My first adventure to Africa, now six years ago, was organised by Sparsholt College Hampshire, which is where I attended my A levels to achieve my Level 3 Extended Diploma in Animal Management. Sparsholt organised the trip with the touring company African Insight, where I had the privilege of meeting one of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides in the whole of South Africa, Marc Holcroft (at least he was compared to all the guides I’ve ever met, in my opinion). I will forever be grateful to have had the chance to meet Marc, who was the original spark in my passion for travelling to South Africa.
African Insight, the company that set up the tour, specialises in academic tours, internships and volunteering, and they arranged some pretty amazing locations for us to visit. Due to the tour being organised through the college, I believe the total cost was around £1,500 which included our flights. This trip took place in May 2014, and I was even lucky enough to celebrate my 18th birthday on this tour.
The first place we visited was Somkhanda Game Reserve near Durban. We took the overnight flight from London Heathrow to Johannesburg, and then got the connecting flight from Johannesburg to Durban. I don’t remember what airline it was, although I have a feeling it was South African Airways. We then were piled into what the South Africans call “combis” or what we know to be mini-buses, and our bags were packed into trailers. I’m not too sure how long the drive was, but it could have been 4-6 hours maybe. When we got to Somkhanda, we found out we were going to be camping in tents. Quite a fun activity, especially after being told wild rhinos roam around the camp at night (very comforting for someone who always needs the loo at ungodly hours). The most discouraging thing about the bathroom arrangements is that there were no solid doors, just a chain to put across that read “no entry”. It was wintertime; however, I don’t remember being too cold at any point on this particular trip.
After a 3 day stay at Somkhanda where we experienced bush walks and game drives, we headed on to Swaziland (or Eswatini as it’s now known). In Swaziland, we stayed at a place known as Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. I believe we did a couple of bush walks led by Marc, as there were no predators on this reserve, except a few crocodiles in the dam, who seemed content guarding a tree for the slim chance a weaver bird might fall from one of the many nests into their jaws. I also remember we watched an old film about a Land Rover named Jezebel (if I’m not mistaken), which was pivotal in the early days of conservation in Swaziland. We also learned about their work in helping to recover roan antelope from near extinction.
We left Swaziland and headed for the Kruger region, a place that has become somewhat of a second home to me over the years, and this trip was my first time ever seeing this beautiful region. Our first stop in the Kruger area was, in fact, the Kruger National Park. We stayed in the bungalows in Skukuza camp, however, having done a self-drive and booked the accommodation myself, I now know we were in the cheapest accommodation before camping as we had to use communal bathrooms. The Kruger always performs, and it certainly did for a bunch of excited 18 year olds. I believe we found leopards, lions, lots and lots of elephants (as per usual), and potentially even rhinos. We also found a whole host of other species including buffalo, giraffe, hyena, and a bunch more that I can’t remember. The three days at Kruger were some of the best I’ve ever experienced, you never know what you’re going to find with wildlife, but we certainly saw a lot in 3 days. There were many, many species of bird too, which Marc always knew whenever we asked him.
Kruger Park then came to an end and we were off to our final destination for the last 3 days of our trip. Our last 3 days were spent in a location that has much relevance to my next adventure to Africa, which you’ll discover more about next week. We stayed at Moholoholo Mountain View, an absolutely spectacular location as it’s right in front of the Drakensburg Mountains. We had some game drives and bush walks at Mountain View, but we also had a number of day trips to locations around this base. One of our visits took us just down the road to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the main feature of the next blog. At the rehab centre, we got to go on a tour to learn about the animals they keep and rescue. There is a whole variety, from cheetahs, lions, leopards, servals and caracals to hyenas and wild dogs. They have many other mammal species and also specialise in the rescue of birds, as birds in the area are affected quite largely by poaching and telephone wires.
Some of the other day trips took us to locations such as Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, who specialise in breeding programmes of Cheetah, especially King Cheetah. I’m not quite sure if they look after other animals, although I have a feeling they might. We also went to Kinyonga Reptile Centre (formerly Khamai Reptile Centre), where we watched a dangerous snake handling demonstration. We were allowed to get involved in learning how to handle snakes with a snake hook, however, having learned how weak my forearms are from a previous experience at college, I decided not to take part in this particular activity. They also brought out a baboon spider, explaining the issues with them and the fact that they are at least Endangered, maybe Critically Endangered.
After a lot of fun and learning, it finally came time to say goodbye to African sunsets, beautiful African animals, our guides, and my friends, as this trip took place right at the end of my final year at college. We drove in the combis all the way back to Johannesburg airport with a few stops at popular locations on route. I had my first experience of Harrie’s pancakes in Dullstroom on this trip, as well as seeing the rhinos at the Alzu pit stop (again, I think that’s what it’s called). We arrived at the airport and gathered our belongings ready to catch the 10.5 hour flight back to Heathrow.
This trip was such a learning experience, not only from everything the guides taught us, but just from being so far from home without my parents for the first time. Although I can’t remember too many specifics from this trip as there was a lot going on, I can remember the locations vividly and feeling so overwhelmed with emotion at times. Africa is a powerful place, it draws you in and you feel like you never want to leave, which I can’t help feeling is us being called back to our origins, as human life began on the continent of Africa. This trip wouldn’t have been the same without Marc as our guide, who sadly passed away earlier this year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain tumour. I am truly blessed to have known him at one time in my life.
Link to the story of Jezebel and pioneering conservationist Tim Reilly https://wildernesselements.com/2016/01/22/jezebel/