Our tent looked across the rippling countryside and, at closer quarters, onto our own little watering hole, a-splash with blue waxbills and village weavers. Days here soon fell into a happy rhythm, defined by morning and late-afternoon drives with guide Nico. We were always on the lookout for the reserve’s Big Five but were constantly distracted by the charismatic birdlife – Manyoni means ‘place of birds’. We saw a whole field guide, from lilac-breasted rollers and red-billed hornbills to a young Verreaux’s eagle-owl on its nest and an ostrich couple herding a rabble of tiny chicks.
We rarely saw vehicles from any of Manyoni’s other lodges but, if jeeps did converge, only two were allowed in the same place at the same time, ensuring encounters felt personal. And while game drives had a rough schedule, should something crop up – a lesser-spotted genet in the torchlight, an elephant sighting too good to leave – we lingered, working instead to Mother Nature’s time.
This was the case on our last morning. The buzz on the Manyoni radio was all about the reserve’s far south; we headed that way and were busy scanning the scrub when two brown-beige-black streaks flashed across the track ahead: a stricken impala and a cheetah on the chase. It was over so fast we began to question it had happened at all. But then we saw, through the thicket, two cats breakfasting on their success, the fur reddening around their chops.
It wasn’t the clearest of sightings. That came ten minutes later, when we found a mother cheetah and three cubs lazing, licking and nuzzling right by the track. Driving back, it was getting late for breakfast and we were on a cat high, almost ignoring the sizeable supporting cast of wildebeest, warthogs, zebra and giraffe. Then another call came in: lion spotted, near our lodge.