A HOLIDAY WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE...
Written for Aspire Magazine (Blue Leaf Media Ltd) January 2019
“South Africa seems like a long way to go for just over a week!” – a sentence we heard a few times when we told people where we planned to go on a honeymoon. It's true, it was a long journey, but even though we couldn't be there for as long as we would have liked, it was all about the destination.
We arrived at Hoedspruit airport at about 2.30pm on September 18th, greeted by warm sunshine and our driver, Derek, who drove us to our final destination – Vuyani Tented Camp. On the short drive from the airport to Vuyani, we were lucky enough to see several impalas, a kudu, a dwarf mongoose and two giraffes, right on the roadside! We were treated to welcome drinks and a tour of the camp, then enjoyed a little late lunch, whilst watching the vervet monkeys in the nearby trees and gazing with admiration at another giraffe who stopped by the pool to say hi. After a quick shower and change, we were ready and raring to go – time for our first game drive!
Just as we’d hoped, the first drive did not disappoint, letting us know we really were in for the holiday of a lifetime. That evening, we saw more giraffes, monkeys, impala, nyala and mongoose, plus hippos in the water, warthogs and a small herd of elephants, with family members of all ages. We couldn’t believe quite how close we could get and how unphased they were by our presence. Our guide and driver explained that elephants communicate through stomach rumblings and seismic vibrations underfoot, so as long as we turn the engine off to ensure we don’t interfere with their communications, they don’t mind us being there. (And of course, as long as we stay in the vehicle and don’t attempt to go stroke a little one, as tempting as that may be!) Seeing the elephants our very first drive was more than we could have ever hoped for. Another couple with us were very keen birdwatchers and during their time there spotted 83 species of birds! That evening, they got some great shots of an African cuckoo, hornbills and white-backed vultures.
Morning drives start bright and early at 5am. On our first morning, we encountered more giraffes and hippos and kept a keen eye on a crocodile who was relaxing on the nearby water’s edge when we stopped for coffee. Thanks to our driver’s excellent tracking skills, we found a couple of gorgeous cheetahs – young brothers who were just waking up and getting ready to go hunt. We also found a lovely young bull rhino. What a sight! Vuyani Tented Camp is on the Blue Canyon Conservancy and all the rhinos here have been de-horned to deter poachers. When we visited an endangered species centre later in the week, a guide explained to us that, in order for de-horning to deter poachers, you must dehorn everything. Otherwise, if they track one and discover it has no horn, they’ll kill it anyway to eliminate the chance of them tracking it again. Thanks to the amazing work of Blue Canyon’s 24/7 Anti-Poaching Team, the threat level there is now very low.
As the week went by, we saw more and more amazing animals on each drive. Even just relaxing by the pool in the afternoon, we were entertained by the chacma baboons playing and fighting in the trees across the river bed. Vuyani Tented Camp and Safari Lodge are completely unfenced, so any animal in the reserve can visit at any time, as closely as they like. Because of this, a night porter is on watch from sunset until after morning drive, and you’re not allowed to walk around without him after dark.
Highlights of the rest of the week’s drives include: seeing the lionesses with their fresh kill (a big male kudu) and watching the vultures circle, waiting for their turn. Watching the herd of wildebeest sprint across in front of us, knowing that must mean a predator was nearby. Seeing the male lions taunt one another, staking their claim and protecting their territory. Seeing a proud mother rhino and her little calf. Being right in the middle of it when the full herd of elephants crossed through on their way to the watering hole. We were about 5 metres away whilst a young calf swung his trunk around, playing as they marched on through the trees, breaking them down, making their own path and eating as they did. When we stopped for evening drinks, we gazed at the stunningly clear African sky and spotted Saturn and Jupiter shining brightly.
We learnt so much from our incredible guides, Jerry and Mpelo, whose tracking skills we incredible. There were times when Mpelo would leave the vehicle and walk through the bush alone in order to find whatever we were looking for, be it a cheetah, a lion or the elephant herd. They’re fearlessness and love for the job was a sight in itself.
We also took a day to explore the breath-taking Drakensberg Mountains and afternoon trips to Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC), where we learnt about the declining population of cheetahs, wild dogs, black rhinos, leopards and vultures and Elephant Whispers, a sanctuary for five orphans elephants. There, we met Tembo, a 35-year-old, 6-tonne male who stood at 3.45 metres to shoulder height and has 5-10 years’ worth of growing left to do! A truly magnificent, gentle giant.
Our time in S.A was truly incredible, and we loved our stay at Vuyani. Though it’s called a ‘tented camp’ it’s not camping at all. It’s a luxury en-suite room in the trees, all-inclusive with lovely food and 5* service.
There’s so much more I could tell you and so many more wonderful sightings to list, but instead, I urge to go see it for yourself.