AMAKHALA HILLSNEK LODGE
Excitement, anticipation and joy – I was about to embark on a four-day getaway into the African bush with my son. How incredibly special this was, his gift to me. We were going to spend quality time together, creating new memories that would last forever. In life we give our children roots and then we give them wings to fly and leave the nest, so every precious moment that we can find time to be together counts.
On the eve of departure there was the thrill and excitement of not knowing what to expect, because every bush experience is unique. Discovery, surprise and the unknown are what await you in the wild.
Hillsnek on the Amakhala Reserve in the Eastern Cape is authentic, tranquil, private and privately owned. The lodge has a cozy atmosphere whether it’s summer or winter. Stepping out of the vehicle and over the threshold into this perfect setting leaves you with a sense that time is both precious and has somehow stopped entirely.
Our searches to see the iconic ‘Big Five’ were both exciting and fruitful. Throughout our stay, we were accompanied by our ranger, Roelof. Every day he would greet us with a big friendly smile, before regaling us with his detailed and fascinating knowledge spanning the entirety of the local flora and fauna during our drives. We felt totally safe in his hands as he handled his vehicle with ease and respect, navigating through some seriously challenging and tough terrain in search of some truly awe-inspiring wildlife.
Every drive is unique, with each time of day offering different wildlife and behaviors to observe. My favorite time by far is 5:30am, as the diurnal animals wake up and the landscape comes to life. Being roused as nature intended by the sun breaking over the horizon, the early morning silence is serene and yet powerful, prompting a moment of recognition, appreciation and gratitude. The abundant soft game including Eland, Blesbok, Kudu, Gemsbok, Impala, and red Hartebeest all come alive to create the rich tapestry of life that is the bush.
One of the highlights came when, as we were cruising along in our open-top vehicle, Roelof suddenly stopped the vehicle, switched off the engine and nodded his head in the direction of a bush. There, no more than ten metres from us, was a mother Cheetah and her two cubs, frolicking. We sat there silently for 20 minutes enthralled by this spectacle – this is the joy you get in the wild.
Other encounters that stand out are whenever the elephants appear. Miraculously and, somehow, silently, they appear almost as though out of thin air. Early on during our stay, we came across one of the two large bulls on the reserve – this one had been pushed out of the herd. He proceeded to do a mock charge on our vehicle, flapping his ears and blowing his trumpet in a show of strength and dominance. Even with an escape route, and the vehicle in reverse ready to move further from his space, this was a chilling experience and a sign that nature is not to be trifled with.
The final highlight was truly a magical and rare experience. As part of their wanderings across the reserve, a herd of elephants stopped by the lodge to drink from the pool as though it were a watering hole. Whilst sitting at breakfast, we heard swishing, sloshing and a great big plop! The pool water gushed and swirled as the entire herd stood there jostling for a drinking position only meters away from where only moments before we had refreshed and replenished ourselves. For an hour we sat there entranced by the sight of the elephants filling their trunks, spraying the water down their throats then merrily repeating the process over and over again! By far the most heartwarming and endearing actions to witness were the babies who were barely tall enough to reach into the pool. They were left to feel their way over the side of the pool with their little trunks before plopping them into the water to drink. To be so up close and personal with these magnificent beasts is something I can say I will never forget.
Sadly, time did eventually catch up to us and our stay felt like it was over in no time at all. The beauty of life in the wild is very special: the sightings, the light, the smells, and everything unexpected – it’s all there to discover. It’s comforting to know that there are people who love and respect the bush and fight to conserve it. They make it possible for us to live these experiences and remember these adventures. Thank you to Hillsnek and all the staff there that made our stay truly exceptional.