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Sunday 1st May 2011
My flight from Heathrow arrived on time and my luggage was already going around the conveyor belt once I had been through passport control. Johannesburg airport was very well organised and all the directional signs within the airport were clear and easy to understand. Having collected my luggage I then followed the accurate directions out of the airport. Here I was met by a vast line of people waving name boards. Initially I was a little worried about where to look – however as I made my way to the information desk as per itinerary, I saw the Waterburg Transfers sign with my surname walking towards me!
The Waterberg Transfer representative was very friendly and led me to the other members within the group that had arrived on an earlier flight. The transfer was delayed slightly by other guests (not ITS) late flight.
The transfer vehicle was a minibus, which was clean and tidy, with seatbelts. The road up to the border was smooth and straight and as comfortable as possible considering the long time sat in a vehicle. We stopped twice on the journey for a ‘bathroom break’ –This transfer including breaks took just over 6 hours – we reached the border at 15:40.
Cor was waiting at the South African border to meet us all. It was great fun to experience this really unusual border crossing – and I thought a lovely touch was that none of the guests had been fore-warned about the cable car crossing across the Limpopo River! This certainly brought smiles onto everyone’s tired faces. We happended across a leaving party at the Botswana border for one of their staff members – so it really was a carnival atomosphere.
Cor loaded up the luggage into a trailer, and we all climbed into a 9 seater open air game viewing jeep to make the short journey to the arrival stable area at LVHS.
We were met by Saskia and a welcome drink. We were asked to change into our riding clothes before we then all sat down for a late lunch. Over the lunch table, Cor went through everyone’s riding experience – and double checked that he had got the correct information about their riding experience. He then allocated horses and explained a little bit about each horse and why he had allocated it.
As soon as lunch was over we walked a short distance to the stables where all of our horses were already tacked up and waiting for us. Each person was taken to a mounting block individually and mounted up – girths and stirrup lengths checked. Saskia took this opportunity to also once again give a little one to one to each guest about their specific horse (and as the course as the Tuli Trail went on, I realised that she was incredibly accurate in her descriptions).
Once everyone was mounted we had a short ride and safety briefing by Cor. This covered what to do if we encountered Lion, Elephant, Wild Dogs. It also covered that we should keep our distance in canters – single file unless he says to spread out and how the lead guide and back up guide had various roles in various situations.
We rode for about 45 minutes – and this ride included a period of time when we were all asked to do an individual canter test. This involved asking your horse to canter away from the group alone, turn left and gallop on, then swing back towards the group steadily slowing back down to a trot. This test was a great opportunity to check that we were all correctly mounted for the week ahead and was well worth putting your riding on display to everyone for a few moments.
By now it was getting dark and we hacked the short distance back to the stable yard.
We then had a vehicle transfer in the dark by open air jeep to Mashatus Main Camp.
We were all offered a drink and then shown our tents.
By now it was about 9:30pm and everyone felt shattered – so it was to bed. Cor explained that he would wake everyone up with a cup of tea or coffee at 5:00am – then after breakfast we would need to be ready to leave at 6am.
Despite hearing the African sounds and my nerves about the week ahead – I fell asleep almost straight away.
As promised – I was woken with a cup of tea, exactly at 5am. It was still dark and the head torch I packed became invaluable.
Breakfast consisted of hot drinks, warm muffins, fruit, cereal, muesli and natural yoghurt.
At 6am we were driven to the stables (1/2 hour drive). On the way we saw some plains game.
We were all on horseback by 7.15am and the same procedure of mounting each person individually occurred. Girths were then double checked once mounted. This procedure happened without exception each and every time we mounted throughout the entire week.
The morning was immediately made exciting by quickly coming across some fresh lion tracks which we followed for a while.
During the morning ride we saw Impala, Warthogs, Kudo, Eagles, Baboons, Giraffe, Crocodile, Zebra, Meercats and a Black Backed Jackal.
This ride was a winding ride following the course of the Riverbank and there were quite a few steep descents and ascents to negotiate. We also stopped half way through the morning for a 15 minute break, and each received an apple and cheese roll. We each also had two water bottles in our saddle bags. The riding consisted of a lot of walking when game was about, or over the rocky terrain. Plenty of canters through the open plains, winding around the acacia trees. The ground was good going today. There were a few very small ditches to jump (not more that an extended canter stride)
Today’s ride lasted about 6 hours and we reached our next camp at about 1:15pm.
We had jugs of warm water at each tent and were able to have a quick wash before lunch (which due to the vast amount of dust was greatly appreciated).
Lunch was a local dish which consisted of minced beef topped with onions and then egg and sultanas on top! Very tasty, served with salad and rice. Followed by fresh fruit.
In the middle of lunch Cor appeared holding a Rock Python that he had just found – a very angry Rock Python! There was a lot of laughter as we watched him dodging its wide open jaws.
We then had some time then between 2.15 and 4 pm for a rest break and time to shower, then some tea with shortbread was served and we were all taken for a bush walk. This gave us the opportunity to search for fresh animal tracks and we found our first sighting of 1 day old elephant poo. We also had the chance to see a Golden Orb Spider up very close – just sitting on her massive web. Upon return from the bush walk we found some really fresh lion prints beside the camp!
Upon return we all had a drink followed by supper. It was an early night for everyone.
Overnight we were woken by the reasonably close call of lions – how exciting….
5.30am start and we were riding by 6.45am.
Today’s ride was a much longer journey across some areas of hard stony ground. Up on the ridge we received some amazing panoramic views of the Botswana landscape. It felt like we were riding through 3 separate landscapes the terrain and scenery changed so much. It was a very hot day today, with little shelter from the elements.
We rode for about 6 ½ hours today, and finished riding by about 1.30pm.
Camp tonight was at an old tribal enclosure, ringed my upright logs, and open air underneath an ancient mashatu tree. Such a truly stunning location for camp and everyone had huge smiles on their faces at the sight of this unique place.
After a quick wash, we had lunch in the shade which consisted of a chicken pasta and salad.
Following lunch was a chance to shower – and we met again at 4pm for afternoon tea.
We were then all taken by vehicle to a sundowner spot. Upon arrival we all had to climb what seemed like a mountain (Motloutse Ruins on Mmamagwe – this is a tall hill where iron age rulers of the 13th century could survey their lands for miles) however the views were amazing – and whilst having either a G&T or a glass of wine we all watched the sky turn crimson. The views were incredible and no words can truly explain the emotions you felt when looking at the African sky. Whilst on the top of the hill, a family of Elephant Shrews came out to say hello, and they weren’t in the slightest bit scared of humans!
We returned for supper (Goat and cous cous) and then sat around a camp fire looking up at the millions of stars in the African night sky. Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross could easily be seen.
Tonight did seem colder and I needed a jumper to sleep in.
At 5.30am we were awoken to the call of a nearby hyena – and also heard leopard only a few minutes later. We were riding by 7am.
Within minutes of setting out from camp we saw 2 herds of elephants with between 40-50 elephants within each herd. This was quite scary but also amazing. The matriarch came towards us to have a look and we all held our breath! However she decided that we were not a threat and she moved on – it is wonderful to see the whole herd moving in a straight lined row and every nerve within your body is alert whilst watching them. The only word to describe it is WOW.
We also saw whilst riding out Ostrich, Storks, Marshall Eagle, Vultures (100 circling above us) and dwarf mongoose. As we rode underneath the cliff edges beside the river bank we were all amused to be surveyed by a huge family of Baboons and I still am not sure who was watching who the most – for certain their sentries kept a very close eye on us!
We stopped for a break under a huge 400 yr old mashatu tree.
Today’s ride was shorter and lasted about 5 ½ hours – it was more of a relaxed game viewing ride in amongst the mopane trees and sandstone outcrops – and was truly needed after the mammoth distance we covered yesterday. We had the opportunity the jump fallen logs and ditches – and Cor also set up a mini cross country course with fallen branches, which had us all grinning and giggling like pony clubbers.
We got back to the same camp about 12.30pm. After lunch we had a relaxing afternoon.
Tea was at 5pm
Supper tonight was as usual, miraculously prepared on a campfire in the bush – I still can not believe what Martha and her team can produce on an open fire.
Woke at 5.30am – riding by 7am. Today we rode for 6 ½ hours until about 1.30pm.
We started off the morning passing the elephant herds again, but closer this time. As we crossed the river bed we also saw hyena scuttling across further down. We had a great opportunity to see giraffe up close and at one point cantered alongside a ‘dazzle’ of zebra whilst opening our trusted mounts up on the plains, something you will never experience in England. It was a truly beautiful riding day today, and by the end of it I was completely covered by the Tuli Dust or the “local sunscreen” as our back up guide David calls this Setswana dirt!
At 4pm we all went on a game drive where they saw 3 cheetah, leopard, elephant and hyena. This took them about 3 hours.
We got back to camp about 7.30pm. We then had supper and early to bed.
5.30 am start and on horses by 7am
We had a lot of long canters today weaving through tight, thorny acacia scrub and then breaking out into open terrain. We also jumped into and out of ditches. Great fun. We were also treated to a first hand experience of an elephant charge – and had to put our initial safety briefing into full throttle – it is at times like this that you realise the importance of being able to ride well for this safari. The horses during the elephant charge all span in a split second and tried to very strongly take off in completely different directions. If you are not a good rider it could have been quite dangerous. Obviously the guide is not around to help you as he is holding up the elephant and making his own horse face it like a rock – cracking his bull whip in an attempt to stop the charge. The riding is not the challenging part of this safari – it is the game. I have got to be honest and say that I will never forget the breathless, heart pounding moment when I looked over my shoulder whilst cantering away, to see just some 50 yards behind me, a charging elephant, trumpeting away, ears flapping, shaking the ground behind me – followed by a massive cloud of dust!
It also made me realise just how superb Cors horses are. They were all supple and obedient, with lovely calm and brave temperaments. They were sure footed on the riverbanks, genuine jumpers who could easily press the turbo button (but remained in single file until asked otherwise). The horses were mainly Boerperds or Boerperd crosses, some were Shire X TB’s, there were X South African Warmbloods and a couple of throughbreds.
We got back to camp about 12.30 – so rode for about 5 ½ hours.
At 4pm we had a bush walk. This gave a great opportunity to look at the insects and Cor seemed to know so much about his surroundings and nature. He is very entertaining, and could make a simple subject about a dung beetle into a great story.
Today was a much quieter day due to the terrain we were crossing. At one point we found ourselves surrounded by elephant, and after remembering yesterday’s charge we were all a little quiet until a way out could be found.
As a result though, we wandered into a little oasis of green where there were literally hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest, zebra, impala, warthogs and eland. As we rode through this game they would startle, rush around us and then gather again behind us as though we had an imaginary 20 metre circle about us. We also saw a hawk eagle, another python and kingfishers trying to fish and diving into the water.
We arrived back at Mashatu camp about 1.30pm. This evening the elephants just walked straight through the camp, stopping to munch beside the tents!
At 4 pm we went onto another sundowner spot.
When we returned to camp – we had a final drink together and then whilst we were waiting for supper, we were treated to some local songs sung by everyone who had been a part of the week. Great voices with the background sounds of the African bush.
A very short 1 ½ hour ride back to the stables with the opportunity to jump some fallen logs again.
We arrived back at the stables about 10am where we could shower and change. We all then had a mid morning brunch before being transferred to the cable car border crossing for the start of the journey home.
• A great selection of horses – and all so extremely well schooled
• Safety for guests and horses is of primary consideration when riding out
• Plenty of Game viewing
• Action packed holiday – always something to do
Sarah Dale, 8th May, 2011