Day 7: Rovos Rail and Safari Drives

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Travel / Africa, World Travel / Day 7: Rovos Rail and Safari Drives

We spent a large chunk of time on the second day of our Rovos Rail journey off the train. There were two excursions that were planned for the guests. The first one was a morning drive through the private Nambiti Game Reserve, which lasted for about 4 hours. The afternoon excursion was either another game drive around Spionkop Nature Reserve or a tour of the battlefields where the Battle of Spionkop was fought during the Second Anglo-Boer War . Following the afternoon activity, a South African braai (BBQ) was held at the Spioenkop Lodge. Returning back to the train well after sunset, I spent the next several hours at the bar in the Observation Car speaking with a couple of the hostesses about Rovos Rail and life in South Africa.

Filed Under: Africa, World Travel by admin November 13, 2010, 11:26 pm

Sure enough, we were woken up at 5 AM by our hostess, Sarah, with a gentle knock on our suite door telling us that the game drive would be leaving at 6 AM. That gave us just enough time to shower and then jump over to the dining car to have breakfast before embarking on the morning drive in the nearby game reserve. Just before 5 AM, the train had begun moving again, and we traveled another 15 miles from where we had stopped the night before and were now outside of the city of Ladysmith.

Around 5:55 AM, we were advised that the four Land Rovers had arrived and we can all get onto the vehicles to begin our drive. Each Land Rover had three rows of seats, each slightly higher than the row in front of it. So, we took the seats furthest to the back to ensure we would have the best possible viewing opportunity. We’re not talking about several feet higher, but only about 4 inches or so from one row to another.

About 10 minutes later, we arrived at the front gates of the Nambiti Private Game Reserve. As the name suggests, it is a private reserve with all of the big 5 species (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) on 20,000 acres of bushveld and has over 30 species of game roaming the conservancy. Over the course of the next four hours, we did spot a lot of game including some time we spent viewing three cheetah brothers. Although it wasn’t the best vantage point to see them since they were hiding in some tall grass overlooking a ridge, we did manage to see enough of them to count as a decent sighting. The lions, leopards, and rhino’s eluded us on this drive, but we did manage to spot one elephant hanging out in a river and several cape buffalo. Furthermore, giraffes and various ungulates including zebra, wildebeest, kudu, impala, springbuck, and a host of others were seen all over the reserve throughout our drive. There were also many species of birds including eagles and horn bills that called the reserve home and built nests in trees and on the ground.

A couple of adult giraffes

Grazing Blue Wildebeest

There is an observation about safaris that I suppose I should bring up at this point in terms of animal viewing. Having spent two weeks on various game safaris in Kenya several years ago, this safari here in the Nambiti Game Reserve, and the other safaris I’m about to do, I have noticed that more often than not, whenever you do spot an animal, it is usually their rear end. By the time you get close enough to spot most animals with some level of detail, they have already flagged you as an annoyance and have started walking/galloping/running the other way. Predators don’t do it as much as other animals, but you also see far fewer predators in the wild than you will see their prey. So, prepare for a lot of pictures with the rear end of the animal facing you. By the time the animals stop and look at you again, you probably will need a good telephoto lens on your camera to get a good shot. Otherwise, it’ll just be a bunch of animals off in the distance.

We returned to the train just after 10 AM and several members of the staff were waiting for us with a linen draped table filled with glasses of juice and wine as well as hot towels to wipe the dust off our hands and faces. This is when you know it is five star service! We embarked the train and continued on our general southeasterly direction towards Durban. At 11 AM, brunch was served in the dining car and then we we had free time for the next several hours. I spent the vast majority of this time hanging out in the rear Observation car talking with the other guests and watching the landscape of the KwaZulu-Natal province go by.

Around 2 PM, the train rolled into the town of Estcourt. Here, the guests were divided into two groups based on their preferences for this afternoon’s excursion. The first group were led by a shuttle bus to the battlefields where the Battle of Spioenkop was fought during the Second Anglo-Boer War back on January 23-24, 1900. This battle is described by some as being one of the most needless battles in history. The second outing was another game drive. This time through the Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve. Despite being a history buff, I chose this option since walking through a battlefield that has not seen any combat in over a century did not seem very exciting.

The shuttle ride to the nature reserve took about 45 minutes. Once there, there were two land rovers waiting to take us around the reserve. Compared to the Nambiti Reserve from this morning, the Spioenkop was far more beautiful due to the large Spioenkop lake present. The highlight of this drive were the half dozen white rhinos that were grazing at the far corner of this 10872 acre (4400 hectare) reserve. The sight of the animals grazing around the lush green landscape in front of the lake one of the better safari sights I have seen since my visit to Lake Nakuru in Kenya in 2001.

Entrance to Spioenkop Dam Nature Reserve

Pair of White Rhinos

Following the game drive, we headed just up the road and to the Spioenkop Lodge for an evening dinner of braai, or a South African BBQ, of mutton, steak, and beef sausages. The guests who had done the battlefield tour were already at the lodge waiting for us and we spent the next three hours at the lodge walking the grounds, watching the sunset, and feasting on the great food. Finally, just after 9 PM, we reloaded back into the shuttle buses and drove the 45 minutes back to Estcourt and onto our awaiting train.

Braai Preparation at Spioenkop Lodge

Lantern at Spioenkop Lodge

I again returned to the Observation car since there was going to be a small party for one of the Rovos staff members who was turning 19. However, due to some issues with another guest who had hurt herself, the staff needed to attend to her, and the party was cancelled. After a while longer and an amazingly great tasting sparkling lemonade and passion fruit cocktail, I headed back to my suite to turn in for the night.

All in all, the two game drives were quite good and I’m really glad I got to see several white rhinos. They are incredible animals to observe in the wild and amazingly quiet despite their large size.

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I've always felt that a life full of experiences is far more valuable than a life full of material goods. I have yet to come out of one of these experiences poorer than when I first went into it.

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