Kapama Game Reserve South Africa, Part V

If you missed it, check out part onepart two, part three, and part four (of our Africa honeymoon recap)!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

The end has officially arrived! I have to admit, I’m a little sad to wrap up my safari posts. It has been so much fun (for the most part!) reliving the trip and telling you all about it. Thank you for indulging me!

After spending two nights in Victoria Falls, we left feeling refreshed and ready for our final safari experience in South Africa. The next morning, we flew back to Johannesburg, where we connected and boarded a flight to Nelspruit Airport, which was a two-hour drive from our final camp located in the Kapama Game Reserve (nearby Kruger National Park).

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Unlike our Botswana safaris, which took place in national parks (animals migrate to and from it, and it is 100% wild), a game reserve is technically an enclosed, natural habitat. However, to put it in perspective, Kapama Game Reserve was fairly big (50 square miles), so for the most part, you still had to drive a long distance to reach the borders of the property.

The landscape is untouched, the animals are all wild, but it is a somewhat more orchestrated–if that’s the right word–safari experience as the owners manage the wildlife population. For example: if the lion population grows to be too large and the land/food chain cannot support that number of lions, they will transfer lions to other game reserves in the area.

We arrived to our camp late that night, settled into our beautiful room, and had a delicious three-course dinner before gearing up for our game drive the next morning. Our schedule at our last camp was a little different in that we woke up even earlier (5:15 AM, generally), had a quick snack or cup of coffee, left for our game drive by 6:00 AM, and ate breakfast once we returned at around 9:15 AM.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Unlike our previous camps, this property used uncovered safari vehicles and they actually sent two guides on each game drive. The head guide would drive (and tell us about what we were seeing), and the other would track and sit (without a seatbelt!) on this insane chair attached to the very front of the jeep.

If you look closely, you can see it in the picture above! Can you imagine sitting on that thing and being within a few feet of lions, leopards, or rhinos?! All of which happened within the next few days. He was basically lion bait.

I can’t even handle thinking about it.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

The landscape in South Africa, which is very hilly and has several mountains, was very different than Botswana, which is almost entirely flat.

It was also drier and the property managed the roads regularly, so for the most part (we did off-road a few times!) we were driving on well-packed dirt roads, allowing us to travel at much higher speeds and cover more ground.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

One of the first things we saw were several giraffes munching on umbrella thorn trees!

These thorns are crazy sharp (we actually off-roaded and had to duck down to avoid them at several points) so it was crazy to watch them wrap their tongues around the branches and grab leaves without hurting themselves in the slightest.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Not soon after that, we came across a small herd of elephants. I was nervous at first, but for whatever reason, we slowly began to feel much more comfortable around them from that point on.

They seemed slightly smaller and appeared to be much more accustomed to being around vehicles and people (since the reserve has several camps within it, I have a feeling these elephants encounter vehicles several times a day) than the elephants we had come across in Botswana.

They are also within a controlled environment, which means they have no experiences with poachers or public vehicles, so that helps. Truthfully, they barely glanced our way most of the time.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

After driving for an hour or so, we stopped near a watering hole to stretch our legs and have coffee/tea/snacks!

It was pretty luxurious, even if I was the only person wanting to stay in the vehicle the whole time (–> ‘damaged’ safari person).

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

In actuality, I did step out of the vehicle for a short amount of time to check out this incredible (there really is no other word for it) giraffe carcass about 100 feet away.

The giraffe had died a few months earlier of old age, and the hide had completely dried out. It was crazy to see up close!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Not soon after that, we stumbled across a family of lions (two mothers and four cubs) in an open plain. We followed them a few hundred feet and watched the young cubs play and roll over on the ground.

I still can’t believe how many lions we saw during our entire trip in Africa!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

LOOK.AT.THOSE.PAWS.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Overall, it was a really eventful morning drive! Right before we were returning to our camp for breakfast, we saw two safari vehicles in the distance and quickly realized that they were looking at a small family of white rhinos in the distance.

These were our FIRST rhinos of the trip (there are very few in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, so we knew probably wouldn’t see any there) and they were huge.

Since the game reserve has a rule that no more than two vehicles can be a viewing area at one time–as a means to protect and not overwhelm the animals–we ended up leaving fairly quickly…but luckily, we saw a few more during our afternoon drive later that day!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

One of the nicest things about our camp in the Kapama Game Reserve was that the schedule was definitely more conducive to down-time (and relaxation), which felt really nice after the previous eight days of our trip, which were fairly jam-packed.

Oh, and there was quite a bit of time spent eating, so that was fun too.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Although the camp was surrounded by an electric fence (mostly to keep out cape buffalos, cats, and elephants), several other animals could be seen within the property, including these gorgeous nyala.

Their white stripes and spots were beautiful and they allowed me to get really close (and there were several fawns!), so I could take lots of pictures! Thank you nyala!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

We left for our afternoon game drive at around 4:00 in the afternoon, and unlike our previous camps, we actually stayed out well past sunset.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

One of the first things that we saw (or tracked) on our afternoon game drive was a mother rhino with her baby!

Oh my gosh, you guys, rhino babies might be even cuter than any other baby out there.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Once the sun had set, our guide told us that we could go check out a nearby hyena den and see if they came out to hunt at night.

The den itself was huge and there,  sitting all alone on the mound was the tiniest of hyena pups. Oh my goodness, I wouldn’t exactly say that adult hyenas are the most beautiful animals, but the hyena pups were CRAZY CUTE.

Like normal puppies, but possibly even cuter.

We sat there for about 20 minutes–waiting to see if any of the adults came out of the den–and we didn’t see anything. Not soon after that, another pup emerged, followed by two more! Four hyena pups all alone, wrestling each other, while their parents were clearly out hunting for the night.

Soon after that, our guide received a radio call from another camp vehicle stating that several lions had just taken down a zebra nearby. We headed that way, the ground only illuminated by the headlights of our jeep.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

We spent the next 20 minutes looking around for the lions (we could hear them eating, which is not the most comforting sound I’ve experienced).

We knew they were close, but the shrubs and bushes were blocking us from them, so our guide actually drove off the road and we proceeded to basically drive over most of the plants blocking our way (I had to literally crouch down in my seat and cover myself with a blanket not to get impaled by several of those umbrella tree thorn branches!).

And then we stopped. Less than 10 feet away, there were three lions–partially obscured by the brush in front of us–chomping down on a fresh zebra carcass. IT WAS INSANE. {watch the video – you can skip to 4:08, if you’d just like to see the night drive video!}

Incredible to see, but yeah, definitely insane. The lions were definitely preoccupied with eating, but they glanced our way a few times with those sharp yellow eyes and it was unnerving. The only way that we were even able to see them was because the guide was half exposing them with his flashlight.

Oh, and that second guide was still sitting on that completely exposed seat on the front of our safari vehicle. I was fairly relieved to get back to camp that night, eat dinner, and be surrounded by fences on all sides.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

The next morning, we continued the craziness by going on an elephant back safari!

You guys. I know what you’re thinking. We were literally charged by an elephant and barely made out of Africa with our lives–and there we were, voluntarily deciding to climb onto the back of a huge elephant (oh, and without helmets) and take a ride in the middle of an open game reserve. You know, that contains lions and other predators.

Yes, we may have lost our minds.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

We had actually planned this activity well in advance and we had contacted the camp about whether or not we could cancel our reservation following the incident.

They were very understanding, and allowed us to hold off until the night before to make a final decision. In the end, we decided that it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we might end up regretting if we chose not to do it.

Plus, we knew that the elephants were very well trained and it might be good for us to end the trip with a positive elephant memory! We had decided if at any point we felt uncomfortable when we got there, we would just decide not to do it.

The day did not exactly start off well. About a half mile after we left our camp, our safari vehicle got a flat tire and we had to stop to change it. I was convinced this was a bad omen (–>’damaged’ safari person), but we continued as planned.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

The activity began with an introduction of the camp and the elephants. Unlike other elephant back ride safari camps (which, sadly, are known for abusing elephants or treating them poorly), this facility had a very positive and healthy relationship with the animals.

Before our ride, we actually had the chance to feed one of the elephants (and touch its tongue!!!) and pet it. It was incredible.

Connor and I actually rode together on the demonstration elephant–the one shown in the video–with a trainer, and the rest of the guests rode individually with other trainers.

All of the elephants at the camp had been rescued from the wild (several of them were actually born at the camp itself) and had been doing it for years.

Aside from one ride a day, the elephants openly roam and eat in the surrounding reserve–however, they come back to sleep in a covered shelter at night. In fact, they actually dislike being out by themselves without human company.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

It was actually an incredibly smooth ride, I was very surprised!

Along the way, we stopped at a watering hole of the elephants to drink some water, and we also had the chance to see several giraffes, warthogs, and birds.

If you’ve ever been on a horse back trail ride, you know that most of the time the horses will stop to eat along the way–and the elephants were no different. Except instead of eating a little bit of grass, the elephant would grab a huge branch from a nearby tree, carry it with him the rest of the ride, and strip it of the bark (the only thing they actually like to eat off of it).

It was pretty amusing.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

We also had a chance to stop and take pictures, which was so appreciated because we barely got a chance to take pictures of the two of us during our entire trip.

Hello future Christmas card!

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

After our hour-long ride, we returned and were given the chance to pet and take pictures next to the elephant (and feed it a few more times!).

It was very special. But it was astonishing to think that a similarly sized elephant to this one had charged our vehicle just a few days earlier–as you can tell, it is huge– and we had no scratch on our body. Part of me still can’t quite come to grips with that.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

To feed them, you actually dropped these pellets (which they LOVE!) directly into their trunks!

The nearby warthogs have smartly discovered that the ground gets littered with excess pellets when they are doing this, so there were a ton of them hanging out nearby.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

On the drive back to our camp, we ended up seeing a few lions and several cape buffalo, and got back in time for breakfast.

We had a leisurely rest of the day, as our our travel agent had actually arranged complimentary massages for us! Funnily enough, my masseuse told me that I had extremely tense shoulders and back muscles. Little did she know.

That afternoon, we took our last game drive of the trip! We had decided to sleep in the following morning (as we had to leave for 9 am for a 30+ hour journey home). It ended up being a relatively quiet few hours on the road, but we did see several giraffe (all of which were standing in perfect silhouette with the setting sun) and small herd of cape buffalo. Once the sun had set, we also happened to see–only by the guide’s flash light–the entire rhino family grazing.

We returned back to camp and enjoyed a traditional South African meal outside with our guide and fellow guests of the camp before heading back to our rooms to pack up and get some sleep. Despite our efforts to sleep in, we actually woke up at 5:30 AM–clearly we were on a schedule at this point–and enjoyed breakfast and coffee outside and headed out to the airport.

As we were driving out of the reserve (maybe about 50 feet away from the entrance), we came upon several giraffe that were only feet from our vehicle! I love giraffe and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip.

Kapama Game Reserve South Africa

Thank you so much for allowing me to share our honeymoon trip with you! I really hope you enjoyed it, and if any of you have any questions or are planning on traveling to the same areas (and would like some advice/tips), please feel free to comment or email me directly!

It really was the trip of a lifetime and an experience I will never ever forget.