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trip report kwando 2005 + audi camp

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hi spiegelcjs, rocco, predatorbiologist and all the gang! here as promised the full report on latest trip.
have just returned from our long awaited trip to botswana and the 12 days at kwando camps. it was just marvellous! i´d read a lot of very flattering reports and i´d now have to say that most are probably not flattering enough. here a few notes. hope that they may be of interest to some of you.

excellent communication and support from kwando team in advance of trip - our booking had not been running too smoothly until kwando stepped in to hurry things along. we managed to cobble trip together with your help about 10 minutes before deadline. thankyou again!!

flight
air namibia flight from frankfurt, germany via windhoek and on to maun. best + fastest connection and all OK .even were given our reserved seats for a change on both in + out legs!

audi camp
had three nights at audi camp to acclimatise (which turned out to be a good thing with 40°C+temperatures), get a few jobs sorted in maun and do some local birding. the whole complex is truly immaculate and very well run. you can certainly see the difference that owner involvement makes. private transfer from airport was much appreciated. we stayed in the superb new luxury tents (very well fitted with shower/loo ensuite,comfy beds, tea+coffee making facilites,electric lights, fan + best of all a great veranda for relaxing). good bird watching from bed!!!some of the more up market delta camps could take a lesson in housekeeping from audi! we enjoyed the excellent restaurant and very pleasant atmosphere of the pool and site facilities. very helpful and efficient service too......all top rate. also did a grand job of shuttling us around maun AND arranged our birding trip for us too when no one else in maun showed any interest! doing a great job. -THANX AUDI....we´ll be back!
might be an idea tho (this is the only whinge) to authorize someone on site to put a stop to "over enthusiastic" celebrations during the night. on our third night a hugely rowdy, stoned group hit the pool area after midnight. now we´re not talking about a bit noisy, but mega idiotic loud + foul.....went on for over an hour too. eventually calmed down after a lady guest in nightdress and slippers from furthest tent had "words". hugely impressed actually since i´d not even been able to make myself heard. would have been even better if there had been an audi staff member to nip the frivolities in the bud. anyway these things happen....and we´ll still be back and can most definitely recommend audi to all and sundry! much, much better value at 360pula double incl. great cooked breakfast than anything else around in maun. their private mobiles look very good value too and if they´re anywhere near as efficiently run as the camp should be a really good deal.


transport to/from camps

all flights, transfers and airport assistance from mackair excellent, thankyou. thanks in particular to the young man who fought the chaos at maun airport to get us onto air namibia connection to windhoek (18th nov - 15:00). unfortunately i didn´t get his name....but he worked wonders!!

lagoon camp (3 nights 7-10th nov 2005)
the most beautifully situated of the kwando camps and possibly the one with the warmest and most welcoming atmosphere. hosts anita and jonah are doing a particularly fine job of running the camp perfectly without the guests even noticing the hard work that goes into it. we know that they were short staffed during our visit, but we the guests didn´t suffer for one second and there wasn´t a trace of poor humour in the camp. top marks to both of them and of course to hilda who we met again at kwara. in fact top marks for ALL the staff at lagoon one of the finest hospitality teams i´ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in action! SUPERB housekeeping too, excellent food, good guiding (thanx jonah + jeffry+AT), lovely company (well done rex and all the rest of the gang for being so knowledgable and keeping us all entertained). do feel that the serve yourself policy at the bar and the open plan bar/lounge/dining makes for a very "family" atmosphere. no feeling of "them" and "us". of all the accommodation we felt the layout of the lagoon tents was best. smallish but very well planned. the hooks +storage in entry area very useful and division to loo nicel! we had some great game drives here (birding was even better than kwara too which surprised me) and staff showed the highest level of flexibility. first evening drive was indeed extended to after 10pm (sorry anita!) to allow us to see mating lions nr lebala and observe mating and feeding wildcats on the return journey....to say nothing of the huge herd of elephants bathing in the moonlight. our morning activities were extended next day (poor kitchen staff who just taken our breakfast orders) when jonah came rushing in to say that a leopard had been sighted close to camp. enjoyed our time on the water here too and feel that the boat used here is hugely preferable to the one at kwara (see there)....whole water experience here less intrusive and more ecologically sound than the motor boat trip offered at kwara (see there) too. we had a wonderful time here tho an absolute highlight here was of course the small pack of wild dogs with pups denning in dense mopane woodlands.....i´d have flown all the way just for the one sighting! was wonderful watching the pups begging and the regurgitation of huges chunks of meat for them. amazing too how they managed to gulp anything down with their bellies already distended beyond belief. we´d had a storm that afternoon (25mm in approx an hour) and had thought we probably wouldn´t get another chance at seeing dogs, but how wrong can you be!? a final note on this camp.......after this storm, which caused considerable damage, all traces of chaos were cleared before we even returned from the afternoon drive. this incl. replacing tent zips, re pitching one tent and extensive clear up. VERY impressive indeed. was truly sad to be leaving this camp.....hope to return asap


short list of some of game seen (most day and night!)at lagoon:

lions near and in camp, huge breeding herds of elephants, giraffes, warthogs, herd of sable antelope, tssebe + calves, impala, zebra, hippos, genet, mating wild cats, mating lions, male leopard, bull elephants, kudu breeding herd, kudu bulls, wildebeest, water buck, wild dogs + pups ,monitor lizard, brown water snake, springhare, crocs, baboons, red lechwe.....

and a few of the birds.....i´m no expert and missed writing down lots of other, it was amazing!

carmine beeaters, lilac breasted rollers, saddle-billed storks ,yellow billed storks ,open-billed storks, black collared barbet, pied kingfisher, cattle egret, pied darter, paradise fly catcher, fish eagles ,osprey, tawney eagle, juvenile martial eagle, bateleur, yellow-billed hornbill, red-billed hornbill, grey hornbill, egyptian geese, spurwinged geese, meyer´s parrots, golden oriel, magpie shrike, blacksmith and other plovers, african jacana, hammerkop, black egret, slaty egret, yellow billed kite, lappet faced vulture, white backed vulture, white headed vulture, giant eagle owl, pearl spotted owl, red crested korhahn, maribu storks, stone curlew, whistling ducks, wattled crane, arnott´s chat, little bee eater, swallow tailed bee eater, crimson breasted shrike, wooley necked stork, cordon bleu (have forgotten real name!) ostrich with 15+ chicks

lebala camp (4 nights 10-14th nov 2005)
really enjoyed the drive over to this camp from lagoon altho we had been quite a way over here to see mating lions on first evening at lagoon. great birding and lovely scenery on the way. we were picked up by jovial guide spencer and ferried to camp checking in on a further a larger pack of wild dogs (21 animals incl 5 month old juveniles) as we went. i thought i´d died and gone to heaven!
now i must admit that altho we did enjoy lebala hugely there were a couple of things that weren´t quite as perfect as lagoon. pool area not kept very tidy or maintained attractively. housekeeping doesn´t reach quite the same astounding levels as lagoon or the excellence of kwara and altho the tents are huge the layout not quite as well thought thru. our tent (no: 1) was looking pretty tired and was very hot (no shade trees). now of course not everyone the perfect tent, but we were there for 4 nights (and most clients fro 2-3) and i think it may have been more sensible to give us a tent further from main area. there were others available. no doubt we could have changed if we´d have asked so this is just a comment not a complaint. but altho staff were quiet we could hear coffee preparations very early morning and siesta time we could hear guest changeovers, briefings and lunch preparations, any one using pool....... so anyone wishing peace + quiet and better view from tent should request NOT to be given number 1!! it is close to hide tho......

food was excellent at lebala and we particularly enjoyed the homemade pickles, relishes and chili jam. lebala has more of a lodge feel than camp. lounge is huge and this with bar area is quite seperate from dining room. drinks are served....self service doesn´t seem to be encouraged. not quite the easy relaxed atmosphere of lagoon, but service very good all the same.

we had mothusi ( very knowledible and hugely personable. for me the best overall guide of the trip. but that´s a hard decision!) as guide for the first 2 days and charles (also very good) for the second. eagle eyed strike was our superb tracker for all 4 days. and special thanx to relief manager phlip too who took us on a spectacular morning of birding in the fog! strange and wonderful atmosphere and tremendous birds!!! lebala´s open vehicles as good as those at lagoon and kwara. we rarely had more than 4 guests in the vehicle. great for photography!

we had some wonderful sighting here....top of my list would have to be the three times we were with dogs.mentioned above. hunting, feeding , playing..... very much enjoyed the attention paid by both guides to those smaller things too....flora, termites, millipedes, ants, spiders, scorpion, tortoise tracks and the tortoise themselves, beetles, bullfrogs,....and a cobra which made poor strike jump out of his very vunerable seat!. had some exciting tracking, spent a lovely evening with a large buffalo herd and joined the chase (some brilliant driving from charles) with lionesses hunting both warthog and baboons. .......just fantastic!!! strike and charles spotted a lovely young male leopard on our way to the airstrip as a grand finale .amazing that they saw it at all - but they explained that the red lechwe looking BEHIND a bush rather than at us gave the game away. yet another tip to to store away for the future!

how could i have forgotten! yet another magic moment on our last night at lebala - guide steve spotted a pangolin in camp on his way to bed. now i call that real dedication to duty to make sure that all the guests whether in bed or at the bar got to see it. THANKYOU steve........had been waiting years to see one! and it really made my day.

we found the terrain very varied around lebala, we were rarely near any other vehcles and enjoyed the scenery and game drives here particularly.

fauna at lebala...wild dogs, lions, leopard, sable, roan, buffalos, gnu + young, zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocs, slender mongoose, banded mongoose, giraffe, tssebe, impala, red lechwe, kudus at sunset, genet, warthogs, side striped and black backed jackal, hyaenas....

all the birds seen at lagoon plus - kori bustards, ground hornbills, pelicans, woodland, giant, pied + malchite kingfishers all in one spot! virtually all the beeaters and raptors galore (western banded snake eagle, wahlberg´s eagle......), pale chanting goshawk, black shouldered kite, quail and sand grouse, sunbirds and heuglin´s robin, purple moorhen, wattled cranes........just tremendous!

kwara ( 4 nights 14th -18th november)

airstrip under reconstruction which meant we had a drive over from shinde strip. no problem - we enjoyed it and it reminded us of our trip to footsteps in 2004.

kwara is a truly lovely camp, very well maintained, great atmosphere and large variety off activities. could easily spend a week here. was incidentally adrian´s favourite camp. tent at kwara (number 2) was quite small, but beautiful and very well designed. gorgeous location under large shade trees. raised a couple of meters over the ground giving lovely views over the veld. loved relaxing here watching the world go by......

lounge, bar and dining area not quite as grand as lebala - but very comfortable and cool altho quite as "homey" as lagoon. bar is a little small (short) which is a pity. gets a bit too crowded for comfort before dinner.......................pool area was immaculate as were all public areas. did get the feeling that housekeeping staff were working very hard indeed here to get everything so spic and span. hilda from lagoon was there during our visit - exceptional lady, an icon of efficiency and hospitality! thankyou hilda!

camp is particularly welcoming. relief managers mel and grant are doing an energetic and excellent job ( very concerned to make even the most difficult of guests comfortable + happy, and believe me they did have a couple of truly dreadful clients in camp!) of looking after kwara.....grant full off energy and good humour even after days battling on/with airstrip and mel busting a gut to make everything just right ........

the only moans we have about kwara concern the game viewing.......so lets get that over with and then concentrate on the GOOD things.
we found our first two night drives rather "crowded"....seeing the spotlamps from two or even three other vehicles on the horizon detracts hugely from "wilderness" feeling. we did solve this problem for ourselves on the third night by asking our guide to go anywhere so long as the others weren´t there. AND we did spot FAR more. both do feel there´s already more than enough pressure on certain areas at kwara during the day too, so we´re rather concerned by the effect the additional new camp and it´s vehicles will have on the wildlife in this area.....some thought needs to go into this................
we were less than happy with the timing an the afternoon boat trip out to the heronry. trip out was marvellous, slow, gentle and quiet - the return was NOT what we want to see happening in any fragile environment. falling darkness turned the journey into an engine screaming , invasive exercise. realise the speed was mainly for our safety, but we should not have been there so late. NOT good for the hippo´s, ele´s or nests in the reeds....and not good for a multitude of other reasons which i´m sure i don´t need to point out. let´s just hope that this was a one off........whinge finished.

our guide "doctor" and tracker "rock" were as excellent as we´d become accustomed to at the other kwando camps. both are particularly good humoured and we thank them warmly for dealing with our pleas for taking us to quiet "unpopulated" areas. they were really wonderful with us! THANKS!!! actually we were spoiled to death since we had a vehicle mostly to ourselves.......and once even had two guide and tracker on the vehicle to ease tracking.

as already mentioned we thought the range of activities available at kwara just brilliant! boating, mekoros, walking, day + night drives.......a week would have been enough. we had plenty of excitment with ele´s in the camp (day and night) and the game viewing from the pool area and tents alone was superb!
favourite moments almost impossible to chose.......cheetah mother with two cubs, cheetah male calling for mate (very sexy!), cheetah being chased by zebra stallion, simultaneous moonrise and sunset with sundowner in hand, bat eared foxes by day and night, caracal (my first!) and some excellent time spent with lions at kills, one being a buffalo brought down by a single male - we´d just missed the kill, but what a hard bit of work that must have been. the lion looked exahusted, almost too tired to feed. lucky guy was in one of those quiet corners we sought out and there was not another predator or scavenger to compete for the calories! strangely not even a vulture. we had a very special sundowner on a termite mound surrounded by 2000 buffalo and returned the next morning to allow the waves of the herd to wash past and around us. i´d never before observed the dynamics in a herd - almost like a flock of birds...........120 minutes of buffalo bliss.....sights, sounds and smells i´ll never forget.

and of course the birding was superb again............too many to name and all so wonderful!

this was our last stop on our kwando circuit and i´m not ashamed to admit that i wept most of the way back to maun. to have been privileged to see and experience so much......well it broke my heart to leave. we only hope that these amazing places will be just the same on our return!

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