Bumping and bouncing along the roughly carved out tracks, eyes scanning the thicket for any signs of movement, we couldn’t have been happier in choosing a safari for our first trip out of Lesotho. With the entire buffet of safari choices in South Africa, including Kruger Park, we selected Springbok Lodge in Nambiti Private Game Reserve.
Nambiti is a Big Five game reserve nestled in the rolling hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal province and offers a wonderful array of game viewing opportunities. It is malaria free, only about four and a half hours from Maseru and is small enough to not have hordes of Land Rovers around each animal, but big enough that you don’t feel like you are traipsing over the same ground on each game drive.
The drive up was fantastic, introducing us to Golden Gate National Park – a definite future travel destination. After parking in a designated fenced in area away from the lodge, we were greeted with a lovely cold lemonade and leisurely lunch out on the deck looking out over a small valley and onto the hills beyond. We naturally spent much of our lunch foolishly looking out for signs of life but we learned very quickly that heat and animal viewing do not go hand in hand.
Springbok Lodge itself is a small fenced in area with fifteen tents. These are not your normal tents however, but rather they have smoothed concrete floors, indoor plumbing, outdoor showers and a comfy bed. The flaps on the outside can be zipped down over the screen windows to provide privacy or warmth.
Though very solid, the tents are not airtight to the elements or other animals as we found out soon after getting settled. Cora went to unzip one of the interior window flaps and when she reached up to move some hanging fabric she was confronted with a fairly large Rain Spider! Cora was not keen on dealing with it so I had an experience trying to shoo it out of the tent with my flip-flops. A great start to our animal adventure in the bush!
We had some time after lunch to relax and enjoy the view as our first afternoon game drive was pushed back half an hour to allow for the heat to break. The drive was a lovely three hour journey around one side of the park. As we drove we saw a lot of Eland, Kudu, Impala, various Boks and some Wildebeest, but not the big sightings that I think we were all so keen to see as it was so hot so we were anxious to see what the next drives would bring.
Mike, our fantastic guide, is exactly the type of person you would want showing you around a game reserve – knowledgable, passionate and committed to the animals in the park. He wasn’t just passionate about the big animals, but also the small ones. One morning he stopped to show us a Rhombic Night Adder that had been run over by one of the vehicles the previous night. He was visibly upset and immediately got on the radio and told everyone to watch out for snakes on the roads when heading back to the lodges in low light conditions.
He wasn’t the type of guide to rush a viewing or to go speeding from one potential sighting to the next which we appreciated. He took his time and lead us into the tangled and gnarled interior of the park, hoping to catch a quick sight of the elusive newly released Black Rhinos. The smaller of the two African Rhino species, Black Rhinos have been hunted to near extinction.
Nambiti recently inherited a small herd from one of the other South African reserves. The Rhinos are transported with their legs bound together dangling below a helicopter! They are tranquilized of course, but it much be quite a sight to see from your back garden when one of those flies over the house!
As you can imagine after an ordeal like that it takes the animals a few months to acclimate and settle into their new surroundings and so areas of the park with rhino sightings have to be off limits to not further aggravate the animals. On the second morning however we happened to see a Black Rhino mom and her baby off in the distance in the middle of an open expanse, maybe 200 meters from the truck. Though Mike tried his best to be quiet and not startle them, the mother was on high alert and almost immediately bolted. It was an impressive sight to see these huge animals charging at full pelt with huge dust blooms rising behind them.
That was the start of an exquisite day of animal viewing as we later saw a Cerval, Water Buffalo and a threesome of White Rhinos on the morning drive. Cervals are very shy little cats and sightings of them are quite rare, however we were lucky and came across one sitting about 30 feet from the road, just kind of hanging out! It stayed there for a few minutes and then wandered off into the undergrowth. Not far down the road we came across two old Dunga Boys – old male Water Buffalo that have been thrown out of the herd. These guys can be rather cantankerous, but the two we saw seemed to be very mellow, happy to eat some grass and completely ignore us.
All of this was completely eclipsed however by a lovely encounter with some White Rhinos. The parents and a baby were grazing through a small open area and Mike expertly located us in their feeding line. He approached slowly and seemed to coast to a stop the last few meters so that the animals didn’t spook. We sat there watching them slowly move across the field until they were no more than thirty feet in front of the truck. One of them looked up at us and stared for a few seconds and then wandered off unfazed. They continued their traverse, slowly eating as they went. It was a magical ten minutes or so.
Our second evening drive started much the same as the previous day with very few animal sightings. As we stopped for sundowners – drinks as the sun goes down – our luck changed a little. We had stopped on a hillside overlooking a water hole and a small valley when we heard a ranger announce over the radio that the park’s herd of elephants were heading in our direction from over the opposite hill.
Some of our party had binoculars so we took turns scanning the tree line until we started to see gray masses through the gaps. With the dying light and distance it was hard to see them, even though they are so large, elephants are very adept at blending into the undergrowth. What followed was a quick pack up of our sundowner table and drinks and then Mike respectfully hauling ass over the rocky and rutted tracks as we tried to follow the elephants as they made their way down off the hill and into the valley. We were unsuccessful in getting close enough to see them, but had a good time bouncing over the terrain.
The drive ended in the dark, with us following a lion and two lionesses in the non-invasive red spotlight. It was impressive to see these hunters up close, slowly winding their way along the road. Occasionally one would stop and snarl or bare their teeth, but generally they were pretty content to just wander along with us behind. It wasn’t a hunt, but seeing these magnificent creatures up close in their natural environment was pretty spectacular and ensured that we saw four of the big five in one day!
There were only two things we really wanted to see on the last game drive – giraffes and the elephants up close. We circled through various locations and did see a group of giraffe from about 100 meters away, but through some trees. We watched them for a while until there were rumblings on the radio about the herd of elephants. Mike gave us the option, but we all were keen to go and see the herd closer than the previous night.
After a couple of bouncy roads and some uncertain reports on the radio we came across the herd of elephants, as well as half a dozen giraffes and about ten zebras, it was animal overload!
The herd flashed across the road in front of us, clearly a bit agitated by our presence. Mike explained that their behaviour was unusual and mainly a result of the young ones they had with them – the smallest being only six days old! The elephants wandered up into the trees and looked to be heading over the hillside and so we reversed out and headed for another vantage point. Luck was on our side and we wound up positioned exactly in the line that the elephants decided to head along.
It was an awe-inspiring sight to see twenty five elephants fan out and come towards us. They weren’t charging, but they weren’t ambling either! We were very clearly able to see their size and might, but also the beauty of their family orientated society as the younger ones were protectively shepherded past our truck. We had the joy of seeing the little six day old elephant, keeping fast on its’ mother’s heels. Truly spectacular!
Following that wonderful experience we had some morning coffee nearby and had the pleasure of a few giraffes not more than fifty feet from us. All in all an amazing hour or so in the African bush!
It was an amazing couple of days, filled with some first class animal viewings and fantastic times out in the country. We would have loved to spend longer there, but other animals beckoned (more on that soon…)! Thanks again to Mike for being a great guide and to the staff at Springbok for a lovely experience.
Here’s a small collection of some of our favourites…