Travelling to South Africa and not visiting one of the large game reserves such as Kruger, MalaMala or even Inverdoorn is probably unthinkable for many travellers. The draw of possibly seeing the Big Five is just too appealing and impossible to resist. The recent trip which was organised by South African Tourism concentrated on some alternative attractions in Durban and the Drakensberg areas.
However during a stay at the beautiful Karkloof Spa, near Pietermaritzburg the opportunity to take a break from the pampering arose and enjoy a short game drive with a visit to a nearby waterfall.
The reserve boasts three of the famed Big Five and this may seem slightly disappointing. However there is still plenty of other wildlife to experience, including warthogs, wildebeest, giraffe, ostrich, kudu, zebra, impala and nearly 300 species of birds. Africa’s most dangerous animal is also present, the hippo and if that isn’t exciting enough it might be worth checking your pulse.
During my short game drive I saw two of the possible ‘superstars’ of safaris, a white rhino and some Cape buffalo. The missing team member is the leopard which is renowned for being especially elusive and the most difficult of the five to see.
Driving around the bush there was still plenty to excite, often coming across several species grazing in a small clearing or finding a big bull buffalo blocking the road. The guide usually just inched the vehicle forward coaxing the cantankerous beasts to reluctantly relinquish their cosy roadside spot and skulk back to the rest of the herd.
Our guide managed to get us quite close to both of the ‘Big Two’ especially one buffalo which at one point was within a few feet of the vehicle. The rhino was slightly further away but no less impressive, he ignored the vehicle most of the time, happily grazing and only actually noticing how close we’d crept on a couple of occasions.
It was not really disappointing that there weren’t any lions or elephant; sure it would have been great if either had been roaming around. Maybe seeing a pride sunning themselves like only big cats can or witnessing the largest land mammal bully the smaller creatures at waterholes. It was not to be however, but it was still a very enjoyable game drive and the many other animals made this safari as exciting as any other I’ve been lucky enough to experience.
Why are these animals termed the Big Five anyway, aren’t hippo or giraffe just as big and exciting? Contrary to popular belief the term wasn’t coined by reserve owners, but by big game hunters as these were amongst the most difficult animals to find and kill. When cornered they could become extremely dangerous and these qualities placed them on every hunters bucketlist.
Maybe it’s about time we considered a different grouping, perhaps adding a few additional species like cheetah or giraffe to avoid them forming an inferiority complex. Most importantly losing the hunting connection seems appealing.
Karkloof is a special place; apparently the largest spa in Africa with plenty of options for a good pampering. Trained therapists provide a personalised treatment which can last up to two hours, then time can be wasted away in saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools or just relaxing. Guests can enjoy as many treatments as they can manage as the pampering is included in the price.
In fact everything apart from French champagne is included in the price at this seven star boutique resort. There are 16 private villas, opulent residences in the heart of the bush. Each has a private balcony to watch the stars switch on one at a time, lighting up the night sky. There is very little light pollution so there is soon a twinkling ceiling overhead which seems almost within reach, the countless celestial bodies easily visible in the inky blackness of the huge African sky.
The food is excellent, chef provides a tempting menu and yet is flexible enough to cater for individual tastes; if guests fancy something a little different, they only need to ask. There is an extensive bar and even more impressive wine cellar, I threatened to move my bed there and work my way through the options.
The staff are very friendly and make every guest feel welcome. The pace is the one which is chosen by the guests, game drives can be arranged at anytime, and pampering is par for the course, as often and whenever required. Breakfast can be ordered at anytime, even mid-afternoon if a long lie in is the order of the day. Even check-in/out is totally flexible, as guest can do either at anytime of the day!
Although game drives are obviously popular, hikes to nearby waterfalls or fishing in the many waterholes are just a few other options. The spa facilities are still well used however as most guests seem to spend the majority of their stay enjoying these.
For me the drives still holds the greatest appeal, seeing two of the famous five along with the rest of the plentiful game made the trip worthwhile alone. There are few encounters more fulfilling or exciting as those with nature,especially the spectacular wildlife of the African continent.
The trip was arranged by South Africa Tourism and while I obviously enjoyed the hospitality of Karkloof Spa all opinions are my own, formed in the confines of the extensive wine cellar.
*Apologies the images are not up to the usual standard, they were taken on a compact camera. The full story why can be found here: Baboons on Crimestoppers in The Gambia