PART ONE…. INGWELALA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
It is funny how things work out. When I first entered ‘Photo Safari in South Africa’ on my Bucket List I had no idea how this was going to happen… and then it did.
In 2015 I was working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on the cruise ship Island Princess where I met Liza Parker and we quickly became friends. Liza was the spa manager on the ship and my boss.
Like virtually all of the spa staff she was in her twenty’s and beginning her career and her life. Everyone but me that is, I’m in my sixties and closer to the end of my career then I am the beginning.
During the summer of 2015 we were making weekly cruises to Alaska and the Inside Passage. At one point Liza told me her parents were coming on board and fulfilling one of there bucket list items of cruising to Alaska.
When they arrived Liza introduced me and I quickly became friends with her parents Greg and Gillian. Greg and I clicked immediately as he was also an avid photographer. Before leaving Greg invited me to come to his home in South Africa and vowed to take me on a photo safari.
It took some time due to unforeseen circumstances. I contacted Greg in 2018 at the beginning of the year and said, “I’m coming and will be there in April.” Greg began the task of planning our trip. Over the next couple months Greg and I traded emails deciding where we were going to go. To be fair Greg did all the work and I just agreed.
I arrived in Durban, South Africa in early March just days after my contract ended on the Ruby Princess. I stayed in Durban for a week visiting one of my shipmates, Jillian Sunker. I enjoyed Durban with Jill as my guide, introducing me to local dishes and she worked hard to make me feel at home.
Durban Beach, South Africa
There are two things that I find truly rewarding working on cruise ships. One is you are able to see the world and in eight years I have been to seventy-two countries and hundreds of ports, many multiple times. The other reason is the many friends you make, some of which will become life long friends like Jill and Liza.
After leaving Durban I flew in Johannesburg and was met at the airport by Greg and Liza. We drove to Pretoria where they have been long term residents and dropped me off at the apartment I rented for a week before we were to leave on our safari. View from my apartment Pretoria, South Africa
The week flew by and Greg, Gill and Liza took me on several day trips around Pretoria, taking me to dinner and showing me many of the landmarks. One of the evenings I was invited to a braai, what we Americans call a barbeque at their home.
This is where I met a family friend Emile Sprenger de Rover and his wife Jane. Emile in the recent past was a manager at the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve, an honorary game warden and has a small cabin there. He was kind enough to be our host, guide and driver at Ingwelala and allowed us to stay at his cabin.
A couple days later we left Pretoria just after sunrise to make the 6-hour drive to Ingwelala. During the journey we traveled through the city of Pretoria, the outskirts and into the countryside. Then the climb began as we wound our way through the mountain passes only to stop at a roadside stand to get a drink and admire the handmade items.
Roadside stand mountains along the way to Ingwelala
Upon arriving the four of us Emile, Liza, Greg and myself began to set up camp. It took only a short time after which we grabbed our cameras and climbed onboard Emile’s game vehicle and headed into the bush for an afternoon drive that extended well into the evening.
Entrance gate Ingwelala Private Game Reserve
We bounced along the maze of dirt roads and through dry riverbeds. I was amazed how Emile kept track of where we were, literally every road looked the same with only slight variations. Greg, Liza and I did our best to scan the grass fields, look under and in every tree and bush for game and birdlife.
When I was young I went hunting almost every weekend with my grandfather who raised me. He was part Native American and had a reverence for the outdoors and all that lived there. He taught me much about how to find sign and spot game. I have used those skills in my adult life in hunting wildlife with a camera instead of a rifle. However I have to admit Liza has the eye of an eagle that far surpassed mine. I rationalized this thinking “well this is her backyard”.
During the drive we came across herds of impalas with young and old alike. It seemed almost everywhere you turned you would find anywhere from a couple to small herds of maybe 30 – 40 of these graceful antelopes.
It is the goal when on safari to sight the African Big Five. This consists of cape buffalo, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros. I personally believe there should be a Big Six as cheetahs should be included. Over the ten days were photographed five of the six only lacking the leopard. We did come close one night but by the time we arrived the only thing left was the antelope the leopard carried into the tree only to return some time later that night.
Continuing our drive we also came across our first member of the Big Five, a cape buffalo. We rounded a bend in the road and there were two of these magnificent animals. They were only about twenty feet away as they stood staring at us. As with all game in the bush you must be on you guard. Cape buffalo has poor eyesight and known to charge without warning.
On the way back to camp that night we made a run to the dirt airstrip that had been cleared leaving foot high brush. When we arrived Emile took out two handheld spotlights and we scanned the airstrip. As we drove we pointed the lights into trees hoping to spot a leopard that was said to be in the area to no avail. We did notice dozens of red eyes staring in our direction and Emile remarked out they were blue wildebeest. Which are very strange looking animals during the day let alone at night on lit by the handheld spotlights.
Wildebeest at night
Back at camp that later that evening we relaxed and talked about the days adventure. This was old hat for the three of them but completely different from anything I have done in the past.
Later that night while eating dinner we look over our shoulder and there stood a spotted hyena on its hind legs licking the grill. All animals in the reserve are wild and so was this hyena. With a few shouts and waving of our arms he decided to back off.
Spotted hyena visiting camp
This is one reason you do not walk around camp at night. There were hyenas and even a leopard spotted within the camp while we were there. All of have attacked and killed those that did not give them the respect they deserve.
There were many highlights at Ingwelala and one of my favorites was photographing a lone hippopotamus. Hippopotamus are highly irritable animals and very protective of their home turf. They are known to have killed many people that ventured too close and feared. We were in a blind and a safe distance watching with cameras clicking away.
Then the hippo decided to give us a show. All of a sudden while swimming in its private waterhole the hippo slowly did a summersault stopping briefly with all four legs dangling in the air out of the water. It was quite a sight.
Hippopotamus on the roll
While in Ingwelala we photographed many different animals and birdlife. Even in camp we were visited by hyenas, dwarf mongoose, warthogs and nyala.
The Ingwelala River where we stopped for a lunch under a shade tree and admired the view.
Ingwelala River for a lunch break
During our five days at Ingwelala were well spent and something I will never forget. If you ever have the chance to go on safari do yourself a favor and go.
Greg Parker, Liza Parker and Emile Sprenger de Rover at Emile’s Cabin