The ultimate South Africa safari: Encountering the Big Five in the wild


As the bright African sun lifts above the horizon, an untamed world awakens, brimming with anticipation and countless wonders. This is the realm of my South Africa safari, where every moment promised a breathtaking encounter with the magnificent creatures that define the continent’s wild beauty. 

I was spellbound as I embarked on this journey and the pulse of nature beat in harmony with my own. Amidst vast grasslands and rugged river gorges, this extraordinary adventure unveiled the crown jewels of the wilderness — the Big Five. I had thrilling encounters with lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinoceroses, as we delved deep into their natural habitat, where the circle of life unfolded before my very eyes. A South Africa safari is a captivating expedition, where dreams become reality and the essence of Africa seeps into your soul.

In May, I visited the Eastern Cape of South Africa for a safari experience that was simply magnificent. Majestic lions prowled their domain with an air of royalty, commanding respect and leaving a lasting impression. One day, we observed four carefree juvenile cubs, cavorting under the watchful eye of the lionesses lounging nearby. The next day, we found their intimidating patriarch guarding a kill he had made in the night. Only after he had his fill was the rest of the pride allowed to eat. 

With two game drives each day, there was always something new to see. Leaving at sunrise, the warm hooded ponchos provided by the lodge were welcome. After an hour or so of game spotting, we would stop for a light breakfast in the bush. Our amazing guide, Memory, popped up the front grill of the jeep to hold a buffet of hot drinks and African rusk (hard biscuits). One morning we had breakfast with giraffes as they munched leaves from the tree tops 30 feet from where we stood.

The gentle grace of towering elephants belies their size, but when a herd of 30 or more emerged nearly silently from the bush to cross the jeep’s path, their immense power, wisdom and familial bonds were unmistakable. A herd of Cape buffalo grazed on an open plain, showing strength in numbers, even as we saw lions stalking the herd from the hills above. A nocturnal leopard perched high up on a sturdy branch, stealthy and elusive, its eyes gleaming as he scanned the night. We saw so many other animals that make up the circle of life in the bush — cheetahs, jackals, hyenas, eland, kudu, oryx, wildebeest, hippos, mongoose, meerkats, honey-badgers, Vervet monkeys and one of my favorites, the goofy ostriches. 

And finally, the rhinoceros, a living relic from ancient times appeared. This was my biggest thrill. We saw babies with their mamas up close, some solo males, and even caught a glimpse of the “grand old lady” from afar. Because rhinoceros poaching is a very real and active threat, we were cautioned to refrain from sharing the location of the game reserve in any media. Rifle-toting anti-poaching teams defend the game reserves, ensuring that the Big Five remain plentiful in South Africa. 

Our afternoon game drives always ended with sundowners in a picturesque spot. Again, Memory set up the mobile bar with drinks and nibbles of dried fruits and game meats. As the fiery African sun set on another day, we reflected on our place in the splendid tapestry of nature. Encounters with the Big Five on my South Africa safari kindled a primal connection within me and left an indelible mark on my heart. 

To experience South Africa’s Big Five yourself, contact your favorite travel advisor. 

About Beverly McLean 21 Articles
Beverly McLean, CTC, is affiliated with Covington Travel and can be reached at 757-286-5233 or e-mail