We were up at 6:00 on Friday morning, hurriedly getting dressed and rushing to breakfast before our tour company picked us up at 6:45 am. …or 7:15 am, as it turned out to be. (Africa time!)
The tour guide had to pick up a few other groups at other hotels in the area before we were on our way to Pilanesberg National Park. There were nine of us in the van and all nine of us slept at some point on the two-hour trip to Pilanesberg. We were all so excited that we couldn’t keep our eyes open!
At one point during our trip, our tour guide mentioned that we would be taking our safari from our tour van. Should any of us be interested in doing the safari from an open-air vehicle, it would cost an extra 190 Rand. A little ridiculous, really, considering that we had already paid over 1,200 Rand for the tour. Oh well.
Our tour guide clearly wasn’t all that keen on putting us in the open-air vehicle. But she did eventually hand the seven of us interested in taking the open-air vehicle to a new tour guide; she took the two prissy city girls (who applied makeup on our drive to Pilanesberg) through the park in the tour van.
Moving into the open-air vehicle was definitely the right choice. The guide was undoubtedly more knowledgeable, we had a much better view of the park as we drove through it and we ended up seeing more animals than the group that stayed in the van. Three cheers to the Italian who really pushed our tour guide to get us in the open-air vehicle.
The first animals we saw were some of the more common plains animals. Our tour guide pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the vehicle. As was common throughout our safari, he would give us a bit of information on the animal that we were seeing and a little bit of time to take pictures before pulling away.
Within the first 10 minutes of the safari, we round a corner and I see the backside of a giraffe bending her head down. “Oh, funny,” I think to myself. “A statue of a giraffe’s backside.”
No, dummy. That’s a giraffe. It was so close and so big that I thought that it couldn’t be real. It was. She stood quite still, looking at us as we all stared back at her. Lauren was busy taking pictures – she brought her zoom lens and took a lot of really amazing shots.
We saw gnu and impalas and wildebeests. We saw a pretty bird in an electric blue color whose name I cannot recall. We saw a dead elephant, with his intestines spilling out of his abdomen. We saw monkeys, a big group of them, running down the side of the road and climbing into trees and generally being the cutest things you’ve ever seen.
We saw an elephant that wasn’t dead, too. He was just chilling by a tree, eating, eating, eating. We were maybe 10 feet from him and he wasn’t interested in us whatsoever. When our tour guide turned off the vehicle, we sat in the quiet (except for the sound of cameras clicking) and listened to him munch away. It was amazing.
We saw zebras. We saw hippos from across a lake. “They look like two big, shiny rocks,” our tour guide told us. And that’s exactly what they looked like. We saw two rhinos from afar. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any lions or cheetahs, but that’s pretty common. They don’t guarantee that you’ll see any animals, as the park is enormous and the animals are permitted to roam wherever they please. The lions were sometimes hard to spot in the grass at the Lion Park, when the vehicle was stopped and someone was pointing them out to us! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we had just driven past a lion or two. Their camouflage is quite effective!
All in all, I would consider our safari a successful one. Driving through the park was a delightful trip in itself and seeing the animals so close was just magical. I wish that we had the time to do a longer safari – three day game drives at Kruger National Park are quite common – I suppose we’ll just have to come back one day!
For the second part of our tour, our guide drove us to Sun City. I had no idea what Sun City was, really, except for a place where we would be able to get lunch. Sun City, as it turns out, is something like a big Las Vegas hotel that was built in the middle of nowhere. It has a luxury hotel, a casino, restaurants and entertainment, all African themed. It was an interesting place and quite the juxtaposition to the quiet nature that we were just driving through. I still can’t quite comprehend why the tour company pairs Sun City with the safari at Pilanesberg, except that it is somewhere for people to get lunch. And maybe some people are amused by the vastness of the complex. I just thought it was sort of lame. Maybe we should’ve spent less time lunching and more time gambling.
After our two hours at Sun City, we headed back for Johannesburg. Again, all nine of us slept on the drive home. Safaris are hard work!
That night, Lauren and I went to dinner in Melrose Arch. It being a Friday night, it was absolutely packed. We couldn’t get seated at a few of the restaurants that we first tried. One was just booked out with reservations, which I understand, but the other just didn’t have any tables available at the moment. Instead of taking names, they just turn you away. It seems strange, but it isn’t the only time that we’ve experienced that since we’ve been here. I suppose that, with the number of people milling about on Friday night, they knew that any empty table wouldn’t remain empty for long.
It took a few tries to find a restaurant that would seat us, but we didn’t go hungry. We had our dinner. We watched Spain beat Chile. Lauren drank an alcoholic beverage out of a teapot. And, earlier, we’d seen elephants and giraffes and zebras! It was a good day.