Tracking in Ngala

Full tummies.

Full tummies.

Our final morning drive at River Lodge was incredible. We saw all Big 5 without even trying – I think they were coming to bid us farewell. As a final bonus the herd of elephants we’ve been following around actually walked across our camp while we were having breakfast.

We had two new experiences today – seeing a Pride of Lions and their cubs with a recently killed Water Buffalo and a young Leopard (8 months?) treed by the aforementioned pack of Wild Dogs. Both were amazing and we could’ve watched for hours. The devouring of the Water Buffalo was not too pleasant to look at (so I will spare you the photos), but the cubs were darling. There were also several lionesses as well as some young males (maybe 2-3 years old) about ready to be cast out from the Pride. They were so amazing to see, we all were able to ignore the really unpleasant, putrid smell from the rotting carcass.

Now we are waiting for our plane to Ngala.

Ngala means Lion in Shangaan and this is where we learned about Glamping (super-luxurious camping).

We had some crazy confusion with our flight leaving Exeter ~ somehow, someone decided we should leave the Lodge at 9 AM. Fortunately, the manager prevailed and we were able to leave as planned at midday. Typical of bush flight schedules, they thought the incoming flight would be early and decided to race to the airstrip to be on time for the new arrivals . . . so, we had what our driver coined a “Ferrari Safari.” And it was crazy – about 100 degrees and driving as fast as humanly possible, in an open vehicle, on unpaved roads through the Sabi Sands. It might be the riskiest thing we have actually done on this trip. But we arrived in one piece and had a nice 15 minute flight with the same young pilot as our flight into Ngala.

The airstrip in Ngala in about a half hour away from the tented camp, and our Ranger Rob was at the strip to meet us. The terrain here is more open, seems flatter and is sandier in color. There also seems to be more green trees and no burned areas.

Ngala borders Kruger National Park, and our camp (with just six permanent tented rooms) is very laid back with much more flexible time schedules and is also more focused on tracking. A lot more time here is spent waiting and watching – often, we have learned, with great rewards.

Since we have seen the “Magnificent 7” (the previously mentioned “Big 5” plus Wild Dogs and Cheetah), we are also more relaxed about our game viewing.

The Ambiance

Oh yeah – let me not forget to describe the facilities here – at &Beyond’s Ngala Private Game Reserve it is very elegant/upscale, permanently tented suites with full power, A/C, no windows-just screens open to the elements and, of course incredible gourmet meals. My husband has said (and I quote) “I have nothing to complain about the food here – it is really good.”  Quite an endorsement from a very basic eater.

It still gets quite cold here at night; they put down shades, draw the drapes and provide wonderful bedding with dual control electric blankets. We also have an outdoor, secluded shower in addition to the indoor bath with freestanding tub. This is why one recent guest called it “glamping” – a term that describes it perfectly.

We haven’t seen too many Americans on this trip, Brits, Aussies, Germans, Spanish, Chileans, Irish and more. We are currently riding around with some folks from Perth who are lots of fun.

Since Ngala means Lion – we did search and find two on our first drive. We watched them sleep for a long time, wake up for 20 seconds of mating and back to sleep. . . . this male is a beautiful specimen with an incredible mane. He is so perfect because he apparently runs from most adversarial situations and is hanging around with one female instead of the usual pack of males. The staff does not know where the female has come from and are mystified by his behavior.

The hit of this drive, for us, was seeing the Hyaena den with three pups sleeping and looking around outside!

The night sounds are amazing as the temps drop into the 40s and many animals move around – we heard Lions roar, an Elephant trumpet, Monkeys play and many more sounds I am happy not to be able to ID.

Sabi Sands: Elephant Walk

Leading the pack.

Leading the pack.

This morning’s game drive was incredible! We actually were going to look for Wild Dogs, when we got diverted by some other interesting finds. We were also keeping our eyes peeled for Elephants, since we had passed up some previous opportunities during our big cat tracking.

We soon found ourselves in the midst of a substantial herd of females and babies, Fred counted 30. We had passed the big males close by – the size contrast was unbelievable – from the humongous bull to the tiniest baby (under 6 months). It was a truly magical experience and my husband has dubbed it his favorite of the day.

My favorite was, however, still to come. We got word of a mother Leopard, with two cubs, which were finishing off a recent Impala kill. We found them and watched for quite awhile from no more than 10 feet away. The cubs are 6 months old and are her first litter – they were adorable and playful – I could’ve watched all day.

But we moved on and saw a lake full of Hippos and incredibly a little while later, two Lions mating. The male Lion in this twosome is a sort of bad actor around here, recently returning to the pride after a two year hiatus. Because he was away, he has killed all the cubs in the pride, because they were not his. Nature at work – not always nice to think about.

We actually skipped our break in order to get around all these incredible sights – but the staff was positioned just prior to our return with special smoothies and fruit as a breakfast appetizer.

From the Lodge, we also see animals – today a Hippo (out of the water), yesterday a Giraffe, not to mention the Warthogs that surrounded the pool yesterday.

Dog Day Afternoon.  Even though we saw many animals, our afternoon drive had one goal – to find the elusive and endangered Wild Dogs (also called Painted Dogs). There is one known pack of 10 and they have recently been spotted in the area after a long absence. We did find them – sleeping in the sand and reeds of a dry riverbed. Although mangy-looking in pictures, they really do have wonderfully random markings to keep them well-camouflaged in the bush. This pack has four surviving cute pups (of 6) that were alert and ready to roll. We got to see a little typical dog-revelry with them jumping around and greeting one another – kind of like locker-room antics before a big game.

It’s absolutely amazing that you can be so close to the animals here and they are undisturbed and don’t run away. It can also be very intimidating at times with the larger animals and predators.

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