I don’t quite know how to convey the feeling of being up close and personal with a wild animal - and I’m not talking about a koala up the gum tree in your back yard! I’m talking about wild animals in the South African bush.
Seeing them in their natural habitat had been a dream of mine for some time, and the expectation was high. “When will I see something?”, “Is it just around the next corner?”, “What will I see first?” and “Will I see anything at all?” were just of the things running through my head!
But then, as we passed a watering hole, there was (just lazing calmly) a rhino. My first wild animal sighting was a rhino! The crowd in the transfer van went wild – lots of “OMGs” - but our driver was very casual about it and even looked confused when we asked him to stop so we could take photos. Clearly, he’s used to the animals.
All I could think about was how amazing it was – my first big animal and it’s just sitting there catching some rays at the waterhole. It was almost as if it was waiting for me. That was my first pinch me moment, and my first 200 photos!
My second animal sighting was a five-tonne bull elephant in a rather annoyed mood. I’m sure he’d have preferred a female elephant coming towards him; however, he was faced instead with three jeeps filled with excitable women who squealed first, then took photos. Little did we realise how annoyed he’d become, and after some hasty hand signals from our driver, silence descended quickly. It was tense – watching him shake his head and flare his ears in a clear display of anger. As he charged forward, the three jeeps reversed so quickly it was almost like synchronised four-wheel driving. We were safe, thanks to the skills of our driver!
During my seven nights in South Africa, there were times I didn’t know where to look. Zebra grazing on the roadside grass so close I could almost touch them, warthogs trotting along everywhere, impala bouncing through the bush and Cape Buffalo so interested in our coffee break we had to scare them off. Relaxing at Rhino Ridge Lodge one afternoon with G&T in hand, I noticed a family of giraffe wandering along the ridge opposite and I remember thinking how special South Africa is and that it really couldn’t get any better.
But of course, it did! On an early morning boat cruise, we spotted a family of hippo and I’d have to say that they were my favourite. I loved seeing their little ears twitch just above the water line, and I found myself wondering where they’d surface next. I could have watched them all day, and by this stage I had discovered that I enjoyed the experience so much more when I just sat quietly and watched. Don’t get me wrong, I still took too many photos and squealed when I saw another animal, but I felt such a wonderful sense of calm just sitting still and quietly watching them.
Before you know it, you’re in tune with the bush and experiencing little unexpected moments that you may have missed if you’d constantly had your camera out. Immersing yourself in the experience is the key to getting the most out of your time on safari, as it’s over all too soon. Seven nights is not enough and I’m already planning a return trip - just with my family next time!