I write this while sitting in Cape Town on leave, about as far away from Londolozi as you can get in South Africa. It has been nice to put the feet up a bit, go surfing and catch up with old friends, but man! I can’t wait to get back to the bush now. When I left just under two weeks ago, the first Marula and Bushwillow trees had started getting their bright green summer foliage, but it was still a brown-dominated landscape. The first rains had lent the slightest hint of a green flush to the lower grass layers, but everywhere you looked there was still dead plant matter, bare branches and dust.
I am very excited to see the metamorphosis that has taken place in my absence. The transition from the dry season to the wet is far more sudden and dramatic than the one from wet to dry. After the last rains in March/April, the bush slowly dries up. The pans recede, the leaves fall off the trees and the grasses wither, until one day, a few months later, you head out on drive and suddenly go, “Whoah! Where did winter come from?” The change is almost imperceptible on a day-to-day basis.
Come the rains however, and things change in a hurry!
The signs are all there that the change is imminent; the first migratory birds start to arrive, the temperatures start climbing and the first green leaves are seen on the trees that want to get a head start on things. The massive cumulonimbus clouds build up in the afternoons and the humidity soars, promising rain. Lightning strikes can be seen in the evenings, far off towards the escarpment in the west. The whole bushveld seems to start waking up in anticipation.
Then Mother Nature unleashes.
The first big Summer storms roll in. Lightning rents the night sky, illuminating everything for a brief instant before darkness closes in once more, and the inky black is punctuated by the sound of the lashing rain and bellowing thunder. I love lying awake and listening to these storms at night. Ok, to tell you the truth I generally get a big fright when a particularly loud thunder clap explodes overhead, so I can’t sleep anyway, but it is still amazing to look north from camp across the river, and see Sasekile Ingwe crest lit up by the lightning as if it was daylight.
Within a few short days of the first big rains, Londolozi is a different place. The green grass of Summer comes shooting through, butterflies are suddenly everywhere, tortoises emerge from their winter burrows to drink from the now-flowing rivulets, and life is suddenly at full throttle once more.
The impalas will start giving birth in the next couple of weeks (the rangers always bet on when and where the first one will be seen. Dan Buys found the first lamb last year, just north of the causeway. Any guesses as to where the first will be this season?), to be followed shortly by the wildebeest, and tiny warthog piglets will emerge from their burrows for the first time, falling over each other in a desperate attempt to stay as close to mum as possible in this dangerous environment. The predators will have a field-day in the early stages of summer, gorging themselves to their heart’s content on the youngsters abounding in Londolozi’s clearings.
With full waterholes, warm water and very hot daytime temperatures, my absolute favourite thing will happen; the elephants will start swimming again. I do not believe there is an animal out there that is so full of the joys of life as an elephant at a waterhole in summer!
The rain will turn brick-hard soil into mud, and the buffalos, warthogs and rhinos will once more be able to wallow to their hearts content.
Water; Africa’s most precious resource, for people and animals alike. Just writing this I am so excited to get back and see the changes that the rains have brought. It will be a completely new landscape from the one I left.
Infact, I’m off to change my flights right now so I can get back early, I simply can’t wait!…
See you back in the bush!
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell