South Africa is a country rich with history, natural scenery and culture, much of which can be found it the very south of the country: the Eastern and Western Cape. Before visiting the metropolis of the Mother City, we went on a far wilder kind of sightseeing: safari.
We chose Kariega Game Reserve, located in the Eastern Cape, which was a short one-hour flight from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and a car ride away. While Kruger National Park is perhaps the most famous place for safari in South Africa, private game reserves like Kariega are great choices because they’re most often malaria-free, along the scenic garden route and are still home to the Big Five: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard.
June, July and August make up the winter months in South Africa
At Kariega there was a definite routine to the day, all based around optimizing the best chance of seeing the wildlife in the reserve. We had two, 3-hour game drives a day; one at seven in the morning and one at three in the afternoon as these were the times you were most likely to see the animals out and about. June, July and August make up the winter months in South Africa so if you plan on going then definitely take very warm clothing because it can get very cold on the drives (the fire and hot chocolate mixed with amarula, a South African cream liquor, at the end of the night drive were very much appreciated!).
On every drive we saw spectacular wildlife. A sighting on our very first drive of a bull elephant though set the bar high for the rest of the time at the reserve. The biggest bull in the entire reserve walking directly past us and you got an immense sense of just how powerful he was, especially when he went on to feed by ripping leaves off a nearby bush with his trunk. On the same drive, we also saw a herd of towering giraffes, who often gathered by the lodge where were stayed and were found munching on greenery right outside the window one morning.
Conservation and animal safety and welfare was clearly of high importance to the reserve
The lions at the reserve were also highly entertaining and on one of our drives we were very close to witnessing a showdown between the two males. The reserve was home to three sisters and a couple of males who were father and son and it was interesting to watch the dynamic between the five of them; two of the sisters at the moment were sticking together and were highly elusive while the older male was attached to the third sister and followed by the younger male. In the almost-fight, the younger male was seen taunting the older one and for anyone that has domestic cats the behaviour was strangely familiar.
One of the more sombre moments during our time at the reserve was when we came across one of the female white rhinos. Our guide told us the story of how she was involved in a poaching attack in 2012, along with two bull rhinos who didn’t survive the tragedy. The female, after an extensive number of surgeries though was saved, becoming the first rhino to ever survive a poaching attack and was named Thandi, a name which means courage. She even went on to have a calf which was named Thembi, meaning hope.
Conservation and animal safety and welfare was clearly of high importance to the reserve and since the incident six years ago, all of the rhinos in the reserve have been dehorned as well as fitted with tracking devices. An extremely covert and extensive Anti-Poaching Unit is also in place at all times. Between 2008 and 2017, 7130 rhinos were recorded dead due to poaching in South Africa and it was a sad hearing Thandi’s story while watching her calmly grazing, knowing that what happened to her could very well happen to another rhino in South Africa tomorrow.
it was funny to watch the juveniles get to grips with how their trunks work
On a lighter note, one of the most stunning sightings was on our last drive where we came across Kariega’s herd of elephants. You could definitely hear them before you could see them; ripping leaves of branched like the bull on the first drive and pushing down any trees in their way, they were a noisy bunch. Among the herd were elephants of all different ages and sizes and it was funny to watch the juveniles get to grips with how their trunks work to gather food. They also communicated to each other constantly in kind of grunting noises and it was clear to anyone watching how intelligent the creatures are.
All of the drives also revealed to us herds of grazing animals from the slightly dumb-struck looking wilder beast and proud looking zebra to many kinds of antelope such as Eland, Nyala and Kudu. We also came across a pair of hippos whose eyes we could just see watching the Jeep. Our guide told us that due to drought, the waterholes across the reserve had been pumped up due to the drought in the area as otherwise the hippos wouldn’t be able to survive as their skin is highly sensitive to the sun’s rays.
Between drives there were a number of activities to partake in. One of them was a walking tour of the area surrounding the lodge. During this you could find out more about the flora of the area as well as spot some animals up close. We came across a mother warthog with two piglets and also a couple of tortoises basking in the midday sun.
Safari is an incredible experience; while there you feel like you’re in some other world. Seeing the animals in their rightful habitats you can’t help but see how much healthier and more natural it is for them to be there than in zoos. Kariega, like many private game reserves, has expanded a lot in the last decade and our guide told us it is planning on growing even more and potentially introducing more native wildlife, which can only be good as the dwindling animal populations need all the help they can get.