You can view a slide show with photos and videos of the safari here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mweisburgh/sets/72157628810793173/ If you look at the slide show, click on "Show Info" on the top right corner to see the descriptions of the pictures.
We left Cape Town on January 2 on the 6:30 AM flight to Johannesburg, and we were met by Peter Moni at about 9:00. We booked the Safari portion of our trip through Peter, and he’d proved very knowledgeable and helpful. His company is Firelight Tours. Peter drove us the six hours to get to our camp, Bateleur Eco Safaris. It was part of the Timbavarti Preserve, and they have access to about 40 square miles of the African Veld, touching on the Kruger National Park.
We were in tents, each with its own shower and bathroom but no electricity. The food was great; served family style. It was perfect. Our hosts were Gerhard and Natalie, and our spotter/tracker was named Doctor.
We sat down to lunch, and then hopped into the Rover for our first safari. On our first outing, for the next 3 hours, we got within 15 feet of lions, impala, buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest.
Over the next few days, we settled into a routine.
- Wake up at quarter to five
- Into the rover by 5:20, as it was getting light but before sunrise
- Safari for four to five hours, depending on what we say. Generally, we’d ride in the rover for the first hour, and then get out and try to track an animal by foot for the next few hours. While tracking, we’d learn about the African Veld ecology, plants, and birds, as we’d follow the tracks.
- Breakfast back at the lodge at 10:00ish.
- Nap or hang out.
- Lunch at 3:30ish
- Back in the Rover for a safari at around 4:30. Sunset was about 7:00 and we’d be back between 7:30 and 9:00 depending on what we were seeing and where we stopped.
Not every safari camp has the same routine, most do not include walking, most stop before dark, and most do not go off road to get closer to the animals. We specifically asked for one that included walking.
Doctor and Gerhard were incredible. Doctor showed us many of the skills that the bushmen used involving tracking, use of herbs, and tools, while also telling us African stories about the origins of the animals and their habits. Gerhard explained about the wide circle of life, how each animal affects the others, and about the impact of man on the environment. For example, the placement of a dirt road can dramatically increase erosion, or an elephant scratching on the earth to find water can eventually trigger events that create a pan or water hole deep enough to survive the dry seson.
Here is some of what we saw.
The scenery: this is the African bush, or the Veld; it’s not a treed jungle. While there are some trees, for the most part this is either grassland, bushes, or small trees. In fact, giraffes, which are about 20 feet high, can sometimes be seen from miles away.
Lions: We found out that lions are actually pretty inefficient hunters, and need to sleep for 18 hours a day. In any case, it is a little intimidating when you’re only 7 feet away from one.
Tracking: For one to three hours, we would try to follow the footprints of an animal through the river beds and grasslands. Doctor was our guide, and he'd teach us how to recognize the different animals, tell the front from the back foot, and how to figure out which way the animal was heading. It was relatively easy on dried river beds as you can see from the lion track below, but much harder in the grasses and on the hard ground.
Impalas: these were the most common animal, like deer around us. There can be up to 40 females in a herd, with just one male. But generally, a male can only hold onto his position for a couple of weeks before another male takes over.
Zebra and wildebeest: these were often found together; it seems that the vegetarian animals don’t mind hanging out together.
Birds: I wish I could remember which bird was which, but we saw lots, including ducks, vultures, hawks, eagles, and owl.
Hyena: we only saw these at night, and only for a very short burst.
Buffalos: one day as we were tracking on foot we ran into a herd of 400-500 buffalo. That certainly was a little intimidating.
Giraffe: you don’t realize how tall they are until you’re sitting or standing right next to one.
Leopard: I don’t know how Doctor spotted the leopard, but they are rare, and it was really cool being right underneath one.
Elephants: we saw male elephants and two herds. Elephants live in a matriarchal society; no males are allowed into the herd except during mating season.
Even though we tried tracking a Rhinosaurus for three hours, we would have needed another hour or two to actually see it. But, we did see quite a few from the Rover the next day.
And lots of other plants, animals, and birds. You can catch the rest of the pictures along with some short videos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mweisburgh/sets/72157628810793173/with/6675745707/
At the end of the four days at Bateleur, we decided to take the back roads back to Johannesburg and view what is called the Panorama Route, which includes the Blyde River Canyon, third largest canyon in the world (the largest is the Grand Canyon), waterfalls, the Pinnacle rock formation, and the God’s Window view. This meant that the trip back was nine hours instead of six, but was definitely worth it. Peter was our guide, and he took us to and explained all the highlights.
January 7 was our last day in South Africa, and we spent it in Johannesburg. Peter was our guide again, knowledgeably taking us through Soweto as we learned about the Freedom Charter, the African National Congress, the history of mining in Johannesburg, the beginnings of apartheid, and the revolution against apartheid. Peter is about our age (late 50’s) and lived through the whole revolution. History comes alive when you learn from someone who lived through it.
If you’re considering going to South Africa, we strongly recommend contacting Peter at Firelight Tours as booking agent and guide. We had a blast.