My favorite camp from our first trip to Africa was a mobile tent camp. We were out in the wild with no electricity and no running water, and we had a blast. This time, at Savanna Lodge, we do have all the amenities, including electricity, running water, and sporatic internet. I was afraid I wouldn’t feel far enough removed from civilization, but we had a great first day game drive, which dispelled my fears.
We left Johannesburg on a Federal Airway Cessna Caravan, stopping in Sabi Sand first, then disembarking at Ulusaba airstrip, which turned out to be Sir Richard Branson’s airstrip for his private game reserve. We were picked up by the Savanna Lodge and driven the 35 minutes to the camp. Camp is not an apt description for Savanna. We have electricity and running water. We have a tub and a plunge pool. The rooms are stellar. It may not be as isolated as a mobile tent camp, but they have a lot of game here, and we were anticipating great game drives.
Lunch was served at 3:30 pm, then we headed out for our first game drive. We were not disappointed. Teresa got points for spotting the most game, even more than our tracker Julius. Patrick was a our guide/ranger. We would have driven right past the White Rhinos, but Teresa spotted them and we headed into the thick underbrush. This was the closest I’ve been to Rhino yet. It was a female White Rhino with her offspring, and a juvenile male. We got incredibly close to them, and they didn’t seem to mind us.
As I grilled Patrick about the possibility of seeing big cats with cubs (as we had heard they were about), he brushed me off, saying it wasn’t the time of year, etc. This was his little joke. He and tracker Julius were speaking Tsonga together, and on the radio were coordinating with other Savanna guides on the wearabouts of a family of lions. Just as dusk was settling in, we pulled up to a family of two lionesses with four cubs. They were adorable beyond description.
We watched them at play with each other, and with their mother’s. One cub was smaller than the rest, estimated to be only 3 months old. As night set in, we watched past photo op time, and put the cameras down to enjoy the show. We were very happy to have had the opportunity. Patrick and Julius had had one over on us. It was their surprise.
After the lion encounter we pulled into a scenic area for sundowners, with Teresa having the best quote of the day “Now that was the real sundowner!” As we sipped our Amarulas we remarked on the beauty of the area, and our guides told us that it was where Sir Richard Branson’s guests would on occasion have a dinner in the bush. That guy knows how to live. We seemed to be following in his footsteps all day.
Back at the lodge, we entered our room to find a bathtub full of hot water and bubbles, complete with two glasses of sherry. A quick one hour respit and off to dinner. The dinner here was served at one long table, visiting between guests encouraged.
It was a great first game drive for my friends Augie and Teresa. Good vibes for things to come.