventure as the winery tourists of the day. Orca whales have moved into the area and unfortunately for the Great White Sharks, Orcas are particularly fond of shark liver. The whales are killing machines. They know exactly where to strike, tearing a hole in the side of the Great Whites and taking out only the liver. They leave the crime scene as quickly as they come and the sharks eventually wash up onto the shore completely intact except for their liver.
Once the Great White Sharks realize there is a liver hungry serial killer in the area, they leave town as quickly as possible. This recent killing spree made the shark diving tour turn into a seagull viewing tour. In spite of the absence of sharks on the shark diving tour, the group had a fun trip. Seriously, it is all about perspective. When you are enjoying the company of friends and family, any experience can be enjoyable and memorable.
We do have to give a shout-out to Marine Dynamics for their efforts. They kept us out several hours longer than planned and made their best efforts to find Great Whites. Nature just cannot be controlled, and that is part of the thrill. You never know what you will see… or what you won’t see for that matter.
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve:
Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the Cape and we boarded a flight to the small airport at Hoedspruit, then transferred by van to the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. The Timbavati is a huge parcel of land sharing a fenceless border with the Kruger National Park.
The wilderness of Timbavati is best known for its two very rare white lions that were discovered there in the 1970s. ‘Timbavati’ refers to these two unique lions and means, ‘The place where something sacred came down to earth from the heavens’.
In the heart of the Timbavati is Kings Camp where the owners have ten private luxury suites. Our lodgings were in the family/group accommodations of Waterbuck Private Camp which is part the Kings Camp. Waterbuck is designed for groups of six to eight people with a beautiful three-bedroom lodge and a detached large luxury garden suite. This was perfect for our group and the camp had its own gourmet chef, Nathan, as well as a butler, Lodick, and a full staff to pamper us.
The lovely and gracious on-site manager, Patricia, gave us a tour of the lodge and we were just overwhelmed by the opulent accommodations and all the special details they arranged for our vacation.
Our South African Safari at Waterbuck Camp:
Patricia made our room assignments with Don, and I delegated to the garden suite. And, I do believe that this luxury suite was the best of the accommodations. Age does have its privileges! This large ‘honeymoon-style’ suite sported a king-size bed covered with mosquito netting, a comfortable sitting area, and a well stocked small refrigerator with soda, water, and wine. Plus, we enjoyed the coffee system with a variety of coffee-pod flavors. There was a comfortable sitting area with two chairs and a small table graced with a vase of multi-colored yellow/orange fresh roses! A quaint, claw-foot bathtub was the focal point of the bathroom where each night upon returning from our evening run I would find a steaming tub of bubble bath and a scattering of rose petals. The suite also had a private outdoor shower. They thought of everything!
The main lodge had three large bedrooms, a great room, dining room and huge well-stocked kitchen that we could raid at will. From the slightly elevated lodge, we had a grand view of the swimming pool, lush green lawns and shrubs with a romantic outdoor eating area and fire pit under a canopy of trees.
There were two safari runs each day with the morning run right at six o’clock and the afternoon/evening run at 3:30. After getting unpacked and settled we had time for the evening safari run. Grant, was our experienced and knowledgeable guide that spent much time and patience sharing his vast wealth of knowledge about the wildlife and animal behavior. His personality and humor added so much to our adventure. Grant and his tracker, Jonas spent four hours with us each morning and four more hours each afternoon/evening for the five full days of our safari. An incredible safari guide will make your safari a priceless adventure!
Rules, Rules, Rules:
The Land Rover is a converted vehicle designed especially for the safari. Usually, there are only six passenger seats, but Grant converted the truck to accommodate all eight of us. Jonas sat in a little jump seat on the left front fender of the vehicle and searched for signs of wildlife. Occasionally, he would leave the land rover and track down wildlife on foot. When it was dark, he had a large spotlight to shine in the bush searching for nocturnal animals.
First thing, Grant outlined the ‘rules’…. no one was to stand up in the vehicle and absolutely to not get out. Grant explained to us that the vehicle was not a threat to the animals, but if we stood up or got out of the vehicle, we would break up the continuity of the truck and might be noticed as individual food sources. No argument from us, we totally agreed to his rules!
Each game drive was three to four hours. We had a snack stop mid-way as well as a chance to ‘mark our territory’ once the area was deemed ‘safe’ by Jonas and Grant. These were the only times we left the vehicle during our drives.
A wake-up call began each morning at 5:15 with instructions to be in the dining room at 5:45 for a quick cup of java before the 6:00 AM game drive. Coffee was really a small continental type breakfast with smoothies, juice, coffee, tea, fruit, scones and jam. They really fueled us up! Everyone climbed into the Rover and with Grant in the driver’s seat and Jonas perched on the left front fender we began our first full day safari.
South Africa’s Big Five:
We saw all of South Africa’s Big Five game animals: The lion, leopard, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and the elephant.
There were large herds of elephants surrounding their babies and protecting their young. Watching the behavior of the elephants was such an indescribable thrill. They seemed to smile and hug each other in an almost human-like gesture. We never got tired of watching these gentle giants.
On our safari, we saw large herds of these creatures. They feed on grass, leaves, bark, roots, bulbs, and fruit. Elephants consume over 100 kg (225 pounds) of vegetation per day, and they are referred to as a ‘bulk feeder’. However, their digestive system only digests about 40% of its daily meal. They also produce elephant-size piles of dung.
Although the Rhinoceros seemed to have a care-free relaxed behavior they can be mean and aggressive. The pre-historic looking rhino weighs about 2.5 tons and although he is big and bulky, he can move at a pace of 30 MPH if he needs to.
Poachers are their biggest threat; they kill them to get the horns which are sold for hefty prices. The horns of these creatures consist of a protein that is the same as human hair and nails. There is a big market for the horns which are used for carving art objects and for meaningless medicinal purposes. Grant said sometimes the poachers cut the horn off while the rhino is still alive. South Africa has anti-poaching units to protect against this abhorrent killing and we saw two soldiers out on ‘Poacher Patrol. Unfortunately, the issue has not been completely resolved. We felt incredibly privileged to see these unusual looking animals.
We saw all of the animals several times, but on three occasions we saw the same leopard with a fresh meal. During one of our evening drives the leopard had carried an impala up a tree and was feasting on a freshly killed Impala. There was a hyena on the ground below her waiting for bits and pieces to drop down. It was an incredible scene!
On two other mornings, we saw the leopard with an impala on the ground. Since the next two impalas were too big to drag up a tree, she had to take her chances with the hyenas and eat among the bushes. Each time we saw the leopard we were just several feet away. It was just amazing that she would ignore us and continue eating.
The Cape buffalo is also known as the African Buffalo. This large bovine is one of the meanest beasts in the animal kingdom. Maybe they are angry about the heavy crown of horns they have to carry on their heads. But all joking aside, these are dangerous animals. Although they might look like a harmless grazing bovine, we had a great deal of respect for them.
On one of our evening runs, we came around the bend in the road, and a beautiful lioness was right in our path. We nearly ran over her. Grant slammed on the brakes and it was surprising that Jonas, sitting in that little jump seat did not go flying off onto her. We were thrilled to be able to get this close and take pictures of this elegant lady-lion. She had been waiting for her sister so they could start their evening hunt.
The next day we saw two male lions on a morning walk. Later in the evening, we watched the two males slowly tracking two female lions as they got ready to gather together for a hunt. Grant told us that these beautiful cats specialized in hunting buffalo.
South Africa’s Ugly Five:
Africa also has the Five Uglies and here is a look at them: Warthog, Hyena, Wildebeest, Vulture and the Marabou Stork.
Zebra, Giraffe, and Antelope:
It wasn’t unusual to see Zebra, antelope, and Wildebeest intermingling and grazing in the same field. There is safety in numbers and some animals are more watchful for predators while others have a more sensitive sense of hearing.
Did you know that each zebra has its own unique stripe pattern? These distinctive markings are similar to how humans have fingerprints. We also learned how to tell the difference between the male and the female zebra. The male is black with white stripes and the female is white with black stripes. Ha, Ha….I just couldn’t resist passing that funny along.
We had several sightings of the giraffes. I love the Giraffes! They look so elegant, graceful, and mysterious. Their feet are used as weapons to protect them from predators. A kick from a giraffe will send a lion to the moon. Grant, told us that the mother is pregnant for 15 months and that her baby calf is born standing up as it is a long drop to the ground.
We saw many species of antelope. The Impala population was the largest and they seemed to breed like rabbits. We also saw Waterbuck, Nyala, Bushbuck and my favorite of the antelope species, the kudu. The male kudu has long spiral horns and looks absolutely regal. Humans are the main predator of the kudu as the horns are prized for trophies.
Our chef, Nathan, served kudu for dinner one night and I am claiming kudu as one of my favorite red game meats. Nathan served us up some delicious meals and this safari adventure cost me almost a ten-pound weight gain.
One evening we had ostrich which, surprisingly, had the texture and flavor of beef and not poultry. Another night we had a BBQ under the stars and we tasted wildebeest. Just for clarification here….these wild safari animals on the reserve were not killed for our food. Some of the landowners have game farms where they raise them for that purpose.
Sadly, the last day of our safari came to an end and we had to say goodbye. As we began packing up our bags I found a note card from the management with the following warm farewell:
“May the Leopards stalk through your memories,
May the Lions always linger in your mind.
May the bellowing Buffalo haunt your thoughts.
May the Rhinos crash through your dreams.
And never forget the Elephants as they trumpeted goodbye.”
We said goodbye to our safari friends and boarded the plane at Hoedspruit Airport for a two-night stay in Johannesburg. Our amazing accommodations were at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa where the staff treated us like old friends and served an amazing dinner. The next morning we did a scheduled tour of the city, visited historical political museums and spent some time shopping at the local markets. We ate at some of the finest restaurants as well as casual street food stops. All too soon it was time to head back to America. We will forever cherish the memories of our South African safari and the incredible people of South Africa.
Mishaps and challenges along the way:
- Our vacation was not without mishaps and problems. It began ominously with our trip to Seattle to pick up Joshua and Sara for the drive to the airport. We had taken Jon and Dahn’s, geriatric cat, Bell, with us to leave with the pet caregiver. Bell typically rides in the car without a carrier and sits next to Dahn on the seat. Unfortunately, the poor granny-cat had a case of diarrhea and we all suffered. Thankfully, we had allowed plenty of time to the airport.
- Upon arriving at Cape Town, Don discovered he had forgotten to pack the cord to his CPAP machine. It was Joshua with his trusty iPhone who saved the day and located a medical equipment supplier in Johannesburg. They shipped a replacement cord overnight to the hotel. We owe a huge thank you to CPAP Essentials for all their help.
- Dahn had a bout of seasickness while on the shark dive.
- Wayne discovered he had not packed the cord to his Norelco electric shaver and decided to grow a beard. Jon and Josh followed suit and the men had a beard growing contest.
- Dahn accidentally left her laptop in the lounge at the Cape Town airport. We contacted the airport where someone found it and sent it to the Johannesburg airport. We retrieved it a week later when we caught our flight home.
- Jon experienced an entire safari day in bed with a case of Traveler’s Sickness.
- On our way to Johannesburg, Jon had his wallet stolen in the small Hoedspruit Airport. Fortunately, there was only a limited amount of money in the wallet as he had other funds secreted away. An immediate phone call canceled the credit card.
We hope that you have enjoyed this narrative and the virtual safari of our South African safari vacation. If you have been on an African safari, we would love to hear of your adventures.
Thanks for stopping by to read about our South African Safari.