Posts Tagged ‘Ulusaba’

(Photo Blogging Day 30)

My first ever safari was the Night Safari in Singapore about 15 years ago. Essentially a night zoo, my friend who was living there insisted my sister and I visit. We did so eagerly, as both of us had always wanted to go to Africa. It was magic – I’ll never forget the sight of the fishing cats standing by the stream, dipping their paws into the water in an attempt to catch some dinner, or particularly, of the giraffes in shadow. Africa was calling to me even then.

Of course I know now that the reason for a Night Safari is that so many animals are nocturnal. Still, when I finally got to Africa, I was surprised to find that every day we would spend about an hour on game drives in the dark. The tracker would sit on the front of the jeep, and scan the bush with his spotlight. It became mesmerising – we would all follow the movement of the spotlight, hoping to see something. Of course, we never did. Well, not until the tracker pointed it out to us.

Our first sighting was a leopard. The tracker signalled to the ranger (who drove the jeep) to stop the vehicle.

“He thought he saw a leopard,” said Dylan, the ranger, to us. The tracker, Fani, was disgusted with him.

“Oh, okay,” said Dylan. “He did see a leopard.”

We looked out into the darkness, trying to follow the spotlight. Fani managed to pinpoint the leopard, and slowly our inexperienced eyes could make out the two glowing lights of the leopard’s eyes. It seemed impossible that Fani had seen it as he scanned the landscape, catching it for just a split second. But he had.

Over those days we discovered what extraordinary eyesight Fani and the other African trackers have. A few nights later the car stopped quickly. Fani had found us a bush baby. A rare and very special sighting, and one that we couldn’t photograph; any flash would have hurt its eyes, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I do have evidence of a wildcat though, but in general much of what we saw at night was for our eyes only.

A day or two later, my husband turned 50, and it seemed we were driving a long way for our evening drinks that night. We saw some lights in the distant, and as we got closer, we found that a staff member from the lodge had set up a table under a marula tree, encircled by lanterns (to keep animals away), and was cooking up some goodies to go with our champagne. There was of course a cake too. The sky was clear, and our ranger used the spotlight to point out the major constellations. The Milky Way was spectacular that evening, and I fell in love with the night sky in a way I never had before. It was a birthday neither of us will forget.

A week or so later at another game reserve, we took a wild ride as Stuart came across a porcupine one night. The porcupine turned and raced off up the track. Stuart was screeching delightedly as the jeep bounced after it,

“Two years I’ve been here, and I’ve never seen one before!”

It took off into the bush, and Stuart chased it, but it was soon lost in the undergrowth.

Other sightings on our safaris include a chameleon, elephants, leopards, the occasional hippopotamus caught out of the water, and a lioness, its fur stained red around its mouth, finishing off some dinner.

The highlight though was the night we were treated with a dinner in the bush, next to Ulusaba’s observatory. Lanterns and lamps were placed around the barbecue and the outdoor furniture that had been set up for us and our jeep-mates. Stuart periodically climbed up to the highest part of the jeep to scan the surroundings with the spotlight. A herd of buffalo were resting only a hundred metres or so away, but they couldn’t see us and were mostly asleep, so the danger was limited. A clan of hyenas waited nearby, patiently hoping they’d get some of the barbecue leftovers. We were served champagne, and peered through the telescope at various constellations, including the Jewel Box cluster, and Saturn’s rings.

Nightlife. It means what you want it to mean.

Dinner at the bush observatory

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(Photo Blogging Day 3)

We don’t tend to document our saddest moments. Photos are therefore an inaccurate representation of our lives. They are taken at moments of celebration, reunion, laughter, happiness, and joy. That’s not a bad thing though.This photo, and the memories it invokes, makes me happy every day, as I see it – enlarged and on canvas – from my dining table, and remember the wonder and joy of being in Africa.

A sunrise in South Africa

A sunrise in South Africa

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“What I did on my holiday.” Every Kiwi kid has probably had to stand in front of the class and tell this story at the morning “show-and-tell” session.  Or when they were older, write the essay.  (Does that happen elsewhere in the world?)  So, always a diligent student, here I go.

Our wonderful 17 days in South Africa was, for us, a relatively short trip. But once again, Africa worked its magic on us, and we almost instantly forgot about life at home and spent a blissful two weeks totally focused on enjoying ourselves. Yes, it sounds hedonistic. And yes, I guess it was. But isn’t that the point of going on holiday?

I had planned our trip carefully, and we book-ended it with time at two different game reserves at opposite ends of the country. The thing about a visit to a game reserve is that as soon as you arrive, you need to surrender into the routine and rhythm of the property; surrender to the routine and rhythm of nature, surrender to the weather, surrender to the fact that someone else controls what you will do and when you will do it, surrender to the animals (if the leopard doesn’t want to be seen, it won’t be seen), surrender to the 5 am wake-up call, surrender to the fact that they will feed you more frequently than you probably want or need and you will eat it because it is there, surrender to the fact that there are no decisions to be made, and just … surrender. And when you surrender, even the rain doesn’t matter.   When you surrender, the world does its magic.  As it did at the Kwandwe Game Reserve.

After we left Kwandwe, we took just a few days to explore Cape Town and the very beautiful Cape Winelands further inland. We’d been to Cape Town before, so enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose what we did. We rented a car, and headed south along a magnificent coastal road to Cape Point, where the warm current from the Indian Ocean meets the cold current coming up the Atlantic from the Antarctic. We arrived on a beautiful sunny day, then endured torrential downpours and wild winds down at the Cape. Just along from Cape Point is the Cape of Good Hope, the place that always seemed so unreachable as I was growing up and poring over the world map.

It was at Franschhoek in the Winelands where I celebrated my birthday, over probably the most innovative meal I’ve ever enjoyed, a 10-course menu, matched with wine, that delighted me, and at times horrified my husband. (I had to try hard not to laugh when the list of ingredients for our first course included most of his most hated things – mayonnaise, beetroot, and cucumber.) The meal provided a wine tasting tour of the region, though a couple of days later we felt able to face wine again, and visited some local vineyards. Driving gave us a freedom that we enjoyed, navigation was easy (except when the husband thinks he knows better than the GPS), and they drive on the correct side of the road. It was little different to exploring one of New Zealand’s wine regions, though you don’t go round a corner in Marlborough and find a family of baboons sunning themselves on the road.

Then it was back to Ulusaba. We stayed down in the bush this time, viewed animals on the river bed from our room, or at breakfast or lunch. I liked feeling that I was amongst the action, as much as I had enjoyed the gorgeous views from Rock Lodge last time. I realise now how extraordinary our first visit was, and what magnificent photographs we got at the time.  But Ulusaba still delivered.  We saw a lot of lions and leopards – they’re just big pussycats really.  And a close encounter with a lion cub was amazing.  Afterwards, we smiled for the rest of the day. And even now, remembering it, I get shivers up my spine, and break into a grin.  Now, that’s what I call a wonderful holiday memory.

Of course, every travelogue must have a slideshow.  Feel free to skip it.  Or sit back, relax, and let South Africa cast its spell over you too.

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