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Ngala Safari, South Africa

Total Pictures Taken: 108



Getting There



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.

The Lodge

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 a quick meal).  

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 breakfast.

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 pond.

ng-guide-kristen-dan-600.jpg (130841 bytes) Murray, our guide, took us on private morning and night game drives, and helped to ensure that we had great stay.
View of the Safari Suite from the end of the deck. ng-safari-suite-deck-to-room-pano-1200.jpg (120802 bytes)
ng-safari-suite-deck-dan-zoom-600.jpg (104118 bytes)  Dan hanging out at the end of the Safari Suite deck.
Kristen on the Safari Suite deck. ng-safari-suite-deck-kristen-600.jpg (134787 bytes)
ng-safari-suite-deck-to-room-kristen-zoom-600.jpg (97726 bytes) A view of Kristen in the Safari Suite couch taken from the end of the deck.  The whole living room opened onto the deck. 
View of Safari Suite from across our private pool.  The water was a bit green and cold to actually enjoy, but the concept was cool. ng-safari-suite-pool-to-room-kristen-600.jpg (92254 bytes)
ng-safari-suite-shower-to-pool-600.jpg (76175 bytes) The double shower had glass walls facing the river and the pool. Since there was a big wall dividing the Safari Suite from the rest of the reserve it was still private.  It was like showering in the woods.
On the second night they served us a candlelight dinner in our suite. ng-safari-suite-dinner-1-600.jpg (63098 bytes)
ng-lodge-dining-area-vervet-1-600.jpg (103387 bytes) The lodge dining area was open, and often had visitors, like this vervet monkey.
We are enjoying lunch. ng-safari-lodge-lunch-kristen-dan-600.jpg (113042 bytes)
ng-lodge-security-escort-kristen-600.jpg (70601 bytes) Kristen walking to our suite with the security guard.  Because there are no fences around the lodge, they would not let anyone walk around at night without a security guard escort.
A self-taken picture on a game drive. ng-safari-truck-view-self-1-600.jpg (78333 bytes)
ng-safari-truck-view-river-600.jpg (86311 bytes) Norman, our tracker, navigating us across the Timbavati river.
We saw a number of elephants.  Click here to see a short video of this one spraying himself with water/mud. (be patient - big file, will be streaming video in future) ! ng-safari-elephant-spray-600.jpg (93096 bytes)
ng-safari-leopard-2-zoom-600.jpg (103902 bytes) After tracking this leopard for over an hour, we finally caught up with it. 
The leopard was not too concerned with us -- it went back to lying down in the gully. ng-safari-leopard-5-zoom-600.jpg (124000 bytes)
ng-safari-giraffe-2-600.jpg (133683 bytes) We also saw many giraffe.
A coalition of 5 lions had established their territories in the reserve.  Each had their set of lionesses. ng-safari-lion-2-3-600.jpg (87308 bytes)
ng-safari-lion-1-mate-approach-600.jpg (155287 bytes) The lions were all mating while we were there.  They mate every 20 minutes for 2 days!
ng-safari-lion-3-mating-600.jpg (116810 bytes)

(X-rated -- don't show it to the kids!)

The actual mating lasts 2-3 seconds each time.  This lioness did not even bother to move.

ng-safari-lion-3-5-600.jpg (115046 bytes) After 2-3 seconds of mating, the lion is exhausted.
Just by chance on a night drive, we encountered a 10+ foot python fighting with a civet (~mongoose).  Here the python heads for the trees. ng-safari-python-1-600.jpg (107973 bytes)
The python preferred the safety of the trees. ng-safari-python-7-600.jpg (103441 bytes)
ng-safari-rainbow-right-double-600.jpg (30419 bytes) After an afternoon rain we saw the most amazing rainbow, reaching in a full arc across the whole sky.  Here is just part of it -- can you see the shadow rainbow to the right of the main rainbow?
We witnessed amazing sunsets on the night game drives. ng-safari-sunset-1-600.jpg (44204 bytes)
ng-safari-sunset-1-kristen-dan-600.jpg (66093 bytes) On each night game drive around sunset, we took a drink break during  which they broke out a fully stocked bar for the two of us.
We stopped by a dam at dusk and saw awesome reflections. ng-safari-sunset-2-dusk-dam-600.jpg (51967 bytes)
ng-safari-sunset-2-7-600.jpg (73148 bytes) Wow.
A panoramic version of wow. ng-safari-sunset-2-pano-1-2200.jpg (198379 bytes)

On our drive back to the lodge we saw a civet (a relative of a mongoose) cross the road into some grass.  Upon arriving in the grass, we saw and heard a big tussle, though because of the grass we couldn't tell exactly what was going on.  Until, that is, we saw a huge python rising up out of the grass and climbing into a tree.  Apparently, the civet had stumbled upon the python and a brief struggle ensued.  According to Murray, the fight could have gone either way, so it was out of prudence that the python backed off.  We then watched the python slithering around in the tree for a while.  Murray estimated the python to be about 3.5 meters long (over 10  feet).  Murray tried to talk Norman into helping him to catch it.  Dan, of course, was egging Murray on.  Norman, subscribing to the theory that it is a fine line between bravery and stupidity, declined.  We returned to the lodge without the snake, but pleased with the luck of having seen it at all!

Dinner that night, to our surprise, was served in our suite.  Very romantic!

Our final game drive the next  morning was unsuccessful (and it rained on us the entire time).  We again tried to find rhino, and Norman was close on the heels of one, but we ran out of time and had to return to the lodge to prepare for our departure.  As Murray said, we'll just have to come back to see the rhino! 


Getting There

We flew from Cape Town to Sun City on a 60-person jet that was actually pretty comfortable, even without a business class section.  Then we flew from Sun City to Hoedspruit on the same plane to a tiny but almost 'out-of-place' modern airport.  Our transfer met us at the airport; the airport employees pulled a tractor and baggage bin to the parking lot and the transfers just grabbed their passengers' luggage from the bin.  The airport is a private airport leasing military land, so there were triple super-electrified fences surrounding the whole entrance area.  We had to get through a guard gate to exit.

We were reminded of the condition of Africa's country roads on our one hour drive to the game park -- bumpy, bumpy, bumpy!



Name Contact Info Comment
Ngala Private Game Reserve


(+27 11) 809-4300


Ultimate in luxury game reserves.  If you can spend the money, stay in the Safari Suite..


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