We take our kids to the bush as often as we can and we couldn’t be more thrilled that they have grown to love nature and wildlife as much as we do. Seeing their awed and amazed expressions, and observing as they ask the ranger countless questions about everything from the trees to the animals, while they learn the secrets of the bush is something we just love experiencing. It ignites their senses as they are able to hear, see, smell and feel the world around them and hands down it is one of the best family bonding activities you can do with your kids. And these moments are definitely memories they will carry with them forever.
‘In the end we will only conserve what we love. We will only love what we understand. We will only understand what we are taught.’ - Baba Dioum, 1968
We had Karel as our ranger on our recent trip to Ivory Tree Game Lodge, and the boys asked him hundreds of questions, to which he responded to each one in great detail and with extensive knowledge of the bush and nature in general. The boys always seem to form their own little bond with the rangers at the various lodges we visit and even weeks after we are back home they still remember which ranger they had at every lodge. They are constantly reminiscing about sightings they’ve experienced or little stand out moments that have engraved themselves into their memory banks.
The Pilansburg National Park is indeed formed from an ancient alkaline volcano ring complex of which there are only three in the world. In the early 1980’s more than 6000 animals from other parks were relocated to the Pilansburg and today the area has almost all the Southern African species including the Big 5 and over 350 bird species. The fascinating thing about the bush is that just when you think you’ve heard all the little facts and details, nature surprises you with something completely new. We’ve visited the Pilansburg more than 5 times in the past couple of years but this trip was definitely a highlight in the reserve in terms of the sightings we experienced.
We set out on our evening game drive on the day we arrived and were spoilt with an abundance of unique sightings including elephant, rhino, zebra, giraffe, kudu, impala and a whole array of bird species we haven’t seen before. Mike always wants to see snakes out in the wild so he can photograph them, and luckily for me we never come across any. But on this trip we had a tiny baby puff adder crossing the road, and the next day two small, but sadly dead, puff adders along the road. Whilst making our way to our drinks spot we encounter 3 cheetah basking in the sun on a rocky area in the distance, it’s just amazing how when the wildlife lie down in the grass how quickly they disappear and I’m always left wondering how many wild animals we must drive past and not even notice. We’ve even driven past a male lion laying right on the side of the road before, but because the shrub covered him so well from that angle we didn’t have any idea that he was there until the call came in on the radio to inform us that there’s a male lion in that spot, and we turned around and went back to find him laying right there in the open. I would love to have a GPS device that shows me all the things we missed on the drive after we’re back at the lodge. We often spot an owl hanging around in the road on the evening trips as it’s easier for them to spot their prey on the flat road as opposed to the long grasses, but this specific evening we spotted eight owls in the road on the way back to the lodge. A massive hippo ambling along the road for quite some distance, seemingly unphased by the vehicle and really great to watch as I’ve never seen a hippo just strolling along like that. The spotlight then caught a jackal in the road and then another moving figure trekking up ahead, it was a brown hyena, who quickly scurried into the long grass. A little way up the road, another figure, which at first glance looked like another brown hyena, only to get closer and realize it was Bokete, a beautiful large male leopard. Still one of my favourite things to see in the African bush. By the way, how do leopards always look so immaculately clean? It fascinates me how perfect they always look. All in all a very successful and beautiful game drive.
We’re back at the lodge and we head straight to dinner, it’s a boma dinner tonight, these are my favourite as there’s always a hearty spread of options served as a buffet style dinner, and a boma fire to add that touch of Africa. The staff here are happy and helpful and the food is delicious, usually Mike and I would take our time and enjoy our red wine, but its already nearing nine o’clock so we make sure we are quick and get the boys off to bed so they’re fresh and not too moody for the morning game drive.
The reserve looks incredibly green and lush at the moment after all the recent rains we’ve had, and although the bush is thick and usually this calls for less sightings as it’s difficult to spot the wildlife through the thickets, it also brought a lot of the wildlife into the road, the path of least resistance. As I mentioned before we have been to the Pilansburg National Park so many times before, but this time really made me feel like we were in a completely different reserve, which just goes to show that you never have the same bush experience twice.
I’m not a morning person, so the fact that I love morning game drives most is surprising, but there’s just something about getting out there while it’s still a little dark and watching the sunrise, and my oh my, we sure are spoilt with incredible sunrises and sunsets in Africa. This particular morning we were fortunate enough to spot a gorgeous pride of lions close to the road which indulged us with a sighting of three adorable 3 month old lion cubs, two male lions and two lionesses. All very relaxed and just warming up in the sun for a moment. Later on we spotted a beautiful female leopard, Kgodisa, rolling around and having a scratch in the long grass and then taking a long walk up the road, not phased at all by the game vehicles all rushing in to see her and following her for a while. Ivory Tree Game Lodge boasts an incredible large pool in the main lodge area which the boys spend the whole morning in, while mom and dad can relax with a G&T (no judging… it was twelve o’clock somewhere in the world advises our waiter, Samuel) The family suite also has a little splash pool and a boma area where you can chill to get away from the crowds, surprisingly enough though, the main pool area is really quiet just after breakfast until noon and only gets a bit busier after that, which is perfect as we decide to go for a little nap in our well air conditioned room. The spacious rooms are modern with fun interior design touches, a tv for the boys and hubby to enjoy the soccer, a coffee machine and kettle so I can have my tea first thing in the morning, and a beautiful light filled bathroom with a bath and an outdoor shower. There are plenty of spacious lounge areas to relax in at the lodge, as well as a bar if you want to enjoy the sport away from your room. The game drives are always my highlight though, and as much as I enjoy doing self-drives from time to time, nothing really comes close to being on an open vehicle, and being seated higher up to make viewings even better, and having the knowledge of the rangers who know the park and the animals territory’s so well.
We decided to drive through the park on our way out and were so spoilt with a sighting of eight giraffe walking across the open plains, and then seeing an elephant moving towards the dam to drink, so we decided to drive around to the other side in hope of catching him bathing and cooling down, to our surprise we watched for an entire hour as four bull elephants swam in the water and played, even diving right down into the water at times and what seemed to be the time of their lives. I absolutely love watching elephants no matter what they are up to but this was truly the best elephant sighting we’ve ever encountered.
Make sure you take your family to the bush soon and just enjoy the natural surroundings. After all, Ivory Tree Game Lodge is a mere 2 ½ hours out of Johannesburg so it certainly allows for an amazing little weekend away.