I’ll be the first to admit I’m not really an outdoors guy. Don’t get me wrong I love spending time in nature, but I also like having the comfort and amenities of home or a nice hotel available to me. Our African safari was the perfect combination of time in nature and home-like amenities for me. I don’t know if I have ever been more excited for a three day trip in my life! We visited South Africa during their winter season, so grasses were lower, the vegetation was lighter, so we had a great chance of seeing more animals.
Destination: Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is situated on the North Eastern side of South Africa bordering Mozambique. It is one of the premier safari destinations in Africa and in the world due to its rich habitat and abundance of different animals. It encompasses an area that is almost 1000 square miles larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined! Because it is so large there are a few airports that serve the park, but we flew into Hoedspruit, an air force base that was partially converted into a civilian airstrip. With only 2 flights daily from Johannesburg and 3 weekly flights from Cape Town, this is a fairly difficult place to get to. &Beyond Ngala has their own private airstrip, but we didn’t find that out until we got there.
&Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge
It was love at first sight when we arrived. Each “room” is a small cabin with a porch, outdoor shower area, living area, and large bathroom. One of the things we loved most was there was no TV. This allowed us to be more present and appreciate the beauty that was all around us. There are no fences around &Beyond, so we were greeted by warthogs outside our patio a few times! After the sun goes down you have a security guard guide you from the dining area to your room to make sure there are no creatures along the way. We saw baboons, honey badger, and bush babies on our night walks on the lodge grounds.
&Beyond Ngala’s Staff
The staff at the &beyond safari lodge was more than friendly. In the 3 and a half short days we were there we developed a bond and it was actually really sad when we left because we had made new friends with these people! Each room is assigned a butler that looks after your dining needs and a guide for your bush drives. Marcus was our butler and he went above and beyond every day. On one of our evening game drives he even set up a candle lit snack stop under the stars!
Our safari guide was Jenni. She was funny, informative, and really passionate about the animals and making sure we saw everything we hoped to. I don’t think we could have asked for a better experience as we basically had Jenni all to ourselves! Some of the safari vehicles were completely full, but for us there was just one other couple meaning we got better pictures and our safari was more tailored to what we wanted to do and see.
Being in the Bush
We had no expectations on what we would see going into our safari, but even if we had high expectations, they would have been shattered. On our first afternoon game drive we were able to see 4 of the “Big 5”- we saw leopard, lion, buffalo, and elephant all within a couple hours of arriving at &Beyond Ngala. The only one we missed was the rhino, which we saw pretty early the next morning! If you have never been on a safari, or even if you have &Beyond Ngala is an amazing place because the difference in terrain that the property covers. The other couple that was with us were guides at another local camp and they said Ngala is by far the best game reserve in South Africa.
If you’ve been following me on instagram you are probably sick of all of my animal pictures, but for those of you who aren’t following me here are some of my favorites! Oh and why aren’t you following me yet head over to instagram right now and hit that follow button!
Safari Day 1: Almost the whole Big 5
Some highlights from day 1 included a small elephant family eating, and a missive elephant bull with some serious tusks. We saw a leopard keeping his eye on a herd of impala. And some sleepy male lions.
Safari Day 2: Happy Hour at the Waterhole
Day 2 was probably the highlight of the entire trip to South Africa. We saw giraffe having a bite to eat at sunrise. We got to see a baby baboon that was all ears, A mother rhino with her baby, but the most amazing part was happy hour at the waterhole. On our way back to camp for breakfast we stopped at the waterhole nearest to camp and there was close to 100 elephant!
Drinking, playing, a little fighting it was possibly the most amazing sight I have ever seen. We got up close and personal with a cape buffalo that afternoon and were lucky enough to see 3 hyena pups, which may be the cutest animal babies ever.
Safari Day 3: Big Cats
Our third day had the theme of big cats! We started our morning following a group of impala alerting towards the treeline. There we found the same leopard we saw the first afternoon. After following him for a bit we heard some excitement over the radio that three cheetah (rare for the area) were near the waterhole we saw all of the elephants at the day before, so quickly we headed that way. The three brothers crossed into a valley our trucks couldn’t follow, so we helped guide other trucks to them once they reached the other side.
Oddly enough we didn’t see any zebra until the third day, but we saw plenty that afternoon. We were able to catch another happy hour of giraffe and elephants at a different waterhole before ending our amazing safari experience with a pride of lions and not only seeing, but feeling the raw power of a male lions roar!
Our South African Safari Experience
We found ourselves constantly smiling the entire trip. Seeing how beautiful all of the animals were and how comfortable they were sharing the land with us was amazing. By the end of the trip we already decided that we NEED to come back. The lodge was fantastic, the staff ended up feeling like close friends by the end of the trip, the food was so freaking good – there is no way you will be hungry if you visit &Beyond Ngala, and the amount and variety of wildlife was just so inspiring. I think it was during the second day’s afternoon game drive I realized that I was unhappy with my current work situation and that I needed it to change. I put in my two weeks notice the week i returned. If you have always wanted to do a safari, then I can’t recommend &Beyond Ngala enough, you will not regret it.
During this trip I also took a ton of video. Make sure you’re subscribed to my YouTube channel because that will be dropping this weekend! Sign up for the Passports to Life newsletter so you never miss any of the travel tips, tricks and inspiration. Like my facebook page and follow me on instagram to see more as it happens! Thank you to all my readers and I hope this inspires you to cross things off your bucket list!