It's 5:00am and we get the telephone wakeup call 'good morning it's time to get up'. 'Yes...sure...'I reply, a bit groggy but so excited to get up and go.
It's still dark, and it's definitely not warm yet, well we are in the middle of the Western Cape which is quite desert in it's landscape, and the African sun hasn't risen yet to warm the earth or wake the animals. That's why it's the best time to get up and get out on the safari vehicle to see them as they emerge from their sleep. Not to mention you get to watch a beautiful sun rise coming over the ridge of the distant hills.
No time for makeup, just basic morning routine and up to the main lodge where there's a ranger waiting with 2 coffees, we drink them quickly then climb up into the safari vehicle. As I said, it's a bit chilly but there are warm blankets to wrap up in, so it's like having a duvet back on :) only we're on the road and it's bumpy so we are definitely awake!
First glimpse of the main lodge at 5:30am At Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
When you love animals as much as I do, going on safari is a real dream come true, but even Paul (my husband) who loves animals too, but isn't as obsessed as me, was so buzzing with anticipation to get the first glimpse. We didn't have to wait long, the first creatures we spotted were giraffes. Apparently they don't sleep for longer than 5 minute bursts, and usually standing up, so not surprising they were the first up and nibbling on acacia leaves. Look how amazing they are in silhouette...
It wasn't too long before the sun started to appear from behind the clouds, and that made for the most amazing sunrise I've ever seen, talk about dramatic, take a look at this...
After that it got a bit warmer, but I kept the blanket on because it was really cosy.
We had a lady ranger called Pascale who was amazing and knew everything about the animals, she was from South Africa and had been on Safari's since she was a child, so she'd pretty much grown up with animals and was a really young but very knowledgeable ranger, she was studying for a masters too, I can't remember what the title was but I know she stopped to collect fresh elephant dung, so it was something to do with Elephants!
That morning Pascale thought it would be best to head towards where the pride of lions had been last seen the night before, they do tend to roam for long distances but not so much in the nights so she had an idea of where they might be. When she spotted some tracks they were going the same direction we were, so we stayed in pursuit.
Along the way we saw plenty of gorgeous varieties of Antelope, these ones are Springbok, they are quite shy and really fast so this was my best shot of them. They look a bit golden in the light.
They were probably moving away from the lions, because we kept on the path and as we turned a corner, they were literally right there, a group of four. Two were young brothers, and their aunt and grandmother. The two brothers are the tawny ones, the two females are white. The first one of the pride stepped out right in front of the car, stared right at us, then walked right past us, closely followed by his brother.
Because we were up and on the road so early, the rangers packed breakfast for us every morning, a selection of home made biscuits they were called, but they were more like cereal bars, so quite filling as a snack, and some coffee. We found a spot when the lions settled, and had our breakfast while we watched them play...it looks like they're fighting but these two young brothers love each other very much, this was them having a bit of fun together, until their aunt and grandmother stepped in to calm them down! Their mother was the best hunter apparently, she was already out looking for prey, all the ladies are the best hunters in this pride, the boys just liked to have fun.
They look so cute, but they are completely wild so we had to be relatively quiet so we didn't disturb the group, they didn't mind us sitting eating breakfast watching them, they seemed quite happy to have an audience!
It was only a short drive from these beauties that we came across some more giraffes, it was amazing to see them in the daylight, they were definitely keeping a safe distance from the nearby lions. The lions wouldn't really try and hunt a giraffe unless they were desperately hungry, but there were plenty of antelope around for this pride so the giraffes didn't need to worry too much, look how gorgeous they are, this one was particularly nosey and loved the camera.
One of the rhinos was close by too, they generally don't need to worry about being attacked by any of the other animals in the wild, their skin is so thick and they're so big that no other animal really sees them as prey. The only animal they do need to worry about, sadly, is us. We weren't allowed to know how many Rhinos were on the reserve, or take pictures with location settings turned on, all because of the lengths that poachers will go to hunt them, Pascale said they have security roaming with shotguns, if poachers parachute or helicopter into the reserve, their job is to defend the animals and it's a dangerous job. Luckily at Sanbona, they haven't lost a Rhino yet, but it's due to their hard work and vigilance at all hours. Look at this beauty just minding his own business, how beautiful are his horns? Far more beautiful on him than on the black market.
The Rhinos are so endangered it makes me extremely sad to think that they won't be around in years to come. 529 rhinos were poached between January and June 2017 in South Africa alone, and the population continues to decrease drastically, these creatures are so endangered due to the poaching crisis, mainly driven by (what else) money, particularly the newly wealthy Vietnamese.
You can learn more about how to help save the Rhinos here.
Poachers kill these amazing creatures so brutally, it breaks my heart, please do read up on ways we can help conserve the Rhino, they really need our help.
This guy was solo, just walking in a straight line, head down, eating grass, on his way to no where...it amazes me all the time when the biggest animals are all vegan! Just shows you don't need meat to bulk up.
So after we learned a lot about the Rhinos and how at risk they are, it made me even happier to just watch him munch away without a care in the world, while protective rangers close by kept an eye on him and a hand on their guns in case of a sudden attack. Luckily, no attack came and we saw Rhinos a few times on our safari rides over the 3 day stay, they could have been different ones or this same one, we weren't allowed to know, and for good enough reason for me.
Here's a quick pic of the Cape Buffalo, surprisingly out of the African big 5, we were told these bad boys are the most dangerous, but they still look pretty cute all cwtched up together.
So on our first outing we saw Lions, Giraffes, Buffalo, Antelope and Rhinos. All in about 3 hours. Then we were driven back to the main lodge where we you have another breakfast (whatever you want from an amazing buffet or a la carte), the chefs helped to create lovely meals for me without any dairy too, and were really helpful and careful with what ingredients they used. You wouldn't believe the lengths it takes to get new deliveries into the grounds, as it's in the middle of no where, so that made me really grateful
Basically after your 5am wakeup call, amazing safari ride and delicious breakfast, all you have to do for the afternoon is chill in the lodge with the hot tub, and the most reasonably priced champagne ever. Seriously the conversion rate from GBP to ZAR is really in our favour.
Here's a few pics from the lodge and the tub...this bed was so comfy, at 5am I really didn't want to get out of it!
Our own private lodge, the rock face in the background was home to loads of wild birds, and antelope roamed around. Also the odd snake apparently but the lodge was on stilts and we didn't see any.
After sun and champagne, there was a massage which we booked in advance and was uh-mazing. Then there's lunch and more champagne (well why not). Lunch is a la carte and delicious.
OK enough food and drink, back to the animals.
Each day you do 2 safari drives, and on our afternoon drive we came so close to a parade of elephants, and their babies, you could see their eyelashes. Their eyes are so full of expression, and they are extremely family orientated and very loving and loyal, also amazing parents to their babies who were with them at all times.
The only thing we had to do was not move quickly or make much noise in case they thought were a threat, that's when they can become aggressive and charge at vehicles. We didn't see any signs of aggression, just plenty of majestic elephants and long eyelashes.
Some of the other gorgeous creatures we saw were zebra. Again, they had babies, and they were all really pretty with long eyelashes. They, like the elephants were in a group of around 15, they're very sociable and like to stay together and look after each other.
After seeing plenty more animals, we found a quiet spot on top of a hill to have sundowners, Pascale had packed gin and tonic, white and red wine, and also beers for us to enjoy while watching the sunset. The day was so full of amazing sights that to top it off with a drink and the sunset it couldn't have been better. I like a busy holiday (not much of a beach lover...please don't tell the mermaids) but this was one busy day! And it was only our first! We had 3 full days, 6 safari drives, and each one was completely different. We saw all sorts of wildlife in their different preferred spots around the reserve. The reserve was actually huge, the size of Singapore, so you can imagine there were plenty of different viewing spots to soak up the surroundings.
The safari car bar, open for business along with snacks. South Africa is all about food and drink, as well as the wildlife.
Sun set done, and back to the lodge for dinner, which of course was amazing, and there was even a lit fireplace to keep us cosy once the sun had gone down and it cooled again.
That's a full day for you, the next day we watched more beautiful animals at sun rise and sun set, ate and drank more, and learned more about the different species and how special each one is.
We'd seen just about everything, but Pascale knew there was one creature we hadn't seen yet, the male white lion. He tended to keep himself to himself while he was hunting, but wandered for miles once he was finished looking to rejoin the rest of the pride we'd seen on previous days. So on the last day we made finding him the main priority.
We were up early, obvs, cue another amazing sunrise, a jam packed day full or scenery and animals. We must have brought some Welsh weather with us, because it actually rained! Which in South Africa is really a cause for celebration when it rained, and we got a storm!
This river hadn't run in over 6 months, so that's why I look so happy to be in the rain.
we followed the river and found the elephants again, the little baby was there, look at her cute little tusks...again, so much better on her than in a trophy cabinet.
Once we'd watched the elephants for an hour or so, we were no closer to finding the white lion. We stopped and had our G&T's...yes it was still rainy but we had waterproofs, and I am from Wales so that's nothing new.
One sip into our drinks and Pascale asks us to get quickly and quietly back into the vehicle, obviously we weren't quite quick enough because she asked us again in a sterner tone, quickly and quietly back inside. Anyway, just as we all got back in, look who pops his head over the hill, right where we were having a drink...this was the first glimpse we got of him, and he just came closer until he walked right past us, closer than any of the other animals, he was aware who was in charge.
look at those white eyes. He's still young, only 3, that's why his mane is quite short.
I mean, you can't possibly top that so that's where I've decided to end this post, it's probably far too long anyway but how could I not include this many pics!
We had an unforgettable time and I can't wait to go back, if you do get the chance to go on a really fabulous holiday or honeymoon, please go on safari! Learn about and fall in love with all the animals and help share the message of how special they are.
You can check our Sanbona Wildlife Reserve here.