I grew up on a game farm in the Midlands Karoo of the Eastern Cape. My childhood pets, among many others, included several vervet monkey, a fat meerkat named Corrie (which was abducted by a Verreaux’s eagle later on) and also a caracal that always clawed up into our mohair curtains – much to my mother’s dismay.
It was because of my pets, and many other farmey things I guess, that I felt slightly elevated above excitement when I drove to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve with my Karoo farmboy-boyfriend, Louis Steyn, in November 2014.
We were looking forward to the outing, do not be mistaken. But I, at least, thought no one would be able to coach us about the wildlife and game, coming from game farms ourselves.
Turns out, fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong in my anticipation of what our safari weekend would be like. Spending 48 hours in this Karoo landscape, a mere 3 and a half hours from Cape Town, opened my eyes to what ‘safari’ in South African is really like.
Looking back now, it’s no surprise at all that SA has recently been awarded as the Top Safari destination on the entire globe.
For many, including myself before my visit to Sanbona, this award may seem like an international accolade only; an invitation for international visitors to come to South Africa.
It’s not. Safari in SA is not a family drive through the Kruger Park. It is an education, one which all too many South Africans are ignorantly passing up.
Like in all of our parks and conservancies in SA, the wildlife at Sanbona is something to be seen. Words fail to describe the true beauty of coming up close to the majestic animals in their natural habitats. But what differentiates the mere spotting of game from a real safari is experiencing your guides and rangers’ devotion and love for what they do.
David van Zyl, a young man from Vredendal, was our safari guide at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.
Upon meeting David for the first time on our first evening game drive through the 54 000 hectare reserve I didn't think that this West Coast chap could teach me anything on the Karoo and its animals. Surfing, maybe. Not safari.
But no. With every interesting fact David dished up, the peels started falling from my eyes and I could see, for the first time, how international visitors experience a South African safari. The sighting of the animals on the game drives weren't cued, of course. And yet if we spotted the common old Greater Kudu (an animal I know all too well), David was able to tell me something either completely new or completely obscure about this ‘common’ animal.
Did you know, for example, that Kudu are able to eat without restraint from an Acacia Karoo despite it's massive white thorns? It's because of the way the thorns bend downwards when animals pick or strip the foliage from the trees' branches.
None of the animals even feel the thorns when they eat, as the thorns are not a defense mechanism to keep the leaves from being eaten, but rather a burrowing place for ants that live in the tree.
I had the same educational experience when we saw white rhino, and elephant, small sunbirds or even just drove past the mentioned Doringbome (Acacia Karoo trees) or small succulents on the reserve.
David even took us on a hike to see the cheetah matriarch of the reserve and her 3 offspring up close and personal. We literally walked right up to this incredible animal and her young and stood there, in awe, 10 meters from the sleepy cheetahs. This David guy knew what he was doing, and he loved doing it, dearly.
See more photos of the South African safari at Sanbona here
On the first game drive already, I saw that this ‘safari’ would mean much, much more to me and my farmboy boyfriend than it would to the Welsh guy and his newly-wed wife who sat behind us in the specially-built Toyota Land Cruiser viewer, mainly because we had a predilection for the wildlife and the familiar surroundings already.
The only thing I wished for as we sat amid a herd of grazing elephant, or when we saw a (real) zebra crossing, or drank our morning coffee right next to two endangered white lionesses who seemed more at peace than the Dalai Lama himself, was for my parents and family, and my fellow South Africans to experience what all those international visitors come to see in our country.
We think we know what ‘a safari’ is like if we've driven through the Kruger once, but we don’t.
Ziya bona, Sanbona. I see. I see why South Africa is the best safari destination in the world and I sincerely hope more of my fellow countrymen can see it too.