It’s hard to even begin to describe a safari experience in Africa. My thoughts the entire time can be summed up in the phrase, “I can’t believe it’s all real”. Our first safari stop was at a place in the Kalahari Desert named Tswalu Kalahari. I could tell you stories upon stories about the excitement and the feeling of being on safari. Hopefully you will get the gist of the magic of Africa with these few experiences.
Tswalu Kalahari is a privately-owned reserve by the Oppenheimer family with its own air strip and fleet of aircraft. We were picked up in style by their King Air and flown 2 hours away from Cape Town. Our mighty group of 9 stayed in Tarkuni Lodge, a privately-owned house with 5 rooms, a pool, and its own staff. We were not roughing it in the slightest.
We arrived mid-morning and were given the afternoon to chill by the pool, nap and relax. After 4 busy days in Cape Town, this was much needed rest & relaxation. At 5:00, our ranger, Nelson, picked us up for our very first game drive! We told Nelson that we wanted to see big game – lions, leopards, giraffes, rhino. The Kalahari Desert is a very dry and hot place, so animals that thrive on water and vegetation don’t reside there. But fear not, there is still big game. And meercats, most importantly.
On our first game drive, we set out to view a pack of lions. Our safari vehicle contained the 9 of us, plus our ranger, Nelson, and our tracker, Jonas. The tracker’s job is to find animal tracks and follow them. About 40 minutes into our drive, we spotted lion tracks. A few minutes later, someone spotted a lion laying across the road ahead of our vehicle. The lion was closely watching a pack of antelope nearby. We got fairly close to the lion and listened as Nelson explained its hunting behavior. All of a sudden, the lion jumped up and began chasing the antelope toward 2 other lions waiting to trap them. Nelson hit the gas and we chased after the lions. Turns out, the lions were lazy and missed their kill. We spent the remainder of our evening watching three female lions play with each other in the sunset. Did we already peak on our very first game drive? Maybe so.
The next morning, per my request, we set out to the meercat colony. If you don’t see all of the animals from The Lion King, did you really go to Africa? To everyone’s surprise, the meercats were fun creatures to spend the morning with!
From there, we tracked cheetahs. I tell you what, tracking cheetahs is not an easy feat. For three hours, we tracked two female cheetahs across the desert. While it did take quite a while to catch these two, it was fascinating to watch the tracking process and predict their next move. We finally caught up to the cheetahs and it was well worth the wait! On the way back to the lodge, we spotted another cheetah just roaming across the road. Of course, quite typical.
That evening, we tracked a pack of wild dogs as they hunted their dinner. One interesting thing we learned/witnessed is that the hunting style of wild dogs as opposed to lions, cheetahs, etc.. is they are vicious in their kill’s. Lions kill their prey upon impact. Wild dogs on the other hand, are a bit less targeted in their killing. When we found the pack of wild dogs, they had just scared a wart hog into its hole. Sorry if this is TMI (too much info), but this is Africa, people. The nose of the wart hog was barely sticking out of the hole and the wild dogs feasted on it for dinner. I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details, but that my friends, is how we spent New Year’s Eve 2018.
For dinner, we were surprised by the most amazing outdoor spread with ribs, kudu, filet, veggies, and all the wine you could dream of.
Our last morning at Tswalu was spent tracking the literal lion king. Our ranger heard that a male lion was roaming around, so we headed towards him. Do note that morning safari drives have a wake-up call of 5am, so it’s hard to really process what you’re seeing until it’s staring you in the eyes (literally). Our group spotted the lion king from a few yards away and were immediately stunned. He walked majestically and his presence demanded our full attention. He stopped under a tree for a nap and let out a large roar to let all others know that this was his territory. The roar was loud and deep, vibrating our entire safari vehicle. This is truly the experience of a lifetime. Sitting 4 feet from a male lion letting out a roar. I will never forget it.
As our very first safari experience, Tswalu will forver hold a special place in our hearts. From the kindness of each and every person, to the attention to luxurious detail, our experience was flawless.
Next up: The Big 5! We headed to the opposite side of South Africa for a different safari experience in the Sabi Sands Reserve.