…During the drive to Jabulani we went through a few villages and towns and got a quick little insight at the local living. There were many stalls on the side of the road selling a variety of things from fruit to house plants to hair cuts, malls, shops with bright self painted signs, many unfinished houses and cows and goats strolling the streets. We arrived at Jabulani at 2pm to a warm welcome as we settled in and got treated to lunch by Chef Dylan and was taken care of by the amazing Butler, Shadrick. The food was outstanding and somehow only kept getting better during our stay. Jabulani has an amazing heart warming story behind it [click here to read] and is the home of 15 orphaned elephants. Its also where the Netflix movie “Holiday in the Wild” was filmed that we watched before we came and again since we’ve been home. We then had an afternoon safari with our ranger, Mike, and two other guests. We saw buffalo, zebras, giraffes and stopped for sundowners while watching zebras in the distance. Sundowners is a nice time to chat to the others in the vehicle and also ask the ranger questions. As it turned dark and we were heading back to the lodge, we past another vehicle who then radioed to Mike about a leopard spotting so we quickly turned around and followed the vehicle back to the sighting. We witnessed an incredible, rare thing… a 2.5yr old male leopard, high up in a tree, eating its kill which was a large duiker. We parked below the tree and watched for a long time as the leopard worked his way around the tree with the duiker. He was at it for awhile before getting tired and laying down on another branch to take a nap. Wow – what an experience, we were all very speechless. I thought I’d be more upset witnessing this circle of life but I was better than I thought. Our ranger, Mike, wrote a blog on this here if you want to read it from his perspective as he describes it a lot better than me! My stomach started feeling a bit funny today [maybe from all the time in a car, 4hr morning safari, 2.5hr transfer, 4hr afternoon safari], so after a gourmet dinner of fries for me, we were escorted back to our room by Mike. Jabulani is an open area for animals and we needed to be escorted to and from our room at night time. I had a dream this night that there was a giraffe in our room and if THAT doesn’t prove that I’d been safari’ing hard – I don’t know what does!
We’re on our 4th day of safari now and the early mornings/late nights are catching up with me but the show must go on! Treated to coffee and snacks of homemade muesli bars and some fruit before we hit the road on a morning game drive with Mike and the two others. We headed back to the tree where we saw the leopard last night and Mike got out the car to check around the area and came back with the head of the duiker which was a SIGHT! I actually took a really great picture of it but feel its a bit too confronting to put anywhere, if you want to see it let me know lol. Mike then drove us to a lake where he suspected the leopard would having a drink after his meal last night and he was right. The leopard was spotted on the other side of the lake from us and we watched as he had a drink and got some shade under a tree before walking off into the bush. It was so cool to see him twice and Mike let us know it was another lucky sighting and to be able to spend all this time observing the leopard. That morning we also came across a male and female lion sleeping across the way from us and that was our first male lion sighting, we’re loving seeing all these big cats. We then saw a couple of wartogs and baby warthogs and they’ve become my favourite baby animal! Google them – you won’t regret it. Back to the lodge for breakfast, we were seated outside by the lake and there was a hippo in there! Ihaia was unnerved by it but I insisted staying in our seats as for some reason I didn’t feel afraid [that’d change as soon as the huge thing made a move]. Hippos are super dangerous and can move really fast. I later found out from a staff member that the hippo regularly visits the lodge lake and there’s only been one encounter with the hippo and another staff member and he had a climb a tree to safety. As we finished eating and were about to leave, about 5 big buffalos came down to the lake for a drink and the hippo didn’t want to share the space. He quickly swam over to them in an effort to scare them away but as the buffalo didn’t move, the defeated hippo swam off to the other side. At 1pm, we went to watch the herd of orphaned elephants go for their daily swim [click here to meet the herd] which was the best thing. The elephants were so happy, playing, swimming and throwing dirt onto themselves to protect their skin from the sun. Their carers take them for a walk though the bush to numerous swimming spots everyday and after meeting a few of the carers, I’ve decided they’ve got the best job in the world! As well as being a very important job [click here to learn about the elephant carers, honestly so heart warming!]. This was a quick 30 minute watch and then we headed back to the lodge for a bit of down time before leaving again at 4.30pm to do something that I’d been really looking forward too… the elephant encounter! There was only us four in the vehicle going to the encounter which made it nice and personal. When we arrived the elephant manager, Owen, was there to explain the back story of the two elephants we were going to meet while I was about to burst out my skin with excitement. We met Sebakwe first, who’s a 34yr old male. He is the dominant bull of the herd and is also the widest and biggest. He’s described as the ultimate description of a gentle giant and is very protective of the herd. We spent awhile with him, feeding, touching and taking some great photos. Its such a wake up call standing under an elephant, how small we really are and all the things that are still foreign and unknown to us. We then met the namesake, Jabulani. Jabulani means “happiness” or “rejoice” in the Zulu language. Hes 22 and had a very sad start to life [link], but he lives to tell the tale and now has his own family and a good life. I can’t put into words how that experience made me feel. To be up close and personal with those beautiful elephants, totally ethical, loved and looked after – it was out of this world. We then drove a short while away and turned up to a dreamy sundowners setting next to a lake looking out at the sun setting behind the mountains. With a G&T in hand, husband and good company by my side, life couldn’t get any better right?… Wrong. As the sky turned orange, the beautiful herd of elephants walked around the lake, back to their stables for the night. As they past the lake, their silhouettes reflected off the water making for a magical sight. Following closely behind the elephants were a group of zebras, giraffes and impalas who stopped nearby to eat some grass and trees. After we finished our drinks we were taken over to the elephant stables to see where they sleep and had Owen talk us through their routines and answer any questions we had. My favourite thing I learnt is that the elephants have allocated themselves their own sleeping spaces where they put themselves to sleep at every night and that the stables have heated lights installed for the colder months, boujee. Also the carers sleep on site [in a 6 week on – 2 week off rotation] and they get up if they hear any noise of trouble from the elephants, bless. The big sighting we had that night was a male Lion eating a big wildebeest. We parked up as he was eating then he heard a noise in the distance, stopped eating and left the kill to go and explore. We tried to follow him for a bit but then let him go only to come across 4 females and 1 male lion on a hunt a bit further away. It was exciting and interesting to watch their behaviour and we we waited around but they didn’t pursue. As we got back to the lodge for dinner, Ihaia and I were surprised with a beautiful private 6 course meal in the wine cellar. It was so lovely! The amazing butler we mostly had here during our stay, Shadrick, always put a smile on our face and made all our dining experiences that much better. We can already tell that the staff here at Jabulani are the icing on the cake, beautiful humans. We only got through 5 courses and didn’t have room for the 6th course which was the second dessert [weird flex from me]. Every night we got back to the room to a short story printed out on our bed, “how the lion got its mane”, “elephant and friends” and “how the leopard got his spots” along with the weather forecast for the next day and a quote like “may every sunrise bring you hope, may every sunset bring you peace”. Cuuuuuute man.
Today we actually decided to skip the morning game drive and have a sleep in as we were honestly shattered. We had breakfast around 9am and afterwards we treated ourselves to a massage. The massage area at Jabulani is actually a dream – its an open area in the bush and you know how in massage places they’ve got soundtracks of birds singing, well I was listening to actual native birds in the trees surrounding me and it was blissssssss. Ihaia and I were actually the only guests staying in the lodge this day and night and we were very spoilt with the undivided attention! The chefs were available to make us anything we felt like and our ranger open to hear how we wanted to spend the day. We decided to go and watch the elephant swim at 1pm again and were so glad we did as they were a lot more playful today and we parked up at a great viewing spot. We watched two “young” ones play with each other, another playing with his stick he keeps in the same spot in the water and the others eating trees and throwing dirt on themselves. I could watch this for hours. On our way back to the lodge we spotted a giraffe trying to get a drink from a puddle and it was the first time we’d come across this! They part their legs super wide and bend their neck down the middle to get to the ground. A few hours relaxing in the room before we were off again to the elephant interaction with Owen. He brought over Jabulani, Sebakwe and another beautiful boy called Somopane. I feel so lucky to have spent time and had interactions with 3 of these elephants. We then had a private viewing at the same lake of the elephants walking back to the stables for the night and as this was the second time we got to witness this magic, we really got time to take it all in and not be too overwhelmed with trying to get footage of it [although there was some of that too]. Off on our night drive and we went back to the place we saw the lions hunting the previous night and were in luck as there was a large group of them there. We stayed awhile and observed lots of movement from them. Some other lions in the distance started calling and a couple went off to come back later with two other lions. They all greeted each other by rubbing heads, the cutest thing. A group of them lay down signalling that the hunt was over and just as we were about to start up the car and leave, one female got up and walked riiiiiight past us like she may as well have been rubbing up against the car. It was incredible! She was on my side and I took a video of it and got lots of questions on Instagram asking if I was scared and I honestly don’t remember being scared… maybe it was the adrenaline I’m not sure but I felt very safe [in an open Jeep, lol]. Back at the lodge we were spoilt once again by chef Dylan putting on a Braai for us! Braai is a traditional South African barbecue and we got treated to lots of different meats, salads, seafood, corn and curry. Dylan said he loves cooking braai and was happy about it too. Our butler for the night was Songs and he’s such a sweet soul, making our evening even better! Where we ate was set up with lanterns and candles in a private cove looking out at a different part of the lake in the lodge. Very romantic and verrrrrry lucky! After stuffing ourselves full, of course a dessert platter comes out! Orange cake, chocolate cake, fruit and a South African traditional dessert which is like a small round donut with jam in the middle and I think its called Koeksisters [?] all delicious as per and I do not know how we’re meant to ever cook for ourselves again after this trip!?!? An amazing personal day, elephant interactions, lion sightings, a private braai… what more could we ask for right? WELL… as we open the door to our room, we followed dried flower petals to the bath that was filled with bubbles and petals with chocolate and champagne next to it. WHAT IS LIFE. This trip has had Ihaia and I spending so much time together like a week in the middle of the bush with not only doing everything side by side but every meal together, to really sit across from each other and eat slowly y’know? Never a rush. We didn’t really come on this trip with that in mind so finding ourselves in a lot of “alone time” situations, was actually really nice. So we ended this epic week with a bubble bath and falling asleep absolutely, totally content.
5am wake up with one more morning game drive, breakfast and elephant swim viewing. I could do this every day. Unfortunately we had a 2.30pm flight out of Hoedspruit airport to Johannesburg then Johannesburg to Paris. On our way out of Kapama reserve to the airport, Mike said he had something to show us. We drove for about 5 minutes and then started seeing a lot of vultures in the sky… a few minutes later and we pulled up to a giraffe carcass. Wow we really have seen it all now. Mike said that he’s not sure what the giraffe had died from as he’s not an old giraffe so maybe a fight or maybe he was sick. We had actually seen the same giraffe last night when the elephants walked past the lake at sunset and this giraffe was trying to mate with a female. So seeing him in this state was quite upsetting. Mike lightened the mood by driving past the 1pm elephant swim before heading to the airport [it did the trick].
“Travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”
Since landing back in France, we have “fostered an elephant” through the Jabulani programme. If you’re looking for somewhere to donate money too, I recommend this [click here]. I’ve seen the elephants and environment first hand and have full confidence that the money is put to great use. Taking care of 15 elephants is expensive so every bit of support counts. Jabulani Instagram here.
A FEW WORDS
Just writing all these memories down has made me emotional remembering all the experiences we were so lucky to have had. I learnt that the summer season in SA is the rainy season and winter is dry! But we had amazing weather the whole week, no rain and very hot days which was great coming from winter in France. As its the rainy season though, the bush was super thick and green and the rivers, lakes and watering holes were full which was nice. I’ve read back on this blog and have left out a lot of other things we did see on game drives but if I listed them all this would honestly be a 5000 page novel. From the beautiful colourful birds to squirrels and hares, you get more than just the Big5 and its usually the little unexpected creatures that blow ya socks off!
We took Malarone tablets [Atovaquone/Proguanil] to keep safe of Malaria. We were instructed to take one the day we left France, once a day throughout our trip and for one week when we’re back. I was ok on them during the trip but on the last day and especially when we were back in France they made me feel super nauseous so I stopped them maybe like 4 or 5 days short. And I still seem to be fine, lol.
We did 10 game drives in 5 days [6 nights] and clocked the Big 5. We saw elephants, buffalo and rhino early in the trip but it took a couple days to get the lion and leopard. We really enjoyed our timing and thoroughly enjoyed every day, there wasn’t a second we were “bored”. But by the last day didn’t think we needed any longer either. Go on every game drive of your trip! We only missed one from being very tired but I do wish we’d pushed through as thats literally what you’re there for – the game drives. You won’t want to miss a wink.
A safari seems to be on everyones bucket list and I can’t stress you to GO and DO IT enough! But remember, you’re visiting the animals home, not the other way around. Follow the rules and be respectful as you’re no bigger or more important than whats around you.
[We booked our trip through EverseenSA. After scrolling the internet not knowing what area to book accommodation, how to get transfers around Kruger Park or even the best way to get from Johannesburg to Kruger, I contacted these guys. Charlie and Serena are the faces behind Everseen and are great at making your dream safari trip a reality. I was hesitant at first because I take pride in booking our holidays and planning our itinerary so letting go a bit was tricky but definitely for the best. They booked us our flights out of Joburg to Kruger, gave us lots of accomodation choices, booked our accomodation and sorted transfers between the two we booked. Our first flight from Paris to Joburg got delayed making us miss the flight from Joburg to Kruger and while we were in the air, they booked us on a new flight and another transfer that we didn’t have to settle until we got back to France and honestly just not having to worry and sort that was a lot less stressful than it could’ve been. They can help from anywhere in the world, we did it all through email and WhatsApp and its as easy as flicking them a quick message over any questions too like to ask about tipping during the trip. Just the ease of knowing someones there. We were also surprised with little extras from them like a bubble bath, chocolates and champagne. I get that a “South African Safari” may sound daunting to plan but these two make it as fun as it should be. Would highly recommend EverseenSA – they’re also on Instagram].