Our tour guide from the winelands tour yesterday collected us at the hotel and drove us to Cape Town Airport for our 2.5 hr flight to Hoedspruit. Wow, after flying A380’s, 747’s and 777’s we got a shock when walking out of the terminal building, as the plane was a turbo-prop and the overhead lockers were tiny. Fortunately the cabin crew were brilliant and stowed the bag that didn’t fit in one of the empty seats. The flight was actually rather pleasant with the cabin crew serving a light lunch, water and a couple of rounds of drinks. On arrival the airport it is an old military base with a single room terminal that only opens for the couple of daily flights. Our guide met us at the building and off we headed for the 2 hr drive to Arathusa Lodge, with animal sighting starting almost immediately.
Note – While we did not wish to observe any lion/leopard kills, I have included photographs of the Lions gorging on Giraffe, which may not suit all readers.Our driver was brilliant, with an immense local knowledge, having previously spent many years as a local tracker and guide. Less than a mile from the airport gate we got our first animal sighting, a large group of baboons playing along the side of the road. We stopped, but the cameras were back in the boot, so unfortunately no photographic confirmation of sightings, until we reach the lodge. Once we departed the main road we continued for about 12 miles on what can best be described as a gravel road, but the scenery and animal sightings made up for the suspension jarring bumps. We also saw Impala, a huge male Buffalo and a small Lilac Breasted Roller, a small bird with beautiful colours.
At the lodge we were welcomed with a refreshing warm towel and taken straight to the restaurant where the chef whipped us up a quick steak and salad, as lunch was actually finished. We then headed to our room to literally drop the bags, as it was time for afternoon tea followed by our first game drive. We walked out of our room and immediately ran into a female Nyala grazing at the edge of the path. Yes, the lodge is not fenced and animals freely roam.
Arriving at the lounge we settled for a cup of tea and met the three Rangers, who drive the safari vehicles. Our Ranger, Cedric is a very pleasant, knowledgeable and informative young chap who took us to the vehicle to meet his Tracker Derek. We also met our fellow guests Mark and Sarah, a very nice young couple from UK. We would spend all drives with this group, with additional guests arriving each day.
The first difference we noted from our Kenya/Tanzania safaris was the vehicle, as previously we were in an enclosed vehicle where the roof raised to facilitate photography. However, in Sabi Sands all vehicles are completely open with 3 rows of 3 seats.
We departed about 16:00 and within 10 minutes we spotted our first Leopard, a young male cub of about 9 months, with his mum called “Shadow” close by, but hidden in the brush. Unfortunately I only had the 24-105 lens the first day, so the photos could be closer.
As seen in the above photograph, he got tired of being alert, so lay down, but still watching us. The interesting thing is the Leopards are located immediately behind the luxury cabin assigned to our fellow guests Mark & Sarah. Imaging having wildlife sightings right in your backyard, no need for game drives at this lodge. Mark also mentioned that the previous night Cedric our Ranger only took 1 hr 45 mins to find all the big 5.
After a relaxing 15 mins watching the Leopards we headed out to see the Lion pride, which took down a Giraffe the previous night. However, enroute we saw a male Kudu through the brush.
After a brief stop we continued on to the location of the pride of lions the Rangers have named the Breakaway Pride, which currently has 13 lions – 4 adult females, 6 young females about 3 yrs old and 3 young males of the same age. This pride formed a few years ago when male lions killed 4 of the 8 cubs from another pride. One of the grandmothers of the original pride took the 4 remaining female cubs away and taught them how to hunt. Once old enough to survive, the grandmother returned to her daughters in the original pride, leaving the 4 females to form a new pride. With 9 cubs surviving to 3 years old, they are very successful. The following photographs are lions feasting on Giraffe.
The Giraffe probably weighed about 3,000lbs and the 13 lions completely devoured it in less than 2 days, leaving very little to the waiting hyenas and vultures.
On departing the lions we saw a Giraffe in the bush, shortly before sunset.
Shortly after seeing the giraffes we stopped in a clearing where Cedric and Derek set up a table and served drinks and snacks. A very pleasant end to the first safari drive, as by the time we finished our drinks it was almost dark, so we set out for the return to the lodge.
At the lodge we are again met with a warm towel to wash off the grime and then we enjoyed a local liquor. We then barely had time to return to the cabin, change for dinner and it was time to return to the lounge for pre-dinner refreshments.
After dinner it was off to bed, as the next day starts with a wake-up call before 05:30. We definitely went to bed very happy that night, as Arathusa Lodge is exceptional.
Again, apologies as today’s photos aren’t the best, but I had the big lens and a 2nd body on subsequent game drives.