After a terrible experience witnessing unethical animal tourism, I was ready to finish up my safari tour on a better note. The rest of Day 4 for me could only get better—and it did!
I had a nice time getting a personal tour of the tree house lodging where I was staying. I even spotted some baby warthogs on this walking tour. Then I had a final game drive in a very special reserve. There, I saw cheetah, lion, and rounded out my Big 5 sightings with a white rhino!
On the ride back to the airport in Johannesburg, we stopped at Blyde River Canyon. I caught gorgeous views of mountains, forests, and the river below. It was a great final 24 hours on my 5-day safari tour in South Africa!
Tree House Accommodation
So part of my Day 4 experience was in the morning at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I left the place early because I learned of their unethical cheetah breeding program. The Viva Safaris driver was great and offered to drive me back to the camp.
Back at Marcs Treehouse Lodge, I met with Victor who gave me a personal tour of the lodge's grounds. This was filler since I left Moholoholo early. We walked along the Klaserierivier (a river) where he said animals often hang out. There were none there when we arrived. But shortly after we saw a warthog with a bunch its babies warthogs running along the fence.
I didn't get a picture of them so here is a photo of a warthog x-ing sign.
Clearly, warthogs run around everywhere in this area!
Victor showed me where I would have been camping if it was warmer out. Originally, I had paid for camping-style accommodation. It was going to be "glamping" by my previous standards. There was a built-up-off-the-ground-bed, sturdy canvas enclosure, thick wool blankets, and optional bed warmers. It was going to cost me much less than staying in a treehouse and I liked the idea of roughing it a bit while on safari.
But the workers at Marcs Treehouse insisted I take a treehouse at no extra cost. They said it was too cold to camp. I would be closer to the main buildings and there was nobody staying at the Lodge anyway. I was the only one there so there was plenty of free houses.
So they put me in a treehouse that was actually more of a bungalow on stilts:
Other styles were actual tree houses, like this one that I fell in love with:
I was happy to have a real bed with attached shower and toilet. If I was camping, I would have had to walk outside to access the bathrooms. Brrrr!
Some people may find that the treehouse accommodation is still like "roughing" it. For instance, the American couple who was a part of my original safari group at the start of the tour stayed only one night at Marcs. For their second and third night, they returned to Tremisana. It was too cold in the treehouses for them. The treehouses have no real walls or insulation, just bamboo! The bugs come right in and so does the air.
But I loved it!
Sure, it was chilly and a little buggy, but I was paying camping prices for this sweet upgrade. I couldn't complain. I imagine this would be a bit more comfortable in the warmer months, though. A breeze through the bamboo walls on a hot summer night would be most welcomed.
Highlights From Driving Tshukudu Bush Camp
In the late afternoon, we linked up with the older American couple again and we drove over to Tshukudu Bush Camp.
A family of brothers run runs this camp. It's a special camp because they keep close watch on all the animals there. They usually always know where the major herds are. They communicate to each other over radios when they find them.
This felt a little like "cheating." Half the fun is the search and randomly spotting new and exciting species!
But I let that go and enjoyed this different style safari tour.
My First And Only Rhino Spotting
As we drove into the reserve, before we even started the safari tour—we immediately spotted a white rhino! I was so happy because I had not seen a rhino yet and it was the last on my list of the Big 5! I had already seen leopard, lion, elephant, and buffalo over the previous 3 days.
This rhino was an old girl, rubbing the salt off her body onto a tree. Then she'd lick the salt off the tree to get the nutrients right back! She was clearly enjoying herself from the sounds she was making.
Take a look and a listen:
The Cheetah With Health Problems
One of the brothers, our guide, explained to us that they have a cheetah on the reserve who likes to hang around humans. At first, I was nervous after what I had learned about the cheetah breeding program at Moholoholo. But he went on to explain that this female cheetah was wild. She had just had a lot of health problems.
The cheetah needed multiple surgeries. For her survival, she also needed her eating behavior monitored. Often times, she does not eat enough on her own. When she goes too long without food, longer than normal, wild cheetahs go without food, the brothers intervene and feed her.
She has several cheetah brothers who beat up on her because she is smaller and frailer than they are. So the camp brothers also monitor these activities and break up fights to protect her.
As a result, this cheetah has become very accustomed to the presence of humans. She is completely free to roam around the open reserve, but she chooses to come around near the lodges and she seeks out the tour trucks.
Within the first 15 minutes of our drive, the brother easily found her because she wears a collar around her neck. This collar allows the brothers to track her movement and check up on her when necessary. Of course, it also allowed them to easily find her for us to see her.
It was cool getting to see a wild cheetah out in the wild and not just at a rehab center like at the Cheetah Conservation Fund. But this was still a very unique and unusual situation. The only reason I was able to see her was because of her health problems and comfort around humans.
One thing I did not like that the brothers of the reserve allowed was for people on the tour to pet her. Yes, she is already quite domesticated and dependent on humans as a result of her circumstances. But petting wild cats and getting photos of this is terrible because it promotes cheetah trafficking. Cheetah trafficking continues because people want them as pets.
She was so beautiful, though!
And so sweet. Every time we drove away from her, she would run to catch up to us. She really does like being by humans!
At one point, we pulled up to a big lake and stayed there to watch the sunset. After a few minutes, the birds in the area started to sing and freak out. They were warning of her arrival. Docile as she is, she is still a predator!
Check out the video below of the birds making tons of noise as she simply took a drink and lied down next to the water. If only they knew she is pretty harmless for a predator.
When we pulled up to the lake, we found a beautiful (and ferocious!) crocodile chilling in the evening sunlight. We sat there looking at him and I took out my camera to film a bit. As I was recording, the croc suddenly decided to get a closer look at us.
The croc stood right up and sauntered closer and then plopped down facing my camera. Take a look:
I guess it wanted to make sure I got a nice close-up! Thanks, croc!
A Pride Of Lions
The brothers spent some time radioing to each other about the location of some lions. They were hanging out off-road in the bush, but not too off-road to get to.
Our guide took us directly to them after a run-in with one of the other brothers who pointed out their exact location.
While it wasn't a perfect, clear view, I was able to spot 2 male lions (1 younger and 1 older) and 2 female lions in this small pride. I briefly captured them on video. The young lion is the submissive one, as he rolled over when the older lion passed by. Check it out:
Our guide said that they have to keep an eye on the lions. If there becomes too many of them, they have to send them to other reserves, as they will quickly kill off many of the other species in the reserve (buffalo, antelope, etc.). It's a delicate balance that they carefully monitor and adjust. It's a little sad to me that we have to do this now.
Since humans have encroached on and destroyed their habitats, space is limited for all the animals to live. This inevitably creates challenges and imbalances that humans have to manage if we are to continue learning about them and enjoying their existence in our shared and precious world.
All in all, I had a really great time taking my last safari drive in Tshukudu Bush Camp.
Just check out some of these gorgeous sunset shots!
Blyde River Canyon
Before we went to Moholoholo in the morning on our first day, we had some time to check out a nice view of Blyde River. Our guide took us off of Swadini Rd where the road cuts over Blyde River. We stopped there to catch the morning light on the distant mountains and the gorgeous river below.
It was a beautiful spot. Our guide said this is what we would be looking down at the next morning. In the morning, we would drive back to Johannesburg but stop at a lookout point along the way.
The following are some of the photos from the beautiful lookout point at Blyde River Canyon. The second photo includes a shot of the “Three Rondavels” (sometimes called the Three Sisters). They are big rock outcroppings formed by the river long ago. So beautiful!
I spent the ride back to Johannesburg chatting with my friend Sully, our driver from the first day of the tour! He is so great!
Sully dropped me off at the Johannesburg airport because the next and final leg of my trip around South Africa was going to be Cape Town!
This wraps up my series of posts on my first ever African Safari tour. It was an amazing experience. It fulfilled all my hopes and dreams ever since I saw The Lion King as a child.
But would I ever do it again? You bet, I would!
I'd love to go on a safari tour again in the future. Next time, I'd love to go for longer, maybe do more self-driving, and spend more time inside Kruger National Park!
Get ready for my next posts all about Cape Town. I will write about the terrible diving conditions, an awesome hike, my visit to the prison where Nelson Mandela stayed on Robben Island, and more!