The Kruger - Sabi Sand - The Simbambili Game Drive Experience

A key part of the safari experience are the twice daily game drives.  At Simbambili Game Lodge up to nine people pile into two open air Land Rovers each with an experienced guide and tracker.
On our first drive, a renowned South African bird photographer joined us.  His camera was massive!
We'd drive off into the bush in search of creatures great and small.
We'd always see impala, the most abundant antelope in the area.  Our guide joked that this was the one thing he could guarantee we'd see on each outing.  The rest was up to the skill of the ranger and tracker with a dash of luck thrown in.  If the animals don't want to be found, they won't be...
We bumped along through all sorts of terrain.  We crossed dry, sandy riverbeds...
...lonely gnarled trees stood out from the landscape.
We needed sharp eyes to see the things hiding out there.  Here we found a shy buffalo grazing away in the distance.
We spotted signs of animals everywhere.  Beyond their tracks, there were other obvious things to note, like this tree pushed over by an elephant.
We relied heavily on our tracker (his English name was Service) and our ranger, Pierre, (a South African who's roots go back to the early French Hugenot settlers in the country).  When they saw something promising, they'd hop out to have a look while we all waited expectantly.
Mid-way through each game drive, we'd take a quick break in a private spot.  In the evening, we were treated to a 'sundowner' (e.g., gin and tonic, wine) and snacks like dried fruit, nuts, and biltong (the South African version of beef jerky often made with game meat).  During the morning game drive, coffee and cookies or rusks (like biscotti) were a welcome treat.
On our first drive, we dropped off the bird photographer at a private plane on a dusty airstrip.
Away they went!
Morning game drives at this time of year (August) were quite cold.  We were equipped with blankets and hot water bottles to make the journey more pleasant.
We always got an early start.  The drives started around 6:15 am.  The sunrises were beautiful.
Service always sat on the tracker seat in the front looking out for animals.  Another of his jobs was to make sure we didn't get stuck when we went off road.
Pierre was fearless in his driving and would follow leopards and other animals into the bush as allowed (i.e., you can't follow rhinos off road).  I thought all the noise of the vehicle would scare the animals away.  However, the animals are used to seeing the game drive vehicles around and just went about their business paying us no attention.
At night, Service would use a spotlight to help spot animals based on the tell-tale reflection from their eyes.
Our first few game drives were fairly uneventful as the weather was cloudy and windy which apparently makes prey animals a bit skittish and also keeps the predators away.  We mostly saw impala, warthogs, and a few birds on our first forays into the bush.  The game was so scarce that we even stopped to admire giant termite mounts.  They are quite impressive, actually.
Others that had been on safari a few days before us were regaling us with tales of leopards, fighting giraffes, and cheetahs doing a tap dance (just kidding on that last one).  We were starting to get a bit concerned that we'd come all this way and we weren't going to see anything of consequence.  Fortunately, we were wrong.  Our last game drives picked up considerably.  We saw wildebeest.
giraffes...
...hyenas that refused to make way for our vehicle.
...elephants...and more.
We always knew when one of the other rangers radioed in a particularly good sighting because Pierre would floor it to make sure we got there in time.
Sure enough, on one such instance, we got to see a few juvenile male lions roaming on the open plain.
There were accompanied by their battle scarred 'granny' as Pierre called this feline lady.
We were delighted by smaller animals too like this tree squirrel...
...mongoose...
...and even a type of mantis (not sure if he's the praying type) who sat patiently on my finger.
The highlight though was definitely seeing a leopard in the wild.  They are quite rare in general but you have a good chance of spotting them in South Africa.
They move with grace and beauty and their fur is simply stunning.
I'm now going to devote individual posts to celebrate the different species that we saw in more detail.

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Sidewalk Safari: The Kruger - Sabi Sand - The Simbambili Game Drive Experience
The Kruger - Sabi Sand - The Simbambili Game Drive Experience
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Sidewalk Safari
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