South Africa – Safari!

June 24 – 27

We had a lot of fun in South Africa, but our trip to Arathusa Safari Lodge in Mpumalanga province rates as one of the best vacation weeks of my life. We took a 1 1/2 hour flight from Johannesburg to a small thatched roof airpot in Nelspruitt. We had a driver waiting for us and he told us to go to the bathroom and get a snack before we left because we had a long drive ahead of us. We headed out for about 1 1/2 hours on a small 2 lane highway; then we turned onto a very small paved road for 1/2 hour, then we turned onto a dirt road for another 30 minutes. We were very far out.
Map showing Johannesburg, Nellspruitt, and Arathusa Safari Lodge

Once again I was completely turned around on direction; I was sure we were headed south when in fact we were going north. Our relationship to the sun is very ingrained.

Arathusa Safari Lodge. The pin shows location of our hut.
We arrived at the lodge a little before 3:00 just in time to put our stuff away in our hut before the afternoon guided drive
Our thatched roof “hut” featured indoor/outdoor showers.
We jumped into our seats on the range rover and prepared to head out.
Our ride for our visit. Notice the rifle in the sheath on the hood

 About 1/2 way through the afternoon drive we stopped for beer, wine and appetizers. We took a few minutes to meet our tracker Roy and driver Brett.

Carla and me with our tracker Roy (left) and driver Brett. Roy sits on the seat on the hood.

Roy, our tracker, on the lookout for signs of leopard

It wasn’t long before we came upon a pride of lions resting and digesting. Two Japanese women on our Range Rover later showed us video of the pride eating an impala earlier that morning. One of the women is a flight attendant for Air Emirates; she and her mother were on a vacation.

Resting, but watchful. Laying on their backs helps digestion; she was rolling back and forth

He looks like I feel Thanksgiving night

 Another group was at the site with us and I was taken by the size of the lenses they had. The lions weren’t doing much so I thought I’d watch the watchers.

Watching the watchers, I immediately had lens envy
Soon after we drove off, we spied a couple of hyenas
One of two hyenas we saw working as a  pair. More of the pack may have been around.
We got back to the lodge around 6:00 where aperitifs were waiting along with hot, moist towels to  wash off the dust. It was then time for drinks at the bar with the drivers, trackers, and other visitors. People arrived and left every day. We ranged from 16 – 28 visitors during our 3 nights. Dinner was served in an open aired dining room at 7:30. The chef was a delight: he came out at the beginning and described the menu to us. One night we had wild impala; he told us “Two weeks ago the owner of the lodge shot a young impala and I’ve been aging it. I’m delighted to be able to serve it tonight” Dinner was 4 courses: appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert. Everything we had was delicious.  
After dinner it was time to retire
Our bed was surrounded by a mosquito net
Our wake up call came at 5:30, we quickly dressed and mustered at the Range Rovers for our morning drive. It was a cool morning with mists in the lower areas. But they had us covered. We had hot water bottles and blankets to keep us warm.
When I think of our Safari vacation these two pictures are the images I have in my head. We stopped for coffee and croissants just as the sun was rising
Sunrise on the bushveldt

A few minutes later in a slightly different location
We saw the bottom of the food chain. We had some of each earlier in the week at the Carnivore restaurant.


We got back to the lodge a bit after 9:00 and had the opportunity to go on a game walk with Du Beers; another of the trackers at the Lodge.  He carried a rifle that managed to make me feel safe and scared at the same time. Safe because he had it; scared because he might have to use it. I knew were weren’t out for a walk in the park.
DuBeers led us on a game walk. Notice the rifle

 No sooner had we walked down a trail than we came across this pregnant giraffe.

Pregnant giraffe
DuBeers showed us lots of uses for things found in the bush. Elephants have poor digestion system and only digest about half of what they eat. DuBeers demonstrated a headache cure. He picked up some elephant dung and lit it on fire and “allowed” us to inhale the smoke. He also taught us to spit impala dung. They are little nuggets about the size of cherry seeds. DuBeers demonstrated and did pretty well, but a long term cherry stone and watermelon speed spitter from Georgia won. Yeah, that’s right, I had impala dung on my lips.  I’m sure the trackers have a splendid time in their quarters swapping stories of what they could get the tourists to do that day. 🙂
After the nature walk we had some time to ourselves so we sat out on the cabana watching the animals at the drinking hole.
View of our lodge from across the pond

It took a few watchful minutes before  this giraffe knelt down for a drink.
A little after lunch we headed out for the afternoon drive. We headed out over the pond dam and immediately came across a herd of elephants who had just finished drinking. Notice the mom has her ears flared in a warning posture. The light wasn’t great for this shot but notice that the oldest sibling on the right has pulled the youngest baby in with his trunk. The baby started to come over to check us out, but the older sibling seemed to be saying “let’s let mom take care of this” Carla caught the action on video with her camera.

Mom checks us out while the others wait behind

We saw this same herd on another drive

Baby elephant walk

The older sibling still wasn’t having it. After the others walked off through the bush he came back and put on a display, flaring his ears and waving our trunk at us. He wasn’t doing it in a friendly way. He then walked over to a small tree and pushed it over with his head while keeping his eye on us. Roy and Brett told us to keep extra still and silent.

Brother elephant putting on a display.

Later we came across a couple of older male buffalo. The herd had left them behind because they couldn’t keep up. Roy said in a few more weeks they’d be lion dung. He’s been around a while; his ear is shredded and he chips on his horn.

Old bufalo. Notice the tattered ears and chipped horn.
On one of the first days we saw the back ends of some rhinoceros. But they don’t like the lime light; we tracked them into the bush but they kept retreating into deeper and deeper brush. On our last day we finally found a family of white rhinos. Interesting story about how the white rhinos got their names. Their Afrikaans name is literally translated as wide-mouth rhinos. These rhinos have adapted to eat grass. The English misinterpreted the Afrikaans “wide” to “white”, hence the name. The English then named the tree branch eating rhinos “black rhinos” because they were different from the wrongly-named white rhinos.
Once again the sun wasn’t great for the picture. But you can’t exactly move to the other side of them and pose them.  You can see they have poor eyesight just by looking at their eyes. They get pretty riled up if you sneak up on them, which is easy to do if you are quiet and come from the up wind side.
A couple of white rhinos.
The trackers and drivers really like to find leopards. We spent many hours tracking them with some spectacular results. One day we found a leopard stalking a herd of impala. The impala knew he was there and were raising a ruckus. Over a dozen impala were pointed straight at the leopard and snorting very LOUD. It sounded like a dozen locomotives releasing their air brakes. The leopard realized he had been discovered so retreated; we saw him as he started a wide circle around. We don’t know if he was successful or not.
Something interesting is just over there!
Stalking a herd of impala. It walked very close to our Range Rover

 There was a pair of mating leopard while we were there. The female tracks the male and makes the first move. When a pair couples up, they mate every half hour for a couple of weeks. They make quite a racket. We found them just as the female caught up to the male; they took off into the bushes and then the roaring started

Looking for a mate
We also saw quite a few birds around the lodge.

 This is a “Go Away” bird. He gets his name for two reasons. First, its call sounds like Go Away, Go Away. Second that’s what you want it to do  when you see it. If you are trying to stalk something and he sees you, he starts his call and your prey takes off at the warning. So you wish it would just go away. Finally, this one kept jumping up on the breakfast and lunch table looking for scraps. Eveyone would shoo it “Go Away!””

I’ll leave you with a couple more beautiful landscape pictures. 

We had a great time.

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