We just had to stay at the Addo Dung Beetle Guest Farm. With a name like that and being a stone’s throw away from the Addo Elephant National Park it really was a no brainer. Much of South Africa’s national park accommodation is rather uninspiring and basic, but Dung Beetle Guest Farm just outside Addo offers not only charm and rustic luxury in abundance but also their very own 240ha safari reserve where you can come and go as you please! Genius!
The farm is nestled on it’s own mountainside, overlooking the St Sundays River Valley and the Zuuberg Mountains. Driving along the dusty tracks through fields of lemon trees en-route to the farm it’s evident this is the province’s premier citrus producing area. Sleepy and secluded, it’s the perfect place to hide away for a few days, emerging only for a few doses of safari adventure to keep you busy.
Owners Rod and Magna welcomed us with open arms after our 4 hours drive from Hermanus, and proceeded to continually go out of their way to ensure our stay was perfect. They upgraded us to the elegant honeymoon suite (we do get used to this happening to us!) complete with open air shower and balcony overlooking the lush gardens and river valley.
The furniture was all hand-made from local wood, and I loved the fact the chandeliers were made out of ‘Sneeze Wood’, what a name! Even the lampshades had a bit of local magic, being made out of porcupine quills.
We went to stretch our legs in the onsite safari reserve which is always open for guests to roam about by themselves. How cool?! It was so much fun doing our own little foot safari, trying to spot the zebras, springbok and kudu and wondering if we were being watched from the bushes. No doubt the animals could hear us coming a mile off, and the best sighting I had was of a nyala right outside our bedroom which was next to the reserve fence. Since our visit they have built 3 little rustic self-catering bush cabins hidden away in the reserve, which look really fun with their open bathrooms and braais for bushveld cooking. Maybe next time.
Feeling tired and hungry, Rod and Magna plied us with sundowners, hors d’ouevres and baileys on the lapa veranda before serving up a delicious braai dinner cooked in their open stone oven. We sat by the roaring fire (it was a little chilly in November) and tucked into our first kudu steak. I’m hooked! The pumpkin muffins, cauliflower and broccoli salad, potato gratin, cheese and mushroom sauce, toasted tomatoes, strawberry cheesecake and hot chocolate weren’t too shabby either! Delicious. A bottle of Shiraz later (we’re drinking so much wine on this trip, at least a bottle between us a day!) and we heaved our full bellies back to our chalet, serenaded by 100s of croaking frogs from the pond.
After stumbling in the bathroom (surely the fault of the mood lighting rather than my balance) and now sporting a leg all shades of purple, I was all for crashing in bed, but to my horror (and hubbie’s delight), we discovered we had a bat doing loop-the-loops around the rafters. I huddled under the sheets to avoid low-flying excrement whilst hubbie grabbed the camera, though the wee beastie proved too agile to be captured, either on camera or in person.
The night was wild and windy, so when hubbie announced he was off to explore the game reserve at 6am the next morning, I kicked him out of bed. He was going by himself, the bed was just too comfy and warm. My laziness resulted in me missing a zebra and several monkeys, but luckily over the next few days I managed to see more than my fair share.
Rod does private game drives with his guests but is so popular that he needs booking well in advance, and not realising this prior to our visit we missed out. However, every cloud and all that…we booked another local guide, Sorita Spies, who was just superb! She runs her own company Ellie Tours and knows the area like the back of her hand. Softly spoken and one of the most enthusiastic people we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Sorita went above and beyond to ensure our sightings and experiences were everything we could have wishes for. First stop of the day was a morning drive through Addo.
Addo Elephant Park
You of course can’t do the Garden Route without stopping at Addo to look at the elephants! The park, which is the third largest national park in South Africa, was less open than I’d expected, making seeing the animals in amongst the bushes a bit more of a challenge, but all the more rewarding for it. Sorita immediately bypassed the main tourist spots in favour of much better viewing places a bit more off the beaten track. Insider knowledge is everything and I have to say had we done Addo as a self drive by ourselves we’d have missed most of it, as well as not being able to see over the high thicket hedges. Being on a proper safari vehicle certainly had the advantage of height.
With over 600 elephants living here, we lost count of the number of these gentle giants we encountered, but one of my favourite parts was getting out of the vehicle at the hide where we saw buffalo, as well as a tortoise and a warthog enjoying a companionable drink…
And then an elephant family came trundling by, with a baby the guide said was just 3 days old. Still very unsteady on her feet, she was having her first lesson in using her trunk to drink, something which would take some time to master. All together now…Ahhhh.
We also managed to see kudu and a jackal, the latter being quite a rare sighting during the day. But we were here for the eles…
Schotia Private Game Reserve
After a productive morning at Addo, Sorita took us on the ‘tooth and claw’ game drive at Schotia. Since I’d never been on safari before, we decided as well as the obligatory Addo, we’d also go to Schotia Private Game Reserve which although wasn’t the ‘real’ thing in terms of a wild experience, we were pretty much guaranteed sightings and therefore wouldn’t be so frustrated if the wildlife on our later visit to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park proved a little elusive.
I was concerned that Schotia would feel a little contrived but I have to say the day was brilliant, especially for a safari virgin like me. Each open-topped vehicle drove off in a different direction to give each other a bit of space, but the guides, who were extremely knowledgeable, kept in radio contact so any important animal sightings could be shared by everyone. Yes, everything felt a little too well managed, but it is after all a private reserve, and the benefits are that you more or less see everything, including lion. A great place to get those all important photos.
Less than five minutes into the trip we spotted our first lions, sunning themselves unconcernedly under a tree by the track. I found it quite amazing that we could be mere feet away from these beasts in a totally open vehicle without fear of attack. Apparently, as all hardened safari-types will know, so long as you stay on the truck you’re fine, the lions just see you as part of the vehicle. It’s only by stepping onto the ground that you’ll be inviting them to dinner.
It was Spring, and new life was flourishing everywhere. Just as we were rounding a corner I happened to see something rather special out of the corner of my eye. A baby impala falling to the ground as it’s mother finished birthing. I screeched at the guide to stop and we all gawped in awe at this most natural of spectacles, and willed the new-born to succeed in his struggle to stand up on the wobbly little legs. The mother quickly began cleaning the infant so as not to attract the lions which were less than half a mile away, and as we left them to it the tiny impala was already tottering about on his feet. Remarkable. And yes, I felt rather proud of my eagle-eyes for the rest of the day.
We had an interesting encounter with a couple of rhino who were rather inquisitive types.
After an afternoon trundling through the open bush from sighting to sighting, we ended the day with a really tasty and atmospheric dinner in the middle of the reserve, swapping stories with other travellers surrounded by candles and open fires, and protected from the prowling lions by the lapa. It was the first time I tried roast warthog, which unsurprisingly tastes rather like pork.
The drive back to the exit gate in the dark was a little scary. The lions were out hunting and two males came right by our vehicles. We couldn’t see a thing, except the eyes burning bright in the blackness as they watched us! The wind had picked up and wrapped in blankets we huddled nervously, for the first time wishing we weren’t sitting at the front out in the open. Still, we made it back in one piece, and were so glad we’d decided to give Schotia a shot. Brilliant day.
Lion, white rhino, crocodile, hippo, lion, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, mongoose, lion, monkeys, blesbuck, bushbuck, lion, gemsbok, kudu, hartebeest, springbok, impala, warthog and LION!!!!!