We spent only two days in Ngala Private Game Reserve in
northeast South Africa. Since we had already been on
safari in Tanzania (Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, & Serengeti), we just wanted
to get a sense of a different safari. Wow, what a difference! The
other safari was luxurious, especially because it was all A&K led,
but Ngala is the next step in luxury. All of our game drives were private
with a guide and tracker, the Land Rovers are open air, the roads are
nicer, our accommodations were absolutely top notch luxury, and the
personalized service was over the top. Since this safari was also
'off-season' the game were not prevalent, but the sightings seemed more
personalized because we never saw another truck and the driver would
move exactly where we wanted for a picture.
Since we had put this portion of the trip together
in less than a week through a very nice travel agent in Cape Town, we were not
sure exactly what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised.
When we arrived at the lodge from the airport
around 3PM, Roberta welcomed us at the entrance by name, shook our
hands, and then a gentleman brought a tray of moistened towels to
'freshen up'. Roberta gave us fresh iced tea at the desk as she explained
that they had had to close up lunch (we were late) but that she had set
aside a special lunch for us if we wanted it. She said we could
relax in our rooms, or eat now, or whatever we wanted. If we were
up for it, they had planned a 4PM game drive for us.
She explained that the lodge holds a maximum of 40
guests (with a constant service staff level of 75). She was careful to
explain that we were not allowed to walk outside our rooms unescorted after
dark because there were no fences around the lodge so the game often
passed through the lodge area -- security guards escort us
whenever/wherever we want.
As we walked towards the main eating area, we
realized we could not see any lodging areas. We walked past the
eating area down a path that had a sign saying 'Safari Suite -
private'. It looked like a small hotel. It was our
room -- the only luxury cottage on the property! We walked
in and there was a personal note on the table welcoming us. The main
room opened up completely (full wall windows/screens slid into the walls)
to a wrap-around deck overlooking the river. We stepped down to
the huge bedroom, also opening to the deck. The master bathroom was huge
with an outside glassed in double shower. We wondered how that
could be private, until we looked out the shower window across the large
pool and realized that our suite was cordoned off from the rest of the
lodge by a huge wall, and the pool was our own private pool! What
a place! We could have our laundry done daily (included). It was
far nicer than we could imagine for a game lodge.
We had a fully stocked mini bar and working phone.
At our first dinner, as we walked into the lounge
area Lundy, the 'hospitality coordinator' said hello (knowing our names,
of course) and offered us a drink from the fully stocked bar and the wine
list that is supposedly the second best in the country. As we sat
down for dinner, the head waiter waited on us, the head cook stopped by to
introduce herself, and Roberta stopped by to make sure everything was to
our liking. As our friend Tonya would say: this was 'top coddling' -- but
Tonya, this was the best!
The Game Drives
We met our personal guide, Murray (looked like the
blonde NSync singer), at afternoon tea -- there was a great assortment
of cake/cookies/drinks. He explained about Ngala...
The Ngala Game Reserve was created when, in
1992, a wealthy land owner donated15,000 hectares (38K acres),
bordering Kruger National Park, to the South African National Parks
Trust. The Trust oversees Kruger, as well as other parks in South
Africa. Conservation Corporation Africa (CCAfrica) leases tourism operations
from the Trust. CCAfrica manages the lodge and has exclusive traversing
rights to the land within Ngala Game Reserve. Ngala is officially part of
Kruger National Park and the land and roads are maintained by Kruger, but it is recognized and rated as as separate
reserve. Ngala has a max of 9 trucks from the lodge doing
game drives at any time. There are no fences between Ngala and
Kruger, so animals come and go as they please.
We realized this was going to be a different
experience from our previous safaris when Murray said
that all the trucks go a different direction from the lodge but keep in
contact via radio when they see interesting game. When we first got to the
land rover, Murray put three shells into the
huge rifle he kept attached to the dashboard. Since the land rover was
open air, he had to be prepared in case a predator attacked.
Norman, our tracker, took his position in a special seat on the left
front top of the hood. When we got close to lions, Norman would
move to the front seat in the land rover so that he was not seen as a threat (or
Recently, a 5 lion coalition entered Ngala and have
"agreed" to divide up the
territory. This is good, because it will result in stability in
the lion population (for as long as the coalition holds). It is
unlikely that another lion will come into the territory and challenge
all 5 of the coalition lions. When a lion enters a new territory
he will typically kill all the cubs to end the previous lion's blood line. Then
he will mate with the lionesses to build his own blood line. The lions and lionesses here were all larger than
we had seen before.
The first lion we saw was with 3 lionesses, two of
which were pregnant. The lion was mating with the 3rd -- we waited 20
minutes for the great X- rated picture, but missed it because we did not
know it only took 2 seconds, literally. They mate every 20 minutes
for 2 days, but only for 2-3 seconds duration! We did run into
some other mating lions/lionesses later so we did get pictures:).
We saw a huge bull elephant, and even though he was in his
aggressive period of the month, Murray drove across the grass to
within 10 feet of the elephant when Dan said that we had not yet gotten a close up
of an elephant from the front.
On our morning game drive the next day we left at
5:45 am. We saw a great sunrise, then began tracking rhinos.
As Murray explained to us, they have to work harder to see game at Ngala
(than at Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater) because the brush is more dense
and there are fewer animals. What this meant is that Murray and
Norman would look for fresh tracks for whichever animal we wanted to
see, then they would follow the tracks either from the truck or on foot
to locate the animals. We quickly found some rhino tracks, and
Norman left on foot to follow them. We continued on in the Land
Rover with Murray, who kept in radio contact with Norman. We found
a male lion with 2 lionesses (different from the ones we saw yesterday)
and arrived just in time to see the lion and one of the lionesses
mate. We noted that the lion bites the lioness on the neck and
growls as they mate. Unfortunately, we had camera issues (it
locked up for some reason) and again missed the photo op. Since
Norman was still tracking the rhinos, and we had nowhere else to be, we
decided to wait the 20 minutes until the next mating to see if we could
capture it with a picture and a sound recording. 20 minutes later,
like clockwork, they mated again. Interestingly, the lioness, who
was laying on her side the whole time, never moved, before, during, or
after the mating!!
After the mating, we went to meet Norman, who had
located the bull rhino he was tracking. Unfortunately, the rhino
was on the move, marking his territory, and had disappeared again by the
time we met up with Norman. We tracked the rhino again for a while
with no success and eventually gave up and returned to the lodge for
Following breakfast, we "relaxed" in our
suite until our afternoon game drive at 4:00pm. Ok, yes, that
means we napped. The goal of our afternoon drive was to find
leopard. Success! Norman located a male leopard and we spent
some time watching him. Norman had seen a carcass the leopard
had hidden in a tree, but we did not get to see it. The leopard
moved several times but all within the vicinity of the trucks.
We then went in search of hippos (out of
water). While we were too late to see the hippos leaving the water
to begin their nightly foraging, we did see an amazing sunset and
watched the stars come out while enjoying drinks on a dam by a large
Murray, our guide, took us on private morning and night
game drives, and helped to ensure that we had great stay.