REVIEWED BY: Alison Herbst
Vals terrific viva safaris experience
We departed Durban’s new King Shaka Airport on the day it opened at the beginning of May. There were plenty of polite, friendly people to help make the experience as easy as possible, and the airport is truly a beautiful place. Ours was the second flight to depart that morning, as well as the first Boeing.
We arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport an hour after departing Durban, and, after collecting our luggage, we walked to the domestic exit, which has been made to look like a mock soccer stadium, complete with stands, in preparation for all the Football World Cup visitors. It is very effective and exceptionally welcoming.
We were met on time outside the airport entrance by Viva Safaris representative Thabo, in a small coach. There were 5 American and 1 Brazilian girl with us. Our trip from Johannesburg to the Kruger Park area felt very safe despite the heavy rain and traffic as we left Joburg. Our driver was exceptionally competent. During the drive we stopped after 1 and a half hours for a toilet break and then we headed on to the charming country town Dullstroom for lunch around midday. We all went into “Poachers,” which is a lovely Dullstroom pub and restaurant.
It was at this point that we said goodbye to Thabo and transferred to another Viva Safaris bus. Here we were greeted by Bongani and Isaac, who shared the driving to the first stop of our 5-day Viva Safaris organized tour: Tremisana Game Lodge. The rest of our overland bus trip to Tremisana included another toilet break, as well as a stop at the JB Strydom tunnel to wander around the curio stalls and enjoy the stunning mountain views.
We eventually arrived at Tremisana Game Lodge at 4:15pm, where we met by the friendly housekeeper, Delina, with a tray of refreshing juices. We then were taken through to our chalet to drop off our bags and freshen up for our evening drive just before 5pm.
The accommodation at Tremisana Game Lodge is very cosy. Our chalet had a thatched roof. The ensuite bathroom included a shower and the living/bedroom area was beautifully and rustically furnished with cane armchairs and table. There was also even a cane headboard behind the huge bed. The cloth furnishings in the room, including the bedspread and curtains, all had an animal print theme, and for guests’ convenience, there was also a kettle for tea and coffee whenever we wanted it.
On returning to the reception area, we were shown to a small boma and bar area. The Game Lodge is beautifully laid out and tastefully landscaped. There is also even a small swimming pool if you feel the need to cool off.
Bongani and Isaac were our rangers during our first game drive that evening in the Balule Game Reserve. Heavy rain unfortunately caused the drive to be cut short, but we were still lucky enough to see plenty of impala, blue wildebeest, jackals and lots of birds.
Eventually the rain did stop and that enabled us to meet at the Lodge bar for a drink and to enjoy our dinner in the boma area. Our first meal was a delicious mix of South African favourites: sweetcorn soup, a braai of steak and boerewors with homemade bread, as well as pap and sauce. Dessert was iced cake and custard.
Exhausted, we were in bed by 9:30pm and had a good night’s sleep until waking at nearly 5am. At 5:45am we met at the bar again in preparation for our first guided morning bush walk. We enjoyed coffee and rusks to warm and wake us up and then we climbed into the Lodge vehicle that took us to the starting point of our walk. We walked through the African bush for about 3 hours at a very relaxed pace, stopping to listen to Bongani’s many interesting stories and facts.
During the experience we saw 4 huge white rhinos, a family of giraffe, a few other single giraffes, water buck, crocodiles, a warthog and hippo. We saw lots of birdlife as well, including stork, a grey heron, tawny eagle and a yellow billed hornbill, just to name a few.
We then gathered at a water hide for snacks and eventually returned to Tremisana Lodge for brunch in the boma. After the morning meal we had a relaxing time, passing the midday by reading, sleeping and lounging around the Lodge pool.
The relaxation and pampering continued, when, at 3pm, our group gathered and was transported to nearby Tshukudu Game Lodge for high tea – which was absolutely delicious. Afterwards, to our delight, we found that Tshukudu had a 14 month old cheetah, called Savannah, by their pool area. We were allowed to stroke and pet this tame animal – which tried to eat my handbag! She was then joined by 3 other cheetah youngsters.
Reluctantly we left the cats and returned to our vehicle. Richard, from Tshukudu Game Lodge, became our tracker for the afternoon then. He took us to see a herd of buffalo, a mother elephant and baby, hippos at the dam and finally we got to see a male lion close up. Our first full day at Tremisana Game Lodge in the Balule Game Reserve was certainly very exciting, and full of wonderful game viewing.
We rounded off the day then traveling by coach to Marcs Tree House Lodge where we spent the night. We arrived in time to enjoy dinner in this elevated camp’s boma, which overlooks the nearby river. Again, the food was excellent and local favourites dominated the menu: pea soup, chicken casserole and milk tart for dessert.
Our accommodation at Marcs Tree House was literally in a tree house! Our chalet was made of reeds, was very primitive looking but also was so full of character. Other guests experienced frogs and lizards visiting them during the night. We, however, woke up early in the morning to find 2 nyalas grazing outside.
Breakfast at Marcs Tree House was at 7:30am and then we headed off to Balule’s neighboring reserve, the Kruger National Park. As soon as we entered the world famous wildlife park we were greeted by large herds of impala, “dazzles” of zebra and a “journey” of giraffe – all collective nouns taught to us by our ranger Mayenthe. A wonderful day was had by all in Kruger, as we enjoyed various spottings of elephant during the morning, as well as the sight of 2 lions eating their kill while being watched by a tree full of vultures. There was also even a hippo, ground hornbills and a slow moving chameleon strolling across the road.
The highlight of our first full day in the Kruger National Park though was just before lunch when we were confronted by an angry female elephant defending young herd members. We enjoyed our afternoon meal eventually around 3pm, and then headed for our home camp.
On Tuesday morning, after breakfast, we went to Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre. Owner Brian Jones was so passionate about the animals and his talk was both informative and entertaining. Afterwards, we walked around his property viewing the various bird and animals he’s saved – which includes hundreds of vultures and lots of eagles. We all got to stroke a cheetah and view a lion and lioness, leopard, hyena and very rare wild dogs. Our wonderful morning culminated with lunch at the appropriately named Cheetah Inn.
Afterwards we enjoyed a sunset drive in Motlala Game Reserve, where, apart from buck, we saw a large herd of buffalo before we returned to Tremisana Game Lodge for dinner.
On Wednesday morning we set off for another full day in the Kruger National Park. Again, we all had a wonderful time in our elevated game viewing vehicle. We saw loads of elephants, hippo, a lioness with 3 cubs, plenty of giraffe and a huge buffalo. Just as we were about to leave the Park, we even caught a glimpse of an elusive leopard, but it ran away so quickly that nobody had a chance to take a photo.
All in good spirits after such an exciting day we returned to camp for a drink before dinner. At the evening meal we were greeted by Florence, a lovely, lively woman who was so joyful she was a delight to meet.
Thursday morning dawned and sadly we had to leave Tremisana and the Balule Game Reserve after breakfast. Our drivers were exceptional; very careful. And on our journey back to OR Tambo airport we even got to stop at the picturesque Blyde River Canyon. It was a lovely ending to a wonderful holiday with Viva Safaris and Tremisana Game Lodge.
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