Dinner in the restaurant overlooking the riverbed followed aperitifs in the beautifully designed lounge area. Tales of the day’s sights shared, new friendships made. Savouring the exquisite cuisine served with such love and care by the Ngala Tented Camp staff, headed by Chef Dumi (see interview). Wine flowed… in my case a bold Cape Pinotage… a generous varietal that perfectly complemented that evening’s game of Kudu and ostrich. Cuisine at Ngala is superb and vegetarian diets are thoughtfully catered for.
As an ‘open’ camp, lion and other predators can walk through the lodge quite freely at night (not during the day!) so my assigned security guard, known affectionately as a ‘bush taxi’ was a reassuring presence as he accompanied me back to my tent every evening. His mother had named him Destiny.
Sleep was deep and dream-full… the capacious bed enveloping my happy-tired body like an embrace from a long-lost friend. Hard to leave such warm comfort at 5 am when I was awoken by my butler with welcome coffee and biscuits ahead of the day’s first game drive. Suitably fortified, our group wrapped up in the rosy-fingered African dawn, blankets on knees, cameras and binoculars ready.
There is nothing as life-affirming as beginning the day on safari in the African bush. The air is pregnant with possibility… a far-off lion’s roar, birds calling each other out of their reverie; I felt the earth stir into life as the sky turned from pink to azure blue.
Wildebeest with their unmistakeable hunched back, horns and stripes peered at us from the savannah; then suddenly our first pride of lions. Two males and eight lionesses. All slowly awakening from slumber.
By now familiar with the Landcruiser and sensing we posed no threat (we were still advised to stay quiet and still) the pride continued to greet the dawn, all the while watching us with slight curiosity. Relaxed yet alert. The battle-scarred males sleepily fixed us with their gaze, followed by casual disinterest as they lay, bellies full, still digesting their previous night’s kill.
Male lions usually spend their time alone patrolling and marking territory, while the females share suckling and parenting duties with other lionesses, only weaning their offspring at about six months. We learned that most hunting takes place at dusk and after dark, but like most predators, lions are opportunistic and may hunt at any time.
We continued on and off the sandy trails and spotted a couple of buffalo – their wig-like curvy horns giving them an appearance of elderly judges. Both appeared quite placid, despite their fearsome reputation.
Then traversing the dry river we approached close to a family of elephants, digging for the watercourse, now around a metre below the sandy bed. Elephants travel huge distances daily to quench their thirst and eat about 170kg of foliage and bark every day.