In the latest instalment of Staff Stories, Geraldine, our product executive, is bringing you all the fun, thrills, and food of a classic safari holiday. So settle in, and allow her to take you day by day through what the group experienced on our latest On Safari in South Africa holiday. Take it away, Geraldine!
We met our local tour manager at Johannesburg airport and were then whisked away to the Sebatana Elephant Lodge. All I can say is, wow! It’s about three hours away from Johannesburg, and we stopped twice for rest stops, snacks, and even champagne.
We reached the lodge around 4pm and were greeted with a cocktail and welcoming smiles. We enjoyed a late lunch. You definitely won’t go hungry here - there’s food aplenty!
Next, it was time to refresh (or take a nap!) before we had a welcome meeting around the boma (a fire pit) hosted by the lodge manager who went through the plans for the week, optional excursions and introduced us to all the staff. At 8pm, it was time to eat again. A delicious three-course dinner was served. The chef talked us through the food, which consisted of tasty local meat and more. What a day.
After a long day yesterday, we had earned a lie-in. We had breakfast at 9am then left at 10am with our driver-guides Jurie and Jacques for a short journey into the stunning reserve. We were talked through the upcoming itinerary, the optional excursions, the animals and trees we could expect to spot, as well as details of the geography. Sebatana Elephant Lodge gives every guest a booklet with pictures of wildlife to spot, as well a checklist of everything to look out for. This had everyone really excited for the week ahead.
We returned to the lodge and were served a buffet lunch at 1pm. There was plenty of food, as I mentioned before: no one will go hungry here. We left for a game drive in the reserve at 3.30pm. We spotted impalas, wildebeest, warthogs, giraffes, zebra, and lots of birds. The scenery was amazing, too. It's moments like these that remind me why South Africa is one of the best destinations for a safari.
We were back at the lodge at 6.30pm, just in time for happy hour. Cocktails are buy one, get one free. A buffet dinner followed at 8pm. No late night for us tonight - we had an early start the next day...
Breakfast was served at the wee hour of 5.30am as we left at 6am for Welgevonden Game Reserve, a thirty-minute drive away. And we saw plenty. Vervet monkeys, kudu, wildebeest, warthogs, ostrich, zebra and rhino. The rhino was a wonderful sight and we got to see two rhino surrounded by zebra. We even spotted some baby zebra close to their mother!
The local guides all communicated by radio so we were listening out for any potential sightings. After three hours in the park, we headed back to the lodge for lunch. On the way, our guide saw a vehicle in front point something out. It was an elephant! Then we heard more coming. We sat for a while, watching five elephants and even a baby. Eventually, the matriarch emerged from the trees and we saw her so close up. It was such a special sight.
We ate lunch outside today, and there was lots of local food on offer. The rest of the day was ours to nap, relax or use the swimming pool (this pool is a big reason why families will love this safari holiday!). Tonight was the first optional excursion: a night safari and bush dinner. We left the lodge at 7.30pm and headed into the reserve with our driver-guides, plus some high-powered torches! We drove for an hour and spotted some barn owls, impala and giraffes.
And then came the bush dinner. Tables and chairs were laid out in front of the boma and the chefs from the lodge were putting the finishing touches on our three-course meal. We had soup to start, followed by impala steaks with baked potato, and then a South African cake for dessert. The meal was finished off with coffee and Amarula cream. It was absolutely delicious. We drove around afterwards, spotting more giraffes before we returned to the lodge. The night sky was so clear… I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. And the moon was bright.
After breakfast number one, we left the lodge at around 6am for a walking tour in the Sebatana private reserve. The aim was to see even more of what South Africa has to offer, so smaller flora, fauna and insects. Jurie led us into the reserve and we spotted plenty of tracks in the sand. Impala tracks look like hearts. The scenery was so striking. Just as the walk was coming to an end, we turned a corner and a giraffe was right there. It made a swift exit when it saw us all. The walk through the reserve was two hours long, not too strenuous, but it did cover a lot of uneven ground.
We returned to the lodge around 8.30am for our second breakfast! The rest of the morning and afternoon was free for relaxing by the pool. A delicious lunch was served at 1.30pm.
Today was the earliest start of them all! For a full day optional excursion, we journeyed three hours to Pilanesberg National Park. The park is home to the Big Five and the landscape was totally different to the nearby reserves.
Being a national park, our guide Jurie wasn’t allowed to lead us, so we transferred to another open safari vehicle with our driver-guide Walter. On arrival in the park, we came across a waterhole where three zebras were drinking. We’ve seen so many zebras already, but we never tire of the sight. We soon came across a hippo but it was almost entirely submerged, and we could only see its eyes and the top of its head!
Walter spotted two white rhinos in the hills - a mother and her baby - so he drove round to give us a closer look. A car coming the other way said he’d been following a lion and it was coming this way. Seconds later we caught a glimpse of the tail coming through the vegetation. Then we saw the whole thing… we were in total shock to see a lioness right in front of us. We followed her in the vehicle, but she was unfazed by the excitement she was generating. She strolled along the road before disappearing into the grass.
We were fortunate enough to see a bull elephant by the water, as well as many more submerged hippos. We got so close as he was slowly ambling along and then crossed the road heading for the water. By now, we were late for lunch which is included on the excursion at a reserve 20 minutes away. There was plenty of food, mostly local dishes, along with some beautiful scenery.
After lunch, we were reunited with Jurie for the long drive home. We were all so happy we got to see our third Big Five animal (the lioness).
This morning, we had breakfast at 6.15am and departed at 7am for a photo safari in the reserve. Then came the champagne bush brunch.
We returned to Sebatana private reserve - via a different route this time - and spotted more impala and zebra. We then headed to a viewpoint that had been built with an amazing vista over a watering hole. We were met with champagne and all were in awe of the view. We sat down for brunch and there was plenty of choice along with our first taste of kudu (antelope) in the form of a burger. Our champagne was topped up as we enjoyed the view of impala, warthogs and kudu enjoying the water. Everyone was hoping a giraffe would pop by - we were so high up we would have seen it coming a mile off!
Sufficiently full of food and champagne, we headed back to Sebatana Elephant Lodge, and there was more animal spotting on the route. Since we ate so late, we didn’t have lunch, so we had free time before snacks and beverages were served at 3pm.
At 4pm, we left for another game drive in the reserve. After more sightings, the sun was coming down and the sky was a deep red. Our guides Jurie and Jacques were excited tonight as there were guides’ cocktails. They presented us with two shooters, a springbok which was Amarula and peppermint liqueur, and a second that was strong enough to strip the paint off the walls at 50% proof! It was a local spirit called Mampoer. Dinner was served at 7pm, so the rest of the evening was free.
It’s our final full day. It seems to have gone slowly and quickly, at the same time. We had another early start and left for the final optional excursion to Welgevonden National Park for a game drive in a different area to our last trip there. We were in the park by 7am and looking to spot the last two of the Big Five.
We got a new spot early on, two jackals, one running away and another curled up fast asleep beside a bush. There was no shortage of zebra as we drove around. Via the radio, we heard of some lion sightings, but he was hiding in the thick grass. Even my tried and tested catcall of “pspspspsps” didn’t quite work on this big cat.
All the rhinos were out to be seen today, we saw so many. They had perfect horns, just like you see on TV. We heard of a bull elephant sighting from another guide so headed over. He was just happily enjoying some alone time, hanging out near more zebra and rhinos! We were lucky to get a shot of two of The Big Five in one picture. We also came across a crocodile cooling itself on the water's edge though, mouth open wide!
After four hours, we returned to Sebatana Elephant Lodge for lunch. We saw so many baboons on the return journey, some being very vocal. We enjoyed our final lunch and settled all our room accounts (the lodge is cashless and is charged in Euro). The rest of the day was free to relax and pack.
Everyone was sad to be leaving the next day. We headed to Sunset Rock to view the sunset with a sundowner. We were greeted by the barman from the lodge with champagne! The view was amazing and a perfect spot to see our final South African sunset. We snapped some pics and chatted as the sun went down. We then returned to the lodge for a final four-course dinner, which like all the food, did not disappoint.
The staff were all great, friendly, and accommodating. We also exchanged numbers, pictures and so many laughs over the last week! So, that’s a wrap on our trip! I’ve now got roughly 2000 photos to sort out…
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