Our last day in Mt Zebra had an early start with a drive around the mountains in the southern portion of the park. Talk about breath taking scenery! We could see virtually forever with snow capped mountains on the horizon. If scenery is your thing, I’d definitely recommend this portion of the park.
Making our way to the gate for our drive to Kichaka we noticed they’d finally opened the remaining 4×4 trails. Needless to say, that made for a grumpy me as we had a deadline to be at our next stop and no time for an extra hour or two for a trail.
Our route to Kichaka had us go from Cradock to Grahamstown via Bedford. We thought there was little civilization that side of Aliwal North, but from Bedford to Grahamstown there is absolutely nothing! Long straight roads that seem to never end and the occasional farmer traveling in the opposite direction were the only signs of human life. We saw massive cattle farms which stretched from horizon to horizon, dense wooded game farms taking up valleys and mountain sides and all the while, hardly a building in sight. What a stunning part of the country.
We didn’t realise the GPS was taking us right through Grahamstown so when we rounded a bend and found ourselves smack bang in Grahamstown centre it came as quite a surprise. From there it was easy going. We followed the N2 towards PE and took the Kichaka turn off. 3km down a dirt road an we were at the gate.
We had an incredibly warm welcome from the guys at Kichaka. Jaces, our guide, immediately got to work transferring our stuff from the Amarok to their vehicle for transfer to the lodge while we signed all the documents.
We still had our Afrishots signs on the car as we’d decided this time, it was more about the road trip and not remaining anonymous. Jaces quickly picked up on the wildlife photography and we had a good chat on the drive to the lodge about what we were doing, where we’d been and where we were still going.
Kichaka is a beautiful lodge, much bigger than I expected. We were introduced to a large portion of the staff, most of whom were around all the time and waiting on us hand and foot. The lounge and bar area were immaculate and upstairs was a library with internet access.
The pool area and deck overlook a watering hole with a resident hippo, unfortunately he wasn’t home for our brief stay.
The room was huge! I have never seen that sort of open-plan bathroom before and it did very well to add to the mood of the room. The bed was central with enough storage space for all our equipment and clothes. Even though we were only there for a night, we were on the road for a week and therefore had plenty with us.
The deck has a private plunge pool which I believe was semi-heated. There is a lot of dense bush around the rooms but this didn’t make you feel cramped, it added very nicely to the motif of the place and gave you the privacy you wanted.
After lunch Jenece went for a massage by the pool while I started getting all the camera equipment ready for our afternoon drive.
There are a number of units at Kichaka and they have multiple vehicles for the drive so we paired up with one other couple and had more than enough space for the drive. I’ll get back to the drives in a moment.
The dinner was excellent. Drinks are all included in the rate with the exception of a few wines. Once you’ve let them know what your preference is, the mini bar in your room is stocked with both your preference and enough water to stop you drying out.
Personal dietary preferences are taken into account at all times which is a big point for us. There were a few people staying there during our visit (four units I think) and yet we hardly ever saw the other two. Meals were not cramped and all done in your own time. You never felt hurried or rushed by anyone.
There were three of us on the evening drive. We spent a good amount of time trying to spot the rhino which wasn’t far from the lodge but all we got was a quick glimpse unfortunately. We came across a lion who we tried to follow but also lost him in the dense bush.
Our sundowners were very rudely interrupted by the same pride of lions we’d been tracking. We were standing around, just as the sun set, having a good chat with everyone. The other guest, guide and tracker when suddenly: “Lion, slowly, don’t run, get back in the vehicle!”
As everyone scrambled onto the vehicle, we saw the pride on the top of the hill behind us, stalking us. Drink in hand I was trying to get the camera ready too and just then, all of them got up and stormed the vehicle. Female to the right, male to the left and two juveniles bringing up the rear. What an experience, with all four of them making direct eye contact! There is nothing like looking a lion dead in the eye and realising you mean nothing to them, no fear whatsoever.
The pride made themselves comfortable around us and all we could do was sit and wait. The drinks were still on the front of the vehicle so we couldn’t drive off anywhere. As it got dark we listened to the roaring of the reserve’s alpha male and eventually the pride got up and moved off. The drinks and snacks were very quickly cleared up and we were on our way again. That was an experience that will sit with all of us for a very long time.
The morning drive was not as pleasant. The wind was howling and we didn’t expect to see very much, which we didn’t. We did get to watch the day-to-day business of a herd of Impala. Not the usual, standing around and eating but that of the male rushing off to bring in another female, then realising he’d left the herd unguarded as a nearby herd of bachelors moved in on his ladies.
We both felt a bit more effort could have been put in to the drive. As there was very little to see up on the plains due to the wind we would have liked to have stopped and spoken of the history of the area or the countless bushes and trees around us.
We had arranged that morning for a bush walk once we’d vacated the room. Jaces, our guide, suggested and then organised for our luggage to be taken to reception for us and then for us to walk with the two guides to reception as our bush walk. We were excited and I can say without a doubt, that was the best walk we have ever been on.
I have no idea how long it took, time seemed to come to a complete stop. It took us ages to cover the first few hundred metres as we stopped to look at, and talk about, everything from tracks to dung and scratchings to everything in between.
We walked, stopped and talked, walked some more and spoke even more. It was an incredible learning experience. After noting a few giraffe on a hill not far away and how they kept looking in a certain direction we very nearly got to go and see what was bothering them. The density of the bush and the wind were against us on that one as it was believed there was a lion in the area.
We stopped for drinks not far from reception and continued the conversation we’d been having for the last part of the walk before making our way back to the Amarok to begin our drive to Port Elizabeth for the night.
At reception we packed everything away into the camera box and loaded up our own vehicle. We spent the next hour talking to our guides, Jakes and Chris, and Charne and Keith from reception. We discussed everything from our road trip to Afrishots, rhino poaching and expansion options for Kichaka. We’re very excited to try their horse trails when they get them up and running.
Thanks everyone for a lovely stay. It’s a shame we only had 24 hours to spend with you. Next time we’ll spend a few nights!
We spent that night in Port Elizabeth before an early drive the next day to Addo Elephant National Park. Leg 3 will cover our two nights in Addo and Leg 4, our last night of the trip on the Sundays River