Ilene Squires Photography

Sunday, August 22, 2010

South Africa World Cup 2010: Kruger National Park

After six days in Cape Town we flew Kulula, likened to Southwest Airlines, to Nelspruit which is at the southern tip of Kruger National Park. From there we were picked up by the staff from our safari lodge, Mohlabetsi, located in the Balule Nature Reserve. I've been all over the world in the last ten years mostly as a backpack/ adventure traveler. Needless to say, a safari was my "dream trip," and we went into this one expecting and preparing for absolute luxury and that is exactly what we got. From the handwritten welcome note on our armoire to the five star meal the lodge had waiting for us when we arrived two hours late; the service was impeccable and worth every penny we spent. 

We started each morning at 6:00am with a three hour game drive in an open air jeep. This was absolutely thrilling, especially for me having spent my childhood on long road trips camping through the southwest part of the US. Though we didn't see the Big Five, we did see three of the five including: elephant, buffalo and leopard. After the morning game drive we returned to the lodge for our five star breakfast with made to order omelets, fresh squeezed juices and organic bacon. This was followed by a lapa massage or a nap situated in front of a frequently visited watering hole until lunch around 2:00pm. Lunch was three courses served under a couple of baobab trees and accompanied by fine South African wines and local beers. After lunch we embarked on our evening game drive returning to the lodge around 7:00pm just in time for dinner under the stars. When we returned to our rondavel around 10:00pm just after our night cap, we were greeted by the many sounds of the night time bush as they lulled us off to sleep. 

Both the morning and evening game drives included a mid - morning or mid - afternoon break. The morning break included coffee, tea and biscuits and in the afternoon it was our choice of wine, beer and South African snacks that the lodge hand picked and packed on request. The ranger and tracker on each drive would find the most scenic plateau to set up this makeshift picnic. It was nothing short of romantic, something straight out of a travel magazine.

There were two highlights from the trip that I did want to share before signing off. The first was during our last afternoon drive when we received word of a leopard in the area. Now, leopards are extremely hard to spot, as are lions, because felines are nocturnal and solitary animals that reveal themselves only weekly (lions) and bi - monthly (leopards). Rangers pride themselves on being the first to spot the felines and can be extremely competitive with each other. So it goes without that saying that we were speeding through the bush in the jeep at about 50mph in search of the leopard. Low and behold, after hours of chasing leopard tracks to now avail, he was casually walking right next to the jeep! Even with a flood light on his tail, he nonchalantly marked his territory moving from tree to tree and never once looking at us. You'll see some awesome pictures below. 

The second instance was during our last morning drive when we were graced by a herd of 200+ elephants bathing and mating at a nearby watering hole. We were unable to move for about an hour while we had a 360 degree panoramic view of elephants of all sizes. This was truly a remarkable, once in a lifetime experience.

Come back tomorrow to see footage from the Johannesburg leg of the trip. To see more pictures from South Africa click here

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