Viewing the animal life and the plant life was our main reason for going on safari, but we came away with so much more than we had anticipated. The careful construction and execution of our itinerary by On Track Safaris was such that our knowledge of animals, plants, the ecosystem of the bush, and even the culture of safarigoing was built upon throughout. The personalization of the experience through our relationship with various guides (especially Becky) made the experience intensely meaningful.
For us first-time safarigoers, the "smorgasbord" approach we were offered—a "sample" of various safari sites and experiences over fourteen days—was perfect. But for those who have been on safari before or simply feel they want to concentrate their energies more on one place or type of safari, On Track Safaris is flexible in working with guests to construct their ideal journey.
On Track Safaris emphasizes issues pertaining to environment and wildlife conservation. They use some of their profits to benefit not only conservation of animals but also, for example, to sustain and improve local schools. We were impressed by how much we learned on our safari about the interdependence of animal, bird, plant, and indeed human life: one can say that by fusing tourism and ecological practices, On Track Safaris puts this lesson to work. The result is that one can have the adventure of a lifetime—which is what our safari was for us—and still feel one is contributing to the planet!
We started and ended our adventure at Black Leopard Camp, home base for On Track Safaris. We visited in wintertime (June) and were somewhat taken aback by how cold our beautiful tent was. On two of the nights the temperature dipped near 0°C, and we were blessedly allowed to have two hot water bottles each. Even so we went to bed wearing our winter fleece jackets. The lodge itself was marvelous and set in a stunning location, but it too was rather chilly in the morning and after sundown. It would have helped had all the fires been lit at cocktail hours and mealtimes, as it is a bit uncomfortable to eat dinner wrapped in many layers. That issue aside, the personnel at camp (Justine, Joe, and Julius) were warm, generous and well-informed, and gave us a range of experiences that acclimated us to the bush. Black Leopard Camp is not home to any of the Big Five, except for the few elusive leopards that make their homes on the surrounding reserve, but as we were to enjoy much time on the low veldt where the Big Five dwell, our time on the mountain was spent getting acquainted with a great diversity of plant, bird, and animal life that gets overlooked on more generic safaris.
After three days of glorious dawn and dusk game drives in the high veldt, we were ready to transfer to the low veldt, to warm ourselves a bit, and to begin the lookout for bigger animals and predators. Our two days at the meticulously designed, upscale Raptor's Retreat, run by Keith and Sharmaine (who served fabulous food), were glorious. We saw elephants the first night at the watering hole on the property and had our first close encounters with elephants in the next days (both from the vehicle and on foot). We did some game walking in the mornings and continued to learn about tracking and plant life. Each day of the safari we encountered more and different animals and a greater sense of how to live and move in the bush; in this respect our experience built beautifully. We were accompanied at Raptor’s and on the upcoming Kruger day by our guide Becky who is a fount of information, not to mention a whole lot of fun. She worked hard to make sure we were well informed and well cared for at every moment.
We then transferred to the Hoedspruit home of Will and Carol Fox, owners of On Track Safaris. They hosted us at lovely meals, including home-cooked dinners after which we sat in front of the fire and chatted. It was wonderful to get to know them, and their extensive and impressive projects, a bit more, and we were very warmly welcomed. This was our base for the full day (sunup to sundown) we spent in Kruger National Park with Becky. What a day. With Becky shaping the whole excursion, every moment was rich with viewing and learning—by 3pm we could barely keep our eyes open from “looking” so much!
The next day we were off to Africa on Foot, which proved to be our favorite of the three lodges we visited in the Greater Kruger. The camp itself is the most historic of those we visited, constructed in the mid-twentieth century and consisting of small thatched rondavels around a central thatched, open main lodge. The rondavel was very comfortable, and cozily warm at night. On both morning game walks (accessible for most levels of fitness, don’t worry!) and evening game drives, we experienced beautifully tracked and prolonged sightings of white rhino, lion, buffalo, and elephant. We found the guides energetic, passionate, and careful; we found all staff thoughtful and scrupulous; the food was varied and delicious and the hosting friendly and unobtrusive. Make sure this lodge is on your itinerary—we ourselves would love to come back!
Our final stop in the Greater Kruger before returning “home” to Black Leopard Camp to round out our journey was N’Kaya Game Lodge on the Thornybush Reserve. This lodge, like Raptor’s, is quite luxurious; accommodation is in an extravagant and well-appointed suite. We experienced exacting service and plentiful, inventive meals here, as well, including a nice braai that began with a starter of warthog carpaccio! The trackers and guides here were certainly the most experienced and professional of all the lodges and it was a pleasure to watch the tracker and the guide work together on the vehicle (even if we didn’t always know what they were onto!). The tracking abilities on offer here mean that one is likely to be treated to unusual and extensive sightings, such as we had on our second night: tracking a hyena den off road deep in the bush, and awaiting as night fell, then observing, a hyena and her two very curious pups for 30 minutes.
Our final two nights were spent at Black Leopard Camp. Justine brought chairs on our last evening game drive and we sat and watched the sunset, drinking sundowners and amusing ourselves by observing the mountain reedbuck, who though normally timid and stand-offish, munched his way through a pile of grasses the entire time we were there. It was as if he, along with the various people, and even some of the other animals (e.g., Marvin the lion at N’Kaya) that we met along the way, recognized us as friends. We were sorry to leave them all, but will remember them always.