The Landy and the Rhino
There are certain lines from films that stick in your head forever and one for me is Meryl Streep’s “I had a farm in Africa” at the start of Out of Africa. So how lucky are we to have friends that indeed have a farm in Africa, a game farm on the Mziki Nature Reserve.
Before heading there though, we had a guided day tour of Johannesburg. Gauteng may be a relatively small South African province but it can not only boast having one of the country’s capital cities (Pretoria) within its borders, but also its largest city Johannesburg.
Jozi or Jo’Burg, as it is affectionately known by Johannesburg’s residents, has a population in excess of 4m and is ‘on the up’ after years of decline. Although downtown Jozi was abandoned by big business for new builds in the affluent Sandton area, regeneration and new developments are beginning to flower. The bulk of our time was spent in the magnificent Apartheid Museum. Whilst the dissolution of apartheid is sufficiently recent for us to have followed it in the UK news, the museum provides the context, detail and explanations that shine a light on this pivotal time for South Africa. This was followed by a visit to Soweto, including one of Nelson Mandela’s former homes. Although informative it was sadly marred by the prevalence of beggars on the streets, some of whom were clearly under the influence of drugs. Having said that, we never felt threatened or in danger there.
So our arrival at the nature reserve was a breath of fresh air, both figuratively and literally. Clean air indeed but also moving away from what history will recall as a less than palatable chapter of human behaviour, to one of good husbandry for the benefit of humans and animals alike.
Our game drives were taken on a trusty ‘Landy‘, always good to have the trusted and reliable Land Rover providing the basis for a vehicle sporting elevated bench seats. Rutted tracks provided the occasional ‘bottom massage’ but the warmth, plus blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, made it easy to ignore such trivialities and fall instantly in love with such a beautiful landscape. Be wary though, the vegetation sometimes intruded on to the tracks and despite our skilled drivers best efforts, the odd branch whipped slightly inside the Landy. I wasn’t as wary as I should have been and, although I avoided the lethal looking thorn bushes, my lack of ‘well timed leaning towards the middle of the bench’ was rewarded with a branch smacking me solidly on the head. No harm done, I was grateful for having a thick skull (yes I got in before anyone else said it).
Over our three drives we were blessed with many animal sightings. The giraffes, first spotted by long legs and knobbly knees poking out from the bottom of the bush, contentedly munching on the topmost juicy leaves. Wonderfully camouflaged, with black tongues flicking out (too fast for me to photograph) to pull off the juiciest morsels. A large herd of zebras frolicked in the sunshine, strangely out of place with their sharply defined black and white stripes against a backdrop of greens and browns. We adored their behaviour with two pressed flank to flank, seemingly so deeply in love they could never bare be parted, whilst close by a young zebra suckled on its mother. Wildebeest and zebra are known as complimentary feeders and are often seen in close proximity, but aesthetically couldn’t be more different. Although the wildebeest has been described as being constructed from the ‘bits left over after the other animals were finished’, there is some grace to the way they run (especially when they run in numbers). Then there was the waterbuck, all graceful lines and fluid movement, but seemingly the animal that ignored the ‘wet paint’ sign when they were decorating the bathroom and now have a white toilet seat shaped mark on their bottom.
Catching up with some white rhino was a double adrenaline rush. Initially, just the thrill of seeing them at close quarters. They chewed at the grass, viewed our presence with some suspicion and stubbornly blocked our path to move forward on the track (who was going to argue with them). Later, they’d clearly tired of our gawking and as we made our way off on a parallel track, one of the males cut through the bush and charged after us. Just to make sure we didn’t come back! It was a little sad to see them with their horns cut off, but if it makes them of no interest to ivory poachers and saves their lives, so be it.
Now the expression ‘cheeky monkey’ is well deserved by the vervet monkeys, always looking for an opportunity to score a free lunch, even if it means raiding the bird feeder. They were no respecter of my beauty sleep either, scrambling across our bedroom roof at 5am, looking for something to pilfer before anyone was about – you gotta love them though. There were so many more that deserve a mention but the final one must go to the red-billed hornbill. Perhaps not the prettiest of birds and seemingly comical when I add Rowan Atkinson’s voice like the bird in the circle of life, but when it glides from tree to tree we could only marvel at its grace and markings.
So our virgin safari experience was unreservedly a great success and it’s with huge thanks to our excellent hosts that we head to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls.
Note: Whilst this particular experience isn’t available to book, The Miziki Lodge is open to the public and operates on the same reserve. We have no experience of its accommodation or guides/game drives.