Going on a safari has to be the highlight of every trip to South Africa. After visits to the mountains, Joberg, Cape Town, wine tastings, visiting diamond mines, waterfalls, enjoying myself every stop along the way, we hopped a private plane and landed in Sabi Sands, an exclusive private game reserve in Kruger National Park. Kruger, a wildlife sanctuary nearly the size of the state of New Jersey, has the most diverse game in Africa and Sabi Sands, located in Kruger, is home to some of the most luxurious private game reserves in the world.
Our private plane dropped us off at our resort’s airstrip. Chitwa Chitwa is a private game resort in the northern Sabi Sands reserve. This exclusive resort, once a family compound that is still owned and operated by the Brinks family, got its name from an old giraffe who used roam the property. Chitwa Chitwa, comprised of eight villas, and one sprawling guest house, is tastefully yet minimally decorated with muted colors, where European elegance meets traditional African chic, accented with Marie Brinks’ original paintings.
Stepping into Chitwa Chitwa is akin to being transported to a safari sanctuary. Located on one of the largest lakes in Sabi Sands, the game viewing begins as soon as you step onto your private lanai. After sipping a divine cocktail created by their resident cocktail connoisseur, I headed for my private villa to unwind and regroup. I stayed in Villa 5, which was 2,000 square feet of pure unadulterated bliss. As I made my way through the villa, each room more impressive than the other, I lamented the fact that their fall season didn’t lend itself to taking a dip in my private plunge pool nor would it afford me the opportunity to make use of my private outdoor shower. But I did have time to take a brief nap on the lanai, accompanied by a chorus of grunting hippos and birds chirping.
After my respite, I was ready for my first game drive. We went on game drives early in the morning and at dusk, as these are the times when the animals are most active. Even in their fall, in the desert, I was surprised how cold it was. I dressed in layers for each drive: a long sleeved t-shirt, a sweater, a windbreaker, down jacket, and hat, gloves and scarf. I peeled the layers off as the sun came up, and piled the layers on during the evening drives as the temperature dropped.
At 3:00pm, the drums sounded marking high tea at Chitwa’s Main Deck. After tea, we embarked on our first game drive. I bundled up, grabbed my camera bag, and hopped into the open air Land Rover in search of the Big 5 (Lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffalo).
As soon as we settled into the Land Rover, Chitwa Chitwa lived up to its name; I hadn’t had time to ready my camera in the vehicle when we were greeted by a giraffe standing in the middle of the road. Beyond tall, he was regal with eyelashes that any woman would die for! He stared at us, sauntered back over to the bush joining another giraffe feasting on branches. What a great way to start the game drive, but nothing could have prepared me for the safari adventure to come.
We drove in the Land Rover, over trees and brush and finally descended upon a few leopards. Leopards are primarily nocturnal and solitary; as such, they are notoriously difficult to spot on safari. Here I was looking eye to eye with one and she was gorgeous! Our guide gave us the low down on her, and her mother who was lounging in the bush not too far away. We reveled in their majesty for minutes then proceeded in the Land Rover a few feet and found a male leopard with his kill; an unfortunate impala, which by this point was completely disemboweled. Shortly after, the tracker heard a pack of African wild dogs in the distance which had apparently gotten a whiff of the leopard’s kill. We sat frozen in the Land Rover as Tristan, our guide told us we about to witness something most people don’t see on a safari; a leopard, a pack of wild dogs and one helluva fight about to ensue. Within seconds, the wild dogs pounced, and the leopard, who just moments before was on his back, full, readying himself for a nap, grabbed his carcass and was up a tree in 2 seconds flat! The dogs were bouncing and barking on their hind legs frustrated that they weren’t able to snatch dinner. Meanwhile, the leopard stalked the tree branches for a perfect place to hang his dinner carcass. After finding the perfect place, the leopard returned to his nap on a tree branch. Talk about exciting! This is what you go on a safari hoping to see.
Over the next few drives, we came face to face with herds of elephants, a few rhino, hyenas, wildebeest, and other game, but no lions. Tristan assured the cat lover in me that we would see some before I left. Surely, the morning of our departure, we found a pride of lions. A few of the lionesses had their tails bitten off from an earlier fight with hyenas and as my luck would have it, a pack of hyenas approached the pride for breakfast. Not to outsmart the queens of the jungle, the lions got the better of them and chased the hyenas back into the bush and returned to their nap. What a safari!
If you have the opportunity to go on safari, by all means take it. Pack your warm gear, a great camera and hope you get to see a bit of the wild kingdom up close like I did. Truly a vacation I will never forget!