‘South Africa Weather Warning: Tropical Cyclone Freddy …’ dominated news headlines as the super storm approaches from the distant coast of Australia, breaking records at it charges toward the African continent. Reading the warnings, I knew it would be a wet safari, but nothing could prepare us for the onslaught that would eventually come.
Sunday 26th February was the start of a 4-night safari in the Manyeleti Game Reserve, and after collecting our private guest at Eastgate Airport we set off for the reserve which is situated adjacent to Kruger National Park between the Sabi Sands and Timbavati Reserves. The road to Manyeleti took over an hour longer than normal due to flooding and severe road damage so after picking up at 11:30, we only arrived at North Gate at 13:30.
Five minutes after entering North Gate, my wheels came to a standstill as I watched a sea of water flow across the road, reaching several meters above ground level. A quick U-turn pursued before once again I was blocked off by another powerful river, halting us with incredibly efficiency. Buffelshoek Camp was blocked off from the world, and the only way in was through the flowing waters …
After navigating through deep waters and seemingly impassable roads, we finally entered the South Gate and stopped at Ndzhaka Tented Camp, only to find the shocking reality of a camp completely sunken under water! The usual picturesque little camp on the banks of a dry riverbed was submerged under the mass of murky flood waters, and as we stared in horror, a large snake swam past slowly to further increase the dreadful eeriness of the scene.
Throughout the following 5 days we received no less than 250mm of rain, carving up roads and damaging infrastructure with sinister effect. Manyeleti became a desolate wasteland in front of our eyes, with main roads resembling war-like battle fields, as thick mud swallowed its motorized victims like a bullfrog swallows a canary with gruesome mercilessness.
However, with every heavy cloud there is a silver lining, and we enjoyed great adventure as the elements provided the most challenging conditions I had ever worked in. The rain never dampened our spirits, and we enjoyed several incredible sightings including lions crossing a river, a leopard sighting to ourselves and plenty of hyena and vultures!
The overcast skies and active behavior of the wildlife also presented us with incredible panning opportunities as we slowed the shutter speed down to 1/5 second.
Dramatic skies presented spectacular photographic opportunities as the remains of Cyclone Freddy passed in the background.
In between the sightings, we spent some time rescuing other vehicles including a late-night rescue which was an adventure in itself as we left camp after 8pm!
The last two drives provided open skies and we enjoyed the gentle, warm touch of the sun on our damp cheeks as it finally cut through the dense cloud. It had been an adventure beyond our expectations, and in the end, we enjoyed the insatiable laughter that the storm brought along, all the way from Australia!
Every safari that our guests enjoy, become a part of their legacy; a story book of adventure produced over a lifetime of unforgettable moments. Some safaris are remembered by sightings, others by unusual events and some by adventure. This one will surely go down as the most adventurous safari I had ever been on.
For more about our Manyeleti Photographic and Private Safaris follow the link provided: Big Cats of Kruger Safari and Workshops.
Article and Photography by Armand Grobler [owner of Rhulani Safaris].