|SITE MAP||STALKING||FIREARMS & ACCESSORIES||CONTACT DEERSTALKER|
DeerStalker offers an overview of an adventure with Dubula Mangi Safaris in South Africa
FIRST STEPS INTO AFRICA
I guess the time had to come eventually; but even when it did, I was caught completely unawares. For years, stalking friends of mine had been extolling the virtues of hunting in Africa: "You must go" they kept telling me. The spirit was certainly willing, but the bank balance was not really up to the task. Then good fortune smiled, the opportunity arose, and I didn’t need asking twice!
Even with everything carefully planned, I felt a certain degree of trepidation at the prospect of hunting in a country I had never before visited, with a guide who I had only ‘spoken’ to by email. Even though I discussed the plains game antelope with my friends, and got their first-hand accounts of the hunting methods, deep down inside I knew that I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Two acquaintances had hunted with my guide the previous year, and they were full of assurances as to his ability and dedication. They had experienced varied success, but had loved every minute of it, and were going back for more just two weeks after my hunt. Right up to the last minute my mind was in turmoil, and a sense of foreboding was compounded when we left for Heathrow airport, got to the M25 motorway, and drove straight into one of those infamous traffic jams…….. we did make the flight on time.
Well, I’m back now, and my stalking friends are eager to know how things went. They don’t have to ask me – they just look at my ear-to-ear grin!
Yes I was extremely lucky. I was lucky to get the chance of the safari in the first place. I was lucky to have such an excellent guide. I was lucky that everything went according to plan. But then, as one of my friends is only too happy to keep reminding anyone who cares to listen, you could lock me in a broom cupboard, and I’d still emerge with a trophy buck!
Obviously I can only tell you of my limited experience, but for anyone who might be considering an African adventure, I can assure you that this would be an excellent way to gain an initial taste for this unique continent. The story of my hunting exploits can be read elsewhere on this site (HUNT REPORT), so here I will give you an overall view of the holiday, and why I believe it to be an ideal format for first steps in Africa.
We were a group of four on that 10˝ hour British Airways overnight flight to Johannesburg, with me the only hunter amongst us. At our destination they are more than familiar with sportsmen/women bringing in firearms, and BA ground crew escorted me to a police office where a temporary import permit was promptly issued to cover my rifle and ammunition. This permit was waved in the direction of a Customs officer who declined to hinder our progress, and the next minute we were being welcomed to South Africa by our guide Dennie Taljaardt.
To describe Dennie as a human dynamo would be doing him an injustice. He is constantly on the move, doing everything he can to help you and ensure that all is as you would wish. Fit? This man not only runs marathons, but also ultra-marathons: up to 100 miles at a time. The rest of his family are runners too: his charming wife Daleen, and all three of their daughters! We met up with the family when we stopped at their home in the town of Nelspruit, to stock up with supplies. Dennie and Daleen control two outdoor adventure operations: ‘Execu Bush Safaris’ and ‘Dubula Mangi Safaris’. This essentially allows them to distinguish between clients who are solely interested in game watching (Execu Bush), and those who wish to get involved in a bit of hunting – Dubula Mangi translates to "Shoot Now!"
So the first half of our South African visit was run under the Execu Bush banner. Leaving Nelspruit behind us, it was on to Kruger National Park, where we were to spend our first four nights. For those of you unfamiliar with this vast country, let me explain that although Kruger is surrounded by wire, the animal population within is most certainly wild. Kruger, at some 250 miles long, is the size of Holland or Wales. Game viewing is enhanced by the fact that the park has been established long enough that every animal in residence has been born used to the presence of vehicles, which have to keep to designated roads and tracks. Additionally, you are not allowed to leave your vehicle other than in one or two specially selected areas and the camps, with the result that the wildlife feels less threatened. To a very large extent the animals are left to get on with life pretty much as nature intended. Park management includes a live capture unit, concentrating on the freely breeding larger species, such as white rhino, for relocation to other sanctuaries. There are worries about the ever-increasing size of the elephant herds – you wouldn’t believe the damage they do to trees – and talks of an impala cull. In fact these impala are known locally as ‘McDonalds’: they are all over the place, and everything eats them. Look at them from behind, and you will even see that famous M!
There are a number of camps situated throughout Kruger, most with quite acceptable accommodation and restaurant facilities. Whilst we were there the gates closed at 6 pm, and re-opened at 6 am. We barbecued as much as possible – or should I say Dennie barbecued, and we sat around sipping G&T’s…. The main purpose of visiting Kruger was to view game, and from the moment we drove in through one of the main gates there was plenty to see. Nothing that you have read about, seen in a zoo, or watched on film documentary can compare with this experience, and it was invaluable from my point of view. As a prospective hunter I needed to see animal sizes, colourings, compare lengths and spreads of horns, and decide what it was I wanted to go looking for later in the week. I was after antelope, but at the same time was only too keen to be in the company of elephant, lion, buffalo and rhino. We saw these four of the Big 5 on all three of our full days game driving. We missed out on leopard, and on the third day by a mere whisker: we passed a herd of impala just ten minutes before one of these elusive big cats leapt out and grabbed breakfast. August is a good time of the year to be in Kruger: it is towards the end of the winter dry season, and although the park has a rather parched appearance, the lack of lush undergrowth allows for better spotting. The warmer the weather, the more likely the animals are to seek a shady spot to lie up, but for us there was game aplenty, with close-ups of kudu, waterbuck, bushbuck, wildebeest, zebra and duiker. Dennie is a mine of information on the area’s natural history, and was particularly keen to ensure that I appreciated the finer points of species we might later be hunting. On more than one occasion he muttered "If we see one that size, shoot it!"
From my point of view three full non-stop days in Kruger proved perfect. For anyone who has seen it all before, this might be a little too much. One of the great things about planning a safari with Dennie is that there is no hard and fast itinerary: if you know exactly what you want in the first place, all well and good. We had had a pretty good idea of what we were after, and this was passed on to Dennie, who then put together an outline for our ten day stay. Further discussion refined the schedule, primarily concerning arrangements for the three non-shooters’ entertainment while I was out hunting. Needless to say, their needs were well catered for. After leaving Kruger we made our way back to Nelspruit, where another guide, Dennie’s friend Tony, was waiting for my companions. They were whisked away to Pezulu, a treetop camp that was their base for three days of activities that included visits to a cheetah breeding centre, a wildlife rehabilitation unit, and the nearby white lion project. An early morning flight down the Sabie River by hot air balloon proved extremely popular, before Tony took them on the very scenic Panorama Route along the eastern edge of the Drakensberg Mountains, on their way to joining me at the hunting camp. Once there, they had little time to sit around and relax with outings arranged to a crocodile farming unit, tobacco farm, dove hunting, and wildlife watching from a hide situated alongside a popular waterhole. There was absolutely no need to leave anyone at home for fear of the boredom all too commonly associated with being a hunter’s companion. For anyone with additional time to spare, other optional excursions could include a beach holiday on the Indian Ocean coast of Mozambique, where the white sand goes on forever, there is nobody else in sight, and the diving and game fishing is superb.
From Nelspruit, Dennie & I travelled direct to the Seditse hunting camp, taking in a few of the Panorama vistas en route. Although constantly on the go, Dennie made it very clear that I should dictate the pace. Under the circumstances I was only too pleased to make every effort to keep up with him. In arranging the hunting, and what to hunt, I had a ‘trophy budget’ that I decided to stick to pretty rigidly. Amongst the emails that had been flashing back and forth in the initial planning stages had been one that gave me details of the various species available to hunt, along with their respective trophy fees. I had given Dennie a rough idea of the animals that particularly attracted me. Interestingly enough, to begin with my number one choice had been a gemsbok, but the visit to Kruger altered my opinion, and by the time we reached Seditse my choice was firmly in favour of kudu. This change of mind was certainly not a problem for Dennie: in fact there were two or three occasions while we were hunting, when we came across particularly notable examples of species not on my ‘list’, when Dennie enquired as to whether I might be tempted. He made it quite clear that whatever it was we were stalking, he would not be the slightest bit worried if I elected not to squeeze the trigger.
Our mid-August visit seemed an ideal time to be in northern South Africa, with there being a distinct lack of mosquitoes and other pests. Daytime temperatures were generally peaking in the low 70's, and the nights were pleasantly cool. Game watching is a year-round activity, however Dennie suggests May to November as being the best months; but take into account the rainy season, which usually starts in October. For hunters, May through to the end of September are the optimum months.
All too soon our great adventure was at an end. A five-hour drive back to Johannesburg airport was interrupted by a brief visit to a giant shopping mall, where we marvelled at the variety of goods available, most at ridiculously low prices when compared with what we would be paying back home. Check in for our flight produced a bit of a problem with my rifle (see Sniper), but then it was back to Britain, and my ear-to-ear smile.
If this reads like a glowing recommendation for my professional hunter and guide Dennie Taljaardt, then I make no excuses for it. Dennie worked his socks off to ensure that we had the holiday of a lifetime. He was with me from the moment we arrived in South Africa, right up until we departed. If you are looking to take your first steps into Africa, contacting Dennie would be a great way to make a start.
Read the DeerStalker 'Hunt Report' for Dubula Mangi Safaris