Our first night is spent at the uniquely designed Earth Lodge. With a short drive from Skukuza airstrip – where my wife, Ciara, says even the terminal is similar to a luxury lodge! – we already get a taste for what the Kruger has to offer. Antelope are in abundance, moneys are skipping across the road and an obliging white rhino is leisurely grazing only a few metres from the roadside.
Arriving in the middle of the afternoon, Earth Lodge provides a unique concept on the African safari lodge. Made of exactly that, earth, it is a modern design with ‘bunker-like’ rooms looking out into the African bush. The food is good, the service is welcoming and the rooms provide our first taste of South African comfort (does anywhere out here not have a private plunge pool for each room?!).
We set out at 16:30 on our first game drive and I have to say, it is hard work. From the off, we are in fairly persistent rain which even our ponchos (courtesy of our lovely guide Joe) struggle to keep out. It is cold and wet and for the first hour we see nothing. I thought the game parks of South Africa were meant to be full of game? Or am I just not giving it a chance, after all…we have only been here for one hour! In all honesty, this turns out to be probably one of the most uncomfortable game drives I have ever been on, but it still delivers. By the end of the drive, we have seen a cheetah in mid hunt and a leopard feasting only a few feet away in a tree – I have to admit, some incredible wildlife! Returning to the lodge, we make our way back to our cosy room to warm up with a hot shower, followed by a hot meal, greatly deserved.
The next morning we awake at 05:30 for a quick hot drink and set out on our next game drive. We head straight for where only a few days before a lion pride had taken down an elephant. This is fairly unheard in this area having only been documented a few times, so pretty unique. We are in luck as as we approach the rotting carcass, we see the pride still at large feasting on the remains of what was once a healthy young elephant. For the next hour we sit still and watch as feline royalty tears and rips at what is left. We continue onwards seeing elephant tearing at trees and antelope grazing, again not bad for what is only a brief glimpse into this ecosystem.
What do I think so far? Whilst I have not necessarily yet seen the beauty of the East African plains or the sheer wilderness of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, South Africa does have something. I have been on what I would call two fairly average game drives which were not in stunning landscape and were not full of game, yet, I have still been privileged to see three of the big cats…a cheetah stalking its prey, and both a leopard and a pride of lions feasting on their respective preys. So if this is what average game drives provide, I wonder what a good game drive will deliver…?