November 2016, my wife and I came back to Mpala to experience the magic, presence, and the familiarity we had experienced the first time we visited Mpala. This time, we had invited a couple of friends along so they too could experience the same.
At Phalaborwa Airport, we were met by Theo, who was going to be our ranger for the next 14 days. Already on our way to the lodged, we saw giraffes, impalas, buffalos, and numerous birds. Theo showed us his huge knowledge about the animal life and especially birds. A true encyclopaedia.
When we arrived at the lodge, the staff was gathered in the parking lot as a welcome committee. A wonderful reunion. One person was missing, though. Estel, the manager, was not there. Unfortunately, she was away on holiday the first couple of days we were there. There was a new face, Stacey. Stacey is Estel’s assistant and right-hand woman. She would turn out to be good and pleasant acquaintance. No wonder, they hired her.
We got our rooms, so our friends and we could live right next to each other. Apart from the four of us, only one more couple were on the lodge, for all fourteen days. That made it a small dedicated group.
We met up at the main house for a refreshment, said hello to the other couple and met Irene. Irene has contagious disposition and a personality, which makes everybody feel welcome. Like all the others at Mpala.
After the always entertaining tribal dance, it was time for dinner. The food is amazing at Mpala. The fact that everybody meets at the main house where the food is presented every time you have dinner is part of the familiarity that the stay have. Everybody eats together and at the same time. That the staff are part of the dinner adds even more to this feeling. After dinner, it was time to rest a few hours after the long journey.
Tuesday morning, the adventure started for real. Before the day had started for real, we met Barry. A hippo, who had decided to ‘move in’ at Mpala. Barry was grazing on the lawn right outside our cottage. An amazing sight. It could only be a good day. And of course, it did.
The gamedrive in the morning offered plenty of animals. Jackals and impalas, of course. After a shower, it was time for breakfast at the terrace. The big ‘bush-televison’ was turned on. While we ate, we watched five large elephants going down to the river for water. In the background, a herd of waterbucks ate their breakfast. In the river we could detect a pair of eyes – Mr. Crock. Barry has also finished his breakfast, so he came walking between the main house and the cottages, down to the river to swim.
At the pool we relaxed during the morning, and here we saw three large kudus coming as near as 10-15 metres from the pool. These amazing animals came as though the owned the place. That is why we nicknamed them The 3 guys.
After lunch, it was time to go on ATV’s. We did not see that many animals on this tour, but it is still a great way to experience nature. Along the tour, we took a break at a waterhole/lake with an abundance of birds. Another magical moment.
After driving ATV’s, we went to see the bushcamp. Another insanely beautiful place. There has been set for dinner, the bonfire is going. The staff has set up in the bar so everyone can have a drink or two if they want. But first, the dust has to be washed off. There is, of course, a wash with running water and a toilet with an infinite ceiling and maybe one of the greatest views in the world..
After some relaxing, the dark starts to set in, and the bonfire is turned into a barbecue where the food is made. It is a unique feeling and ambience sitting under the clear sky listening to the sounds from the bush, enjoying the company. One of the best meal during our stay at Mpala.
On the way home, light comes out. Just in case we meet some of the night animals also living in the bush. We saw some birds, an owl, and a bushbuck.
Wednesday there is an outing to the school and kindergarten. But before that, we start the day with a walk around the lodge. It is not the large animals, we are looking for – it is the smaller animals and plants. Yet again, Theo shows us his great knowledge. You are told so many things about the life in the bush. After an hour or so, it was time for a bath and some breakfast. At 10 o’clock, the trip to the school and kindergarten starts. It takes about 50 minutes to get there..
Unfortunately, the kids at the school were away on summer holiday, so Theo showed us around. The same was the case at the kindergarten. Here, the smack children had gone on holiday, so no visits here either. But the tour was in no way in vane as we had lunch at Mad Dogs Café – a cosy restaurant with some really great sandwiches. Well fed, the tour took us back to the lodge. Here we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and had a great time at the pool.
In our opinion, Thursday was one of the spectacular days. Even though the days starts really early it was worth everything. They woke us up at 4 o’clock.
After a cup of coffee/tea and some crackers or yoghurt, we take off towards Kruger. We arrived around 6 o’clock at the gate to the park. A quick tour to the toilet and the store, where we bought a book about the animals and the birds of the park. In the book you can mark the animals you get to see. To us, it is always a great way to remember which animals we have seen and when.
It is always a pleasure driving through Kruger. You never know which animals you will see. It is amazing that you can drive for an hour ot two without seeing any animals and in a split second, 5-6 elephants are right in front of you – or a herd of buffalos, giraffes, or rhinos. The most exiting is of course whether you meet some of the big cats. Unfortunately, we didn’t on the firt tour the first week. But we saw plenty of other animals and birds.
After an exciting day in the park, we came to the camp where we should stay. Here we could cool off in the pool, relax, and talk about the events of the day. We saw photos and looked at the animals that we had spotted and marked in the book. Meanwhile, Theo had been busy preparing the dinner. The only thing we the guests have to do is go to the table and eat. That is really a luxury. But not for long – the beds are beckoning us. The many impressions, the early start, and knowing how early we had to get up the next day made it very easy to find the bedt.
After 3-4 hours pursuing of all kinds of animals, it was time for brunch. Once again, Theo prepared the food so we the guests can sit back and enjoy the nature around us. Late afternoon, filled with exciting experiences, we go back to Mpala. We returned around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The rest of the Friday was for relaxation.
Saturday is the one day with no events scheduled. We slept in. Breakfast at 9 o’clock and the morning/afternoon at the pool. It does not means that nothing happens. While sitting having our lunch, a small herd of 9 elephants are going to the river to bathe. Later in the day, 3 large kudus a.k.a. the Boys, are visiting the pool. We were to meet them several times during our stay. A little later a warthog came visiting with his family. The day ends with a great meal on the terrace at the main house.
Sunday morning we had chosen to go on a trip on the river. Departure was at 6.30 AM from the lodge. We had barely left the site before a single male elephant was standing in the middle of the road. Han just needed to see whether we were ‘dangerous’ and if he could let us pass. With a little persuasion from Theo, he stepped aside so we could continue down to the river boat. On the way to the boat we saw another side of the area. Part of the trip goes through a mining area. Here it is very obvious what people are willing to do to make money.
Aboard the boat, the trip began. Shortly after departure we were served a lovely breakfast. Well fed, we started to look after animals. It was mostly birds, a couple of buffaloes and kudus, and some zebras. Unfortunately no hippos or crocodiles. But still a great trip.
Back at the lodge we had lunch and relaxed by the pool until 4 o’clock, where we were going on a game drive. On the tour we saw a zebra with a very distinct bump on the stomach. It was a little special to see this zebra. When we were here 4 years ago, we also met this zebra, and we chose to ‘baptise’ her Betsy. The tour ended by the watchtower. Here, the staff met us with champagne and snacks. It was an incredibly beautiful sunset from the tower. After sunset we went back to the ‘boma’ where we would have dinner. While we were eating, the chef came down to the boma to talk to Theo and one of the other rangers by the name of Keith. They got up and followed the chef back to the kitchen. After half an hour they came back and told us that there had been a snake in the kitchen. It was caught and moved a considerable distance away from the lodge and released.
Monday is normally a day where people arrived or leave, but as everybody was to stay another week, we had the option to go on an expedition. We had chosen to go to the Draken Mountains. The tour there takes about an hour. First stop on the tour was at the Ecco Caves. Then it was Blyde River Canyon and The Three Rondavels. An amazing view! Then on to Bourkes Luck Potholes – an area where two rivers meet. This has caused impressive rocks formations made by the water.
Before lunch, we were going to God’s Window. When we were here four years ago, we could not see the window because of the fog. This time there were no problems. Another splendid view. And if you want, there are great options to do some shopping.
The lunch was at Hatties in Graskop. They are famous for their filled pancakes. They are really good. Before we were going home, we went by Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls. Two amazing waterfalls. Last stop on the tour were at the tunnel. Here we did some Christmas shopping. We were shopping until Theo honked and we had to go. Home again on the lodge around 6.45 PM
Tuesday we had decided not to go on the ATV tour again. Instead, we were given another game drive. So Tuesday started with a game drive at 6 o’clock. On the tour we saw zebra, guinea fowl, giraffes, impalas with 1 day old cubs, elephants and a lot of birds. Back on the lodge breakfast and relaxation waited, and then we went on game drive again. Again we saw plenty of animals. A single elephant had to show how big he was by uprooting a large tree. While we were watching his show, another elephant had come up behind the car. He was not so friendly, so Theo wisely decided to leave.
The game drive ended when we arrived at the bush camp. Here we had dinner. Just like last Tuesday, a fire was lit and drinks and refreshments were served. While we enjoyed our drinks, we could a lot of animals running. Theo chose to drive out to see what was going on.
He came back and told us that he could not see why they were running. We had our food and started to eat. While we were eating, we heard a loud scream. Again, Theo left to find out what was going on. Five minutes later he came back and asked us to go over to the fire and start talking a little loud. The he left again. A little later he came back with one of the cars. He told us that less than 50 meters away four lions and a lioness had killed a zebra and was eating it at the moment. He made us go into the car because he wanted to drive and show us the big cats.
An amazing sight, but also a little scary. Knowing that they wanted to drink when they had finish the meal, Theo chose for us to return home. Mostly because we were situated between the lions and the waterhole, where the lions would go, when they had eaten. Crazy experience. Once in a lifetime. We almost didn’t speak a word on the way home. We all had to process the experience.
Back at the lodge we had drinks and talked a little before we all went to bed.
Wednesday we were up again at 6 o’clock. We had to go out to see how it looked at the bush camp. Almost nothing was left from the zebra. Only thing left was a little of the tail. And as expected, the lions had been going through the camp when they were done eating. Theo could see that on the tracks in the sand.
Back on the lodge, we had breakfast and today we sang a birthday song. It was Jan’s birthday.
The rest of the day we just relaxed, and it was perfect in the light of the events of the day before. Then we had dinner in the boma, which felt right after the events yesterday. The chef had made a birthday cake.
Once again, the trip went to Kruger for two days. This time we had more luck with the cats.
Thursday afternoon Theo spotted a leopard in a tree. You always get goose bumps when you see this amazing animal. Of course, we saw many other animals, but this was the high light.
In the morning when leaving the camp, we saw 7 lazy lions laying in the morning breeze. Three cubs had found a can of cola they were playing with. We were back again at 3 o’clock PM where we had fruit and a little cheese. We went to the pool before dinner.
Everybody went to Hoedspruit. We needed to but the last gifts and just shop a little.After lunch, it was time for some relaxing by the pool. While we were there relaxing, ‘Barry’ chose to come by. He just wanted to go to the lawn to have something to eat. In the river, two other hippos showed up. They just wanted to show who was the biggest, so we think that is why Barry chose to go away.
Late in the afternoon, we had invited Theo to our cottage. We had bought him a present as a thank you for his disposition and the many hours he had spent together with us.
We woke up to some rain and a chill in the air. Actually, it feels nice with a little cool weather. So it was nice with a little rain. The weather cleared so after breakfast, the sun was shining again.
At 4 o’clock PM it was time for the last game drive, champagne and sunset from the watchtower. Yet another amazing view and good company. The last dinner were eating at the boma, where all the staff participated.
We packed and made ready for the trip home. We said goodbye and hugged. Once again, a tear fell before we went into the car on our way to the airport.
No doubt about it, this tour has been another amazing experience. We had our doubts after our last stay at Mpala – how could it possibly be better than last time. But it could. That is why the four of us has decided that we want to go back again. Back to Mpala, the animals and not least the staff. It is very much their merit that the trip has been so fantastic.
So when Mpala claims that it is an experience you will never forget, it is so true. We will sign to that any day.
Hope to see you in November 2019. We celebrate our silver jubilee and it will be a present for ourselves. With kind regards
Jeannette and Jan Lindstrøm