Kruger, Arathusa Safari Lodge, Days 54-56- Aurrrrgh, wifi in the bush is a very iffy thing. Seemed to be nonexistent, if there where more than 4 or 5 people on the system at a time. Staying up late, waiting out everyone wasn’t an option since we had to be up for morning safari at 4:45 am. It is dark for about 15 minutes of our morning safari, then we get a beautiful sunrise.
Our first full day at the lodge was Monday the 28th. Arathusa is located in Sabi Sands Reserve area. Arathusa is in a coalition of 75 private property owners that border on and are open to Kruger National Park, which is 7,523 square miles. The Sabi Sands coalition adds over 386 square miles for animals to naturally migrate and stake territories. The two boundaries not open to the park have 9′, razor wired, alarmed and electrified fencing. These boundaries abut private land and are more to keep poachers out, than to keep animals in. The park has several endangered species, the Rhino being the most sought after by poachers. It’s estimated that the wild Rhino will be extinct by 2020. South Africa has one of the largest remaining populations of Rhino, most being White Rhinos. This is the reserve’s grand daddy bull. He is estimated to weight two and one half tons.
The first full day with two safaris, we saw a Hippo wandering around eating in 90+ degree heat (highly unusual, as they like to stay cool in water and come out to feed at night), Giraffe, a group of male Lions that have moved into the area and killed off the competition, Wildebeest, Waterbuck and Jackal.
What was amazing to both of us, was how addicted we got to seeing these animals in their natural habitat, doing what they normally do. They pretty much ignored us or turned tail and ambled away. When animals were sighted, Ryan our Ranger, would shut down the rig and we would just sit and watch until everyone was ready to move on. Television and photos just can’t portray the size, the scale and movement of the animals in the vast landscape. We were hooked and are looking forward to future safaris.
Tuesday the 29th was an incredible safari day. First off, we had seen a female Leopard when driving back to the lodge the night before. She was deep in the brush and it was too dark to follow her. So the next morning Debeer, our tracker was off on foot following her tracks through the brush and along the road. Driving, Ryan was following her tracks on the edge of the road and I was leaning over the side watching them too. All of the sudden I was staring right into her hissing face. She was off the road near a culvert and I could see a tiny cub. I’m afraid I wasn’t subtle in my reaction, just so excited! No screaming thank goodness or I’d have ruined everything. We managed to get off road for a view, but far enough away for her to quit hissing and growling. Not behavior the Rangers want patterned for the cubs when they see humans. After she calmed down,we moved a little closer and the little Cubs came creeping out of the concrete culvert pipes where they are living. This Leopard has lost previous litters to flood and Lions. Everyone is pulling for these little guys to make it.
The roads are terrible with washouts and river ravines to cross, so the flat tire we got was no surprise. Ryan and Debeer had it changed in no time in a well rehearsed routine.
Then we saw Elephants everywhere we went. Very unusual as they can be rather elusive for being so large. There were more babies of varying ages, but one very little one (about 100 lbs) that was so funny, running around with his tail in the air trying to mimic others in the herd.
The Plains Zebras have moved in after a large fire burned out the area 2 years ago, creating more grassland. The Plains Zebra (pronounced Zeb-Ra, by Ryan) is larger and more boldly striped than the Cape Zebra. Also the stripes go all the way around their bellies, whereas the Cape has a white belly to reflect heat from its rocky environment.
We decided to cut it a little close by going out for one last morning safari on Wednesday the 30th. Our flight out of Nelspirit, was taking off at 1:35 pm, we would get back from safari at 8:30 am, with packing up and a 3 hour drive in front of us. We put 2861 miles on our rental car driving across South Africa. An English family of 4 were leaving at the same time and they were kind enough to let us follow their professional driver to the airport. He definitely knew the shortest route. We had bought damage coverage for the car that was needed for the scratches incurred in our off pavement adventures, money well spent.
Were we ever happy we went out that morning. Two of the endangered Cheetahs were spotted on a road that borders Kruger. If they wandered back into the park the Rangers couldn’t follow, so Ryan drove like a madman to get there before they disappeared back into the park. Fortunately they had just gorged themselves and could barely walk. Theirs stomachs were so big and hanging so low that they looked like they were about to give birth, not a possibility since they were both males.
Then Ryan rushed off again and got us to the site of two Lionesses that had also just eaten and were lying around, panting trying to digest their huge breakfast.