I have safaried in every possible fashion during my years in Africa. I’ve done low-budget camping trips, high-end tented camps, mid-range SANPark self-drives, river safaris, and walking safaris. You name it, I’ve probably done it. But when it comes to flat-out luxury I don’t think any of these past trips compare to my recent weekend at Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa. Mhondoro is in the Welgevonden Game Reserve in central Limpopo, less than three hours from Joburg. Welgevonden is a private, Big 5 game reserve (meaning all the “Big 5” animals — lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant — live there) and there is no self-driving allowed, so the only vehicles driving around are those belonging to the reserve’s small number of lodges. This sense of exclusiveness makes for excellent game-viewing as at any one time there are a very limited number of people — and a huge number of wild animals — hanging around in Welgevonden. Yes, it costs a lot. But the money helps preserve a huge, beautiful piece of wilderness and keep the animals (many of which are critically endangered) safe within it. There are 21 lodges in Welgevonden. They all look pretty nice online but I […]
Over the recent long weekend I spent two days at Mhondoro Safari Lodge in the Welgevonden Game Reserve, which is in the Waterberg region of Limpopo. This trip amazed me in several ways, the first of which was how close Welgevonden is to Joburg (about two-and-a-half hours), and the second of which was how luxurious and fantastic Mhondoro is. It’s definitely one of the top three nicest (if not the nicest) safari lodges I’ve ever been to. The third most amazing thing about Welgevonden was, of course, the animals. I’ll have a lot more to say about Mhondoro in my next post. But I don’t want my cheetah hunt story to get lost in the shuffle of that post so I’m telling it here. I have been a travel writer in Africa for nearly a decade and during that time I have participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of game drives and bush walks and other wildlife viewing experiences. But the Holy Grail of wildlife viewing — watching big cats on a hunt — eluded me until my trip to Welgevonden. Cheetahs on the Hunt in Welgevonden Spoiler alert: I didn’t see anything kill anything else. (I’m not sure that’s […]
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 […]
Once upon a time, the Makuleke people lived on a triangle-shaped piece of land, bordered by two rivers, at the intersection of three countries. The land was beautiful and fertile, with a huge diversity of animals and the mightiest trees in the world. This triangle was called Pafuri. In 1969, at the height of South Africa’s apartheid, the Makuleke were “removed” from the Pafuri Triangle so the area could be incorporated into the Kruger National Park. Men with guns drove trucks into the Makuleke villages, rounded up the people, and drove them to a barren piece of land a couple of hours away. The people — mostly women, children, and elderly men, as the younger men were away working — were dumped and given tents to sleep in. The men with guns left, and the Makuleke had to start over. This is a grossly oversimplified description of what happened. I’m a blogger, not a historian. A typical scene in the Pafuri Triangle, on a bridge overlooking the Luvuvhu River. It probably looked much the same in 1969. A traditional home in the area where the Makuleke were forcibly removed, 90 minutes’ drive from the Pafuri Triangle. When democracy came to South Africa in the 1990s, […]
The Pafuri Triangle — a piece of wilderness in the very northern corner of South Africa’s Kruger National Park — is a land of giants. The trees are huge. The animals are huge. The beauty of the landscape is beyond comprehension. This elephant looks small in the photo (which, incidentally, was shot from the doorway of my tent at Return Africa’s Pafuri Camp). Trust me though — he’s huge. I spent three days at the Pafuri Camp, run by Return Africa, in the Makuleke Contractual Park. This section of the Kruger has a fascinating history, which I’ll describe in a future post. Elephants and Baobabs: Kruger’s Photogenic Giants I saw so many elephants during this trip and it’s been a struggle for me to narrow down the number of elephant photos I want to share. Same goes for the baobabs: I love these huge, ancient, topsy-turvy trees — which can only be found in the northern part of the Kruger — and I photographed them profusely. So before I go into the whole story of my trip, here are my favorite photos of the giants. This is my favorite baobab photo because you can also see the shadow of our […]
A big thank you to travelgurus.co.za and Wilderness Adventures for making this blog post possible. Last weekend I visited Kruger National Park, the largest park in South Africa. This wasn’t just any old Kruger safari, either. I went to the remotest and most beautiful section of the park — the Pafuri Triangle. A view of the Limpopo River, just before my plane landed at Pafuri Camp. The Pafuri Triangle is in the far northern corner of the Kruger Park, wedged between the Limpopo and Luvuvu Rivers and the borders of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
It was a beautiful afternoon in Pilanesberg, a game reserve two hours from Joburg. Joe, my mother, and I, along with our safari guide, Chris Green, were driving slowly behind a large bull elephant. The elephant was ambling down the center of the road and there was no getting past him. I leaned out the window to take a photo. I had to twist myself at a funny angle to get the shot because Chris was driving in reverse, and had been doing so for the last ten kilometers. We were trying to reach the park headquarters, which was still several kilometers away. Cruising along behind an elephant and another car, in reverse. I couldn’t get the camera straight because of the way I was leaning.