Following in the footsteps of presidents and royalty, a safari to the Kapama Private Game Reserve in South Africa is one of life’s richest experiences.
We’ve been searching for elephants all morning, looking for broken branches, crater-like tracks in the mud and even dung. As we look up ahead from our open Land Rover, we’re delighted to finally sight a herd of them emerging from the bush. Their massive bodies are paradoxically elusive, weighing 7000 kg, yet able to move without making a sound.
Almost as inspiring are the faces of our three children: 8-, 10- and 12-years of age — their eyes filled with wonder. We’ve dreamed of taking them on safari for years, but the African bush far exceeds what we ever imagined. Dozens of elephants appear but the most remarkable sight is a mother, followed by son and daughter holding each other’s wispy tails with their long trunks.
We wait for the herd to pass, and then continue along the unpaved road to an open savannah where zebras, rhinoceros and blue wildebeests graze, co-existing in harmony.
Unlike a Disney theme park, this trip is delightfully unpredictable. Each fork in the road leads to a new encounter — water buffalo along the river, black-faced vervet monkeys perched in the Mopane trees, and towering giraffes camouflaged amidst the shadows and leaves.
Between animal interactions our ranger, John, enlightens us as to which trees are poisonous or could even be used as a toothbrush. There’s always time to take photographs — close enough to capture the unique mystique of each creature’s personality, yet at the optimal distance for respect and safety.
We stop for a drink and to stretch our legs as the sun sets over the distant peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains. As darkness falls, nocturnal animals come out. We listen to a cacophony of hyenas, frogs and owls. Our skilled tracker, Give, scans the night with his spotlight in hopes of catching the reflection of animals’ eyes.
As we head back to base camp we’re rewarded with sighting a pride of lions stretched out under the stars. One young golden lion yawns, exposing his canines. He turns his head in our direction and for several moments our eyes lock, the intense amber glow forever in our memories.
Back at the lodge, an evening meal awaits us around a roaring fire. When it’s time to retire for the night, we appreciate the honeymoon-like experience – a private room styled with African artefacts and a king bed for us, adjacent to the kids’ suite prepared with a trio of twin beds.
Soon we’re asleep, dreaming of tomorrow’s drive and the allure of sighting the elusive black leopard.
~ TRAVEL TIPS ~
With typical safari drives about four hours long, and considering the patience to track and listen quietly for animals, children should be at least 8 years of age to get the most from this event.
Best time to Safari in South Africa:
May to September. This is the dry season and viewing opportunities are optimal as animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. South Africa is south of the equator so seasons are the opposite of North America. January through March is the wet season. This is when the area is the hottest and muggiest, and thundershowers are more likely.
Kapama Private Game Reserve has four luxury lodges, including the Kapama River Lodge with its all-inclusive experience consisting of dawn and evening Land Rover safaris, breakfast and dinner. Elephant-back safaris are also available. www.kapama.co.za. Alternate arrangements can be made at www.safaribookings.com.
Vaccinations and Malaria:
Visit your local travel clinic or family doctor before visiting South Africa to discuss taking malaria prevention drugs and to ensure vaccinations are up to date. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers is an excellent resource. www.iamat.org.