Midway through the doldrums of last year’s lockdown, Bronwyn Varty-Laburn wrote an interesting blog post on the changing trends of travel and how the safari industry is in fact perfectly tee’d up to meet the new demands of modern, post-covid travel. In this, she highlighted the new desire for ‘long-stay’ travel;
“2020 has shown us all that less is more and that travellers are waking up to the power of staying in one place for longer. Lucky for us, when it comes to long stays, the safari industry finds its self very well positioned and – quite by accident – ahead of the pack.”
There is no doubt that this appears to be the new answer to travelling – particularly international long distance travel. Up until now, our international market has been somewhat restricted since the opening of our borders at the end of last year. However, as predicted in last years post by Bron, this long-stay trend slowly seems to be cottoning on as travel becomes easier.
Recently I had the chance to lead a long stay, 12-day safari here at Londolozi with multiple repeat guest, Christa Blessing, who made a fantastic effort to make her way across the continent and join us from her home country of Switzerland to which she has now returned safely. We had an incredible time exploring the different corners of the reserve and what they have to offer, and had the luxury of being able to settle into the rhythm of the landscape without feeling rushed. We spent just over 85 hours on game drive during this time – that’s a total of three and half days on the Land Rover looking for and viewing animals. Needless to say, we had some outstanding sightings, some of which I’d like to share in pictures.
A male cheetah strolls through the long grasses of the open areas in the south western parts of the reserve. This male’s territory stretches across a large portion of the central/western parts of the Sabi Sand Reserve and isn’t seen that often. We were lucky to spot him from a distance early one morning as he stood up on top of a fallen over tree.
The wild dog viewing has been incredible over the last two weeks, to the point where we have had at least one pack (sometimes two) on the reserve everyday. With winter (their breeding season) slowly approaching, we all have our fingers crossed that they might decide to den somewhere within our traversing area again this year. We were in fact lucky enough to see the alpha pair of this pack mating one afternoon, which was a first for me.
Two wild dogs trotting down the airstrip.
It can always be argued that the airstrip isn’t a desirable site for wildlife photography, and I do agree, but only to a certain extent. The clean openness of the strip provides an unmatched opportunity for clear photographs while it is also a fantastic illustration of the juxtaposition between man and wilderness.
A pair of giant kingfishers have taken up residence at the Causeway recently and have been providing us with some amazing views as we pass by. This male (the female’s rufous plumage is on the belly, not the chest) was keeping a beady eye on the water flowing past below waiting for an unsuspecting fish or frog to come floating by.
A giraffe bull browses peacefully on an acacia bush under a rather moody sky. Cloudy days like this will slowly fade into memory as we get closer to winter where we are treated to endless days of crisp, dry blue skies and cooler temperatures.
The Nkahuma pride were on the reserve for a few days too. It was my first time seeing them in months. They seemed to be trailing a large herd of buffalo which were settled up about a kilometre further north of them on this evening. We’re not sure if they were successful in catching one that night but they were last seen heading off in that direction looking rather hungry.
A tree squirrel explores the ancient ripples of a dead leadwood branch. The textures of these dead branches are quite captivating and could even make a decent photograph on their own. But it was great to have the squirrel around to make things a bit more interesting.
This female leopard was chased up a Jackalberry by the Nkahuma pride. She safely settled up there until darkness fell and the lions moved off, before descending the tree and vanishing into the night.
Stwise Koppie on a misty morning. This rocky outcrop is an iconic feature of the area and sits just north of the Sand River, downstream from the Londolozi camps. While we do not traverse the area around the koppie itself, it still provides us with a welcome break in the otherwise soft, undulating shape of the landscape.
The Senegal Bush male lifts his glance as he walks by our vehicle. We spent this afternoon watching him and the Nhlanguleni female mating. This led us to question whether or not she had lost her most recent litter of cubs but we have since found them to be alive and well! Quite astonishing considering that she was occupied mating for four days in a completely different area of the reserve.
In the theme of close up facial shots, this Ntsevu lioness sidled up alongside our vehicle and sat down just a couple of meters from us. She was accompanied by a lone Birmingham male while the other portion of the pride could be heard calling in the distance as the sun set. The two of them were quick to reply and we were fortunate enough to be alongside two roaring lions before they got on the move in the direction of the rest of the pride.
We were woken to the unmistakable call of a lion close to camp one morning. Just five minutes after departing, we found ourselves with the Othawa male as he settled up on a termite mound at the southern end of our airstrip and surveyed the eastern reaches of his territory. While sitting with him, we enjoyed all the sounds that came with sunrise and heard, amongst other things, wild dogs ‘hooing’ in the distance and leopards mating (Senegal Bush male and Nhlanguleni female) in a nearby drainage line.
We unknowingly flushed this tawny eagle up into the tree as we drove by it. It was clearly carrying something in its talons and after having a closer look found it to be a guineafowl which it must have just caught. We sat and watched it feed for a while in the branches of a dead leadwood.
The Xinzele female put on an athletic display as she leaped up into a tall marula where she had stashed a common duiker kill that she had made the night before. She could possibly be the most viewed leopard at Londolozi at the moment, often found draped in a tree in the central northern parts of the reserve. Having seen her mating a couple of months ago, we could expect her to have a litter of cubs fairly soon.
We sat with the Ntsevu pride for over an hour as they slowly rose from their slumber. As they began to move about, the majority of the pride (which numbered 13 that day) each in their own time walked over to this same Leadwood tree and stretched themselves out by gripping their claws into the bark above their heads and extending their bodies below.
The Othawa male performs a flehmen grimace. While marching through the long grass he paused for a moment and inspected a scent on the ground – likely a patch of urine left behind by another lion from some time ago. After inhaling the scent he lifted his head, tilted it back and snarled like this. This grimace activates a specialised organ on the palate of the mouth which registers and interprets the scent that has been left behind. The olfactory systems of communication in the animal kingdom are astonishing and rather difficult for us humans to fully understand.
We were extremely lucky with rhino sightings over the course of the 12 days. On this particular afternoon we saw no less than nine different individuals; one of which was this large bull who had clearly found a comfortable spot in this wallow at sunset.
The Xinzele female watches a small herd of elephant pass by under the tree in which she had stashed her common duiker kill. It was quite a thick tree but the afternoon sunlight managed to find its way through the foliage and light her up perfectly.
These were just a few of the special moments we had over the 12 days. In total we saw three prides of lions (Nstevu, Nkahuma and Tsalala), four different male lion coalitions (Birmingham, Othawa, Avoca and a pair of unidentified young males), eleven different leopards (Nhlanguleni, Ximungwe, Xinzele, Nkuwa, Nkoveni females and the Senegal Bush, Flat Rock and Maxim’s males as well as a special sighting of the Nkoveni female’s two cubs and the Piccadilly young female). We had six different wild dog sightings of two different packs and watched them successfully catch and feed on an impala one evening as well as a rare view of a male cheetah early one morning.
We watched wild dogs, leopard and lion mating and saw a little sparrowhawk feeding on a Levaillant’s cuckoo, found a new Saddle-billed stork nest, watched a python feed on a spurfowl and unbelievably watched as a Birmingham male and Nstevu lioness caught and killed a hyena!
The longer stay provided us with the opportunity to take our time in sightings and search longer for animals which can, a lot of the time, lead to better game viewing.
I’d certainly recommend the long-stay option….