Our vacation to South Africa was a long time coming actually. Sure the actual destination was chosen a bit on a whim, but how it came about was decades in the making. You see, my mom promised my sister and I when we were wee tots that if we each made it to our 22nd birthday without having smoked a cigarette, she’d take us on a trip anywhere in the world we wanted to go. Well, little did she know she’d have prudes as children and have to make good on that promise. And that’s how, five years and some months after I turned 22 (hey, we never claimed to be punctual), my mom and I found us traipsing about a continent foreign to both of us.
Actually, truth be told our trip was supposed to be to Melbourne for the Australian Open in January. (My mom’s life goal is to hit all four tennis Grand Slams.) But then Kari decided to board a boat for four months, and we decided it made more sense to hit up somewhere along the route and save Oz for a rainy day. We scoured the itinerary, and the only place that appealed equally to the both of us was South Africa. So off we went!
After a week in Cape Town and a few days driving the iconic Garden Route (more on that town by town post-honeymoon), we flew from Cape to Johannesburg and caught a little prop plane out to Hoedspruit, jumping off point for the famous Kruger Park. Of course, anyone who has been to Kruger can attest to the fact that its safari lodge overload. There are just so many places to stay; how are you even to decide? Working in the travel and hospitality industry, there was one company I had worked with a number of times called andBeyond. They’re all about sustainability and building up the local communities in each place they build a lodge, epitomizing the term “give back.” Luxury with a cause? Sign us up!
The next thing we had to decide was which of the andBeyond properties we wanted to visit. Many people combine three or four nights at two different lodges, but we had a mere four days. Unbeknown to many travelers, even though Kruger is the most famous of the South African game parks, you actually can’t do any off roading—you must stay on the paved roads—and, even worse, you have to stay in a closed top vehicle. Well, we were having none of that! We wanted the real deal. So we settled on Ngala Safari Lodge, which bordered Kruger and is a private reserve all of its own.
After we touched down from Jo’burg, we were picked up by a lovely employee of Ngala who not only indulged us by taking us into town in a frenzy to find a replacement lens—our 70-300mm was stolen in Cape Town, my 17-85mm broke and had to be shipped to the Canon factory to be fixed…great timing on both accounts—then drove us an hour to the lodge on some, erm, interesting roads.
Roads that were watched over by an array of critters such as the notorious dung beetle (which I never actually saw first hand) and the chameleon who danced across the road in Lady Gaga-like fashion.
Little did we know, our safari would start just as we pulled out the airport, as this is what we saw these dudes congregating by the gate:
Just beyond the rhino family were a few stray cape buffalo. A little down the way from them, we spotted a couple wildebeest roaming in the distance and a warthog snort off into the brush before I could even get my camera out of the bag to play paparazzo.
A giraffe wandered closer to the road in curiosity…
…and once we turned off the “main road” onto a dirt path for the remainder of our journey, we saw the classic safari shot: elephants crossing the road. (It isn’t just a ruse you see on posters and promotional material to draw tourists from near and far. Who knew?)
In the mere hour it took us to reach the lodge, we had managed to see three—elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros—of the Big 5, already. And a whole lot more. Who even needed to go on safari?? And then we checked in and saw our digs and changed our minds entirely…