While in South Africa earlier in March, I wrote a brief post about the wonderful accommodations at &Beyond’s Ngala Tented Camp, a luxury camp on the western edge of Kruger National Park and right on the Timbavati River.
But we were so busy tracking animals and eating amazing food that I didn’t get a chance to post a summary of our overall experience there.
Ngala Preserve’s 37,000 acres are lush with animals big and small. On our first afternoon, fresh from chasing African wild dogs through Sabi Sands, we took a three-hour game drive and saw four of the Big Five game:
The next day, we saw more of these and the fifth:
Ngala is extremely rich with carnivores. We saw lions and leopards every day we were there, as well as jackals, a pack of hyenas — technically a “cackle,” as our guides informed us — and wild dogs at rest and on the hunt. You can watch all these animals and more on Ujuzi’s YouTube channel:
Our group had three guides and three trackers. The guide and tracker I went on my game drives with were Barney and Earnest. They were both Shangaan South Africans fluent in Tsonga and English. Here’s Barney explaining to us the importance of termites and termite mounds to the local ecology.
Our schedule at Ngala was a little different from that at Kirkman’s Kamp. We woke up to room-service coffee and a light biscuit at 5 a.m., then headed out on the trail at 5:30 a.m. just as the sun was peeking over the horizon and the wildlife were beginning to wake up. This is a great time to spot wildlife, since predators are quite active in the early morning hours.
Although the Timbavati River was dry when we visited, the riverbed was nonetheless a great place for viewing animals. Elephants would congregate there to dig with their tusks for water beneath the surface, and baboons and Cape buffalos were also frequent visitors. Birds, leopards, and antelope could be found in the shrubbery and trees along the riverbank.
Game drives were on rain or shine, and we had rain during two of our drives at Ngala. Since we rode in open-topped vehicles, that meant we had to dress for the weather. Fortunately the rain was warm, so it wasn’t difficult. I wore a light raincoat covered by the camp-provided poncho, plus a wide-brimmed hat to keep rain out of my eyes and rubber sandals that dried out quickly once we were back at camp. Going on a game drive during the rain is well worth the minor inconvenience. Elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalos, and hippos don’t hide from the rain, and we found a pack of African wild dogs sleeping in an open meadow as peacefully as if the sun were shining on them.
After three or so hours in the bush, we returned to the camp for breakfast. Eggs were cooked to order and there was also an elegant and plentiful buffet. I ate some of the best omelets of my life at Ngala.
After breakfast we had free time to spend catching up on sleep, getting a massage, or perusing guidebooks until lunch, which was also quite delicious and beautifully prepared.
Our afternoon game drives began promptly at 4 p.m. and went until 7 p.m. or so. Just before sunset, we stopped for sundowner cocktails in the bush, which could be quite a festive occasion.
When darkness fell, our trackers used a special red-filtered light to spot wildlife. Unlike white spotlights, red-filtered light does not disrupt animals’ night vision.
Our guides joined us at dinner, and it was a great time to trade stories about what we had seen that day and to learn more about the wildlife.
(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who went on a safari in March to South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)