Folks, we have an announcement… Our Candice is engaged! And to give her new fiancé a taste of what the African safari industry is all about Candice put together a self-drive trip and a safari to the Kruger region and had the following to say about their trip:

Candice takes her fiancé Garth on his first safari!

Over the past 3 years I’ve been on a number of safaris, from the Sabi Sands to Botswana. I’ve seen so many animals too, all of the Big Five except leopard. When Warren Kings, from King’s Camp heard this, he extended an invitation to my fiancé and I. This spurred the idea of doing a road trip to a few other lodges in the area.

Our itinerary ended up looking like this:
• 1 night Graskop
• 1 night Camp Jabulani
• 2 nights Kings Camp
• 1 night nThambo Tree Camp
• 1 night Kapama River Lodge – with visits to their other lodges
• 1 night Thornybush Waterside – with visits to 4 of their other lodges
• 1 night Phelwana Game Lodge

Day 1: Graskop
I could barely contain myself, it was Garth and my  first trip as an engaged couple. It was also his very first time on safari so his excitement was 100 times more than mine!

After collecting our rental car (Group B – VW Polo- with Budget Car Hire) we were on our way. Thank goodness for aircon because the temperature rose from 24C to 36C in a matter of minutes… The drive once heading to Graskop is very lush and green. You soon realise why the area is called Hazyview – as you look over into the valley a haze hovers over the forests – a beautiful site.  Due to tree felling, the route is full of logging trucks and so it was slow going.

The Panorama Route is definitely something to do if time allows. It will take you an entire day to get to see it all, also depending where you are staying and which direction you are going.

panorama route
Driving along the Panorama Route is a must when self-driving to the Kruger

Starting in Graskop you have the first set of the Panorama Route’s attractions:
• God’s Window
• The Pinnacle
• Lisbon Falls
• Berlin Falls

Entrance fees are R10 per vehicle. At each place there is a craft market where proceeds of all purchases go to the community. The prices may vary for items eg R10 for a chain at one stall but R20 at the next for the same thing. everything is handmade: from the beaded necklaces to the wooden jewelry boxes and spice shakers. Perfect if you are looking for a bargain and want something unique and indigenous.

Further up you will find Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Blyde River Canyon and Drie Rondavels.
Pricing here is a bit more : at Blyde River/Bourke’s luck Potholes you are charged per person R30 as well as per vehicle R50 for a normal sedan.

cp at Bourke's luck potholes
At Bourke’s Luck potholes

Bourke’s Luck Potholes are spectacular!  And it’s wheelchair friendly.
I managed to walk over to where the river feeds the waterfall and it was the coldest, most refreshing water I’ve had in a long long time, especially on a hot day!

Day 2: Camp Jabulani, Kapama

5 stars for sure! Gorgeous lodge! Definitely for those who love elephants
If self-driving as we were, you are met at the main Kapama Game Reserve gate. You would need to sign in and pay the applicable park fees. One of the rangers meets you and you follow convoy style to the lodge. The lodge is surrounded by large trees and plants adding to the ambience.

To get to your suite you walk over a bridge – which can be excitingly wobbly the first time as it does swing slightly. With the river flowing beneath you in season, you can expect to see a number of wild animals passing by. As it was September, the river bed was dry, but there were a few resident monitor lizards out and about.

The suite is impeccable! The bed, which can be converted into twins, faces the patio consisting of your very own plunge pool. Quite a number of other luxuries such as a Nespresso machine, fireplace and a fully stocked mini bar. But my personal favorite is the bath tub! After a long day’s driving all you really want to do is have a relaxing soak.
Food: Excellent. The chefs are internationally trained and strive to give guests new and interesting flavours and innovative presentation. For example one of our dishes was served in a on a piece of tile and the other on apiece of wood.

One thing I love about ‘Camp J’, is that the chefs come to your table and present each dish to you thus engaging with each person and getting to know their tastes and preferences.

The pre-game drive breakfast consisted of muffins or rusks followed by a proper English and continental – you may of course choose not to eat it all but make sure you wear loose fitting clothing…!

Safari activities:
While most lodges have a set program, Camp Jabulani is all about flexibility. Perhaps you would like to only go out an hour later or only at midday?  Here you have the freedom to do so. As we just stayed one night we had to make the most of it.

Out on game drive with our ranger, Ryan and 4 other guests. Our first glimpse was that of a herd of buffalo making their way to a nearby waterhole. Suddenly, they all scattered! Usually a sign of a predator. We inched forward to the waterhole, cameras at the ready,  only to be disappointed. Seems it was just some of the bulls showing off..!

About an hour into the drive the sun began to set, and a gorgeous “African Orange” hung in the sky, vultures came to rest on a nearby tree….time for a classic safari sundowner which consisted of a beautiful setup of preserves, little desserts and of course a South African favourite, biltong and drinks in a small boma area.

A few minutes later, we were introduced to Jabulani, a big male elephant!  We were allowed to touch him. Believe me, standing just below an elephant’s chin is truly amazing.
Garth certainly enjoyed it the most because he had the opportunity to instruct Jabulani to take his cap off his head and then place it back! After the introductions, we each got to ride an elephant back to their den.

What an amazing encounter! It’s not every day you get to ride an elephant. Lundi, the elephant I was on had her youngster with her and so every now and then she would stop wait for him and keep him in line.  Cheeky little Mambo was running about this way and that, curious about everything!

camp jabulani elephants
Playful mother and her baby at Camp Jabulani

We were then told the story behind each rescued elephant. Lundi didn’t like the fact that one of the other elephant were getting more attention and she kept tapping the guide and trumpeting. And they say animals have no personality!

The next morning we headed to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species centre. This is included in the rate along with the opportunity to interact with the cheetah (at a special offer rate available to Camp Jabulani guests.)

A cheetah purr is one of the loudest purrs I have ever heard!  The cheetahs here as well as the other animals (lions, wild dog, blackfooted cat, birds etc) were all rescued from various situations such as traps, getting caught in wires, being kept as pets etc. The team here  rehabiliates the animals so that they can be released back into the wild.

Heading back to camp we came across a pride of 6 lions, a portion of the largest in the Kapama and then another female further on. Our ranger  pointed out that she was heavily pregnant.

Back at the lodge we ended our stay with lunch at the Paul Kruger Table. This table was owned by Paul Kruger himself, so we could only imagine the history behind it and the conversation which took place around it!

Day 3 & 4 Kings Camp, Timbavati

Come Hungry and beware of the twig!
In reality it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes from Camp Jabulani to Kings Camp.
However, as you enter the Timbavati Gate there are speed limits which needs to be adhered to due to the Klaserie and Timbavati being unfenced (and the free-roaming animals). The gate fee is R190 per person and valid for the duration of your stay.  Signage is really good in the area. On either your right or left hand side, you will see the names of the various lodges in the reserves. The road is tarred all the way except from where you  turn off to the different lodges, whereafter it becomes a dirt road. Sedan vehicles are fine for this but always check with the lodge in the event of heavy rains as the sedans WILL get stuck.

Lunch is served on arrival so try to arrive between 12:30 -2:00pm. The reason for this is that you are also given the dinner menu from which to make your choices as well as the guest check-in documentation to complete.  And it’s a good idea to allow enough time to settle in, eat something and rest a bit before heading out on game drive at 3:30pm.

As we arrived late we ended up having to rush a bit before hopping in a safari vehicle with 2 American couples.  Did I mention that my heart was set on seeing a leopard tonight!

Our companions were quite entertaining. Telling us about the white lions and their cubs they’d seen on the morning game drive. This made me quite jealous as so much has been written about them, but they are rarely seen.  So the legend of the Timbavati white lions is quite true…

We saw some lovely giraffe, hippos and elephants. Then on the radio, the call came.  Off we sped. What is nice is that the other lodges in the reserve such as Tanda Tula and Kambaku will radio in what they’ve spotted and then there is a queuing system whereby only 2 vehicles are allowed at a sighting at a time.

look how close he passes by
Look how close I am to this magnificent leopard!

And there he was, a beauty… just lying in the dip (which we had driven past earlier). My big 5 dreams were now fulfilled!  The next day we spotted him in the same area both in the morning and afternoon. I couldn’t have asked for more!

Driving back to camp, I saw what looked like a twig lying on the ground. But as we approached our ranger swerved and stopped very excitedly. Then he jumped out. Telling us to stay in the vehicle… Suddenly the “twig” moved and its red tongue darted out. A vine snake! One of the rarest finds and one of the most toxic. Our ranger was quite excited as in all his years of game rangering, this was the 2nd time he had ever seen one.

Come hungry! Dinner (if it is a set menu) consists of quite large portions, so you may send meals back depending on what you’ve ordered and if you’re like me (I had the mushroom risotto), tried finishing most of it for not wanting to offend the chef and wasting food.

Muffins in the morning before the early morning game drive (which depart at 6am promptly). Note that the monkeys know exactly when to come down for their morning muffins too!  So don’t leave your food unattended. A full  breakfast is served once back after your morning activity. Again a buffet of fresh fruit, cold meats, cereals etc and then you are also given a hot breakfast option. See why you need loose fitting clothing!

Lunch is also  à la carte and dinner is either the set menu or  a boma dinner. The latter will have your mouth watering with buffalo and warthog stew and beef.

Safari activities: Considering the portions of food, the gym is most welcomed! Thankfully Kings Camp has both a swimming pool and gym to help you burn off those delicious calories! Aside from the normal game drives, you can also do a walking safari. You would need to check with your ranger if the conditions are suitable. Our ranger Jade explained that the wind direction determines the walk as predators and other animals will pick up our scent on the wind.

Day 5 : nThambo Tree Camp, Klaserie

For ‘rustic’ lovers and homestyle cooking oh… and the migration on a budget!

Nthambo Tree Camp is truly one for those on a bit of a budget but would still like to go on safari. The camp has very little electricity – there is of course enough to supply your tent (raised on stilts) but the use of your hairdryer will cause a short circuit!

Ntambo tree camp in the Klaserie  where we really enjoyed the walking safari

At night you are escorted by torch to your tent. As it is open, various animals walk through from elephants to wild dogs, so it’s best to be escorted. Very exciting!  There are some steps leading up to the tent, but other than that its all level ground. There is Wifi in the main area.

You have a choice of All Inclusive ( includes drinks) or Full Board (meals and activities). I would definitely opt for the former. On a hot day, you will be drinking quite a lot!
Unlike many of the other luxury safari lodge where there is an abundance of food at meal times,  at nThambo the catering is a little more modest and home cooked – Lasagna,  spaghetti bolognaise and a delicious potjie (a stew made in a cast iron pot).
Breakfast is simple – eggs, toast and some cereal or muesli

Unlike the the luxury lodges, there is no pre-game drive high tea in the afternoon.

You need to also check with the ranger if you will be doing a morning walk. The reason is that you will drive a short distance in the game drive vehicle, get out and then walk about 5kms back to camp. Remember to take a bottle of  water! As we did the walk a bit  impromptu, not all of us had brought water…

Game drives are good. I must say, we saw quite a bit. We travelled through the Klaserie at least 2 hours and then onto the tarred road again back to camp. Here we saw some rhino and even wildebeest! I was told that I didn’t need to go to East Africa to see the migration as these wildebeest migrated from the Klaserie to the Timbavati with just as much vigor and haste!

I can really recommend a walking safari. You really get to see nature close up.  Not only the animals but the insects and plants too! Plus the local Shangaan tracker will teach you the way of the bush –  how to identify spoor (animal tracks) tracks etc.

The best part of the walk was sneaking up on two sleeping lionesses! They were relaxing in the sun after a kill. All in all a great experience!

Day 6: Kapama River Lodge, Kapama 

“Obrigado” and “oh the poor baby”

Then it was back into the Kapama reserve, to River Lodge. The largest within the Kapama Group ( Buffalo is a smaller tented camp, Karula more Luxury and Southern tailored more toward group travels such as conference groups or incentive groups). River Lodge is perfect for the entire family. It’s also the only lodge in the group with a wellness spa. And so guests from the other lodges have to come to River Lodge for their treatments.

It was Garth’s birthday the following day and they certainly had made sure that everyone knew it was his birthday!

Even though the lodge is big, it is beautiful. Long wooden walkways from the entrance to the main areas. There is a large communal pool in the public lounge as well as a big wine cellar.  It resembles a  hotel  in a way, but the rooms all have views of the reserve, and so you’ll animals from wherever you are.

Use of the wellness centre area is for those who have made bookings for either a spa treatment or the gym. What is nice is that even if just one guest in a family books a treatment, the entire family can make use of the wellness facilities.The long lap pool is simply gorgeous and the treatment rooms all have a view of the reserve.

A few days before our stay, guests in the gym were lucky enough to see a lion chase an Nyala antelope and corner it right against the window of the gym! A gruesome sight for some… but spectacular for others.

Lovely fresh food is served buffet style. Chef Erasmus is from a nearby town and worked himself up from being a simple gardener  to becoming the head chef! He can speak 22 languages! All from just listening to guests and having basic chats with them, thus learning to pronounce words and phrases. From Portuguese to Mandarin, Erasmus knows it all. AND he makes the best homemade ice cream and pork crackling!

As it was Garth’s birthday the next day, the staff sang happy birthday from the entrance to our table with a delicious chocolate slice in hand. His expression was priceless!

Garth’s birthday morning started off quite epically! We came across a lion and lioness who had just taken down a 3 week old giraffe! The vehicle ahead of us had watched it run it down and kill it. Some of the guests were squeamish as it is quite a scene seeing how a lion tucks into a fresh kill. *the scene is too graphic to describe but feel free to inbox me for the details!*

Poor little giraffe!

He even ate the tail!  The hardworking lioness just lay there exhausted after the hunt, waiting her turn.  Other cool sightings that morning included an owl, a Bateleur eagle that had just caught a snake (wow!) nesting vultures and one of the largest chameleons I’d ever seen walking across the road.

Oh and look out for the Boomslang snake at the entrance to the lodge. This slithering green, glass-eyed beauty has a nest in the large tree at the entrance and usually comes out to bask in the sun at about the time that guests are getting back from morning game drives!

Day 7: Thornybush Waterside Lodge, Thornybush

“How big is it really” and Bundu Bashing through the trees

Now that I’ve seen the Big 5 and some of the Ugly 5… next on my list of lists was the snakes!  Seeing the Boomslang had spurred this idea.

We got to Waterside Lodge in the Thornybush Reserve in time for lunch.

Directions are fairly simple and the reserve is well sign posted. Note that you have to take the Geurnsey Road where the speed limit is 40kms/hr and it is uneven and gravel in some parts.

At Waterside Lodge each guest is assigned to a butler who sees to it that you are not late for meals and drives and ensures that everything in your room is to your liking.

Even though the lodge is quite large (just over 20 rooms) you don’t feel too cramped up.
There are crocs in the river in front of the lodge, and numerous buck walk through the lodge on their way to the river as it is nice and open. And so yes, it is important that you are escorted to and from your room at night.

The room is spacious and has basic amenities : aircon, kettle for tea/coffee/hot chocolate, separate shower, bathtub and toilet.

Meals were very tasty. Either a set menu or buffet depending on occupancy. One of the main courses included stuffed roasted peppers with chillies , cous cous, potatoes and mozeralla! For the meat eater: Best rack of lamb!  After dinner both Garth and I looked, wondering why the entire table had to be cleared… when down the walkway came our butler, with a big birthday cake! Made that afternoon just for him!

Game drives are in the morning at 6am and in the afternoon at 3:30pm. There is a ranger and a tracker. In this case our ranger was Lucky and our tracker was Benny.  Lucky was apparently well known for stumbling across some big 5 in various situations!  Barely out of the lodge we came across a lion and lioness taking a break from mating…Much like it’s human male counterpart the lion was trying to get some action and of course much like HER human counterpart, this lioness wanted nothing to do with him!

On this drive we saw 2 different male rhinos in different parts of the reserve. Our luck once again it seems! The trackers are truly amazing! I have a lot of respect for the work that they do.

As we drove along slowly, I heard a rustle next to the vehicle. I thought it was my imagination. I asked Lucky to stop as we thought it may have been a leopard – it was definitely big and fury. It was a cat, but not the leopard kind. It was a Civet – apparently a rare sight that time of year. Lucky us once again…

Sundowners at Thornybush

Heading back to camp after sundowners we came across two male lions fighting. The one then sped off and we were in pursuit. Through the bushes, the trees. I had to slide down in my seat (and I was sitting in the front row) to avoid getting hid by branches and Thornybush trees! We must’ve drove a good 2kms after him – there was no more road, we were literally in the bush before he eventually stopped. Gave a big roar and then settled down.  What an eventful day!

The next morning we came across a lioness with 3 cubs frolicking at a waterhole. The cubs were quite inquisitive. Looking at the vehicles as they approached but mom was right there making sure they didn’t wander off too far. Further in the reserve we came across a female rhino and a yearling. He was quite feisty – even charging one of the buck trying to show who is boss.  Closer to camp at a waterhole, 3 female rhinos were cooling off under a tree. The elder rhino of course wasn’t pleased by our presence and quickly got up and did a little charge toward the vehicle indicating we should rather get going. En route to the lodge we en countered another male rhino ! That’s 6 in 1 morning! Lucky is definitely a ranger to be with!

Day 8: Phelwana Game Lodge: Hoedspruit area

After all that safari excitement – time to eat, sleep and take a dip in the pool

Just further up the Guernsey Road lies Phelwana Lodge. It is not a Big 5 reserve, and therefore only has plains game  (antelope, giraffe, zebra, hippos and warthogs. It was very relaxing stop after all of that travelling. Perfect if you just need an overnight stop before meeting a flight or moving onto the next lodge. For us, this was the last stop on our epic Kruger National Park adventure. 

The table laid for high tea at Phelwana Lodge

The lodge is divided into 2 parts: self catering and full board. Each chalet has a plunge pool. Some are larger than others of course depending on the size of the chalet e.g. 4 or 8 sleeper. High tea, served around 2pm consisted of sandwiches, cakes, muffins etc. all freshly made by the chef.

The nyala (type of antelope) here are quite inquisitive. While sitting on a bench one of the young females came closer, watching Garth and I. I got up to take a look at the koi pond, and as I turned the nyala had come closer to Garth!  She then came even closer and Garth stretched out his hand she took a sniff and motioned him to pet her! As I took the photo, the sound of an approaching car startled her. I guess I have competition now!

There’s a walkway out to the middle of the lake from where you get a close up view of the  hippos.  You can go on game drives through the reserve as well as visit  the local school where the local kids learn about anti-poaching, environmentally friendly farming methods for example. They are also given projects  as a means to generate funds for bursaries to study further.

The rooms are twin or king. Kitchenette with all utensils, pots and bar (bbq) area. So you’d  need to bring you food for self catering or pay R150 per head for a large buffet breakfast.

There are snakes here!  especially mambas and puff adders. Also the naughty monkeys can open the doors, so lock everything!

Day 9: Heading back to Nelspruit
The drive is long with no real points of interest long the way. Lots of trucks use this route, so do leave a bit earlier just in case of delays…We managed to get to the airport with 20 minutes to spare for check in.

As I was rushing to get to the check in counter, Garth spotted the STORMERS! (his favourite rugby team) He froze in his stride. But I couldn’t care at that point as we had to check in and that was that!  He was a little upset,  as a Stormers fan should be,  but hey..Needless to say I got to greet Alistair Coetzee at the end of it all!

~the End~