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  • Maxine Smith

My First Safari

I was one of those urban folk, born on a pavement, living and working in a City, never having the time to explore the country I lived in and embrace the diverse outdoor lifestyle that is available in South Africa.  This was until one day, leading up to Easter break after an exhausting first quarter working year.  Having a chat with a business associate, I was asked of my plans for the Easter holidays.  I struggled to answer him; I really wanted to get away and do something totally different to what I would normally do.  My colleague suggested I go on a Safari, not only that, he picked up the phone, called a contact and bingo; my first safari trip was set in motion, we were all booked in to go to Bongani Mountain Lodge, Nr. Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.

“I really wanted to get away and do something totally different to what I would normally do”

I had no idea what to expect, all my colleague cautioned me about was the evenings and mornings may be a bit chilly that time of year and to pack some warm clothing.  Also, to pack my own set of binoculars, which is a piece of advice that I now pass on to others as the settings to get your bino’s to where you can get the best viewing takes a little time.  Imagine the frustration for someone else to randomly pick up your bino’s and tweak them around to suit them and when you get that sighting moment, you pick up your bino’s and everything is a blur – very frustrating!  That was the full extent of my preparations.  I went into my first safari experience with no knowledge and no expectations.

In our booking instructions to the Lodge, we were given directions and told to be at the gate by midday.  In our excitement, our route calculations were out as we planned to get there on time, but ended up arriving way early at 9am – so we had to entertain ourselves for 3 hours.  We found a dirt road near the Lodge gate and went off exploring.  It was great fun, having come out of the City to being in such a rural off-the-track surrounding was liberating, we had a great drive out and got back to the gate, on time.

At the gate we were told to park up and leave the keys of our vehicle with security, which we done.  The resident Game Ranger arrived in a game viewer to take us through to the Lodge.  Thus the beginning of our safari experience and our very first game drive ever taken.  Being on an open vehicle knowing that out there, in the bush all around us we were amongst the Big 5.  The feeling was exhilarating.  We heard every sound with all the varieties of birds, beetles, frogs and animals; all singing us in as we ventured on the windy dirt roads to the main lodge.  On arrival we received a warm welcome by the Lodge staff, was handed a refreshing face towel and given a welcome drink to refresh us from our journey.  Once registered as guests, we were given a briefing on the do’s and the don’ts of the bush before being taken to our room, which was a luxury bush tent.  That was the first of many ‘WOW’ factors, our cases were already there waiting for us.  We had a good nosey around to check the place out and was impressed.  We freshened-up, changed and headed back up to the main Lodge to embark on our first sunset game drive.

“Being on an open vehicle knowing that out there, in the bush all around us we were amongst the Big 5.  The feeling was exhilarating”

The next WOW was the pure beauty of the African sunset, coming out of the City, you simply have no idea of the wonderments of the colours in the sky as the sun sets within a backdrop of nature.  We had a chorus of bush sounds whispering in our ears as we looked into the sun as she set, toasting the evening with sundowner drinks, breathing that restful sigh that only a safari can stimulate.  Now, this was Africa, I fell in love!

With sunset over, almost as soon as it began (never fails to amaze me how quickly the sun sets in Africa), the darkness set in and off we headed for our first night game drive, in search of the night predators.  It wasn’t long before we came across our first experience of Lion.  Heading through the reserve, the trackers spotted Lion spoor (paw prints of animals) and sure enough in the not too distant track ahead was a beautiful pride of 12 Lions (Lionesses with cubs and Lions).  The first thing that struck us was the absolute sense of total power, utter confidence and domination that Lions exhume, without doubt, they are the Kings and Queens of the bush.  We were mesmerised from then.  We drove for hours, listening as young children would as their parents read a bedtime story; we were, all ears, all excited as we learnt of the animals of the bush.  Needless to say, our sleep that night was a restful one, I am sure I went to sleep with a smile on my face and awoke with one too.

The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn, washed, dressed and raring to head out to our first dawn game drive.  The morning was fresh and still very dark.  After some hot coffee and rusks, we headed out.  We didn’t have to go far as right there, at the other end of the camp we were greeted by a large male Leopard, a beautiful specimen he was, so elegant in his posture, his movement, his presence.  From that day, I have been besotted with Leopard; I crave to get sight of them.  The scariest thought for me was, what if we had not taken seriously what the staff had told me in our welcome briefing and had ventured out for a morning stroll when we got up.  We would have walked straight into that Leopard, what then – shudder down my spine moment.  We continued on drive with our eyes peeled onto the ground looking for spoor and our eyes also peeled into the bush with our spotting torches seeking out any sign of movement.  We were now well and truly bush crazy.

“We would have walked straight into that Leopard, what then – shudder down our spine moment”

We had only booked a three-night stay for our first safari and those days were so full with so many new experiences, so much knowledge and information.  The Head Ranger of the Lodge was our Game Guide, which was a real blessing as he was so knowledgeable and so passionate about the bush.  He knew everything and were we craving knowledge so it was a match made in heaven as he talked about everything he saw.  He taught us how to survive in the Bush, talked about the trees, the small creatures that you would never even think to consider.  He stopped for everything because in his opinion, everything was important, everything had its part to play and everything had an impact.  Being a naturally inquisitive person, I was enthralled and hooked from that weekend, our first experience into the African Bush.

The evenings, if not out on a night game drive, generally consisted of being hosted by the Lodge team with delicious wholesome homemade Bush camp dining, washed down by some of the best of South African wines.  What more could you ask for.  We were due to be pampered on our last night with some ‘Bush entertainment’, however, sometime during late afternoon the entertainers had to cancel, which left the Lodge with an empty entertainment slot for their guests.  True to form of ‘making a plan’ the team at Bongani were quick and between the staff, the Game Rangers and Management, they provided an evening of entertainment at the Boma (an outside coral surrounded by latte wood with a central large fire bowl).  After supper we were entertained with an array of cultural singing and stories, which kept us well entertained into the early hours.  I am sure the entertainment of that evening far outshone anything the paid entertainers could have provided, it was excellent, a perfect end to a magnificent trip.

On leaving, we were both exhilarated, yearning to learn more and wanting to own a piece of the bush – just for us.  You could say I came away with ‘Bush fever’ as it is something I have never recovered from since my first weekend in the African bush – it is a fever I never wish to be released from, ever.

Written by Ian & Maxine Smith – Executive Directors – Nyumbani Estate

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