Our love affair with South Africa continued as we flew out of Cape Town and into Port Elizabeth and caught a transfer up to the stunning Amakhala Game Reserve. A giraffe was at the gate to meet us!
Woodbury Lodge was our home in the reserve for 3 nights, where we felt like guests of a big and welcoming family. Our rooms were in a wooden hut with a straw roof and we had the best bath view of our trip!
With our own viewing deck outside our rooms where we spotted the rhino, zebras, elephants and various antelope we were bowled over by the beauty of the landscape.
The lodge had a lounge, dining rooms inside and out and a pool and decked area for relaxing between game drives. With a maximum of only 16 guests, we felt very at home and the children were able to wander around between areas as a safety fence kept the lions and predators at a safe distance!
The game drives start with a 5am knock on the door every morning! We had to quickly throw some clothes on, grab a quick hot drink and biscuit on the deck as we saw the sun rise and be in the jeep by 5.30. The 3-4 hours we spent in the jeep in the morning and evening went by in a blur of red earth, acacia trees and a surprise animal encounter on every drive.
We were treated to a coffee stop in the morning and beer or wine as the sun set in the afternoon and Sophia especially loved these drives so much, she would be asking when we were leaving for the next one the minute we got back to the lodge!
Breakfast after the morning drive, lunch after a snooze and dinner after the afternoon drive were a very social affair, and we met some really interesting and lovely people around the dinner table to exchange stories with.
Our guide Simone was extremely knowledgable and I for one will miss her lovely South African lilt as she pointed out Impala (or 'MacDonalds' as they have an 'M' marking on their bottoms and 'happy meals' for the babies), 'pumba's (or warthogs) and even spot tiny hairy caterpillars and baby tortoises on the road in front of her.
We were keen to tick off the Big 5 and Simone was there with her binoculars poised and radio tuned in to fellow rangers to help. These were the Lions, cheetah, elephants, rhino and buffalo.
We got a little to close to the elephants when the matriarch got shirty with another female of the group. It was awesome to hear her trumpet although we all frozen to the spot as she was right next to our jeep! Sophi said she had never in her life been so scared and her legs were still shaking when we got out the jeep!
Giraffes, we found out as a group can be called a journey, a stretch, a kaleidoscope or a tower. We were especially excited to see them with the zebras at their watering hole one day and see how they can bend down to drink. I think it made Daves eyes water seeing their hamstring flexibility!
The endangered white rhino was top of our list, as Dave and I hadn't seen them when we went on safari in Kenya many moons ago. The guides don't talk about how many rhino they have, nor share any sightings with fellow guides on the airwaves. This is because the airwaves are hacked by poachers and their rhinos have security patrols 24 hours a day to protect them from these unimaginably cruel people. Poachers have stolen horns from 6 rhinos in the last 2 weeks alone within miles of the Amakhala reserve. They are often with trained vets who dart or kill the rhino before the poachers hack off their horns with no regard for the rhinos suffering. It's purely money driven and their aim is to sell to the highest bidder for 'trophy horns' in South-East Asia and ground rhino horn in Chinese medicine. The guides and staff have suggested solutions such as flooding the market with safely removed horns (although this leaves the rhino defenceless) and educating the often uneducated, who are willing to pay up to $90,000 US for a kilo of rhino horn.
Anyway, enough ranting, but it stirs up some very sad and angry feelings for these beautiful and endangered animals. They really look like the closest animal to a dinosaur we have left on this earth.
We had to hunt for the cheetahs, who refused to come too close - maybe not a bad thing with our two toothpicks on board! There were around 6 laid low in the grass, just popping their head up or turning round to re-settle or have a quick tumble with a sibling. We learnt the African way to 'hurry up and wait', and were all happy to sit and observe their behaviour.
We saw the pride of lions in 2 groups, the male and female parents and the 2 grown up daughters the following day. Daddy lion was very happy in his life having 3 females to hunt for him.
We crossed the reserve to the furthest spot to see the herd of Buffalo. They are worth thousands and sometimes millions of pounds if they can be bred from, so are kept well away from the Lions and out of harms way.
We also heard about the prickly pear cactus, which the elephants eat after rolling it around to knock the thorns out, and a breed of beetle leaves foam on the prickles which has a red dye inside that used to be used for lipstick!
The smell of the buchu tree will always remind us of this time, as the eucalyptus or gum tree will of Australia.
We saw many breeds of antelope including the springbok, the emblem of the South African rugby team.
The warthogs, which always looked at us and then lifted their tail and ran off were a firm favourite and usually the first animals we saw in the morning. They really are strange looking and we only got pictures of their backsides as they ran away!
The giant leapard tortoise was brilliant to see just pottering around in the grass. The giant rain spider we found by our bath was not quite as welcome and even Dave was a little too scared to move him before we found out he was harmless!
Our time at the reserve came to an end far too quickly and we really soaked up our last morning drive. The Amakhala Reserve seemed to have the balance of animals spot on, and the time we spent there learning about the animals and the circle of life was an invaluable education for us all.