Eleven hours and six thousand miles later on one of Richard Branson's finest we find ourself in Johannesburg, South Africa for the holiday of a life time.
This is where our epic journey begins, and I can't begin to tell you how amazing it was. Lucky enough to travel with my better half, Hannah Couzens and her family we headed north from Jo'burg in a hire car to Madikwe Hills Game Reserve. Unphased by the jet lag, Hannah's father drove us 5 hours north combating hundreds of kilometres of un-tarmaced rubble road whilst the Volkswagen Caddy van shook us to pieces.
First things first let me just say that the Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge is a breath-taking place with the most friendliest of staff, but our stay here was made truly unforgettable by our remarkable tracker Sam (Left) and our extremely devoted/knowledgable guide Barend (Right).
Each day our alarm clocked chimed at 5am, and we had the pleasure of spending 5 magical hours out in the bush as the sun rose. Returning for lunch and a quick nap, we would then venture out again in the afternoon at 4pm for another 5 hours. You'd think that over 4 days, the 10 hour drives would become a little tedious and repetitive, but each time you head out there is totally different magnificent sighting to behold.
Barend and Sam's approach to what they could find was brilliant, as not only did they want to find each and every animal themselves by tracking (as opposed to calls over the radio), they also took time to teach us fascinating facts about everything from termites in the soil to plants which give the African bush sustainable growth. On the whole, we got a real feel for the African bush rather than just rushing to see the "big 5".
The above photograph is of a Zebra and it's baby who wouldn't leave its side (hardly surprising seeing as other nearby Zebra had various battle scars from close encounters!). This baby was the most adorable fuzzy creature around and Zebra's quickly became one of my favourite things to watch. The night time drives were a whole different story, literally not being able to see your hand in front of your face due to no light pollution. This did however make for amazing views of the stars, with the Milky Way easily viewable with the naked eye.
This picture is especially thanks to Barend, who at midnight got special clearance for myself and Hannah to accompany him to the nearby Dam, where we could sit and gaze at the stars whilst taking a few photographs...breathtaking isn't the word!
Not sure i've mentioned that these open top jeeps come face to face with all sorts of animals?! A handful of times we were less than 2-3 feet from a wild lion or bull elephant (sometimes in complete darkness). I think we must of been running off adrenaline as we shot this video.
The above trio show an aged male lion resting on the plains, a pack of wild dogs hunting in the golden sun and finally a kingfisher hovering and picking its moment to dive.
On the last night of our stay at Madikwe, we were invited upto the "Boma" for a traditional African feast. Before we had even walked up to where the Boma was, we could tell we were in for a great night because of the music echoing through the trees. A buffet of food cooked on an open fire, drinks a plenty and traditional African music played on instruments made from the local trees meant the evening was the perfect way to end part 1 of our life changing trip.
If your interested in viewing some more photographs from our trip, please feel free to click this link. I hope you have enjoyed reading part one of our trip to South Africa, part two and our trip to Cape Town will follow shortly! Hannah also has her own blog located here, be sure to check out what she's posted!