August 11, 2018 – August 24, 2018
Note: This post is very picture heavy. There were just too many good shots of the animals to choose from. Especially my favorites, the lions and elephants!
On Day 5, we left the big city of Cape Town and headed on a very small plane holding maybe 16 passengers to Skukuza, a city within Kruger National Park, South Africa. This airport was so small it was basically like a private airport with no terminal or gates, but just one waiting area section after the measly security. However, it was very posh and newly renovated.
Right off the plane, our ranger for the week, Jacob, picked us up in the jeep with 4 rows and no sides to take us to the lodge.
He said that we might see some animals along the way, but would only stop if we saw something he deemed interesting. Immediately out of the gate of the airport, we saw animals, an eland to be exact which we did not see again the whole trip.
A smaller antelope the impala, was plentiful on the way to the lodge and we probably saw 1000s throughout our trip.
The big sighting of the drive from the airport was an ostrich running down the road. Apparently the animals like to use the roads too because they are easier and quicker to navigate without having to step over branches.
Jacob said we were really lucky to see an ostrich because he doesn’t find them that often. It was also the only one we saw on safari, but we didn’t really think it was that special since we had just fed some the day before and eaten some the day before that.
We continued along the road and saw a giraffe posing right by the road. He was so close and made for a great picture.
We got to the amazing Jock Safari Lodge around 2 and were given the royal treatment and shown around the place. It is literally in the middle of nowhere within the Kruger National Park. The lodge owns around 6000 acres of private viewing land in their own concession so animals get really close to the lodge. Luckily there is a big electrical fence around the lodge for protection (but this doesn’t keep the monkeys out! They were running wild all over the lodge and you had to put latches on everything so they couldn’t get in. They also liked to turn on the outdoor bathtub when they pleased.).
The lodge has only 12 rooms and can sleep 24 guests at a time. Each room has a private fence around the lavish inside quarters as well as an outdoor day bed, outdoor bath and shower, and dipping pool.
Our room overlooked the dried up river bed and throughout the trip we would see various animals playing around.
Before our highly anticipated first game drive, we had time for a quick lunch. The food at the Jock Safari Lodge was incredibly delicious and we enjoyed the curry and the most creamy avocado I have ever had. As a bonus, all food and drinks were already included in the price. We freshened up quickly before afternoon tea and game drive.
Drive 1 – afternoon
On our way out of the gates we saw some elephants.
We headed towards the dried up river sitting on the concession and saw a dead Duiker (kind of small antelope) up in a tree that a leopard had killed and stashed for later. We sat around for a bit, but the leopard was onto our games and didn’t show his face.
We continued further into the river and saw many more elephants just hanging out.
Just beyond the elephants we saw what was probably one of my favorite sitings of the whole trip: a mama lion with 5 baby cubs!
They were so close to us. Jacob informed us that the babies were not all hers because they were different ages, but she was just in charge of babysitting while the other mamas hunted. I loved watching the babies snooze with the mama.
One cub was even holding her had while he slept.
I could have watched them forever. Eventually we saw 3 of the other females come back and they literally walked right by our car! They would just stare at us, but were not phased.
We even saw some elephants at the same time.
The big cats were just hanging out, being lazy for a while.
All of the sudden, the 3 big lions went away. We tracked them to the site of the dead duiker. One had jumped up in the tree and was eating the leopard’s stash! We were so close we could hear the bones breaking and the meat ripping.
She was protecting the food so that none of it would drop to the ground where the other two hungry lions were waiting.
When she accidentally did drop a piece, the others swooped in. After having her fill, she jumped down from the tree and we watched another jump up looking for remains. She only got the tail.
Jacob told us this was a rare find and kept saying “amazing” which we came to realize was his catch phrase, along with “that’s a real good picture right there”.
Jacob was a great guide because he not only pointed out the good pictures, but he shared so much knowledge about all of the animals along the drive. His top priority was keeping us safe, and at one point when we were driving along the riverbed, we passed by some elephants and he could tell they were agitated so he quickly sped off. He didn’t tell us until later that he suspected they might charge. In his 20 years of being a ranger, he has never had to use his gun once, so I felt pretty safe throughout the drives.
Also on Drive 1, we saw some Rolla Birds with green tails, pink necks and blue bellies, pirate king fishers, bush bucks (look like a deer but the male will pretend he’s dead when shot and then will stab you with his horns), and kudu (larger antelope that are very delicious).
We stopped while the sun was setting to have a glass of wine and stretch our legs. We could hear the elephants nearby, but Jacob explained that they would see our car and not be threatened so we were not too alarmed.
Once it was dark, we started tracking a heard of about 100 buffalo that were about to cross the public road. We got into position, and they crossed maybe 10 feet in front of us! The bulls stay on the outsides to protect the women and babies. The pathfinders are in the front to make the way. I wish it would have been daytime because it was a little hard to see. Apparently the buffalo were headed straight into lion territory, which could get ugly.
We headed back to the concession and down the riverbed to see if the lions we saw earlier had caught a whiff of the buffalo. We only saw 2 of the cubs and none of the mamas. Jacob said that the mamas probably hid the cubs somewhere while they went to hunt and these two were being mischievous and ventured out of the spot. They were still cute.
Since it was dark and we had such an exciting drive, we haded back to the camp and almost ran over 5 white rhinos crossing in front of us!
This brought us to a total of 4 out of the BIG 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino), only the elusive leopard had expertly avoided us on our first drive!
Before dinner was happy hour which included a glass of wine under the stars. Because it was such a nice night, we had a braai or BBQ for dinner outside. We ate warthog, impala sausage, and kudu pie, along with some Greek salad and cheesy eggplant casserole. It was delicious. We sat with Jacob and the other companions who were in our car, a nice couple from Brisbane, and an Italian family (mom + dad + teenage son). Funnily enough the Italian mom had studied in Knoxville at UT. Small world! After dinner and socializing, we went to bed since the game drives started at 6am and we literally had a 5:30am wakeup call from Jacob.
Jacob gave us a call at 5:30am and the conversation went a bit like this.
Jacob: Good morning, this is your wakeup call.
Me: GOOD morning! We are awake!!
Drive 2 – morning
The wake up was the same every morning, but I see the necessity since it’s important to get out on the roads early. We were awake before the sun and we saw it rise over the bush, a nice cotton candy pink at first then bright orange when the sun came into view.
Upon leaving the gate, we saw two giraffes poking their heads up out of the trees. I thought it would be a sign we would see some cool stuff.
The drive started off pretty slow, and all we saw were birds for a while: snake eagle, black bellied koran, marshall eagle. We just drove along through the dried up sandy river bed in the concession in search of wild game. It was nice that we were the only vehicle around, and I felt like we were really in the wild.
At the local watering hole we ran across a thirsty hyena getting his drink on. He would sip and then look at us with water running down his chin. Apparently they aren’t dangerous to humans as long as you’re awake. If you’re sleeping, then they think you’re dead and will eat you.
After the hyena, we didn’t see much for a while.
Later on in the drive we saw several duiker and then about 8 zebras.
Zebras always have big bellies even if they are malnourished because they are gassy animals. You can tell that they’re healthy if their mane is standing up. I like how their tales look like they are braided. Apparently males and females have different types of stripes, so we were informed that there was one male with his group of females. I couldn’t tell a difference though.
Jacob stopped for a while to talk to us about elephant poop and did a show and tell. Not only was our ranger knowledgeable of the behaviors of animals and the warning signs of angry animals, but he knew very well how to track them. Several times he pointed our animal tracks or stopped to talk about their dung. He even got out of the car and picked up a big piece of elephant droppings to show us how they cut sticks in their intestines at a 45 degree angle.
Over the radio, we heard that the lions were on the hunt for the buffalo we had seen the previous night, so we sped off towards them.
We saw some elephants, more zebras, and wildebeests along the way.
When we got to where the buffalo were crossing the road, there was a traffic jam.
Unfortunately the lions were on the public roads and everyone must have heard about them because there were probably 20 cars trying to get a glimpse. The buffalo were crossing the opposite direction as they had been the night before, but in the exact same spot so apparently the lions had chased them back.
Once the buffalo crossed and the traffic got a move on, we could see 3 male lions watching the buffalo hoping one would separate from the group so they could feed. No such luck on the lion takedown, and we headed back towards the lodge.
We saw a couple more white rhino through the bush and another giraffe before making it to breakfast.
I couldn’t believe how much we had done before breakfast!
Breakfast was delicious and there was a wide array of fresh fruits, meats, and cheeses to select from as well as a made to order egg dish. Again, it was incredible.
After breakfast we relaxed in the outdoor bed for a while. I was reading and heard a noise and looked up and monkeys, duikers, and elephants were in the river bed right in front of me! I watched them graze for a while and the baby elephants were running around playing.
Because we had such a great outdoor setup, after lunch I decided to take a bath in the outdoor tub. The views were amazing and you felt really at one with nature. Especially when a baboon was curiously standing about 10 feet from me, a little unnerving. It was such a relaxing day.
When we walked out of the room to take afternoon tea before the next drive, about 7 monkeys jumped down from our roof and starting hopping around the trees. I ran out of the gate screaming and left Tyler behind to fend for himself.
He did make it to tea though. So did the elephants that had been right by our room, they ventured to the other side of the lodge by the watering hole and were splashing water on each other and then rolling around in the mud. One of the babies tried to walk up the slope of the hole and fell back down and rolled around some more. It was really cute.
Drive 3 – afternoon
Straight out of the gate, we headed towards the female lions we had been following to see what they were up to. We went up the banks of the river and almost ran over some dwarf mongoose along the way. By the way if you ever have a trivia question of “what do you call a group of mongoose?” The answer if a business.
When we got to the top of the river, we saw the 5 mama lions from yesterday, but there were no babies in sight. One of the mamas was rolling around looking like a housecat who wanted a belly rub, one was yawning and being lazy, and one had a collar on. She was the unlucky one of the bunch who got tagged for research purposes. Since the females tend to stick together, they only tagged one and could follow the whole pride.
We stayed there for a while watching the lazy lions hang out. It was too hot for them to move much. What a contrast it was from the freezing cold morning drive!
After the lions, we headed back down the river and once again saw our favorite group of about 30 elephants munching on some trees. We were so close we could almost touch them. It was awesome to see them up close.
Past the elephants, back up out of the river, we were within 3 meters of a big male giraffe who was also munching on some trees. He had a big scar on his neck, maybe either from fighting or skin disease.
Continuing along the drive, we saw wildebeest that were a bit far from the road, and helmeted guinea fowl with bright blue heads.
Interesting fact about the helmeted guinea fowl, the female has to get fat before laying her eggs because she can’t leave the nest afterwards, so the male helps give her food. The chicks are born ready to leave the nest with their eyes open and can get their own food.
Throughout the drive, we saw some white rhino crossing the road right in front of us.
We saw zebra and elephants and impala all running around together.
Jacob got a call that there was a leopard in the area, so we went full speed ahead to catch a sighting of the most rare of the BIG 5. We got to the site, and saw him laying on top of a rock.
They are known for being loners and they eat anything from grasshoppers to birds and squirrels to cliff springers and duikers. We watched the leopard for a while to see if he was going to do anything, but he was lazy and would wake up and look around then yawn.
While we were watching the leopard, a group of elephants was trying to cross the road right where another Jock Safari vehicle was parked. The elephants go so mad the car was in their way so we also moved back to let them pass. No sense in making the elephant mad.
When the sun was starting to set, we saw some cliff springers and they were great subjects for a silhouette photo.
During the darkness, we spotted an eagle owl who had huge eyes. He saw us and turned his head in a complete circle to look at us. Super creepy.
To complete our first (and only) BIG 5 DRIVE, we saw the same herd of buffalo once again crossing the street. It seems like that was all they ever did.
Some other cool things we saw, scarab hares (kinda like rabbit), steenbok (kinda like baby deer), striped jackal, large spotted janet. That’s all.
We got back to the lodge in time for happy hour on the rooftop terrace. Some red wine pairs nicely with star gazing, I discovered. We talked to our game drive mates, the Italian family and the Aussies about life and how much we were enjoying our vacations. Dinner under the stars of king clip and prawns brought the wonderful day to a close.
Drive 4 – morning
Although I had no intention of getting out of bed when my alarm went off, I did perk up once we got the wakeup call. We trekked down to the restaurant to get some refreshments before the drive. It was maybe even colder than the day before and I really needed the blanket to wrap up in.
Out of the gates, we saw some baboons on top of rocks, also watching the sunrise. I have never before watched the sunrise 2 days in a row. It feels good.
Although it was really really cold.
While driving, we saw a new animal, the warthog, across the way. A real life Pumba (still no sign of Timone).
We continued along the road and saw what looked to be a dead animal in the middle of the road. As we approached, we could see that it was actually a mama hyena nursing her two babies. In the middle of the road!
She was not concerned at all by the vehicles and the babies kept nursing. I think the warmth of the road drew her in on this cold morning.
Baby hyenas are born with teeth and their eyes open. Females are the dominant ones, and if the mama has 2 females, one will kill the other to get all the milk. If there’s one male and one female baby, the female will bite the male and not let it nurse until she’s done, so the males are generally smaller.
About 10 meters away, another mom was nursing just one pup. When we headed towards them, the baby jumped up and ran away to the den to hide.
We could hear it crying in the den, but the mom just laid on the road, unfazed.
He eventually popped his head back out of the hole to look around and ran back to the mom. Jacob assured us that he will learn to not be scared of the cars in time.
From here, we searched for leopards as there were reports of some in the area, but we didn’t find any. It was kind of a boring drive and we didn’t see much, but the scenery was incredible. We drove to the top of this huge rock where we could see for miles. It reminded me of the Lion King and this is where we had our morning coffee and snack break. It seemed like the morning drives were always a little slower than the afternoon ones.
Heading back down the mountain, we saw a mama and a baby rhino. They got pretty close to check us out and then frolicked away. Rhinos can’t see very well, but their sense of smell and hearing are excellent.
Also on the drive, we saw a brown hooded king fisher, tawny eagle, and a huge group of kudu females (they kick the males out to a bachelor group once they’re old enough. girl power.)
Drive 5 – afternoon
Because it was so hot, like 37 degrees, we didn’t see any animals around the lodge before the afternoon drive. Instead we got in a quick workout and lounged by the pool and in the day bed for much of the day.
A cold front was expected during the drive, so we weren’t sure how the animal viewing would be. We started the rive down in the river looking for wild dog that had been spotted there in the morning. Apparently wild dog is a very rare sighting. We drove around for a while and didn’t see any animals at all. Not even impala. Just a rhino skull.
Then a side stripe jackal.
At one point, Jacob said that the skies were changing and it was about to get windy. No joke, 3 seconds later howling winds came out of nowhere. It was a sandstorm and we were driving through the middle of the sandy river bed. I tied a bandana around my face to keep the dust from inside my nose and wore my sunglasses. It was pretty bad for animal viewing, but the sunset was magical. The whole landscape was shadowed with pink hues.
On top of the river bank, we saw 7 giraffes running for their lives. We never saw what was chasing them, or if they were just scared of the wind, but eventually they retreated.
Because it was slim pickings in the riverbed, we headed to the public roads in search of a leopard that had been seen earlier in the day. Instead, we were greeted with maybe the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
We got to the area and saw another Jock Safari vehicle. We headed towards the vehicle as I spotted the leopard. I told Jacob to back up and then he saw it too. I was so impressed with myself for spotting the leopard first before two guides saw it! All of my hard work playing the kitty game paid off and I won the ultimate kitty game!
The leopard was just chilling on the ground.
We drove up a bit more and some rhinos crossed the road in front of us.
We alternated between watching the leopard climb a tree and elephants off in the distance.
There were also hyenas to the side of the road eating something. They went towards the leopard and sat under the tree hoping he would drop something for them to snack on. He didn’t.
When we were leaving the area we saw another baby rhino with its mama. So many animals crossing the streets! And had one last glimpse of the sleepy lazy leopard.
My first question when Jacob picked us up at the airport was would we see any snakes. He said that it was very unlikely that we would see any snakes, but guess what we saw a venomous snake. I was not happy. But then Jacob poured us some gin and tonics by the car and we enjoyed the still air.
We didn’t see any animals along our ride back to the lodge. It was really cold so I was fine with retiring early.
For dinner we had another braai with eland, warthog, buffalo sausage, and kudu pie. It was someone’s birthday, so they brought a cake and had this long procession of African singing and dancing.
Drive 6 – morning
Our last drive at the Jock Safari Lodge. I woke up to Jacob’s voice for the last time and especially did not want to wake up. We may have overdid it on the wine at dinner the night before, but it was so delicious. Overnight the cold front came through and the high went from 37 to 11, which is really cold in an open air 4×4 jeep, even with a blanket and especially when it’s raining. Needless to say I wasn’t super stoked for the drive.
It also started off pretty slow, and there was no pretty sunrise because of the clouds. We saw wildebeests from pretty far away after we’d been driving for about 30 minutes. We got closer and realized they were about to fight.
We saw a lot of impala, which is a little boring.
We saw a den of 5 hyenas with their pups right by the road. The pups were so cute and kept venturing towards us. Only the females stay together because the males are sent away then they’re 2 years old. I really liked the fuzzy baby hyenas.
It wasn’t a complete waste of a drive when we saw 2 lionesses up on top of a rock watching over the plains. There were 3 baboons on the other side of the rock and we were pretty sure they had no idea lions were right behind them. Because of the strong winds, it was hard for all of the animals to smell.
We saw vultures a few times, but no kills.
We finally got some good pictures of buffalo who were crossing the street once again.
To complete the drive, we saw zebra and rhino. It ended up being an okay drive, but most of the animals were pretty far away and we were literally frozen.
We asked Jacob to do a drive by of the lodge from the river so we could snap a picture of the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed.
We warmed up with some spectacular breakfast and mimosas.
After packing up and saying goodbye to the lodge, we had a transport to the airport in the open 4×4 jeep in the freezing rainy cold with no blankets. We did see a few animals along the way though.
Overall my first safari experience extremely exceeded expectations. I was kind of nervous going in because I thought that it would be unsafe, but I felt completely safe the entire time. In addition to the best ranger ever, the Jock Safari Lodge was an incredibly luxurious experience out in the middle of nowhere. I can’t recommend it enough.