“Big 5” Horse Safari – South Africa

Lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino — the famous “Big 5”. I did not see lion so I will have to go back. The “Big 5” safari allows you to see two quite different areas and offers great opportunities to see game. It combines four days of riding in South Africa’s Waterberg and four days of riding in Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve. The South African portion is run by Horizon Horseback Adventures and Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris runs the second four days in south eastern Botswana.

Mashatu Game Reserve elephants

South Africa’s Waterberg is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and the first four days of riding are at either Jembisa Lodge or Dinaka depending on the time of the year. We stayed at Jembisa which has the feel of an elegant private home. Jembisa Lodge is situated on its own private reserve, ‘Lapalala River Reserve’. It was certainly one of the most luxurious places we have ever stayed. Our room was a suite with a huge bedroom, large dressing room and an enormous bathroom. Outside in the gardens there is a swimming pool and tennis courts.

Jembisa Lodge

The day starts with 7:30 breakfast and the pattern is a long morning and a short afternoon with a long lunch break in between for an elaborate lunch served with drinks and wine. On a couple of days the afternoon ride stopped at a view point where “sundowners” were waiting. Some afternoons, we went on game drives or walks.

The riding from Jembisa is through privately owned game parks and usually on red tracks. This is an area of plain’s game is home to white rhino, giraffe, buffalo and the san rock art that is evidence of the hunter gatherers who lived in this area over 400 years ago. There is lots of tree cover and river valleys. We spotted a young crocodile hiding in a small pool. We had one exciting encounter with a herd of buffalo. We were galloping along a track and the buffalo were crossing the track at top speed. No buffalo horse collisions but lots of adrenaline.

rescued black rhino

One afternoon we went to an orphan black rhino sanctuary where Konita Walker, wife of conservationist Clive Walker has raised both black and white rhino. A baby rhino was rescued after being attacked by a male rhino. Her young mother was unable to defend her and she was close to death when rescued. After many months at the veterinary college she was given to Mrs Walker. The young female rhino was too accustomed to people to ever be returned to the wild. We got to do what everyone wants to do — touch and feed the rhino. Mrs Walker gave each of us a handful of pellets and the rhino took them from our hand very gently. And I confess lining up to get a second chance to feed her.

wild white rhino

The fence was quite open so we could reach through and scratch the rhino. I chose her ears edged with stiff hair. In contrast to seeing the orphan black rhino, we saw a large group of white rhino feeding peacefully at sunset in a river valley. We were in a game vehicle so we could stop and stay to watch the family groups feeding – quite a peaceful sight in contrast to the Hollywood image of charging rhinos. White rhinos have a broad square face because they feed on the ground and the smaller black ones have a beak like nose because they feed on twigs and branches. Continue reading “Big 5” Horse Safari – South Africa