Tucked away amongst the rolling, verdant escarpment of South Africa’s Waterberg plateau is the Welgevonden Game Reserve. It’s significantly smaller when compared to the more monumental parks like the Kruger, Etosha or Kalahari-Gemsbok. But where it lacks in the formidable sense, it more than makes up for with an ample supply of animal species, all existing against the backdrop of this lush, pristine wilderness. It is, in short, a wonderful destination for safari goers of all types. It also happened to be my premiere expedition to Africa, and a most unforgettable one at that.
My first impression of Welgevonden was the elegance of its landscape. Between rugged, tightly laced acacia woodland, seemingly endless stretches of amber colored savannah or steep, arid ravines, the reserve contains some of the most visually scenic, well preserved terrain in Southern Africa. And where there is true dedication to wilderness conservation, there will always be plenty of game to see.
Whether at their leisure or engaging in a hunt, nothing is as thrilling or equally frightening as close range encounters with wild lions in their natural surroundings. The most heart pounding moment came on the heels of a pale skied morning as we trailed a small pride on their early morning hunt. After wisely being informed by my guides not to move a muscle, I caught sight of a lone robust male ambling up behind our vehicle. After ensuring we posed no threat, he nervously trotted by our passenger’s side door to join his compatriots. Even watching a lion pad at a jogger’s pace is enough to send pins and needles down your spine, and cause shaky camera hands.
Welgevonden also boasts an impressive number of white rhinos where you can get an up close look at just how immense they really are. For the record, to refer to a rhinoceros as big is a terrible understatement, especially when you’re on foot, and a good distance from the safety and security of the safari jeep. Massive or tremendous are certainly more appropriate terms for these titans of the bush!
And of course, there were the elephants and plenty of them. My stay in Welgevonden was full of daily sightings. I recall one memorable event, witnessing a large bull in musth, aggressively marauding his way through the dense scrub and acting quite the curmudgeon. Having never seen an elephant run before, I was amazed at the speed and ease at which this hulking specimen could move. At one point he even turned around to give us a brusque mock charge, concluding with a brief trumpet his stern reminder that we were guests visiting on his terms.
For me, the Welgevonden will always be a powerful, special place that first comes to mind whenever I’m asked about my travels throughout Africa. And more importantly, reminiscing about my extraordinary introductory visit to this majestic corner of the continent continually reminds me of the importance of protecting and promoting these remaining wildlife havens.