The perfect culmination of our three weeks in Lesotho and South Africa was the five days we spent with our son and his wife at Nkorho Bush Lodge in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Since Sabi Sands is located next to Kruger National Park and shares 50 kilometers of unfenced boundary, the animals roam freely over this large natural area.
Airport waiting area, Skukuza Airport
Some visitors to the area stay at different lodges for two or three nights, but we remained at one lodge for our full four nights, becoming totally relaxed and deeply in the present moment. When we made our reservations, we did not realize that our lodge was two to three hours away from the Skukuza Airport, located within Kruger National Park.
Kruger National Park Entrance
However, we had arranged drivers in both directions and all we had to do was sit back, look around, and nap. Skukuza is a very small, but beautifully designed airport. The “departure lounge” located outside feels like a luxurious spot to relax and actually enjoy waiting for a plane.
Our bathroom with showers indoors and outdoors
The warm greeting we received at Nkorho upon arriving set the tone for the remainder of our stay. Nkorho is a small lodge, having only seven cottages and a maximum of about 16 guests. The chalets have very attractive comfortable bedrooms with sliding doors to the deck. Our bathroom, and I think all of them, was quite luxurious with showers both inside and out.
The common space at Nkorho includes a thatched building with inside and outdoor lounging areas including the bar, the infinity pool, a smaller rock pool, and a thatched dining porch. It overlooks the open plain and the watering hole where the animals come to drink, so we often had entertainment even when doing nothing.
One interesting fact is that the only fence around the property is a wire to keep out the elephants. Therefore smaller animals can, and sometimes do, get in. This does not appear to be of much concern during the day—-unless it is, for example, the lion we were told once came in and decided to stay—-but we were warned that once we were all in our cottages for the night and the outdoor lights were turned off, we should not go wandering. Since there were wild animals around, guests were realistically confined to the premises and could not, for example, go for a run or an unaccompanied hike, which was the one drawback for some guests.
Sunset on game drive
Each day had the same structure. The rangers woke us about 30 minutes before our pre-dawn drive started. After a quick cup of coffee, we climbed into the land cruisers for a two to three hour game drive. Those wishing could go on a bush walk with the ranger and spotter as soon as we returned. Between breakfast around 9:30 a.m. and lunch at 2 p.m., many of us would go back to bed or lie on the lounges on our decks or by the infinity swimming pool with a book, a drink, or binoculars so we could see the action at the nearby waterhole. By 4 p.m., we would be back in the land cruisers for a drive that would transition from late afternoon, through sunset. When we returned in the dark, we were greeted by a blazing fire set in a barrel. The attentive staff offered us refreshing drinks. Dinner was served in the boma, a circular enclosure made of leadwood branches. It was lit by a central campfire and many lanterns. The food was tasty and plentiful, including a memorable warthog carpaccio.
Night sky during cocktails
While some guests retired right after dinner, we found it was an enchanting time to sit in the outdoor patio next to the pool, drink in hand. The bar was staffed by the rangers and the other staff we saw routinely, so we had additional opportunities to talk with them. I remember some very nice moments near the bar with our ranger, Jason. We discussed his family background and training to become a ranger, and studied the map on the wall of the Sabi Sands preserve. When I was curious about the difference in the roars of a lion and a leopard, Jason whipped out his cell phone and we compared videos of the two. (Yet I still can’t imitate the appropriate roars with my two-year-old grandson!)
Each game drive had the same structure, but each was, literally, a trip in itself. Despite our wishes it were otherwise, the weather and whether the animals appeared remained beyond our control. There were blankets if we were cold, ponchos in case it was wet, and conversation was encouraged while we were driving along, so that helped to keep us entertained when the animals did not cooperate. Nkorho used two land cruisers, each one with three rows of bench seats that were capable of holding 10 passengers, but we never carried that many, and we always had space to spread out and have clear sightlines.
Close to the elephants
The guides were in contact by radio with other guides in the area so, if one found something of interest, others could be informed. The guides would not want to raise false expectations for the guests, so they used code names for what they were stalking. If there was an interesting sighting, no more that three cruisers would congregate at a time, so we never felt in the midst of the tourist horde.
Because the animals were comfortable with the cruisers we could get up close to most of the game. In Sabi Sands, the cruisers were permitted to go off the roads, which allowed us to be very near the game in their natural surroundings. We were, however, warned to stay seated. It was almost as if the cruisers were just another animal!
Coffee break on morning game drive
The morning game drives included a stop to stretch and have coffee and a snack. We were asked at lunch what we would want for our “sundowner drink” so that, when we would stop during our evening drive, our preferred libation was provided, along with snacks such as biltong, pretzels, and other munchies. Some of these stops were in open plains and one memorable one was near a riverbed. A sundowner in Africa, on a game trip, with a full moon, or seeing the stars and the Southern Cross, is a magical moment in time, and space.
With Jason in driver’s seat
Each game drive had a team of a guide and driver, Jason, and a tracker, Victor, who sat on a little seat in front of the cruiser hood, spotting game or searching for tracks. Sometimes the two would get out, follow a track, then get back in the cruiser and drive into the bush, hoping to spot the game that they had tracked. Of course, everyone wanted to see “the Big Five” (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and Rhino) and we saw all of them except lions who seemed to have moved on to other areas after making a kill nearby the week before. Sometimes, it was only one animal, at other times a larger group, including a dazzle of zebras, a crash of rhino, a herd of elephants, a pod of hippos and a journey of giraffes.
Elephants at the watering hole
We had especially good luck seeing spotted leopards and elephants. Jason knew the nicknames, personalities, and history of some of these magnificent creatures. When we saw one stalking prey, Jason shared what he was observing, the movement of the tail and its meaning, for example. We also were able to see a spotted leopard at rest on a riverbank. While it lacked the drama of a kill or a mating, it provided time to really study the amazing rosette design, the different colors of the fur, including a creamy white, and the mesmerizing eyes of this masterpiece of nature. One day, we spent about 30 minutes near a group of eight elephants at the waterhole. Jason’s enthusiasm and visible affection for the elephants was part of our experience, and he had all of us entertained with commentary on the baby elephant’s awkward efforts to drink water.
Our tracker and guide were also adept at spotting the little animals. On one night drive when we were having little success seeing the big animals, Jason stopped the cruiser, placed an interesting chameleon on his arm, and we studied him while Victor held the spotlight. We also saw magnificent birds, termite mounds, and many smaller animals such as mongoose, steinbuck, and turtles.
Impala and Wildebeest watering hole
The animal that seemed most profuse was the impala. In addition to seeing the “bachelor herds” since only one male accompanied the females, we witnessed, on two days, parades of impala lined up neatly walking to the watering hole. We were in the infinity pool, as hundreds of them approached in a neat line, drank, and then leaped away.
While each of us intellectually understands that there are patterns in nature, this visit to the bush dramatized it. In addition to the rosettes on the leopard and the spots on the giraffe, we saw the waterbucks with a large circle of white surrounding their tails and the stripes on the kudu and the wildebeests. We witnessed the variety in the stripes on the zebra. Some of them are actually “shadow stripes” of brown, and the layout of black and white patterns vary from one zebra to the next.
I assume that most of us returning from Safari make lists of which animals we saw, but it is of greater value to reflect on what we learned about these animals. It is humbling to be a guest in their world, still enjoying the comforts of ours, and grateful that, at the end of each day, we can both be in the places that feel like home.
Photos by Susan Kobayashi and Daniel Kobayashi
For more information, go to the website for Nkorho Bush Lodge.