With that advice ringing in our ears, our guide pointed his remote at the electronic gates separating the lion enclosure from the other animals at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. I had finally made it to the Africa of my dreams. Now it seemed I stood a good chance of being served as breakfast to the King of the Beasts.
We were on our first morning game drive - the sun just peeping over the horizon. The Land Cruiser had open sides - no windows, no wire mesh, nothing between us and the lions. The guide didn't appear to have a weapon. Someone asked if the vehicle could out run a lion.
'No!' - something to do with potholes and uneven ground.
'Don't worry,' the guide said 'The lions are well fed.' We feed them once a fortnight.' Could that possibly be enough - I must have misheard - and what happens to the visitors who are unlucky enough to pick the tour right at the end of that fortnight. Being completely unprotected, within a couple of metres of lions, was one thing - being completely unprotected within a couple of metres of hungry lions was entirely different. I was beginning to wish I had stayed in bed with David. David doesn't do sunrise. He was safely fast asleep back in our room.
'Keep your arms inside the vehicle and don't make any sudden movements.'
The vehicle drove forward. The King of the Beasts and his two wives were lazing in the long grass, catching the first rays of sunshine. They weren't oblivious to us - just uninterested. According to our guide, there was a jealousy thing going on between the two females and the felines were far more interested in each other than they were in us. The magnificent male seemed slightly amused by the antics of the females as they growled and jostled with each other. When he got bored he stretched, stood, struck a few poses for our cameras then settled back down in the grass for a morning nap. He appeared completely secure of his place in the world, in that way all cats have.
We watched, transfixed, for half and hour or so then moved on - quietly and without any sudden movements.
|Magnificent isn't he!|
|The King of Beasts taking his morning nap.|
After the lions, you might think everything else was an anti-climax. Far from it. As we bounced and bumped our way along the rough bush tracks and open ground, wildebeests, giraffes, zebras and springboks all posed obligingly, and unthreateningly, for us. They were often no more than a few metres away and they would turn and look straight at us like super models posing for the cameras.
|Right in the middle of the track and only a few metres in front of us - it was almost as if he was saying 'What are you doing here?'|
|'Zebra crossing' - the blur in the bottom right corner is the front of our vehicle.|
|Have you ever wondered what a springbok looks like? Now we both know!|
|Hippos grazing near the river.|
Botlierskop is a private game reserve of 3000 hectares near Mossel Bay, about four hours drive east of Cape Town. We spent three nights there. If you want the 'wind in your hair', 'fun of the chase' experience of a wild safari, then this is not for you. The three-hour morning and afternoon game drives were great fun, but they felt slightly contrived. No-one really thought we wouldn't see our share of the big five animals and there were times when we lingered just a bit too long at a group of rhinos, hippos or giraffes - almost as if we needed to fill the time.
|The game drives may have felt a bit contrived at times but there were moments of pure magic, like seeing this 3-week old baby white rhino. The mother's horn is blunt because the horns are removed every few years in an effort to combat poachers.|
David loved Botlierskop. His idea of enjoyable game viewing is one with almost no effort required on his part whatsoever. He avoided the morning drives entirely and only came along in the afternoon to keep me company. He still saw most of the animals. From the private terrace in front of our room at the Manor House we looked out across a large open plain. We spent many pleasant hours there - wildlife spotting. The wildebeests had made it their home and grazed there every afternoon. Herds of zebras, elands, springboks and other antelope came for frequent visits and on the last morning the white rhinos appeared a few hundred metres from us. All this only served to confirm David's view that viewing African animals was a sedentary sport - a bit like watching cricket.
|A herd of eland crossing the plain in front of our room|
|Wildebeest had staked their territory on the plain in front of our room.|
|A Puff Adder we saw on the morning drive - this snake was probably more dangerous than the lions|
|See what I mean about open-sided vehicles.|
My Tip: - Stay in the Manor House for views from the terrace across the Botlierskop Plain, but be warned, the Manor House was not built with game viewing in mind and you won't see much from inside your room. Of all the Manor House rooms, the Executive Suite had the best aspect for seeing wildlife.
|Our room with terrace at the Manor House.|
For last week's post, on the Winelands near Cape Town, click - here.
For links to the full list of our South African road trip posts, click - here
Note: David and I paid normal rates for our stay at Botlierskop. This is not a sponsored post.