Wild at heart: a return to South Africa brings about a renewed interest in its wildlife

Wild at heart: a return to South Africa brings about a renewed interest in its wildlife

BRIAN Jackman, an award-winning travel writer from the UK once said: “Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth.

“Once you have been there, you will never be the same.

“But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it?”

I for one would like to try.

The time is 4am. The hot African sun has yet to appear from the horizon and when I step outside my private bungalow at Bakubung Bush Lodge, a fresh morning breeze quickly awakens my senses.

The bush lodge.

Set in Pilanesberg National Park, this upscale family-friendly bush lodge is located in the North-West province of South Africa, a three-hour drive from Johannesburg.

The national park has an area of 572sq km, and lurking amongst the grasslands and wooded valleys lay a plethora of African wildlife, including the Big Five – lions, cape buffalo, leopards, rhinos and elephants.

Pilanesberg National Park.

It’s my second game drive in Pilanesberg and I am still high from my first adventure the night before.

Our evening game drive was filled with “oohs” and “aahs” and at one point I had to contain my excitement in a bid to not scare away a family of elephants, who were just 4m away.

Just before sunset, we were treated to a spectacular display of action when three leopards pounced on a herd of kudus enjoying a drink at the watering hole.

Our front-row seats beat anything I had ever before seen on the Discovery Channel – this was Africa.

So it was a little disappointing when our second game drive the next morning began much less riveting.

After 30 minutes of spotting a few resident wildebeest, it started to drizzle and the mood quickly changed.

Then, all of a sudden, I am surrounded by the drama and charm of our planet’s greatest theatre.

Our safari guide steps on the accelerator and hurtles the jeep as fast as humanly possibly through the wild African bush until she reaches a clearing.

Knuckles still white from holding on to the seat in front of me, I look to my right.

With the early morning sun now making her grand entrance, we watch in sheer amazement and awe as the King of the Jungle walks proudly along the plains just metres in front of us.

Calling for his family, his roar sends a shiver down my spine and I feel both incredibly blessed and privileged to witness such a magnificent animal in his untamed world.

This is just one of the many memorable moments experienced in my home country of South Africa.

I should also mention this was only my first encounter with a lion.

My next, would be more personal.

Born in Durban on the country’s KwaZulu Natal province, I migrated to Australia with my family when I was 6 years old.

Now married with two young children of my own, I returned last September to visit the place I once called home.

Located at the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian and South Atlantic oceans meet, South Africa is a country brimming with beauty.

Often referred to as the Rainbow Nation, a term coined by the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe the country’s multicultural diversity, it offers thrills, adventure and breathtaking scenery.

If you can only spare a few days in South Africa, do yourself a favour and visit Cape Town.

Last year was my second rendezvous with this amazing city and once again, I left mesmerised.

Arguably, one of the most beautiful places on earth, it is fringed with the chilly waters of the Atlantic on one side and the iconic and breathtaking Table Mountain on the other.

Whether it was waking to the sight of Southern Right Whales playing in the waters of Camps Bay from our luxury beach house, or enjoying an exhilarating cable car ride to the summit of Table Mountain where we could see the city in all its glory, Cape Town left me spellbound.

Camps Bay.

A visit to Cape Town would not be complete without a tour of Robben Island – the place where former South African president Nelson Mandela served 18 years imprisonment for his involvement in the anti-apartheid revolution.

Nowadays, Robben Island is a World Heritage Site and symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice.

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town’s original Victorian harbour, is the city’s most popular attraction, with an average of 10 million tourists each year.

The Victoria & Albert Waterfront with Table Mountain in the distance.

Original buildings stand shoulder to shoulder with shopping malls, restaurants and museums, all crowding along a waterside walkway with Table Mountain towering in the distance.

The waterfront is still a working harbour, and whilst you can enjoy freshly shucked oysters and French champagne by the dock (which I managed to do twice) you can also see local fisherman bringing in their latest catch.

The atmosphere on the waterfront is electric and the sounds of local tribal bands echo from pier to pier.

A 45-minute car ride from the waterfront and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the Stellenbosch wine region with sweeping vineyard views and preserved Cape Dutch homesteads.

Word to the wise: be sure to eat breakfast before you begin a day of wine tasting as South Africans are known for their generosity.

Of all these amazing experiences, a visit to a private game lodge on our second last day in South Africa left the greatest impression.

Located deep in the African bush in Rustenburg (two-hours north of Johannesburg Airport), Kudus Rus allows a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with Africa’s most majestic animal, the lion.

Led by our guide Arnay Small, our time at the park broke down any preconceptions we had about big cats.

Arnay’s informative and fascinating tour of the park showed us first-hand that with the right care and love, these animals can actually become man’s best friend.

I’m not saying I would jump into a cage with a lion anytime soon but Arnay does just that daily.

Arnay Small with a lion cub.

Big cats are his passion, so it’s no surprise they have welcomed him into their pride.

“My interaction with these amazing animals is one I respect,” he said.

“From small, I form a bond with them and they respect you to do the same.”

Arnay was drawn to the Big 5 from a young age and had the privilege to work closely with lions.

“I fell in love with them, they are so social and love affection,” he said.

Our afternoon at Kudu Rus also saw us cuddle lion cubs and play with inquisitive tiger cubs.

I not only left with a revived respect for these animals, it sparked in me a desire to become an ambassador for the protection and conservation of all African wildlife.

A recent poaching incident left the Kudus Rus team shattered and heartbroken, and the pain was felt all over the world by those who have had the pleasure to spend a day with Arnay and his ‘babies’.

I’d like to say poaching is an isolated incident in South Africa, but the sad reality is it’s a growing concern for a number of game parks and reserves.

In a country where its beauty is blinding and the experiences are mindblowing, there is still a place very much healing from the wounds of its past.

My trip back to South Africa ignited wonderful memories from my childhood, and created amazing new ones.

I now know what Brian Jackman was talking about.

South Africa is not just a holiday destination; it’s so much more than safaris and breathtaking mountain tops – its beauty actually lies in your experiences and the memories you make here.

So, if you’re wanting to feel its magic, you’ll have to discover it for yourself.

This story was originally published in the May 2018 edition of Luxury Lifestyle, available in this week’s Western Suburbs Weekly or online here. Pick up your copy today for more fashion, interiors, food and motoring.