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Trip Report Very late trip report Pt. 2 - Southern Africa Oct-Nov 2005

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I stayed again at Drifters Johannesburg Inn and in the one spare day that I had, opted to visit the De Wildt sanctuary as I was very keen to see a king cheetah and wild dogs. This was really worthwhile as the guide gives an introductory talk about the work of the Sanctuary and then guests are driven around various ‘camps’ to view wildlife. In addition to the main attractions, there were a number of other species at De Wildt that I hadn’t had good wild sightings of, including honey badgers, nyala and a caracal. There were highly endangered Egyptian vultures in the aviary which is sponsored by British Airways. The guide told us that they had heard from a BA pilot who reported seeing vultures flying at 6,000 feet. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/JohannesburgDeWildt2005

The next day I joined an Explore Worldwide tour to Kruger and Swaziland. This was a great group of mostly Brits and we set out for the battlefields, overnighting at the Royal Hotel in Dundee. This place was a real gem, built during the Victorian era it retained a great deal of character from those times with high, pressed metal ceilings and battlefield memorabilia in reception and the guest lounge. The next day we went to Rorke’s Drift and Isandhlwana where a local guide explained the colonial history of the area. This was an interesting diversion from the solid wildlife viewing that I had been doing and it was good meeting a South African farmer turned guide and hearing his view of life in the Rainbow Nation. When I returned home I read a book called When elephants fly : one woman’s journey from Wall Street to Zululand by Carol Batrus and I was pleased to recall that the place where we had lunch near Isandhlwana was the local business that she helped to establish as an NGO volunteer.

Next stop was St Lucia where we stayed at a B&B whilst exploring the wetlands. We did a number of walks along the beach and spent a day in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi NP where we saw lots of rhino but no cats. KZNP had recently held the annual game auction where surplus animals are sold to other game parks and we saw the last 2 rhino awaiting shipment to their new homes. Both of these animals had their horns removed and carried a radio transmitter as a deterrent to poachers. On the way to Swaziland we stopped for lunch at a centre run by a woman called Cathy and I wish I could remember the name and the location. Cathy was a retired teacher doing excellent work promoting tourism and employment in the town. She arranges for a group of traditional Zulu dancers to perform when groups are booked in and is training kitchen and wait staff to do light lunches. There is also a well stocked handcraft shop, with many goods being produced by a local women’s handcraft group.

We stayed at Mlilwane which is owned by Ted Reilly who has fought to conserve wildlife in Swaziland and is best known for his work in rhino conservation. Unfortunately we didn’t see any rhino or Ted himself, however, the beehive huts were fun! There were ostriches and impala wandering around the accommodation area and brilliant blue and yellow lizards. I went horse riding here – it was a great experience to be among herds of zebra and impala on horseback with no motor to spoil the ambience. Some of us went to the Swazi candle factory and to the local craft market before returning to Mlilwane. The food here was interesting with local game featured on the menu each night – the warthog sausages were delicious as was the impala casserole. I later met a guy in Namibia who declared that the banana splits at Mlilwane were the best he had tasted and as he travelled internationally for work this was no small claim!

The next stop was Berg-en-dahl rest camp in Kruger and once again I thought the game viewing was disappointing when compared to Botswana and East Africa. Leaving the park we stopped at a place called Lake Panic where there was a hide and plenty to see. The photos of the bushbuck and lamb and the Great White Egret were taken here. We also saw cormorants and an African darter and it would have been good to have spent more time in this peaceful place. We returned to Johannesburg via Grasskop where I stayed at the Airport Grand Hotel before flying to Namibia the next day. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/SouthAfricaSwaziland2005

I did 2 weeks camping in Namibia on an Explore Worldwide trip, having worked out that I really could put a tent up 5 times and that I didn’t have to do any other work. I was met by Elena from Elena Travel who transferred me to the Safari Park Hotel from where the trip left the next morning. We traveled through some very desolate country to Sossuvlei and Sesriem (I didn't really enjoy the dunes as I've done a lot of outback travel through deserts in Australia) and hiked into Dead Vlei first thing one morning. It was so hot here, I had been prepared for high temperatures, but not for high temperatures, 40-42 degrees that lasted from 9.30-5.30!

Next stop was Swakopmund where the group stayed at the Pension Rapmund which was centrally located and very comfortable. Some of the group went on a scenic flight or quad biking – I was the only one to do the dolphin cruise at Walvis Bay that was really a seal cruise. I had an issue with this as the seals jump on the boats which tourists enjoy (although it comes as a damp surprise the first time it happens) but the local fisherman are not so indulgent and many seals end up being shot. Swakopmund was good for shopping for gifts and quality souvenirs. After 2 nights in Swakopmund we set off for Cape Cross and then back into the desert.

Cape Cross was an amazing sight with seals almost as far as the eye could see. The resident jackals were looking a bit scrawny as there were few seal pups which are their usual prey. We camped the next night in a desolate place in the desert near the Hoanib River en route to Etosha – well I thought it was desolate but many of the Brits said how much they loved deserts – horses for courses. We saw one desert elephant near Abuhuab and also visited Twyfelfountain and the petrified forest. There was a little horned viper in a burrow next to the walking track at Twyfelfountain and an amazing visitor’s centre made entirely of recycled materials.

Etosha was a highlight and we spent 5 nights in the park here. The Okaukeujo waterhole was fantastic and I was down there until after midnight each night. We saw many elephants, black rhino, black-backed jackal and giraffe at night and during the day large herds of plains game came to drink - kudu, zebra, springbok and black-faced impala. Also heard lions roaring very close one night but they didn't show themselves. Saw an aardwolf and bat-eared fox in Etosha during an afternoon game drive.

It rained on our last night at Okaukeujo and it was miserable packing up the tents the next morning. We saw very little game on the drive to Namutoni as the wildlife had quickly dispersed after the rain. However, at one stop it was possible to see ostrich away on the horizon on the pan, and we were all about 4 inches higher as the sticky clay stuck firmly to our boots. Having cursed the rain at the time, looking back it was quite an experience to see rain in the desert.

The last 2 nights were spent at Waterburg where we visited the Cheetah Conservation Foundation and learned about their work. I also did a 4WD trip up onto the plateau where the wildlife was scarce – giraffe, kudu and either sable or roan antelope. Not much else, although evidence of a black rhino was spotted close to the road and we ran into an anti-poaching patrol on horseback.

If you are ever in Otjiwarongo and feeling hungry I can heartily recommend Karstenson’s bakery. This is a delightful family run business with a mouthwatering selection of German inspired cakes and breads. Returned to Windhoek where I stayed at the safari Court again before heading out to Okonjima Lodge for 2 nights. http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/Namibia2005

Okonjima Lodge and the Africat Foundation

I opted to stay at Okonjima Bush Camp for a final touch of luxury and to
get up close and personal with cheetahs - wonderful. Arrived around 11 am and was welcomed by Roma. After lunch I settled into my banda and scattering the bird seed provided to attract a wide variety of birds to within a metre of where I was sitting. This was one of the activities I enjoyed the most and was rewarded with sightings of colourful crimson breasted shrikes, golden breasted bunting and an acacia pied barbet.

My first activity was leopard tracking and we were fortunate to find the female leopard with 2 10 month old cubs. Time was cut short here as the clinic radioed through to advise they had a cheetah with a broken leg ‘on the table’. This animal had injured himself on a fence and it was very sad to see him so disabled. We also caught a glimpse of the wild dogs that had been rescued from a sandy grave and hand raised by Karla and Dave of Africat. That evening I joined the trip to the night hide and observed porcupines and honey badgers eagerly devouring kitchen scraps. I was so lucky because a leopard appeared, which is very unusual. Clive, one of the guides, had been at Okonjima for 4 months had not seen a leopard at the night hide before.
The next morning I was taken on the cheetah tracking activity. Clive was guiding and reported that the cheetahs were on the move which made locating them all the more difficult. In the end we did find them, a group of 4 who were supposed to be proving that they could fend for themselves before being re-homed. However, the animals were very thin and Africat staff gave them a small meal later that day. My last activity was a visit to the Africat Centre to hear about their work and then feeding the cheetahs that cannot fend for themselves and have a home for life at Africat. Although there were about 9 cheetahs in the 45 acres that I visited only 7 came for food. It was great to see them so close and to hear their impatient ‘chirping’ as they waited for dinner. I returned to the night hide again after dinner but sadly, the leopard did not re-appear, although there were many porcupines and honey badgers and lots of spring hares along the road on the drive back to the Camp.

On my last morning I had to leave before activities were scheduled to finish so Clive took me over to the lion lapa and I was able to stay for feeding. They have 3 lions who were rescued from an illegal breeding program about 10 years ago – two males called Tambo and Matata and a lioness named Tess. These animals are in wonderful condition, very sleek and well-nourished. Matata is quite shy and doesn’t get too close the lapa wall, but Tambo wasn’t shy and came right to the foot of the lapa. Tess the lioness was the trouble-maker as each day after feeding she would finish her meat and then try and steal from the males. Photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/Treepol/OkonjimaAfricat2005

Too soon it was time to go to the airport and Johannesburg for an overnight at the Airport Grand before returning home.

Next safari

This will be the family and friends safari of 2008! Four of us are heading off – my aunt and uncle and a very dear friend from University days. So far we have booked and paid deposits for Northern Tanzania with Good Earth in late June. My aunt and uncle are doing the northern circuit with us and then my friend and I are doing Ruaha and Selous and Kenya. We plan to stay at Ruaha River Lodge and Rufiji River Camp before returning to Kenya and flying to Samburu (probably stay at the Serena and spend one day in Shaba), then travelling from Nairobi to El Karama, Aberdares (staying with Petra Allmendinger hopefully) and visiting the Solio Rhino Sanctuary before travelling on Lake Nakuru overnight at Flamingo Hill Camp and returning to Nairobi.

I’ve then got another 4 weeks to fill in and I’m not sure what I will do in that last month. I’m keen to do the 10 day Kafunta special that Greendrake reported and am also considering Ngala Walking safari and a few days at Phinda Forest Lodge. And then there’s always Namibia. I don’t think I’ll have any difficulty filling in the time!

Finally, I have a sizeable bibliography of books about Africa that I am happy to email to any interested Fodorites.


Pol.

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