South Africa has so much to offer, including its wonderful wildlife! I spent several days at Royal Malewane Lodge touring Thornybush Private Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. Reserves are open to the national park, allowing access to a much wider area for animals like elephants, lions, rhinos, wild dogs, giraffes, leopards, impalas, and several species of antelope and exotic birds.
My guide, Noelle van Muiden, and her tracker, Lawrence, traveled all over more than 35,000 acres in search of animals. “There are more than 60 types of mammals, more than 300 different birds, and approximately 150 different species of trees and shrubs,” Noelle explained as we bounced along in search of our next sighting.
Game drives take place early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the animals are most active and the light is perfect for photographing the glories of South Africa. By understanding animal movement and communicating with other guides, as well as Lawrence’s incredible sight and listening abilities, the pair usually had a plan when we climbed up into the truck and set out on an adventure.
One morning, Noelle was driving down a road when Lawrence says simply, “Owl.” She backed up, got out her binoculars, and couldn’t see it. Then she got out and invited her four passengers to get out and look. None of us saw it until it moved and eventually flew away. How he saw it while we were moving still boggles my mind.
On another occasion he said, “I hear elephants drinking.”
Noelle drove slowly drove off-road through thickets and brush until we came to a pond where a dozen or so elephants were drinking water. We sat in the truck along the water’s edge, watching and photographing the amazing scene. One elephant came quite close to me and looked me in the eyes before moving on. Others began to eat from trees lining the pond.
Lawrence often spotted lion tracks and could recognize when they were made. We saw several lions on our game drives as well.
Every day, we saw the sun rise and set on this magical land.
“How do you put a feeling to the experience?” asked Director and Head Ranger Juan Pinto one day just after lunch.
Indeed — there are no words to describe the feeling of being in the presence of these majestic animals in the wild.