This is an example of the weekly program. It may change due to local circumstances. No week is like another with wild animals moving about in the large reserve.
Day 1 Friday: You are personally met at OR Tambo Airport in South Africa by representatives of Saddlebag Shuttles, and transported directly to Camp Davidson in the Waterberg, where you will enjoy a light lunch overlooking the vastness of the Waterberg plateau. You will then receive a safety briefing and meet the horses. The first ride is a gentle introduction to the reserve and an excellent opportunity for first encounters with species such as zebra, giraffe, wildebeest and kudu. The riding ranges from purposeful walking to easy cantering along sandy tracks, and culminates with sundowner drinks on the open plains.
Day 2 Saturday: The ride this morning is generally quite fast. The route follows the centre of an open valley which is home to species such as sable, reedbuck, red hartebeest, waterbuck and impala. The sandy tracks make for excellent going, and the route crosses open grassland and weaves through dense woodland. After two hours in the saddle the ride pauses at a picturesque dam where riders are given the chance to have a break, a snack and experience the exhilaration of swimming on horseback. The dam is protected from crocodiles, which over recent years have quietly been increasing in number. It is also the perfect size for swimming without taxing the horses. After swimming, the ride is gentle and relaxed back to Camp Davidson. Dark red pedigree cattle bred on the property are often encountered on this route. When conditions are suitable, the last stretch of the ride involves splashy canters along the edge of the lake adjacent to the main lodge. This is a great experience, but don’t expect to remain dry in the process! The afternoon ride follows past a series of dams where encounters with hippo are likely and returns across the open plains. At this time of day there is often much activity on the plains, with the herds mingling in the soft sunlight and different groups coming and going as they prepare for the night. It is a truly magical experience to be able to ride so close to these wild animals, which have become completely relaxed in the presence of the horses.
Day 3 Sunday: Today’s route covers the north eastern areas of the reserve, descending from the camp to cross a stream and open plain and then tracks through untouched bush to the upper reaches of Sunset Lake. This lake is a favourite haunt of the hippo on the reserve and home to crocodile, otter, fish eagle and other waterfowl, such as the beautiful African jacana. Guests ride along the water’s edge and must be constantly on the lookout for the hippo. These animals, while having a reputation for being some of the most dangerous in Africa, are not a threat during the day but will often honk and blow as they observe the riders go by. The route offers an opportunity for exciting splashy canters, which the likes of Esme and Laura Collett loved doing. Having left the lake, riders cross open plains with some quick riding back towards Camp Davidson.
Day 4 Monday: An early start is needed for the long ride from Camp Davidson to either Savannah Lodge in the far south west of the reserve, or Seringa Lodge in the south east. The first part of the route covers country that riders will now be somewhat familiar with, but soon enters new terrain. In places the bush is thick but after a while the scenery opens up to grasslands with sweeping views to the south and west. Riding through this landscape gives riders a sense of the vastness of the African plains. The area boasts a very high concentration of game with herds of over 300 blesbuck, or 80 eland, often sighted. Other species which are home to the plains include red hartebeest, tsessebe and ostrich. There are plentiful zebra, wildebeest, impala and giraffe, and smaller groups of sable, roan and waterbuck. The final stretch to Savannah Lodge is along a wooded stream where kudu and bushbuck are likely to be seen. After a relaxing time around the pool and within the sophisticated lodges, it is time to ride to the southern most areas of the reserve in search of Cape buffalo. These are members of Africa’s famous “big five” and deserve their formidable reputation. Riders therefore need to be alert and responsive to the guides’ instructions. This area is known for its spectacular sunsets as the sun sets over the distant headlands of the Waterberg escarpment – a fitting end to an eventful and memorable day in the African wilderness.
Day 5 Tuesday: After an early start, another long ride through game rich country returns riders to the heart of the operation at the Lodge. The route taken is different from that taken on the outward leg, turning this part of the safari into an exciting journey passing through diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Game species typically prefer different habitats, with nyala and bushbuck for instance occupying dense forest-like sections of the reserve while blesbuck and hartebeest stick to the open plains, and waterbuck and reedbuck, unsurprisingly, are normally seen close to streams and other waterways. The route provides excellent opportunities to see giraffe, which is always a highlight. At the Lodge, guests embark on the road transfer to Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana with Saddlebag Shuttles.
Having crossed the mighty Limpopo River, guests are received at the Mashatu stables where you will enjoy a light lunch, receive a safety briefing and meet their horses. The route this afternoon is from the Stables to Two Mashatus, a tented camp nestled in the shade near the great river. It follows the floodplains, with good opportunities for those first exciting encounters with elephant, giraffe, zebra, ostrich and wildebeest. The route crosses close to a large wetland area which acts as a magnet for game and there is even a chance to come across bat eared fox, black backed jackal and spotted hyena. It then crosses the Majali River close to its confluence with the Limpopo, a favourite haunt of leopards and a resident pride of lion. Across an open plain the welcoming camp awaits.
Day 6 Wednesday: The riding explores the game rich area along the Majali and Pitsani Rivers. Overall the pace is relaxed, with the guides responding to the herds whilst keeping their eyes peeled for the big cats. In the afternoon there is the option of a bush walk or a shorter ride, maybe to the banks of the Limpopo River where elephants are often seen bathing or crossing.
Day 7 Thursday: Following breakfast at dawn, riders set off first along the Majali and then the Mataboli rivers in a north western arc towards the beautifully appointed Tree Camp. The route typically yields rich encounters with elephant, waterbuck, giraffe, impala, wildebeest and zebra. Signs of the many predators that make these rich riverine environments their home are bountiful, and chance encounters possible. The ride typically takes between four and five hours, and for riders the sense of adventure is palpable. Tree Camp will be reached in time for a refreshing shower and lunch. After a welcome rest in the comfort of the camp, nestled in the cooling shade of the majestic Mashatu Tree, a hearty tea will be served. This is followed by a guided bush walk up the Majali River in search of crocodile and other game. Kudu, warthog, klipspringer and eland are all present in the area around the camp, as are elephant, lion and hyena. Waterfowl fly low past the camp and birdsong abounds. This is a truly beautiful place and it is impossible not to immerse oneself in nature and experience the exceptional qualities of Africa’s wilderness areas. An alternative to the bush walk is a game drive with Mashatu Game Reserve, (subject to availability). The probability of encountering lion and leopard on such a drive is very high, given the guides’ intimate knowledge of the big cats’ ranges and habits.
Day 8, Waking in Tree Camp is a magical experience. One feels fully immersed in nature, surrounded by birdsong, and alive to the new day as the early morning light filters through the majestic tree’s leaves. After a quick breakfast, riders set off on the final ride of the safari. This ride offers sweeping views to the east and south, bathed in early morning light, as it traverses along the edge of a ridge near the centre of the reserve. The path then descends to a game rich area along the Majali River. The deep river pools are the favourite haunt of baboon and impala. Sooner or later the great herds of elephant come past for their daily drink, to play in the water and enjoy a dust bath. The final part of the ride is across open plains with some fast canters to the Stables. Other notable sightings include Kori Bustard, the largest flying birds in Africa, bat eared foxes and ostrich. Once at the Stables it time for a shower and meal on the banks of the great river, and then a short journey to the Limpopo Valley Airfield for the flight to Johannesburg in South Africa.
Please be aware that due to changes in weather and other unforeseen events the itinerary may be changed at the last minute.