On The Trail of Africa’s Legendary Big Five

Well, here I am…back in South Africa, my old African playground! For this trip, I planned not a single thing. I left that completely in the hands of my Australian buddy, Will.

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He’s more of an upscale comfort traveler as opposed to me, where I’m fine sleeping on the grass outside in the middle of the Serengeti (not really but you get the idea). A little luxury never hurts once in a while (although I literally just spent a month at a luxury resort), so I told him to book whatever, wherever. “Take my credit card!” He’s one of the very few people I trusted to plan a trip for me.

He booked us a four-night stay at Cheetah Plains Private Reserve, in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve just on the cusp of the world-famous Kruger National Park. It. Looked. Glorious!

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I met Will at the Hoedspruit Airport where we had a scheduled pickup drive us a couple hours to the Sabi Sand. The Cheetah Plains Reserve was a super exclusive, super private lodge situated in the middle of the wild African bush. We spotted giraffes and hippos just a few meters outside of our compound gates. We possibly may not even have to drive around, the animals are just outside! Other than the twice-a-day game drives we would participate in, the best part about the lodge was that everything was all-inclusive. We could eat and drink to our heart’s content! Fun fact: I’ve never done an all-inclusive trip in my life!

Our goal for our daily double safari game drives? To spot as much wildlife as we can including the elusive Big Five of Africa:

African Elephant

Black and White Rhinoceros

Cape Buffalo

African Lion

African Leopard

Apparently, these are the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. This lingo was adopted into the world of safari pundits.

Each day we would wake up early in the morning in order to be ready for the sunrise game drive. We’d come back to the lodge, have a breakfast buffet, relax by the pool with drinks and do whatever. Have lunch later, then go on a sunset drive for a few more hours, followed by drinks in the bush and then a generous three-course dinner with the other patrons at the lodge. Rinse and repeat over four days!

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Each drive lasted roughly three hours. Will and I sat in the back of an open safari jeep every single time. Two knowledgeable guides (a driver and a spotter) would lead us on our trail into the wilds. We saw three of the Big Five on the first day: an elephant, rhino, and a leopard.

This elephant was prepared to charge at us. Is it terrible to say that I wanted it to charge at us?

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By the way, three distinct differences between the African elephants and the Asian species are: African elephants are generally larger, Asian elephants are generally hairier, and the shapes of their ears are different—Asian elephants have ears shaped like India and African ones have ears shaped like Africa. A good rule of thumb!

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The rhinos aren’t very black nor certainly white at all. They are all a stony gray. However, the most prominent difference between the two is the shape of their mouths. The white rhinos have wide (white) mouths as compared to the black ones.

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The African leopard is generally among the most elusive of the Big Five, but we saw more of these than any of the others.

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We saw plenty of other wildlife in the reserve, including warthogs, zebras, giraffes, vultures, hyenas, and all sorts of antelope.

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We eventually found two lionesses who were lounging in the middle of a pasture. But no cape buffalo at all! You would think they would have been an easy find. Arguably, the lamest of the Big Five, if you will. Thankfully, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been on many safaris in the past, including the most famous of them all, the Serengeti. I saw the Big Five there so I wasn’t particularly concerned this time around.

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Each evening before the sun disappeared, our guides would drive to a clearing where they would serve us drinks and biltong, which is specialty South African dried meat similar to jerky.

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By the fourth and final full day, I was done with going on the drives. Will felt the same but still, we went to at least get our money’s worth. It was amazing, but after three days of it, we had more than enough of our fill.

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The Cheetah Plains was costly but much deserved and my reward for successfully making it to continent number five of my personal Quest to the Seven Continents.

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To my Adventurous Readers,

Thinking about going to the Cheetah Plains? Well, you will have to wait for the 2019-2020 season. In 2018, Cheetah Plains is rebuilding their entire property, updating just about everything. It’s gonna look even more amazing than it did when I was there!

Check ’em out!

Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve


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Author: Adventure Born

I'm Daniel. A cereal lovin', traveling machine from Michigan on a solo journey around the world, documenting and sharing my unexpected tales from abroad. My aim is to inspire people like YOU to discover your very own adventures. The world is truly too big not to explore it!

7 thoughts

  1. Hi, I have read some of your blog posts and I absolutely love the writing and the photos. I am currently a safari guide in South Africa and am trying to share my experiences with everyone. It would be greatly appreciated if you have a look at my blog samhankss.wordpress.com and let me know what you think. Many thanks in advance.

    Liked by 2 people

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