This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways. All opinions are 100% mine.
I've been positively seething with excitement while preparing for this Groupon Getaways post, guys! My favorite part of writing travel blog posts is going through photos and deciding which ones most accurately portray the experiences I had to my readers, and those were definitely not in short supply for our Pilanesberg National Park Safari With Groupon Getaways last month!
Pilanesberg National Park Safari in South Africa
Now, where do I begin?
First of all, I have to tell you that using Groupon Getaways for my travel needs led to an entirely different travel experience than Angeline and I are used to. Our Groupon Getaway included airfare to Johannesburg, South Africa from the US, a connecting flight within South Africa, our hotel in Cape Town that included breakfast, then a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, our lodge and two daily game drives and all meals, then our flight back to the US.
That would have been a lot of planning on our part, a lot of coordination and a lot of time - but they took care of everything! The only things were were responsible for was our entertainment while in Cape Town as well as lunch and dinner. I simply booked two excursions while there and since our hotel was right downtown, finding restaurants to eat at were simple - we just walked!
I told you all about our stay in Cape Town in this blog post, so today I'm going to focus on our Pilanesberg National Park safari. We stayed at the Ivory Tree Game Lodge, which I HIGHLY recommend - it was an awesome experience!
Pilanesberg National Park Safari With Groupon Getaways
The Ivory Tree Game Lodge was rustic and charming, with a real sense of authenticity in everything from the main gathering area to the cabins to the food they served.
Cabins at the Ivory Tree Game Lodge have no wifi, no television...just super comfy beds, a lounge area, a balcony with a gorgeous view of the park and a super awesome bathroom.
If you think you might have trouble getting out of those comfortable beds in time for your morning game drive, no worries - your game driver gives you a 5 am wake up call every morning!
My favorite part was the bathroom, complete with an outdoor shower!
Each cabin is assigned a game driver who acts as their host throughout their stay. Your game driver will call you each morning to wake you up, take you on your morning and afternoon game drive and also have dinner with you if you like. You can also opt out of the wake up call too, but we were happy to have it...it's not too easy to get out of bed at 5 am when you have a teenager in tow!
Once you're up and ready, you have a little pasty and coffee in the lobby, then head out at 5:30 am for your morning game drive.
Game drives usually last around 3 hours, but they can go over if there is a lot of animal activity. Your driver will make sure that you don't miss the "real" breakfast once you return!
Pilanesberg National park is just that, a national park, and there are never any guarantees that you will see specific animals...BUT our game driver, Sam, was incredibly awesome and always found something for us to see! One morning I even spotted something on my own - a Rock Python that was crossing the road behind us while we were watching animals in front of the jeep! You might not know this about me, but I am crazy about snakes and have had pet snakes including ball pythons, Burmese pythons, boa constrictors and rat snakes for most of my life. We don't have any right now due to having four cats who find snake cages quite interesting - so seeing an African Rock Python in the wild was SO exciting!
Our game driver was always on the lookout for wildlife, and every game driver at the lodge works together to call in sightings over the radio so that no one misses anything cool happening in the park. The park is also open to the public, so sometimes you will find others on the trail too.
You aren't allowed to go off roading in Pilanesberg National Park, but sometimes the animals come to you! One day, our driver Sam received a call over the radio that there was a leopard literally laying in the street and we raced to the area and were able to get there in time to see it for ourselves!
It was quite unreal to see a leopard literally sitting in the middle of the road. She got up and walked around and we eventually lost sight of her, but we did see her again on her last day! I'll show you more of that exciting experience later in the post!
Angeline and I quickly learned that the game drivers had a special code language for the animals in the park, and after hearing them reference "Tao" a few times, I understood that was their code for "lion." After a frenzied squeal of delight on the radio one morning, we set off to a spot where our driver said there was a lioness and her cubs...and we arrived just in time to see them all lay down!
We could see them through the tall grass, but when they stood up, it was a perfect view!
Angeline and I both love lions, and to see them in the wild...well, let's just say that it was a total bucket list moment for both of us. That it was a mom with her cubs? That just made it all the more precious of a sighting.
I think this is one of my favorite photos from the entire safari...
We had a little inside joke in jeep T5 (that was our assigned jeep for our stay at the Ivory Tree Game Lodge) that whenever I wished to see an animal, we did! Each time you get into your jeep to begin your drive, whether it's the morning drive or afternoon drive, your game driver will ask if here are any animals you're particularly interested in seeing. One morning I said lions - and that's the morning we saw lions. The day I said that I really just wanted to see a herd of elephants in the street, THIS HAPPENED!
As we entered the park, calls came through that there was a herd of elephant in the street at the park entrance. We literally had to wait for them to leave before we could even begin our game drive.
I wish I could explain what it's like to see an entire herd of elephants just standing there in the middle of the street, even with two babies! It was a very emotional moment for me...in a good way. We sat and watched them, ooohing and awwwing over the babies, until they tired of the spot and began walking alongside our jeeps and moving farther into the park.
We saw a lot of animals on our afternoon game drive that day, including a family of hippos in the watering hole where we stopped for snacks while we watched the sunset.
Now, it's not all lions and leopards in the Pilanesberg National Park. There are some times when you won't see any of the BIG FIVE, only wildebeest, antelope and zebras - and even the zebras aren't all that common.
Wildebeest are territorial, so they tend to stay in the same place and you can be certain to see them every time you go out on a game drive.
Zebras move in herds through the park and don't really stay in the same spot like wildebeest and antelope, but they can usually be found near the wildebeest, and sometimes you'll find zebra, wildebeest and antelope all grazing together.
Pilanesberg National Park is such a beautiful place that even when there aren't many animals around, it's still a wonderful experience. The landscape is simply breathtaking.
This was also prime selfie-taking time!
Who am I kidding? Angeline is 17, it's ALWAYS selfie-taking time.
We took a really great photo one evening at sunset on the watering hole - there's just something about that backdrop that makes for wonderful photos! I wonder if I can talk Chris into us all going back to South Africa for a family portrait?
We did see three black rhinos one evening, but they were running into the tall grass when we spotted them and I wasn't able to grab a photo. White rhinos on the other hand - we saw them quite a bit!
I had this picture of Africa in mind; I thought that there would just be giraffe all over the place, everywhere we turned. I was so wrong it's not even funny. We saw a few giraffe at a great distance on the first morning game drive, but it wasn't until the last afternoon game drive that we saw a lot of them up close! Funny enough, it was just after telling Sam that I really wanted to see a giraffe up close. To be exact, I told her, "I just want to see a family of giraffe standing right by the road!"
And then we saw just that. Sam said I was her good luck charm!
Not only did we see that giraffe cross the street right in front of us, but there were more in the shrubs on the side of the road. It was so fun to watch them turn around and look at us, sticking their long tongues out and eat while still staring at us.
On our very last game drive, the day we left South Africa to fly home to the US, something pretty amazing happened. It was honestly one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me - and this is coming from someone who has interviewed Angelina Jolie.
We tracked a leopard!!!!
Our game driver, Sam, got a call that someone had spotted a leopard as soon as we entered the park that morning, but by the time we got there, they'd lost sight of it. We circled back and forth through the leopard's favorite area - leopards are territorial, after all, and never stray too far from their favorite spot - but it seemed to be gone for good. All of the other trucks gave up hope and it was just our truck and the person who'd originally seen it, still searching the horizon for that tell-tale white tip sticking out of the tall grass. We listened to the cries of the birds, trying to gauge where it might be, looked for signs of rustling in the grass... No such luck...and then Sam saw a pile of poop in the road that wasn't there before and identified it as leopard poop!
So, I SPOTTED the leopard! I saw it walking along a ravine and started screaming that I saw her...and then this happened.
I love cats, but I really love big cats. Seeing the lions was thrilling, but tracking this leopard that final morning? It was exhilarating!
We watched as it jumped through the trees (did you know that leopards climb trees?), then walked next to our jeep and then crossed the road, leaping into the grass and disappearing...
Then it was time to go back to the lodge, pack up our things and head to the airport for our 18 hour flight home.
That was not quite as exhilarating, but a very small price to pay for the best trip of my life - and a great bonding experience for Angeline and I! She'll be 18 in just six months, and heading off to college pretty soon. Next year is her last year of high school and then she'll be off in the world, so this last year at home is really important to me and I want to share as many experiences as I can with her - while I'm still able to!
I am so thankful for Groupon Getaways and their amazing deals on all kinds of travel, but specifically these all-inclusive type of trips that make amazing vacations hassle-free. Ever since I came home from our Pilanesberg National Park Safari with Groupon Getaways, I've been checking out their other deals in hopes that I can find something for this summer!
Do you love to travel, but struggle to find affordable vacation ideas? I highly recommend visiting Groupon Getaways; new deals are added all the time, ranging from cruises to hotel and airfare deals, to all-inclusive vacations like our Pilanesberg National Park Safari! You'll be amazed at what they have to offer, and how much more affordable it can be to book the trip of your dreams!