My husband and I recently returned from a spectacular safari that also contributed to a good cause: raising money to support the service projects of the Rotary Club of Polokwane, South Africa. For more than a decade, Charles Hardy has organized weeklong safaris in May and August for eight guests at a time as his club’s primary fundraising activity.
We arrived in Johannesburg and spent the first night at a guesthouse in Pretoria, getting to know our safari companions over dinner. The following morning we were driven three hours to Polokwane and the homes of our hosts for the next two nights. At a formal dinner in our honor, we met a surprisingly diverse group of Rotarians and their spouses.
Our first game drive was in the Polokwane Game Reserve, followed by lunch at the Polokwane Country Club. We also visited the Siloe School for the Blind, where we toured the new music rooms built with the Rotary Club’s contributions and enjoyed a performance by their students.
The next morning we took a beautiful drive through the mountains to Kruger National Park. We spent three nights at Lataba Camp in the Fish Eagle Guest House in large individual bedroom suites with private baths and a great room with a full kitchen. Rotarian Celia Lister served delicious home-cooked meals featuring traditional South African fare between game drives.
For our final three nights, we stayed at the enchanting Kings Camp private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in a luxurious suite overlooking the watering hole beyond the swimming pool.
We visited in late August, at the end of the winter dry season in these mostly flat grasslands. Because the trees and shrubs had not fully leafed out, we had good views of the animals, though for such large creatures they blend in remarkably well. Cold mornings were followed by warm, sunny days. The night sky was clear and full of stars; seeing the Southern Cross constellation was a thrill for us Northern Hemisphere dwellers.
We saw an astonishing variety of animals, some from just a few feet away – zebra, giraffe, hippopotamus, crocodile, rhinoceros, leopard, lion, cape buffalo, honey badger, scrub hare, hyena, jackal, wild cat, baboon, monkey, antelope, wildebeest, warthog, mongoose, snake and many beautiful birds.
In one memorable morning game drive, we saw the Big Five – cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhinoceros. Viewing highlights included family groups with their young, a leopard with two cubs and a kill in a tree, several dozen hyenas devouring a dead cape buffalo and three male lions attacking a herd of cape buffalo.
Our week in South Africa ran like clockwork, with a full schedule and limited downtime. Accompanied by locals, we never felt unsafe. As they sing in Disney’s “The Lion King,” “hakuna matata” – Swahili for “no worries.”
Val Carpenter is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos and serves on the Los Altos City Council.