Last Updated on October 4, 2022
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
By Bill Warelis
I was en route to the Balule Game Reserve in Kruger National Park in South Africa. It’s 7am and I’m tired and cranky. The previous day had been spent traveling for 12 hours, followed by a three-hour drive from the airport.
I was now wondering what compelled me to think that at 55 I’d enjoy bouncing around on rough trails, in an open touring vehicle, with my wife and seven other bleary-eyed tourists.
It was when I was looking down at the floor somewhat despondently that the vehicle suddenly stopped. I looked up to see the tracker and game warden point to the brush on the right. Then I knew then why I’d made the trip to Kruger.
Striding slowly and gracefully approximately 15 feet in front of us was the alpha male of the local pride. Without so much as a glance our way he surveyed his kingdom. He was beautiful, as was the moment. Suddenly everything was right with the world. And I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Balule Private Game Reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa
We were in the beautiful Balule Game Reserve. It’s a private reserve inside the nearly 5-million-acre Kruger National Park in the northeastern corner of South Africa. For the next several days we spent three hours early each morning, and evening, on these game drives. We were searching for the other four of the “Big Five” – lion, African elephant, rhinoceros, cape buffalo and leopard. While searching we enjoyed endless sightings of birds and animals going about their day- and night-feedings. They were, said our guide, “trying not to be eaten.”
When we weren’t driving about Balule, we also enjoyed 90-minute bush walks. And or dining on gourmet meals. Most of were enjoyed at our luxurious Pondoro Game Lodge. There was no roughing it in tents for us.
During our bush walks we had the opportunity to watch birds and track animals. Of course, learning how to track is not for everyone since, among other things, it involves studying and handling droppings large and small.
Evening Game Drives Particularly Pleasant
The evening drives about the Balule Game Reserve were particularly pleasant. Part way through we would stop at a watering hole to see the birds and animals that came by for a drink. We joined them with the “sundowner” of our choice as the sun set and the Southern Cross became visible in the darkening sky.
Unfortunately, we never completed the Big Five since the elusive leopard stayed just that. We did, however, take consolation in our tracker’s explanation. “If you see one, it’s moving and mostly a blur because they don’t want to be seen,” he explained.
Getting to Kruger National Park in South Africa and Balule Game Reserve is a long way to travel from North America. But, oh, it is so worthwhile when you see four young male lions sauntering past on their way to rejoin the pride after a successful hunt.
And you won’t forget the sight of giraffes striding elegantly from tree to tree as they feed. Or the herd of elephants protectively surrounding their young, or the half-dozen zebras in the midst of, well, horseplay.
A Favorite Sight
My favorite sight in the Balule Game Reserve, however, came near the end of our final morning drive. The tracker discovered a male White Rhino that began to stare us down. As the vehicle got close the rhino became agitated and we stopped and stayed still and quiet. The magnificent animal did the same.
Our guide whispered that he knew the male but he seemed out of sorts. “He could be unwell or just tired,” he explained, and we had our answer a couple of minutes later when it suddenly fell to the ground asleep.
We’ve all smiled at the videos of pets and babies fighting sleep and then finally dropping off. And it turns out that size doesn’t matter — even a three-ton Balule Game Reserve White Rhino flopping down after losing the battle with the sandman is cute.