Traveller Review: The Quest for the Big 5!
Adventure World traveller Nicola Harris takes us on a whirlwind adventure with her insider’s scoop on her African quest to view the Big 5!
HERE’S WHAT NICOLA HAD TO SAY:
You never know how hard an item is going to be to achieve on your bucket list when the item first appears on the coveted list. Some are easy, others however can take years with a lot more obstacles. On a recent trip to South Africa, the question on my family and friends lips was “Will she see the Big Five?” You see, my bucket list goal was to see the Big Five and this was not my first attempt. This was not even my second attempt. No, that's right, this was attempt number three.
My two previous attempts had made me fall in love with Africa. Now where do I begin...
The first trip was a quick eight day trip to Kenya and Tanzania, including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. I had purposely chosen a short trip just to test my camping abilities, and basically see if I could “rough it”. At the time I was working and living in Dubai and had a job where appearance was everything; a hair could not be out of place, lipstick had to be continuously replenished and nails had to be regularly manicured. Could I really sleep on the ground in a tent and potentially not have access to hot water showers or a hair dryer every day?
Turns out, not only could I do it, I loved it, even if my French tipped gel nails did look a little out of place! I had such a thrill from being woken up by hyenas calling and elephants trumpeting in the back ground, coming home from a game drive to find elephants inside a fellow travellers tent and having a giant elephant with tusks to the ground come within meters of me that I had officially become hooked on Africa! Had I seen the Big Five? No, I hadn't seen a rhino or leopard, but it didn't matter. I knew I could now do it, and my next trip was definitely going to be a longer one!
A few years passed until my second attempt. This time I wanted to make sure I gave myself the best chance possible to see the final two animals missing from my Big Five list. Trying to do something slightly different, I chose a longer three week trip from Cape Town, up through Namibia, across Botswana and ending at Victoria Falls. Surely with Etosha and Chobe National Parks I would have a great chance? Having the additional beauty that is Sosussvlei, Okavango Delta and Vic Falls was just the icing on the cake. I was going to have an amazing trip, and be able to tick off another item on my bucket list. Surely, right?
On the first night of my three week trip, I made sure I told our guide/driver which animals I was missing. “No problem” he said. Rhino at Etosha are not as elusive, and he was the leopard king. He hadn't had a trip without seeing one.
Namibia’s beauty did not disappoint in any way. Such a variety of landscape in one amazing country and this was fast becoming one of my favourite trips. But still, no rhino and leopard in sight. Upon arrival at Etosha, we were greeted with so many animals around that confidence was high. We even saw a zebra that was practically all black!
Soon came the event that was to be added onto my new “one of the most amazing things I've ever done” list – watching a floodlit water hole at night at Etosha National Park. But did I see the Big Five? Well I saw one more animal I was missing – the rhino!! And not just one, but many! In fact, at one point, I even had three of the Big Five all drinking from the same water hole and in one photo – amazing! But where was the leopard?
Onwards we travelled through to Okavango Delta. We saw the most amazing sunset from a mokoro while watching hippos pop their heads out of the water, and went on a walking safari. This time I was glad we didn't find a leopard! Oh and don't forget this is where I was woken up in the middle of the night with an elephant eating an amarula nut in the tree above my tent! He then proceeded to walk around our camp and eat all the bread and eggs from our kitchen tent, and “deposit” all that right outside my tent! Such an amazing time, and more was to come – Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park.
Victoria Falls was sensational and I had the most amazing view by going on my first helicopter ride over them. Having seen all of the three great falls, I was glad I had saved this one for last. But I was still just as excited to be heading to Chobe for my last attempt at that elusive leopard.
Once again on arrival, I let our guide know I was on the lookout for a leopard, and of course his response was, “no problem, we saw one yesterday”. A great day followed, I even saw a baby elephant have a bath in the river, but did I see a leopard? My heart was slowly sinking as I realised that we were running out of time, and we were heading back towards the entrance gate. There was still no tick, and Africa would once again have me return to her shores.
3RD TIME LUCKY PERHAPS...
Very recently I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to return to Africa, this time to Kruger National Park in South Africa, for yet another attempt to see a leopard.
Once again upon arrival at my first property, it was practically the first thing out of my mouth when getting to my lodge; “I haven't seen a leopard and this is my third attempt”. Once again the response was “No problem, you have the head ranger looking after you, so if anyone can find a leopard, he can”. However, it was pointed out to me, the leopard can be pretty elusive. This was not something I wanted to hear, but it was something I had quickly learned previously.
Two quick amazing game drives followed, and during the game drives, I am actually distracted from my quest by the amazing things I witness. It's generally only on the way home that I realise, oh, I didn't see a leopard. By my third game drive where I'm at a new property and therefore I have a new ranger, I'm getting so desperate that I'm offering my first born child (who doesn't yet exist).
A new game drive the next morning and optimism returns. A nice warm blanket and a hot water bottle helps to keep you warm before the sun has a chance the warm the day. We are ambling along at 10km/ph when all of a sudden the ranger puts his foot down and we are racing along at 30km/ph. Did I just hear him say he saw a leopard? Or I am becoming so obsessive every word sounds like leopard these days? Surely after three trips it wouldn't be as easy as a leopard walking across the road just ahead of you?
Then I heard him say it again; leopard. I was right. He had just seen a leopard literally walk across the road not too far ahead of us. As we were racing towards the spot where the ranger had seen the leopard, so many thoughts were running through my head. Would it be so quick I wouldn't get to see it? Should I just try and see it, or do I try to take a photo of it? Which is more important, seeing with my naked eye, or a photo? Did I have Wi-Fi in my room to update my Facebook status?
As the ranger stopped the vehicle, we were all frantically trying to search the bushes. Where was it? I heard a rustle. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. And then…for approximately two seconds, I saw a leopard. I saw it!! A leopard!!!! After three trips and coming close so many times, my bucket list finally could have the biggest ever tick added to it! It was such a quick sighting that my camera didn't even have time to leave my lap but I didn't care. It was a sighting and it was brilliant.
Ironically two days later in a different area of Kruger, very late in a game drive, thanks to a previous demonstration of a leopard noise by our ranger, another guest on our truck heard a leopard close by. Instantly our ranger found it, far off in the distance. I could vaguely see a shape in the trees, and saw the leopards’ eyes reflect the light of the powerful torch shone by our guide.
While I could see it, I wouldn't have known, without assistance, which animal it was. As we were sitting there, marvelling at what we could sort of see, I decided to raise my camera and point in the general direction of where we were looking. And this is the result:
The rest of the trip passed by in a whirl while I was still on the adrenalin rush of seeing, and then photographing a leopard. The bucket list is going to be put to rest for a while, just to let this personal accomplishment sink in. It was after all, a long time coming.
Oh and my Facebook status? It was “Mission Accomplished
” for weeks!
WANT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH AFRICA TOO?
After reading Nicola's captivating journey to see the Big Five, it's only natural that you may wish to jump on board and get your own experience of Africa. Ready to experience the extraordinary? Check out our three recommended trips where you can begin your very own quest:
Discover East Africa
This small group journey will spend 3 nights in Abu Dhabi before exploring Kenya and Tanzania in depth. Stay in the Masai Mara, Amboseli, the Serengeti and many more of East Africa's famous game reserves. Visit Kenya's only chimpanzee sanctuary, enjoy excursions to Daphne Sheldrick's Elephant Orphanage and more.
Handpicked Botswana & Victoria Falls
Explore the beautiful water wilderness of the Okavango Delta followed by the breathtaking Victoria Falls in comfort and style. World famous Kruger National Park is a five hour drive or a one hour flight from Johannesburg and it offers some of the best game viewing in Africa.
Makutsi Classic Safari
This popular package encompasses a variety of activities in the Kruger and Drakensberg regions and is perfect for families. Highlights include three game drives in open 4WD safari vehicles on the private game reserve, searching for the Big Five in Kruger National Park and the panoramic Blyde River Canyon.
HOW TO BOOK:
To find out more or to enquire about a booking please contact one of our experienced travel experts to on AU: 1300 295 049 | NZ: 0800 238 368