But the real “wild” side of the holiday only really started the moment we drove through the gates of Inwenkwezi Private Game Reserve!
We parked our car and checked in at the reception desk and then, along with all our luggage, hopped onto our transport for the rest of our stay…
It would prove to be completely necessary as the roads were definitely 4×4 terrain… but such fun in the back of a safari vehicle!
We arrived at Inkwenkwezi on a rather rainy day so we donned our jackets and “bumbled through the jungle” on the back of the 4×4 via rather treacherous muddy roads…
The Eastern Cape vegetation is very different from other parts of the country and I enjoyed getting to experience it first hand – the scents and sounds of this bush is very different to that of the north. Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to go on safari’s in various parts of SA – Kruger, Karoo, Western Cape and now, Eastern Cape. I think there’s something unique about them all. No one is better than the other (unless you’re trying to avoid malaria, then the Eastern Cape is a good bet!) If you could I would suggest planning a safari in each area to get a real sense of SA.
At Inkwenkwezi the accommodation is one of the highlights… real tents located amidst the bush with views over the valleys and incredible bird life all around!
We stayed in the family suite – 2 tents located right next to each other and joined by a communal deck. Each tent had it’s own en-suite bathroom (with showers boasting the most epic views), a bar fridge, aircon (with heating) and very comfortable beds!
As parents it was lovely having our own space. We’re used to family rooms where we all share together, and that is totally fine, but as our kids are getting older it’s really nice to have a bit of space. And they weren’t too far away either which meant we could be on hand immediately if there was an issue.
We are a family of campers and I enjoy a night in the bush, but this was taking camping to a whole new level. True Glamping!
I loved listening to the rain falling softly (and loudly) on our canvas roof and waking up to the incredible bird choir every morning at first light… although it felt like the middle of the night!
Waking up slowing while enjoying a cup of tea and a rusk on our balcony, watching the sunlight creep across the valley was beautiful and the way every day should start if you ask me!
From my previous safari posts you’ll know that we’re also a family of safari lovers. Most smitten? My son, Ben. At age 7 he had decided THIS was the life and his enthusiasm for each and every game drive is infectious…
Somehow he always wrangles the front seat (I think it’s his cheeky face!), right up next to the game ranger where he can chat about animals, plants and birds, look out for tracks and be the first to spot an animal. His heaven! None of us ever stand a chance for the front seat so we don’t even try now!!
As my first safari was only at the age of 21 so it makes my heart very happy to be able to give him the gift of these types of experiences. Not many adults even get to enjoy something so special in their lifetime so I know how fortunate he is… and I think he does too. He laps them up.
As soon as we’d put our bags down and grabbed something to drink we headed off on our first game drive at Inkwenkwezi…
We didn’t have to wait long for our first sighting. A beautiful lone giraffe having a quick drink at the edge of a rain puddle…
Fortunately the rain cleared and we were treated to a few rainbows and then, some beautiful sunrays that allowed me to capture my favourite animal in my favourite light!
But as is the way of the bush it wasn’t long until we were faced with the harsh realities of nature… a sad mama zebra mourning the death of her foal – born overnight in the downpour and unable to keep his footing in the slippery mud.
She had been pacing around her baby all day and night, willing him to walk. Sadly she finally had to say goodbye when our vehicle approached. (Although she still hung around from a safe distance for a few more hours)
It was a moving animal encounter – I’d never seen an animal grieve and she was clearly as distressed as any mom could be.
What was also interesting was that my kids dealt with this death in quite a matter-of-fact way. I had worried that they would be upset by the experience – and there definitely were lots of questions about death and dying – but they were able to process the reality of death as nature taking it’s course. A life lesson on a safari!
Fortunately our next animal encounter was far more joyful…
After spotting 2 “boulders” in the far distance we crept closer and closer until our 4×4 was within spitting distance of 2 of the most majestic animals around. A mother and her baby rhino!
Seeing a rhino in real life is an unforgettable experience and made even more poignant by the fact that they are threatened due to the scourge of the rhino horn trade.
Watching these peaceful giants is always profound and moving. The thought of people actively tracking them down to shoot and kill them – all for their horn – is traumatic.
Fortunately at Inkwenkwezi they take their rhino protection seriously and there are armed trackers hiding out from a safe distance at all times… and rangers who are super alert to any suspicious questions or behaviour!!
After a sufficient amount of time, we allowed them to trundle off in search of fresh grass. It’s always important to read the animals while enjoying a safari and all the best game rangers will monitor their signals and limit exposure to humans and vehicles to lessen the stress placed on the animals. We were just pleased to have had 10 minutes with these beautiful beasts of the bush!
The next morning, and again the next afternoon, we set out again. I’m always up for a game drive and will never turn one down… I love the thrill of encountering the unexpected. Yes there are times when you may drive for 2 hours with limited animal sightings, but that is nature. It’s entirely unpredictable…. but when you spot something amazing… well, there’s nothing quite like that adrenalin!
One of the best ways to enjoy Inkwenkwezi is on the back of a quad bike… something I’ve only tried once before!
When our ranger told us we’d be heading out on these machines, driving ourselves, I was terrified!
I mean, it’s the bush and the roads are mad and I have no idea what I am doing!??
But he, and my husband, assured me that I would manage and we’d go slowly. And we did. Ben joined our ranger, Byron, on his bike and Abi went with Brad which left me all on my ace. But probably better for such a beginner.
We practiced up and down a flat area outside reception and when I look comfortable enough we headed out on a short ring road through the thick bush – often just as wide as the quad. I went REALLY slowly. But then I couldn’t make it up the hills which meant I had to pick up the pace a bit…
Now I know what all the fuss is about! So much fun! By the end of our I hadn’t crashed!! And I was hooked… albeit a bit nervous to try a new route with HUGE hills!
But I didn’t want Brad to miss out, and he was super keen to continue further into the reserve. So I did it. I put on my big girl panties and I decided to embrace the new, risky experience instead of opting for the safe and steady option.
I’m so glad I did. It was probably the best experience of our time at Inkwenkwezi. As my confidence grew I started to pick up speed and even managed to tackle a few muddy puddles. All the while my heart was pumping like crazy and my arms were shaking with the nervous energy BUT I managed. Even my husband was impressed with my skills by the end.
Unfortunately the noise of the quad bikes meant we didn’t see too many animals but we did come across a herd of zebra and another of impala and a lone red hartebeest as well as a few smaller animals. To be honest I was quite pleased we didn’t come face-to-face with anything more imposing!
On our last evening game drive we headed off to see the lions…
As Inwenkwezi is a fairly small game reserve, and still trying to establish their animal numbers, the lions are kept in a separate enclosure.
But they do have the most beautiful white lions…
We went through 2 security gates to see them, but then it was just us, perched on the chairs of an OPEN 4 x 4, and a pride of lions!
We watched them silently while they lay in the long grass, eyeing out the “tower” of giraffe on the opposite hill. And then, just when our backs were turned, they stood up silently and started making their way right towards us… actually they were heading for their dinner, but we were in the way!
With strict instructions to stay seated and silent, we watched as three huge lionesses prowled right alongside the vehicle on their way to join their friends at dinner…
The lions here are few every few days from the various farmers in the area needing to dispose of a cow or sheep. It wasn’t the most realistic experience I’ve ever had of lions, but if you’ve yet to see them in real life then this is a far better option that from behind a wire cage.
From the regal male with it’s lush mane catching the evening light, to the tiny cubs romping in the grass and irritating their mom, this was a memorable way to spend some time with “royalty”.
Our last morning at Inkwenkwezi was spent enjoying a few more of the activities they have on offer at the reserve…
There are 3 elephants kept in a different area of the reserve. They are let out to roam and graze for the majority of the day but are herded back to their own sleeping quarters at night.
The elephant “ambassadors” are used to educate visitors about this gentle giants and are really well looked after. There was no violence shown towards them and riding or sitting on the elephants is not allowed. They probably lead a really good life here as they have been rescued from certain death by culling in other parts of SA.
And then it was time meet the Inkwenkwezi mascot, a gorgeous male cheetah who thinks he is a big cat! And he is. Just a rather large one!
The swishing of his tail, licking of his fur, purring and general nonchalant air definitely make him the biggest kitty I’ve encountered!!
Truth be told, my preference is always to see animals in their natural environment, doing what they do best. I’m not so sure whether these sorts of set ups are benefitting the animals, or purely for our own enjoyment as humans?
Every time I encounter an “animal encounter” I always have a nagging doubt about whether it’s the right thing? It’s hard to know when an animal encounter is actually something useful – for educating, breeding or rescuing – or whether it’s just for the monetary gain of the establishment.
To be honest, I don’t know! I’m still on a journey of working out what is the best way to interact with wild animals… if at all! It’s something I will be exploring in more depth in a future post…. Feel free to leave your comments below on how you feel about these sorts of animal experiences and how you determine which (if any) are worth supporting and enjoying and which ones you avoid. I’m open to learning and would appreciate your feedback.
Ultimately though, we loved our time at Inkwenkwezi. It was 2 fun-filled days of making wonderful family memories and sharing bonding experiences. And that is what family holidays are all about. Always worth it!
There is so much on offer for everyone to enjoy at Inkwenkwezi that you’re guaranteed to not be bored. In fact, we were so busy and “un-bored” that I would have enjoyed a few more nights to just chill and enjoy my tent and read my book, enjoying the beauty of doing nothing in nature! Next time!! My future game ranger will definitely be keen for a return visit… and so will I!
Schafli Rd, Chintsa West, East London, 5200
Phone: 043 734 3234
Disclosure: 1 (I won this accommodation in a competition!)
Images: Kathryn Rossiter