Wanting the Martens to have all their animal questions answered, we spent a few nights just outside Kruger Park in the Thornybush Game Reserve at Kwa Mbili Lodge. The owners were a South African man and his American wife who had both worked for IBM for years in California before deciding to do something different. Very different. They are now raising their two young daughters in the bush and hosting visitors from all over the world at their lovely property.
We had an amazing few days at Kwa Mbili, with several different incredible guides. Our first, AK, was a South African version of the Crocodile Hunter. He’d been a guide for decades and it was what he was born to do. He loves the bush and the bush loves him. At one point we got out of the Land Cruiser and pursued a rhino on foot before it got away from us! That was a first!
Our second guide was a man named Ocean. Though a man of few words, he showed us all the animals. Ted’s mom was bound and determined to see a lion and Ted and I were crossing our fingers that it would happen. Within 10 minutes on our drive with Ocean, we rounded a corner to see a gigantic male lion within 10 feet of the road. Needless to say, Sarah (Ted’s mom) was thrilled as were we all. Ocean also almost got us run over by an aggressive charging male elephant. Luckily we were able to reverse fast enough to avoid his pursuit!
However, our most memorable animal sitings occurred with Kwa Mbili’s owner, Neil, as our guide. With loads of help from our mighty tracker (a local man experienced in finding and deciphering animal tracks), we were able to see a cheetah (our first!) with his kill. In fact, the baby impala was still alive when we came upon them. It was amazing how close the animal allowed us to get to him and how intricate and beautiful the spots are on his body.
And a top highlight for sure was on our last game drive at the lodge. After our sundowners and on the way back to the lodge, we came across a leopard in our headlights. He was literally walking across the road and we couldn’t have had better timing – 5 seconds earlier and it would have still been in the bush and 5 seconds later he would have disappeared in the other direction. We stopped in awe and he proceeded to walk by us within feet of the car. I don’t think any of us were breathing at that point. It was a totally incredible sighting and the perfect way to wrap up our time in the bush.