Last October , I took the trip of a lifetime with my best friend, Erika, to South Africa! We stayed for two weeks, attempting to fit in as many experiences as possible. Our first week was spent on a photo safari at the amazing and secluded Zulu Nyala Lodge. We saw so many different animals from beautiful cheetahs to quirky warthogs to the kingfisher bird to colorful skinks. Our first four nights were spent at the Game Lodge, atop one of the savannah tall hills with the most breathtaking 360-degree views. Our last two nights at the reserve we stayed at the Heritage Lodge in the tent above. You can spot a heard of zebras grazing in the photo above taken from inside our tent. I’ll talk more about our lodge in another post shortly, but this post is a glimpse at the thousands of photos Erika and I took while on our photo safari…
Every morning at 5:30 a.m. we met our safari guide, Dumi, and group at our truck to load up and head out for our morning game drive. The morning drives were hard to wake up for the first two days, being up before the sunrise is not something I ever do at home, not to mention jetlag was kicking our ass the first day. But the morning drives were always the most active ones compared to our afternoon drives. By the end of our trip, Erika and I were really loving waking up to watch the sunrise and drive the reserve for hours. We were dropped back off at our lodge at about 8 a.m. for breakfast, were I quickly became OBSESSED with South Africa’s danishes. I had a minimum of two every morning. So delicious.
My very favorite animal to photograph was the giraffe, and they were everywhere, so I have to have about a 1,000 photos of those adorable white and tan creatures. I’ve seen a giraffe at the zoo like many young children, but seeing a giraffe in it’s natural habitat is mesmerizing. Their walk is so fluid and their full gate run is fascinating. There was a baby giraffe on the reserve that couldn’t of been more adorable and awkward looking. Giraffes just have personality for days.
The first day at the lodge we were all mixed up from jetlag, so we walked to the bar to have some wine and take in this beautiful place. The two photos above are from the large deck off the back of the open a-frame dining hall. Erika and I looked out and both spotted the same ‘magical tree’ in sprawling savannah, so we deemed it magical for some odd reason. Just one of those funny moments that will stick with me forever. We were having a hard time grasping the idea that we made it to the other side of the world. Still kinda blows my mind when I look at it on the map.
We didn’t really do any research into what kind of animals we would see while in South Africa, but we were surprised by all the lizards they had. From large prehistoric looking dragon ones to the colorful little skinks that scampered around our lodge everywhere. We called them skanks and laugh like middle schools every time we said it.
The second time we came across the cheetahs, it was a mother and her son, our guide, Dumi, stopped the truck and informed us we were getting out and walking up toward the cheetahs. Erika and I whipped our heads toward each other with of look of, “Is he for real?” and “I’m pretty sure we miss understood him.” Dumi, had the most amazing accent, well every South African did (think Parisian meets Australian). So wonderful. Turns out we didn’t miss understand him. We all popped out of the safari truck and nervously followed Dumi in a single file line to within 15 paces of the cheetahs relaxing on a full meal underneath the brush. It was scary and exhilarating to be so close without a fence between us.
Here’s Dumi our guide. He grew up near the Zulu Nyala lodge. Erika and I couldn’t believe how much detailed knowledge he had about every single living animal, bird, tree, track, rock, I mean everything! Dumi could identify a bird just from the faint sound of it. We were mind-blown at how talented he was! A bird-loving couple from Connecticut we befriended in our group were loving it too!
This is the truck we all loaded up into for our 5:30 a.m. and afternoon game drives. The best spots to sit for photos were either in the front on the ends or back on the ends. The back was always a bumpy, heart-pumping ride.
I was so bummed we didn’t get a proper picture of all our group together with Dumi in front of the truck. We had a wonderful group of people, two couples from Connecticut and a couple from Canada.
A little warning, a few of the photos below are graphic… We were only a few minutes into our morning driving, the sun had just risen and Dumi spotted the male cheetah on the hunt. He slammed on the breaks took a hard left and followed closely behind him down the path. We crept behind him for about 30 yards until the cheetah frozen in his tracks. Within moments he darted to his right and into the bush, were we heard an impala’s cry. We witness the true essence of the circle of life as we saw the cheetah take down an impala. It was like something you’d only see on the National Geographic channel and we were a lucky few to witness it in person. Our guide, Dumi, said in all his years roaming the reserves he’d only seen that two other times. It was a mix of emotions to watch. When I look through the photos and bits of video we have of that morning, I swell with respect for the cheetah and how powerful of an animal it truly is and appreciative to have had such a rare experience, despite it being a very moving and emotional one.
On a bit of a lighter moment, our safari is an experience we could never duplicate and that’s what’s so incredible about it! It will always be at the top of my life’s most memorable moments. And those sunrises and sunsets still make me speechless, which sounds totally corny, but it’s true. The air was so fresh and clean, and the sights just stunning! If a photo safari in South Africa isn’t on your bucket list yet, it should be!
Click to see locations on a map: Zulu Nyala Game Lodge and Heritage Lodge
Zulu Nyala Private Game Reserve (If you plan a photo safari, I would highly recommend choosing a private game reserve. You’re guide is able to drive free through the reserve, giving you many more up close views and unique experiences.)
OUR NEXT STOP : STELLENBOUSCH, SOUTH AFRICA