The Ngala reserve is a little different than Londolozi. Ngala is a private reserve, but the majority of the territory they explore on game drives consists of land in the Kruger National Park on which they have exclusive traversing rights. It's rather a large area, so on each drive we started out by driving down the length of the private reserve and out into the park portion. Another difference is that there are fewer roads and tracks, so it becomes harder to track the animals. Kruger maintains the roads but doesn't want them making new ones. The area also has less water than Londolozi. The Timbavati river only runs seasonally through the reserve. There are several dams that have created ponds so the animals have water sources, which also attracts and keeps the animals in the area. However, in general, it seemed drier.
Our first evening we saw buffalo, zebra, and another leopard. Jimmy spotted her by the side of the road in the full dark and we followed her into the bush by spotlight and watched her scent-marking her territory. It was lovely to see zebra as we hadn't seen any yet. And there were lots of buffalo– bachelor herds of older bulls and large herds of cows and calves. Ngala has wonderful birds as well and we saw many including the Bateleur, African Fish-eagle, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Magpie Shrike, African Bee-eater, and the Red-crested Korhaan a bird that does a dramatic display of falling from the sky and pulling out of its “death spiral” at the last minute with a swoop. I guess this behavior is supposed to impress the ladies! We also saw Marula trees, the fruit of which is used to make a liqueur similar to Baily's. We had this in our coffee at our morning tea and snack stop on game drives. Quite yummy!
Bernard, though young, turned out to be a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable ranger. We really enjoyed exchanging stories and conversing over the 4 nights and 8 game drives we spent there. He hails from Pretoria, South Africa and clearly has an immense love and respect for the bush. He is particularly good at birding and so we enjoyed learning about a lot of the birds in the area. Jimmy, our tracker, was also very talented. He has been tracking for eleven years and has a keen eye and a quiet way. He spotted an African Wild Cat in the dark one evening and a Spotted Eagle-owl as well. This cat is the one to whom most house cats are likely the most closely related. It looks a lot like a slightly large house cat and is not often seen. Jimmy and Bernard together went off in the bush once to track down a male lion and were successful. We felt very fortunate to have such a fantastic team guiding us on safari, but more than that, we really enjoyed their company.
Another thing we were fortunate in is that we ended up having a virtually private safari vehicle for most of the time. This was the luck of the draw really. The Germans we met the first night had some unfortunate medical complications which took them away, and the German couple who joined us the following evening were leaving in the morning. We had one other delightful companion on one evening drive, a man named Devern, also from Pretoria. So for 5 out of 8 game drives we had the vehicle to ourselves. In fact, on one morning, I skipped the game drive because I wasn't feeling well, so Michael had a private tour all by himself! This is not the norm and we saw other vehicles with 6 and even 7 people. That isn't too bad, but what a treat it was to have such flexibility and a relaxed atmosphere with just us and our Ranger/Tracker team.
Here are some photos of the wonderful things we saw at Ngala including a pride of lions with cubs, a lovely leopard siting in a tree, a large male rhino, hippos, and beautiful African sunsets. There were so many things we saw that I can't recount them all. I think we saw 5 different leopards while we were there, but there were also lots of impala, zebra, birds, buffalo and so many other things.
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.
We also saw a Jackal and an African Fish eagle that morning, and another Lilac-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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a continuation of my previous post:
We were shown to our cottage by Cavin who will be taking care of us in the dining and bar area for meals and drinks etc. Londolozi has five camps strung out along the Sand River. It’s one of the oldest private reserves in South Africa and was founded in 1926. A ferociously dedicated family run outfit, it serves as a model for other lodges and reserves. Pioneer Camp has only 3 suites and is either a very private setting for couples or can be taken altogether as a terrific family or group lodge. At the moment there are only five of us staying here. Loraine and Allan have one of the other suites and the third is occupied by a single American woman. This makes for a very intimate atmosphere. One of the things that sets Londolozi apart is the personal nature of the experience and the incredible level of service, not to mention the beautiful setting. You will never feel crowded at an animal sighting here and there is an amazing variety of abundant wildlife. Here are a few pictures of our stupendous suite which features an entryway, living area, beautiful bedroom with mosquito netted bed, and enormous bathroom. There is also a large deck with a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. We have big picture windows and great views of the bush.
After dropping our bags in our suite and taking it all in, we returned to the main lodge area just adjacent to have lunch on the deck. How nice it was to finally relax a bit! After lunch we did some unpacking and then returned for afternoon tea in preparation for our first safari drive. We have found there is certainly no lack of fabulous food and drink here. One thing is for certain, we will never go hungry and most likely will be adding a few pounds if we’re not careful! Kate met us for tea and showed us maps of the reserve to give us an orientation. After an ice coffee for me and a gluten free mini cheesecake, it was time to be off. It was just the four of us with Kate and Life. We climbed into our Land Rover with comfortable, padded, elevated seats and were handed sturdy ponchos in defense of the possible rain. Life sits up front hanging just off the front of the hood in a special tracker’s seat and Kate drives. I’ll try to get a picture of Life’s perch later to show you. It has been much cooler here than I anticipated which, actually, is not unwelcome. I donned my own rain jacket almost immediately and not long after we all donned ponchos. It was drizzly off and on, but we never got seriously wet or were uncomfortable despite being out in the elements. Kate mentioned that a pack of wild dogs had been spotted earlier in the day and that we would head off in that general direction to see if they were active. Wild dogs are quite rare and although they have sometimes had a den site on the Londolozi reserve, this pack’s current den has been moved further off. So the prospect of seeing wild dogs was apparently an exciting one. I say apparently not because we didn’t consider it exciting, but more because as safari neophytes, we have no real frame of reference for how rare it is. Along the way in search of wild dogs we saw giraffe, a leopard tortoise and some white rhino, along with countless birds.