Home / Africa / Al Ward: South Africa’s sights, species astound during safari trip – The Topeka Capital
Al Ward: South Africa's sights, species astound during safari trip - The Topeka Capital

Al Ward: South Africa’s sights, species astound during safari trip – The Topeka Capital

Last year, Ray and Cindy Schroeder celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in South Africa with friends from Kansas State University. I invited Ray and Cindy, along with Bob and Cheryl Saathoff, to speak with a group of couples who might like to go with Sandra and me this year.

Ed and Kay Grey and Delmar Tucking and Shirley Myers joined us for our trip.

Like the Schroeders, we took the trip as an early birthday present for me and to celebrate our upcoming 60th wedding anniversary. While on the trip, Delmar celebrated his 80th birthday.

Sandra was the contact with Somerby Safaris in South Africa, and with their help set the agenda for the trip.

We left KCI and flew to Atlanta. After a four-hour layover, we then flew 16 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa, where we met our guide, Natalie Davenport, of Somerby Safaris, who traveled with us for the next nine days. Natalie told us when she greeted us at the airport that she wasn’t sure how well six old people would be able to participate in all of the activities she had planned for us.

Well, we fooled her on how much spunk we old people had, and we wanted to see and do everything.

Our journey started with a short drive to our first night’s stay at the Elephant Lodge. The service at the Elephant Lodge was superb, starting with dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. They made sure we were comfortable in our rooms.

Then the road trip began in Kruger National Park, one of the largest parks in Africa. Our first stop was on a bridge with a hippo and crocodiles about 10 fee apart in the Crocodile River. We saw many giraffes, impalas, zebras, warthogs, guinea fowl and more. We had to stop to let some of the animals cross the road. We took about 400 photos collectively on our trip.

At the top of a hill, there must have been 100 elephants. When we drove down to the dry river bed, there were elephants everywhere. Natalie estimated there could have been as many as 400 elephants in the area.

We drove on to a rest stop for a bite to eat. At the outdoor seating, we could see francolin, a member of the pheasant and quail family that are are larger than the bobwhite quail. Warthogs were in the yard very near us, along with many birds. A Southern yellow-billed hornbill flew down and sat on my head. I yelled and the bird shot off but did not go far. I guess they like shiny objects. I put a chip — that’s a french fry to you and me — on my head, and Delmar took photos of the bird flying toward me, landing on my bald head and quickly snatching up the fry, then flying off.

On the way to the park each day, we drove through the diverse landscape. It was flat like western Kansas and also had high hills, with the road cut through the valleys. We saw fields of sugar cane, bananas, trees for wood pulp, fruit trees and row crops.

The park roads were dusty, rough, rocky, narrow paths with evidence the animals left behind as they cross the roads.

Ray talked about the night safari where they take folks out at night with high-powered spotlights to look for animals. The night we took our night safari, it was raining and windy. There was a canopy over the seats in an open-air vehicle and it wasn’t raining too hard so we got by.

There were two female lions lying along the side of the road that night. We saw some African wild dogs and hyenas running alongside the truck. Many giraffes and zebras were in the bush areas. It was a nice adventure but would have been better without the rain.

We stayed two nights at a bed and breakfast overlooking the Crocodile River below and Kruger National Park across on the other side. The view was outstanding.

On another day trip we saw two male lions resting under a shade tree. From a long distance, there was a leopard also lying under a shade tree. Both lions and leopards are night hunters.

Natalie told us South Africa is losing a lot of its rhinos to poachers and they are now on the endangered list. They are killing the rhinos for their horns. The park is fenced and gated, but the thieves come in by helicopter and just saw the horns off and leave the body.

One night Natalie had planned an outdoor barbecue. The weather wasn’t cooperating so she called her uncle, Paul Nel. We had a wonderful dinner and conversation about South Africa with Paul, Carol and others at dinner in their home. Delmar tried several of Paul’s South Africa drinks. The ladies had Amarula and found it to their liking. The fruit of the marula tree is used to make the Amarula Cream liqueur, and it is similar to the Baileys Irish Cream we have in the United States. I enjoyed red wine with dinner.

Natalie, being the gourmet cook, fixed an outstanding meal of barbecue beef with traditional African side dishes and dessert on her uncle’s indoor grill. We all enjoyed being in a South African home during our trip.

After three days enjoying the national park — we only covered a small portion of its 7,700 square miles — Natalie drove us to Tilodi Game Reserve where we hunted and the ladies went sight sightseeing and shopping.

So far, a great trip. More about the hunting in next week’s article.