A one hour drive from Franschhoek, a two hour wait at the Cape Town airport in South Africa, a two and a half hour flight to Neilsprut (Kruger National Park), a one hour drive on hard top and a one hour drive on a dirt road, but we finally arrived at Londolozi, our first safari stop, located in the private Sabi Sand Game Reserve on the Sand River. We were warmly greeted by Jess with cool towels and cold champagne; we were tired but happy. Our home for four nights is Tree Camp, one of the five camps in the Londolozi family. With only six suites and a maximum of twelve guests, surrounding our main lodge and tree house deck, it feels as if we’re almost alone in this vast wilderness.
After settling in to our magnificent accommodations, we were invited on our first game drive at 4:00 p.m. Our ranger Melvin and tracker Milton, are the experts we’ll rely on for the next 4 days. We were joined by one other couple from Boston in our spacious all terrain vehicle as we headed out for our first adventure. Melvin explained the rules of the truck. The animals view the truck as a non-threatening animal. The silhouette of the truck is one they recognize and are comfortable around. But no standing up, as that breaks the shape! We were told not to make loud noises, or scream, not to ever get out of the truck, and if the animals sidle up next to the truck, to cross our arms and sit still.
Milton sat in a jump seat outside the body of the vehicle and within only a few minutes spotted the large paw prints of a nearby male lion in the sand. Melvin turned off the path, driving through the tall grasses, and lo and behold…this big boy was hanging out all alone. Usually accompanied by his two brothers, he was quite thin and according to Melvin, likely waiting for a meal for some days. We sat for awhile and watched him roll onto his back and shift positions as dusk started to fall.
We headed back through the grass to one of many roads and continued on our way. We came across a large herd of impala, a type of antelope.
Just a few minutes later Milton spotted several zebra cavorting among the impala:
We couldn’t believe the wildlife we’d seen in less than an hour, and then we came upon these guys all hanging out together:
We felt like we’d hit the motherlode! But nope…the best was yet to come…we turned into a soft, sandy, dry river bed and found an entire pride of sleeping lions – 4 mature lionesses and 7 cubs. We were gobsmacked!
Every so often one of the adult females would get up and move, coming within inches of our vehicle, though completely disinterested in us. Eventually we were pretty much surrounded and as night fell, we had to wait until the girls shifted enough to let us pass. It was a thrilling encounter.
Darkness surrounded us and by a guiding light, Melvin and Milton got us safely back to camp where the staff were waiting and all the pathways and the main lodge were lit by rows upon rows of candlelit lanterns. It was a magical sight to behold.
We freshened up for dinner and met back at the main lodge over cocktails to recount our amazing sightings, toast our tracker and guide, and revel in our good fortune. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with our safari mates and retired to our cabin for a good night’s sleep knowing the 5:00 a.m. wake up call would be upon us in no time.