Before my recent trip, I hadn’t fully grasped how large the Kruger National Park is. The park is 19,500 square kilometers (7,523 square miles), spread over a pipe-shaped area 360 kilometers (220 miles) long and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) wide. Our route through the Kruger, with all the rest camps and picnic spots where we stopped along the way. The camps where we slept are marked in red. I also hadn’t grasped how much there is to do in the Kruger, beside the obvious game-viewing. Kruger is so vast that traveling between rest camps is an experience in itself. We stayed in four camps over seven nights, starting in the northernmost Punda Maria camp for one night, then on to the Shingwedzi and Satara camps for two nights each, finishing at the massive Skukuza camp for two nights. (Note that booking accommodation in the Kruger is a special skill requiring a blog post of its own. Ray’s mother is an expert — maybe I’ll ask her to do a guest post.) The Kruger rest camps are historical, iconic places worth exploring in their own right. A thatched Kruger chalet. This one is at Satara, one of my favorite rest camps. […]
I’ve just come back from a week with Ray and his family in the Kruger National Park. I’m not sure where to begin writing about it. This was an extraordinary trip. Sunrise in the Kruger. I’ve visited lots of games reserves in South Africa over the years — mostly private reserves with luxurious accommodation and a “guests must not lift a finger except to press the camera shutter” kind of approach. (There are tons of private reserves around the borders of the Kruger, while the park itself is public.) I know the drill at places like this: Wake up early, guided game drive or walk, return to luxurious accommodation, eat gourmet food cooked by others, sleep, eat more food, another game drive, drink sundowners, eat more food, go to bed, repeat. Such trips usually last three days at most, because: 1) Few people can afford to stay longer; and 2) Eating and drinking 10,000 calories a day is surprisingly exhausting. Luxury safaris are wonderful. I’m ridiculously fortunate to have stumbled into a profession allowing me to take trips like that from time to time. (Read about a few of them here and here and here.) But my do-it-yourself week in the […]
We tiptoed along as the sun lowered behind us. The wind howled. Tendai pointed ahead and we could just make out the body of a large animal with three small, spotted heads bobbing around it. The body, we would later learn, was a kudu carcass. The spotted heads belonged to a hoard of little cheetahs. Warning: Dead carcass imagery combined with extreme cheetah cuteness below. Three cheetah cubs — wait, make that four — hover around the kudu that their mother (lounging in the background) killed. We crept to within about ten meters of the cubs and I raised my camera to my eye, shooting madly. There were four cubs total. Their mom, wearing a radio collar, reclined under a thorn bush. Tendai kept moving closer. Ray and I exchanged glances. Surely it can’t be safe for humans to walk within a few feet of a family of wild cheetahs eating a fresh kill? But Tendai beckoned and he seemed to know what he was doing. Soon we were close enough to hear the cubs purring as they tore into the kudu’s flesh. The cubs occasionally glanced our way between bites. The mom ignored us. Get ready for lots more cheetah pictures. Mom, whose name […]
Last weekend I visited the Global White Lion Protection Trust, a private reserve devoted to protecting white lions and returning them to the wild in South Africa’s Timbavati region. Almost from the moment I arrived, I began to think about how I would write this blog post. I’d been expecting a typical fun weekend in the bush — hanging out with my blogger friends, eating good food, and seeing wildlife in a beautiful place far away from the big city. Sunrise at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which borders the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which borders Kruger National Park. I got all of those things, and a lot more: Dramatic tales of near-death experiences; an outspoken fashion-model-turned-lion-woman; scientific discussions; mystical stories of spirits and stars; horrific accounts of evil lion-hunters, past and present; a sunset parade through the wilderness with a giant white lion puppet; adorable children singing about the majesty of the Star Lions; and half a dozen Shangaan medicine women stomping the dry, brown earth, gasping through perfumed smoke and screaming into the heavens. I got all of this in just over 36 hours, book-ended by two seven-hour journeys in the back of a van between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit. Several days later, my mind is […]
A few weeks ago Ray and I spent three days at the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat, on the northern edge of the Drakensberg Mountain range near the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The lodge is frequented by a herd of wild horses. Wild horses are pretty much like domesticated horses. Except you can’t pet them or ride them and they go wherever the hell they want. There isn’t much to do in this part of the country, which was exactly what we were looking for when we booked the trip. We sat around the lodge, looked at the view, ate, hiked a little, and watched the horses. The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat offers great weekday specials. We initially booked an upstairs room but then got upgraded to this beautiful, huge downstairs room with its own enclosed patio, where I spent hours sitting with the windows open and watching the horses. There’s Ray sitting on the patio with the lodge’s trusted terrier and horse-chaser, Cato. Wild Horses in the Northern Drakensberg Theo, the lodge manager, told us the horses are descended from those who were abandoned in this area during the Anglo-Boer War more than a hundred years ago. I searched online but couldn’t find any definitive information about […]
It’s been a while since I wrote a pop-up travel post — a post about a place that I traveled to a long time ago, nearly forgot, then remembered and decided to write about. Today’s pop-up travel post features the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre, a rehabilitation centre for raptors that I visited during last year’s #MeetSouthAfrica small-town road trip. I can’t believe I waited so long to write about this visit as it was actually one of my favorite travel experiences of 2015. Norman, a five-year-old greater kestrel at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre. The Bird of Prey Centre’s primary mission is to rescue and rehabilitate birds of prey — usually birds who have been injured or improperly handled by humans — and reintroduce them to the wild, if possible. (The centre releases about 200 birds every year.) Some birds can never be released for one reason or another; those birds receive a permanent home at the centre. The centre is open to the public (with a small entry fee) and conducts daily flight displays at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The main purpose of the flight displays is to provide exercise and training for the […]
From the Melville Cat: Heather asked me to write a blog post this weekend. Apparently my fans have been asking her about my wellbeing. She says they want to hear the full story of our move from my perspective. My initial response was, “What move?” We moved? I had quite forgotten about that. Then I thought some more and yes, I vaguely recall this. I used to live somewhere else, perhaps a month or two ago. I remember now that I was very hesitant to leave that place. I’m not sure why. But I musn’t disappoint my loyal fans. I will recount the moving story to the best of my recollection. The story begins on a Saturday. Heather woke up early but she did not open the window for me to go outside, as she usually does. Instead she loaded me into my crate and carried me to to the doorway of the Lucky 5 Star. Before she carried me out the door, she put my crate down and walked to the other room. I think she was crying. When she returned to the doorway, Heather said, “Kitty, this is the last time we’ll be together in this house.” She seemed very sad. I […]
I squatted as close to the ground as possible. Tiny rocks dug into my palms. I hardly breathed. The rhinos — first I thought there was only one, but then I saw two, three, and four — walked closer. Not running, but walking steadily. Closer. Close enough for a child to throw a stone at. The rhinos’ horns looked huge and very pointy. I heard a loud click. That was Mike loading a bullet into his rifle. “Hi there, rhinos,” said Mike congenially. “We see you. We’re not here to hurt you.” Ray crouched in front of me, just behind Mike. I briefly thought that if this was my last moment on earth, at least I would die with someone I love. The rhinos stopped moving, but continued to stare at us with mild curiosity. We stayed there — six of us, including Mike — for what felt like several minutes. The soles of my feet ached but I didn’t dare shift them. The rhinos probably heard my heart pounding. Mike turned his head slightly, a huge grin on his face. “You can take photos, if you want,” he whispered. The rhinos fanned out on the road in front of us. The idea of spending the last moment of […]
I don’t think there’s much more I can say about this. Giraffes at sunset, shot last night near the Ndzuti Safari Camp. I just got back from four days in the Klaserie Game Reserve, just outside of Kruger National Park. I’ll have much more to say about the trip in a future post but for now I want to share this one photo.
One of the best parts of traveling, in my opinion, is observing domesticated animals in different places around the world. (See my post on cats in Ghana.) Brazil has a particularly interesting animal culture and my sister and I spent a lot of time instagramming the animals we came across on our recent trip there. Here are a few highlights. My sister Susanna with some painted dogs in Rio. This shot was in my previous Rio post but I think it warrants a repeat appearance. Dogs are more prevalent than cats in Brazil but most of the cats we saw had a distinct look about them — broad, triangular faces and big bodies. Dog in a Hat, Ipanema Beach. We saw lots of cute dachshunds in Rio. Heather with Dog in a Hat. Dog in a Hat seemed very accustomed to posing for this shot. (Photo: Susanna Mason) Egyptian-looking cats in Jabaquara, a little beach hamlet near the Brazilian town of Paraty. “Anybody home? It’s Horse.” (This horse roamed freely around Jabaquara. I later saw him/her eating from a trash bin.) Chicken-crossing in Jabaquara. Cute cat behind a gate in Paraty. We spent the last two days of our trip on an island called Ilha Grande. There were dozens, if […]
I still have more stories lined up about my recent African traveling spree. In the meantime though, it pains me that so much time has passed since my last Joburg post. So here’s a quick one. Last week I visited the Joburg Zoo for the first time. It’s crazy that it took me this long to go. I live five minutes from the zoo and it’s one of the city’s most popular attractions, especially for locals. I guess I subconsciously thought that every city in the world has a zoo and this one couldn’t be much different. It also seemed weird to visit a zoo in a country like South Africa, where there are so many amazing animals wandering around freely in the wild. Anyway, I finally went to the zoo and of course I was wrong about my previous assumptions. It’s a great zoo and there are lots of animals there that you can’t see in the South African wild, like mountain lions and spider monkeys and armadillos. (How had I never seen an armadillo before?) It was a quick visit and I didn’t see everything. But of the animals I did see, the owls were my favorites by far. I’ve never been so close to […]
Ghanaian cats are special. They’re tiny, almost kitten-like, with huge eyes and ears. They materialize out of nowhere, hop lightly into your lap, and curl into a purring, sleeping ball before you even realize they’re there. A typical Ghanaian kitten-cat. This cat likes to talk. This one lives at a lighthouse and hangs with goats. (I could write a whole post “goats of Ghana” too, as the goats here are equally amusing.) I dig the scrappy quirkiness of these West African felines. I wish I could bring one home with me but the Melville Cat definitely wouldn’t approve. I have much more to say about Ghana and I’ll probably have more cat photos too. My trip is only half over. The rest will have to wait. Three Ghanaian cats, all in a row.