2015: South Africa for a fortnight

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Dec 15th, 2015, 06:58 AM
  #21
 
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Those are very broad and general statements, christabir. My understanding is that the Cango Wildlife Ranch mission is “to promote and fund the conservation of cheetah and other endangered species through captive breeding, research and public awareness”. That doesn't sound to me like they are breeding cheetahs to be sold for canned hunting or that the human/animal interaction they offer results in "unnecessary death and/or cruelty". If you have any information to back up your claims, I'd like to see it.
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Dec 15th, 2015, 02:05 PM
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Craig, your understanding is wrong. Any information I provide won't make you believe it of every operation out there. Cheetah petting and lions walks directly feed the canned hunting industry.

No true sanctuary breeds in captivity for captivity or allows any human/animal interaction. No animal reared by humans can ever be released into the wild, so they are breeding for captivity...

Most people here don't argue the point. They just had no idea before it being pointed out what happens to those poor creatures and change their plans. I can only change what I do and try to inform people.

Watch the documentary "Blood Lions" for just a small part of the very large and very profitable canned hunting industry. Start there, then look into it more. It's disgusting.

Just google canned lion hunt or cheetah canned hunt and you will get more information than you ever wanted about animal/human interaction leading directly to those poor animals and many more being killed in canned hunting. I can't make you believe it or make you change your plans. I can only inform.
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Dec 15th, 2015, 05:48 PM
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More generalities. Specifics on Cango Wildlife Ranch?
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Dec 15th, 2015, 09:11 PM
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Like I said, I can only change what I do. Breeding in captivity for captivity.... What do you think will happen to those cats born in captivity for captivity? Nothing I say will change your opinion, and you don't want to research it yourself. I hope you change your plans, but there's nothing more I can do.
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Dec 16th, 2015, 02:33 AM
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Indiancouple, sorry to hijack your thread. I thought I could get some actual information from christabir here rather than to be told to "research it yourself".
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Dec 16th, 2015, 05:06 AM
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At the risk of extending the highjack... I have a lot of sympathy for christabir's position (I just posted a thread on the treatment of elephants), but it does seem that the Cango Wildlife Ranch makes a very good case for itself:

http://www.cango.co.za/our-purpose.php

Captive breeding may, alas, be all that saves some (many?) species from extinction over the next few decades.
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Dec 16th, 2015, 01:51 PM
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Kathy, its nice to hear from you that perhaps there is a "middle ground" on this issue, which I feel is somewhat political. As an independent, I am deeply offended by those with extreme views, whether its the pro-gun lobby or climate change fear-mongers...
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Dec 17th, 2015, 06:29 AM
  #28
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Sorry, I was away for a few days on work, and could not respond to the various comments.

Craig, you are probably right that the restaurant at Knysna is Caffe Mario, not Maria. There is only one Italian restaurant at the Knysna Quays, so you cannot go wrong.

As for catching the Garden Route from Mossel Bay instead of George, I guess you could, since the distance is not significant. However, I have not heard anything great about Mossel Bay, and the drive itself on any portion of the Garden Route is nothing special. So I doubt if it will add to the pleasure in any way.

Sorry, I would not like to comment on the debate about animals bred in captivity for tourism, as I do not know enough about the subject. Suffice to say that I prefer to watch them in the wild, where they look far more spectacular and happy.

More installments of TR coming up soon.
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Dec 17th, 2015, 06:59 AM
  #29
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Day 8 : Thursday, November 19th :

The breakfast spread at the Premier Hotel was quite decent. We checked out, boarded the airport shuttle to the airport, and boarded the 10 am flight to Nelspruit. We had booked a car rental in advance, and went to the First/Sixt counter at Nelspruit airport. They gave us the car, but after we had loaded our luggage and were about to move, we noticed that it was a manual, when we had clearly booked an automatic. We went back in, and showed our booking confirmation. They made some frantic calls, and finally said that the only automatic that they had was a BMW, and that we could take that. Free upgrade !

We drove off in the BMW at about 12 noon, delayed somewhat by the mix-up. We made it to our Arathusa Lodge in Sabi Sands by 3 pm. Roads were not the best, but tolerable. As we checked in, and walked past the huge waterhole in the property, we saw an elephant with her calf having a drink there on the other bank. There were numerous hippos swimming and lounging around the waterhole. The place looked gorgeous and exciting, and when we entered our rooms, we exclaimed a loud WOW ! Fabulous room, with a lovely view of the waterhole. Felt that we were already in the thick of the jungle.

We had a quick and late lunch of sandwiches at 3:30 pm, and at 4 pm we were off for the afternoon game drive. It was a lovely Land Cruiser vehicle, open on all sides and the top. There were the 4 of us, plus a young Mexican couple, and two German ladies. The ranger was at the driving wheel, and a tracker out on a seat on the bonnet.

It was a decent game drive. Saw a lot of impalas, zebras, giraffes, and loads of elephants at very close quarters. The elephant sightings were particularly great. Unfortunately, none of the big cats to be seen. At about 6 pm, we stopped for a sundowner somewhere, and then went on. At 7 pm we were back, quite satisfied, knowing that we will find the cats sooner or later.

Had drinks at the lodge bar at 7:30 pm, followed by dinner. The chef had cooked some wonderful Indian chickpea curry with rice, which was authentically done. Our first Indian dinner of the trip, and it tasted divine. After that, off to bed, with the jungle sounds all around.
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Dec 18th, 2015, 07:41 AM
  #30
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Day 9 : Friday, November 20th :

The Lodge gave everyone a wake-up call at 4:30 am. Coffee at 4:50 am at the bar, and off for the morning game drive at precisely 5 am.

This was to be the most “boring” of all our game drives in South Africa. No significant sightings of any major animals at all except for some giraffes and zebras. The only excitement was when we encountered a group of elephants at very close quarters, with one young adolescent male. The young male let out a loud trumpet, and charged towards our vehicle. The ranger and tracker kept their cool, and insisted that the guy was just showing off ! They were right, and the elephant backtracked after approaching quite near. It was a wonderful experience, although a touch intimidating for a few seconds. Other than this, there were no sightings aside from the occasional impala. The Ranger and the Tracker could not even spot any pug marks of the big cats, which could be followed upon. This was disappointing, as we had heard so much about the game density and leopard population at Sabi Sands, and there was nothing to substantiate the same.

We returned at 8 am to Arathusa Lodge, and had a wonderful breakfast. Next, we embarked on a bush walk with the Ranger at 9:15 am, for about 45 minutes. There was a sense of adventure in the bush walk, as theoretically we could encounter a large animal anywhere. However, the purpose was not animal sighting, but it was intended to be an informative experience about the jungle and the animals. It was interesting and informative, and we enjoyed the experience.

Back at the lodge, we slept till 1:30 pm for much needed rest. Then a round of beer, followed by lunch. Another period of rest for an hour, when we gazed out at the waterhole, but no significant activity was visible.

We had high tea at 3:30 pm, and were off for our evening game drive at 4 pm. A pair of hyenas greeted us just as we left the Lodge, followed by some Kudus, Wildebeest, Waterbuck and various birds. A short while later, pug marks of a leopard were spotted. The Ranger and the Tracker got off from the vehicle, and followed the tracks for a while on foot. They drove around the immediate vicinity for the next 20 minutes, and suddenly we found him. A majestic male leopard, seated on a small mound of dirt, just on the road-side. He must have been less than 15 ft away from our vehicle. We had him all to ourselves, and he was in full view, unhindered by any obstacle. We stayed with him for the next 20-25 minutes, when he posed for us continuously ! Sometimes he turned his head in one direction, and sometimes in another. Occasionally, he would let out a yawn, but he seemed to be aware of the clicking cameras, and appeared to be enjoying the attention. It was a wonderful and rare experience, and I must have clicked atleast 40 pictures. Finally, he got up, crossed the road behind us, and walked away into the jungle.

Shortly after we drove off, we suddenly came across two adult female lionesses, lying down next to each other. Talk of luck ! The Ranger informed us that recently 5 new adult males had entered this area, and driven off two earlier males who had sired cubs from one of these lionesses. The new adult males had killed the cubs, and were now partnering with these females. Here the two females were just lounging around, and we were parked just 15-20 feet away. Again, clicked tons of pictures.

Luck seemed to be on our side today, and we requested the Ranger to skip the sundowner, and keep moving. In just another 10 minutes, we were rewarded with a rare sighting of 3 rhinos close together. Absolutely lovely and exciting.

Today we returned to the Lodge elated, as we had our heart’s fill of excellent sightings. The sight of the male leopard so close, and in such excellent view, will remain etched in my mind for a lifetime. We had drinks, followed by dinner under the stars, arranged by the Lodge. An American lady had a herd of elephants come to her cottage earlier in the day, while she lay submerged in a bath-tub, with glass windows all around. The elephants feasted on leaves from trees around her cottage, and perhaps ogled at her, while she clicked their pictures from her I-pad, remaining in her bath-tub. She showed us all pictures of the elephants, and it was a sight to behold.

Finally, off to bed at 10:30 pm.
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Dec 18th, 2015, 12:06 PM
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What a day! This is exactly the type of experience I look forward to most on our first African adventure. Thanks for the preview.
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Dec 19th, 2015, 03:38 AM
  #32
 
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Enjoying your trip report! I'm considering a SA trip for 2017 and love the description of the watering hole at Arathusa!
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Dec 19th, 2015, 04:21 AM
  #33
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Thanks tripplanner and progol. Yes, the watering hole at Arathusa (it is actually a huge huge pond, in full view of all the rooms) is really beautiful, and you can just relax in your room, or on the lawns, and enjoy the animals come and go on the opposite bank.
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Dec 19th, 2015, 07:25 AM
  #34
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Day 10 : Saturday, November 21st :

Same routine in the morning. Wake-up call at 4:30 am, coffee at 4:50 am, and off for game drive at 5 am. Today the weather was iffy for the first time, with clouds looming large. The Ranger predicted that rain was around the corner, and sure enough, within 30 minutes, a light drizzle started, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The Ranger warned that if the lightning and thunder persisted, he would cancel the drive and return, as it was dangerous to be out at such a time. We did not want a cancellation, as this was our last game drive in Sabi Sands.

Ponchos were handed out to everyone, which offered good protection against the rain. The rain abated a bit for a while, and the Tracker picked up a trail of lions. We kept driving, aided with some radio messages indicating the direction where to head. Very soon, we had them, a pair of male lion with a female lioness, seated next to each other. The female was one of the two we had spotted the previous evening, and the male was one of the 5 young males who had “taken over” this territory. The sighting was at very close quarters, as at Sabi Sands the Ranger takes you off-road, right next to the animals. We stayed with the pair for a long while, and it was exciting to be right next to a pair of lions in an open vehicle.

Our luck with the lions continued today, and shortly thereafter, we encountered another solitary male lion (another one of the 5 young adults). There were loud lion sounds coming from every direction. The Ranger suspected that most members of the pride were in the vicinity, and were calling out to each other. We were all excited at the prospect of many more lion sightings.

Shortly thereafter, yet another lion sighting – another solitary male, slightly larger one (Male No. 3 of the group of 5). This one we followed for a very long time. He was walking slowly by the roadside, and our vehicle drove right alongside him, in slow motion. The male lion would occasionally stop, spray its urine on a tree to mark out its territory, and then move on slowly. He kept trying to pick up the scent of the other members of the pride, and kept giving out loud calls. The Ranger informed us that in such situations, any other male lion who was currently in possession of a female, was not likely to respond to the calls, as he would want more time in solitude ! Anyway, it was great to follow a huge male lion for so long, and I clicked several videos of him in motion.

As the male finally wandered off in the thick of the jungle, we moved on, staying in the same general area. Very soon, we were rewarded with our 4th lion sighting of the morning – this time another pair – Male # 4 with another female. This sighting was the best of all, as we were almost parked within touching distance of the pair ! The Ranger warned us not to stand up or do anything stupid, as it could be dangerous at such close range. We contended ourselves with camera clicking. The moment the female would get up, the male would follow, as it was not prepared to let go of his catch. Soon she would sit down again, and so would he. Unbelievable sight.

The rain started getting heavy, and the Ranger decided to head back to the Lodge. We did not mind, as we had seen enough for the day. Spotted two hyenas on the way back, and we were at the Lodge by 7:30 am. Fabulous game drive once again. Sabi Sands and Arathusa Lodge had truly lived up to their reputation. We had breakfast, left a generous tip for the Ranger and the Tracker, and packed up to leave. We finally left at 9:15 am with a heavy heart, as we had really fallen in love with Arathusa Lodge.

We had to drive on gravel roads for almost two hours, till we reached the Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park. Mild formalities at the gate, and we went in. Then there was a long and lovely drive inside KNP of three-and-half hours, all the way to Skukuza Rest Camp, via Satara camp. The sightings that we saw on the sides of the road as we drove were just incredible. Saw zebras, giraffes, many many elephants, wildebeest, tortoises, cape buffaloes, and a huge hippo almost within touching distance (rare to see a hippo out of water at the roadside). Many other lesser animals, too many to list. Animal sightings were far more plentiful than Sabi Sands, even without the skills of a Ranger or a Tracker.

We finally reached Skukuza Camp, and checked into our two bungalows, next to each other. We rested briefly, ate some snacks in the room for lunch, and left at 4 pm for our afternoon game drive. We headed towards Phabeni gate, which was not far away, and were duly rewarded. Had an excellent sighting of a male lion seated next to the road. There were many cars there, but we managed a good long view. Saw a group of four rhinos, loads of elephants, giraffes and the usual. This was a whole different experience, to sight animals on your own, and to find so many on the side of the roads.

We returned by 6:30 pm, as we had had a long day. Went to the camp restaurant, had drinks and dinner, and went to bed by 9:15 pm.
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Dec 19th, 2015, 08:21 AM
  #35
 
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Glad the weather did not put a damper on your game drive that morning. Were there other vehicles with you?
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:07 AM
  #36
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Day 11 : Sunday, November 22nd :

We got up at 5 am, as we were no longer bound to a fixed schedule; by 5:45 am, we were on our way to our morning self-drive game viewing. We decided to head off in the direction of Lower Sabie this morning.

Today was to also turn out to be an excellent game drive. Super sighting of a large adult male lion at the roadside. There were a few vehicles already there, but not too many, so we could squeeze in for a good view. Great sightings of giraffes, buffaloes, and rhinos, all very near to the vehicle. One lucky leopard sighting, which was a bit far from the road. Could not see him very clearly, but when I examine the photos that I had clicked, I can see him very clearly now ! Several times we spotted cute tortoises crossing the road, many herds of elephants (all totally oblivious of the vehicular traffic in the park), and other regular animals. Some hippo sightings too.

Stopped for a break at the Lower Sabie restcamp, and had breakfast at the Muggs & Beans restaurant. Outstanding restaurant, and very good food. From here we proceeded to the Crocodile Bridge, and then started our return journey. We returned to Skukuza at 12:30 pm. It had been a long drive, but very rewarding. We lunched and went for rest in our bungalows.

At 3 pm we started again, headed for the Numbi gate area in the afternoon. We had two separate rhino sightings, of which one was with the rhino walking on the road, and as we crossed him slowly, we could have surely rolled down our windows and touched him ! Of course we were mindful of the warning to always keep a safe distance from these temperamental rhinos, but he seemed so relaxed and peaceful, that we were almost tempted to go right next to him. Spotted a hyena with a cub, and a hippo with a few cubs too. Many elephants very close to the vehicle; once again, mindful of the warning of never coming in the path of an elephant. By now we were concentrating not on quantity of sightings, but on quality. Whenever we got a good sighting, we stayed with the animal for a while, and observed him closely.

Just as we were about to turn around, I was caught speeding by a cop, and fined ZAR 500, which I could pay at the rest camp reception. I was actually speeding, so there was no point in protesting much.

We returned to Skukuza by 6:30 pm. Did souvenir shopping at the camp shop, followed by dinner at the restaurant. We returned to our bungalows, and went to bed by 9 pm.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:37 AM
  #37
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Day 12 : Monday, November 23rd :

I did not keep notes for the last 2 days of this trip, so the rest of the TR is from memory, which is getting a bit fuzzy now !

In the morning, which was to be our last game drive of this South Africa trip, we headed south to the Malelane area. We were hoping for a super sighting of another leopard to round off this wonderful trip, or maybe a cheetah which had eluded us on this trip so far.

Rhinos are supposed to be difficult animals to spot, but we had been super lucky this trip. Today seemed to be an all-rhino day, when we spotted rhinos galore ! Two huge rhinos sitting on the ground at one place, another sighting of a mother rhino with a young one, and by now rhinos were passé. Whenever we spotted another rhino, there was a wail from the car – “Not again !”. Talk of being spoilt. Also spotted a huge herd of elephants, with lots of baby elephants in their group, and stayed with that herd for a long time.

We returned to Skukuza, had breakfast, gave our car to the car wash, checked out, and paid our speeding fine. We drove the short distance to Paul Kruger gate, still looking out for the leopard or the cheetah, which was not to be seen. As we left Kruger, we felt completely satiated. The four days of safari had been excellent. I am so glad we had elected to be at Sabi Sands for 2 days, and self-driving at Kruger for 2 days. Both experiences are very different, and it is hard to say which one is better. At Sabi Sands, they take you off-road in an open vehicle, and you get an intimate experience with the cats like never before. At Kruger, the number of sightings are much more, also close by, but not in an open vehicle; however, with the thrill of doing your own sighting. I would not elect one over the other, and was happy to have enjoyed both experiences.

As we drove to Hazyview, and then on to Graskop (where we were to spend the next night), we called our hosts at Graskop. They informed us that the reception would be closed in the afternoon till 2:30 pm, and that we should plan on arriving after that. So we drove into Graskop town by around 12:30 pm, and bided away our time drinking beer, while the ladies enjoyed doing shopping in the numerous arts and crafts shops. Finally, we had a brief lunch, and went to our B&B Zur Alten Mine, just on the outskirts of the town.

The property was lovely, with 7 independent cottages, of which we had booked two. We got the Honeymoon Cottage, which was fabulous, with a great view. The hosts were a German couple, very friendly. On the advice of the hosts, we decided to do a part of the Panorama Route today. So we set off, driving first to the Pinnacle viewpoint, which was fabulous. From here we drove to God’s Window (which gets usually fogged out in the morning hours), and enjoyed a lovely view in the afternoon. Climbed the steps above God’s Window for even better views at the top. Then we returned to Graskop, and allowed ladies some more shopping time. We had booked a table at the Glass House for dinner, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. The food was excellent, and we all loved it.

Back to the B&B and off to bed !
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:50 AM
  #38
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Day 13 : Tuesday, November 24th :

Today was our last day of the trip, and we were beginning to feel a bit exhausted. We got ready, and reported for breakfast. Had a decent breakfast, left our luggage at the reception, and left.

The morning was devoted to the Panorama Route. First to the Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Nice walk there, which was good exercise for the body, and the bizarre and beautiful sights of the canyon with strange “potholes”. The we drove to the Three Rondavels, which was supposedly the top sight on the Panorama Route, but we were underwhelmed a bit. Frankly, we enjoyed the drive on the Panorama Route much more than the vantage sights. The scenery as you drove everywhere was just spectacular, and worth the visit.

On the return to Graskop, we stopped briefly at Berlin falls, which was skippable. Then back to Graskop, where ladies finished their final bit of shopping. Then we had lunch, went back to our B&B to collect our luggage, and then drove off to Nelspruit. We filled up our car with petrol, and drove to the airport. Efficient return of car, and checked into our evening flight back to Johannesburg.

On reaching Jo’burg, the same routine of taking the airport shuttle to Premier Hotel, where we checked in, had dinner, and went to bed.

Day 14 : Wednesday, November 25th :

Today was a transit day. Breakfast at hotel, followed by shuttle to the airport. From here we boarded our Etihad flight back to India, with a brief stop at Abu Dhabi. Reached Mumbai late at night, without any incident.

This brings me to the end of this TR. Would be glad to receive your comments and answer any questions.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:56 AM
  #39
 
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Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us, Indiancouple. I am now more excited than ever for our own visit in a few months' time.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 09:32 AM
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ttt
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