Still in love with Africa

Still in love with Africa

 

In Novembet 2016 my wife an I returned to Mpala to relive the magic, the presence and family feeling, we had experienced the first time we visited Mpala. This time we had invited a couple of friends, so they could experience the same.
In Phalaborwa Airport Theo met us. He would be our dedicated ranger for the next 2 weeks. Right away on our trip towards the lodge we met giraffes, impalas, buffalos and a countless number of birds. Theo showed passion and his large knowledge about wildlife and in paticular for birds. A true encyclopaedia he is.

 As we arrived at the lodge a welcoming committee formed by the staff was greating us. It was a fantastic reunion. One was missing though as Estel, the manager, was not there today. She was off for her holiday still for the first couple of days of our stay. A new member of the Mpala family was there, it was Stacey. Stacey is the second manager and Estels right hand. She appeared to be a really nice acquaintance. It is very clear why she is employed at the lodge.

We got our rooms door to door with our friends.
Besides the four of us there were another couple visiting the lodge and they were also staying for two weeks. In total we were a small intensive group.
We met in the MainHouse for a refreshment, We said hello to the other couple and met Irene. Irene is the waitress and a true personality who makes everybody feel welcome and her great spirit is stunning. Just as everybode else at Mpala.

 

After the always intertaining tribal dance the supper was served. The food is fantastic at Mpala. The fact that we all meet in the Main House and the dinners are presented at every meal, is adding to this family feeling that embrace a stay at this lodge. Everybody dine together at the same time. It gives an extra kick to this feeling that the managers and rangers join the meals. After supper we were ready to rest after the long travel.

 

 

 Next morning the adventures seriously began. But before the day even started we met Barry. Barry, a hippo, had chosen to “move in” at Mpala. Barry fed at the lawn right outside our house during the nights. A fantastic sighting. This should only be the start of a good day – and indeed it was.

 

 

 The morning gamedrive showed lots of animals, jackals, and of course lots of impalas among lots of more. After a shower breakfast was ready at the terrasse overlooking the river. The big “bush-TV” was on. During brakfast 5 elephants came down to drink water from the river. In the backgound a group of waterbucks had their breakfast. In the river we got a glimpse of eyes from mr Crock. Barry had also finished his morning breakfast and came strolling down between the Main House and the chalets to the river to go for his morning bath.

 

Relaxing at the pool we watched 3 very large kudus walking just 10-15 m from us. These magnificant animals kept together and walked gracefully as if they owned the World. Thats why they were always called “The 3 guys”.
After lunch it was time for the ATV trip. We didn’t see a lot of animals but it is still a great trip just to experience the nature from this perspective. Halfway of the trip we had a rest by a lake with a lot of birds.
Another magic moment.

 

 After the ATV’s we came to the Mpala Bush Camp. Another beautifull place. The table was set for dinner. The bonfire lit. The staff ready at the bar to serve champagne or a drink or two by wish. But first the dust from the ATV trip must be washed off. Of course, as if the most natural in life, you will find this remotely set bush camp equipped with both a nicely build washbasin with tap water and a flushing toilet with an extremely high to the roof and maybe one of the best views in the World.

 

 A bit of relaxing and darkness kicks in. The bonfire becomes a barbeque and the steaks are is prepared. It is a very special atmosphere and feeling, as you sit under the clear dark skye, listening to the sounds from the bush and enjoying the company.

This makes it one of our favorite dinners at Mpala. On the way back to the lodge the spot lights are lit. We have a chance to see some of the nocturnal animals of the bush. This night we found some birds, an owl and bushbucks.

 

 Wednesday is the day for the trip to the township with the school and the kindergarten. But first the day starts with a bushwalk in the area close to the lodge. The goal is not to see the big animals, but the minor animals and plants that you only find at foot. Again Theo showed his great knowledge. We got a huge amount of knowledge about life in the bush. After the bush walk we had time for a shower and then the breakfast. At around 10 am we headed off for the school and the kindergarten some 50 minutes away by car.

 

Unfortunately the school and the kindergarten was closed for summer holidays but Theo gave us a sightseing through the township Yet another appealing experience, not the least because of the lunch at the great Mad Dogz Cafe – a pleasant restaurant that serve super great sandwiches amongst more. Well fed we went back to the lodge. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and enjoying the company at the pool.

 Thursday is from our perspective one of the big days. Even if the day starts really early in the morning it is worth all the trouble of getting up. We had a wake up call at 4 am. After tee and coffee and some bisquits and yogurt and cerials the journey starts towards Kruger National Park. We arrived at app 6 am at the gate to the park. After visiting the bathrooms we went to the small shop and bought a booklet with pictures of the animals and birds species and a roadmap of the park. The booklet we used to mark the species of animals and birds we saw. This is  great way for us to remember witch species we have seen and when and where.

 

It is always exciting to drive around in Kruger. You never know when and which animalsand birds you will get to see. It is incredible that you can even drive for a while without seeing any animals, and suddenly there’s a group of elephants in front of you or a heard of buffalos or a rhino. The most exciting is of course to meet some of the great cats. The trip in the first week was a bit quiet catwise but we saw a lot of other animals and birds.

 

After an exciting day in the national park we came to the camp where we were to stay for the night. It was time for a cooling swim in the pool and some relaxing time before the dinner that we spend with discussing the experiences of the day. The days photos were checked and the sigtings were marked in the booklet. Meanwhile Theo was busy preparing the dinner. All we as guests had to do was to relax and then join the set table for the dinner. Really luxurious. This day we did not get old before we were overwhelmed by our beds. Lots of adventures, an early starting of the day and knowing we had yet another early morning made it easy to go to sleep.

 

Friday starts about 5 am with a light breakfast and packing the car. You want to be ready at 6 am when the gates open to the national park and you are allowed to drive out from the camp to enjoy the animals waking up. The fresh dawns are indeed special. After 3-4 hours of photo-hunting for all kinds of animals it is time for brunch. Again Theo is cooking while we guests enjoy the surroundings. We are back at Mpala at app 4 pm and the rest of the day is for relaxation at the lodge.

 

 

 Saturday is the day of no program. We could sleep a bit later. Breakfast at 9 am and a day at the pool. This does not mean that nothing happens. Because just as we are having lunch a minor group of 9 elephants go bathing in the river. Later the 3 big kudus visit the pool area, known as “the 3 guys”. We meet them several times during our visit. A bit later a warthog with family stroll in for a visit. The day ends with dinner at the terrasse overlooking the river.

 

 

 Sunday we chose to join the river cruise. That ment leaving the lodge 6.30 am. We had just passed Mpalas fence as a lone male elephant blocked the road. He just wanted to know if we were “dangerous” and if he wanted to let us out. With a bit of persuasion from Theo the elephant decided to pull to the side letting us continue our drive. On the way to the boat we saw some of the “backsides” of the mining area at Phalaborwa. This showed very clear how much we humans ar willing to do for making an income. Well on board the boat the cruise on the river started. Shortly after departure breakfast was served and we were ready to spot for animals and birds. Here were mostly birds and a couple of buffalos, kudus and zebras. Unfortunately no hippos or crocks to be seen this day. But still a great trip.

 Back home at the lodge it was lunch time and then nice relaxing at the pool until 4 pm when it was time to meet for the evenings gamedrive. On the game drive we saw a zebra with a very large bulk on the stomac. I was a bit special to see it because when we were here 4 years ago we also met this same zebra. We named her Betsy. This game drive ended at the view point where the staff waited for us with champagne and snacks. We had an incredible sunset and headed back for the Boma dinner.

 

 

During the dinner the chef came and asked Theo and another ranger called Keith to come. They left with the chef for the kitchen. Half an hour later they returned and told that a snake had entered the kitchen but it was now caught and releasedin the bush far away from the lodge.

 

 

 

 Monday is usually the day of departure and for arrivals for new guests. But as everybody beeing here now was staing for two week we got the opportunity to get an extra trip. We desided for the Drakensberg Trip. It takes just under an hour of driving from the lodge to get to the mountains. First stop was at the “Ecco Caves”. Then it was the Blyde River Canyon and The Three Rondavels. What a fantastic view. Then on to “Bourkes Luck Potholes” where 2 rivers meet. The turbulent water has made some incredible formations in the rocks.

 

Before lunch we went to “Goods Window”. As we were here 4 years ago it was unfortuately no the normal spectacular sighting from there due to foggy weather at the mountain top. This time was luckily better. Another spectacular view. This place also gave rich opportunities for shopping.

Lunch at Harries in Graskop. They are famous for their stuffed pancakes which is one of the traditional cuisine of South Africa. They are really delicious.
On the way home we visited Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls which are incredibly nice waterfalls.
Last stop on the trip was at the short tunnel through the mountain. It was time for Christmas shopping. The trades went well untill Theo honked the car horn – it was time for departure.
Home at the lodge 6.45 pm.

 Tuesday we desided not to do the ATV trip again. We had instead an extra game drive. We started out at 6 am and saw zebras, ginneafowls, impalas with new born babys, elephants and a lot of birds. Back at the lodge we had breakfast and later another game drive and again with a lot of animals. A lone elephant bull decided to make a show off. He did it by pushing over a big tree. While watching his show another elephant approached the car from behind. He was a bit more brash, so Theo decided to drive away.

The gamedrive ended at the bush camp where the dinner was served. Just as the week before we had a bonfire and refreshments. As we enjoyed our drinks we could hear a lot of animals running. Theo went up in the car to check what was going on.

 As he returned he told he could see why they were running. Food was ready and we started the dinner. During the dinner we heard a loud scream? Theo chose to wander off into the darkness to investigate the reason.

5 minutes later he returned. He asked us all to stand around the bonfire and talk a bit loudly together. Then he went off again.
A bit later he returned with the car. He told us, that less than 50 m away 4 male lions and a female had killed a zebra and they were busy eating. He told us to get into the car and took us up to see the big cats.

 

 A fantastic sighting, but also a bit scary because Theo told us taht after finishing their meal they would go to drink and we were between them and the water hole. Theo decided it was time to break up from the bush camp and to head for home. Crazy experience. There was not much said on the drive home. Everyone was digesting the experience.

 Back home at the lodge we had a drink and a talk before bed time.

 Wednesday

We are again on our feet at 6 am. We were going out to see how it looked at the bush camp where the lions cought the zebra. Almost nothing is left from the zebra. The only remaining was a bit of the tail. Just as predicted – the lions had passed right through the bushcamp when they had finished eating. Theo could follow their tracks in the sand.
Back at the lodge we had breakfast and singing a birthday song because it was Jan’s birthday.
The rest of the day we relaxed, witch was very nice after yesterdays adventures. We had dinner in the boma. The chef had made a birthday cake.

Thursday

Again two days in the Kruger National Park. This time we had more luck with finding the cats.
Thursday afternoon Theo spottet a leopard in a tree.
You amost get goosebumps when you see such an incredible elegant animal. Of course we saw many animals, but this leopard was the climax.

 

 

Friday

In the morning just as we headed out from the camp in Kruger we saw 7 lions chilling out lazily in the morning. 3 cups had found a cola can and ran around playing with it. We got home at 3 pm. Freesh fruit and cheese were served to us. We were well in time for a dip in the pool before dinner.

 

 Saturday.

We all went on a trip to the town Hoedspruit. We wanted to shop for the last Christmas gifts.
After lunch we enjoyed the pool. Just as we were lying at the pool “Barry” decided to get out of the river and go feeding of the grass. In the river 2 other hippos had arrived. They just wanted to show Barry who was the biggest. We guess that it was the reason Barry chose to go dining.
Late in the afternoon we had invited Theo up to our house. We had bought a gift for him to say thanks for his great way to guide us and for the many hours of good company we had spend with him.

Sunday

We woke up to rain and a bit chilly weather. But it was wonderfull with some rain. The skye cleared again and after breakfast it was sunshine again.

At 4 pm it was time for our last game drive with champagne and sunset at the view point. Another fantastic view and cosy company.
Last evenings dinner was in the boma with all the staff.

 Monday

Everybody packed and everything prepaired for the travel to home. Lots of goodbyes and hugs.

Again some tears were shed before we entered the cars bound for the airport.

 


We have no doubts. This trip has been another incredible experience. We had a bit of doubt after our last stay here at Mpala because it was almost impossible it could get better than last time. But it did. All of us have already decided that we will come back again. Back to Mpala, the animals and not at least the staff. It is indeed their what they do and how they are that makes a holiday at Mpala so fantastic. When Mpala writes that this is an experience you never forget – it is so true!. We will sign for that.
Hopefully we will see you in November 2019 when it is our silver wedding. That will be our gift to ourselves.
Kind regards
Jeanette and Jan Lindstrøm

 

 

 

 

Translation from the original danish version by Helle Scheel Grunert

Dear Mpala

Dear Mpala

First, second and third time – and maybe a forth time 🙂 Every time has been gigantic experiences – each time in its own way, as described below.

Despite we from close friends had heard that Mpala was a very special place, we didn’t actually know what to expect – on the other hand we had great expectations! As we during landing in Hoedspruit Airport saw baboons and impalas running along the landing strip we realised that this first safari could become very exciting – we were not disappointed. Before we arrived to the gravel road leading to the lodge we had already seen giraffes, buffalos and Oliphants – the great joy was endless. During that week we saw a lot more than we could ever dream of – not only at the trip in Kruger Park, but also from our extremely cosy Chalet or from the pool lounger. 🙂

The welcoming committee was the whole Mpala family. They greeted us at arrival and from that moment we felt the special atmosphere at the lodge. Seen from our perspective, the factor that makes a week at Mpala so fantastic are all the people at the lodge. Words such as dedicated, caring, nice, family like – but at the same time discrete, is very describing for everybody at the lodge. Mix all of this with true love and passion for the great nature and you will have a fantastic stay with these people at the lodge. The Mpala saying: “You come as a guest and leave as a friend” is spot on!

By the way this week was elonged with a week at Zanzibar – super place with the most delicate beaches we have ever seen! Highly recommendable mix!

Our second stay lasted 2 weeks – we had the pleasure of two different rangers. Two unique weeks and nevertheless so very different – For us it is not about seing the most animals. It is also getting the good stories, funny stories, small animals, funny animals. facts and anecdotes. We have no doubt that the rangers at Mpala are special hand picked – not to be identical, but their enthusiasm and love for nature is completely unique. No matter if it is about a small mountain of elephant dung habitated with bugs, an army of Matabela ants, the size of an ostrich’ brain, small or large birds as “Curry Monster” or how complex a lion family actually can be – All the details are told in an interesting and from time to time even a funny way.  Everything gets more interesting due to the rangers dedication. At this stay we altered the motto to: “We came as friends and left with much more”.

Third visit confirmed everyting just described. The employees of the lodge changes naturally as times go by. But the “Mpala Family” spirit is living on in exactly the same way as before. The big hug we received on arrival from the well known wonderful friends put a big line under the motto “We came as friends and…”

Also this time we had fantastic game drives, Kruger trip with lion activity and thrilling animal experiences right ouside the lodge. For a long time before our stay it had not rained. The draft and lack of food had killed a lot of animals. The many dead animals was unpleasant to see, but this actually shows that Mpala/Kruger is not a zoo and the stronges survives. The gallow humor was very much alive. Gaby – a fellow guest – invented a new alternative to “the big 5” and “the small 5” – it was “the dead 5”!

We spent many good hours with other lovely safari guests on the drives, at the pool and at the many delicious meals at the lodge or at the worlds best restaurant – outside in the bush camp.

During this week we had the pleasure of experiencing a very professional and entusiastic photographer. He had arrived to make movies and take photos for marketing use. Very intertaining to watch this action with Per Grunert as instructor. The result is great as you can see on this web page.

The last evening’s farewell dinner in the cosy Boma together with all the employees is allways an experience and howling funny. These people can really tell anecdotes, African jokes and stories so the tears roll.

To be close to the wild life and nature has been a very different and exciting experience for us if we compaire it to our life back home in Denmark. Here our most dangerous animal is a tick – and the closest approach with dangerous animals is on the TV screen.

We have seen so much during all the weeks – Big 5, if a leopard in the darkness counts? We are still short of a cheetah – but hundreds of fancy birds, large heards of buffalos, wilder beests and Oliphants. Lions very close up, lots of girafs, rhinos, hippos, hyenas and a lots more. The greatest experience must without doubt be the last game drive in Mpala’s back yard: heards of zebras, elephants, girafs, bufalos, wilder beests, impalas, wartogs and baboons was at the same spot at the same time – wildly impressing and an experience we will never forget.

Mpala Lodge is a luxury lodge – without toxidos, extraordinary tendenses, goldcovered water taps, or anonymous employees. The lodge design is really top of the pop. A cozy and relaxed down to earth atmosphere. This atmosphere is created by the employees and along with the kitchen staff’s skills to create one delicious meal after the other using local food and recipies. This is the perfect cocktail. It is up to you if you want the privacy in your own chalet and enjoy the view over Olifants River or watch the “Bush-TV” joining other guests on the terrace at the Main House. Everything is done best with a glass of chilly white wine or icy G&T. Same TV programme is shown in the pool area!

To watch wildlife in this atmosphere is one of the many reasons we return again and again. Total relacing and no stress with fantastic people in a fantastic nature.

Lots of regards “and big hugs” from Else and Flemming

Translation from the original danish version by Helle Scheel Grunert

Stay at Mpala Lodge

Stay at Mpala Lodge

Diary of Birthe Zimmermann
in company with Kirsten Wøldike and Erland Andersen (ch. 3)
Vibeke Birkmann and Kim Pilegaard (ch. 1) and
my husband, Jan Zimmermann (ch. 2)

We – a total of six good friends (including 4 biologists) – have not been many hours in South Africa before we recognize that we are landed in the midst of the South African spring. Here, however, it is crackling dry!

 

We are picked up at the charming little airport in Phalaborwa. On our trip to Mpala, the savannah around us is silver gray with only a little green. But the vegetation however, show tiny little leaves. We are writing Monday, October 30, 2017. Both the striped lizards and birds like Trumpeter Hornbill and Purple Crested Turaco bark and chase each other in the trees of the lodge as we are welcomed by the whole smiling family at Mpala Lodge. We are getting chalet number 1, 2 and 3. From the terrace at the chalet 2 we immediately enjoy the view down the Oliphants River. There are warthogs grazing – or rather said: They kneel on their “knees” when they are grazing. On the opposite river bank a large group of graceful impala, and a few kudus are ruminanting in the shadow of some leafless trees.

Striped lizzards in Spring moode

 

 

 

 

 

Vehyumbeleri Dancers, colorful and joyful

We are invited to a welcome drink, and colorful dancers rush forward. Their joy of life is spreading to the terrace, where we sit with a glass of deliciously cool bubbles – us 6 a little tired-of-traveling Danish friends.

But then I become almost euphoric because the singing group breaks into the “Shosholoza” song … a song I have enjoyed singing in my choir (Vokalists) at home. Here the song is obvious – in the exact right frame. “Sho-sho-lo-za … South Africa!” First meal is taken on the main terrace overlooking the river in the sunset, and we still do not understand why we must not go alone to our beautiful chalet at the top of the hill, for a night’s well earned rest before the next mornings first game drive. Here it seems silent and harmless, and very dark? However, strange sounds from the river reveal a bunch of hippos in the dark. And what else may be luring in the dark, hoping for a bite of danish treat …

 

We easy to fall in love with “our”  chalet no 1-2.

Tuesday 31 October and after a good night’s sleep, we enjoy the birds songs, a cup of coffee and the sunrise on the terrace before the phone rings. We are ready for the first game drive! While “our” Hadada-ibis and “our” kingfisher have said a clearly good morning in their very own, noisy way!

Sunrise at no 1-2

 

 

Quickly the day offer experiences: Yellow-billed hornbills are the closest character here. A very big eagle poses beautifully in the early light – Martial Eagle! We see lots of lovely animals: Zebra, wilderbeast, warthog, kudu, impala, bushbucks and nyala – the one with the yellow legs:

 

 

 

 

After breakfast and some time of siesta on the terrace spend with naming the many new birds we see – today’s adventures continues in the dust:

Bike tour in a beautiful nature reserve. But the mashines are noisy and dusty. Not a prefered activity for me!

Three of us choose to sit in the game drive vehicle that follow at the rear: We get our dust today! We spot the vulture on the nest, a couple of European bee eaters, a yellow-billed, kite – and fresh elephant dung. We see a jackal, but no lions, giraffes, rhinos or elephants! However, the evening is very special: We are having the dinner in the bush camp in the candles and the lights of the fire, to the sound of singing night jar: “Fiery-necked night jar” sings melodically and gets the answer from far away. One of the other guests has an app with South African bird songs and play it, which lures the night jar closer. The sounds around us and the delicious steak and good South African red wine creates an incredibly nice atmosphere for the evenings dinner. There is even a toilet with flushing water and a washbassin with tap water so the dust from the afternoon’s trip experiences can be washed of! On the bumpy road back towards the lodge, our guide holds a powerful lamp in the hand and lights to all sides.

After a few meters he spot the night jars in the light cone. To me, this is a unique experience. The night jar here sing so melodically as opposed to the homely (Scandinavian) arts’s hoarse and shattering, little boring sound. And when I’m safely home at the lodge under the mosquito net (even though we do not see mosquitoes at all!), we recognize that there is also singing fiery-necked night jar just outside our chalet and around us. The song is just one of the many sounds of the night out there. Now well known.

An app 10 cm big moth on the pathway up to chalet 2                                     

Wednesday, the 1st of November.
Again we get up before 5am for a bush walk in the early morning light. Lion ants, elephant dung, cardinal woodpecker, sunbirds. No big animals. The advantage of walking is that we get close to the flowering acacias and other savannah plants.

Otherwise, today’s main theme is a visit to a school and kindergarten! We park at Mpalas own parking space and visit the Mmakadi Day Center where the children are gathered under the newly established shading roof. It gives a shadow to the burning sun. The kids are happy, but seem to be a little shy. In turns they perform thank you greetings to Mpala, to us, to Nelson Mendela and to Africa.

Perhaps the reason why they are quiet is that the kindergarten today has a visit for dental care!

Every child opens up and gets the teeth examined. Those who need treatment are being carefully noted. Everyone get a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste.

We also visit the Diphuti school, where all the 7th-8th grade students are gathered in two rooms: the boys and the girls are seperated today. Today’s teaching is about “the difficulty of becoming a teenager!”

Lunch is served at Mad Dogz Cafe close to Hoedspruit.  We return towards Mpala with beautiful views of the Drakensberg mountains driving through lush friut plantations. Just before the turn off for the dirth road we stop to fill petrol on the cars – again something interesting happens: A giant flock of Southern Masked Weavers builds artistic nests in a tree. The birds are bright yellow with a black mask. The nests are impressing with the openings pointing downwards. The females disqualify shappy work so the males have to perfom perfectly with the construction work!
Late in the afternoon we come home after a bumpy ride on the dusty and uneven dirt road. It takes ½ hour from the main road to the lodge, but we enjoy every minute and sighting: camouflaged antelopes: waterbuck with the white “toilet seat” painted on the butt, the kudu with the white crossbars and the elegant impala.

In the chalet the phone calls: There is an elephant accross the river! We enjoy all the sight of him, but suddenly something happens just over our heads: The big trumpeter hornbills are in the mood! Kim can’t spot them and stays back as we get back to spend a lazy hour on the terrace. Kim is our “photographer” – and he succeeds in recording a “porn movie” of the two birds! The sequence is shown to anyone who wants to see it, both before and during the evening’s cozy dinner outside in the boma! Another great day is has ended!

Thursday 2nd -Friday 3rd November: Kruger National Park!

A mighty male elephant welcomes us in the Kruger National Park, a trip we have looked very much forward to. The day starts cloudy, but before 9 am we have seen a leopard eating of a giraffe in a tree, flocks of elephants digging for water in the reddish sand, zebras, wilderbest, waterbucks, bushbucks, and small stein bucks that reside close to the roadside. We spot a volture and hyena. The pulse is high as the ranger suddenly speeds up: There are spotted wild dogs further ahead.

The rangers are preparing a delicious barbecue, while we fall in love with the sighting of a small crocodile that runs all the way out of the water in an attempt to catch a little red-nosed bird. After lunch, the sky has become cloudy and the animals seek shadow. We spot a cori trappe, a fish eagle, blackshouldered kite. Suddenly we are caught in the middle of a herd of elephants on the road. On all sides we are surrounded by elephants. A truck exceeds the speed limit of 50 km/h which makes a big elephant angry. But everyone else stop and look at the herd. Also, impala and baboons crosses the road.

We have been warned…

We are close to Olifants River with plenty of water and green grass. Lots of animals and birds live in the this rich area. We take our time on the bridge just to watch. .

The evening and the night is spend in “Olifants-camp” with barbecue in full moon after a beautiful sunset.

Friday morning we see hyenas and crocodiles and the lovely little clip springer on the route down the river. The light is beautiful in beams through the clouds. We continue the adventure with secretary birds, saddlebilled stork – and the ears of a lion – several walking cori traps, white-fronted bee-eater very close to the colorful breeds (Lilac Breasted Rollers). At the picnic spot three species of hornbills; a yellow barbet sings from a tree top, and in the tree in the center of the picnic spot sit a little Scops Owl looking obliquely down on us. We almost got a good excuse for staying an extra day in the park – the car will not start (!) – we eventually left Kruger National Park after two completely awesome days.

 

A fish eagle poses beautifully in a dead leadwood tree. 

Kruger National Park is an adventure, an out of this world experience. Partly because of the many animals, partly because a rich and exciting world of birds.

Saturday, 4th of November is a day for relaxing. We thought of joining the trip to the Drakensberg Mountains. But we felt a need to digest the many impressions. Even a day off gives experiences when a giant kingfisher suddenly rest on a branch nearby and flashes its rusty red breast, reveailing he is a male.

In the afternood we go on a gamedrive to see the jackal with the 4 small cubs. But they are nowhere to see. In stead we enjoy the many gracious girafs. Suddenly we are met of the sound of high calls. The jackal cubs are calling their mom. Quickly the ranger turns the car and speeds to the denn – now the bush swarm with life. A cub lies flat on the ground hiding some meters from the denn. Another peeps cautiously its head out and is followed by a sibling. Mum is now coming home!

Eye to eye with four cute jackal cubs

 

Full of rich moments the game drive ends with sundowner bubbles “slightly early”. It is our second last evening – but Vibeke and Kim’s aniversary. We enjoy the drink and the beautifull view over the landscape while the sun sets behind the mountains.

Sundowner for Erland, Kirsten, Vibeke, Kim, Birthe og Jan

Sunday, 5th of November is our last full day. We have booked a river cruise and drive through a scarred mining area towards the boat. Breakfast is served on board. We see a lot of birds: The African darter, herons, white-faced ducks – and later a yellow billed stork..

From the Big 5 we see buffalos. A lot of them with ox-peckers on their back. The skin treatment team – catching bugs and parasites. They look harmless on the distance as they calmly ruminates. But as you watch the huge horns you are not in doubt. To be enjoyed at a distance!

On the way home we drive up the mountain of rock debris from the mine.  We have negotiated us to an extra sundowner to accompany the view. We spot a lake inhabitated with estimated 50 flamingos and we also see the red-billed buffalo weaver while we wait for the other car of Mpala guests.

 

The day ends with a festively set table and a gourmet dinner outside in the boma.

The boma evening is a perfect example of “hygge”!

Monday, 6th November 2017 the adventure at Mpala Lodge is over for us. From the “Big5” we have “only” seen leopard, elephants and buffalos. Well we did see the ears of a lion behind a tuft of grass in Kruger National Park. But it was mostly the beautifull saddle-billed stork we watched. The other car of guests actually saw a black rhino on the way to Kruger NP. But it had left when we arrived. So we had “only” the beautiful ground hornbills on the same spot. But there must be something to come back for!

And look, what happened on our way to the airport. Not so far from Mpala Lodge we met mamma lion with her 3 cups! They came quitely sneaking down the road towards us. The engine of the car is turned off. They pass us so close that we could have petted their backs everyone of them.

Photo of lion cups with mum. taken by Kim Pilegaard

Thank you for this time – We will very gladly return!

DanishText and photo: Birthe Zimmermann

Translation from the original danisk version by Helle Scheel Grunert

Oh south-Africa

Oh south-Africa

After several years of ‘wanting to go’ we (Jolly and Ep)made our first trip to South Africa in 2011 and we made plans for a three-week-roundtrip by car.  In these three weeks we decided to stay the second week in Mpala Lodge. In Greece (!!) we had met people who recommended this place very much and it seemed so attractive to us that we booked for a week.

So we flew to Johannesburg, drove to Pretoria and Graskop and saw the Panorama Route where we found God’s window closed. So it needed a second visit to find this window a bit more opened.

And then we headed for Hoedspruit to start our ‘Mpala Week’. We felt excited because we did not know what to expect and how we would like it.

Day 1: From Graskop we drove to Hoedspruit where we had an appointment at ‘Sameys’, a restaurant at the roadside. In a temperature of 34 degrees we would be picked up at 16.00 hour by a person from Mpala Lodge. Of course we were early and exactly at 16.00 a truck arrived in the empty parking-lot. We were welcomed by Clayton, one of the rangers. He headed in the truck and we followed in our rental car. Off road we went for the first time this trip. Half way To Mpala Lodge we had to leave our car behind the secured gate of the National Park. And then it became quite clear why we had to leave our rental car behind. In the truck we went up- and down hills, a stony and bumpy road through a landscape that was very exiting and  at the same time giving a complete feeling of leaving the habited world. The first wild animals showed themselves. We watched them in silence and delight. And at last there was the lodge with the whole staff in line to welcome us. It felt like a VIP treatment to make you  feel shy. We got a lodge near the waterfront and waterlovers we are, we loved it from the very first moment. The beds, the decoration, everything so well designed. After we had unpacked we had a lovely dinner with salad, rice and kudupie(?). We shared a table with Boy and Gerda and we would meet them again the following days. With heads full of all those impressions and feelings it was not easy to get to sleep but of course we succeeded with all the expectations for the following day.

Day 2: 9.00 hour.  Breakfast in the mainhouse. A lovely building, representing the African atmosphere to the most. Very happy with all we had to eat we went to our lodge again where we were offered  a cocktail. It was again rather hot and on the porch of our lodge we enjoyed our stay, the drink, talked a bit and listened to all the noises that were strange to our western ears. All of a sudden Ep pricked his ears and said ‘hooves’. We sat upright and saw right across the river three giraffes coming to the river and eating from the trees. These moments are unforgettable. And so many would follow! At 16.00 we would have our first game-drive so we could take it easy for a few hours. Unfortunately I forgot my swimsuit but any problem could be solved. Elena gave me hers to use so we went to the pool, had a lovely swim and made acquintance with the monkeys who made it clear that it was there territory as well. The game-drive was exciting. Giraffes, zebra’s elephants, gnu’s, we saw them all in their own habitats and we realised that this is the real South Africa. We ended the game-drive with a sundowner. A magnificent overvieuw of the Elephant River and the African landscape. Just watch, be silent and admire this magnifying place. Back ‘home’ we dressed for a special dinner in the Boma. And it became a really special dinner!! The food was excellent and again we met Boy and Gerda. So we talked of our home regions, the where-abouts and the special music. Boy got his synthesizer and we started singing. He the homesongs from Denmark and we the folksongs from Friesland. All-in the African night. So we got an audience! A very very special evening in the romantic atmosphere of the Boma.

Day 3: A day off. Just to relax and enjoy everything that is around. After breakfast our new friends Boy and Gerda had to go so we all waved them goodbye and wished them a safe trip home. Back in our lodge after breakfast we always found it neat and clean. When we were away the staff did a wonderful job. We were treated like real VIP’s. Words cannot say what the service was like. This applies to the whole staff. Managers, cleaning, kitchen, garden. It was really TOP.  And maybe the most important that they gave us a ‘home-feeling’. It was still warm so we had a lovely swim, explored the grounds of Mpala Lodge and sat on the porch of the mainhouse where all of a sudden a hippo swam in the river. And as every day there were the impala’s, the warthogs and the monkeys in the gardens. So when we walked to tthe mainhouse there were always animals around. At the end of the day we were surprised to hear drums. And this sound was surely not the sound of the drum to tell us that dinner was ready! We went to have a look and  saw a colourful group of dancers coming. It appeared to be a local tribe that showed their traditional dances. Men, women and 2 little girls. It was moving to see the little ones dance. They showed that they had the African dancing in their veins and hearts. An authentic experience you can never forget.

Day 4: A very early rise! Coffee in the mainhouse at 6.30 hour because we had a walk with ranger Juan. As we sat with our coffee on the porch of the mainhouse a very special occasion happened. All of a sudden we saw a mother hippo with her baby coming out of the water and disappearing in the bushes. Breathlessly we saw this happen. What a coincidence and privilige that we were there on this moment. And then we went for the walk where we for the first time ‘met’ two elephants. Eye in eye! It became really thrilling when one had scented us, scraped his legs, waved his ears, so ‘told’ us not to come closer. Juan whispered where we should run to in case he might decide to attack, but after waiting very silently he turned his back on us and disappeared. It felt like a real confrontation with the power of a wild animal. Back ‘home’ we had breakfast (always top!!) and mailed all our experiences to our children. But the day had more in store for us. At 14.00 hour we all drove off to gamefarm Hope. For the first time in our lives we became acquinted with quad-driving. Fast or slow we drove through the countryside, saw the huge huge Baobab trees, played games with animal droppings and had lots of fun. In the evening we had a traditional dinner, prepared in a pot on a logfire in the Boma of the gamefarm. A very charming place. The way back ‘home’was a 1 ½ hours’ nightdrive. We tried to spot animals but this time they did not show up. Only one big owl surprised us. Again a wonderful day.

Day 5: Again an early wake-up call. This morning we had a bushwalk with ranger Clayton. No elephants this morning but interesting smaller animals and termite mounds. The walks with the rangers are always very interesting because they could tell so much about animals, nature and the environment. So we had very good discussions with them about protection of the whole lot. Breakfast was ready after this bushwalk and the program of the day had a bit changed. Because we could not visit the school (holiday) we went to the reptile park near Hoedspruit. We were very impressed when the English zoologist John demonstrated the most dangerous snakes and learned us that snakes only attack human beings when they feel threatened. On my asking why he worked with these scary animals he said he felt attracted to them because they were the underdogs and the most despised animals. A heartwarming motivation! Shaylock, one of the servants had got a little baby so on our way home we went to a store to buy her a little present. It was a nice way back. Elephants, lots of impala’s, waterbucks and giraffes showed up. Dinner was served on the terrace. With candlelight. Again a perfect day and night.

Day 6: We got used to early getting up!! This morning Breakfast at 4.30 a.m. because we would leave at 5 o’clock for a 2 Days’ tour to the Kruger Park with Clayton. Two and a half hours later we arrived at the gate of the park. And that day Hundreds of Buffalo, Giraffes, Zebra’s, Impala’s, Waterbuck, Gnu, Rhino, beautiful birds, Eagles and more and more passed our eyes. We saw a group of elephants with a baby crossing the road just in front of us. It is moving to see how these huge animals protect their babies. We were hardly able to take it all-in. Of course we would like to spot the Big Five. And we came very near. But at the end of the day we still missed the lion and the leopard. We did not mind but Clayton knew where they mostly hide so he took us to every place where they might be. But they did not show up. We were not disappointed at all because the day had been so full of beauty. These haunting made that the gate had been closed already so we stayed for the night in an appartment in Lower Sabie. There we had a really nice braai and after that, with heads so full of impressions and emotions, we needed a good sleep.

Day 7: Kruger day 2 also started a bit later with getting up at 5 a.m. and breakfast at 5.30 a.m. This day we would travel back to the lodge so at 6.00 a.m. we left Kruger through the gate. Again lots to see during this trip. A beautiful landscape and again there were the animals. A hippo alongside the road, a hyena, crocodiles on the waterfront and beautiful birds. When we were back in Mpala Lodge at 15.15 p.m. we were treated to delicious fruits and then we could do with a lovely swim and get some rest. This day ended with a last dinner in the Boma. So we sang again, had lovely discussions with the managers about development aid and realised that our stay had come to an end.

Day 8: Goodbye-Day!! If you have ever been in a place like this you know that paradise exists. So a goodbye will ever be accompanied by sad feelings. That is what it was like. Again the service had been exceptional because we left with a suitcase full of clean and ironed clothes!! At 10.00 everyone was ready to wave us goodbye. Clayton drove us to the gate where our rental car was still waiting. Although we had one week ahead, our African experience was marked by our stay in Mpala Lodge. When we talk about South Africa we think on this special place on earth where the feeling of being so close to Nature in all its manifestations is incredible and indescribable. We hope and dream to be back one day.

Jolly van Hijum, Holland

Adventures in Africa

Adventures in Africa

Prelude

When I was 17 years old and a high school senior in a small town in Southern Illinois (U.S.), Pernille, came to live with my family and me for the school year as an exchange student from Bornholm, Denmark. Over those nine months, the friendship between Pernille and I grew and we became like sisters. After our senior year, Pernille and I stayed in touch via mail and an occasional telephone call, but over the years we both moved and lost track of each other. Fast forward to Facebook, we found each other again and haven’t stopped communicating since. In July 2015, I took my two sons to visit Pernille and her family in Bornholm and we have since become one modern, international family who I love dearly.

Then, in January 2017, Pernille sent me a message that read “meet me in South Africa in two weeks.” I immediately laughed from my sofa in Northern California where I now live. Who picks up and goes to Africa on a whim?! But, Pernille was persistent and had visited Mpala twice before and knew how magical it is. She told me how incredibly amazing her visits were and a perfect place to relax and have a bit of a “reset…” something we both needed. It didn’t take much to convince me to say YES! Two weeks later, we were off!

Early bird gets the worm! Sunrise over the Olifants River. Wake up calls start at 4 or 5AM at Mpala Safari Lodge. Don’t worry… coffee and breakfast are waiting for you as well as an amazing adventure!

Arriving at Mpala Safari Lodge

After nearly 24 hours of travel that included a two-hour drive to San Francisco and three different flights, I had arrived in South Africa!!! Theo, a ranger at Mpala, met Pernille and I at the Hoedspruit Airport and although I have never met Theo (Pernille had) it was as if an old friend was picking us up at the airport. Pulling out of the airport we immediately spotted giraffe alongside the road… that was just the beginning of a magical week of nature viewing.
Getting to Mpala Safari Lodge requires about a 40-minute drive on what Theo calls “Wake and Shake Road.” It’s a dirt road with a lot of bumps and potholes, and indeed it will keep you hanging on and alert! After the bumpy drive, Mpala’s guest are warmly greeted by the entire team of staff when you pull into the carport. For Pernille (and I’m sure other returning guests) it feels like returning home.

“Wake and Shake Road” on the way to Mpala Safari Lodge. The bush was very green after receiving much needed rain.

Mpala Safari Lodge Staff

My Facebook Post – January 17, 2017 (Day 2 at Mpala Safari Lodge)

Speechless!
Cruising alongside my Danish sister on ATVs in the bush and came around a corner to find this AMAZING creature before us. We were a bit fearless coming up toward the lion until Theo, our ranger, motioned for us to move along quickly as the male lion was getting a little bit too curious about us. This was right after Pernille and I were giggling as a giraffe family (the “bush hippies”) galloped alongside our ATVs for a bit as we drove past. ummm… what?
Still not quite fully processing what is happening before my eyes. After a near 24-hour 3-different flights adventure to arrive near Kruger National Park I am still spent. After arriving at the last airport in Hoedspruit we had a 40-minute drive along a dirt road into Mpala Safari Lodge. Along the way we spotted buffalo, giraffe, zebra, kudu, impalas, jackals, crocodiles, and hippos. Surreal! We had a lovely dinner of spring buck (like an antelope… when in Rome!) and woke up to baboons running all over the front of our chalet. After spotting the lion we were taken to a candlelit dinner in the bush where we were greeted with champagne. Three days of game drives before us. I’m giddy! (and maybe a little bit buzzed from South African wine!) Love!

Place to ourselves (almost)! Pernille and I shared the beautiful lodge with just two other people, a lovely Danish couple (Jens Clausen and Linda Kronsted).

Another highlight of the trip is an ATV ride through the bush! We had so much fun we opted for a second ride later in the week.

Came around a corner on our ATVs to find this guy greeting us! O-M-G!
One of the rangers said it was his first time in 20+ years that he has spotted a lion while on an ATV (lucky us!).

Dining at Mpala Safari Lodge

Dining at Mpala is delicious, fun, and different… zebra, anyone?! Depending on the day’s activities the venue and format for the meal will change. Whether you are enjoying breakfast on the deck overlooking the Olifants River, a Bar-b-que picnic lunch in Kruger National Park, or (my favorite) candlelit dinner in the bush… it’s all amazing!

Candlelight dinner under a bush willow and 1,000 stars… I will take this over a five-star restaurant any day!

Candlelit Dinner is ready in the boma.

Game Drives

Of course one of the highlights of Mpala Safari Lodge are the game drives and walks. The rangers are top-notch, entertaining, and extremely knowledgeable. During our week at Mpala we tracked down four of the Big 5 (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African Leopard)… just missed the rhinoceros, which is the perfect reason for me to return! Mpala Safari Lodge is adjacent to Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa.

Oh hey there, kudus!

Thelma and Louise of the bush! We left the driving up to Theo, but took advantage of plenty of photo opportunities with the jeep!


We spotted this beauty during a game drive in Kruger National Park… amazing!

One of my favorite highlights from our trip to Kruger National Park… What we thought were a few elephants crossing the road turned into a herd of nearly 100 elephants crossing the road. They ranged from a few weeks old (adorable!!!) to over 50 years old. It was truly amazing to witness first-hand the different behaviors. Having well-trained rangers with you, like Theo, turns into quite the wildlife education experience.

Giraffes in the beautiful South African bushveld


We came across this Cape buffalo about 100 meters from our lodge. Theo, our ranger, says it was killed by lions just a few hours earlier. About 50 vultures were flying above the kill afterward. An alarming reminder that Mpala Safari Lodge is practically fenceless and open to Kruger National Park so animals come and go as they please.

Hyena Mama


Vervet monkey mama and baby


Giraffe Kisses


New ranger in town ? This never gets old!

Hippos with your coffee! Mpala Safari Lodge overlooks the Olifants River where we saw hippos swimming every morning over breakfast.

Visit to Diphuti Village School

Mpala Safari Lodge cares about their community. As a way of thanking the local community they provide a contribution to the village elementary school. It was so sweet to visit the school and meet the kids who happily sang a couple of songs for us between classes.

Students at Diphuti Village School

The Drakenberg Mountains

One of the options for an additional experience is a day touring the Drakeberg Mountains. This excursion gives you the opprortunity to explore a very different South African landscape from the bushveld. We spent the day with Theo driving us through small towns (where we got to do a little shopping) and from one amazing view point to the next. Chasing waterfalls in South Africa… highly recommended!


Pernille taking in the view!


Exploring the mountains!


Berlin Falls


Lisbon Falls


“God’s Window”


Local market on our way to the Drakenberg Mountains.

My FaceBook Post – January 25, 2017 (Day 10 at Mpala Safari Lodge)

Leaving South Africa tomorrow with a very full heart. I think it might be impossible to spend 10 days in the wilds of this country without the experience changing you for the better… more grateful, more humble, renewed perspective, greater sense of awe, and absolutely recharged on life.
Thank you for sharing this special time with me, Pernille… I love you. Thank you to Theo Potgieter for sharing your kind heart and love of nature with us!


SKOL!!!

Returning to Mpala

Returning to Mpala

Does anyone ever win those Facebook contests? I’ve often thought that way, when I’ve browsed the internet, being bombarded with offers of winning this and that. Haven’t you? It’s probably just a way for them to collect permissions to send me newsletters. Even so, I sent my travelogue from my stay at Mpala. Four months later, I received an e-mail from Per (no deals or offers included), stating that I had won the contest. I do have to add, that whenever the contest comes from Mpala, there’s no doubt about the sincerity of the contest. If you are fortunate enough to be admitted into the “family” at Mpala, you would know that it is legitimate.

Once we were done celebrating, we started planning yet another trip to the place I always wanted to go back to. We settled on May 2017. This time I was bringing my son, Darius, aged 14, as a part of his confirmation present. Hopefully a journey and an adventure of a lifetime.

6 years and about 30 hours of travelling later, we finally set foot in Hoedspruit on the 15th of May. The South African wind struck my face and then that old familiar feeling in the stomach of the adventures to come hit me. We left through the small gate at the airport and exited to the parking lot, where we were greeted by the latest member of the family – Dawie the ranger. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit while we waited for our luggage.

Helle, one of Mpala’s owners, and her daughter Annelise, were waiting in the car and greeted us as we entered. Dawie started the car and off we were. The talking went on in the car, actually, we had such a good time that no one even noticed the Elephant on the roadside welcoming us with its trunk raised. Well… Nevermind, we were back!

After somewhat 20 minutes of driving, we took a turn down the familiar dirt road and then it hit me. I had completely forgotten how long the drive to the lodge is. Thinking about it, I remembered it as a 5-minute drive, which might have been pretty naive. It is a 25-minute drive on a bumpy dirt road. When you drive on it for the first time, it feels like it’s never going to end. But if you want to experience the real African adventure, you have to get as far away from civilization as possible. Half the way down the road we turned around a corner, and there were Per looking for something on his right-hand side. The first ”present” of the day – Buffalos. Buffalos everywhere! Somewhat 30 buffalos had decided to have their breakfast right there. What a way to start off! After taking atleast 50 photos, the last 10 minutes of driving to the lodge went on by fast and a familiar sight came into our view: Mpala Safari Lodge.

There they were again. The Mpala family; greeting us. The chef, the waitresses, the cleaners, the gardeners, the rangers and the manager. I’m writing “again”, cause it all felt the same, even though there has been changes to the staff during the 6 years. A lot of them were the same people though. Somehow it feels like time stopped when I left, but times goes on, even at Mpala. Even though there were some new people, it still felt like I had known these people all my life. Mpala Safari Lodge is truely a magical place.

After the greetings, we got settled in our rooms and went to the porch for a lovely lunch.

 

 

The next morning, the smell of Africa hit the nostrils when we were leaving for our first game drive. A smell that is easily recognizable if you ever visited the lodge before, and if it’s your first time; It’s a part of the adventure. Believe me, it’s not a bad thing, just unusual for our western noses. The time was about 5:30AM, but we were ready. Excited, we sat in the Land Rover and watched the bush as we tumbled down the dirt road. That day we saw antelopes, amongst them a Nyala, a Giraffe and loads of Baboons. Dawie the ranger knows his stuff and has plenty of stories to satisfy even the biggest nature aficionado.

After a short rest back at the lodge, we were out on the second adventure of the day: The quad bikes. We drove around in the huge area and we found out, that dust has a special way of getting into ALL cracks and creases. The good thing about us being there first, was that the next guests probably wouldn’t be able to get as dusty as we did, mainly because I think I removed most of the dust by swallowing it during our drive. On the quad bike tour, we saw Giraffes and a huge male Elephant. The guide went ahead and made a sudden stop. We stayed behind. He came back after a short while. “Up there – Lions”, he said as he pointed. We watched the two young male lions, lying about 80 meters away from us.

“Let’s celebrate this with a refreshment,” he said; “You’re lucky – it’s not too often that we see the lions on the quad bike ride and it’s only the second time I’ve seen them, even though I’ve been on this tour for 25 years.” Later we were told that there were more lions than we could see. They had taken down a giraffe, so the whole pack had to be in the area. Perfect timing!

 

Happy, satisfies and dusty, we returned to the car and Dawie drove us to the bush camp. The camp is quite some distance from the lodge and in the middle of the bush. However, it has a sink with running water and even a toilet. We washed of the dirt and the rest of the night was spent on dinner in the bush and the bright night sky of the southern hemisphere. Later on, back at the lodge, tired and happy after an exciting day, we got under our covers and crawled back in safety behind the mosquito net.

The phone rings; it’s Dawie. It’s early morning and the sun isn’t out yet, but the coffee is ready and we’re going on a bush walk. The largest and only animal we see on our walk is a squirrel. No worries, cause there is a lot of other things to look at, and the sensation of walking in the bush without the safety of the car is quite unique. Just feeling the grass brushing against your legs and seeing the landscape up close is amazing. Besides that, Dawie can tell about all the small things we usually don’t see from the car. The various different kinds of plants and trees, the uses of them amongst the native inhabitants and all the different kind of tracks from the animals.

After lunch, Dawie and Stacey took us to the village school. A visit I especially had looked forward to. The school looks like it did 6 years ago, besides the fact that they now have a computer room, donated by a very generous visitor at Mpala. In the kindergarten, the children are cheering us on, everyone smiling and laughing. “It’s funny how it’s often the people that has the least, that are the happiest”, Dawie said. A sentence I will keep in mind the rest of my life. Nothing is more true, and it suited the situation perfectly. It put our lives into perspective and made me realize how lucky I am.

Onwards to Mpala’s latest project; A local daycare in the village a 5-minute drive from the School. The place is called Mmakadi. In gratitude, the children made a special parking sport for Mpala, written in yellow letters on the pavement is the words “Mpala parking”. We are greeted by the head of the daycare, Gloria. She speaks in pride of the place and tells us about the work they do. She takes us to the room where all the small children sit, eyes peeled. They sing and dance for us, while we all sit back and smile about the fact, that out visit contributes to the support of these poor children. Mpala is very committed to helping out the local residents, and especially the children.

While walking back to the car, all the children sit on the only playing rack, waving goodbye. Mpala and the daycare has plans for renovating the place, with money that comes from the generous donations from Mpala’s guests. I look forward on seeing what has been done, when I return once again.

 

It’s Thursday and the next 2 days are spent in Krüger National Park. We leave early and arrive shortly after the gates are opened. After 10 minutes, Darius wins our small internal contest to spot an animal first. It was an impala. Besides the impala, we see wildebeest and zebras everywhere. We continue on and it doesn’t take long before we spot 4 rhinos grazing in the distance. As we quietly follow them, they come closer and closer. All the other cars have driven by, not noticing anything, so for half an hour we had this amazing sight all to ourselves.

The rest of the day goes on with sightings of elephants, giraffes and antelopes by the masses, before we drive through the gates of Lebata Camp in the late afternoon. Here we will spend the night. It’s a quiet place where the monkeys moan and wait for a moment’s inattention from the poor guard, who hopelessly spins around and tries to chase them away, so they don’t steal the guests’ dinner. An ungrateful job that never stops, but has a lot of entertainment value for the guests.

 

The next morning, we get up early. We’re heading out as soon as the gate opens to see the sunrise. Definitely worth the early wake. Again, we drive around and look. We don’t see much more than elephants and giraffes, but that’s the nature – not every day is the same and one day there can be animals by the masses and the next day might be a lot quieter. We are there on nature’s terms and we will see whatever Krüger decides to offer us that day. If you want to be sure to see all the Big Five every day, go to the zoo. Personally. I prefer to enjoy the gifts that nature brings us.

We didn’t see any lions, hyenas, wild dogs or leopards. But we still got Krüger under the skin and walked away with amazing natural experiences. The advantages of not seeing everything is, that you have the perfect excuse to return again.

The Drakensberg mountains were on Saturday’s schedule. All the well-known places, amazing natural scenery, winding mountain roads and small villages. We also chose an additional experience in the form of a backward bungee jump called “the big swing”. This is usually not something mentioned in the brochure or on the website. It was by chance we came across the subject during the dinner a few days earlier, when Helle mentioned that it was a possibility. Stacey got us booked in for the jump. Now we were nervously and excited waiting for our turn. I was first. I was led to the edge and the instructor got me strapped in, while he was telling me about the procedure. “You’re going to go to the edge, put your heel beyond the board and bend the knees”. He held on to the rope while I was leaning back. And then he let go!

If you’ve ever felt like 4 seconds turned into 20, you know the feeling of a bungee jump. There’s nothing quite like it. The view of the waterfall, falling to the bottom along with me, was indescribable. The elastic rope tightened and I swung away from the rocks. All I could do was to enjoy the ride. Both Darius and Annelise from the lodge tried it too. If you are into adrenaline kicks, I recommend that you ask for this excursion. After the jump, we celebrated it with a pancake at a place called “Harry’s Pancakes” in the small town of Graskop. It’s actually pretty hard to eat pancakes with a big smile on the lips.

The last day arrived upon us. We were going on a river cruise with breakfast on an old steamboat. We slowly sailed away. We were all alone, besides a single other guest that also turned out to be from Denmark. We talked a bit and looked at the animals on the shore and life of the locals doing their daily chores while the pale Danes sailed past.

We end our stay at Mpala with a final game drive and a drink in the watch tower, while the sun sets in the horizon, listening to Dawie telling tall tales and enjoying our last evening to the fullest.

All good things must come to an end and this day came way too soon. We’re going home, but we’re coming back. I never imagined that a week could go by so quickly. Darius had set his mind; he didn’t think that we would ever meet people as nice, as the people at Mpala. It made him wonder, why we were even going to Cape Town to spend the next week. He’d rather stay at Mpala for an additional week. When a 14-year-old boy is longing to stay at a desolate place with slow Wi-Fi and no television – They’re doing everything right!

I feel like saying, that everything at Mpala is the same. That wouldn’t be true. The magic is the same and you will still long to go back, even though you only returned back home. The tranquility is still there. The adventures are still great and you will never get tired of all the things the nature has to offer. My expectations were high and once again they were met, and exceeded.

Mpala, thank you ever so much. I will definitely see you all again.

Sincerely

Kenneth Vikkelsø, May 2017