It was a cloudless blue sky. By 9.00 am we could already feel the heat of the day, a tell-tale sign that it was going to be a scorcher.

We had a young boy called Ethan staying with us in Founder’s Camp and since the temperature was only rising, we decided a good Cub’s Den activity for the morning would be to go tree climbing.

There is a beautiful Sausage Tree close to Pioneer camp. It is tall and its lush green canopy stretches out against the sky. It is perfect for tree climbing as it has a variety of thick and sturdy branches, some low and some a little higher. This allows for all different levels of tree climbers to have a happy time clambering about in a natural air conditioning system.

sausge tree

The very same Sausage Tree, although this time housing the Mashaba female leopard in its branches.

Our young guest was a little nervous about this particular activity but with some encouragement from his parents, he decided to give it a chance. We headed out shortly after breakfast and as we rounded the bend, we were greeted by a cheeky young elephant. We waited patiently for him to cross the road and made our way up an embankment, following the track to the famous tree. Upon reaching the peak of the embankment, we saw that the tree was already surrounded with company. Instead of children climbing in the branches, two elephants were running their trunks up the tree’s main stem and along the low branches in perfect unison, as if they had been practicing this duet all morning. The bush kept erupting as more and more elephants walked towards the tree, its large canopy providing ample shade for all.


On the far bank of the Sand River we saw the rest of the large herd. They were making their way slowly, stopping for a munch here and there. In the excitement of possibly witnessing a crossing, we raced down to the river and waited patiently for the herd to approach the water.

The matriarch and her calf having a drink, before leading the way across the river. Photograph by Callum Gowar

While we waited we saw a saddle-billed stork make its way gradually upstream and a pair of Egyptian geese landed on a nearby sand bank for a drink of water. After what seemed like an age, our patience was finally rewarded. The matriarch headed down the embankment, used by hundreds of elephants over many years – hence its name, Elephant Crossing. Her young calf was right behind her, following her every move. She stopped for a drink and sprayed mud on her back just as her mother had. As the pair moved into the middle of the river, the rest of the herd followed suit. We witnessed a happy mud wallowing affair and the young elephants playing with each others in the shallows. It was beautiful to watch the herd spread out into a line and to hear the sound of the water being disturbed by their swirling feet.

The herd spread out in a line. Elephants in the far right of the picture still quenching their thirst. Photograph by Callum Gowar

I turned to look at Ethan who was watching with delight. It was a perfect example of what can happen when you find yourself in the right place at the right time. If we had not gone out to go tree climbing we would have never been surprised by this beautiful sighting. A lesson showing that one never actually knows what breathtaking experiences nature has up her sleeve.

Filed under Cubs Den

About the Author

Josephine Benecke


Josephine grew up on a farm just south of Johannesburg, which exposed her to open spaces and encouraged her to develop a love for nature at a very young age. Later she attended the Diocesan College for Girls in the Eastern Cape where ...

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on The Beauty of the Unexpected

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Darlene Knott

Nature can always surprise you! Delightful story.

Jill Larone

What a wonderful moment — thank you for sharing this with us, Josephine. I’m sure it is a memory that Ethan will always remember.


A lovely story Josephine and an experience that young man will likely never forget.

Judith Guffey

I saw those elephants going to the river with Callum and Freddy last year🤗 Take care of my heart that stays at Londolozi, please.

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