South Africa: Unforgettable Moments in the Wild

My recent safari to South Africa was filled with unexpected surprises and adventure! Although privileged enough to view some of Africa’s most notorious animals and savor the amazing hospitality of this ‘World in One Country’ over my years of working as Frontiers’ Africa Department Manager, I never tire of getting to immerse myself in nature and observe the amazing array of wildlife. One of my favorite parts of being on safari is hearing the roar of lions calling off in the distance—and there’s no better time or place to experience this than spending the night in an authentic, under-canvas accommodation.

Unlike its next-door neighbor Botswana, South Africa has only a few stand-out tented camp options. When our friends at andBeyond invited me to visit some of the amazing properties in their portfolio, I was delighted to see that Ngala Tented Camp was on the itinerary.

The chic and contemporary Ngala Tented Camp is in andBeyond’s Ngala Private Game Reserve and shares an unfenced boundary with world-renowned Kruger National Park and Timbavati Game Reserve, offering beautiful views of the Timbavati River. Boasting nine intimate tented units, Ngala Tented Camp has all the comforts of home, raised platforms with spacious en suite accommodations featuring air conditioning and heat, a luxurious long bathtub, outdoor shower, private deck, a contoured lap pool, and even a massage sala overlooking the river.

With the name Ngala meaning “lion” in the local Shangaan language, Ngala Private Game Reserve lives up to its promise and boasts several large prides of these gorgeous, powerful cats. Ngala Tented Camp has traversing rights to over 36,000 acres of game-rich wilderness, and they share it solely with their sister property, Ngala Safari Lodge. This exclusive game viewing rite awards an honored few the extreme pleasure of trying to spot one of the only three white lion cubs living freely in the wild today. Ngala boasts not just one, but two of these three free-roaming, wild white lion cubs on their extraordinary reserve.

Prior to my trip, I could merely dream of seeing one of these extremely rare white lion cubs! Some safari guides with nearly three decades of quality guiding, who grew up in the area, have never witnessed this magical sight in the wild. The first white lion cub was born in Ngala Private Game Reserve in March 2018, and the other was just born in June 2019. White Lions are not albinos, but rather leucistic, which means that a recessive gene mutation actually makes their fur white, while their skin and eyes retain their natural pigment. This genetic rarity among lions is endemic to this one region on the globe: the Greater Timbavati/Kruger Park Region, where Ngala Tented Camp resides. The reason why white lions are so incredibly rare is because the mating female and the male must both possess the recessive gene in order to produce a white lion cub. The likelihood of both lions having this gene is extremely uncommon, which is why these pale-colored lions are so special.

After spending part of our afternoon game drive searching high and low for this rare gem, we were finally able to put eyes on a remarkable snow-white cub with mischievous hazel eyes. Ngala doesn’t actually name each lion, but each pride receives a name, and this precious little guy was born to the Birmingham pride. I watched this feisty year-old cub playfully interact with his mother and siblings for over an hour as the South African sun set radiantly in the background. With further observation, I noticed that this adorable white cub was actually a little larger and spunkier than his brothers. We’re hoping that his size and energy level serve him well, as white lions are gravely in need of protection, especially during this time of rebuilding their population in their endemic habitat. Viewing one of the famous white lions of Timbavati is truly a day that I will never forget—ranking right up there with viewing the elusive pangolin which I encountered on my last trip to South Africa!

Later that afternoon, I was lounging by the lap pool and taking in the beauty of the area. I found myself greeted by the trunk of a soundlessly gentle giant coming for a cool drink about 18 feet from my toes. The elephant bull gazed at me; I stared back at him. He continued to drink from the pool, and I barely took a breath as I carefully reached for my camera to discreetly take advantage of this photo op! While I thoroughly relished my time at Ngala, I was also anticipating the next destination on my itinerary.

 

My next visit was to Phinda Private Game Reserve, which is another area not to miss during your trip to South Africa. With its seven distinct habitats, Phinda is often described as ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder.’

andBeyond’s Phinda Zuka Lodge.

The Reserve provides a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland, and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, rivers, marshes, and pans. It also is home to 2,470 acres of Africa’s remaining rare dry sand forest, and the reserve is in close proximity to the unspoiled beaches and spectacular coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. Guests at Phinda can experience unforgettable interpretative game drives in open 4×4 safari vehicles led by professionally trained andBeyond rangers and local Zulu trackers, as well as a wide range of optional adventure activities in the bush and on the beach.

Phinda is home to six magnificent lodges, each with its own individual charm and character. These properties include Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge, Forest Lodge, Vlei Lodge, Zuka Lodge, and Phinda Homestead. Although my time at Phinda was brief, I strongly recommend planning a visit to participate in their rhino tracking program, focused on collaring rhinos to monitor and protect them from poachers. The program is designed for a small group of eight alongside an expert ranger and renowned conservationists!

The piece de resistance of our journey was arriving at the recently opened Tengile River Lodge! You definitely don’t want to miss this new andBeyond property, located in the world-renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Greater Kruger.

Kathy Schulz with Tengile River Lodge Manager, Brendan Streak.

Designed by safari architect Nicholas Plewman, Tengile River Lodge holds bragging rights for the largest accommodations in the reserve, with the smallest room measuring a noteworthy 2,150 square feet. In contrast to a standard safari room, Tengile’s nine audacious suites are perched on stilts that provide the appearance of floating above the Sand River below. The expansive interiors offer guests an oasis of tranquility (Tengile means “tranquil” in the local Tsonga language). Each secluded, private suite has its own unique river view and spacious deck complete with swimming pool and outdoor shower, and each is also thoughtfully decorated with culturally relevant pieces created by talented South African designers.

On our first evening game drive at Tengile River Lodge, we had the privilege of viewing a 2-year-old female leopard named Tengile. Incidentally, the lodge’s location is famed for its intimate wildlife encounters and exceptional leopard sightings. Born on a kopje next to the lodge as it was being built, Tengile is the lodge’s namesake. As we followed this exquisite, rather relaxed leopard, she soon came upon a male leopard that really caught her eye. At the young age of two, she and the male began their fascinating mating ritual which, when averaged out, has them copulating every 15 minutes for up to five days. The next morning, we also had the pleasure of viewing not one, but three leopards lounging in adjacent trees at the same time. It turned out that one of them was our girl, Tengile, and she was still trying to entice the male to perform an amazing balancing act right there on the tree limb!

After spending an exhilarating action-packed week in the bush at these three ‘not to miss’ locations—Ngala, Phinda, and Tengile—I was clearly reminded that no two days on safari are ever the same! You never know what you will encounter in the private reserves of South Africa, but you can always count on Frontiers and our friends at andBeyond to meet or exceed your every expectation!

Some photos courtesy of andBeyond.

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