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50 Days Southern Africa: Self-Drive Safaris in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe


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Peter Connan
5 hours ago, KaliCA said:

Did you know they are genetically related to…. Elephants. 

I had heard this yes.

But I guess if you use a lenient enough standard, all mammals are?


I much prefer Hyrax to Elephant. They don't push over (or ring-bark) trees for no apparent reason.

Guess I have been watching areas with high elephant densities deteriorate for too long.

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We have a good quiet night at Sinamatella campground and then visit the lions by the Buffalo kill first thing in the morning. But alas…. the lions have given up their kill and the vultures and jackals are feasting on it now. It is fascinating to watch as well and makes for good sunrise entertainment. 






Notice the Jackal running. The vultures actually let it feed but as soon as it was out of the way, the hissing and fluttering started anew.


A lowlight in this park is the state of the roads. We are driving a 4x4 with lowered tire pressure but the condition of some of the roads is horrendous and it doesn’t exactly endear us to stay. 



In fact, after spending another day with few sightings and many cat rumors which turn out to be ghost cats, around Robins Camp, we decide to leave a day earlier than planned and spontaneously spend the extra night in Zambezi NP, close to Victoria Falls town. 

A lowlight: we fill up our gas tank in Victoria and neglect to ask about the price. Imagine our surprise when we pay US$6.60 per gallon. Not even during Covid or in Alaska have we ever payed this much, but Zimbabwe has set this milestone for us. 

At the Zambezi NP office, we book Chundu special campsite about 30 km upriver and located along the Zambezi. It is special in the way that there are absolutely no facilities and my husband builds a small grilling fire in the sand. During our game drives we see a few elephants, Giraffe, Impala, Baboons, and a hyena on a dead Giraffe. 









A highlight: It’s fun to go down to the sandbanks and say to ourselves: Here we are standing on the bank of the mighty Zambezi. Yay!














We hear hippos grunting, watch hundreds of Egyptian Geese take off in flight, see a few Genets by flashlight, and truly enjoy our time camping along the Zambezi. 




Edited by KaliCA
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The next day, we game drive upriver a little, but the lack of game is depressing. After eating our cereal at Hippo Pool, we say good-bye to this park, and go to town and shop for souvenirs.


Sunrise over the Zambezi at Chundu campsite



Monkey at Hippo Pool



Shopping in Victoria town


Later, we cross the border in Kazungula and enter Botswana for our second time. We immediately notice how this country is more advanced than its poorer neighbor. 

We need to replenish our groceries and stop at three different supermarkets until we find everything on our list. Then we make our way to Senyati Safari Camp about 10 km south of Kazungula on the A33.

This camp has all the facilities a camper needs: private bathroom and shower, a big sink which I use to wash our dirty laundry, and a nice elevated and covered patio. Everything is old and worn and the many signs with forbidden activities are off-putting. The main attraction in this camp is its underground hide where we see Ellis from a completely different perspective and almost to the touch. It’s wonderful to spend a few hour in this Hide perched on highchairs watching the elephants from up close. 






Eating pizza while watching Elephants

Later we go through a tunnel and watch them from under the cement block. Notice the cement structure on the ground above. We are under there. 



View of Ellis from the underground hide




Very close, and now imagine the smells and the sounds...


The next morning we pay for our pre-booked afternoon Chobe river cruise at the Nkwe booth in Kasane and then enter Chobe NP at Sidudu Gate and drive down to the riverfront. This is one of my happy places in this world. There is so much life along the river, in its channels, on its islands and over the floodplains…a veritable Garden of Eden, or as a friend put it, a veritable Noah’s Ark. 





A tip: if you pay the daily entrance fee for Chobe NP, the ticket will be valid for the same day when you enter the park again by boat. The boat ride, of course, is an additional fee. 

We are a little unlucky with the weather during our boat excursion. The light turns grey before sunset and the sun disappears into haze. 

Our sightings are nice but not overwhelming. We enjoy seeing two elephants swimming across the river to Sidudu Island, the Skimmers with chicks on Skimmer Island, and three Buffalo swimming across the river.  Then there are Crocs, a Monitor Lizard, Hippos, and many other elephants. It’s a private cruise with two attendants, but not really necessary as we pretty much see the same animals everyone else is seeing. 























A tip: if you do a morning boat cruise, the river is less busy. If you like birds, ask the captain to drive down river towards the rapids and the rocks. Many birds nest there, I was told…should have done that. 

Tonight, we sleep in a real bed and enjoy the amenities of our room at the Sandpiper Lodge in Kasane. Nandos, the chicken place is right next door so we order another great chicken dinner. 

I’m looking forward to our time in Ihaha and game driving the Chobe riverfront. 

Edited by KaliCA
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Lovely reminder of my Chobe cruise many years ago!

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We had a nice time at Sandpiper Lodge but I forgot that breakfast was included, so we ate our cereal as per usual. 

A tip: prepay your park entrance fees. I ended up prepaying all the Botswana park entrance fees through Botswana Footprints and this saves a lot of time and questions at the gates. 

We buy enough groceries for just the three nights in Ihaha as we will be back to do our Savuti and Moremi Shopping later. 

At Sidudu Gate I buy a Tinker’s Map book for Moremi.  The one for Chobe NP is not needed as navigating the riverfront and Savuti is not that difficult.

A highlight: We truly enjoy our three days game driving the Chobe riverfront. Game is prolific; especially elephants are at home here by the hundreds. 





One little story: just before checking in at Ihaha campsite, a very curious elephant is slowly approaching our car  and stands within a few feet from us. When he starts to swing his trunk as if he aimed to touch the car, I close the windows. He stands calmly for quite some time, keeps staring, and then slowly walks off.  Now we can breathe again. All the Chobe elephants we encounter are very relaxed, even in close proximity. 

Everyday we find lions and, of course, my lion heart is full to the brim.


Another little story: We stay with a pride of eight for a long time, as they snooze, survey, get up and walk, and finally set up for a hunt of Impala and Kudu by a water spot. They inch and crouch closer but the young female has no patience and stands erect, walking in plain sight towards the prey. They snort and run into the bushes. The lions all walk for a drink, nuzzle, cuddle, play-fight and are very affectionate with each other. The Impala return and the lions lay down flat, looking like bumps on a log. Very nice camouflage. Gate time is calling and so we don’t know what happened next. 














At a different lion sighting, a lioness is slurping up the intestines of an Impala kill. Not very appealing to watch! After a while, she gets up, grabs an Impala leg and walks around our car. She stops at Phil’s side, stares at us for a few seconds, then drops the leg and walks away! Thanks! We always wanted to be the proud owners of an Impala leg. Haha 









Another time we watch two youngsters as the older one is eating nice chunks of his kill, the younger one is snoozing. When the older one gets up, it’s the younger lion’s turn to eat the left-overs. Both end up with round bellies. 







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More from our time around Ihaha campsite on the Chobe river front:


We find three lionesses who snooze, wake up, yawn, and then march for a long time between the bushes only to appear in the best evening light on our track, making their way to the river. 









Waterbuck, Roan, Kudu, Zebra, Hippo, 1000 Buffalo, Giraffe, Baboon, and hundreds of Impala are frequent sightings. 










Right here I want to build a cabin....





My husband finds this scene on his way back from the ablution block.


Bird life is very prolific as well: Many Fish Eagle, Carmine Bee-Eater, Little Bee-Eater, Spoonbill, Open-Bill Stork, Yellow-Bill Stork, White Pelican, Vultures, and a pair of Hammerkop building a nest. 














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So I would say, the Chobe Riverfront has it all! Ease of game driving, huge numbers of game, and a fantastic camping location. 

A return visit to Ihaha campsite is really a dream come true and an absolute highlight for us self-drivers: 

Our first evening there, a WILD DOG is trotting by our campsite! Holy Cow! What a wonderful welcome!!



Every evening, hundreds of Zebra, Ellis, and Impala are grazing between us and the river, as we do dinner prep and light the Braai. Did I say Garden of Eden? Did I mention the fantastic sunsets?




Oh and then there is the curious Honey Badger waiting under a bush to come sniff around the fireplace. 

A lowlight is the weather: it gets quite chilly and windy and the morning temperature is only around 6C. But… I don’t mind wearing two jackets when I can eat dinner surrounded by wildlife. 




Happy camper at Ihaha? You bet!


This is one big reason we love to self-drive: the freedom to camp in such gorgeous places on a piece of real estate in Africa, surrounded by animals. Priceless. 

The last night there, Namibian Farmers are setting fires across the river. (slash and burn?)



It’s a little eerie to see the orange flames towering across from us. Luckily, the animals on our side seemed to know that they won’t get hurt on this side of the river. 



So if you get the feeling that we loved our stay in Ihaha along the Chobe riverfront, you would be 100% correct. I’d like to build a cabin there and see who comes to visit…




Edited by KaliCA
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@KaliCAGreat trip report so far, you visited some great places and I must say that Ihaha really looks great. I avoided that in the past, since there from time to time are committed robberies against campers there. But what a place ! And you even saw wild dogs :) 

I am a little disappointed about your experience with Hwange since I am hoping of visiting the park in october..

Looking forward to Moremi and Savuti 

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The elephants at night at Senyati Safari Camp are gorgeous.  Prolific Chobe!

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@JayRonThank you!

We were told that the Botswana army killed a few trespassing Namibians and that's when the robberies stopped at Ihaha. Don't know if that's the truth. We had absolutely no issue. There are ways to prepare yourself for such an incident. Talk to other campers, pepper spray, use car alarm, etc.

Many more Wild Dogs to come in Moremi.

I think you may have better luck with sightings in October. Just know that the distances are huge between camps. I hope you will like it more than we did. Please report back!

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@AtravelynnThank you! Glad you are reading along.

It was a special experience to see and practically feel ellis from this perspective. So I'm glad we stopped there. And yes, Chobe riverfront was showing us some nice sightings. Love, love, love it there.


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Peter Connan

I really miss that river drive section along the Chobe. Probably the best game viewing I have ever experienced.

I'm really glad that still seems to be the case.

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11 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

I really miss that river drive section along the Chobe. Probably the best game viewing I have ever experienced.

I'm really glad that still seems to be the case.

I remember going along that route as part of a mobile safari and asking the guide if all that wildlife is normal.  The answer was yes.

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Today is a long transfer day to Savuti Camp which lies in the Chobe NP. We leave Ihaha with a nostalgic feeling and head to Kasane. We need lots of groceries, drinking  water, and gas for our 10 days in the Okavango Delta and we can’t count on food or fuel to be available in Khwai. We get the extra 20 liters Jerry can filled and it’s secured on top of the car. Just in case, even though the car has a 140 liter double tank. I’m always looking at driving in the Delta as if going on an expedition. We need to be prepared for any contingency. If we break down, we need water and food for a few extra days, just waiting for help to arrive. 


After signing our name and car information into the fat ledgers at the gate, we drive to Katchikau and with that to the end of the tar road. No more tar road for 10 days!

Phil lowers the tire pressure to 1.8 bar so as to have more traction. 



Even 11 years after our first trip on this track, it looks exactly as it has back then: Deep sand, deep ruts, and corrugation in the ruts. This is a demanding drive for driver and passenger alike. After 64 rough kilometers, we check into Ghoha Gate and then it’s another 35 km to Savuti Camp. 





Every campsite in Savuti lies in deep sand that over the years is mixed with ashes from all the campfires. We stay in site 5 which is almost surrounded by dead trees, giving us some safety from roaming elephants. In the past, elephants have dug up waterlines next to our car while we were lying in the roof top tent. 


Since the Savuti Channel has stopped flowing, back in 2013, the Savuti area is parched and no natural water is flowing anymore. Game driving there is shuttling between three pumped waterholes: Pump Hole, Rhinovlei, and Marabou. All game is found in the vicinity of those water spots, with wildebeest being the farthest away from water, and lions the closest. Zebra have sadly left the area. 

As we cross the golden marshland, we reminisce and remember how green and full of life the Savuti marsh was back in 2012. There were hundreds of elephants and zebra grazing, and hundreds of pelicans and storks flying and feeding in the marsh. Today, we find a few Ellis, wildebeest, hartebeest, a jackal.





The next morning starts out windy and cool with only 6C. I trudge in the dark to the heavily fortified ablution block, armed with a stick, a flashlight, and a whistle. I’m not really afraid, but I shine my light all around and I’m hyper aware of my surroundings. 

We are very happy to find a single male lion at Harvey’s Pan and when he stops to listen and look around, I find his family spread out under bushes. In order to get to them we have to bushwhack it a little and circle around trees and bushes. 

We arrive at a most wonderful sighting. 


The very famous Sekoti, leader of the Northern  Savuti pride, he of the snip tail, meaning his tuft is missing and so easily identifiable.



We end up next to 4 Lionesses and 7 cubs, some of them a little smaller than my Charlie. They are totally adorable. Two males are sleeping further away. So 14 lions in total! Wow!

We watch and take lots of pictures. The kids play around a little, chew on branches, yawn, and are very adorable. The lionesses sit pretty in the golden light of the morning. It is just us there with these lions and we truly relish the experience. Then Phil  is getting nervous of being off road (not allowed) and so after about 30 minutes, we reluctantly leave the lion pride.






















Savuti Lions!....and my lion heart is happy!

(It was in Savuti in 2012, where we discovered our first leopard in a tree and our first three male lions all by ourselves. As you know, you never forget your firsts!)


Edited by KaliCA
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We visit Rhinovlei and Marabou waterholes and have some sightings. Try as we might, we cannot find the Marsh pride that operates between those two waterholes.  (The Marsh Pride was made famous by a TV series called "Savage Kingdom". We saw the film crew following them in 2016, and some of those lions were famous for killing elephants)

Hear a few pictures from our other Savuti sightings. 
















We visit “our” lions by ourselves one more time at lunchtime but nothing much is happening other than that some cubs are nursing.







The males are still lying comatose.




Not so fierce now.


Back at camp, Phil fills the extra 20 liters into the tank. Not a pleasant job. This will be important later...


The afternoon hours we spend showering and washing cloths again, since camping is quite a dirty affair. 

We visit our lions a third time, but now the scene has changed drastically. There is now a clearly visible path to the lions and six game drive cars with their clients are present. Everyone is looking at sleeping lions. That’s not to our liking. 

We pass the lion sighting on to two self-drivers and they race off to find them. We find that paying it forward works great on safari. When sending good things ahead, good things will come back...Karma.

We go back to Pump Hole and watch how a jackal is catching a dove and a second jackal is stealing it after a chase. Two Ellis come in to drink after sunset. 

We vow to get back here at 6 am and hopefully the pride will be here too. 











The moon is shining down on our Savuti campsite. Good night!

Edited by KaliCA
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The next morning sees us back at the Pump waterhole. No pride, but I hear a lion roaring and a few minutes later we find Papa Sekoti on a mission. He is walking very fast but not in the road and so we lose him to the thick brush.


The rest of the pride has moved on as well and so we head south. Our goal is to reach Maghoto campground along the Khwai river before lunch.

After checking Rhinovlei and Marabou WH, we choose the Marsh road to head to Mababe Gate.






Man, so many ruts, my back is hurting from the relentless swaying and bumping and fine powdery dust is our constant companion. Thank goodness we have AC and not an open vehicle. 



After Mababe Gate is a further 27 km on a slightly better road and we soon reach the Khwai River. It’s wonderful to see flowing water and some greenery. 



We check in, have lunch on our spot and then explore the game driving tracks up and down the river. 


No facilities at this spot. Further south are small ablution huts. A shade tree and some dry grass... better than deep sand. We have become very modest in our expectations.











When it’s just about dark, and Phil is stirring the soup, a few cars come down the road and then we spot two Wild Dogs, trotting right through our campsite. We are in shock! No time for pictures and they are gone. 



Phil is grilling chicken and potatoes in a self-made BBQ pit when he turns around and says, “I see a hyena or a lion!” I grab the flashlight and shine it on a…"LEOPARD,” I whisper.  She is walking nonchalantly across our site, doesnt even look in our direction, veers into the track and walks until she is out of site. I just manage to make a quick bad iPhone picture and a video while Phil shines the light on her. 


Wow! We are ecstatic with those two amazing visits to our campsite and we truly love this place! In past safaris we have had 5 male lions in camp, elephants, wild dogs, hyena, a hippo, a buffalo, and now a leopard! How cool is that? Another incredible safari day has come to an end. Good night from Maghoto!

Edited by KaliCA
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Thank you for the comments and the likes!


The wildlife camera shows the nightly visitors on Maghoto: a Hyena, Wild Dog and Honey Badgers sniffing around the BBQ pit. I’m happy with that. One more reason to sleep off the ground in a roof top tent!







Morning has broken pink over Maghoto



We game drive further back but it’s such a wasteland and the sand is deep. We hear a lion roar but it’s hard to know from which direction. So we cruise around back there with few sightings. 

We end up at the end of the river road by the green patch and decide to have breakfast there. We are eating cereal while sitting in the car and facing the little pond. I’m eating my cereal and as I’m looking across the pond I call out “lion”.


Yes, indeed, a female and a youngish male appear.


They are not stopping to drink as we anticipated.

First the female crosses in front of the car while the male crosses a little further back.


Yes, we are eating Kiri bread this morning, topped with lion.


DSC_0738.jpg.57d1414e7354bf893e9d39239e411e18.jpgThey both walk at a fast clip and then enter the Mopane forest to our left. We leave the car and still see them walking in a clearing. Wow! This place is amazing! We did not find the roaring lion but two lions found us! 



Edited by KaliCA
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We leave after 10 and game drive along down river. We see Hippos, Wattled Cranes, Ellis, Waterbuck, Riedbock, and during lunch, zebra and across in the Moremi, a huge herd of Buffalo. The animals are moving in and out of the river while grazing. 















Someone in a car is pointing across, and we spot a lioness for a few seconds in the golden grass.  



Then we meet a breeding herd of Ellie’s resting by the river. There are a lot of babies among them. One is especially visible and is nursing a lot. Then there is movement in the herd and they proceed to cross the river and get to the Moremi area. 











Later we spit a Malachite Kingfisher, a Pied Kingfisher, Lechwes close by and later Giraffe as well. 





The amount of varied wildlife is truly amazing in this short stretch of land. We are lovin' it. Garden of Eden...





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Here a few pics of the ablutions at Maghoto, always a source of interest to self-drivers. Not bad at all and functioning with hot water. Told you we have modest expectations.










The ablution block is kind of like a water cooler in an office. It's a spot to get great information, especially information where the cats are. After we shower, a nice man is telling us where we can find a sleeping leopard! Yay!


She turns this way...


then that way...



and finally looks up with sleepy bedroom eyes. Such a beautiful creature. Maybe she is the one that crossed our site last night?



Edited by KaliCA
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Great sightings - and photos! I vividly remember that sandy hill on the way to Savute.

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So many fabulous sightings around your camp, especially the nocturnal visitors. I like the photo of the ellies in the pink sunset.

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From Austria to Australia!! Oh my. Thank you both for your kind words.

I'm sure our way of traveling is quite different from what you are used to, but it suits us just fine.

Greetings from Florida, Katrin

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We leave or No-Name spot in Maghoto shortly after 6. I slept badly because of hyena whooping and Impala alarm calling. But part of the excitement in sleeping where the wild things are is… the wild things!



As self-drivers, we decide every morning what direction to game drive and many times we decide by taking past sightings into account. Yes, I know, we keep telling ourselves, “You can’t repeat a sighting.” 

Today, I decide to drive south since we might just see our leopard again. We see beautiful landscape in nice light and a sunrise over the river with some Hippos.



We turn around, and soon, two Wild Dogs are trotting towards us. (close to where the leopard was yesterday). It’s a male and female in hunting mode.


They jump on each other, roll around together in dirt or poop, and then stand very still, one next to my side, and the other on a termite hill all in golden light now. Only their ears are moving. Then they run off, probably following a noise or a scent. 









We follow them for a while, but they are fast and on the move, so we give up. What a wonderful sighting early in the morning! Good thing I decided to drive south!

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After breakfast at the lion visiting spot, we leave Maghoto via the uppermost road and drive through Khwai Village. Sadly, it still looks as poor and neglected as always. We cross the bridge of the river Khwai (!) and check into the SKL office. The young man has a side business going and is asking for money for sharing the park office’s wifi password. Hmmmm, well….we pay, and check in with our kids. 


Bridge vom Khwai Village to Khwai Northgate in Moremi GR


Then I check into the Park Office, buy a canister of drinking water, and get some information about two lion sightings: 'Two males by the second BOGA site on the way to Dumbo Hippo Pool, and a female with cubs across from the boat." Ok, clear as mud! Good luck to us finding them with those vague directions!

We go to our campsite MK3 and are aghast at how dusty and powdery it is. Yuck! The river view is nice, but we also see the bridge and the cell tower. 

We unload our table and chairs and start game driving up-river. We see Ellis, Lechwes, Monkeys, Zebra, Wildebeest, Waterbuck, and Impala in greenery. I even spot three Squacco Heron. 

We have lunch in an open area and watch Zombie Hippos who are covered in greenery. 

As we drive towards Dumbo Hippo Pool, I see one Boga site occupied with tents. At the next right turn, we head in and check for lions under every bush, but can’t find anything and I’m ready to turn around. Phil says, “Just a little more” and drives on. 

Nature is calling, so I ask Phil jokingly but also practically, to check for lions behind a termite mound. As I get back into the car, I look across diagonally. Is this the face of a lion looking at me? I quickly check with my binos…and Holy Cow! It really is the face of a male lion!








We drive over and there is a second male lying further back under the same bush. We visit with those two elderly gentlemen and I can’t stop laughing over how we stumbled upon those two lions. An unforgettable situation.

Edited by KaliCA
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After about 30 minutes, we drive to Hippo Pool and the Hide looks even scarier and more decrepit than in 2016, but I carefully climb up anyway. It’s a tradition! I spot many hippo pods in the lake. 



Later, a herd of elephants is coming out of the bushes and walks along the channel across from us and then crosses the water to our side. Always great to see Ellis when out of the car!


We decide to go visit our lions again and this time we measure distances, so we can pass on our sighting. 

Almost no change with the lion boys.



Later, we pass the sighting on to two couples from the UK. Practicing our “paying it forward” philosophy. My lion heart is super happy.

Then we game drive back taking all the left turns towards the river.  







When we reach the river, I keep looking for a “boat” but can only spot a wooden dock. Maybe the man at the gate meant “boat dock”?

We drive slowly and check all the trees and bushes across from all the boat dock. We round a corner and….bam! There lies a strong lioness and her two cute half-grown cubs. Unbelievable! My lion heart runeth over!








After sitting with them for 10 minutes, both cubs sit up and stare behind us. A huge Ellie is upon us, shaking his head at the lions as he passes very close to our car. Ok, that’s a little too close for comfort. 

The lions hightail it into the bushes, as they have learned that Elephants don’t tolerate lions.  A few minutes later, they pop back out and return to the same spots as before. Thank you, lions! After all that excitement, the lion family is settling and eventually they are snoozing. 

We pass this second lion sighting on to other safari goers and then we leave. Who would have thought that we would find lions with such vague directions, but we are tickled pink that we did. 


Edited by KaliCA
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