When my wife asked me if I wanted to join her on her South Africa Safari trip to Makutsi Resort, I have to admit I wasn’t overly excited about going. Why spend money and sit on a plane for many hours to go and look at animals I can see at the local zoo? I committed to the trip still reluctant about what I was getting myself into, but it didn’t take me long to change my tune!
We left Atlanta with a direct flight to Johannesburg and after an overnight layover we took a short flight to Hoedspruit Airfield. The local airport was an experience in itself. After landing, it seemed we taxied forever to get to what was considered the terminal. We stopped on the runway, took the stairs down to the tarmac, and walked through a small fenced area into what looked like a small house. As we waited, a tractor with a luggage carrier delivered our luggage to the front of the building and everyone grabbed their bags.
We were met by our Makutsi driver, who loaded our luggage into a van, and we started the journey to the lodge. It was about an hour drive, passing through the city and farm areas. The fence companies here must be making millions, because fences were everywhere along the sides of the road, some electrified and some just standard wire fencing. Not sure if they were keeping things in or out! We turned down a bumpy road and were greeted at an attended gate by a very friendly man that let us in. Finally we entered the Makutsi property, at about 5:00pm.
We were taken to the Lapa, an outside bar/wildlife viewing area, where we were greeted by Karen, a very pleasant woman who was always smiling. We went over the rules: no walking about before 7:00am or after 5:30pm, no approaching the animals, etc. WHAT? There are wild animals walking about that you really need to be told not to approach? We were given a map of the surrounding area and were pointed in the direction of our rondavel. As we walked to our home for the week we were taken aback by the trees, flowers, and greenness of the resort. AND YES, the animals you weren’t supposed to approach: impala, warthogs, nyala and monkeys, to name just a few, were all around.
We entered our rondavel – which is a round hut with a grass thatched roof, and found it to be spacious, clean and comfortable. It had a king bed with mosquito netting, two rattan chairs, rattan loveseat, desk, refrigerator, shelf unit, wardrobe, and a full bath with a huge walk in shower. Very rustic looking and appropriate for the location. I wondered how I would survive without cell phone, internet, TV or even a radio – but I found that I did not miss any of them!
We unpacked and got settled and waited for the van to pick us up for dinner. Around 6:45pm the van picked us up in observance of the rule that we not walk about after 5:30pm. We waited in the Lapa with others and at 7:00pm the sound of beating drums was heard around the property, signaling that dinner was about to be served and for us to head towards the dining area.
Dinner at the resort was served at two long tables, where we all sat together, which encouraged guests to share the day’s adventures and pictures. Dinner was an affair with appetizers, main course and dessert. The food was really delicious, and one would guess so, as it is basically a farm to table establishment. No menu to ponder over. You get the menu for the day, and they are very accommodating of special dietary needs. Wine and sodas are extra, and the local wine is wonderful.
After dinner we took a short walk to the Lapa for after dinner drinks and more socializing. If you preferred, you could be immediately picked up by the van and escorted back to your rondavel. The drivers were careful to walk you to your door for safety. We settled in and I walked outside to star gaze before retiring. Star gazing was encouraged with the warning to leave your door ajar in case you needed to retreat quickly. The night sky was amazing! I had never seen so many stars. It was very quiet as I sat on the porch in the chair. I could hear animals off in the distance, and then I heard something close by. I could not see it because it was too dark, but I could hear it, and it was coming my way. It was the first night and as I didn’t want to get eaten by a lion, I hurriedly excited my chair and came inside for the evening, peering through the window, a little scared. We were tired from the trip and sleep came easy. Our morning safari pick-up was at pre-dawn.
After a restful sleep, the Range Rover picked us up a little before 6am and off we went into the wild. The roads were bumpy, the sun was rising, and the weather was chilly. We traveled along winding trails and spotted impalas and kudus, but we were looking for bigger game. Across the river, which was dry, we had our first sighting of a herd of elephants. There were roughly six to eight elephants eating, and we stopped to watch. It was unnerving how close we were to the herd. Those guys are big, and I would guess no further than 10 to 15 feet away. We spotted some baboons in the trees while we watched the gentle giants go about their day. All the while African go-away birds (grey lourie) screeched letting everyone know that intruders were in the area.
Onward we traveled as the sun rose on the horizon. Spotting animals became a mission – scanning the horizon and brush looking for any movement. I was terrible at this part! We would stop and the guide would point things out, but it always took me awhile to see what he was seeing.
That morning, in just three hours, we came across elephants, impalas, nyalas, baboons, kudu, giraffes, Y-Bills and more. We headed back to the Lapa and unloaded. Everyone was excited about our first safari and what we had seen. Breakfast was waiting for us outside on the lawn. Long tables were set up with plenty to eat. You could choose from an assortment of fruit, yogurt, breads, cheeses, lunchmeats, cereals, juices, milk, coffees and teas, and eggs to order. The kitchen staff was very friendly and pleasant, and we really enjoyed them.
Later that day we visited Hippo Hide, which is a watering hole a couple of miles away from the resort area that has a viewing station with a covered deck. The gamble with the Hippo Hide is that you never know what you might see, other than the hippo, covered with terrapins, sunning himself, who apparently has his own private lake. After arriving, we spotted nyalas and kudus each taking their nervous turns at the watering hole. We heard crashing through the brush and trees and spotted a herd of elephants heading our way. We waited in anticipation as they approached. We spent several minutes in awe, cameras clicking away, watching as they ate and wandered to the water. There must have been six to eight with two babies. It was humbling to watch them drink and spray and frolic in the water. They are amazing creatures and I have to admit, they became my favorites. Returning to the Lapa, we headed back to the rondavel to freshen up for dinner. On a later Hippo Hide visit we spotted giraffes drinking from the pond and a leopard with her baby, actually being run off by the nyala. Who would have thought that could happen?
We experienced a safari day to include a morning and afternoon safari, and a day which included a five hour night safari. We also took a day trip to visit Kruger National Park, and another day trip for Blyde Canyon. It was amazing to walk around Makutsi and see nyalas, kudus, monkeys, and warthogs going about their business as you walked past them. There was one time that elephants passed behind the tennis courts, and giraffes walked beyond the Lapa. Buffalo also frequented the viewing pond at the Lapa.
The staff was amazing, friendly, and always willing to assist or answer questions. The guides were great as well. These guys know everything from plants, birds, stars, as well as the animals and how they live. How they spot everything they do is still a mystery to me.
I don’t want to bore you with all the details of every day; however, it seemed each day was better than the one before. During our stay, we saw zebras, giraffes, impalas, kudus, waterbucks, hyenas, wildebeests, monkeys, warthogs, hippos, ostrich and some amazing birds, and the sought after BIG 5: leopards, lions, rhinos, buffalo and elephants. Some of our highlights were of a lion and lioness with cubs, out just before dusk. The female walked no further than 10 feet from our vehicle. We spotted a male lion in the brush very close at no more than six feet from us.
I’m pretty sure you could just go on a bird watching safari; there were some amazing birds, from the African Fish-Eagle, White Stork, Cape Glossy Starling, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Guinea Fowls, the Go-Away birds and many more that I’m sure we missed.
The take away for me was that it was a once in a lifetime experience. You will experience how wild animals live in their environment, and how nature’s laws are in full effect for all of them. You are just a bystander watching it all happen. The amazing fact is that the animals don’t seem to worry about the vehicle or who is in it. They will stop and watch you as much as you are watching them. At times it was unnerving how close we were to some of the world’s most deadly predators. If an African Safari seems like the vacation of a lifetime, contact us at Condor Tours and Travel, and let us make this dream a reality for you!