My Horseback Game Viewing Safari in South Africa
Tracking the Big Five on horseback.
My Horseback Game Viewing Safari in South Africa
German couple Gerti and Philip Kusseler run horseback safaris from their ranch ‘Wait a Little’ in the Karongwe Game Reserve in the Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. It is the only place in Africa to offer a horseback game viewing safari operation in ‘Big Five’ country. The Big Five being elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo.
What you get is a riding adventure that will transport you back to a time when the original explorers ventured into the bushveldt on horseback. Where nothing is taken for granted and each day brings something unexpected and truly memorable. Unlike the travellers of old, however, we stayed in luxurious canvas safari tents and enjoyed the very best cuisine each evening before retiring to enticingly cosy beds.
Right from the start, a safety briefing made it clear that we must respect the environment we were now in, and closely follow Philip’s orders while out in the bush. He carried a .44 Magnum and a shotgun as standard practice but made it abundantly clear that while he would be prepared to use his weaponry to ensure the safety of his guests, he would not shoot without very good reason. He had never had to do so as a professionally qualified ranger, he said, and if there was any shooting to be done, I suspected it would be of us for our possible stupidity rather than his beloved animals!
The horses used at Wait a Little are the South African Boerperd and Noitgedacht, Arab, Anglo-Arab, Appaloosa and the American Quarter Horse. They are specially selected for their courage and endurance and trained by Gerti and Philip to be reliable, fit, well mannered and responsive; important considerations for their specially chosen ride. The saddles used are Leon Liversage trail-rider and English saddles. Tack is kept in excellent condition and horses are allocated according to each rider’s needs and proficiency.
An experience we had previously had with lions resulted in an adrenalin rush that made the blood pump more quickly, but we all felt that we could trust Philip with our lives (as we were literally doing) and didn’t feel unduly panicked. Trust is the most important criteria in a land where the animals roam freely and the humans who are ‘caged’ in their homes at night.
Each day proved a revelation. The very nature of the trails meant that Philip was consistently assessing the tracks that he found, weighing up the potential dangers inherent in a conservancy where lions and leopards lived. These are two of the five that you do not want to stumble upon unexpectedly while on horseback.
Thanks to his tracking skills we encountered two cheetah brothers, at close quarters, feasting on an impala they had just killed; a family of rare wild dogs; three crocs at a lake, one of whom took a decided interest in Philip and his horse…and so much more.
On one occasion we came across a gathering of vultures after the remains of a kill. These ugly birds, with their huge wingspan, swooped over us menacingly. It wasn’t hard to see how in time past some poor traveller might have ended up on their menu.
That in itself was enough to get the adrenalin racing again, as was the exciting encounter with a young elephant on the last day. Feeling a bit put out by our presence, this king of creatures made his feelings clear by flapping his ears and then running at us. Understandably, the horses decided it was time to get off side, but again, Philip was controlling the situation and there was no undue cause for alarm.
Enjoying a gentler pace
In contrast, we also spent many quieter hours on this horseback safari with some spectacular sightings of more amiable creatures such as the stately giraffes, elusive zebras, the cutest impalas and comical looking warthogs. We learned about the conservation program at Kaongwe and the fight to save the endangered Cape Wild Dog. We enjoyed the famous ritual of ‘Sundowners’ while camping out under the stars. We sampled the luxury of the Edeni River Lodge from where we tracked leopard by jeep. So many memories!
A lot of the riding was at walking pace as Philip concentrated on tracking the animals, but there was also time for some exhilarating ‘sport riding’ when we cantered for miles along dusty tracks, dodging the spiky Acacia trees, or weaving between the huge Palms that lined the dry riverbeds.
We rode in the early morning and late afternoon. Even then, the scorching, unrelenting sun made the going difficult at times. We wondered how any sane person would have ever chosen to explore this virgin land without the backup of modern amenities.
What my South African horseback game viewing safari offered was an unparalleled appreciation of this most magnificent of countries. Everything conspired to make it a holiday so memorable, it burned itself indelibly into the subconscious.
Encountering the animals would have been sufficient, but the experience was so much more than that. The amazing South African sunsets; surreal evening light that shed an eerie luminescence over the land; a people so kind, hospitable, friendly and generous, that you felt as if you were among life-long friends; a landscape that for all its barrenness, was alive with vibrant metallic hues of graphite, silver, quartz, aquamarine, gold and bronze…this was pure African magic. It casts a spell that will haunt you forever.
The trip was organized by British based Unicorn Trails, who offer a wide range of personally vetted quality riding holidays all over the world, for riders of all levels of experience.
For details of our game viewing safari in South Africa packages please contact:
01767 600 606
Adapted by Andrew Knapp from the original article that appeared in Irish Equestrian featuring a horseback game viewing safari booked through Unicorn Trails.