Our best adventures do not give us things to show, but they do give us lots of wonderful stories to tell. Our latest trip to South Africa certainly did just that.
As most grand adventures begin, it started with a spark of a conversation among friends. On a lake in Alabama on a late summer day, enjoying a pleasant bottle of Stellenbosch South African wine, stories of past travel to the Dark Continent with bright details of great cities and stealth hunting in the bush took on an excitement of their own.
As the wine flowed so did the memories. Somewhere into the second bottle of wine, discussions of a South African trip were formed. Our friends, Edie and Ray Delp, had never been, and it was high on their bucket list. A magnificent journey of multiple locations and means of transportation was hatched.
The first step was to contact Mark Hudson, a trusted Professional Hunter who has become a dear family friend over the past decade. Since the Delps were not hunters, great thought had to be added by Mark to have their photo safari equal to ours. Mark knew that my 60th birthday was an essential part of this adventure.
Next was a call to American Express Centurion Travel, a trusted service that consistently sends us to fabulous destinations in grand style at best possible pricing. Airfare was arranged along with several hotels.
A phone call was then made to my good friend Dane Goldschmidt in Cape Town, who helped arrange for housing, transportation and was our personal tour guide in Cape Town. The last call was to Anne with Hunters Support Air 2000 to arrange for assistance with weapons, transportation and airport transfers. A quick side note, if anyone wants to get a Blue Bag to SA, they just need to contact Anne, and she will arrange to have it delivered to where they are going or get it to them at the airport to avoid having to bring it over and paying excess baggage.
We planned to be in South Africa for 26 days and visit six locations. While there, we would use limos, private cars, a luxury train, helicopters, charter and commercial aircraft along with many other moving objects to see and do it all.
After almost a year of detail planning, the day finally arrived. A driver loaded the mounds of bags and weapon cases into a Mercedes Sprinter Limo, and with a champagne toast, we were off to South Africa! After a quick flight to Atlanta, we boarded a 777 for the long trip to Johannesburg. At nearly 17 hours, it is one of the longest nonstop flights for Delta.
The Four Seasons Westcliffe for three days was an excellent introduction to Johannesburg and South Africa. A magnificent property nestled on a hillside with beautiful views of the city. Then the next day we were off to an Elephant Sanctuary to learn all about elephants.
Mark Hudson had encouraged us to take the Rovos Rail on previous trips but time had not allowed for it. This was our trip to combine sightseeing and hunting. Entering the station, we were taken back to the days of luxury train travel, think Orient Express. The “Pride of Africa rolled in, shining in its dark green paint and white trim. It was a beautiful piece of machinery drawing back to a time gone by.
During the nearly 1,000-mile journey, we saw many beautiful sights and magnificent scenery. The train made two stops, one in Kimberly to see the Big Hole where diamonds where first discovered and another stop at Matjiesfonteint, an historic outpost.
Arriving at Cape Town along with rain was a good sign as they had been in quite the drought for the past three years. Anne had a driver waiting, as all the gear was once again loaded for a short journey to our next home.
I am fully confident Cape Town is the greatest city on earth because everything is there; two oceans, sandy beach, great architecture, the arts, fine food and breathtaking mountains with unparalleled views.
The days to follow were filled with sightseeing that included art museums, architecture, shopping galore and a ride on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the summit of Table Mountain for unbelievable views of Cape Town and surrounding area.
The next morning, after a champagne breakfast, of course, we were off to the waterfront to board a helicopter for a 45-minute flight to the Cape of Good Hope. And the next day we were off to Stellenbosch and the wine country. It has the charm, history and beautiful scenery of Napa and Sonoma in California.
Early the next morning, we loaded the gear for another move and smoothly sailed through the Cape Town airport for Port Elizabeth by way of South African Airlines. Upon arrival, we were met by Mark Hudson and a collection of Professional Hunters. Our good friend Bruce was landing later so off we went in different directions. We would all reconnect that evening in Graaff-Reinet at the Drostdy Hotel where we would be staying for the next six nights. The Delp’s were whisked off by Leslie Slabbert, who was to be their photo safari guide for the next week and we went off with one of the Professional Hunters, Patrick Cairns, in search of nyala.
Carolyn and I arrived at a magnificent property with rolling hills filled with game. Paradise was found as well as trophy nyala. The stalk was on for Carolyn as a fantastic older nyala was found. The Gunwerks 6.5/284 quickly did the job with Carolyn’s careful aim.
The Delp’s were having quite an adventure of their own. Driving along the coast of the Indian Ocean in a Hilux for over two hours, they got their first look at The Karoo. Stopping at a cheetah sanctuary, Edie got to actually pet a cheetah.
Bruce arrived shortly before sunset, and we were quickly off to find the large nyala we had spotted for him. Up on the hill he appeared, and the stalk was made while Carolyn and I stayed in the truck. Bruce slowly squeezed the trigger, taking the mighty beast down with one shot.
Arriving in Graaff Reinet at the hotel, we each had our own stories, photos and videos to share about our day. Usually, we would stay at the hunting property, but with our friends who were on a photo and touring safari, this worked great for everyone.
The next day had us all in the Hi-Lux for an outing. The Delps came along to see a safari, and a long high stalk was made on a blesbok, but no shot was taken.
The following morning, we were all off in different directions again. The Delps were on a very early morning photo safari with Leslie in the Camdeboo National Park. The rest of the day was spent touring historic Graaff-Reinet.
Carolyn was searching for blesbok and eland. We chose the eland first, and after a long drive deep into the preserve, they were spotted. Carolyn placed a perfect shot. Later that day Carolyn also took a trophy blesbok.
Ray, Edie and Leslie were off to Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve the next morning. Holland and Carolyn were off early for the main event for Carolyn, the sable safari. We finally spotted the sable from a great distance after hours in the Hi-Lux. The stalk was on, and after a long stalk, the shot rang out. Carolyn had taken this magnificent sable, a trophy she had wanted for years. Later that day Carolyn made an incredible shot on a gemsbok at nearly 300 yards.
The following day Carolyn was exhausted from the travel and hunting, so Mark and Holland set out for Vaal rhebuck. We were lucky that day as two hours later one of the groups of rhebuck was spotted with a magnificent trophy ram. As luck would have it, the ram stopped, presenting a shot. He was 420 yards out in a 20 mph cross wind with gusts. I was using Carolyn’s Gunwerks 6.5/284 to take him.
The day had finally arrived, my birthday, June 27, 2018. What could be better than turning 60 years old in this beautiful country with dear friends?
The Delps and Leslie were off to see some of the Eastern Cape and Mark had planned a springbuck cull hunt for the day. We all had a wonderful time and filled the quota for the landowner.
We had two stops the next day before departing. Before starting this trip, we asked Safari Club International to send us two Bell Family Blue Bags. The bags arrived in Alabama, just two initially, and we sent one to our traveling companions, the Delps, in Panama City Beach.
We planned to visit an orphanage in Graaff Reinet that needed clothing and goods for 2 to 6-year-olds. How quickly the bags filled when we explained to the vendors our mission. Donated goods flooded the bag in Tuscaloosa with warm clothing and Delta Dental, a national dental insurance provider, gave 288 toothbrushes. In Panama City, our friends the Delps put a message on the community bulletin board, and the bag was full in a day. A quick call to Tucson and a third bag was requested.
Our first stop was the Vuyani Child and Youth Care Centre. This wonderful place houses over 50 young children who have no parents. Next, we met with the Grace Warriors. We delivered two Blue Bags to them.
All of us who travel abroad should take a fraction of our adventure and make a mission to help others. The Blue Bag program makes this so easy and spreads the good works of SCI around the globe. The small investment of time pays enormous dividends in the hug from a small child or smile one gets in return when life is changed in a moment. Pay it Forward as the Bell family has taught us.
We flew from the small Graaff Reinet airport to a small private airstrip and then to Mabula Pro Safaris.
First on the list was a Cape buffalo for me. My best hunting buddy Bruce gave up a day to join me in this quest. We saw a small collection of buffs midafternoon and found one that perfectly fit what I wanted; old bull with the colossal boss and a 40-inch full massive horn. With the wind in our faces, a short stalk was made. The .416 roared, sending the 400-grain bullet squarely into the mighty bull’s shoulder.
The next morning Carolyn and I went out hunting together with Zander, wandering through the property, looking for kudu. But as we started to make our way back to the lodge for lunch, Zander found a large group of warthogs with a massive male among the group. Carolyn quickly swung around and took an offhand shot. The pig promptly dropped!
The next day Carolyn joined the Delps for an adventure, so I jumped in the truck with Bruce and Mark to look for his Cape buffalo. At 10:30 a.m. a group was spotted, and the stalk began. The wind was perfect and the buffalo were utterly unaware of the adventure we were about to undertake. As we were waiting our chance for a shot at one buff, another bull stepped out. He had everything a hunter could ever wish for, just bigger!! There was a small window for Bruce to thread his .375 Barnes bullet through, which he did in fine form. The bullet connected, and the bull erupted through some thick stuff and disappeared. We waited a couple of minutes before following up only to find that this magnificent bull had just run about 50 yards and rolled over.
Still on the hunt for Carolyn’s kudu the next day, we went to a neighbor’s property who purportedly had a better kudu herd. We found a fantastic kudu and Zander told Carolyn to take the shot at over 300 yards. It dropped where it stood.
During their stay at Mabula Pro Safaris, the Delps had their own adventures.
The next morning, we packed and loaded the van for the final stop on this grand adventure. We were back to Johannesburg but this time to the Saxon. This incredible hotel was once a private home.
I have promised my grandchildren that they will be my traveling companions for the 2028 trip when I celebrate my 70th with another African experience. –J. Holland Powell