It was time to leave our beloved campsite in Somkhanda Game Reserve. After a short morning reprieve drinking coffee, eating another wonderful breakfast, and listening to the sounds of the bush as we packed our belongings, we piled into the OSVs and made our way to our transfer bus. It was refreshing to soak in the sights as we made our way to the exit. Every drive in and out of a game reserve is it’s own special safari, and so we enjoyed every last piece of this inspiring place that we could, sewing them into our memories like tightly cherished treasures of which only a select few in the world could share. The shy glances of nyala and kudu against the backdrop of a golden sunrise cast shadows in the rising light of the day. And flitting songbirds sang in the dawn chorus, dancing across our ear drums with a thrum of delight.
Stop Number 1
Our first stop after a short drive South (and a quick bite to eat) was the Zamimpilo Community Market. Zamimpilo is a larger craft and produce market that was established by local community women who wanted to earn extra income from their handmade crafts. There was excitement pouring from everyone as we walked through the property, admiring trinkets and fruits and baskets, and picking out small keepsakes to take home for ourselves or our loved ones. Bright colors, beautiful jewelry, intricate weaving, and traditional indigenous craftwork made our choices difficult, as there was so much to love! The children navigated the narrow passageways in delight, before making their final choices and piling back into the van, all awash in the sharing of their newfound riches.
We pulled into our new accommodations, Emdoneni Lodge, where we would be staying for our final 2 nights here in South Africa. We had a special treat planned for the group, which was right there on the property. Emdoneni operates a wonderful wild cat rehabilitation program, where they rescue 4 of the 7 known cat species in South Africa, rehabilitate them, and then release them back into the wild. We took the group across the property to see the facility and to learn more about these wonderful species. There was African Wildcat (which looks like a domestic cat, but is genetically better adapted to living in the wild), Caracal, Serval Cat, and Cheetah! We stopped by each enclosure as the local staff taught us about the animals inside, telling us their stories and their activities in the wild. The Serval Cat was a particularly exciting visit, as the group was able to go into the enclosure and pet one of the cats! Seeing all these cats up close truly made for a memorable experience! The children made haste to ask questions and listen intently as they learned more about the different species, and they have many photographs to cherish when they return home.
Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve
The following day, the alarm bells rang at 6am and the rapping of Nicole’s knuckles against the various room doors brought the group out of peaceful slumber and into our final full day in South Africa. A warm breakfast quickly lightened our spirits and we piled into the van to make our way to the Memorial Gate of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. Today was set aside for a final game drive! Hluhluwee-iMfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest game reserve in Africa, and is a very special place for us here at Outdoor Africa. We were hopeful to deliver some more great sightings for the group, and today was without disappointment.
Once in the gates, we were immediately greeted by a family of warthogs and the unmistakable backsides of white rhino. The sky was overcast and the breeze chilly, but the wildlife teemed throughout the park, though most at a distance to leave us scouting the landscape with our binoculars in order to specify. A passing motorist gave our driver, Alpheus, a nod of lion just up the road, and so we directed ourselves to the area. Much to our delight, we found the lions halfway up a distant hillside, lazing in the grass and soaking up the morning sun. The van burst in delight, as children clamoured for binoculars and window space to catch a glimpse of the beautiful beasts. The distance made binoculars necessary, but nonetheless we were excited to see wild lions in their natural habitat. What a fantastic way to start the day!
We had lunch at Hilltop Camp, which is located on the highest hilltop in the game reserve and boasts magnificent views from every angle! Here, we ate a great meal and gave the children time to burn off some energy on a small playground…all the while dodging vervet and samango monkeys as they flew from tree to ground to the tops of vehicles around the camp. The kids were in heaven, snapping photos of monkeys and playing games and making the most of their final day!
The afternoon brought some amazing sightings! Most notably, we came upon a huge herd of elephant drinking and bathing in a roadside watering hole. A hush fell over the van as we hit the brakes when a big elephant crossed our path. As we looked to our sides, we quickly realized we were flanked by a huge breeding herd. Adults and babies alike were drinking and bathing mere yards from our vehicle, and the excitement of the group was palpable. The sounds of whispered giggles and clicking cameras mixed with the trumpeting of wrestling elephants and spraying of water. It was a sound unique to Africa. It was a sound we will remember forever.
Hearts and souls full, we meandered our way back through the park towards the exit. We stopped for rhino, Cape buffalo, nyala, and birds. We waited patiently for a troop of baboons, babies clinging to mothers’ backs in unmistakable comfort, to decide to stop blocking the road. We even saw a small journey of giraffe, who seemed to come out only at the end of our day as if to wish us a fond farewell from this wild and enchanting place they call home.
South Africa has been good to us. It has taken us to it’s bosom and treated us like family. It has made our hearts beat quickly and with purpose. It has filled our lungs with its air and covered our feet with it’s soil. It has left it’s imprint on our souls and will forever have a place in our memories. We leave with a happiness to see our loved ones, but also with a sadness to leave this wonderous land.
I know this group will make Africa a place to where they intend to return, bringing family and friends to share in the experience. Most of them have said as much and, even those that haven’t, you can see it in their eyes.
Hamba Kahle, South Africa! Go Well!