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South African Safari – A Once in a Lifetime Adventure

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Our driver gunned the engine of the Land Cruiser, attempting to close the 100-yard distance as we chased our prize. After 50 yards we veered to the right into a thicket; our real-life Indiana Jones thrill ride was underway. We crashed through a tangle of plants, bowling over small trees.

“There!” Our tracker, Elvis, motioned to his left as the huge cat paced across the open ground and down into a ravine. Our truck dove after him then crawled up the far side, only to see him slip out of sight. Crashing through bushes and over trees we finally broke into a clearing. There he was: a magnificent male leopard as he gracefully lay down for an extended photo op. He truly was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen.

Our South African safari wasn’t always this thrilling…but it was always interesting and downright fun.

Leopard

A leopard on the prowl

Animals

During our South African safari, my wife, Ellen, and I went on 10 game drives over the course of five days. One took us through dense brush to a gigantic abandoned termite mound that had been confiscated by a band of hyenas. As we approached to within 40 feet of two characteristically homely females stretched out at den openings we spotted four adorable cubs that cautiously approached our vehicle. Before long they were frolicking around and under our Land Cruiser. The adults seemed unconcerned as we took dozens of photos.

Sitting in the midst of a slowly moving mass of 500 Cape buffalo, a large female with a calf at her side stopped 10 feet short of our vehicle and stared at my wife. Suddenly the mama buffalo pawed the earth, dropped her head and charged. Ellen threw up her hands and shouted in alarm. The beast skidded to a stop and calmly turned away. Of course, we were not in danger in our vehicle but our driver and tracker warned that the more carnivorous animals wouldn’t hesitate to snack on a lone human away from the safety of the truck.

We saw more animals, more often than we thought possible while on safari. We got up close to lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, giraffes, jackals, warthogs, baboons, and vervet monkeys. We encountered herds of impalas, wildebeest, and zebras along with smaller groups of nyala, bushbucks, waterbucks, and the diminutive duiker. We also identified 80 species of birds we had never seen before in the wild.

Kingfisher

A beautiful malachite kingfisher

Conservation

Two camps known as Ngala Safari Lodge and Kirkman’s Kamp served as our bases in private game reserves west of South Africa’s 7,500-square-mile treasure, Kruger National Park. Animals roam freely between the private reserves and Kruger.

These private game reserves extend the range for the legendary African animals that visitors want to see while providing employment to local residents. The Ngala camp is owned by the World Wildlife Fund whose mission is to conserve nature. Our camps are managed by &Beyond which espouses both ecotourism and wildlife conservation. This settled our concerns that we might be “exploiting” the animals. Instead, by going on this safari my wife and I feel we helped preserve their way of life.

Lionness

A lazy lioness

Accommodations and Food

The &Beyond camps were comfortable and the service was almost embarrassingly attentive. We were fed seven times a day! A couple of hours into the game drive we stopped and our drivers would produce a collapsible table on which they threw a checkered tablecloth and offered coffee, tea, hot cocoa and all sorts of alcoholic options in addition to cookies, biscotti and scones. Here we discovered that cocoa is greatly improved with Amarula, a Baileys-like liquor made from the nuts of the local Marula tree.

An impressive breakfast buffet followed the early morning game drive. Lunch and dinner consisted of exotic main courses like roast kudu, a large local antelope, ostrich steaks and sausage, as well as leg of steenbok (a smaller-sized antelope).

Ngala Safari Lodge room

Our room at Ngala Safari Lodge

Planning a South African Safari

Although an African safari has been on my bucket list since before bucket lists began I didn’t start serious planning until my oldest daughter, Karen, gave me Africa’s Top Wildlife Countries, a guidebook by Mark W. Nolting for Christmas a couple of years ago. This guide helped us focus in on September as a prime month for animal sightings and excellent weather. It directed us toward South Africa’s private game reserves near Kruger for a safe, “affordable” wildlife experience. Armed with a good deal of online research I contacted a travel agent who specializes in African safaris and she pulled the final plan together.

South African safari

Elliot (safari tracker), Tom (the author and The Travel Mama's dad), Ellen (my wife and The Travel Mama's mom), Sonny (safari butler), and Jophet (safari tracker)

Although South Africa is more affordable than other safari options, such as Botswana, this was the most expensive vacation we have ever taken (and we travel a lot!).  We enjoyed it immensely but recommend an African safari as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Is a South African safari on your bucket list? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

This post was written by my dad, Thomas Lanin. He is not a writer by trade but he edits some of my work and believes in me and my writing, even when I don’t. He has over 40 years of experience in finance and business management. He coaches business executives at his company, Lanin Consulting, ltd.

About Thomas Lanin, Travel Mamas Guest Blogger

Comments

  1. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Thank you, Dad, for sharing your incredible safari experience with me & Travel Mamas readers! I hope to be lucky enough to experience an African adventure like this some day.

  2. Well you had me packing my bags for South Africa until the last paragraph, but I appreciate the fair warning. This looks like it was an amazing adventure, and seeing walls and a roof around the bed might even help me convince my wife that it would be fun. Don’t know if I need to experience the charging Buffalo though. It won’t improve my image if I scream like your wife.
    Thanks for sharing the story with us.

  3. An African safari is most definitely on my bucket list. This is such a special post. Thanks to you & your travel mama daughter for sharing it!

  4. Wow! Great post, I really felt the thrill in your descriptions. An African safari is at the top of my to-do list… I can’t wait to actually experience it! Thanks for sharing!

  5. What an incredible adventure! My husband went on a safari in Kenya before I knew him. Fortunately he very much wants to go again so it is on our family’s bucket list as well.

  6. Boy, the beginning of your post had me on the edge of my seat…what a moment that must have been! Great post…too bad the readers can’t see all the pictures I got to see! 🙂

  7. What a wonderful and compelling description of your African adventure! When I grow up (or a least my kids do) I want to follow in your footsteps and go on safari.

  8. What a great tale of a wonderful safari…enjoyed so much reading about your adventures in South Africa. Great photographs, too. Fun to read about my two classmates and their travels….and their daughter’s travels, too.

  9. Jen Untermeyer says:

    I want a slide show of all the pictures! Sounds like an interesting trip.

  10. Oh, you are a big traveller! Were you in Kirkman’s Kamp on September? The weather on the foto seems to be too good for September.

  11. We arrived at Kirkman’s Kamp on September 7, 2011 and departed on September 9. It was cold during our morning game drives and they provided hot water bottles for our comfort. It warmed up nicely during the day. My wife, Ellen, even went swimming in their heated outdoor pool.

  12. Great to read about your dads wonderful safari in one of the private reserves bordering the Kruger NP. Just to let you know that South Africa has malaria free reserves as well so you don’t need to take the horrible malaria tablets, especially if you take small chidren. Madikwe and Addo Elephant park are wonderful with kids!

  13. There are also very affordable options available in many different reserves. South Africa really is a destination for all budgets. We have stunning camp sites, lovely backpackers, anything up to 5 star deluxe

  14. Traveling through the African Countries is one of the best way to experience the Wildlife nature,

    When thinking of travel in Africa don’t Hesitate to visit our Beautiful Country TANZANIA

  15. Charles Benjamin says:

    Come and Try Tanzania Safari you will not regret your time to Tanzania when you see the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park Wildebeest Migration.

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