A lioness wanders along the Olifants River, sipping serenely as the rest of the pride comes into view. Along the horizon, there are elephants, an incalculable number gracing the trees. Wildebeest were here, but they've quickly scampered away, leaving behind a trail of dust. It's an iconic safari introduction, and you're not even on a game drive; you're watching the scene from the lodge's verandah. Balule is a private reserve on the western fringes of Kruger National Park; it's unfenced, and thousands of mammals roam freely, attracted by the bounty of the Olifants River, which crisscrosses through the heart of the reserve. By watching the river, you can see much of the enchantment, your private verandah offering an energizing place to relax after the flight. To reach Balule, it's a short domestic flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, then a sublime transfer through the rhino-dappled savannah.
In the afternoon you will explore, a game drive weaving past the paw prints along the river. Water is king in the bush, even if the landscape doesn't always show evidence of providing it. By taking a game drive in the vicinity of the Olifants, you capture the drama of Kruger life: a tower of giraffe seeking solace, antelope horns clashing on the banks, prints left behind by a solitary leopard, eagles swooping above the remains of a carcass. It's the prime safari introduction, a chance to move slowly and encounter many of the famous animals. Rhinos gracefully wander past, elephant herds splash in the shallows, and you quickly discover many of the famous sights.
Day 4 - 5
Day 8 - 9