Qwabi Private Game Reserve is the latest addition to the Waterberg’s wild zone
Strictly speaking, I should know better than to talk during a game drive. But, having said that, I must explain that one of my earliest memories of the game reserve (to which my family made a beeline every school holiday) includes my father blasting La Traviata at top volume, clearly unperturbed by the likelihood that this would impact our game-viewing opportunities. Add to this the fact that I have an incurable chat habit, with my observations and bon mots usually accompanied by sweeping hand gestures, and the stage is set for a little incident I like to call, “The time I was nearly eaten by a lion.”
It was our final game drive through Qwabi Private Game Reserve, and the eyes of all in the vehicle were collectively peeled for elephants or lions – a tad unimaginative, especially given that our guide Brandon had already proved to us that smaller game give us just as much to marvel at as the Big Five (more about that later), but old habits die hard. Brandon had already warned us that, being new to the reserve, the lions may prefer to stay away from the roads and would be tricky to find. Minutes later, he was proved wrong by a young male, sitting on the road shoulder, just metres away from the road.
Up close and personal
We each draw a breath as we stop to watch the magnificent cat, close enough to see the flecks in his giant eyes. It is a moment filled with wonder – and I just have to go and break it by launching into adetailed story, complete with waving digits. “Please tone it down,” Brandon urges in a hushed voice – just as the lion stands quickly, growling and staring at me as if I’m a doughnut and he’s just come off a Banting diet.
Brandon jolts the car forward but, while the others in the vehicle are crowing about the excitement of the experience, I am wishing that we would drive away. Far away. Fast. We settle to get another look at the male, taking in the sunlight dappling his mane and the low rasp of his breath, when all of a sudden, he takes offence at our presence once more. This time he is even more forceful in voicing his displeasure – his roar is visceral; he springs to his feet, and every nerve in my body is tingling. Brandon decides that his patience has been pushed well beyond its limits, and speeds away; each of us agreeing that this is the very best lion sighting ever.
Truth be told, many of my sightings at Qwabi could be prefaced with the descriptor ‘best ever’. There was the best ever hippo sighting, for example. The first time I encountered Qwabi’s hippos was at sunset: standing on the deck at Letamo, the largest of Qwabi’s three lodges, I listened to them greeting the new evening with a series of guttural honks. It was an insipid prelude to the show they put on the next day, however. I’m used to counting myself lucky if I spy a pair of piggy eyes and nostrils above the water’s surface, but these guys were content to give me a dentist’s view of their incisors as they apparently engaged in a yawning competition; jaws open wide enough for me to count the ridges on their pink palates.
Then, there was my experience with the foam nest frog. Brandon, it turns out, is an enthusiastic frogger (in fact, he is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable guides I have encountered to date, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds and bugs that brings the bush to life in a way that just doesn’t happen if you limit your focus to big game). While explaining the properties of a rhino rubbing post, he spied a pair of frogs making their nest – a testimony to his game-spotting skills. Because this is a family magazine, I will refrain from explaining just how their nests are made. Suffice it to say, I have never felt less comfortable around a pair of amphibians.
Revel in the details
The fact that all of these sightings were set against the backdrop of the Waterberg Mountains certainly adds to their magic. Bush lovers will argue that there isn’t a single wilderness area in South Africa that doesn’t make your soul feel nourished; they may agree, though, that the Waterberg is especially blessed in beauty, its lush verdancy making it particularly remarkable. Visitors to the reserve are lucky to have 11,000ha of this exquisite landscape to explore; land which has recently been rewilded to turn the once agricultural area into a wildlife wonderland. And wonderland it is. The reserve strives to offer visitors a range of experiences. Letamo is the ideal destination for people who want their kids to experience the miracle that is the bush, but without the threat of malaria, and offers a well-equipped kids’ playground as well as a children’s pool. There’s also a padel court, spa and gym – so, pretty muchsomething for everyone. Meanwhile, the Bobohi lodge, scheduled to open in the upcoming months, offers a more exclusive bush getaway for adults, and Semela – also set to open later this year – is a great choice for small groups.
My advice? Revel in the small details. Yes, you’ll have plenty of chances to see the Big Five – but you may well find that allowing yourself to be astounded by the number of dung beetles scuttling around fresh droppings; marvelling at the smells that nature can produce (drive past the stink shepherd’s tree and you’ll see what I mean); and watching lilacbreasted rollers dip and dive mid-air leaves you with a new respect for the bush.