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Trip Report Lions and leopards and sharks - OH MY!

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Thanks to everyone who gave advice prior to our first (and hopefully not last) African adventure. We got back last week and can't stop thinking about everything we saw and the wonderful people we met. What a great tiem! I will try to get some of our report started and then will just keep at it as I have time.

We started with the very long flight from Atlanta to Jo'burg and then on to Cape Town. We had booked through go2africa.com and arrived to be picked up by a very nice young man who gave us a huge box from Rikke (our agent). In it were two baseball caps for the 2 guys, a bottle of South African wine, a beaded key chain, a book about Cape Town and lots of maps and brochures. What a great welcome. She had also given us her cell phone, which we unfortunately had to use right away. Our shark dive for the 1st day had been cancelled and wewanted to try to change our Cape Point tour to the 1st day so we could reschedule the shark trip. Within a few minutes she had taken care of us. What wonderful service!

We had a great tour of the Cape Point area given by Daniel Dunn - very knowledgeable and funny. He started out by telling us that he spoke 4 languages - English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and BS! The next day we headed off for a shark dive with White Shark Ecoventures. We saw 4-5 sharks and got to get some great shots on our underwater camera. The only thing we didn't get a chance to do in Cape Town was to get up Table Mountain - it was covered in clouds the whole time we were there. Oh well. Guess we'll just have to go back! We stayed at the Portswood Hotel right by the V&A Waterfront. What a wonderful place to stay. The people were so nice and the location couldn't have been better. We wandered around the waterfrongt each night, ate dinner at the City Grill one night, and had our required pizza at a take away place there (my husband is Italian and has to try pizza everywhere we got - it was quite good!).

We then flew from Cape Town to Hoedspruit Airport where we picked up and taken on a tour of the Panorama Region. It was stunningly beautiful - our pictures don't do it justice. We had a wonderful lunch in Graskop at Hatties Pancake House. Various stews wrapped in delicious pancakes. We also bought some macadamia nuts from a young man right outside and had those to munch on throughout the rest of the trip.

We finally got to our safari camp (Elephant Plains in Sabi Sands) at dinner time. We dropped our bags in two wonderful Rondevals and then went to join the rest of the folks for drinks and dinner in the Boma. I just loved eating around the fire with some propane heaters also spaced around. The food was delicious and the people were very welcoming. Many of the people there (it's avery small place - only about 25 total) we back for their 2nd or 3rd stay. We figured that was a good sign. We also discovered that we were the only Americans - it was a very diverse group which was nice.

The time we spent at Sabi Sands was probably the highlight of the entire trip. We really got spoiled for more "normal" game viewing. We saw a cheetah with her 2 cubs, about 8 different leopards, rhinos, hippose, elephants, giraffes, etc. In fact, the only thing we didn't saee was a lion (they had seen one the day we got there so we missed it). Our guide (Gideon) and tracker (Prince) were apparently the best there (this according to people who had been there before. I had nothing to compare with, but they were fabulous. The 3 days went by much too quickly.

I'll finish the rest of the trip (Vic Falls and Botswana) later. Gotta go get packed to head to Maine! Summer isn't nearly over yet!

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    I recall you recommending them, which is why we went ahead. So, thanks.

    OK, so the next phase of our trip was to head to Zimbabwe to Vic Falls. Uneventful flight there, but FOREVER to get through immigration. We discovered throughour Zimbabwe that they are using carbon paper and handwritten forms. Long lines, but the people were very helpful. We got checked in to our hotel - stayed at Ilala Lodge. My parents opened their drapes to find a baboon hanging out right ouside their door! Lovely place and the people were wonderful. I would stay there again in a minute. We took at sunset cruise on the Zambezi that night. Saw a couple of small crocs, but no really big one - too bad. Also saw some hippos and a wonderful sunset. The sunsets in Africa are amazing. I also got to check out a recommendation that I saw posted here and used the Ilala's laundry service. My mom accidentally spilled a half glass of red wine on my khaki pants. They got it out!!!! Amazing. Anyway, that night we ate at Mama Africa - wonderful food and great music. The next day we started with a helicopter ride over the falls, then my husband and I walked to the falls and got totally soaked! We got back in time to warn my parents to take their rain jackets. Then we were off to do an elephant safari. We rode Emily who had a 6 month old baby (Hezbollah) who wanted to spend all of his time suckling and didn't want her moving. But he didn't get his way and we had a great ride. Moyo was very informative and lots of fun to be with. Finally, dinner at the Ilala to celebrate my parent's 51st wedding anniversary! Then the next day we had to leave. IOn retrospect, I would add an extra day to both Cape Town and Vic Falls next time. Botswana is next, but I'll have to get to that later.

    Let me just put in a plug here for going to Zimbabwe. I never felt unsafe - on the contrary I felt like I was being treated better than I am used to. The people we met were wonderful and we would go back again in a minute. The long lines and lack of ability to use a credit card were annoying, but nothing to get even the least bit upset about. And the Zimbabwe side of the falls is SO impressive. IMHO there is no better way to see them. Just make sure to have plenty of cash (especially small bills for tips).

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    Ok, final installment. From Zimbabwe we were driven to Botswana and took a light aircraft from Kasane into the Delta to a CCAfrica camp - Nxabega. One of the goals of my stay there (which both my husband and I accomplished) was to learn to say the name correctly since the x is a click - it's a Bushman name meaning "place of giraffe." Anyway, the flight was one of the worst parts of my trip since it was 90 minutes and I got rather uncomfortable (I hate little planes). But the arrival was well worth it. Immediately on finding out that I didn't feel well, Maryna (one of the managers) had Susan bring me some gingerale. I have to tell you, they continued that kind of personal attention throughout our stay there. it was a wonderful place. Our tent was lovely and confortable, our view out over the Delta was gorgeous, and hearing the hippos at night arguing with each other was amazing.

    On our first game drive with Rams, we said that the only thing we hadn't seen yet was a lion. He knew where there was one and we set out. There was another family with us and halfway to the lions Rams got word of a leopard sighting. This family had been going on safari for 25 years looking for a leopard and had never seen one. So, we backtracked to let them see the leopard (our 9th - guess we have been really blessed) and then went back to the lions. The male was magnificent and the little cubs were adorable. We watched them for quite a while and I think my dad got a great picture of the male yawning real wide! A great start!

    The rest of our three days there were spent taking various modes of transportation - Land Rover, motorboat and mokoro. The family that had been with us the first night were unfortunate to be attacked by a hippo while in the mokoro, but fortunately everyone reacted correctly and no one was hurt. We saw a hippo come lunging out of the water while we were on the motorboat and I have to say they are scary animals. I can see why we have read that more people are injured by hippos than by any other animal. We had several opportunities to go back and see "our" lions again, plus lots of other animals. Tons of giraffe. Guess the name in appropriate.

    The food was magnificent and, as I mentioned before, the service was fabulous. By way of example - I had been talking with Maryna the last night we were there and mentioned how much I loved Riobos tea and that I was hoping to get some in the Jo'burg airport on the way home. I also mentioned that I had eaten passion fruit every day in Africa and I was going to miss is when I went home since I have never seen it in my grocery store. The next day she gave me a packet of Riobos tea in case I didn't have a chance to get any in Jo'burg (good thing since I didn't). Then at brunch there was no passion fruit and Steve (her husband and other manager) came and asked if he could bring me some. I said sure and he brought me at least 8 of them! How's that for service!

    We sadly had to leave finally and headed off on our 30 hour homeward trip (we timed it). We had to take a light aircraft (only 25 minutes this time) to Maun, then another plane to Jo'burg, then the flight to Atlanta and then on to Chicago. The trip waqs ineventful except for the time in the Jo'burg airport. Apologies to all of you who live there, but I HATE that airport. It is confusing, the signage is terrible, people are constantly trying to "help" when you don't need it and when I fell over an unmakred kneewall and needed some ice we had a hard time finding someone to help. They also didn't seem to care one bit that I was injured. One manager that my dad managed to find mumbled something incomprehensible and then left. Oh well. We were just one more set of foreigners. But that was SO unlike the rest of my experience in Africa that it really surprised me. It won't keep me from going back, but I will try like mad to avoid Jo'burg.

    So, now we are going through the 1500 pictures that we took and lookinf forward to sharing some of my dad's pictures. He had a DSLR and we only have a point and shoot (although one has a 10x optical zoom which really helped). I can't wait to try to find some Riobos tea here and I would love to get back to Africa some day. Of course Australia and Asia need to get in there too! For my parents, it was their last continent to visit (including Antarctica which they did in 1985). I hope I can be that lucky with travel.

    I'll try to get some pictures posted as soon as I get them organized. In the meantime, thanks to all you Fodorites for your help in planning this tri. I'll be going to the Australia board to plan that one!

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    "The family that had been with us the first night were unfortunate to be attacked by a hippo while in the mokoro, but fortunately everyone reacted correctly and no one was hurt. "

    YIKES! Please tell us more about that! And, sorry, how does one react correctly?? I would have been terrified out of my mind..

    And, I hate Joberg airport also, but for south africa, seems to be unavoidable..
    Carol

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    We didn't see any of the Pel's fishing owls. Saw alot of other birds, though. That place is wonderful for birds. As for "reacting correctly", I think Rams (the guide) meant that no one panicked and they all paid attention to him. Personally, when the hippo lunged out of the water in front of our boat, my heart started beating a bit faster. Fortunately for us, he was far enough away from us that he didn't pose a major threat. That was reallhe only time I felt at all nervous. All in all it was a wonderful trip. We just looked at my dad's pictures tonight (I'm going to have to steal some from him). Nice to relive it.

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