While lions are found in many big safari places, on a recent trip to the Masai Mara in Kenya, I couldn’t believe quite how many lions I saw on one game drive, let alone the full 5 days I spent there!
Never in my ‘safari life’ have I found myself driving past a lion sighting and barely stopping for more than a few minutes – that’s how frequently we saw them! The Mara offers great wildlife viewing all year round with resident prides remaining in their territories throughout the year.
There is a lot of action during the migration season (July to October) when there is so much food around for the lions but my trip was out of season and still fantastic! And, the sightings ranged from large prides, hunting prides, small prides, prides feasting on a kill, lone females, lone males, mating pairs, adolescent cubs to tiny 25-day old cubs! My 5 days there were remarkable.
For some, the tiny cubs were the best sighting of the trip, but in all my years of heading off on safari, I still find the sight of a fully grown male lion, with his think dark mane and huge, staring yellow eyes, one of the most breathtaking sightings to come across. The sheer size and power of him gives me goose bumps and leaves me driving away with the sense of ‘he’ really is the king of the jungle.
So, if lions are your thing, or you just want a fantastic safari experience then the Masai Mara is a hard one to beat!
Many people have seen the famed river crossings of the annual wildebeest migration on programmes such as BBC wildlife and National Geographic, but what you might not know is how long the build up is before an actual crossing happens. It’s quite an amazing thing to witness.
On a recent visit to the Masai Mara I saw this build-up right from the beginning. We were on a game drive when our guide became a little distracted. He was watching what looked like a dust cloud in the distance but on closer inspection we learned this was one of the tail-end migration herds (approx 2000 strong) and they were heading toward a known crossing point (Paradise Crossing).
We arrived at the crossing point a little way ahead of the herds, anticipation growing with every minute. We watched the first animals head to the water’s edge, sniffing the air and water for danger. Looking nervous, they hovered for a while only to retreated up the banks as more of them poured down poured following suit.
This is how it went on for almost an hour, with each new wave of animals increasing our anticipation. ‘All it takes is one’, our guide kept saying. Once the first animal crosses, the masses follow in what can only be described as pandemonium.
We spotted a croc in the middle of the river, with 2 more lying on the opposite bank. Now, I was very nervous, being torn between wanting to see one of the greatest wildlife events on the planet, but also not wanting to see just how brutal the crossings can be.
A few zebra were in the shallows with a tiny baby splashing around, completely oblivious to the eyes just under the surface, coming closer and closer. By now I was literally on the edge of my seat wanting to yell at the baby to run away, but also wishing the crossing would happen! 4 nails bitten and counting….!
Then, a couple of adolescent wildebeest came crashing into the water revealing the crocs position and then next thing we saw was a cloud of dust and mud as the herds bolted back up the banks and away from the river.
No crossing for us today! However, the anticipation, excitement and exhilarating spectacle we’d just watched was one of the best ‘almost’ wildlife experiences I’ve ever had!
Kaingo Camp is the best place to see Hippos in Zambia.
Now, you may find a trip with the hope of seeing hippos to be quite strange since they’re not normally the most sought after animals when you think of a safari.
However, since my recent trip to Zambia, in particular the South Luangwa National Park (SLNP), I have to say the experience has completely changed my perception of these fascinating creatures. Not only does the Luangwa river have one of the highest concentrations of hippo in Africa, so you see them at almost every visit to the river, but Kaingo camp on the river has a dedicated ‘hippo hide’ where you can get extremely close to the animals, making it the best place to see hippos in Zambia. The hide is re-inforced steel and is built into the riverbank at the confluence where the Luangwa and Mwamba Rivers meet. It plays host to hundreds of breeding and bachelor pods, all jostling for space in the receding river.
Hippo Hide – Kaingo Camp
The hide is close to water –level and you’ll find yourself almost face to face with these enormous mammals. To see them this close was a real highlight for me as I’ve only ever seen them from afar, or looking at them down below in a river. Being only a few meters away to them you can see how incredibly large and fearsome they are, the males in particular as they are covered with deep scars and cuts from territorial flights. In my opinion this makes Kaingo camp the best place to see hippo’s in Zambia.
Kaingo Camp Hide – From Shentons Safaris
Hippos can be surprisingly active during the day and they are incredibly loud. They make a variety of noises from grunting, roars and wheezing sounds. I happily spent a number of hours in the hide and could have stayed for a full day!
I have been on a number of guided, self-drive, camping, lodge etc. safaris and I have to say that whilst I love the professionalism of the guides, with all their knowledge that I couldn’t hope to learn, the off-roading and being able to get up close to the wildlife, there is nothing quite like driving yourself through somewhere like the Kruger National Park and coming up on anything from a massive bull elephant in must to a tiny mongoose skitting along the roadside.
The flexibility of planning your own routes, working out which circuits you can squeeze in before the gates close for the evening (strictly at 6pm – season dependent) can be an exciting part of the whole holiday. My husband and I have had a number of holidays in the Kruger, from early childhood family holidays to just ourselves, and the main argument we have now is whereabouts to stay, the north or the south (Ryan wanting the south and me the north). The south is the busiest part of the park in terms of vehicles but it does have a fantastic concentration of the big cats. The north however is much quieter and more remote but there are less big cats, or rather, they are well hidden on the Mopani forests! In recent years we have done both to avoid arguments but once we’re in the vehicle with our ‘eagle eyes’ ready, it doesn’t seem to matter.
Ryan can be quite the drill sergeant when in Kruger. We are always the first vehicle waiting to get out of the gate, heaven forbid we get out second!!! And our lunch stops and waterhole viewings are timed precisely to maximise game viewing hours. While most people return to their chalets during the heat of the day for a leisurely lunch or time to chill on the veranda with a book, we are out driving in the boiling car (without aircon because the window MUST be down to ensure maximum clarity in being able to see), even though all the animals are probably asleep in the shade or hiding in the deepest bush. But the funny thing is, I wouldn’t change it one little bit. The main reason being is the excitement of what might be around the next corner and the feeling that if you’re indoors you are likely to miss out on some spectacular sighting, and that keeps us out trawling the bush from dawn til dusk.
The evenings are then always the same, sitting around the BBQ (braai) with an inappropriate amount of meat cooking, a few beers and chatting about what we’ve seen followed by the dreaded plan of the next day! Bliss!
Self driving safaris are not for everybody. Some people go on holiday to be pampered and looked after and the thought having to pack everything but the kitchen sink, plans meals, cook for yourself etc is not everybody’s idea of fun. But if you’re looking for and exciting adventure mixed with bringing some household chores with you then have a go! I am sure you won’t regret it!