Jock Safari Lodge lived up to its reputation. The whole staff were falling over themselves to be helpful and nothing was too much trouble. Patrick our ranger, a local guy who comes from a village about 80km away, was our personal minder and drove the two of us around in the four wheel drive whenever we wanted. We hired a car in Pretoria and drove to Jocks. It was about a 5 hour drive, the last 45 minutes through the Kruger Park. It was sealed road until 3km before Jocks – the last side road to the lodge was a gravel road.
On arrival at the lodge we were introduced to Patrick and shown to our “hut” complete with its own plunge pool, day bed on a private deck looking out to the wilderness, outdoor shower (and indoor of course) and all other mod cons. We dropped our bags then headed over to the restaurant area which is set overlooking a panoramic deck with view to the adjacent river bed and bush, and built up against a 400 year old jackelberry tree, with a huge canopy providing shade while also serving as the support for the staircase to the upper level bar.
After a rushed “high tea” and a quick introduction to “Archie” the head chef (who took our order for dinner) it was straight off on a 2 hour trip around the park, starting with a leopard sighting just outside the lodge boundary. The leopard was draped over a limb about 4 metres up in the air on the other side of the river bed. We followed a couple of other Landcruisers out there to get a better view, passing a couple of grazing elephants on the way. After about 20 minutes the leopard obliged our curiosity by sitting up, and then climbing down from the tree and walking down to the dry river bed. A lazy stroll along the river bed was then followed by a close encounter as the leopard walked between the Landcruisers and disappeared into the long grass.
Patrick then drove us off on our own where we passed a couple of rhinos and then out of the river bed and into the bush. What followed was a series of animal spotting - elephants, zebras, wildebeests, impala and more as the day drew to a close and we stopped for the obligatory “sundowner” at the front of the truck as the elephants grazed nearby and the light faded. Once the light had gone the temperature dropped quickly so we donned our woollen hats, scarves, coasts and gloves and wrapped up in the blankets that were stored ready in the truck. Then it was off for some spotlighting along the local roads picking up on the eyes glinting back at us out of the bush. It was amazing how Patrick picked up the animals in the dark. He even found a chameleon that was perched in a bush next to the road. How he spotted it we’ll never know. We returned to the lodge for a quick clean up in our “hut.
We had a late dinner cooked by head chef Archie and his team. A great meal by candlelight with some great wine, which we unfortunately, but wisely, left unfinished as we had to rise at 6 the next morning for the next drive.
The phone rang at 6 and Patrick cheerfully advised us it was time to head to the restaurant for coffee and muffins. The sun rose as we headed off, wrapped up in our winter woollies again to ward off the morning chill. The animals were out and about again – zebras, buffaloes, wildebeests, hyenas, impalas – going about their business. Patrick found the chameleon for the night before and we marvelled at his camouflage colouring that matched the bush perfectly.
The rangers are all connected by CB radio to each other and tell each other of sightings. One of them told us he’d found a lion just next to the road so we headed over there. Sure enough the lion was about 5 metres from the road in some long grass. He lay there for a while and then moved slightly and gazed at us before reclining again. Patrick told us that they sleep 18-20 hours per day so it’s pretty rare to see them walking around.
We returned at about 10am for brunch which was spread out on the deck overlooking the pool and the bush. Once again Archie and his team had done a great job.
Patrick asked us whether we would like to go for a “long drive” and take a packed lunch with us instead of having lunch at the lodge. This would allow us to get close to the Mozambique border and see the herds of hippos on the river there. Given that we were willing to forgo lunch altogether this was clearly a good idea. By 12:30 we were on the road again heading out into the bush. The lion was still there as we passed, with only one paw sticking up above the top of the grass for us to see. A few other vehicles had gathered to see him but he didn’t stand up again while we were there.
We headed off again and passed herds of elephants, some giraffes, zebras, kudus, monkeys and finally reached the river where the hippos were wallowing in the waters and lazing on the muddy banks. About 20 hippos were at one spot we stopped at. About 40 elephants were grazing nearby. This is animal spotting on a grand scale!. We drove on to a lagoon where crocodiles lay on the bank while monkey played in the trees above. Spotting a cluster of cars further up the road we headed up there to be told that a leopard had just attacked a wildebeest in the middle of the road just 5 minutes before and dragged it off towards the river. The show was over but those who’d seen it were clearly still stunned by the natural spectacle.
After a quick sandwich we headed back up the road towards the lodge and as the sun went down passed more elephants, rhinos, giraffes, kudus and impalas. We saw a couple of baby hyenas on the road ahead and when we stopped saw that they were with their mother, who lay just outside the culvert pipe they were using for shelter. We watched as the babies drank from their mother, who was clearly exhausted from having the three of them to look after.
We headed back to the lodge, but were brought to a standstill by a herd of rhinos who had gathered on a ford, blocking the only way back. One other truck was already there and the two rangers exchange ideas on what to do. They agreed that we’d just have to wait until the rhinos departed. We couldn’t force them out of the way. That would be dangerous for us and would stress them, causing them potential injury. As we watched, and the light faded, two male rhinos tackled each other and Patrick explained some of the finer points of rhino etiquette. Finally they headed to one side and we could drive past, keeping a wary eye on the two males as we passed. With the light all gone by this stage it was out with teh spotlight again and Patrick was busy pointing our various animals along the side of the road. As we were approaching the lodge he noticed something slinking across the track ahead. It looked to me like another hyena but Patrick was clearly excited. Sure enough as we got closer he illuminated another leopard. He quickly radioed the other ranger who was following us so that he could join us. Leopard sightings are fairly rare, so they try to let everyone know when one is about. And this one was also only a few hundred metres from the lodge. Not without reason did they warn us to stay inside the electrified fence when we weren’t with our ranger! We followed the leopard as he headed towards the lodge, his tail twitching as he went. Finally he disappeared into the bush and it was back to the lodge for a hot shower and get ready for our dinner.
The next morning we were up at 6 again and did without the muffins so that we could head straight out for our early morning wildlife spotting. As a result, we were the first ones out and were glad we were as after passing a few elephants we spotted a couple of lion cubs on the road ahead. They’d been warming themselves on the tarmac but when we approached they scampered into the bush and when we stopped to look where they’d gone we saw them plus a third cub, with their mother, only about 5 metres from the road.
Patrick radioed the other rangers and a couple more vehicles joined us. Unfortunately so did a couple in a private car with a sun roof. The driver stood up with his upper body sticking out of the sun roof. This is very dangerous and therefore forbidden by park rules and Patrick asked him to get back in his car but he ignored him. The lioness was clearly surprised by this creature protruding from the car and started to growl. Patrick said that as long as people stay within their cars the animals consider them to be not viable game. However if part of a person protrudes they are fair game and can be attacked. If she wanted she could have been on him in a second – two strides – and he’d be lion’s breakfast. Luckily for him she can’t have been hungry - she headed off the other way with the cubs in tow and disappeared into the bush, much to the consternation of the rangers and the rest of us. The guilty party got back into his seat, smiling widely and drove away. The rangers took down his license plate and reported him to the park officials.
We headed down to the river bed and drove along there for an hour or so spotting the occasional zebra and kudu and then headed back to the lodge for brunch. Patrick joined us for brunch has he had most other meals and told us a bit more about the park and his 12 years at the lodge. He has a small boy and lives about 80km away. The lodge has a 30 days on / 10 days off roster, when he can go home to his village. He’s saving up for a car so that he can get there more often and more easily.
After brunch we packed up and got ready to leave. It had been a busy couple of nights and we were looking forward to a rest at a more conventional hotel in Joburg. Louis the lodge manager checked to see that everything had been all right. We were asked to fill in a questionnaire about our stay. When we thought about what they could do to make it a better experience we were stuck. The accommodation was second to none without being over the top, the food was imaginative and varied, the wines were great, the animal spotting was much better than we’d ever imagined, the staff were extremely helpful and friendly, the lodge was extremely well kept, and there seemed to be a great feeling of camaraderie amongst all the staff. In the end we noted “the most important thing is that you don’t change a thing”. We want it to be the same next time we come.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC