East London & an Inkwenkwezi Safari

An off-road safari at the Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve was my excursion of choice as Silversea’s Silver Wind docked in East London, South Africa. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The now-familiar heavy swells once again graced Silversea’s elegant Silver Wind this morning as she sailed south through the Indian Ocean along the South African coastline, destined for the city of East London.

Few things are quite as nice as breakfast outside on the Veranda at La Terrazza, Deck 7 aft. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Few things are quite as nice as breakfast outside on the Veranda at La Terrazza, Deck 7 aft. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Since it was such a lovely day out, I ate both breakfast and an early lunch out on the veranda at La Terrazza once again. It’s so nice to sit out and enjoy the breeze and the sounds of the ocean so close at hand, all while water is poured, coffee served, and breakfast is doled out. In fact, the restaurant remains one of my absolute favorites for dinner: I love the atmosphere, the Italian heritage of the menus, and the phenomenal service.

Breakfast settings, Silversea-style. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Breakfast settings, Silversea-style. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I have been meaning to try Le Champagne all week, Silver Wind’s Relais & Chateaux-influenced specialty restaurant, but it has remained heavily booked – which is a testament to the food created here. When I dined at Le Champagne onboard the Silver Spirit, it was a true event, and I am sure that holds true here aboard the Silver Wind.

Still on my hit-list: Dinner at the very intimate Le Champagne located on Deck 4 and created in conjunction with Relais & Chateaux. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Still on my hit-list: Dinner at the very intimate Le Champagne located on Deck 4 and created in conjunction with Relais & Chateaux. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Just before noon, Silver Wind came alongside in East London, South Africa under a scorching, cloudless sky. Temperatures soared to 28 degrees Celsius as I made my way down the gangway and onto the motorcoach that would take me on my final Safari experience: a five-hour excursion and three-hour game drive at the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve.

East London, South Africa on sail-in. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

East London, South Africa on sail-in. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A tug helps guide Silver Wind into port in East London on January 23, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A tug helps guide Silver Wind into port in East London on January 23, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The reserve itself was located about an hour outside of the city limits, amidst some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. One of the things that has fascinated me on this trip is just how diverse the African landscape has been; from the near-tropical forests and mountain ranges of Richard’s Bay to the drier, rolling hills of Durban and finally the vast swaths of grasslands and beautiful beaches present in East London. Not to mention, of course, Cape Town’s majestic Table Mountain.

Even though the safari wasn't as naturally wild as the one in Richards Bay, it was a true off-road experience. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Even though the safari wasn’t as naturally wild as the one in Richards Bay, it was a true off-road experience. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Today’s game drive was leaps and bounds better than yesterday’s. No converted delivery trucks were here; all guests boarded three canvas-topped Land Rover 4×4 vehicles and set off from the welcome centre on a true off-road experience. In fact, it was so off-road that the first thing that popped into my mind was that it reminded me of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, except that Land Rover was on a rail and there was a large boulder chasing me…

The first up-close elephant sighting I've seen since visiting Addo Elephant Park one week ago. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The first up-close elephant sighting I’ve seen since visiting Addo Elephant Park one week ago. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Because of the adventurous nature of the drive itself – and the spectacular scenery – I would have been quite happy even if all the game decided they were going to hide in the underbrush. But not only did they come out, they did so in force!

The majestic giraffe. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The majestic giraffe. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

For me, the highlight of the day was seeing my very first lions, thus completing my goal of seeing all five “Big Game” in their natural habitat.  The lions at Inkwenkwezi were almost in their natural habitat, however: our Land Rover had to pass through a double-gated vestibule to access the lion enclosure. Surrounded by a two-thousand volt electrified fence, it was a bit of a Jurassic Park moment as we drove into the vestibule and had the gate shut behind us. Our guide was then handed a loaded pistol which he armed before the second gate was opened, allowing us to drive through and on to several waiting lions. All that was missing was Samuel L. Jackson saying, “Hold onto your butts.”

My first lion sighting: amazing because it completed my Big Five Game quest; disappointing in that they were kept in a man-made enclosure. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

My first lion sighting: amazing because it completed my Big Five Game quest; disappointing in that they were kept in a man-made enclosure. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

We were all warned to not lean out of the vehicle, or stand up while in the lion enclosure: animals like lions see in two dimensions, meaning they see the Land Rover as a bit of a 2D brick and not a three-dimensional object with eight tasty human snacks inside.

The Lion King. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Lion King. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Seeing the lions was very cool, but then it immediately unnerved me. These are Lions! And even my rudimentary knowledge of Lions! told me that they were not to be messed with. Our guide filled in the missing pieces when he said that in three seconds, a lion can cover nearly 50 feet of ground. My rough calculations told me I’d be an amuse bouche in less than two.

Look at those teeth! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders
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