First light seeps in slowly, gently breaking the dark mystery of the night with subtle hints of natural light. The promise of a new day in the bushveld silently creeps past the charcoal black skies, as the sounds of nocturnal activity begins to dwindle. The contact calls of the lion kings begins to dissipate as dawn finally fights and forges its way through the last stretch of the eerie night. The stillness of the air carries the calls of the predators far and wide, and the whooping vocalisations of the hyena form part of the night-loving choir that comes alive after sunset. You might hear a shrill squeal from a warthog meeting its untimely fate, or the alarm calls from the bounty of birds on the Ezulwini traverse.
When night falls, it’s prime food-finding time for many of the carnivorous beasts of the safari kingdom. This is when the air is cool, and the diurnal species are at their most vulnerable. The stillness of the night and absolute pristine atmosphere with zero intrusions from city lights and noise, ensures that sound carries and echoes throughout the landscape. Predators listen, patrol and act with an intensive mission to find food. If you stay awake the whole night, you’ll be surprised at the discordant of sounds in the ‘veld.
When dawn wins, and eventually pushes through with fractions of light, it’s time to head out on game drive. Morning has broken in the bushveld, and it’s time to move. Timing is everything. The air at first-light is still cool, and pockets of the savanna are still murky and dark. Predators will either be dining out on the meal from midnight or conducting a quick early morning take-down. This is why it’s vital to head out on game drive at 5:00 – 6:30 (season dependent).
Before guests are woken, experienced guides would have checked and prepped the game viewer ensuring it’s good to go for game drive. Coffee stop snacks and flasks are loaded into the typical olive green cooler boxes, synonymous with safari game drive stops. Guides and trackers rise early (very early) to make sure everything is in order.
While you’re cocooned in your puffed up duvet and shrouded in that fine linen, you’ll hear the crunch of a leather boot on gravel getting closer to your door. This is your mobile wake-up call, in the form of a khaki-clad efficient ranger. A rap on the door and gentle “morning” reminds you that it’s game drive time. You have a split-second to make a decision whether to join the game drive, or remain comfortable in your chrysalis. If you miss the morning drive you might miss the opportunity find the source of the nocturnal roars from the night before.
If you make the right decision to join the drive, you won’t be disappointed. You normally have about 20 minutes or so to get ready. There’s no time to brush you locks and paint your face – the woodlands and wildlife don’t care. After making your way to the main area for a quick cup of coffee, you’ll clamber into the open-topped game viewer for an intrepid game drive spanning roughly 3 hours. The traverse in the Balule cuts across the banks of the Olifants River and plenty of riverine vegetation coupled with savanna and mixed woodlands.
The guides and trackers at Ezulwini are highly-skilled and knowledgeable; and their job isn’t linear. Tracking big cats, establishing timelines, “reading” the bushveld, and documenting behaviour is all part of their job. If, for example, a lion has made a kill shortly before your arrival at the lodge, it’s likely that the lions will be in the area of where the kill was conducted. Lions take down their quarry and gorge themselves until they cannot move. They will sleep off the feast in close proximity to the kill, and normally wander down to a waterhole afterwards. The site of the kill will draw in vultures, hyenas and absolute chaotic scavenger behaviour.
Given that knowledge of lion behaviour and what ensues after a kill, guides will know to head to the scene. Ezulwini guides will also teach you about the vegetation, and impart interesting info about birds, herds and prides during your obligatory coffee stop in the bushveld. This type of innate knowledge that your guides possess, and the ability to get up-close to wildlife and go off-road, is one of the many privileges of going a safari in a private reserve.
Camp manager Angele (she’s also a photographer and guide) keeps track of the plentiful sightings happening on Ezulwini’s big 5 traverse in the game-rich Balule Nature reserve. Below are just a few of the highlights from the past month :
- Sightings of the Kudyela lionesses and the burly Machaton males. The Machatons have been mating with the Kudyela females. The coalition and the pride
- A sighting of a nameless pride of lions, with a rather distinct and beautiful looking sub-adult male.
- Leopard and lion kills about 2 weeks ago.
- Frequent sightings of the ever graceful Thuli leopardess.
- Sightings of the blue-eyed beauty and scarred warrior, Chavaluthu the leopard.
- Elephants are fairly common place on the Ezulwini traverse, and tend to visit the grounds of both Billy’s and River Lodge.
- Huge herds of buffalo have descended upon the traverse, bulk grazing their way through the bushveld.
After you return from morning drive you will be treated to a sumptuous breakfast. The rest of the day is at your leisure. Billy’s Lodge has a wooden skywalk meandering over the ‘veld below, and guests sometimes spot wildlife below the wooden walkway. River Lodge has exceptional views of the Olifants River and also has a wooden walkway that leads to a seating area under a canopy of trees. River Lodge has typical riverine vegetation and a forest of fig and mahogany trees home to primates and birdlife. If the weather allows, soak up the sun at the poolside or, if you’re staying in a suite, take a dip in your own private plunge pool.
Late afternoon rolls around and then it’s time for evening game drive, which departs at roughly 15:30 – 16:30, dependent on the season. Yet again you will be rewarded with a 3 hour game drive in the Balule Nature Reserve, and this time you’ll observe the crepuscular creatures at play, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the nocturnal creatures starting to stir. Oh, and you will stop for sundowners – golden hour is a much celebrated event!
Upon returning to camp you will be treated to an al fresco dining experience, a roaring campfire in the boma area and if you’re lucky enough, a traditional African singing and dancing session will take place. When you’re done dining and chatting we encourage you to soak up the African atmosphere and relax in the bar area, or boma. Just remember – it’s an early start the next morning…
No two days are the same on safari. Even if the routine, structure and schedules remain consistent, wildlife sightings are never the same. And that’s the beauty of going on safari – it’s wild and unpredictable, and just mind-blowingly life changing.