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Trip Report Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Mashatu & Mala Mala Trip Report ***Re-post***

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Hi all - this is a re-post of this trip report from this past October. It was originally posted under my old screen name (cjthurman). I was having **major** issues with my account and accessing things and noticed some weird activity - among other issues - so I deleted my profile. Come to find out, all of my accounts were in the process of being hacked! I think it all started with Facbook but spread to Google, etc. But now that the hacking is over, I wanted to post this again under my new screen name. Wanted to give you a warning so you didn't accidentally read it twice ;-) Thanks!
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It is hard to believe that I have been back a week from my trip - probably because I've spent the week half asleep...you know, up at 1am and then very tired by 4pm. I guess that's what happens when you get back late on a Saturday and jump right back into work on Monday after such a long flight.

My Itinerary was:
October 2nd: Seattle to Cape Town
October 3rd - 8th: Cape Town S.A., Parker Guest House
October 8th - 11th: Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, IIala Lodge
October 11th: Overnight at JNB, Safari Club Hotel
October 12th - 17th: Mashatu Tented Camp, Botswana
October 17th-22nd Mala Mala, South Africa

Trip Highlights:
Devil's Pool swim
Cheetah Babies and Lion Babies at Mashatu
Leopards and Leopard Babies at Mala Mala

Trip Report:
My trip began on October 1st when I took the Aiporter Shuttle down to SeaTac to stay overnight prior to my flight. I decided to do that instead of taking the Airporter down at 2am for my 7am flight. I stayed at the SeaTac Valu Inn (http://www.valuinnseatac.com/). The reviews are correct - it's a very inexpensive hotel by the airport that is clean, but that's about it (no frills), but that's all I needed for one night. They also have a free shuttle to and from the airport. When I walked in, I had to laugh at the box of tissues on the counter that had a big "TISSUES" sign on it (like we don't know what they are?).

October 2nd: Got up early to get to the airport for the first leg of the trip from Seattle to Washington D.C. By the time I got to D.C., I already felt like I had been traveling for a week and was desperately trying not to think of the 19 hour flight ahead. In D.C., I met up with my travel companion - a friend of my mother's from NJ - and we began our trip (although, if truth be told, I wish I were alone...the woman was an absolute horror on this trip. I told my mother that I was sorry but NEVER AGAIN will I be traveling with this lady. Bottom line: be careful who you pick to travel with because they can really affect your trip).

I had no trouble at all getting my carry-on on the airplane (they didn't weigh it). I was a little worried because it was a couple kilos over the 8 kilo restriction that South African Airways has for carry-on luggage. But it was the only luggage I had other than my camera so I was hoping I wouldn't have to check it. The plane landed in Dakar to pick up and unload passengers and we all got to stand up and stretch a bit. Then we got gassed before we were ready to take off again (what's that about? I looked it up later and found out it was actually insecticide!). It was horrible...I didn't cover my mouth and I tasted that crap for hours afterward - it lodged in my throat and I could even taste it when they served the food. If you're doing this flight, please do cover your nose and mouth (and eyes if you wear contacts) when they walk though the cabin with the spray. Overall, the flight was very good. I was in economy and felt that the seats had quite a bit of leg room (it was an Airbus A330 but they obviously removed some rows so that you can have more space). However, if you can, upgrading would be so much nicer on that long trip. We landed in Johannesburg and then caught our short 2 hour flight to Cape Town.

October 3rd: Upon landing in Cape Town, we were greeted by Yaseen from Discovery Tours (http://www.discoverytours.co.za/) and transferred to Parker Cottage (http://www.parkercottage.co.za/) which would be our home for the next 5 nights. Yaseen was fast at getting us to our lodging - which was appreciated after that flight. Parker Cottage was an incredible find in Cape Town - a B&B with lovely old rooms, very quiet even though it was full, and owners who gave it the personal touch. Its close enough to many restaurants to walk and within easy taxi rides to all the main sights. We stayed in the Koi Pond room and it was perfect except for the fact that the walls in the bathroom didn't go all the way to the ceiling and I could hear and smell the crazy lady I was with "doing her business" every morning...so while the room was nice and big with hardwood floors, fireplace, etc., I would recommend another room for you if you are traveling with someone you don't know very well. I think this was the only room like this in the place, but it was also the most inexpensive room so I'm not complaining either.

October 4th: I awoke to a beautiful sunny day in Cape Town and had a most delicious breakfast at Parker and got to meet our host, Phil, for the first time as he presided over the breakfast preparations. I had arranged for us to take the first Robben Island tour so Phil kindly called the taxi for us and made sure we had the name of the taxi company (because they were reputable and knew where Parker Cottage was) for the ride back. We shared the taxi with another couple down to the pier and got in line for the tour.

I found out that we were very lucky because it was the first tour running in several weeks because the ferry had broken down. They had rented a substitute ferry to take us to the island and get the tours going again while the other is being repaired. I know a lot of people have said this tour is a "tourist trap" but I have to tell you that the boat ride alone was worth it - it was a beautiful morning and I got fantastic views of the waterfront and Table Mountain from the water. However, I did enjoy the tour as well - I thought it was very good to walk through and hear about the history of the place. If you are planning to do this tour, be sure and book well ahead as it fills up months in advance. I bought my ticket online 6 months ahead with no problem.

After Robben Island, we hopped a taxi to Table Mountain and ascended in the cable car (the crazy lady - CL for short - hates heights and made a big production of holding on to the middle bars...I don't know why she went in the first place). What a view! Up at the top, CL plopped down on a bench and didn't even look at the view....so I did feel a little rushed knowing she was sitting there waiting for me, but I did walk a mile or so and back on the trails to see what I could see. If I ever go back, I'd like to explore more of the trails for sure. After descending from the mountain, I wanted to head to the gardens, but CL said, "flowers and I don't get along." Ok...and she wouldn't take a taxi by herself back to the B&B...she said she would come with me and sit, but I didn't want to be rushed so I ended up going back to Parker with her and relaxing for the rest of the afternoon.
It was actually nice to rest up a bit before dinner. We didn't do anything big for dinner - just walked to the little local cafes by the B&B. If I was with a friend, it might have been nice to try some of the other restaurants there, but to be honest, I just wanted to eat and get back because I was already getting tired of CL's weridness. Green's restaurant s a good choice for fast, good food within a couple blocks of Parker.

October 5th: Peninsula tour with Tania of Discovery Tours. Tania picked us up at Parker on another beautiful day so that we could explore the Peninsula. I always love seeing a city with a local as opposed to an organized tour group because I feel like you get a unique perspective and get to hear more about life is like living there. Tania did not disappoint in this area and she did a fabulous job showing us around the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, Hout Bay and Boulders Beach.

Of course CL refused to go up to the Point and look around so I left her with Tania down in the parking lot while I went up to take a gander. It was stunning...I think when people think of Africa, they do not realize the continent has incredible coastal scenery with pristine white sand beaches. I didn't walk all the way out to the lighthouse on the point, but could see it from the viewpoint above. We didn't pay to see the penguins at Boulders Beach because Tania said she would take us to another beach that was less expensive with more penguins. However, we could see them from the far boardwalk and in the bushes along the edges.

October 6th: Winelands tour with Tania. CL doesn't drink but she decided she still wanted to go on this tour with me. Again, weather was perfect for a drive and also a great day for wine tasting...a little warm, but not too bad. I think we visited about 4 or 5 vineyards - I drank and Tania and CL sat in chairs...it felt a little weird to be the only one drinking, but I wasn't going to let that stop me I think one of my favorites was the Goats Do Roam vineyard...they even had a tower with a goat in it like they do on the front of their bottles. Lynx was another, smaller vineyard that I really enjoyed. Even if you don't drink, the countryside is worth seeing.

October 7th: Hermanus (again with Tania). CL informed me in the morning before this trip that she would go but that she really could care less about seeing whales and wouldn't go out on a boat to see them. OK...glad to know that (by the way, I sent her the itinerary months ahead and she didn't say anything about an aversion to whales).
Despite the negative start to the day, it was a nice coastal drive and a pleasant day at the seaside where Tania and I watched the whales from the side of the road. We visited Betty's Bay on the way and the penguins were in thick attendance for sure. Not only was it less expensive but there were also fewer tourists...only a couple others there.

October 8th: After an early morning wake-up call from Phil (I’m a sucker for an English accent at 3:50AM), we were picked up by Yaseen for a 5:50am flight to Victoria Falls. By the way, our hand luggage was weighed from here on out and they are very strict with the weights...I had to do some "streamlining" to get the weight down. CL refused to reduce weight and just let them check hers and then she had a total breakdown when I told her that I would meet her at the gate in Johannesburg instead of waiting at the luggage carousel with her, but we had a tight connection and I wanted to let the people at the gate know she was coming so they wouldn't let the bus shuttle leave without her. She seriously started getting hysterical so I had to wait or cause an even larger scene. We barely made it to the gate in time. It is much easier to travel without worrying about checked bags if you can. We landed in Zimbabwe and got our visas (CL had to copy mine because she couldn't figure out how to do it herself...).

To answer all the visa questions - no, you cannot purchase a multi-entry at the airport and you also can not purchase more than one type of visa (so you can't buy a double AND a single at the same time). However, it was easy enough to purchase another visa when I needed it so no worries if you need to do this as well. We were transferred to Ilala Lodge (http://www.ilalalodge.com/), closest to the Falls, and got settled in.
Ilala was a great hotel with air condition, pool, good food, friendly staff, etc. The only complaint was from CL regarding no television. From this day forward, she said "I miss my TV" to every SINGLE person we met - even at Mashatu and Mala Mala...I was ready to strangle her!

That evening we did our Zambezi sunset cruise. I would highly recommend this cruise and the best part? CL refused to sit up top so I got to be without her for the evening and enjoyed the company of strangers - met lots of great people from London. We saw some hippos and crocks and even an elephant or two from the water. It was very relaxing and peaceful.

October 9th: Today was packed. We were supposed to do the Falls tour, the nature sanctuary and then I signed up for Devil's Pool. As it turned out, we missed the nature sanctuary - mainly because it was so darn hot (over 40) and the Falls tour took longer because of the heat...they would have waited for us, but honestly, after walking in that heat for that long, I don't know if I would have been able to do more walking in the heat. By the time I got to the end of the walk, my bottle of water was HOT! It was a grueling couple of hours, but the views of the falls were amazing - can't imagine what it would be like to see it with all the water...it must be very different.

After a short stay back at the hotel, I got into my swim suit (wearing it under my clothes) and got transferred to Zamiba for my Devil's Pool high tea and swim. The trip to Livingstone Island leaves from the Livingstone Hotel's docks. 8 others and I were transferred to the island where we proceeded to do a tour...honestly, this was the scariest part because they are not set up for tourists and there are no rails or anything to stop you from going over the edge - only the guides...and I tested that. I had put my camera bag down and was taking some photos. I stepped backward and slipped on my camera bag and was about to fall (yes, I was standing right on the edge) - I probably would have fallen backward on the rocks as opposed to forward over the edge but either way it wouldn't have been good. The guide grabbed me and steadied me so that I wouldn't fall...yeah, don't want to ever repeat that again! If you do this tour, please be careful!

There were only 4 of us going to do the swim so we stripped down and got into the water. They were very good at showing us where to step and how to swim. The current was actually pretty strong so I wouldn't recommend this for someone who isn't a very good swimmer. Also, the rocks we had to step on were very slippery. The guides are there to help you over them, but you need good balance and sure-footing (maybe even felt water shoes or something would have been nice...). Also, you do this with bare feet so it is hard on your poor tootsies..

We got to Devil's Pool after a couple different swims and they explained what to do and then demonstrated. The guide looked at me and said, "Do you want to go first?" Well, why not, eh? I was worried that it wouldn't be deep enough, but it was fine - I did touch bottom briefly, but then was right back up. The guides are on the edge of the pool to prevent any accidents and they tell you where to sit once you make your jump. The other 3 did the jump and then we all sat and let the little fish nibble on our toes and then did a little swim before they towed us out (they throw a tow cable and tow you to the side because the current is too strong to swim back to where you get out). It was hard getting out - the step up was very high. I could just see the news story the next day: "Fat Girl Gets Stuck in Devil's Pool." Luckily, the guide pulling people up was very strong and as soon as I got my knee close, I just "kneed" myself up and was fine. What an incredible this was! And the high tea afterward was nice too. I highly recommend doing this if you can - it was one of the highlights of my trip and certainly something I will never forget.
Since I was taking risks on this 9th day of October, I decided to try the wart hog at the hotel for dinner...not too bad but not as good as ribs.

October 10th: Day trip to Chobe National Park. I loved the boat tour on the Chobe River. This was the first time I had ever seen elephants playing in the water and swimming (or stepping). What impressed me about Chobe was that we got to see so many animals in one place - they all hang out together in peaceful harmony and as far as the eye can see. This was a nice choice for our last day in Vic Falls.

October 11th: A rest day...after a leisurely morning, we flew from Vic Falls to Johannesburg for one night. Due to flight schedules, we couldn't make our way to Mashatu until the following day. Overnight was at the Safari Club hotel (http://www.safariclubsa.co.za/). This hotel was very close to the airport and provides free shuttle service. Oh and lo and behold they had a television so CL had it on the second we walked into the room until she fell asleep - even while she was reading (she said she needs the noise to read and even to sleep). I had to wait up until she fell asleep to turn it off because, unfortunately, I can't sleep with the TV on. But at least she was happy for one day...

October 12th: The flight to Polokwane the following morning was in a 26 seater AirLink jet and was uneventful (even though CL said she might throw up because the plane was too small). Once we landed in Polokawne, we met our transfer driver who would transfer us to the Point Drift boarder post. Everything went very smoothly and before we knew it we were at the boarder and stepping up into Mashatu's big truck for transfer to the camp (CL refused to sit in the back and insisted on sitting in the cab with the driver).
Mashatu tented camp (http://www.mashatu.com/) was by far my favorite as far as accommodations. For those who haven't been before, it is a tented camp, but the tents are up on concrete flats and have furniture (beds, dressers, fans, etc.), 24 hour electricity, and a full bathroom right outside the tent (yes, you do have to walk outside to get to the bathroom). It is a small, intimate camp that really gives you the feeling like you are out in the "bush." They have a "main" tent where you have breakfast and lunch as well as a small pool and a "hide."

It was a peaceful place well away from civilization and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It was very easy to forget what day it was here. The food at Mashatu was amazing and I loved having dinner each night in the outdoor boma. They made all their own food and the soups and breads were especially good. Each night the chef announced the menu and then we reveled in the food as we talked about the day's events - even CL, who is apparently allergic to protein, enjoyed it because they made her special food. Taking a shower under the stars was a highlight! And I loved the feel of the camp in the evenings.

Of course, everything I loved about Mashatu, CL hated (except the food). In fact, at one point, she refused to use the bathroom outside the tent (I think that's when the monitor lizard had climbed between the outside wall and the inside wall of the toilet - but it wasn't INSIDE the toilet with you and you could use it fine ) . She also insisted that Daniel come to the tent and walk her to and from the main tent every single time she had to go up there.

Game drives: I'm not going to detail each day here since we were here for 5 nights, but I'll just give the overview. Our ranger was Daniel and tracker was Ono. I was surprised we had a tracker because I thought they fired them all, but I guess that was just at Mala Mala. However, I have to say that Ono didn't spot one thing in all the drives we had so I don't know if he was really a tracker? For that matter, Daniel really didn't spot anything either (well, he did spot the one Leopard we saw) but just listened to his radio to find the things - but at least we got to see the animals that others found. But he was very kind and, in fact, all of the staff were very personable and generous at Mashatu. I had a couple issues with the game drives here 1) they packed the trucks WAY too full...10 people (including the ranger) in the vehicle is too much.

My only saving grace was the CL insisted on sitting in front with Daniel so I had an empty seat in the middle most of the time...the other two seats were three across and I'm sure it was very hard for all of them to see and 2) when you are somewhere for 5 nights, it's hard when people leave and new people come and you're still there because then you have to spend a whole game drive looking at impalas and baboons for 15 or 20 minutes at a time instead of going to see the cats or the elephants or the giraffe's, etc. While I was really missing the private game drives and good tracking I had in Tanzania, I did really enjoy the open vehicle and the feeling of being closer to the animals.

For a couple days in a row we saw the three cute little cubs from the pride they have there (apparently they don't name their prides like Mala Mala). They were quite entertaining - playing with their mom's tail and playing ON their mom in general...I honestly don't know how she puts up with their antics. I expected to see more elephants here but Daniel said that most of them had migrated - but we did see a few. We also saw the typical giraffe, zebra, etc.

The highlight was definitely the cheetah mom with the two babies. It was amazing to be able to get so close to them here. The first night we saw them it was a little dark and my photos really didn't come out very well...so I was very excited to see them again - and more active walking around and such. They were actually trying to help their mom hunt which amused Daniel and the other rangers. I loved it when the little on put his head on top of his mom's head - that's my favorite photo of the trip that I took. We watched them for quite a while - until the mom's failed hunt. Daniel told us that the cubs look the way the look as a defense mechanism...because they look like honey badgers and the other predators don't mess with honey badgers. It was interesting seem them with their black bodies and white mohawk-hair...I didn't expect that they looked like that when they were little.

All in all, I loved Mashatu and certainly want to go back one of these days! I highly recommend this camp, but if you're going to be there longer than 3 or 4 days, it might be worth it to pay for a private vehicle if they offer it.

On our last morning, we were transferred to the Limpoo Valley airfield for our flight to Mala Mala. This is the part that I was dreading because CL warned me that she was going to be sick and that she brought plastic grocery bags with her for the purpose. I asked her why she wouldn't take Dramamine, but she refused saying, "I'm afraid it would make me tired." So????? Ugh!

So the pilot for Chili Pepper charters (http://www.chillipeppercharters.com/) lands and the plane is really tiny...CL had a panic attack. In reality, the plane could seat 4 plus the pilot and co-pilot...but we were the only ones. It was tight, but not bad and the pilot was ultra-friendly. He informed us that the plane has two engines and can comfortably fly on one if anything should happen. When he said that, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if both engines went out! I found the flight to be quite smooth...just a little bumpy on landing and, unfortunately, we had to land twice because we had to stop for customs. CL kept putting the bag up to her face like she was going to puke and I had to turn all the way around and look out the window because I was afraid she'd make me sick if I saw her getting sick. The flight wasn't that long, but it couldn't be over fast enough for those who were about to puke.

And last, but not least, was Mala Mala! (www.malamala.com)

October 17th – Chili Pepper charters promptly deposited us at Mala Mala airfield and our ranger, Chris, was there waiting for us. After a quick 5 minute drive to main camp, we were checked in and shown to our rooms by Chris. As soon as we walked in, CL said, “Now this is what I’m used to!” (I think she’s used to cruise ships and being waiting on hand and foot because that’s how she acted – I felt bad for Chris at mealtimes). In fact, we had a little conflict with the service level…she insisted that Chris call us at 5:15am for our wake-up calls…I said absolutely not because we had not only an alarm clock but also a phone that we could program as a back-up. Chris did not need to be getting up 15 minutes early to call us when I could set the alarm just fine. And the phone was by me…so she pouted and told Chris that if it were her answering the phone that she would want the personal wake-up call. I think he was worried about upsetting her but I told him it was fine. Oh and she was in heaven because they had a gift shop where she could shop and to add icing to her experience at Mala Mala – they had a tv in the lounge. This camp was much less personal than Mashatu but very nice. On the 2nd day we were upgraded to Sable Camp and it was quieter and less hectic feeling. I loved the fact that we could see all the antelope walking around the room (there was a water hole out back).

And I think CL had finally lost her grip on reality by this point. All of a sudden she was extremely cold and was not only bundled up in a hooded sweatshirt for game drives in 40 degree weather but also needed 3 blankets and demanded that Chris turn the heat on in the car. The bad thing with that was that I was in the seat right behind them and the heat was pouring out under the front seat and literally roasting my feet. Don’t get me wrong – if it had been 40F instead of 40C, it would have been lovely! I had to ask Chris to turn off the heat after about only 10 minutes and it annoyed the heck out of me. I just passed her another blanket…

Also, I was mortified when CL kept passing her water bottles to Chris to open for her during the drives. After all, he’s just driving, shifting, spotting, talking on the radio, answering questions for guests... so why in the world can’t he be her personal slave too and open her darn water bottles for her??? I seriously wanted to know why she couldn’t open her own water bottles! I felt that she was being ridiculous.

Game drives: The games drives at Mala Mala were phenomenal! Chris was not only an excellent tracker/spotter, but he had endless knowledge of the animals. The space in the car was perfect – two people per seat (and in my case only me because CL was up front). On the first night, we saw the baby leopard cub of the Ostrich Koppes female (she has two but we only saw the one) but we couldn’t stay to watch him because mom wasn’t around and they have a rule of no viewing the cubs unless the mom is close by. Chris told us that not very many people in the world have seen leopard cubs that small (they are about a month old). We saw the leopard babies again and mom was there, but it was from further away and there were trees in the way so the photos aren’t quite as nice as when the baby was alone.

I was not a fan of the night drives at Mashatu and we very rarely saw anything, but one night here was enough to change my mind and Chris assured us that it doesn’t bother the animals and that they don’t look at animals at night that would be bothered. We came across a leopard chowing down on a kill in a tree that we certainly couldn’t have seen during the day. I wasn’t quite sure how to get photos with the spotlight. On top of being an excellent ranger, Chris is also an excellent photographer because he helped me get the right camera settings for the nighttime shots.

Lots and lots of leopards at Mala Mala! It was fun learning the names of all the cats…and it will be nice to look them up in Mala Mala’s cyber-diary from time to time to see how they are doing. They really are beautiful animals.

Well, despite the CL, I really did have a fabulous time with the animals and do plan to go back of course (only alone). After all, I didn’t get to see the one thing I really wanted to see while I was there – the wild dogs – so I have to make a return trip! I just wish it wasn’t so far of an airplane ride away. Of course we got on the airplane to go home and there was someone looking at wild dog photos! Apparently they were just over the border and just hadn’t come into Mala Mala range while I was there – drat! A return trip is in order for sure.

For those considering South Africa/Botswana, I loved the Mashatu-Mala Mala combination and can highly recommend these two camps. They complemented each other well and provided two totally different experiences in both atmosphere and animal viewing. Another incredible trip to Africa is over but hopefully it won’t be the last!

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