Amakhosi Safari Lodge was about four and a half hours drive from Durban, where we had been staying with relatives. They make it easy for you though. The lodge sent an air-conditioned car to pick us up as part of the deal. That was a good start. It was also about the same distance from Johannesburg if that’s where you’re headed, but again, they threw in onward flights as part of the deal.
That part of South Africa is teeming with game reserves to be honest, but they do vary in size and character. You could do your animal viewing more cheaply by taking your own car into the national parks – Kruger or Hluhluwe. The private reserves offer a more luxurious and personalised experienced though, and crucially, they will get you much closer to the wildlife.
AmaKhosi is not cheap for South Africans, but it is extremely good value for Europeans. It’s not small, but not vast either: it is excellent for having a lot of space per visitor, and being very unspoiled. Some private reserves tag the lions for instance, and actually put meat out for them. Not so at AmaKhosi. The trackers had to track the predators, and the big cats killed their own dinner.
We arrived late in the afternoon, and even on the drive in from the perimeter, we were up close with giraffe, warthogs, antelope, kudu and even passed zebras only a few metres from the car. We thought we’d been lucky, but in truth these animals are commonplace in there.
Our family accommodation was a very sizeable, luxurious lodge with its own plunge pool overlooking a riverbed, and it’s abundance of impala, nyala, kudu and warthogs. Apart from a steep 10 metres down to the river bed from the infinity pool, there was nothing really keeping the animals out. The lodge was superb in fact – way bigger and more luxurious than we anticipated.
The lodge was excellent and the food of frankly gourmet standard. But that’s not why we go on safari is it? The main attraction was the morning and evening drives on our open jeep with ranger Jacques, and our tracker, Jerry.
This set the tone for our three day trip. We came within a couple of metres of lions, cheetahs, a herd of elephants, buffalo and more; and within easy viewing range of the shier creatures like hippos and rhinos. We even glimpsed a pair of leopards staring out at us from beneath a tree in the dusk.
Each drive was three hours or a little longer if there was lots to look at. At dusk we got out on a suitable scenic spot for sundowner cocktails; and in the morning we likewise took coffee and liqueurs at 8:30 just as the sun was beginning to warm us.
AmaKhosi’s big thing is that you see the animals, and you see them up close. We took binoculars and zoom lenses, but scarcely needed them, apart from snapping eagles and vultures in the trees.
My own golden moment came not on the wildlife drive, but lying on a sun lounger on our deck. Suddenly the antelope and warthogs scattered from the river bank fifty metres away from me, as a lioness shot out of the cover. We were able to watch live as the lioness stalked and tracked a couple of nyala antelope through the brush, only 50-70 metres from us in the afternoon sun.
I have no doubt there are other great game reserves, but AmaKhosi gets five big stars for getting us so close to the Big Five.