By Sariette Joubert, Spa & Lodge Concierge (known among guests as Mary Poppins)
As the sun was setting over another perfect day in the Lowveld, the fragrance of macadamia tree blossoms filled the air. We heard the night slowly coming alive with the sharp voices of nearby crickets, the occasional hoot of a lonely owl and, inevitably, the frogs.
Hippo watching is a game of luck: one never knows when they might make an appearance, or if they are even in the mood for the nutritious green buffet also called our Lawn, in front of the Relaxation Lounge near River Cafe at Summerfields.
We were determined to see one that evening.
And so, we waited…
As we sat there whispering to one another – too afraid to raise our voices for we might disturb the evening symphony – we received a visitor. A firefly; an amazing little creature, silently moving up and down the roof of the Lounge with its small glowing, green body.
At around 20:00 we heard a promising sound – there was a splash in the water, like children cheerfully playing in a pool. I am not sure if it was only my imagination, but it was as if the whole night went quiet; no frogs croaking, no owls hooting and no cricket playing their violins. It was as if everybody was holding their breath for the appearance of the mighty hippo.
We stood there silently staring at the spot the splash emanated from, very excited but not showing emotion, for it is important to keep absolutely still when viewing wildlife. Will tonight finally be the night we actually see the famous hippo that occasionally emerges from the Sabie River?
Then, slowly and very quietly, we saw a dark shadow emerging out of the river. An enormous, full-grown hippo was standing there in front of us, not even five meters away from our position. He stood there for a couple of seconds observing his surroundings, not paying particular notice to us, and then snorted a few times, slowly making his way onto the green grass in front of the Relaxation Lounge. Then, two more dark figures emerged from the river, smaller than the first but equally magnificent. A family of three! Dad, Mom and their toddler. What a sight indeed!
Watching these animals walk so gracefully upon the grass, the only sound heard being their mouths pulling at the lawn, I find it hard to believe that they weigh as much as 1.5 tons – the approximate equivalent of a Ford F-150 pickup truck. A full-grown male can reach a top speed of 30km/h on land! It is certainly not an animal to be contested with.
As the family of three made their way towards the macadamia trees beside River Café, slowly swallowed by the darkness – a thought popped into my mind: This is the real Africa!