By Juan Cooper
Abraham Ramonwana, our guide at Tuli Safari Lodge
A leopard during one of several sightings
After a five hour drive from Johannesburg we arrived at Pont Drift, the border post where Abraham Ramonwana, our ranger, was waiting; he welcomed us to Botswana with a kind smile. Our native guide had enough knowledge and love for the Tuli Block, to make us feel safe and comfortable from the beginning. From the South African border we drove through the dry Limpopo River to the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, an extensive 78,000 hectare area, owned by the people of Botswana as well as private landowners and local communities. We were there to experience the Tuli Adventure Trail, a five night program offered by the Tuli Safari Lodge.
Our first stop was Nokalodi Tented Camp, located in a lovely spot just a few meters away from the Limpopo River, next to a beautiful sandstone cliff. An ancient nyala berry tree provided the perfect setting for a boma, the place where we gathered for meals and fireside time. As we arrived at the camp, we noticed staff singing to welcome us in their native songs.
Some safari vehicles had canvas in the rear and top
A klipspringer eyes us from atop a cliff
Two elephants visited the nyala berry tree in our boma
The excitement began right away. When we were just settling in our tents, Abraham called us to hop in the Land Rover for our first encounter with one of the Big Five (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and buffalo), a young leopard eating a freshly hunted impala under a tree. This impressive scene was the perfect welcome for a safari beginner like me. It allowed me to rapidly discover the magic of the bush. After a night game drive, in which we saw hyenas, owls and several antelopes, we went back to Nokalodi for dinner and to rest in the comfortable Meru-style tents.
Days two and three were full of intense and gratifying experiences. We went on bush walks and discovered how special the flora is, thanks to the explanations of our ranger. We climbed the sandstone hills and were rewarded with extraordinary views of the reserve; and felt the breeze full of unique scents that reminded me I was in Africa. One afternoon while we were in the boma, we had an unexpected visit to the camp; two curious and hungry elephants came to the nyala berry tree that provided shade to our boma to feed. They seemed to be so relaxed that Abraham let them stay near us for a while, providing a perfect moment to take photos and safely enjoy the elephants up close.
The confluence of the rivers was an ideal spot for brunch
Another special experience we had was an excursion to the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, a scenic corner were Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe meet. On our way there we saw colorful birds like the lilac breasted roller, antelope like wildebeest, springbok, impala and kudu, and others like baboons, vervet monkeys and crocodiles. The confluence of the rivers was an ideal spot for a generous brunch which we thoroughly enjoyed while watching the gorgeous landscape.
A shower at Tuli Safari Lodge
There was also a bathtub in the suite
As the bush is always active, the night drives were intense moments when we looked for nocturnal animals like cats (leopards, lions, and servals), jackals and hyenas during the game drives. These adventures became more thrilling with the sounds of the bush, the clear skies and shinning stars.
An afternoon bush walk during which we could see details that we missed from the Land Rover like skulls, footprints and birds, led us to a hide, a place from which to see wild animals while remaining unseen, where we would spend the night. A vibrant sunset was the backdrop for a perfectly served dinner before we jumped into bed with a spotlight in hand so we could look for animals from the top floor of the wooden structure. The next day we arrived at the place we had most anticipated visiting on our trip, the lodge. It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert, with beautiful gardens, vervet monkeys in the trees, and steenboks and warthogs eating grass. The suites were spacious, clean and luxurious, and my bed was perfect for a well deserved rest after all those adventures. There was also a swimming pool, cozy bar, dining room and lounge to sit and chill.
In the following game drives we saw leopards twice more, as well as hyenas, giraffes, elephants, and many African antelopes and birds. For me the Tuli Adventure Trail was a breathtaking experience from beginning to end. With a perfect location, wonderful flora and fauna and the most charming staff taking care of us, I felt at home in the middle of the bush. Click here to read more about our visit to the Tuli Safari Lodge.