On our ride down the Mozambique coast, we were in touch with Dave's sister, Kim via our iridium satellite email. She asked if there was anything she could do for us in preparation for our arrival in South Africa. Since internet is always such an issue, we asked her if she could do some research on game parks, to see where we could go and do some game viewing! The beauty of Richard's Bay is that it is very conveniently located to the northern Kwa Zulu Natal game parks, and we wanted to utilize our stop there to do a trip to one of them. Long story short, Kim managed to secure us a last-minute deal of the century at Mkuze Falls Game Reserve, a private game park, about 150km or a 2 1/2 hour drive from Richard's Bay. We have never been to a private game park before, so we were very excited about going!
Our journey didn't start off all that well. We were about 30 minutes away from the Lodge, driving along when we hit a rather deep pothole, and immediately we could feel it: we had a puncture! We pulled over to the side of the road and changed the tire. The impact of hitting the pothole was so severe, we bent the rim! Not a great start, especially when, upon hiring the car, Dave had declined the insurance that covered windscreen damage and punctures!!
|Our game viewing vehicle|
|Gabs with the 2 disguised cheetahs in the grass behind her|
|One of the cheetahs walking across the road|
|Perched on top of the hill|
After leaving the cheetahs, we drove for a little while longer. Our driver and spotter kept looking at the ground and they told us they saw lion footprints. We drove along and came around a corner, and there he was...a lone male lion! He was walking in the road, and then stopped. Something had caught his attention. He stopped, then sat down. We could do nothing but wait and admire him. Then we saw what he was looking at: there was a herd of zebra a little way in the bush, but they got spooked and galloped away. He might have been a lazy lion or not a very hungry lion, because he didn't chase them, but wondered off into the bush and disappeared in a matter of minutes!
|We found who they belong to!|
The game drive was 3 hours long, and we saw many buck and warthog after the cheetahs and lion, but it's hard to beat those sightings! As the sun was going down, we stopped and our spotter pulled out a table, whipped out a tablecloth, and set it up with drinks and snacks. Dave and I enjoyed a glass of red wine while the sun was setting and enjoyed some biltong along with it. A lone buffalo was not too far away, curiously watching us. Man, it's a tough life!!
|5 star service!|
After returning to the lodge in the dark, we had dinner and collapsed into bed! The kids had their own chalet, and we had one next door, which was actually a suite. We had a kitchen and a living area, and all the chalets had a beautiful outdoor shower and a private little pool! It was absolutely beautiful! Each unit also had a patio that overlooked the bush, and the Mkuze Falls with a dam below. It has been designed and built in such a way that you feel you are the only ones there. You can't see any of the other units from your patio, so you feel completely private.
|Our luxurious accommodation|
|From the other angle|
|Ben said we didn't have to go on game drives, you could just walk around our "house" and see all the buck! (mounted to the walls!!)|
The following morning, we got a 5:00am wake up call, to get us ready for our 5:30am game drive. It was freezing cold and we bundled up as we set out. We immediately saw giraffe near the lodge and I had jokingly told our driver that I'd put in an order for elephants that day. He obviously took me seriously, because they set out to find them, and boy, did we find them! We drove completely off road to get close to a herd of elephants that were munching away. There were babies who were so cute! We watched and followed the elephants for hours. Before coming back to the lodge, we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate.
|Beautiful morning giraffe|
|And off they go!|
After breakfast, we had some time off, before lunch was served at 1:00pm! I sat on the patio and watched a croc that was lazying in the shallows of the water of the dam below the lodge. We had heard that a few days previously, a buck had come for a drink, and the croc took it! I guess he was still hungry from that meal as he just wallowed in the water. We could also see a lone giraffe across the way, having a nibble at the leaves on top of the trees that only he, with his long neck, could get to!
We skipped "High Tea" at 3:00pm, because we were still so full from lunch! But we were ready and rearing to go for our 3:30pm game drive! We saw lots of Giraffe, Zebra, Nyala, Kudu and Impala, and a few Elephants in the distance. Coming around a corner, we bumped into a whole herd of Buffalo. Then, on our drive back toward to the lodge, we slowed down to view a male Nyala in the road in front of us, when Gaby spotted a Rhino in the bushes! Well done, Gaby! The rhino made its way next to us, and then crossed over the road in front of us, and then just as quickly disappeared into the bushes! We were very lucky to see it. Our driver then took us back to a waterhole. I thought we would be having our sundowners here, but when the spotter jumped off his perch in the front of the vehicle, and hopped into the car, I thought..."Lion!" (as this is what he had done the last time we saw lions). He joked with us, and just said, "No lion, I'm just tired", so I was a bit disappointed. But he was kidding, because there, just having his late afternoon nap, was a big male lion!
|Rhino walking off|
|One last look to check us out|
|I just wanted to ruffle his mane!!|
|Dinner?! Something caught his attention|
|A roar or a yawn?!|
We watched him yawn and stretch and eventually he got up and started stalking something! Just like the big cat that he is, he stealthily crept up on his prey, some buck that we couldn't see. And the next thing we saw him dash away! And then we saw him come back out of the bush, empty handed. I guess he wouldn't be having any dinner that night. I felt bad for the lion, but also happy that some unsuspecting buck survived another day!! We followed him for a while as he walked along the road, and eventually disappeared into the bush. I asked our guide about male lions hunting, because I was always under the impression that the lioness did the hunting, but he said that the lions are quite capable of hunting, they are just lazy, and if there is a lioness around to do the hunting, he will rather just lazy about and be served, being the King of the Jungle that he is! Since this lion was a solitary male, he had to "do his own cooking", the guide told us!
|Another beautiful African sunset|
We enjoyed some more sundowners and made our way back to the lodge for another splendid dinner! We were not used to eating so much food! The dinner menu consisted of 5 courses!! A salad, a soup, a main, a dessert, and then cheese and biscuits and coffee if you wished. We normally just have a bowl of soup for dinner, so this was way too much for us! We never made it to the cheese and biscuits!
On Friday morning we once again awoke at 5:00am for our 5:30am game drive. We headed off in the cold morning, and soon saw our two cheetahs again, lying in the long grass, still sleeping in (clever cheetahs)! Our guides tried very hard to find us a leopard, driving to the far reaches of the reserve, but we unfortunately did not manage to spot one. They are very shy animals and are not often spotted. We did see a mom giraffe with her baby that we were told was only 4 - 5 days old!! We enjoyed our last game drive and hot cup of coffee in bush and at about 9:00am. After a nice, hot breakfast, we sadly packed our bags and got ready to leave. Our car was returned to us, all clean and washed and we reluctantly packed it up and headed back.
|Early morning cheetah spotting|
|Mom and her 4 day old baby!|
|Two drone shots we took of the lodge: our unit is the middle (larger!) one; the kids were right next door, on the right and below is the waterfall area our lodge looked on to ;)|
|A spectacular African sunset on our last evening game drive. You can see the tracker/spotter perched on the front of the Landcruiser, while Gaby and Ben capture the moment on their phones.....and I am sure will remember for ever!|
Thank you, Kim (Dave's sister) for finding us this deal of a century and thank you to Lizette at Mkuze Falls Game Reserve for the 5 Star treatment! Kim had spoken to Lizette at the lodge and told them about our round the world sailing trip, and together they came up with this great deal. We, as a cruising family, could never have afforded such a luxurious stay under normal circumstances, so our deepest thanks to all who made it happen! It certainly was a fantastic start to our South African leg of this around the world journey we are on, and very much appreciated ;)