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,

Travel Digest - - FRONT PAGE - writes YVONNE EVE WALUS .

“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.

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