South African Family Vacation: The Game Drives Begin

Cape Town is a wonderful, beautiful, city.  And I don’t feel we saw even a fraction of there was to see.  We missed Robben Island, and the District Six Museum, we didn’t see the Aquarium.  But we did love it.

Still, I had the feeling, always, of being in an unusually beautiful and tropical European city.  It was time to move on to a less colonialized vision of Africa.  It was time for our Safari – or game drive, as they call it here.  We traveled to the Makalali Conservancy in the Mpumalanga region of Northern South Africa on a private reserve near Kruger National Park, called Garonga.

Garonga exudes a kind of Earnest Hemingway – just grab a spot of tea on your way to hunt big game – vibe.  Slightly war-worn, but charming nonetheless.  We were miraculously upgraded to a suite.  And here, I will let the pictures speak for themselves:



I know it all looks very posh.  But let me point out that when we went up to the “front desk”  (no phones!) to tell them that our room had been invaded by small animals who had eaten the lovely welcome basket of fruit the hotel had kindly left, and had also left us several stinky little “deposits” in their wake, Herfric, our assigned “house man” just laughed.  But he didn’t send anyone to clear out either the animals (turns out it was a few squirrels and a chipmunk, not the cute little monkeys we had hoped for) or their droppings.  We had to go back twice until he understood that we weren’t just regaling him with the rodents’ charming antics – but actually needed some help.

Still, there was a warmth and shabby charm about the place.  And our local guide, Moussa, and tracker Pesi, seemed to see every track and every animal.

Again – pictures can say it better than I can.  But know that those pictures of the standing lions are NOT all that zoomed in.  We were no more than six feet away from them. And yes, I was scared. And boy, was I glad to find out after we saw them that they were on their way to a kill.  That they did, indeed, kill an Impala moments after walking uncomfortably close to our open jeep, and that another group watched them eat it. Yuck.

South Africa LionSouth Africa Elephant

To be quite frank I’ve never been a huge animal enthusiast, so the thought of six hours a day (one game drive from 6am-9am and another from 4-7pm, made me wish for a shopping spree along Spring Street, where the only animals are the tacky tourists dripping ice-cream on their hands and then handling the designer duds.  But each day, we saw something different.  A baboon doing somersaults, giraffes entwining necks, herds of zebra and impala crossing the road.  And suddenly, the animals were fascinating indeed. Besides, with each new sighting, my kids would get so excited, and nothing beats that.

Not even a sale in SoHo.


  1. says

    On my safari, many moons ago, I stayed in a tent with roaming armed guards outside to keep the lions and other carnivores at bay. So, your accommodations (even with the monkeys and squirrels) definitely seems posh. Glad you enjoyed it! Sounds awesome.

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