For Manfred's birthday we want to spoil ourselves and book two days in a safari lodge. The private game reserve Balule with the Pondoro Game Lodge lies in the area of the so-called Greater Kruger Park and is no longer delimited by fences for some years, so that an unhindered migration of the animals is possible. On the day before the birthday we arrive at the lodge around noon and are given a very warm welcome. Our suite is much larger than MOMO and from the terrace we have a beautiful view of the Olifants River.
After a light lunch we leave for the first game drive in the evening. Besides us, Jacques and Deborah from France are on board. Eric the tracker sits on the far left and our driver Marius is a ranger who can tell stories about almost each animal. First we see some wild dogs with cubs. They prefer to live in abandoned termite mounds. After a few weeks they move again to another burrow, because the parasites then take over. Actually a good idea to move the complete household instead of cleaning.
A lone bull elephant comes very close to us with some threatening gestures and shortly after we see the first lions. Eight lionesses lie lazily in the grass and do what lions do when they are not hunting and eating, namely sleep for a good 20 hours a day. With the Landrover we are just two meters away from the action. A great feeling to be so close to the animals. They have realized our presence for sure, but they don't show it with any expression. If something moves, then only to get rid of away the annoying flies.
Afterwards, we observe a pair of lions that has retreated to mate. Lions have no explicit times for it. The female prompts and is the one who sets the pace. The process goes on for several days until the lioness retreats. A great spectacle we could observe there.
Around 8pm we are back in the camp where a delicious candlelight dinner awaits us on the lovingly prepared terrace overlooking the river. The wake up call for next morning is at 5:15am and at 6am we start again to the game drive. We experience a fantastic sunrise and after this a herd of buffalo with a good hundred animals in the best photo light.
As we drive on, a lone cheetah suddenly appears out of nowhere. In the whole Kruger Park there are only about 150 of them and we are happy about a very special birthday present for Manfred.
Next we encounter two rhinos, both without horns. Since 2019 there is a program for the Kruger Park and the adjacent private reserves to curb poaching. The animals are anesthetized and the horn is cut off with a chainsaw. The entire process takes only 20 minutes and the animal is even given earplugs in the process. However, this procedure must be repeated every 2-3 years because the horn grows back just like a fingernail. So far, the measure has probably been successful and since the animals have no natural enemies except humans, the impairment of the missing horn is the lesser evil. On the black market a horn is worth twice as much as gold and as long as the demand is given, mainly from the Far East, the animals are still extremely endangered. Meanwhile all parks in Africa no longer announce the population of the rhinos and also the sightings are not published on the boards in parks and lodges.
Around 9am we are back again. For breakfast there is a surprise serenade from the staff and a lovingly decorated birthday table with a bottle of champagne and balloons. Afterwards we have free and can dedicate ourselves in all peace to the amenities our accommodation offers. On our hidden terrace we sit in the jacuzzi and sip the birthday champagne with a view of elephants and crocodiles.
At 3:30pm we start again for the Sunset Game Drive with zebras, giraffes and an elephant that comes so close to us that we can almost stroke it. After a great sunset and the obligatory sundowner drink the drive continues in the light of a searchlight. We discover a small owl and a little later a leopard that has made itself comfortable in a branch fork while we hear the hyenas below him as they crack the bone remains of its prey.
It takes us a good four hours to get back to the lodge. Dinner is served down by the river today. Everything is decorated with lanterns and campfires flicker at the tables. The girls from the staff stage an African dance show and after dinner I am surprised with a birthday cake and an African version of Happy Birthday. When we return to our suite late at night, everything is prepared as if we were on a honeymoon. The freestanding bathtub is already filled with water and we just have to dive in. Only far after midnight we fall dead tired into bed. One can say, that was probably an all-around successful birthday.
At 6am we go on another game drive. After a few kilometers Armand from the staff suddenly stands in the middle of the wilderness with a safari jeep and serves fresh pancakes. On the way we see an eagle and a vulture looking for food shortly after sunrise. Then there are water buffalos, giraffes, rhinos, wild dogs and two lions that come so close that we can count their whiskers.
At noon we say goodbye to our super nice hosts. That was really a more than extraordinary birthday.
Many thanks to all the staff of Pondoro Lodge who made this birthday an unforgettable experience. You make the difference!!
Now we have to take care of ourselves again. For the next days we have reserved several campsites in the middle and north of Kruger Park and are looking forward to more game drives in this great environment.