Private game SAFARIS
A safari is an excellent reminder that outside the glass jungle of buildings and concrete tangles of roads, real Africa still exists – as sunny as ever, as dusty as ever and with the ability to lodge itself in your soul forever more,
“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne – bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.”
— Karen Blixen
Dinokeng – a dayt rip from Pretoria
The roads to Pilansesberg are full of potholes, they said. Try the self-drive route through the Dinokeng Game Reserve, they said. It’s half an hour away, they said. That’s how we find ourselves one fine African morning in a six-person people mover in the middle of nowhere. We know we’re in Africa as soon as we leave the tolled freeway. Tar gives way to a dust road compacted into corrugated peaks and valleys. Juddering kilometre after kilometre, we scan the sides of the road not for elephants, but for any signs that might confirm we’re on the right track. We find one. It points straight. The GPS urges us to turn left. The sun is rising and we resign ourselves to the fact that we’ve missed our chance to see lions as they come to the watering hole early in the morning. Before December last year, the only way to visit Dinokeng was with an organised tour, but now you can do a self-drive. If you can find the way. “Are we there yet?” It’s not the children asking. It’s me. The children are still in high spirits. They’re taking bets how many rare animals we’re going to see. “The Big Five are lions, elephants, buffalo, rhinos and cheetahs,” I tell them. “Leopards, not cheetahs,” my husband corrects me having glanced at the photo. “I can see their cluster spots. Cheetahs have solid spots and black lines along the nose.” The leopard-cheetah debate is settled by the gate guard when we finally find the entrance to the reserve. “Leopards,” he confirms. “They are nocturnal, so you probably won’t see them. But we have three cheetah cubs and their mother. Cheetahs hunt during the day.” The reserve’s website also boasts the first free roaming lions and elephants in over a hundred years in the province of Gauteng. As the morning progresses, we see a mother warthog with her wriggly babies, graceful giraffes, tons of zebra, kudu, water buck, nyala, and a small antelope that looks almost like a springbuck. At one point, we get excited about a possible elephant sighting. On closer inspection, the elephant trunk turns into the neck of a male ostrich. The children are disappointed. They ask: “Do they at least have elephants?” The reserve is vast, but the one-tenth of their area we did manage to cover is definitely elephant-free – no elephant dung anywhere and although some trees are broken in that characteristic post-elephant way, the damage is old. The closest we get is a hand-painted sign which tells us “Elfants keep left”. We’re not sure whether it’s telling us to keep left in order to avoid being trampled, or to go left
if we want to see elephants. To maximise our chances, we go left and right. No luck. Overall though, we get to see a large slice of the wild in one morning. No crowds and hardly any other cars – more giraffes than cars, that’s for sure.
A Pilanesberg Safari
The Pilanesberg Game Reserve, two hours’ drive west of Pretoria (over many potholes), covers almost 600 square kilometres and you can use your own car or book an organised safari tour. To see as many animals as possible and to recover from the journey, it’s best to overnight in one of the reserve lodges and to ask for a room with a view of the Hippo Pool. We do meet all the Big Five. At one point, we get threatened by an irate male elephant and we depart swiftly driving in reverse for a few hundred metres until we manage to turn around. Pilanesberg has recently surpassed the famous Kruger National Park in the number of visitors it receives. And no wonder. In two days we managed to see more here than most tourists manage in the Kruger National Park during a whole week.
Authent ic Delta
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and the 1000th site to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition to the rhino, bush elephants, plains zebras and a multitude of buck species, it has Nile crocodiles and the endangered African wild dogs native to Sub-Sahara. Choose an authentic experience with one of the safari providers – sleep in tents by night and explore on foot by day. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chance to paddle between reeds in a Makoro canoe for a taste of the real Africa.
Game of luck
A safari is a game of luck. Sometimes the animals appear out of nowhere and stand still while you take so many photos you eventually get bored and leave. Other times, you drive around for hours without seeing as much as a finch and when you go back to the camp you discover all 100 of the national park elephants, from granddads to babies, gathered on the other side of the fence, not 20 paces from where your tent is. The thing is, though, you have to do it. Months later, drizzled on by the Auckland rain, or blown right through by the Wellington breeze, you will cast your mind back to the oven-hot car, the long yellow grass and the spotted neck of a giraffe sailing gracefully in and out of the clump of thorn trees.
FROM LEFT: The tale of the two zebras; male and female impala in Dinokeng; In Dinokeng Park, a wildebeest nursing her baby and elephants in Pilanesberg.
Our first gira
ffe in Dinokeng.