“Encompassing game viewing and sun, sea and sand – this tour takes us through the historic KwaZulu Natal Battlefields, the amazing beaches of Mozambique , Big Five game viewing at Umfolozi / Hluhluwe Game Reserve and the Kruger National park – the flagship of the South African National Parks….”
With an introduction such as this, who would not be ecstatic to be told that they could join this tour as an educational?!
The guide assigned to run the Indian Ocean Big Five tour was Will Jansen. I first met Will almost a year ago when he contacted us to become part of the Jenman guiding team. Will has been in the guiding industry for about eight years and has been conducting tours for Jenman Safaris for the past year. Will has true passion for what he does and I was looking forward to being on a safari with him.
We left Cape Town at 4 am on Tuesday, the 16th of December so that we could transit to Johannesburg to start the tour. We spent the evening in Bultfontein, which is just other side of Bloemfontein. Will knew a mielie farmer and we stayed over at their farm. After some good old Afrikaans hospitality and lamb chops, we hit the sack so that we could have an early start.
After breakfast we said our good-byes and continued on to Johannesburg. We arrived at the Airport Game Lodge midday and used this opportunity to refresh and go over the notes for the tour. The pre-departure briefing was to be that evening, but most of the clients were only arriving later in the night, so we had it the following morning.
Now, before I go on any further I feel that I have to introduce the group to you all.
First up is ‘The Family’; Lieve, her daughter Simmonove and son Haakon and their cousin Tom came from Norway. Then we had the best friends, Helle and Mette from Denmark, followed by the mom and daughter duo, Deciree and Susanne from Sweden and then last but not least Jeanette who was travelling on her own from America. Ok, now I can continue with my story…
Day one of the tour started with the pre departure briefing. Basically this is when the guide meets the clients for the first time and explains how the tour will run and what the clients can expect. It’s an opportunity for the clients to ask those burning questions which they may have and for the guide to quell any anxiety that the clients may have about going on an African safari.
Briefing done, we loaded everyone’s luggage onto the roof of the vehicle and set off for our first stop, which was the town of Piet Retief. Along the route Will stopped the vehicle and while overlooking one of the valleys of KwaZulu Natal he proceeded to explain the historical significance of the area which we were travelling through.
Will managed to find the biggest Blue Gum trees with welcoming shade which we could make use of to have our first lunch. On the menu were fresh bread rolls and an assortment of cold meats and salads. Tummy’s full we continued on to Piet Retief, arriving late afternoon. After checking in at Holme Lea Manor and being shown to our beautiful rooms we all headed to the pool for a refreshing swim. Someone (probably me) suggested that we should open some wine and have a few drinks as an ice breaker for the group. This being done everyone started asking questions about each other that would enable us all to get to know each other better. After much talk we went to one of the local restaurants to have our first dinner together. Will surprised us all by whipping out an ice cold bottle of bubbly, done so that we could celebrate our first night together. It was such a great gesture and the clients really were made to feel really special.
After a really scrumptious breakfast we headed to one of the most diverse national parks in South Africa – the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi national park. The region which we were travelling through is famous for its mango’s, pineapples and bananas plantations. All the fruit that grows in warm, tropical humid areas, and I can tell you know it was very hot and humid!
We arrived at Isinkwe Lodge just before lunch time. This was to be the first time that we would be camping on the tour. After a quick demonstration by Will on how to erect the tents the camp was set up in no time at all. Will had another ace up his sleeve and surprised us all by announcing that there was a Zulu cultural village not far from where we were staying and that for a small entrance fee we would be able to experience the Zulu culture. The clients were really eager to learn about the local South African cultures so after a quick dip in the lodge’s swimming pool we went to the Zulu village. The cultural tour was to start in a few hours so we had a relaxing lunch under some beautiful flame trees. At three ‘o clock we were summoned by beating drums to the start of the tour. Traditions and customs were explained while having the opportunity to see how the Zulu people used to make their spears, shields, pots, mats, beaded skirts, and most importantly their local, home brewed beer. Led to the amphitheatre we were given some of the villagers home brewed beer to sample. It definitely is an acquired taste. When the traditional dancing and singing started one could not help but clap along to the music that was being played for us.
Arriving back at the lodge we all swam and relaxed and soaked up the last few rays of sunshine for the day. Dinner was prepared by Will and consisted of juicy pork neck steaks, crispy vegetables and green salad. After dinner some of us stayed up and had a few glasses of wine and got to know each other just a little bit better…
The next day was one of great anticipation. This was the day that everyone would be seeing African animals up close and getting personal with some elephants – but I will get into that a bit later on. Within an hour and a half, just about all of the animals on the big five list were spotted, with the exception of lions. It felt as if the animals had been posing for us to take some amazing pictures. With the pop up roofs being open we really felt like we were right there in the bush with the animals. We had a light breakfast at one of the picnic spots after which we continued our hunt for the ever elusive lions! We had a very nail biting encounter with a lone elephant bull. We were driving up gravel road when along came the elephant, ambling down the road. When it spotted us in its path it was not happy and proceeded to mock charge us 3 times. The clients did not know whether they should be terrified or exhilarated! Mette was sitting up front with Will and she had basically crawled under the dash board!
Will read the situation very well and proceeded to reverse down the hill. This was not that easy as we had the trailer behind us and manoeuvrability was difficult. The bull elephant came so close to the vehicle that one could count its individual eyelashes! After what seemed an eternity the bull veered off to the left and disappeared into the bushes. I am no stranger to wild animals, but I must admit that my palms were a little bit sweaty after that experience. Everyone was still talking about our ‘near death experience’ with the elephant when we had lunch at the Hilltop Camp restaurant.
After a full day in the reserve we headed back to our camp. It was Simmonove’s birthday and Will had planned a special meal to serve for dinner. All the food was made on an open fire, which astounded the clients. We were treated to fillet steak, sweet potatoes, savoury rice, gem squash, and various salads. For dessert Will had placed a special order with the camp kitchen to make vanilla cake for the birthday girl. There were some ‘sports’ when we were washing up the dishes. I don’t know how, but I managed to break the tap of the sink and the water came gushing out and drenching us. We were laughing so much that we could hardly stand. Will came running to us thinking that something terrible had happened. When he saw that no one was injured and that was causing all of the commotion was a broken tap he laughed harder than all of us!
After we had cleaned up the mess we had made I introduced some of the clients to our famous Sprinbokkie shooter.It did not take much encouragement for them to drink the peppermint and Amurala shooter and once they tasted how yummy it is they would not stop drinking it! I knew that I had done my duty as a South African by introducing our clients to our unique shooter…
Watch our blog to see when the next part of her educational blog will be uploaded!!!