“My heart skipped a beat when the elephant came into view,
then began to pound as she lumbered across the dusty road
and smashed into a tree, crushing it.“
–Penelope Dackis, IWorld of Travel Copy Writer
Our first “Ellie” sighting of the day, and my very first in the wild! Pure joy! After scores of impala prancing about (dubbed Jafi’s by seasoned safarians), this was a thrill. The distant and endangered black rhino we spotted was a close second.
We were three in the back of the Land Cruiser, Dorothy, Sasha, and I (main header image above) with Artist driving and Fumani in the tracker seat. Stopping often to examine paw prints and scat in the red dust, we rode across the river, up and down steep sandy trails, twisting around tight turns, ducking stray branches, and always unblinkingly vigilant.
Our rewards were plenty…giraffes hilariously gliding behind see-through trees to hide, with their heads protruding, zebras of all stripes, lions lolling in the shade, white rhinos lugging their tummies around and photo bombing our selfies, a cheetah noiselessly scouting the dusk, wigged out cape buffalos, the awkward warthog, proud kudu, and a pageant of many more exquisite beasts. A sky safari of flamboyant feathered creatures soared above.
On top of the fabulous meals served under moonlight or poolside, the picnics in the bush were especially glorious. Sundowners were a highlight: cocktails mixed at the magical hour when shades of purple appear on the horizon and the heat of the day melts away.
After an energizing outdoor shower, really aren’t you ready to go anywhere? We left the ultra-modern luxury of Mthembu Lodge in Umfolozzi Big 5 Game Reserve to arrive at the lavish old-world Thanda Private Game Reserve. More exciting game drives ensued and with each one a new and unique experience. Ditto for the delectable dining. Here I had my own pool and massive deck overlooking a vast vista of the bush and all its wonders.
Our home base was Durban, an alluring destination itself and a mere two- to three-hour drive to some of the best safari locales in the country. Durban offers an authentic experience of Zulu culture, proudly preserved. It’s also the fastest growing city in South Africa and the busiest port in the southern hemisphere. More on Durban later, but first, a note about the flight over. The human body really does not like to be molded and folded into a tube hurtling through the atmosphere for 16 hours. Luckily I was able to sprawl across the 2 empty seats next to me. Durban looks breathtaking from the air…lush chartreuse hills, punctuated with dots of red clay earth, rolling up to the whitecaps of the Indian Ocean. A pleasant breeze washed my face once outside and after a short ride we were greeted at the swank Beverly Hills Hotel with warm, ginger-scented towels for a real face wash. I was dying to stick my toes in the ocean and after a tantalizing view from my balcony, I ran outside and did just that.
Our highly anticipated curry buffet at the famed Oyster Box Hotel next door surpassed all expectations . We all binged on the mouthwatering butter chicken curry. The next day was too windy and the water too rough to snorkel so we toured the amazing Botanical Gardens and saw a most unusual Eucalyptus tree from Papua New Guinea. Other highlights were the Nelson Mandela capture site and museum, and touring an outdoor Zulu apothecary that sold all manner of healing roots, bones, plants, and animal parts used to treat ailments since tribal times. Though no photos were allowed, the dusty pathways and indigenous market stalls are etched in my mind forever. We also learned how to make beaded ‘love letters’ from two Zulu women. Snorkeling at Shaka Rock in Ballito revealed a surprising underwater display of hundreds of colorful fish and coral, as well as an octopus hiding in a hole. Our boat ride through the St. Lucia wetlands was a fascinating journey into hippo and crocodile habitat. And finally, what trip is complete without a shopping extravaganza?