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Trip Report Trip Report - Safari South Africa 2012

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It’s difficult to begin this trip report of my May 2012 safari by starting at August 2011 but that’s probably the best place to start. British Airways in summer of 2011 had a 2-for-1 miles promotion going so I use 60,000 of my miles for flights from California (LAX) to/from Johannesburg South Africa (JNB). Sure, “free” FF flights using FF miles – free except for the additional $1,100 in fees, taxes, fuel charges, etc by BA. (I also had a minor class upgrade to Traveler Plus). So back in August I picked dates in May 2012 of leaving May 6 and returning May 26. Works out to be 19 days on safari. Which safari camps - perhaps I’d make those after arriving at JNB by calling safari camps and getting a great rate bargain on vacancies?? Then life happened and things got more complicated between August and May. Rather than going into many details, I’ll just say that I decided to not to try and find safari camps after arriving JNB but instead have them set up before leaving home. And the end of that story is I stayed all 19 nights at Kings Camp in the Timbavati reserve (adjacent to Kruger). I did contact other camps in the Timbavati and seriously considered staying at two others plus Kings. But Kings and those camps (and others) share the same game drive traversing areas. So when you are out for the two three hour game drives you’re all seeing much the same sightings.

A bit of perspective about my safaris. Since 2005 I’ve been on safari eight times to countries: Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, and South Africa. Well over half of my safari time has been to South Africa in the Kruger area, Kruger National Park, and the reserves Sabi Sand and Timbavati. On safari I love to take wildlife photos so much of my safari enjoyment is striving for those photos. I use Nikon DSLR cameras and all photos I “keep” are worked in Photoshop. I also take video which also has to be severely edited. I have about 20 photos up from this safari at – Photos from previous safaris also there. This safari was frustrating for my photography. Probably the least photographically satisfying of all my safaris. It seemed that all the pieces for a great photo, i.e. light, composition and subject, very seldom came together. For example, a highlight was the two wild dogs in late afternoon. But where were they? Walking and lying along side the main Macadam/asphalt road along the Timbavati border. Every photo of them has that black asphalt road in it.

So then, this safari all my time at Kings Camp. I had been to Kings five times before so obviously I love it plus I know two of the rangers there, Patrick and Morne, two of the best ever, both into photography. I love the camp rooms and facilities, managers Warren and wife Lisha and all of the other staff are so warm and helpful. I did not see how it could be better in the Timbavati. May-Sep is low rate season and with my super long stay they gave me a much lower rate than the advertised long stay discount of “pay for 6 stay 8” nights. But I was still curious about what kind of deal you might find by using the approach of calling a camp when you are “in country”. And if they have vacancies making a great rate deal. However, I still don’t know the answer! Even after talking with staff, other guests, and travel agent guests. There was even a South Africa resident couple, from Nelspruit, who drove up to camp for three nights. I talked with them about making last moment camp rate deals and they thought it a good idea but had never tried it. The only general agreement was that during low season camps have vacancies and you could find (continuous) nights by calling around camps. But as to if or how much rate discount you could get, no one seemed to have a clue (or would talk). Maybe it simply varies so much from day-to-day and camp-to-camp that there is no good general answer. Maybe you really do have to just show up at the registration desk and ask for a deal.

Staying 19 nights at a place, camp, resort, you notice and find things I’m sure the 3 night guest would not notice. Example - about every fourth day the meal service for lunch or dinner just fell apart. Also, with my back surgery recovery I’m very aware of rough walking surfaces and hand rails by steps. And also rails in the room bathroom. And a couple of room issues, for example, they have replaced the wall-to-wall grass mat floor rug with by simply painting the concrete floor. Feels most uncomfortable with bare feet. And the couple of small zebra area rugs were more of a trip hazard than help (I had them removed). But these were minor problems at Kings for me and I suspect there such are problems at most safari camps. So be aware if you have even minor “mobility” “or “disability” issues and are planning a safari. I noticed them because of my recent back problem and because in the USA these issues are well addressed in public and commercial establishments.

A few words about the cyclone rain that hit the area, Kruger area, mid January 2012. It did a lot of damage, many roads of all types washed out, the main river (dry most of the year) cut new banks and moved huge boulder piles. Erosion control berns and small dams were totaled washed away. When I was there the last bit of Timbavati Macadam road repair, a washed out water underpass, was finished. But had I known nothing about the disaster in January, as I’m sure most guests did not, I would not have been aware of the huge problems caused and extensive remediation.

I love game drives, to see all types of life as it is being lived and struggled for as only you can see in Africa. For your game drives your guide/ranger is the single most important part. And guide/ranger Morne Hamlyn deserves mention for his honor in 2011. In 2011 he was selected as one of the top eight finalists for ranger of the year in all of South Africa by the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. So on to the game drives, but first, I hold the Kings Camp record for the most consecutive game drives by a guest – 38. Yes, I did not miss a drive!! And here’s some basic statistics for my drives (after each drive I made notes). On most of my drives there was myself and three or four other guests. Never did my Land Rover have more than five guests. For five game drives I was the only guest. Seeing the big five. Lions, saw them on 23 drives. Leopard, saw them on 18 drives. Elephants, saw on 21 drives. Buffalo, saw on 12 drives. Rhino, saw them on 11 drives. On no drive did I see all 5 of the big 5, and on two drives I saw none of the big 5. Note, all these counts are for a sighting on that drive. Multiple animals, (lion pride of 10) or a species more than once counted as only one sighting for that species on that drive. (My notes have individual animal counts). Other sighting highlights were a pair of wild dogs, male and pregnant female, seen twice. A rhino mama with her three month old female calf, unbelievably cute. A glimpse of a black rhino that had all guides from all camps excited (but no one got photos). Hippos five times. A hyena den with adults outside. Saw no actual kills happen but of course many of the lion and leopard sightings were of them feeding on kills. And sure, zebra, giraffe, kudu, impala, stenbok, jackal, hyena, waterbuck, African wild cat, civet, mongoose. Of course many birds, lilac breasted rollers, giant eagle owl, hornbills, vultures. Cheetah, nope saw no cheetah, which did not surprise me, the Timbavati low bushveld terrain is not cheetah friendly.

A good safari, a long safari, and it did indeed seemed long. As I get more into my senior years, I’m feeling physically more vulnerable. Those two 11 hour flights seem endless and the airlines and airports seem to want to add to my discomfort and aggravation. Could possibly be my last African safari. Again about 20 photos up at –

Regards - tom

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