Beyond the Kruger Park Sampling South Africa 2
South Africa is a big country with many natural wonders and an abundance of wildlife. In part 2 of our South Africa blog, expert Jonathan Fitzsimmonds tells us where to visit other than the famous Kruger National Park – sites including the Grootbos Nature Reserve, Samara Game Reserve and the Eastern Cape’s Kichaka Game Reserve.
A little less than half an hour along the coast from South Africa’s whale watching capital Hermanus, lies the Grootbos Reserve. With commanding views over the endemic feinbos to the rugged coastline below, Grootbos is a nature lover’s paradise. Ranger Christhoff proved that you don’t need the big five game animals to be a great guide. The secret of a great guide is passion and watching Christhoff’s face light up at a bird call or at the pollination method of a flower as he walked us proudly through his patch of bushland on a sunny afternoon, proved to be a memorable experience to rival the game parks.
Similarly short on big five game activity, but with atmosphere in spades is Samara Game Reserve. The reserve is a four-hour scenic drive inland from Port Elizabeth in the heartland of the Greater Karoo and covers 28,000 hectares of wilderness. The traditional homestead feel of the lodge reflects the historical pioneering past of the region and relaxation comes easily here.
The reserve was the first to reintroduce cheetah into the region, which you might encounter with a little luck on a tracking expedition. The real highlight though, was driving up onto a high escarpment past grazing cape mountain zebra and black wildebeest, to the most stunning sundowner spot I’ve come across. Perched on a ledge, the vast Camdeboo plains, stretched out endlessly before us. We saw an eagle circling above and a journey of giraffe moving gracefully in the distance below.
Visitors can easily move on from here through the historical town of Graaff Reinet to Oudtshoorn and onwards to Cape Town via the winelands region.
Having eye contact and interaction with the planet’s largest land mammal can be a very humbling and emotional experience, not to mention unsettling. At the Eastern Cape’s Kichaka Game Reserve there was a young bull elephant in musth. During musth a male elephant experiences a testosterone surge to 60 times its normal level, making normally happy-go-lucky teens feel like they are king of the world… which they are anyway of course, but now they want to tell you all about it. This boisterous fellow wanted us to know he was boss and we would be permitted to drive off only when he said so.
He would have a bit of a graze and a scratch against a tree stump, but if we started the engine to move off, he would approach the vehicle very closely indeed and circle us. Being at the high point at the back and the most visible, I definitely felt like I was being stared down and asked if I wanted to take it outside… which I didn’t! Eventually, he bored of playing with us and moved away allowing us to head off for our sundowner and a debrief over a glass of amarula.