Saturday, February 11, 2017

Amakhala Game Reserve - Eastern Cape - South Africa

We made good time on the remainder of the journey from Thesen Island to Amakhala Game Reserve after our Skydive at Plettenberg bay to breakup the trip somewhat.

Although it was a little rushed, we were really happy to hear that we had arrived at our accommodation, Woodbury Tented Camp, in time for the afternoon game drive departing at 4pm.  We were given welcome drinks and escorted to our 'tents' which I must say, were a lot less tent-like than we were expecting.  I think we both expected to be roughing it in the outskirts of the South African wilderness, I think it's fair to say that we didn't have a great idea about what South African safari would entail.  In my visions, it was going for days in the bush without as much as a shower and perhaps a single native bushman pinning down electric wires to deter lions from joining you in your sleeping bag.  As time went on however, I also found it suspicious that the majority of our fellow tourists as a whole in South Africa were, for want of a better expression... getting on a bit and no doubt appreciated their comforts.

Inside the tent at Woodbury Tented Camp, Amakhala
The tents were actually very large and included a en suite shower and sink with a private toilet 'outhouse' next door, but everything was easily of a standard you would find in a hotel.  We couldn't believe it! Not only that but we could see into the park from our small patio area.  The communal dining/ rest area also had a balcony overlooking a broad section of the park where on occasion it was possible to see animals.

Animal spotting from the balcony at Woodbury Tented Camp
On our very first game drive we headed out, in total there were nine of us and because we were the last to get on the jeep we unfortunately couldn't sit together.  The rest of the party were a group of Norwegians who had come on a family trip and we'd be getting to know over the coming days, with the exception of one guy who was the brother of our guide, Ryan.

Taken on our last game drive with Ryan after his brother left
The first game drive funnily enough also turned out to be the best.   I actually couldn't believe how easy it was for us to spot the game, which we more or less saw all of on that first drive with the exception of the lions.  Our first sighting was a solitary ostrich, followed by a solitary bull elephant.  It was great to see him there relaxing and casually feeding from the long grass and the scrub.

Solitary bull elephant in Amakhala Game Reserve
We later saw a mother white rhino and her offspring following close behind, which was something I didn't expect to see.  The white rhino is in increasing danger from poachers, and they weren't even allowed to tell us exactly how many there were in the park.  We were also informed that 25% of our fee would be going towards the protection of these animals as there is an armed guard with an attack dog providing 24 hour protection for these wonderful creatures.  They spend the majority of their time drawing them away from the fence when they get too close so that opportunists don't drive past and see them and then return later to take their horns.

Mother and baby White Rhino at Amakhala Game Reserve
Around half way through the drive, we stopped for a drinks break.  However, we weren't alone.  We had tracked some giraffes as they were just approaching a watering hole and as they gathered around it we turned the jeep engine off and all had a drink ourselves.  I was surprised that were allowed to get out of the jeep in order to have these, but the guides seemed to know what they were doing! The giraffes weren't too afraid of us, but they were quite jumpy and alert.  They spread their legs in order to lower their bodies enough to reach the water, but wouldn't drink for a very long time and would shoot up their heads again at any unexpected sound.  As the sun set the giraffes quenched their thirst and Kate and I enjoyed a glass of wine in these amazing surroundings which these fantastic creatures, what an experience!

Giraffes enjoying the watering hole at Amakhala

Kate and Paul taking a stop at the Amakhala Game Reserve
Later in the drive, we even saw the cheetah which was apparently no small feat as there was one male in the park, one female too but she was looking after three cubs and would have been near impossible to spot.  He was originally relaxing in the long grass and all we could see were his ears.  After a little roll around he decided to get up and stretch.  The cheetah was very unperturbed by our presence and casually strolled past our vehicle towards what Ryan described as his favourite milkwood tree.  He must have made a kill fairly recently as his belly was so jutting that he could have been mistaken for being pregnant! He scratched his claws on the tree and made a few territorial sprays before heading to the tree, just as Ryan had said.

Cheetah at Amakhala Game Reserve, South Africa
Dinner took place at 6.00pm in the communal restaurant with the other people who took part in the safari.  They took our orders before the afternoon drive and it was served to us by the friendly and accommodating staff.  In addition, all drinks were complimentary throughout our stay and every time we went back to the tent it had been prepared with tea and biscuits, the bed made, and the tent open or shut for us depending on what time of the day it was.  All we had to worry about during our stay is what time we had to be in the main area for drives/food!

Sunset at Amakhala Game Reserve, South Africa
It wasn't a total breeze though, for the morning game drives we awoke at 5.00am and set off at around 5.30 after some much needed coffee.  On our first morning drive we happened to find a Lion and soon after, the three females he was stalking.   It was amazing to see them roaming free and without a care in the world.  From what we had seen to date, there were plenty of antelope and warthogs for them to feed on when they were hungry!  Just like the other animals seen to date, they paid us little attention and went about their lion business without paying us much regard.  This was apparently because they get used to the cars and don't see them as a threat, it would however, not be a great idea to step out of the vehicle whilst they were around.

Male and female lion at Amakhala Game Reserve
The reserve itself is quite big, and I found it interesting how we were able to keep finding the animals.  It turns out that this is a combination of cooperation between guides, all of whom are driving at the same time and making others aware of what they have seen on the radio and where, so that we may adjust our route and later head there with a better chance of seeing something than just going solo.  Secondly, our guide has been at the park for a long time, and informed us that many patterns of behaviour, even from wild animals, is somewhat predictable (i.e. the cheetah with his favourite tree).  Of course there was never any guarantee and we weren't always able to see what we wanted, but more often than not if there was a desire to see a particular animal there was a chance that another guide would have already spotted it and we could make our way towards them.

Amakhala Game Reserve spans around 7,500 hectares
On the second drive, we also saw a family of elephants as well as even more white rhino!  They were there grazing away and making their ways across the reserve in all their glory.  It was such a touching experience to see these animals with the freedom to roam in such a great expanse of land, and really brings home just how important it is to protect these animals.

On the second evening we were cooked a braai, the South African BBQ that is incredibly popular here.  It was delicious and a very social way to cook, we all had our drinks around the fire then the food was presented inside, buffet style.  After some perfect weather, we also had a lightning storm that evening which was actually a very cool experience.  However there was a rain spider inside the tent waiting for us!

Preparing the braai

Our resident rain spider... eeek
Below are a collection of some of the photographs and videos we took during our 3 nights of safari.  It was as incredible as I had hoped and I can't think of a better way for us to have finished our honeymoon.   As we sipped on our wine, reminiscing about the animals we had seen and the preciousness and fragility of our environment, Kate and I toasted to the complex and amazing country that is South Africa.  May all of its treasures be realised for just how precious they are and carefully protected so that future generations may too have the fortune to discover them for themselves.  May its cultures be not only be understood but also embraced by those who are living as part of them.  A special thanks to Meldon Kruz of Kruz Africa who helped us arrange this trip of a lifetime.

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