South African Safari – Lions & Elephants & Cheetahs, oh my!

I recently spend some time in South Africa to learn about it as a travel destination.  We went sightseeing in Capetown and diving at Aliwal Shoal & Rocktail Bay but for me, the highlight of the trip was the different Safari trips we went on.  From a diehard diver, that says a lot!!  Our first stop for a safari was the Thanda Private Game Reserve near Hluhluwe in Zululand.  I can’t tell you how much this place impressed me.  The staff was very friendly and accommodating, our safari driver & spotter were very knowledgeable and good at finding critters and the whole experience was just incredible!!

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Our first encounter happened when we were getting a tour of the Thanda Main Lodge.  We were all travel professionals on an educational tour to experience South Africa so we can market it as a destination.  As we were walking back to the main building, we were told the elephants were coming and directed to a covered verandah.  Here came a whole herd of elephants.  The pics above are of the huge herd bull who was currently in musk and that made him very unpredictable and potentially dangerous.  We stayed back against the wall but were literally about 15 feet from these elephants.

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This part of South Africa has had a serious drought and the elephants sometimes come to get water from the ponds here.  We were extremely lucky because it’s not a predictable behavior.  After the big bull left, more came including a mom with a tiny new baby.  Even though it was our first encounter, it was a highlight of the trip for everyone.  We were sooooo lucky to see them like this!!

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On our evening safari, we were fortunate enough to come upon 3 lions.  A lioness and her two young adult children (one female & one male).  We were very close & they pretty much ignored us.  We were told to stay inside the vehicle and not stand up.  If you do, it separates you from the herd in their mind &, well, you don’t want to be separated from the herd with a mama lioness watching you!!  It was pretty exciting to see these majestic animals in the wild.

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The following day, we met the dad.  Above top is the young male from the night safari and below is the dominant male for all of Thanda’s lions.  There are two prides and he spreads his time between the two.  He travels constantly so he was pretty thin. They said he would be better to stay with one pride because the lioness’s are the best hunters and providers.  He was so beautiful!!  Thanda is a private game reserve that is 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) so it is big enough for the animals to be able to live, hunt & die free and small enough so you have a real chance of seeing the big 5.  We saw 4, but no leopard.  The big 5 are – Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo.  You see much more than just those 5.  I will be posting more in separate posts.  One more highlight for a Thanda safari is the “bush bar”.  After the evening safari, on the way back to your lodge, they stop to watch the sunset if it’s clear or just for fun if it’s cloudy.

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They open up the back and set up the bar!!  You have wine, beer, mixed drinks, soda, etc.  I must admit, I really enjoyed that very nice glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc in the bush of South Africa!  Even though our weather was cold, it was such a very nice touch…