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The thing about a horseback safari, is that having endured the flights and transfers to get there, you can’t wait to get out in the bush and see your first elephant.
I was not to be disappointed at Kujwana. On our first afternoon ride, we were trotting along in single file, when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and an elephant was moving towards us through the bushes. We pulled up and Barney immediately came to the front and said she didn’t like the look of him and to quietly move away. We took a couple of steps, and he came the same way, so Barney said to stop and let the horses graze and hopefully he’d move away. He went to a tree and had a good scratch, walked around the far side of the tree and then turned to face us. He looked at us for a couple of seconds and then charged. In a split second, our horses had turned to run and we heard a huge bang as Barney let off a bear banger to startle the elephant. We’d only gone a few strides and stopped to look behind us – there was a great cloud of smoke in front of the elephant and he turned and walked away. Phew! We were all very glad to be with such experienced guides!
As we set off the next morning, we were certain that we had already had our adrenaline moment for the week, but not far from camp, Barney’s horse stopped and refused to walk on. The back-up guide rode forwards and there were fresh lion prints crossing the path in front of us – about 15mins old. With pounding hearts we rode a large diversion around the back. Barney warned us to sit tight and stay alert but fortunately the lion stayed away. A little later we came across a large herd of buffalo – well over 100 including some very young calves. We stood and watched them for a while, as they wandered from the floodplain onto an island. Had a long canter on another island and startled a couple of wildebeest who skipped along beside us for a little while before turning into denser bush.
The next day we set off for a long days ride to Moklowane camp, so an early start and some long trots and canters in the early morning light. We disturbed a herd of wildebeest and zebra – the wildebeest were very playful out on the floodplain, but ran off when we tried to canter with them! Found a nice herd of zebra and Tsessebe and stood watching them for a while, getting quite close. We tracked another large herd of buffalo – 200 strong and grazing in woodland – trying to get behind them, we found ourselves in the midst of the herd, with the majority on our right, and stragglers on the left. A large buffalo was lying just off the track we were following and stood up as we passed, startling my horse a little, but the buffalo were very calm and we had fantastic sightings. Stopped for lunch by a lagoon and siesta’d under the trees until we heard the rumbling of elephant – awoke to see an enormous herd passing the other side of the lagoon – we counted 76, including some very small calves, but there were probably 100 – a truly amazing sight. Once they’d passed, we remounted and had some lovely splashy canters before arriving at camp.
We dismounted and removed the horses’ saddles and our boots, were legged back up and rode the horses through the deep water to camp – practically swimming in places. A lovely hot bucket shower was waiting for us before our candlelit dinner.
In the morning, just before mounting up, a lone bull elephant was grazing the trees on the edge of camp – he was quite relaxed so we jumped on board and rode past him as we set off on our ride – shorter today as it was such a long day yesterday. Saw large groups of lechwe and a mixed herd of giraffe and zebra with many young, who posed nicely for us! Instead of riding in the afternoon, we went for a mokoro ride, which was very relaxing and fantastic for watching birds and the lechwe wading through the lagoons.
Our last riding day, due to an early transfer the next morning, and we were straight onto the horses bareback to wade across the lagoon, before tacking up for our ride back to main camp. Saw a large herd of buffalo on an island, but the sound of us wading through the water startled them away in a cloud of dust. Had a lovely long canter through the water which joined with a herd of lechwe, who leaped alongside us doing some fantastic aerobatic displays. We were all grinning from ear to ear after that one! A bit further on, we came across a small family of giraffe who quietly watched us pass. Had another long canter to our lunch spot, which was next to a lagoon containing a couple of curious hippo. Siesta’d listening to them splashing in the shallows and venturing closer. After lunch we tried tracking the large herd of elephant back to camp, but they’d already passed and light was fading, so we headed back to camp for a well-earned gin and tonic whilst watching the sun set over the Delta. If only I could stay forever….
Cathy Holloway, 1st May, 2007