The highlight of Kariega Game Reserve, as you might imagine, is the wildlife. The lodges and facilities blew us away, but you don’t go to a private game reserve to sit around in a luxurious suite all day. Given our somewhat strange obsession with animals, there’s really no better use of 3-4 hours than to drive around looking for wildlife. During our two-night stay at Kariega, we had the opportunity to go on three game drives, two in the evening and one in the morning. The drives are in an open-top Land Cruiser with three rows of two seats each (depending on which lodge you’re staying at, some of the vehicles may have three seats to a row). Each row had a compartment between the two seats with water bottles, binoculars, and blankets for when it got cold in the evening. All of the guides at Kariega are extremely knowledgeable and are experts at tracking down some of the more elusive animals. Each one of our drives was an entirely different experience, but each one was memorable in its own way. Here’s what we saw…
We saw our first giraffe before we even arrived at at our suite. Giraffes are plentiful in Kariega and we frequently found ourselves surrounded by groups of ten or more while on our drives. For the first few giraffe sightings, our guide stopped for a while to let us soak it all in and get dozens of photos, but it wasn’t long before they just started to feel like part of the scenery. Despite being so ubiquitous, giraffes quickly solidified their position as one of our favorite animals in the reserve. They’re incredible creatures. One of the guides said that if they had elephant skin then you couldn’t distinguish them from dinosaurs…a bizarre image, but oddly accurate.
One of the advantages of being in a private game reserve like Kariega is the ability to go off road and view the animals up close. During our third and final game drive, we came across a group of elephants and got so close that we were basically part of the herd. This is when we discovered our love for baby elephants.
Just when we thought nothing could be better than a baby elephant, we came across a baby rhino…
The story of the rhinos in Kariega, and throughout the African continent for that matter, is actually extremely sad. In 2012 one cow and two bull rhino’s were poached for their valuable horns and only one of the rhinos survived the serious injuries that were sustained. The rangers nicknamed the survivor Thandi, a Xhosa names meaning courage.
Close Encounter with Lions
By far the most memorable moment of our safaris came during the evening portion of our final game drive. Our attempts to track down lions had so far come up empty and we were starting to think that a lion sighting just wasn’t in the cards for us. As our drive was coming to an end, our guide received a tip regarding the location of the three lionesses, and it didn’t take long before they came into view. They were laying in the grass just off the side of the road and we parked the vehicle maybe ten yards in front of them. At this point we couldn’t believe how close we were. Less than a minute later, one of the lionesses stood up, stretched, and looked in our direction. Our guide looked back at us and said, “Ok guys, if she walks towards us, everyone stay completely still and don’t make any noise.” Right on cue, she started walking towards us and passed directly next to the left side of the vehicle. The whole scene felt like it was happening in slow motion. There are no roofs or windows on the safari vehicles, so there was nothing but a few feet of cold air between us and this massive carnivore. Our hearts were beating out of our chests, but quite frankly we were just happy that they were still beating at all. From what we learned, lions view the vehicle as a single entity rather than a container full of individual human-shaped snacks. As long as no one stands up or reaches out of the vehicle, they will never attack. While this certainly seems to be true, it didn’t make the encounter any less terrifying. Amazing…but terrifying. After the lions had walked past us, we followed them for a few more minutes as they walked down the dark dirt road before eventually disappearing into the bush.
We saw a wide variety of animals over the course of our drives, including 4 of the “Big 5” (rhino, elephant, buffalo, and lion). There are leopards in Kariega but they’re rarely spotted…well I guess they’re always spotted…shall we say they’re rarely observed. Impala and warthogs were everywhere and we saw our fair share of zebra, kudu, wildebeest, vervet monkeys, baboons, ostrich, nyala, bushbuck, and even a hippo poking it’s nose out of the water.
If you go on a safari and you don’t eat termites, did you really go on a safari? They taste like oregano. Way more flavor than we were expecting.
The sundowner is basically like happy hour in the bush. At the end of both of our evening game drives, our guide found a scenic, lion-free area to pull over so we could enjoy some cold beverages and snacks with amazing views of the sunset.
The game drives at Kariega were amazing. While we managed to see just about everything we were hoping to see over the course of three drives, we would still recommend staying long enough for at least 4 drives. Trust us, it’s impossible to get bored of driving through a beautiful landscape in search of exotic wildlife.