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The past five years I have been fortunate to travel with Chris to some amazing destinations. This trip I wanted to make it even more special and personal by inviting Chris to meet my family and spend two nights on their farm in the Elgin Valley.
Chris and I share a passion for birding and finding a lifer (bird you have never seen before) these days is quite a challenge. I had a bird in mind which I have needed to find for a long time but also wanted to share the experience with Chris. So we spent a morning in the Overberg in search of the beautiful Cape Rock Jumper. We were finally rewarded with both male and female on a nest which was just fantastic to watch.
After meeting at Tswalu five years ago, it was about time for Chris and myself to return to one of our favourite reserves in South Africa. Phillip had never been to Tswalu so the excitement levels were skyrocketing.
Tswalu is nestled at the foot of the Korannaberg mountain range in the southern Kalahari with views of the vast, magical landscape of rolling red sand dunes scattered with Vachellia trees. Tswalu is one of, if not the best place in Africa to find the elusive Temminck’s ground pangolin and Aardvark. With around 240 different bird species and 80 mammals, including Hartmann’s mountain zebra and wild dogs, it’s a destination to include in your next itinerary.
On our first-afternoon game drive, tracker Ben blew us away by tracking and finding Chris and Phillips first ever pangolin. We spent about forty-five minutes watching this amazing creature digging up and feeding on ants. We eventually left the sighting and not even ten minutes down the road we came across an aardvark feeding, which we approached on foot. What a day it had been, the only way to settle the adrenalin was by sipping on an ice-cold Gin & Tonic whilst watching the sunset over the dunes.
On day two we planned on doing a full day drive with a surprise picnic brunch at one of the waterholes. After brunch, we spent a good couple hours coving a large section of the reserve which rewarded us with a pride of lions, two male Cheetahs, Meerkats, White rhino, many different antelope species and finally we ended off the afternoon with another great sighting of an aardvark. It was time to head back to the lodge after a great day out.
Day three and four were dedicated to tracking and finding the pack of Wild Dogs. Tswalu is one of my favorite reserves to view dogs because of the vast landscape. After finding the pack in the morning we headed back to them in the afternoon in the hope of witnessing a hunt. As predicted, the pack slowly woke up psyched each other up and headed off into the dunes. We followed the pack all afternoon chasing Oryx, Springbok, Blue wildebeest and finally they managed to get a Warthog.
Our four nights had come to an end. The people, lodge and sightings reminded us why Tswalu has a great place in our hearts.
We left Tswalu on a chartered plane to Johannesburg where we had to spend a night before catching our flight the next day to Mashatu Game Reserve. The night off is a great time to sort and edit photos, charge batteries and get a good nights sleep ready for the next adventure.
Mashatu is located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana which is situated between the Tuli Safari area, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The reserve is known for its interesting Geology, large Mashatu trees, Leopards, Cheetah, Lions, large herds of Elephants and the photographic hides.
One of the main reasons I wanted Chris to experience Mashatu was because of the hides. An elephant-proof ground-level hide based at a productive waterhole, where you get the opportunity to observe and photograph animals and elephants at ground level. It’s an experience of a lifetime and takes game viewing to another level.
Every day we spent either a morning or afternoon drive in the hide. We were fortunate the one day seeing up to eighty plus elephants coming in their different family groups for a drink and mud bath. Not only are the elephants a highlight, but the birdlife and different antelope species are great.
We had been incredibly spoiled with sightings over the past twelve days, but that was not enough. The highlight of the trip happened on our second to last afternoons drive, when we were driving inside a dry river bed and our guide Kaizer spots a female leopard. She was lying down on the edge of a four-meter high river bank staring profusely over our heads. It was not a minute later and she was up and off stalking along the bank. We drove around a corner and came across a single female impala inside the river, “this was not a good place to be said our tracker”. Some Kudu on the other side of the river had picked up on the leopard and alarmed called, alerting the impala and everything else around. The impala had no clue where the danger was and started making her way up the bank of the river straight towards the leopard, who had now got herself in the best position possible. When she got to the top of the bank she was horribly surprised by her least favorite predator staring straight at her. The chase was on, and with a panoramic view, we witnessed the leopard chase and tackle the impala right off the top of the bank making the final kill in the river bed. We all sat in shock, including the leopard as we had just witnessed a once in a lifetime sighting.
“Just over a week into my safari and I wonder how I’ve changed, if at all. Certainly the experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen have shaped me in someway. But then, as if by some ancient, unspeakable memory, I remember… it’s in my blood.”