After the high of seeing no less than 7 lions the night before, the 5:30 am wakeup call doesn’t seem too unreasonable. Matt walked underneath our room and yelled at us to get up, although both of us were awake when he came calling. After a quick wash, we were in our clothes for the morning game drive and over at the lodge enjoying some tea and rusks before heading out.
As is the case with some drives, the action started out a little bit slow. There are days when you can drive for what seems like miles and see little of anything apart from various antelope species … this one was such morning. As we twisted our way through the myriad of roads that make up the reserve, the radio was buzzing with voices from various parts of the reserve highlighting sightings. We stumbled upon a group of rhino, Hell bent on continuing their journey to wherever they were going. And it was then that Matt headed for the main highway and told us to use the blankets provided as we’d be cruising at maximum speed to get somewhere quickly. As we hurtled along the highway we passed two different herds of elephants without even the tiniest inclination that we would be stopping.
As an avid safari-goer, the failure to stop at two large herds of elephants, the first elephants we had seen, had my head and heart racing on to other things. I was certain we would venturing to see cats, or maybe some rare species normally seen at night. And as we slowed and I heard the voice on the other end of the radio say, “Ingwe”, the Shangaan name for leopard, I took all my strength not to tell the rest of the jeep what we had seen. I did tell Matt I knew what Ingwe meant, and he asked me to keep quiet.
The reserve we stayed on shares an unfenced border with other private reserves and with Kruger National Park, so animals often venture between several places during the course of a day in some cases. While there are fewer vehicles in the private reserves, each private reserve is only accessible to guests staying on that reserve. Thankfully for us, this rather comfortable leopard decided to lie down on the very edge of the other reserve, near enough to the main road that we could see him, and photograph him. If he had decided to lie down 5 foot to the south, we wouldn’t have been able to see him at all. I have seen leopards before, but have never been able to get a photo of their faces. Well …
After spending about 10 minutes admiring the beauty that is the leopard, we headed back towards the herd of elephants we so deliberately bypassed. They were still there, eating, grazing, knocking over trees as only elephants can do. There were a good number of young with them too, which always makes for a great sighting.
Before returning to the lodge for breakfast we stopped to admire many birds including the brown snake-eagle, white-headed vulture, African spoonbill, magpie shrike, Swainson’s spurfowl, and the Red-Crested khorhawn (also known as the suicide bird), the lilac-breasted roller and the Cape glossy starling. I managed to spot a hippo’s ass sneaking into the bushes and when we went to look for him, our guide was outwitted and the hippo decided to avoid the water and instead head into the dry ravine. One sad looking giraffe later, we were back at camp having a full breakfast.
With a few hours to kill between breakfast and lunch, we sat on our veranda for a while and took pictures of birds that got close enough. We also had visits from warthogs and kudus, as well as a little mongoose who seemed to be running the same circuit to the watering hole each time we saw him. After a hearty lunch of salad, chips and chicken escalope, it was back into the jeep for our afternoon/evening drive. Trumping the leopard of the morning would take some doing but we would try.
We would see no cats, but the drive was still productive. We saw several giraffe (an animal I find really cool), more elephants (and really close to the jeep), more hyena, some warthogs, more impala and kudu, and the delightful dwarf mongoose. After the sun went down, Isaack managed to find us a chameleon. How they see them with the spotlights while driving is beyond me; but we would learn a little secret later in the trip to help us out if ever we become rangers.
Another fantastic dinner was provided when returned, this time a starter of fried butternut squash, a main of oxtail in red wine with mash, snow peas and squash, and a lovely custard pastry for dessert. We finished our drinks in the lodge before settling into bed. That early morning wake-up call already ringing in our ears.