Onwards to Ngala

After our final game drive at Londolozi we had one more scrumptious breakfast, packed our bags, and said our goodbyes. Amos from Sable Tours picked us up and drove us the 3 and 1/4 hours to Ngala Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati region.


It took us an hour on dirt roads to get to the tarmac. Along the way we continued to see animals in the bush. As we left the Sabi Sand region behind we began to pass what felt like “real” Africa to us, the real world. Flying straight into Londolozi was magical, but it's a bit like being in Neverland. We saw square homes built of grey brick the size of cinderblocks. Many yards were fenced with wire to keep animals out. People were walking along the roads. One village we drove through showed signs of damage. We presumed it was from the recent hail storm. The corrugated tin roof of a church had been peeled back like a tin of sardines. I noticed a lot of laundry hanging on lines to dry. What stood out was the color coordination. There was a lot of pink and red clothing, however, uniformly, colors were grouped. You would see all the pinks together, all the whites, all the reds, blues etc. I found this color organization quite pleasing to my inner sense of order. After a couple of hours we entered the Krueger National Park through the Timbavati gate. All of a sudden there were giraffe and elephant appearing near the road. Ngala is a private reserve with unfenced borders to the rest of the Kruger National Park.

An hour or so later we arrived at Ngala Safari Lodge. We were greeted by the soft spoken Ruth with a cool towel to wipe the dust from our faces and a glass of juice. Given, a man with a ready and winning smile, showed us to our cottage– he was to be our waiter and butler for the remainder of our stay. We decided that we didn't need lunch since we'd had such a good breakfast, and it really wasn't that long until tea. We settled into #17 and a bit later, headed over to the main deck area to have tea and meet our Ranger. We discovered that the thatch roof of the cottage protruded rather dangerously into the walkway leading up to the entrance. It was all a matter of angles, but since Michael is 6'3″, we felt this would inevitably lead to a bleeding wound on his head. At tea we spoke with Stephen, the camp manager, who also happened to be at least that tall, and he agreed to move us to #16, which had an easier entrance. We did this in the morning.

Our Ranger was Bernard. He offered us some refreshment and gave us an overview of the reserve asking if there was anything in particular we wanted to see. We rather sheepishly explained that we'd had incredible luck at Londolozi and had already seen the Big Five, but I admitted I'd like to see a big male lion. We were joined by a family group of Germans, father with son and daughter, who had just arrived from their international flights. Another couple had not made it there yet, so it was just the 5 of us on the vehicle that first night. Our Tracker was a local Shangaan man named Jimmy. We set out in the late afternoon sunlight for our first Ngala safari.


Londolozi Finale

Our last morning at Londolozi we had one more game drive in which we saw more lions. This time it was the Tsalala pride with 3 lionesses and 4 cubs. As expected, they were enjoying a morning nap.

Sacked out

Scanning the horizon

We also saw a Jackal and an African Fish eagle that morning, and another Lilac-breasted roller.

Part of my African Bums collection

African Fish-Eagle

Lila-breasted roller

To finish our drive Kate parked the truck and led us on a walking safari back to camp. It was a beautiful morning with the Drakensberg mountains in the distance and it was really fun to get a totally different view of things. We saw a Stiletto snake crawling into a termite mound and marveled at all the details you don't see as well from a vehicle.

Stiletto snake - quite toxic!

Drakensberg mountains


Beauty and the Beast

Later that day on the evening game drive we saw a Goliath heron. He was magnificent! We thought perhaps he was injured because when he started to walk, he clearly had one leg that seemed bent backward the wrong way and walked with a funny gate. However, Life was of the opinion that it was a birth defect and not an injury. This seemed likely as otherwise he seemed quite healthy and obviously had been capable of feeding himself thus far.

Goliath heron

Further on we had a wonderful encounter with not one, but two leopards. The first was a young male who was resting underneath a great tree. After a bit he got up and moved off to another spot close by.

While moving around in that direction for a better view, we discovered there was another leopard very close by. It was an adult female. Usually leopards do not hang out together. Kate speculated as to whether perhaps the female was the young male's mother, but we weren't sure if they were aware of each other's presence. This created some excitement about a possible interaction between the two. The female was lying in the burn area of a recent fire and so was obligingly easy to photograph and view. She treated us to some typical cat behavior. What a magnificent animal!

The female leopard



Having a drink

After her stretching, she got up and moved off toward where we knew the young male was lying. We high tailed it around to the other side to get a better view and watched as the male became aware of the other's presence and moved down to join her. They were indeed mother and son. They also had a kill hidden in the bushes in a little gully. Probably it had been an impala. At any rate, the mother began to feed and the son lounged nearby waiting his turn. By this time the light was beginning to fade so we watched for a while and then moved off to enjoy a sundowner with the first semblance of a sunset we'd had yet.


Mom has an Impala snack. Yum!



The remainder of our time at Londolozi continued to awe and amaze. We were treated to sightings of two lion prides, two more leopards, countless antelope of varying types, rhino, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, birds galore and even some reptiles. The food and service were equally amazing. I will really miss those breakfasts! I particularly enjoyed the huge variety of birds. It was such a luxury to have a guide to point them out, describe their habits, and one who knew all the names and calls so well. Some of my favorites include the Lilac-breasted roller, the Goliath heron– largest in the world, and the various eagles. After the storms of the night before, the bush seemed refreshed, clean, and sparkly. It really is beautiful to be out just after sunrise to see everything just waking up. And a little bit of rain immediately makes everything spring to life. As the summer rains are about to start up in earnest, soon the bush will be lush and green with new growth everywhere. The weather improved and we had some sunshine mixed with clouds. In general it has been much cooler here than I expected. It's preferable to being scorching hot, but I never expected to be chilly! Still, the clothing I brought seems to have worked out just fine.

Kate and Life in the morning- see where he sits?


Red-billed Hornbill

Marshall eagle


The first lions we saw were from the Sparta pride. Quite a lot of time was spent tracking them down, narrowing down their location by searching for tracks along the roads, and eventually searching on foot in the bush. We knew they were close by but still hadn't found them when, along came a Land Rover full of Tracker trainees. The Tracker training program at Londolozi is quite well known and very comprehensive. It is led by a man named Rennius about whom we'd heard from Kate. She had called in The A-Team as they called themselves! Life went off with them into the bush and we drove off to find a suitable spot for tea and rusks. Not three minutes down the road we got the call the lions had been found! Life and Kate had tracked them to right under our noses it seemed. We turned around and raced back, bid adieu to the A-Team, and drove into the bush to see our first lions. We found 4 or 5 lionesses and one young male. You could see his mane was not fully developed but he looked distinctly different from the females. They were doing what lions do most of the time– lying around napping. It was a bit hard to photograph them through the tall grass but you get the idea.

The young male



White Rocks Falling from the Sky

When we met Kate that afternoon for tea before our evening game drive, the skies were gray and there was the rumble of thunder. Ironically, we asked Kate about storms and lightning in the area and discussed the weather in general. She told us about the floods they'd had in the last couple of years, something that was quite an unusual occurrence. When we set off in the vehicle the rumbling was quite clear and you could see some lightning activity off to one side of us. It wasn't socked in and it wasn't raining. So Kate headed off in the opposite direction from the storm which also appeared to be passing by and moving fairly quickly. As we drove along, the lightning activity intensified producing some spectacular cloud to ground strikes. It also seemed to be shifting around and coming from more directions. Still no rain. The clouds were quite dramatic.

Admittedly I was getting a little nervous. I'm not fond of being out in lightning storms and kept thinking of some fairly recent Lightning Safety training that had been circulated at my work where field personnel are often out in remote areas where they could be exposed to storms. When we reached Londolozi's airstrip it was getting pretty dramatic. Now The storm activity seems to be in most directions not just on one side. Life was sitting in the tracker's seat as usual and I think he saw some rain coming from behind because we stopped so he could jump down and fetch the ponchos for us from the back of the vehicle. Just as he handed them out it began to come down. I was desperately trying to get a large poncho over me with all speed when I was surprised to see a very large piece of hail land at my feet in the Land Rover. The next thing I know it was pelting down with large marble sized hail – we're talking pieces an inch wide. It was quite surreal. I had a moment of realization that we couldn't avoid this, there was no place to go. As I hunkered down in the seat, hugging my camera bag to me beneath the poncho, and trying to hold it out like a tarp so the hail wouldn't hit me directly, I wondered how Kate was able to withstand it without a poncho. In a moment she had backed us up under a tree to get some shelter, but it didn't help much. My disbelief at what was happening continued as there seemed no end in sight. Very soon Kate must have realized we had to get out of there and she began to drive. I could barely peek out of my shelter between yelps as the hail pelted my back, head, shoulder, any body parts facing up. I have no idea how she actually managed to drive in all that. You couldn't see the road. I felt like a turtle since I had pulled my head out of the hood of the poncho and retreated to as low and small a position as I could manage. We drove for a bit, enduring this onslaught with lightning and thunder all around. When I felt the vehicle stop I looked out to see where we were. The way ahead was blocked by fallen tree branches, but it appeared we weren't too far from camp as I could see some buildings. Kate said to get out and we grabbed our stuff and clambered off the vehicle and hurried as fast as we could toward the buildings which turned out to be the staff quarters. Before we got to any sort of shelter we were wading through shin deep water and avoiding fallen branches. We stopped briefly in an open area under a sheltering roof to catch our breath. At this point it was raining but the hail was gone. After a few minutes we jogged a bit further and found ourselves at Varty Camp. There were leaves scattered everywhere forming a carpet over everything. Fences, trees and branches had come down. Guests from various camps were gathering on the deck at Varty and being tended to by the staff. Dry towels, blankets, drinks (including brandy!) were handed out. First aid was administered. Kate went off to see how the rest of her rangers were fairing and to make sure everyone was getting in safely. Life was quite shaken by the whole episode. He had a few knots on his head from the hail and we later realized he had likely never seen hail in his life. To him, there must have been white rocks falling from the sky. Hail is a rare occurrence in that area, and certainly hail that size and in that volume had never been seen by most of the people who call Londolozi home. There were piles of hail which had drifted in spots to eight inches deep. Some guests had bruising from the hail, there were a few cuts and scrapes, and surely some camera equipment had been ruined, but all in all we came through it ok. The rain had stopped and as we looked out from the deck to the Sand river, we could see a group of Banded Mongoose had come out to investigate or perhaps to find a drier spot.

Banded Mongoose

The river swollen with rain after the storm

Soon Kate returned and led us back along the pathways past the Granite Suites and Founders Camp to our own Pioneer Camp. Along the way there were staff already out sweeping away the leaves that littered everything and clearing the branches blocking the way. Sadly we saw a whole bed of large aloe plants that were simply shredded, but closer to Pioneer Camp they weren't so damaged. Just as happens in Colorado, the damage was very localized. In Pioneer Camp we found Graeme sweeping leaves off the deck and were informed that Allan and Loraine's cottage had sustained some flooding. Ours was mercifully spared. After changing into some dry clothes, inspecting the bruises which would later bloom into a leopard-like pattern on part of my back, and getting our bearings, we went back to Pioneer's main deck for a drink. In all, from the time we got in the vehicle to the time we were back at Varty Camp assessing the damage, no more than 20 minutes could have passed. It was a violent but brief, freakish weather episode. One thing that really impressed me was the response at Londolozi. In no time the paths were clear and the damage was being repaired. I was amazed at the army of people clearing up debris and the way the staff were able to quickly adapt to our changed schedule. The next day Kate told us a special meeting was held and they had purchased special weather radios that would keep them apprised of weather happening in their close vicinity, like they might have for an airport. That evening, Kate joined us for drinks and dinner and we ate together with Allan and Loraine as well. We enjoyed hearing about her life at Londolozi and about the Ranger and Tracker training programs they have. There were good stories all around. As we went off to bed, the thunder and lightning had returned and rumbled in the distance for several hours in the night, but we were snug in our suite, unlike the animals in the bush.


On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 4

After getting our fill we left the leopard in peace and moved off through the bush to find a suitable spot to have a cup of tea or coffee. On the way through the bush we saw a Verreaux's Giant Eagle-Owl sitting in a tree. It had bright pink eyelids which you could see when it blinked! The light was very dim so my picture is not the best but you can see the pink eyelids.

These game drives are quite civilized as they always stop along the way to offer refreshment. Out comes a small table and table cloth, cups, drinks, and snacks. In the morning it's tea or coffee or hot chocolate with cookies or rusks. Rusks are a sort of homemade thick granola bar–very tasty!

The rest of our game drive that morning brought more birds such as the African Dipper, and the Violet-backed Starling. We also had a wonderful time observing some giraffes and saw warthogs and more rhino. By the time we got back to the lodge for breakfast it was at least 10 o'clock. Breakfast was phenomenal followed by a bit of rest and then a late light lunch. Pretty soon we were gathering back for tea and to get ready for the evening game drive. It's a grueling pace of sleep, eat, game drive, eat, nap, eat, rest, eat, game drive, eat, sleep. In the next post I'll give an account of the unexpected events on our very exciting late afternoon game drive, so stay tuned.




Violet-backed Starling



On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 3

Leopards have an amazing ability to simply drape themselves over a tree limb and relax. He did just that thereby providing us a much better view of his phenomenal good looks. The hyena actually walked below him sniffing around. He ignored her and soon she wandered off. Meanwhile we had shifted position for a better view and were right in the middle of this. We sat for a while and simply admired our first leopard.

The Marthly Male




On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 2

While were watching him snooze, a large and very pregnant female hyena appeared nearby. She had a younger hyena in tow as well. She was probably thinking that the leopard might have a kill nearby that she could steal. As she got closer, he decided to move away and jumped up with a growl, walked over to a nearby tree and climbed up to a branch.

Pregnant hyena

Young hyena

On the move

…more to come.


On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 1

The safari schedule can be a bit demanding but it's worth it. On our second day at Londolozi we awoke to a knock on the door at 5 a.m. which is the norm. Coffee and fruit were delivered along with our wake up. We had half an hour to get dressed and meet in the car park close by. Kate and Life were waiting with our vehicle along with Allan and Loraine. It really is a luxury having just the four of us in the vehicle, which could seat nine if all the seats were filled. I don't think they ever put more than six at a time though. It was cool and cloudy but not raining. The early morning is a beautiful time in the bush. Everything is coming awake with innumerable birds singing their songs all at the same time. Londolozi has several ponds and water holes as well as the river so this provides habitat for and attracts a great variety of animals. We saw Hippopotamus wallowing in the water as well as a crocodile. There was also a large nest of Village Weavers being built on a dead tree standing in the middle of a pond. The bird life here is phenomenal. I have tried to write down some of the names of the birds we are seeing but I can't keep up with it, there are so many. In particular there are an extraordinary number of different types of eagles. That morning we saw an African Carrier Hawk, a Wahlberg's Eagle, and an African Fish Eagle–all majestic and beautiful.

Kate said there had been some leopard tracks seen in one part of the reserve so we headed in that direction. The rangers and trackers all communicate quite frequently by radio while they are out on a game drive. They share information about sightings and tracks and cooperate in locating animals. So after a bit of looking and narrowing it down via searching for tracks and combing certain areas of bush, Kate and Life were pretty sure that the male leopard they were tracking was somewhere in a particular patch of bush. Kate parked the vehicle and they both went off into the bush to look for him leaving us sitting in the Land Rover. Whenever they leave the vehicle to walk around on foot, they take a rifle, just in case. We didn't have to wait too long before they were back and sharing their success. They had located the leopard. In order to get to him, we drove off the road and into the thick of the bush. The reserve is crisscrossed by dirt and sand roads and tracks but when necessary, they simply drive into the bush and go overland to where they need to be. It is utterly amazing where they can go. You would think there was no way through but then they drive in, over a few bushes and trees and there you are staring at a leopard. We found the Marthly Male, as this leopard is called, lying in some grass having a snooze. He was so well camouflaged it was easy to see how he could be missed by the casual observer. By the same token, that sensational camouflage also allows him to sneak up on his prey.

I've had trouble getting my posts to upload and I'm not sure what the problem is. I'm going to try posting smaller bits at a time to see if that works. Our leopard fun continues in the next post!

Chasing Wild Dogs in the Rain – part 3

When we got to the approximate vicinity of the last known whereabouts of the wild dogs, we looked around and stopped to listen. Often other animals and birds will give away the presence of a predator with their alarm calls. Sure enough, we heard some elephants trumpeting in the distance. We went off in that direction and found the pack of wild dogs, seventeen strong including six pups. Just after we arrived to view them milling about excitedly, they set off on a hunt. More rare than spotting wild dog is seeing them hunt and make a kill. Wild dogs are very successful predators, but seeing a kill is not very common for any of the predators. These wild dogs were in a frenzy and killed not one but three impala in quick succession. When they had rushed about feeding until their bellies were full, they hung out in one spot socializing and we were able to observe the pups playing tug of war with some leftovers. Sorry if this is not appetizing for some, but it's the way of the wild I guess. Here is a series of pictures of the wild dogs. It's hard to capture them as they are constantly moving. I did my best.


Well, after that excitement we were being congratulated on having extraordinary luck for our first safari! After we left the dogs we wandered off and found a good spot for sundowners, the South African term for cocktail hour. Kate and Life produced much appreciated gin and tonics and nibbles in the middle of the bush!

The remainder of our first safari continued after dark with Life using a spot light to point out nocturnal animals. We saw a few hippos after dark when they came out of the river to feed, a chameleon hanging out on a bush, and bush babies' eyes peering back at us from the treetops.

When we returned from our safari we quickly went to change for dinner and returned to our camp's main lounge and dining area. To our surprise we were informed that a special dinner was planned. We were treated to a five course dinner with wine pairings prepared especially by Londolozi's Executive Chef Anna, who is normally in charge of the staff of 27 chefs that work here. Wow, was that incredible! We were a bit weary but rallied to enjoy the springbok carpaccio and porchetta stuffed pork belly. The wines were terrific too. I enjoyed learning about some wineries we might visit later on in our trip. All in all it was an amazing day and we stumbled off to bed feeling satisfied if a bit overwhelmed.