After a great stay at Giraffe Manor it was time to start our quest to see Africa’s Big Five in real life, admittedly after clarifying an initial issue where I told the kids the hippo was one of them, and they insisted it wasn’t and quickly invoked the ultimate authority – Google – to prove me wrong. We boarded our plane and headed north to Solio Lodge, the only accommodation on the 45 000 acre private Solio Game Reserve.
We’d been sad to farewell the giraffes, but quickly realised we were going to have plenty more opportunities to interact with these beautiful creatures with a tower greeting us just after we landed. (I love the names for groups of animals in Africa, giraffes are a tower if standing still and a journey if moving.)
After quickly dropping our bags at the Lodge it was time to head out for our first game drive with our wonderful guide Ole and spotter Blackie. Almost straight away we found the hippos replacement in the big five (yes kids I do understand the hippo was never actually in the big five other than in my mind…) the water buffalo. They do have impressive horns, but I suspect growing up with a beef cattle farmer for a father left me feeling that their resemblance to a big cow prevented them from being all that impressive.
The rhinos however where a different story. We drove up quite close to a big herd, and Ole said this was our coffee stop. He had a great sense of humor, so I just assumed this was another of his jokes and stayed put until I saw he and Blackie setting up cups and pouring coffee. Given my only previous interaction with a rhino had been when one charged our bus at Werribee Manor on the sunset Safari tour for the APHS Christmas party many years ago I was more than a little nervous about sitting next to a crush (great name for a group of rhinos!) for a relaxing cup of coffee.
Sam was quick to identify a business opportunity when Ole explained that the poachers wanted the rhino horns to sell as some people believed that despite containing nothing but hard keratin, just like a finger nail, ground up horn could cure cancer. As a chronic nail biter, Sam felt that he might make his fortune if he saved up all the pieces of nail he bites off, and the rhinos would stay safe as well!
The zebra herds (a group of zebra is a dazzle, again how good is that?) were also frequent sightings, and one of my favorites. Their black and white stripes are as unique an identifier as a finger print, with no two having the same pattern.
We didn’t see any lions on our first day, but set off with high hopes on the second morning with Ole declaring it a great day for lions. We sat on the roof of the Land Cruiser, which made for a great view and a better ride than any roller coaster when Ole or Blackie caught a glimpse of something and raced across the bumpy landscape to track it down.
It soon turned out Ole’s feeling was correct as we came across four adult males resting in a clearing, with zebra and antelope keeping a close gaze on them. We were so close to them it was incredible, sitting completely exposed on the roof of the car while they strolled around and stretched like pussy cats in the sun.
After watching them for the best part of an hour we headed up from the river bank to the plains in the hunt for a black rhino. While there are around 320 rhinos at Solio, only 60 of them are black and they are much harder to spot than the white rhino. They are usually solo, and very skittish rather than the placid big groups of white rhino we’d got used to seeing.
After a few false alarms all of a sudden we came across the real deal, and the differences between the two breeds was immediately apparent. The black rhino didn’t let us get anywhere near as close as her white counterparts, but we were still able to get a really good look and some great pictures.
Buzzing with the excitement of a great morning , we headed back to the lodge for lunch and a quick trail ride through the plains (outside of the reserve so limited chance of a lion encounter, but plenty of other animals along the way) before our evening drive.
I thought Ole was going to die laughing when we all appeared in animal onesies for the evening Safari (it’s cold up there on the roof!) but he couldn’t get a picture quick enough and said in 20 years as a guide it’s the first time he’d ever had a group in fancy dress. Word must have got out on the radio as we were added to the list of must have sightings for the evening, with other groups tracking us down to take pictures of this unexpected group of animals!
Our appeal as a photo target quickly diminished though when Blackie spied a lioness in the distance and we raced towards the river and not only found her, but a big pride of 8 females and their cubs plus the giraffe that they’d killed shortly before.
We watched them until darkness fell, then sat quietly in the car listening to the lions roar the news of their kill to the rest of the pride from just a couple of meters away, a moment that truly made the hair on our necks stand on end.
After a wonderful stay at Solio Lodge we sadly said goodbye to our new friends Ole and Blackie and boarded a plane to fly south east to the Mara in the quest for the final two of the big five, elephant and leopard.