This is part 2 of the Trip Report covering our stay at the Elephant Plains Game Reserve in the Kruger Private Reserve. If you haven’t yet read, check out part 1 of the Trip Report covering our self-drive experience in the Kruger National Park and our stay at the Satara Rest Camp.
Day 5 – Satara Rest Camp to Elephant Plains
Time – 7:30 am to 7 pm
Exit by Orpen gate (48 Km, 2 hrs)
We left at 7:30 am from the Satara Rest Camp for Elephant Plains and did a small morning safari en-route to the Orpen gate. For one last time in the Kruger National Park, we admired more zebras, impalas, hippos at the Nsemani Dam, giraffes, wild buffaloes, wildebeest crossing the road and baboons causing a traffic jam. I must say we saw tons and tons of zebras and giraffe around the Satara Rest Camp which is not a common sighting at Elephant Plains. In all, our 2 days of self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park was AMAZING.
Hippo Jessica (45 km, 40 min)
- Time – 9:30 am to 11:30 am, last entry at 11:00 am & 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm, last entry at 3:00 pm, Sunday – morning only
- Cost – 100 ZAR
- We reached at 11:00 am and the owner welcomed us with a big smile. The story goes like there was a huge flood back in 2000, the owners found the newborn Hippo Jessica who even had her umbilical cord attached, rescued her and welcomed her into their home. After taking great care of her, when she was ready, they released her back in the wild. But she never went away and kept coming back to their home. She even sleeps with them and has broken numerous beds. Now they even have a male Hippo Richie, who owners have rescued too and will be releasing in the wild when he is ready.
- First, we saw Hippo Richie, then we went down to the lake and saw the world-famous Hippo Jessica. The owner gave everyone their own time to click pictures. We touched her and fed her, her favourite tea. Ladies were even allowed to kiss her.
- It was all worth the detour and we spent an amazing time seeing this majestic creature. Then he showed us one of the hundred documentaries made on Hippo Jessica. After the tour, we paid and carried on.
Hippo Jessica, Hoedspruit to Elephant Plains (2 hrs)
For various routes with step by step direction to Elephant Plains check here.
We left around 12:30 pm from Hoedspruit after stocking up on bottles of water. We drove to Acornhoek and reached by 1:15 pm. From there, we followed the map and reached Elephant Plains at 2:30 pm. Till Acornhoek, GPS can be used. After that, it is must to carry a map and follow the route on the map as GPS can take you through the wrong way. We would have reached Elephant Plains by 11 am but we took a 100 Km detour to pay a visit to the famous Hippo Jessica.
Note – The route via Acornhoek is so-called TAR road but it is a terrible road filled with potholes and took us way longer than expected. I would strongly advise taking the dirt road from the South African wildlife college as it’s a better road with dirt road lasting only for a short time.
Check in was smooth and quick. Since we were late, we rushed to grab some lunch. They had taken care of our Vegetarian request and had prepared delicious wraps. Also from the buffet, we helped our self with some potato salad and bread. They introduced us to our guide Darvi, who took our order for game drive drinks which was included. He also helped us with our luggage. We freshened up and rushed for our safari at 3:30 pm.
Safari expectations at Elephant Plains
Safaris are conducted in an 8 seater open safari vehicle but usually, each vehicle has not more than 6-7 people with everyone mostly getting a window seat. 4 of us, shared the vehicle with an American couple. Our guide Darvi welcomed us and provided everyone with blankets and hot water bottles. He said since you’ve been to the Kruger National Park, it’s pretty similar with the only difference being that we can drive off-road. At this point having seen lions and so many animals at the Kruger National Park, I didn’t expect much and started thinking if this hefty price for Elephants Plains will be worth it. The only animal we were dreaming to see are Leopards as we’ve never seen them in the wild before. We didn’t see any Leopards on our 7-day safari in Kenya or our 2 days spent in the Kruger National Park.
First Safari at Elephant Plains
First, we saw female kudus and a full-grown male kudu which looked different and exciting. Next, we saw an elephant with her baby. Our guide, Darvi got a call, he rushed and we were super excited to see 2 rhinos right in front of us. We hadn’t seen them in the KNP, so this ticked 4 out of the Big 5 for us in Kruger. It was fun following them around. Then we saw nyalas which we haven’t seen anywhere else before.
After seeing some impalas, Darvi rushed on getting another call. To our shock and excitement, we saw a pride of lions. It wasn’t just a pride of lions but a pride of 11 lions which walked right by our vehicle. We couldn’t believe what we just saw. Since driving off-road is allowed, you can get so close to animals that you can stretch out your arm and supposedly touch them. We spent a good hour just admiring them. We’re happy to pack our bags and head home! Everyone in my family loved it and stop calling me crazy behind Kruger. But wait! We haven’t seen leopards yet.
We stopped along the way for sundowners. They also had 4 different types of snacks along with a variety of drinks. After sunset, our guide spent the last hour searching for nocturnal animals by flashlight. Unlike the KNP, they don’t disturb the animals and flashlight only on nocturnal animals.
We were back at 6:30 pm and dinner started at 7:30 pm.
Accommodation and Meal
We stayed at Elephant Plains in a Family Rondavel called as Elephants. It had 2 rooms and 2 bathrooms, a common space for our luggage and a huge balcony overlooking the waterhole where we saw elephants and impalas drinking water. One bathroom had an indoor shower, a beautiful outdoor shower and a bathtub. Whereas the other bathroom only had an indoor shower. They would serve the room twice daily and replenish any used towels. One bottle of still and sparkling water was provided at the beginning of the stay. There was free water available in the bar and also served with meals. They offered a laundry service for 250 ZAR for 1 huge laundry bag. The room was super luxurious and we loved chilling in the room between safaris. 3 meals, 2 safaris and a bush walk are included. Everything from food, safari, rooms to service was top-notch.
For dinner, it was a 3-course menu with starter and dessert served on the table and a wide variety of the main course to choose from the buffet. For starters, they served us a mushroom quiche. We are not a fan of quiche as it has an eggy taste. For the main course, they prepared a curry with quinoa specifically for us. It was mouth-watering and absolutely delicious. The lady head chef out there really knew how to prepare veg food. All kudos to her for keeping us well fed. We also had potato salad, bread and veggie salad from the buffet. For dessert, we had a delightful white chocolate mousse.
Day 6 – Elephant Plains – Morning & Evening Safari
A day at Elephant Plains start with a wake-up knock on the door at 5:30 am, followed by tea, coffee and biscuits and then we went off for the game drive at 6 am.
Second Safari at Elephant Plains
Today, our safari started again with kudus. They look so beautiful that I could sit and see them for hours. But we told Darvi we aren’t leaving EP until he finds a leopard. He had been searching for leopards for the last 2 days, following the tracks and didn’t spot them yet. He got a call, rushed to the scene and finally there she was, the female leopard Xidulu. She was spotted in another hotel’s area, and Darvi spoke to the guide and reserved a space for us since only 3 vehicles per sighting are allowed at a time to avoid disturbing the animal. This ticked all the Big 5 sightings for us in Kruger and in our lives. We’re so excited, felt the adrenaline rushing within us seeing this elusive leopard. We took our own time to click pictures and then Darvi moved on to give space to others.
We were sorted and didn’t know what more he can show us. But he spotted yet another female leopard – Tiyani. This time she was sitting on a tree and we were the only ones there. It was the sight which we won’t forget in our lives. I must have clicked million and millions of photos. We saw her standing on the tree, roaring, sitting on the tree and the climax was her coming down from the tree. We followed her for an hour. Eventually, she sat on a rock made of termite as it gives her a good vantage point. The safari ended with Darvi showing us 3 giraffes. The American couple who were with us on all the safari hadn’t seen giraffes or zebra and were super excited. We were back at 9 am for breakfast.
Then mom and dad went with Darvi for a bush walk. For an hour, he showed and talked about the flora and fauna. Kapil and I chilled in our lovely room and had an amazing bath with good hot water shower and a hot tub bath. Between game drives, you can also chill in the pool which was cold for this season or read books in the library or just relax at the spa.
2 pm is lunchtime, and today chef cooked us some delicious Veg puff. From the buffet, we had Veg pie, pesto bread, rice and salad. Everything was perfect and tasty.
Third Safari at Elephant Plains
Darvi asked us what’s on the menu today? Having seen 11 lions and 2 leopards with one sitting on the tree, we really didn’t know what else we could have asked for. We said we ‘d like to see wild dogs, to which he replied that there are highly mobile. If they are here, we always see them. Then we said cheetahs, to which he said they are rarer than wild dogs and if there are any sightings we always rush to them. So I said aren’t there any Hippos here? He nodded yes. Then American couple said, they want to see zebras at any cost.
While our guide was searching for zebras, he spotted yet another female leopard named as Tiyani sitting under the tree. Since our guide spotted her, we were the first ones there and looked at this beauty for a good 10 minutes before other vehicle showed up. She was stalking impalas and Darvi said, we might be lucky to witness a kill. A kill is something we have never seen in our lives, needless to say, we were super excited. I set up my Go Pro on the jeep and started recording. Darvi said, she is sitting in an attacking position but will wait for the right chance. If impalas did any mistake, she will go for it. We waited and waited, but had no luck. Eventually, after an hour, Darvi decided to move on.
Then he rushed to another spot and told us there is a Hippo. I was like why he is running like crazy for hippos. We’ve seen them lying in water numerous times. Only to our surprise, it was a massive Hippo walking around and grazing on grass. No pictures can do justice on how massive the hippo was. You have to experience it to believe it. After seeing leopards, we were sort of done and would think what more can he show us? But he delivered a new experience each game drive.
After sunset, the last half an hour was spent in searching for nocturnal animals. We saw wildebeest and a glimpse of massive rhinos. Since rhinos are active during the day, he didn’t disturb them by flashing lights. Then he made one last rush to the Big Dam and this time it was the male leopard which rangers have named as Anderson. Darvi told us that he has not seen him for a long time as Anderson loves to wander around the thickest bushes and trees possible. This time he was scent marking around the Big Dam, hence we saw him clearly. We followed him for a while through thickest bushes and trees. Yet again, a sight which we will cherish for a long time. It was time now to head back.
Accommodation and Meal
Hotel – Elephant Plains
We chilled in a bar for some time and had a refreshing Berry Mocktail. I must say, the bartender was one of the friendliest guys I have ever met.
Dinner, as usual, started at 7:30 pm with a drum beat. This time, it was set up outdoors in typical African style Boma. It was a 3 course sit down dinner. For the first course, we had soup, pasta for the main course and pudding for the dessert. Again, everything was mouth-watering. The food at Elephant Plains was so good that we craved for it for the rest of our African trip.
Day 7 – Elephant Plains to Johannesburg
As usual got up at 5:30 am, had tea/coffee and off we went for our last safari at Elephant Plains.
Fourth Safari at Elephant Plains
Today’s agenda was to find zebras as others in our group really wanted to see them. They were a bit pushy as this was their first stop out of the 16 days that they were spending in Africa. Respecting their demands, Darvi spent a good part of our morning safari searching for zebras. I was a bit irritated as you can see zebras everywhere in other parks. Zebras and giraffes are not that common in EP, hence why to waste time searching for them when you can see wild cats which are very rare in other parks. But they were hell-bent on seeing zebras as they had seen all the Big 5 in the last 3 nights spent here at Elephant Plains.
First, we saw some wildebeest. Then Darvi searched more and more and eventually did deliver and found zebras for them. They were quite far. Our guide said they are shy and If we go close to them they will run away. We had seen tons of giraffes and zebras by the road, crossing the road and literally everywhere in the Kruger National Park. We were a bit disappointed for wasting a good part of the morning safari but others were thrilled on seeing zebras.
Then our guide took us to the Big Dam and we had a coffee break with Hippos. Along with tea, coffee and hot chocolate they served 1 veg and 3 non-veg snacks.
I thought this is the end to our fantastic, mind-blowing 3 game drives and a bit let down on 4th. But, boy, I was wrong. Darvi had more in store for us. He showed us a male rhino who was following a female rhino and her baby. The male rhino was trying to hit on her but she was not giving him any attention. We saw this massive male rhino for the first time and ended our safari experience with a huge smile on our face.
Breakfast and Check out
After our safari, we had breakfast. Breakfast was a normal fare – bread, cakes, cereals, fruits, hot chocolate, tea/coffee and eggs to order.
After breakfast, we packed, paid bills and was trying to find Darvi to give him his tips. He wasn’t there and I just left tips at the reception for him. One thing I must say, they weren’t pushy for tips at all. They got us our car and I do think they even washed it for us. It was a spotless white car which when we handed over to them was covered in dust. This is the kind of service they offer.
We said our goodbyes and left. An Africa trip I’d planned just to stay here was all worth it. It totally exceeded our expectation in all terms – be it food or rooms or service or most importantly animal sightings. We saw much more than we had ever dreamed of. I really wished we could have at least stayed one more night. One warning – If you go here as your first safari experience, other safari trips might not match to it.
Drive to Johannesburg
We left at 11 am and it would take around 6 to 7 hours to reach Johannesburg but I really wanted to see various viewpoints on the Panoramic route which we missed on our first day. Hence, after taking the route from South African wildlife college, we took the Bushbuckridge road to Graskop.
By the time we reached Graskop, it was late afternoon.
Graskop Gorge Lift
- Timings – 8:30 am to 5 pm
- Cost – R 20 for entry and R 175 for the George Lift
- This is the newest attraction which I wanted to check out. R 20 is only the entrance fees and you can see the spectacular panorama from the top. I will highly recommend stopping here.
- We paid an additional R 175 and took the lift to the bottom of the gorge. The lift was not as good as it looked. At the bottom, there is a 600 meters circular walkway through the forest and a waterfall. It was an easy walk with some stairs.
- I would say it’s a must visit to see views from the top and whether to pay a hefty price for the lift and the forest walk or not, it’s really a personal choice.
By the time we left, it was already 3:30 pm. Dad wanted to start the drive back to Johannesburg but I really wanted to see the remaining viewpoints before heading back. So then we headed north from Graskop to see the spots. It is well signposted and also GPS showed the right way.
Pinnacle Rock (5.5 Km, 10 min from Graskop)
- Quick Photo Stop
- It’s a rock protruding out of nowhere.
God’s Window (5.5 Km, 10 min)
- Again, a quick photo stop.
- You pay a small entrance fee and you can see the valley from 3 different points.
- Easy and a short walk and didn’t take more than 15 minutes to check out.
Wonder View (1 km, 2 min)
- It’s free and offers a similar view to God’s window.
- A small 10-meter road leads to the viewpoint.
- Clicked few photos and moved on.
Lisbon Falls (10 Km, 10 min)
- Since it was not too far, we did a quick stop.
- 10 meters walkway to the fall.
- There are 2 little waterfalls.
Berlin Falls (7 Km, 10 min)
- We were really pressed for time and finally skipped this one.
It was almost 4:30 pm and finally we started the drive back to Johannesburg from Graskop. Our GPS showed 370 Km which scared the hell out of everyone.
We took the R 533 via Pilgrim Rest to Lydenburg. Then we took the same route back via Dullstroom, Belfast and Witbank.
An alternate route goes via Sabie and Belfast which bypasses Dullstroom.
Drive to Johannesburg (370 Km, 4 hrs from Graskop)
Half of the main highway didn’t have any street lights. The sunset time was 5:30 pm and by 6 pm it became pitch black. This was probably the scariest drive in our lives. I strongly advised my clients not to drive in the dark but since we wanted to see all the spots landed us in this situation. After around half way, there were lights on the road. It was not as good as the street lamps but better than nothing. Only main towns had street light for like 10 meters. On seeing those, we would celebrate like crazy but it would last only a short time.
Then we were around one hour away from Johannesburg, police flashed lights from behind. We stopped and were scared to death. But they just did a random check and said we’re here for your safety. Because of these words, I felt safe and last bit of the drive to Johannesburg went by. I was a bit worried about reaching our hotel as if we take any wrong turn it may land us up on a road which we’re not supposed to be on. But our Intercontinental Or Tambo Airport Hotel was right there when we left the main highway. On reaching the hotel, we felt in a very safe zone.
Accommodation and Meal
We stayed at Intercontinental Or Tambo for the sheer convenience. It’s right opposite the airport with a lot of police presence. We arrived at 10 pm and left the next day at 5:30 am for our early morning flight to Namibia. It’s quite expensive but I stayed here as I had IHG points. Otherwise, I would have chosen some other airport hotel as it’s too expensive. Of course, rooms and bathrooms were top notch. I also convinced a hotel staff to accompany us to the car drop off area. He reluctantly agreed. He first escorted us to a petrol station, then to the car drop off and back to the hotel. It went by a breeze due to the staff’s help. We check in and settled in for the night.
Next day, our flight at 6 am got cancelled to Namibia and the airline booked us for a later flight at 11 am. So we came back to the hotel, and to our amazement, the hotel gave us our rooms back. They didn’t even object once. We didn’t have dinner last night and I ordered quite a lot of food – sandwich, pasta and stir-fry noodles which was all a part of the late night menu till 6 am. It was just 6 am and they were happy to serve us this. Thanks to them as the food was finger licking good and I really didn’t want to eat bread which is what we get for breakfast in veg. So in all, it landed up to be a very good choice and saved us from the torture of sitting at the airport for 5 hours.
There you have it – Our Kruger itinerary for a week covering our stay at the Satara Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park and the Elephant Plains Game Reserve in the Kruger Private Reserve. I’ve been dreaming about this trip for years and didn’t think that I actually would plan a trip back to South Africa just to experience Kruger. Having done game drives previously, I didn’t expect anything different. But this was something unique. Everyone agreed it was totally worth to plan a trip back to Africa just to stay at Elephant Plains. We called this the best safari of our lives and even Kenyan safari did not come close to it.
Planning a trip to Kruger?
Check out all the other posts in Kruger series:
Kruger Trip Planning Essentials and a comparison between the Kruger National Park and the Kruger Private Reserve
Our Detailed Itinerary and Trip Report – Part 1 – Satara Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park
Various Possible Routes to Elephant Plains
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored or a free trip – We have paid for all our Holiday expenses but I spend a lot of time researching for the best deals and at times do get a discount as I run a travel business as well. However, this post contains some (not all) affiliate links. Any purchase made through the links will help support this blog at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!