I have been blessed in my life to have experienced a couple incredible “bucket list” type experiences. One was just recently when we swam with elephants at The Mondulkiri Project and one was a few years ago, at The Bush House in Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa. To say that we were in awe by what we saw there doesn’t come close to conveying just what an incredible experience it was for us all.
We chose (by which I mean, my incredible mother chose!) Madikwe (as opposed to one of the larger parks, such as Kruger) mainly as we wanted to visit a Malaria-free game reserve due to our youngest child being only 4 months old at the time and unable to be suitably protected. Madikwe Game Reserve and The Bush House are a 4 hour drive north of Johannesburg or 1 hour charter flight away and home to the “Big 5” – elephants, lions, rhino, buffalo and leopard. We saw 4 of these (we didn’t see any leopards) as well as so many other animals!
Within 20 minutes of arriving at The Bush House we were quickly called to come outside to the waterhole…some new friends had come to greet us! In reality, we could have sat on our bed and looked out at these elephants, such is the set up at The Bush House…
The way it worked was that each day there were 2 drives, one early in the morning and one at sunset. During the middle of the day there was a pool to swim in, fenced walks to take or a nap to be had! The waterhole pictured above is in full view of the pool, lawn, dining area and several of the bedrooms (including ours) so that as the animals came and went during the day we could observe them. There was also an underground viewing area which landed you so close to the animals you could have reached out and touched them.
Age limits tend to apply to going on the game drives as you really need to be quiet when close to the animals (The Bush House normally requires children to be aged 8 or over). As our party had booked out the entire lodge they were happy for us to decide about whether the children came along and we chose to bring them on 2 of the 5 drives. Each drive lasted between 3-3.5hours which is a long time for little people but they did a great job (despite Bear’s decision to sing out “Hi-iii!” to the pride of lions eating a zebra). For the drives they didn’t join us for, they were able to stay on site with staff to look after them.
I feel compelled to mention our hosts at the reserve – the amazing team from The Bush House could not have made our time there more wonderful. The service, the food, their genuine hospitality was beyond our wildest expectations. Travelling in a large group (there were 15 of us at The Bush House) can be a logistical challenge, especially when three of those 15 are under 5 years old, but Sue and her team were delightful and endlessly accommodating. I cannot recommend them highly enough!
In the cars we were quite safe, the animals noticed us but are used to cars driving by so as long as you stay quiet and move slowly you are fine. In fact, we were able to get quite close the animals, this picture gives you an idea of just how close…
Despite being safe, the animals at times did let us know if they were unhappy. This elephant was in “must” aka heat, and he was seriously unhappy about us driving past him. We had both kids in the car with us at this point and I did find it quite scary. While the rest of us were saying silent prayers and gripping the children, Mark, my husband, managed to get these shots – you can see how close we are as the elephant has turned and started walking quickly toward us before trumpeting at us and rearing his front legs.
This lion was referred to as the “grumpy old lady” and she growled at us and had walked up and bumped into one of the previous cars that had been nearby – very glad she didn’t do that to us!
We were incredibly fortunate to see a rhino on our last drive. I had not realised that rhino’s were so close to extinction due to poaching – the poachers kill these magnificent animals in horrific ways by tranquilising them so that they can’t move but not actually killing them. They then cut off their horns and leave the animals to die. Poachers have even been known to break into zoo’s in order to secure these treasured horns (as happened in Paris just this week). It’s horrendous! We were told at the time that based on the current rate of poaching, by 2015 it won’t be possible to save them. Now, two years past that deadline and that has sadly eventuated.
The rarer he horns are, the more money they are worth and so rhinos are not even safe in captivity, even museums have been broken into just to secure the horns. The horns (made from the same thing that our fingernails and toenails are made from) are believed (wrongly) to cure cancer amongst other medical remedies. Most places we went to in South Africa were talking about the plight of the rhinos and all the South Africans we talked about the issue with were very upset by it.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit a game reserve, do it. What an incredible experience!!