Epic 2018 team safari at Djuma Private Game Reserve

Djuma Vuyatela is one of our all-time favourite safari accommodations in Djuma Private Game Reserve bordering the Sabi Sand and Manyeleti. It is prime Greater Kruger Park territory and an outstanding spot in Southern Africa. What makes it a cut above the rest is the exclusivity of the safari experience. Djuma only shares traverse with a handful of landowners and the legends behind safariLIVE, so sightings are private and unhurried. Recently, BHS booked two nights at Djuma Vuyatela for the media and reservations team plus a few special guests to enjoy the epic safari experience that defines this place.

With our core members on board, we wanted to open up the two-night excursion to one or two others who share our passion for wilderness and good times in the bush, so we asked our social media followers to enter the “win a room” competition. The result of our short-notice competition announcement was nothing short of humbling, reminding us that we are indescribably lucky to spend our time on safari. We received emails from people telling us why they would love to win the free room and join us at Djuma. We would like to say a sincere thank-you to each of those people who wrote to us – it was overwhelming to hear those words and know that we are connected to a broad base of wilderness lovers.

Photography opportunities during our morning coffee stop. © Kevin MacLaughlin

In the end, we welcomed Hein Myers, a trails guide and passionate birder with an exciting career ahead in conservation, and Rod and Donna McCurdy, who were entered by their daughter, Tayla, a presenter guide on safariLIVE. Finally, we had a team of good friends and colleagues joining the Horley family at Djuma, including private chefs Doron Gavronsky and Christina Blunden, BHS media content producers Kevin MacLaughlin and Chloë Cooper, BHS safari specialist Rosemary Marx, and her husband Conservation Manager of Muange Private Nature Reserve, Anthony Marx. It was certainly a full game viewer!

Group photo at sundowners: L-R Chloë, Kevin, Taxon, Hein, Rosey, Anthony, Marianda, Christina, Fanoti, Rod, and Donna.
Chef En Route’s Doron Gavronsky with Brett.

Vuyatela is perfect for group safaris. Its self-catering style setup makes it incredibly easy going and ideal for personalised itineraries. We designed our menu and provided the goods and the fantastic kitchen team led by Albertina produced mouth watering meals at whatever time we decided would fit our safari schedule. Out on game drive we were led by Taxon and Fanoti, who together make one of the best guide and tracker teams out there. Brett’s history with Taxon goes back a long way and it is always a bonus to work with him in the field. We were so very well looked after already and the fun was yet to begin!

As this prime Greater Kruger property would have it, we were led to the Big Five over the two afternoons and two mornings we spent on game drive. Everyone’s much anticipated leopard sighting was more than we could ask for: mother leopard Thandi, and her female cub Tlalamba feasting on a duiker kill in the dry grass. We shared our sighting with Tristan Dieks who was presenting on safariLIVE, and we got to watch alongside the film crew as Thandi got up and carried her kill to a nearby apple leaf tree, cub in tow. Just as we had hoped, she jumped into the tree with her kill tightly in her jaws – an iconic and hugely sought after sight for safari goers. We were so lucky as this was our first sighting, and it was about to get better. Tlalamba circled the base of the tree, gazing up at her mother and considering her own way up, and eventually she leapt and skilfully clawed her way to the top.

Thandi baring her teeth in a tense moment. © Kevin MacLaughlin

Thandi checking out her route to the nearby apple leaf tree after feasting in the dry grass. © Kevin MacLaughlin
Tlalamba assessing her ascent after her mother takes her kill up the tree. © Kevin MacLaughlin
Tlalamba leopard cub gazing down from the tree. © Hein Myers

We left them once the sundowners started calling and settled ourselves on a dam wall to enjoy the sunset with refreshments until the stars came out and a lone elephant came to drink from the dam in the darkness. It was very special to stand in silence and listen as the elephant dipped his trunk into the shallow dregs and ejected trunkfuls of water into his mouth before quietly ambling off into the night.

The following day’s game drives were enormously rewarding as we encountered a huge herd of buffalo, followed by the sleeping Talamati pride of lions in the company of an Avoca male. When we stopped for coffee, we watched the buffalo herd arrive at the dam in front of us and did some serious bird watching. It’s worth saying that we spotted a total of 101 birds over our 2 days at Djuma without any real dedicated birding excursions – not bad going! Well done to Anthony for landing on the closest estimate, guessing 102 birds as our grand total! Hein was optimistic off the bat and guessed we’d get to 115, and Brett just underestimated our casual bird spotting skills, coming in at 98.

The Avoca male we saw in the morning relaxing near the Talamati pride. © Kevin MacLaughlin
A big herd of buffalo gathers to drink while we enjoyed our morning coffee. © Kevin MacLaughlin
A southern yellow-billed hornbill offering some photographic interest. © Kevin MacLaughlin

On our second afternoon’s game drive we had our 15 seconds of fame on safariLIVE when Tayla and Sebastian turned the cameras on us as we enjoyed an epic sighting of African wild dogs! The pack of endangered carnivores was a total bonus, and we got to watch them interact with one another and attentively watch a spotted hyena on the outskirts. Just as golden hour hit the dogs began to move through the bush and gave the keen photographers on board an opportunity to enjoy the magic.

Wild dog sighting with safariLIVE broadcasting in the background. © Hein Myers
Wild dogs interacting playfully. © Kevin MacLaughlin
Wild dogs interacting playfully. © Kevin MacLaughlin
Golden light hits, and the cameras are out! © Kevin MacLaughlin
Backlit wild dog at golden hour. © Hein Myers

Our final morning led us to that precious encounter with a mother rhino and her calf. The pair moved quickly passed and paused to watch us for a moment before disappearing into the bush. We feel extremely fortunate to have completed our Big Five experience with this duo won’t forget them in a hurry. The sightings of rhino, wild dog, lion, and elephant left lasting impressions as we thought about their status as endangered and persecuted species. We whole-heartedly back the conservation workers, rangers, and anti-poaching units who work against devastating odds to protect the wildlife in the Greater Kruger wilderness areas.

Lucky enough to take this sighting home with us on our final morning. © Kevin MacLaughlin

With this on our minds, breakfast became an interesting discussion about the truth of human-wildlife conflict in areas where wild animals and humans share home territories. Anthony gave us food for thought with his insights on mitigating conflict and integrating communities with wildlife tourism, based on his experience as warden of Muange Private Nature Reserve in northern Mozambique. Inspired, we set up cameras and captured our these conversations on film so that we can utilise the expertise of people like Anthony to share a message about ecotourism and conservation.

Filming some conversations around wilderness and conservation. Kevin behind the handheld camera, Chloë on sound, and Anthony seated with Brett.
Filming some conversations around wilderness and conservation. Kevin behind the handheld camera, Chloë on sound, and Anthony seated with Brett.

We can’t say it was easy to leave Taxon, Albertina, and the fantastic team at Vuyatela who had looked after us so well. We’d sampled many a gin and tonic, devoured some excellently cooked fillet, laughed around the fire and had front row seats to the Djuma Dam Cam. Our guests are now our friends and we learned from each one of them. Our wish is that we can continue to produce and share content that reflects our take on wilderness and connection with nature, and that our guests can trust us to provide genuine advice and create authentic safaris based on our personal experience. What a highlight for 2018!