A trip done by Andy Joannou

Author: Andy Joannou

The Planning

I normally have a firmer plan of what I want out of my trips. This time, all I knew was that I wanted to return to South Africa (my second time), largely inspired by the photos and videos being shared on Ryan’s Instagram and those appearing on my Explore feed. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know for how long, I barely even knew when… Ryan was my guide for my first ever safari before the world shut down in 2020, and he said to me then that I’d get the ‘safari bug’ – he was right.

So with not much to go on other than a dream, a rough budget and dates, I sent Ryan an email. Props to him and the WanderingThru team; they took my non-plan and offered me some itinerary suggestions. My trip was starting to feel real with some structure and some great possibilities. We nailed down the details (picking between proposed itineraries literally came down to a coin toss) and my trip was booked. I can’t stress how easy the process was. Ryan, Ale and Astrida were very patient with my questions, offered suggestions, assisted in hotel recommendations and domestic flights. Now was the time to start getting excited.

Leopard on safari with Wandering Thru

Nzumba Lodge

I won’t bore you with details about the 11 hour flight from London to Johannesburg, I know we’re here to read about the safari experience, so consider this a time warp into the future – overnight stay at the InterContinental Johannesburg (WanderingThru recommended, a stone’s throw away from the airport, good food, comfortable), and flight the next morning to Hoedspruit.

Waiting for me at Hoedspruit was Ryan, followed by a bear hug. We collected my luggage and began the transfer to the first of my three stops – Nzumba Lodge. The 1.5 hour mini-game drive from the airport was catching up, stopping to check out some curious giraffes and various other grazers – a good start!

Nzumba Lodge is beautiful. It faces a watering hole which was very busy – we were never far from a great sighting, as all the rooms overlook the watering hole, as does the pool, and as does the lunch area. We saw rhino, elephants, hyena, giraffe, jackal (and puppies) and many impala, zebra and wildebeest here. The staff here couldn’t do enough for us, the food was delicious and the hosts for our stay, Megan and Matt, were very hospitable.

I was here for 4 nights with Ryan as my private guide, joined by another WanderingThru guest, and we were so blessed with incredible sightings – our time at Nzumba ended with all of the ‘big 5’ – we counted 30 individual lions – and also a pack of very cheeky wild dogs harassing a lone elephant bull, who had a great deal of fun trumpeting and scaring them away. It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite sighting here as there were so many, including my first helicopter ride as part of Hope for Wildlife Helicopter Services (I was very nervous, heights are one of my weaknesses, elevated only by it being a total surprise to me – thanks Ryan ;-)), but I think if I had to pick it would be our many lion encounters, not least the one where a huge pride of 14 youngsters and females were scared off by two dominant males, roaring away and leading a chorus of roaring with nothing but a full moon and our spotlight for lighting.

Helicopter ride on safari with Wandering Thru

All too soon, my time here was over – it was time to say ‘until next time’ to my new friends at Nzumba, the other guest, and Ryan and head over to my next stop.

Bateleur Safari Camp

Transfers were arranged by WanderingThru, and they were excellent. Always on time, always with a cool bottle of water (it was over 40° several times during my trip) and always comfortable. Again, this was a mini game drive – we saw a troop of baboons crossing the road (not the start of a bad joke!), warthogs, and other grazers. As I checked in to Bateleur, and as if they had planned it, just as the general manager Philippa was telling me to always lock my tent – a vervet monkey had jumped into the kitchen to steal some fruit!  Camp was interesting here, as there was a resident family of banded mongooses (mongeese?) running around, nyala who liked to sleep in camp, and one dinner was disrupted by me yelling “there’s a hyena stealing food!”, to which everyone turned around to see a large female hyena emptying the bin of its contents

Cheetah on safari with Wandering Thru

Game drives here were very interesting, and I didn’t expect the landscape to change so much going from Klaserie Reserve to Timbavati, but it was SO different. Here, we experienced hundreds of elephants, including several newborns (and one very special sighting of a baby elephant not even a couple of hours old!), cheetah, leopard, and very active wild dogs hunting (successfully). We also took a number of bush walks here, which was interesting in giving us a different perspective on what it takes to track animals. My favourite sighting here was definitely the newborn elephant, followed by 38 elephants enjoying a splash in the watering hole!

I was at Bateleur for 4 nights, and it was time to move on to my third and final destination.

andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge

Going a little further south (and with another efficient and friendly transfer), I arrived at Ngala. I was shown around and as we arrived at the pool, there was a small herd of elephants just sitting under the shade of a giant tree – all in plain sight from the sunloungers! I witnessed Buffalo, mud-wallowing warthogs and elephants here, which made it quite challenging to finish the book I brought with me with the intention of reading it while lazing by the pool.

Elephants on safari with Wandering Thru

I met my guide for my stay here and off we went on our first drive. If Nzumba was Lions, Bateleur was Elephants, this place would definitely be Leopard; we were very lucky to get to spend quality time with two separate relaxed leopards, then a courting couple (and we were the only vehicle here), and another skittish one, a total of 5 in a 4 night stay.

Of course, Ngala, as its name might suggest, is not just about the leopard. It’s one of the few places remaining in the world where you can see white lions. As luck would have it, we got to share time with the sweetest white baby cub. She was beautiful, and hopefully she will grow to be the fiercest of all the lionesses.

I also saw my very first African Wildcat – something I had been teasing Ryan about since my first trip all the way back in 2020! Other amazing sightings included a crash of 4 rhinos where a youngster was locking horns with the adult male, a hyena den with fresh cubs and hyenas chasing a lion into a tree – I couldn’t believe it!

Giraffe on safari with Wandering Thru

After 4 nights here, it was time to go home – thousands of photos later, and memories to last me a lifetime. My advice for anyone considering a safari is to just do it, you won’t regret the call of nature – and there’s no guarantee that these beautiful creatures will be around forever. I can’t wait for my next trip.

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