As a field guide I use to tell my guests “I don’t recommend experiencing just one section of Africa. To truly appreciate this magnificent continent you need to visit as many destinations as possible. Each one is authentic.”

My most recent trip into another part of Africa strengthened my theory even more so.

I was up and ready, long before the Cape Robin-Chat in our garden started his day…exploring new areas tend to do that to me. The GPS, a bottle of water and my passport were the last items I grabbed on my way out. It was a scenic six-hour drive, ten kilometers of dodging some serious potholes, and an uncomplicated Pont drift border post before I entered the area known as “The Land of Giants”. Warm smiles greeted us all along the rocky road leading us deeper and deeper into this 29 000 hectare of untamed property called Mashatu Game Reserve. Main Camp, an oasis in the scorching heat and home to Wim and I for the days to follow.

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Black basalt rivers snake through rocky surroundings, met by massive Mashatu trees that’s permanently topped with lush green leaves. How deep must these roots dive to sustain their seductive evergreen canopies? My thoughts were interrupted by a sudden sweep of some sort…white-fronted bee-eaters perched on the small branches and rocks in the dry riverbed ready to strike, and consume, any low flying insect. There are definitely hyenas in this area – their snow-white droppings are a dead giveaway.

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We saw guinea fowl by the hundreds and I am convinced they are to Mashatu what impalas are to the Kruger National Park. My first day was rounded off with a lioness and her three cubs protecting their eland kill from the pestering jackals before we slowly started heading back to camp where traditional cooking awaited us.

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Things don’t always go as planned. We were meant to start our second day with a cup of coffee on the nearest kopje, but because of the chill factor biting at our necks and exposed calves we decided not to. We ended up spending time with waking baboons and elephants coming down the riverbed to drink water in the nearest puddle. I slid out of the side of the Land Cruiser with the elephants at a safe distance to lie flat on my belly. Blissful in my own creative landscape I heard Wim say: “Quick, get back in the car”. Not looking over my shoulder at the danger visible in his voice I quickly focused on getting the camera and myself safely back in the vehicle. Only then did I take the opportunity to look at the threat. There they where, eight hyenas following the matriarch, mesmerized by the old leathery sheath of giraffe skin she’s got clenched in her jaw barely held off the floor by her muscular neck. The rest of the morning was spent filming the hyenas and the interaction surrounding their most valued giraffe skin. Hungry we returned to camp for break-feast.

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A female leopard was found during the morning drive, stashed in a massive Mashatu tree together with her steenbok kill. We decided not to drive around that afternoon, but instead we went straight to the leopard to observe and film her behavior until the darkness forced us to return to camp.

 

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By the third day the question of time and counting of game drives were forgotten, leaving me only in awe of the beauty of my surroundings. That morning’s slow drive through the dry Majale river bed edged on a mystical dream….I swear, if I dared to looked any closer there could be fairies living there.

Sundowners will never be the same. Wim took me to this gigantic old Baobab tree growing on a five story high boulder in the southern section of the reserve. It looked like the Baobab was the guard to his realm, overlooking the vast and dry land he so dearly was rooted to. Not nearly as intimidating as his big five brother – an elephant screw made a guest-appearance, a lifer added to my “small five” encounters. This baobab memory was definitely stored in my old age memories for that one day sitting on a porch somewhere staring into my memory bank. It was just sheer beauty that can’t be forgotten.

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Unique to Mashatu is the C4 Images’ underground photographic hide, getting you eye level with animals coming down to drink from the waterhole directly in front of the hide. The hide consists of some serious quiet time patiently waiting for the animals to arrive. Impalas, kudu’s, swarms of quelleas, quinea fowl in their hundreds, warthogs, elephants and some, like Wim, have been lucky enough to experience lions eye level from within the hide.

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As all good things do come to an end, this was most definitely a magical experience and worth recommending to any nature enthusiast, a gem called Mashatu.

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Article by: Mags Vorster