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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jeanette and Jan Lindstrøm
Translation from the original danish version by Helle Scheel Grunert