Into the Wild with DJ Carey
Nothing prepared me for my first trip to South Africa. The sights and sounds were not unexpected, but taken together, they were a sensory overload that amazed and delighted day after day. After a 14-hour flight from New York, we rested at the Residence Hotel in northern Johannesburg. The accommodations were beautiful and stylish, and my private, outdoor hot tub was just the respite I needed from travel.
The next morning, I stepped off the 40-minute Airlink flight from Johannesburg and saw animals roaming freely. We really were in a different world! As we approached the Tengile River Lodge in Sabi Sands Reserve, our luxurious home base, we marveled at 100 impalas that crossed in the distance. The entrance to this new lodge is not obvious and that’s how andBeyond, which runs the lodge (along with 30 other safari lodges across Africa), intended it. The company’s respect for the land and its people (it supports local schooling as well) is admirable. You descend down a flight of stairs into the open dining and bar area, complete with a deep veranda and expansive views of the river below.
The resort (10 cottages and a spa) follows the curve of the river and fits into the landscape. My cottage overlooking the river boasted incredible design with organic and handmade furnishings. I loved the use of rough stone layered with metal in the bedroom. In the rustic and natural environment, moments of glamour showed in the metal legs of the live-edge coffee table, the entry console covered in leather and a thick stone counter in the bathroom.
When it was time to explore, our guide, Jonty, was filled with excitement since this was my first drive to see animals in the wild; our tracker Richard was quiet but he wore years of experience on his face. The parade of amazing species began: waterbucks, warthogs, hippos, zebras, rhinoceros, elephants, leopards, lions and giraffes. You have no idea how majestic these animals are until you see them in the wild. And just as impressive was the bird population. I was so immersed in what was in front of me that the time flew and before long, it was time to have “sundowns,” as they call sunset cocktails. Standing in the middle of a grassy plain sipping a gin and tonic watching the sun slip below the trees is something I will never forget. I walked back to my cottage, tired yet exhilarated, and slipped into my private pool to watch the river below and listen to the sounds of the monkeys and elephants. It was truly magical and strange and wonderful all rolled into one!
The following few days followed an agreeable pattern of 5 a.m. wake-up calls soon followed by a knock on the door by Richard with a golf cart. Freddy, my butler, always had coffee and light treats ready. We drove for three hours or so and then returned for breakfast. At 4 p.m., after a midday rest (a deep-tissue massage at the spa was wonderfully therapeutic!), we went out to search for more animals. One highlight was the discovery of a leopard that we could hear but not see. Yes, he was chewing his kill, and moments later, he walked out of the brush and past us in a satisfied and smug way! It was beautiful to see him undisturbed by us and in his environment.
On another day, we traveled north to the Ngala Lodge to see a rare white lion cub. Our guide, Bernard, got us as close as was recommended to this beautiful creature. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, and I was grateful. One night, dinner was held in a traditional South African “boma,” an enclosed area open to the stars. Grilled meats and prawns washed down with pinotage, a South African grape that’s a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, made for a delicious dinner. Surrounded by lanterns flickering in the summer sky, the staff sang and entertained us. The day ended just as wonderfully as it had started. Each night, I heard the symphony of sounds from the animals nearby.
When I first arrived, I didn’t know what to expect and, honestly, I was a bit afraid. But after my first night in this magical place, I was comforted by what existed just beyond my cottage. A world I couldn’t have imagined just days ago was now real to me. This trip changed me, and it will change you, too.
Check out the video below featuring DJ's room tour: