The perfect safari?

When we came to South Africa we knew we would see animals. Probably quite a lot of them. And so far we haven’t been proved wrong. It has been an animal smorgsboard from day one.

baby ellie

This baby elephant was just a few days old. I wasn’t allowed to take it home

But I don’t think I believed we would ever have such a great time as we did in Madikwe recently – a fantastic, malaria-free (this is important because the most-famous park, Kruger, isn’t), “Big 5” game reserve just four hours drive from Pretoria.

Madikwe is a well-managed park: to “safari” there you need to be staying at one of the lodges, and the guides all coordinate so there is never more than two vehicles at a siting at once. Sometimes they keep it to just one. This certanly gives the reserve an air of “exclusivity,” although I can’t pretend you don’t pay for this privilege.

Anyway with  30 lodges to chose from, it wasn’t going to be easy to decide where we would spend our three nights in the park. But luckily only a few are regarded as “child-friendly”, with several not accepting children at all. Plus, we had heard wonderful things about the Bush House – and in particular it’s underground hide, which allowed you to get within spitting distance of the elephants. So close in fact that often all you could see were their feet!

We stayed for three nights in Madikwe, and went on six game drives in that time (three in the morning, three in the afternoon). Each drive lasted more than three hours so in total we spend more than 18 hours sitting on our bums in an off-road vehicle. But it never felt that long – there was so much to see that the time always passed quickly, plus the stops for Amarula-filled coffee in the morning and sundowners in the evening helped!

morning coffee

Amarula with your coffee? I won’t say no!

We were woken every morning at 5am by a tap on the door from our trusty guide Greg. Now usually it’s impossible to get our younger daughter out of bed at 6am to go to school – but here she was up and dressed in no time each day: although the drives were long (and she ended up taking a book to occupy herself during the quieter moments!), she was excited as the rest of us to see what that morning would hold!

baby zebra

Baby zebra foal – probably just a few hours old.

Each morning’s game drive followed a similar pattern – we would usually try and follow up on one or two leads that Greg had already established from communicating with other guides, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Once we had a good “sighting” under our belts, he would take us on a drive somewhere different each day – before stopping for coffee with the much-welcomed Amarula addition. We were incredibly lucky and saw some fantastic animals during our three days – like this leopard:

leopard

This guy was found because of his rather ostentatious dinner hanging in a nearby tree – leopards are well known for dragging carcasses up trees and leaving them there for when they feel like a bite to eat later. Nevertheless, we would never have spotted him hiding in a nearby bush, their camouflage is fantastic. It is at times like these that you really appreciate the skills of your highly-trained guides.

We also found a number of lions during our stay – two brothers who seemed to “rule the roost” one evening, a group of ladies another and finally another small pride complete with cubs on a third outing! It really did feel like quite a privilege.

lion

As well as the “big” sightings, we also enjoyed seeing some of the smaller animals in the park – like a rather large scorpion spotted by my husband, a weedy little snake seen by me, a leopard tortoise viewed by us all and this pair of dung beetles rolling their dung (the male apparently doing all the work!) first sighted very proudly by my youngest daughter:

dungg beetles

We saw so much it is hard to choose which pictures to share, but there were two sightings that probably stood out (as well as the leopard). The first was our amazing encounter with the park’s only pack of wild dogs (70% of the reserve’s dogs were sadly wiped out last year by rabies).

Greg had heard there were dogs in the area so we headed in the direction they had been briefly seen and patrolled slowly up and down the track by the bush, looking and listening for signs that we were in the right place. Suddenly – a howl! Greg and another guide made a little foray into the bush (we all stayed sensibly on the truck) and found exactly where they were! The pack had just killed a kudu and were in the process of chowing down. Apparently this is a quick process and they would be gone within ten minutes. So, beating back the thorn bushes as best we could, the vehicle drove into the bush and within metres of the dogs. Thanks to the great way the park is manged, they show no fear at all of the trucks – allowing us to get some brilliant photos (which would have been even better had our longer lens not decided to jam the day we arrived in Madikwe!)

wild dog with ear

Wild dog pup proudly shows off his kudu ear!

We observed the wild dogs for about five minutes before moving off and allowing another brave truck to make the thorny-route into the clearing where they were polishing off the remains of their dinner. A truely magical experience!

The other sighting which will remain with me was of a caracal. A caracal is a lynx-like wild cat which is apparently rarely seen. As we came across it quite by chance, this spot really did feel very special:

caracal

We were able to sit quietly and watch this beautiful cat as it made its way round in circles, marking its territory, completely nochalent about the car full of humans sitting and watching him go about his business!

So all good things must come to an end and we finally reached our last night at the Bush House. We had had some great game sightings but, due to the fact that it had recently, rained the lodge’s waterhole was quieter than usual (the game finding their water in other places). However, the last night came good and we had a parade of animals – elephants, rhino and a huge herd of buffalo – making their way down to the hole. It was truely a magnificant way to end an amazing holiday!

buffaloes at night

If you are visiting South Africa I can thoroughly recommend the Bush House (even families with younger children can be accommodated – a Dutch family staying at the lodge with us had organised private game drives with their three-year-old). We will be going on a self-drive tour to Kruger later this year, malaria tablets and all. I am sure it will be a totally different experience, not least of all trying to work out how to feed us all for six days! But if it is ease and relaxation you are after then look no futher than Madikwe.

 

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16 thoughts on “The perfect safari?

    • Thank you, they would have been even better had our big lens not jammed the day we arrived! Very frustrating! We borrowed someone else’s for the leopard and the lion but he had gone and taken his big lens with him for the rest of the trip. Still, it probably meant we too, fewer pics and spent more time just observing.

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  1. Lovely post, and I can wholeheartedly agree: Madikwe is the perfect safari spot indeed if you live in Joburg. Nothing can beat it’s convenience, the fact that it’s malaria free is a huge bonus, and the sightings are magnificent. Plus the rangers are very good.

    You were really lucky to see so much in 3 days. Took us much longer to see our first leopard, and the only caracal I ever saw was via the pair of glowing eyes in the dark when our guide pointed them out. How he knew they were of a caracal, I’ll never know. These guys are amazing.

    The waterhole picture is also great. The only place that can probably top that is the Okaukuejo Waterhole in Etosha, Namibia. Promise me you’ll make your way there sometime. I could have stayed there for days sitting on my balcony in our chalet, right next to the waterhole, and watched. There was a bed outside on the balcony, and I dragged my down comforter outside and sat there watching the entire night. It was magical.

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  2. This looks amazing! Especially the baby animals! The safari we took in Tanzania was to such a small park – I wish we’d gone to one with the big 5. All the more reason to go back, hopefully next time to SA!

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  3. We have been here three years and have spent a lot of time in the bush (Pilansberg, Mabula, Kruger, Chobe, Okovango delta) but Madikwe remains one of the best weekends of sightings we have ever had. We saw incredible leopards everyday, four cheetah running beside our truck and a pangolin but we have still never seen wild dog anywhere or a caracal so you guys were very lucky! I agree that Madikwe is hard to beat in terms of location from joburg / Pretoria, non malarial, and incredible sightings. It’s top of our list along with Etosha for a return visit in 2016.

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    • A pangolin though! That’s pretty special too. The four cheetahs have now been moved out of Madikwe (it happened while we were there – but before we could see them) – they weren’t behaving very nicely to fellow cheetahs (including any ladiez they tried to introduce) so they are having a shuffle round to try and get the right cheetahs in the right places to encourage breeding.

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  4. Pingback: Featured Bloggers 12/23: Networking 101 | Dream Big, Dream Often

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