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A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

Apr 17th, 2016, 09:02 AM
  #41  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,657
Ahhhh...you have been "bit" by the Africa bug. We are going back for the third time in a couple of weeks, and are just bursting with excitement. I will continue reading your report to sate my appetite until we leave
uhoh_busted is offline  
Apr 17th, 2016, 12:31 PM
  #42  
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Nina, you're welcome.

Uhoh, congratulations on your upcoming third visit. Where are you going this time?

And without further ado, here is my next installment, almost live:

Hide and Go Seek

Our second day at Sabi Sand began with a 5:30am knock on our door by our ranger, Barney. We woke up about an hour earlier so we were ready to go when Barney asked us to meet in 15 minutes. We walked to the main reception area at the homestead for tea and coffee before our departure for our first morning game drive. The weather was cool and very comfortable and the morning air was very fresh.

We saw our first animal of the morning, a warthog, only a few minutes into our morning drive. Shortly thereafter, we made our way towards the Sand River, which is nearly dry due to the recent drought conditions in the area. Our tracker, David, soon spotted fresh leopard tracks and we followed up to a partially covered area by the riverbank. After a little bit of searching, we found a most gorgeous adult male leopard curled up sleeping. He is so beautiful. He stood up for a brief moment, long enough to allow us to catch a good glimpse of him in full majesty, before going back to sleep. We spent several minutes there before moving on to our next animal.

Not too long thereafter, we received a call on the radio of the spotting of male lions over at Mala Mala and we proceeded there. Like Lion Sands, &Beyond has traversing rights with Mala Mala, although there was a limit of two vehicles on their property. Since we were the first &Beyond vehicle, we were fine. We drove around for about 20 minutes before catching up with the lions – three adolescent males. They too were sights to behold. At this point, we were so happy. We thought, if we saw nothing else, we would be satisfied – well, almost!

Along the way we also spotted other animals – kudus, impalas, a couple of hippos…

Before we knew it, it was time for breakfast. We stopped by an open clearing near our homestead for an elaborate outdoor breakfast. We were greeted with fruits, meats, cheeses, breads, yogurt, muesli, and beverages. While we were enjoying the spread, our ranger and tracker were preparing bacon and sausage before another vehicle joined us. Their ranger and tracker pitched in to make eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions. It was a very delicious way to end a most memorable morning of sightseeing.

After breakfast we returned to the homestead. Between 10am and 1pm was our break, during which time I took a nice shower, caught up on some emails, and relaxed. We ate lunch at 1 before returning to our rooms before the afternoon game drive.

A “National Geographic Experience”, or Two, Perhaps Three

We were again the first jeep out for our afternoon game drive. Straight out of the gate we were treated to some kudus and a couple of waterbucks, which were very impressive to me. We were on our way back to the Sand River, this time to search for reported sightings of wild dogs in the area.

Along the way, we came upon what we called our “National Geographic moment”. This is the type of experience we’ve only previous saw on TV documentaries such as the PBS program “Nature”. Down on the sandy riverbed we spotted two large bull elephants. Our Land Rover drove closer to the animals for a closer look when we spotted a third elephant, then a fourth, a fifth… Before we knew it, we experienced a family of 15 to 18 elephants enjoying their lunch. Only a few minutes into the interaction, one of the larger elephants began to make its way across the riverbed towards the opposite riverbank. Behind it came the rest of the herd, including several juvenile elephants. What a speechless sight to behold! I could not imagine just some hundred meters or so from me a line of elephants making its way across the riverbank in orderly fashion! We remained in the same position as the elephants went down to the water to drink and bathe. We were the only vehicle there the entire time. Our fortune just became better and better. I felt like I was in a movie, and could not believe what we were experiencing right before our very eyes!

About a good 15 to 20 minutes (it could be more; I lost track of time), we continued our pursuit of wild dogs. In my mind, I’m thinking “Dogs? Why is this guy so excited? Haven’t we all seen dogs?” I know I see them with my neighbors, in parks, etc., at home. “I didn’t come all this way to see an animal I see almost every day.” Boy was I wrong.

After about half an hour or so in search of these animals, we came upon a pack of wild dogs, not too far from where we saw the herd of elephants earlier in the afternoon. The dogs were laying on the ground, half asleep. Some of them were moving its ears. Others were wagging its tail. While we were viewing these animals, our ranger explained the significance of this find. Apparently only approximately 250 or so of them exist in the greater Kruger / Sabi Sand area today. And little did I know that the sight of a pack of wild dogs means that we had a good possibility of witnessing them pursue and hunt another animal. We stayed next to the dogs until they began to arouse, and sure enough, the dogs were in search of their prey. We followed along with two other vehicles. Part of the way into the pursuit, our ranger informed us that we were required to turn around as the dogs were entering Mala Mala land and &Beyond already had two vehicles on their property viewing the lions we had seen earlier today so we had no option but to turn back. While slightly disappointed, we were very pleased with what we saw.

Soon after the sun began to set and we took a short break before continuing our safari into the night. This time we received a report of two fully-grown adult male lions not too far to the entrance of Kirkman’s Kamp and off we went. We quickly spotted the pair with its beautiful manes. They were extremely close, enough that at one point we could have reached out to them. Wow! Incredible! Words cannot express the emotions that were going through me nor could it do the experience justice. Again we felt so lucky.

And with that, our second day on safari came to a conclusion. We returned to the homestead, where we quickly freshened up and enjoyed dinner at the outdoor verandah. Ah! This is the safari life! I could get used to it.

We are fortunate enough to have more opportunities tomorrow. What will the day have in store for us? The remaining two of the Big Five that we haven’t seen yet (the rhino and the African buffalo)? Will we see the lions in daylight? What about another leopard? Who knows? Please stay tuned to find out along with me.

Thanks.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 17th, 2016, 12:58 PM
  #43  
 
Join Date: May 2003
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Excellent. We saw elephants [well over 60] eating on one shore of the Chobe,sort of in a line. One of them at the end of the line turned around and start to run to the front of the line. That one started a mass turnabout and they filed into the river and across to the other side. Even our guide was impressed! We tried to figure out what spooked them and the only things we could come up with was that there was a fire far off in the distance; we could see the smoke but not smell it. Perhaps it was the smell that they detected? Who knows.

I got a few picture of the crossing but I also managed to get a bit of video of it! A very special souvenir.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 17th, 2016, 01:23 PM
  #44  
 
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Fun, fun, fun!

I have had the opportunity of seeing three wild dog experiences, one at Madikwe Lodge in SA watching a pack sleep with full throbbing stomachs after a kill, once at Thanda Lodge in SA where we watched a pack devour an impala in about 15 seconds with the sound of crunching bones to boot, and once at Xudum Safari Lodge in Bots where we spent an hour and a half watching a pack of dogs pursue 2 mother Roan antelopes in an open field, who were hiding their babies in the bush and trying desperately to not only save their own lives but to ensure that the dogs did not find their babies. I have never seen maternal instinct like that in the bush in my life! And you know what, the mother Roans were successful. Even though it was only two of them they used their horns to run off the dogs time and time again and eventually the dogs got to tired and retreated! It was awesome. And I was like you before I ever saw wild dogs -- what's the big deal??

Your elephant encounter sounded just fantastic. I am thrilled for you. And such luck with lions and leopards too. Have you seen many giraffe? I think they are so majestic, especially when you see them run across the plains?

How have the lunch and dinners been at Kirkman camp?

Waiting for more...
Lolazahra is offline  
Apr 17th, 2016, 06:46 PM
  #45  
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DebitNM, that sounds amazing. Thanks for whetting my appetite for my upcoming visit to Chobe.

Lolazahra, awesome on the dogs. We've seen a handful of giraffe. The first time I saw one in the wild was on our first afternoon game drive here and it was incredible. With their height, they look so majestic. We haven't seen them on the move yet. As for the meals at Kirkman's, everything has been delicious - from beef fillet to duck to ostrich (I had my first taste yesterday, and it was much, much better than I anticipated) to the soups and salads. There is a decent variety from meal to meal, except for dessert, which tended to be ice cream or a cheese course in lieu. The service is also impeccable.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 18th, 2016, 04:53 AM
  #46  
 
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Well TP you've certainly lived up to my expectations for this report. It sounds like a fantastic experience, thank you !
sartoric is offline  
Apr 18th, 2016, 11:16 AM
  #47  
 
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Really enjoying following along and so glad to hear how much you are enjoying it .As you've discovered game viewing in Yala and on these kinds of southern African safaris have very little in common .
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Apr 18th, 2016, 01:24 PM
  #48  
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Sartoric, you're welcome. Glad I can meet your expectations.

Brit, thank you. This trip has unfolded well beyond my wildest dreams.

And here goes today's report:

Rinse and "Repeat"

As we're on day three at Kirkman's Kamp, we feel like we had the routine down. In some ways, with the infusion of new guests today (several of the guests we met over the past couple of days only stayed a couple of nights; others came before us and left today), we felt a bit like old hats.

As usual, our day started with a 5:30am knock by Barney, our ranger, followed by a quick fix-me-up of coffee, tea, juice, and cookies before hopping into our safari vehicle for our morning drive. On today's agenda is a hunt for the remaining Big Five animals that we haven't seen yet: the buffalo and, more importantly, the rhino. From what I understood, the recent rhino sightings have taken place in the far western reaches of Sabi Sand so it there that we were headed. Along the way we found giraffes, hippos, some buffalos, and a herd of about 30-40 elephants. Another amazing experience! It took us quite a while before we managed to track down a rhino, and it was one of the white variety. We only managed to catch a quick glimpse of it before it moved away, although we did manage to get a good photograph of it.

What was most interesting is the change in landscape even though the distances between where we were this morning and where we conducted our prior game drives were not that great. We noticed that the geology of the area looked different and that there were termite mounds that dotted the entire landscape, which we had not seen before on this trip. We learned from our guide that the presence of these mounds was due to the particular soil composition, which made it more malleable to the critters. In addition, we noticed more dung everywhere, which came from rhinos. More manure also meant flies; we've encountered more flies this morning when we previously hadn't even noticed them on previous drives.

Following the drive was breakfast at the verandah of the homestead and a few hours for relaxation. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. After lunch, we went back to our rooms and sat at our back porches as it was much cooler today compared to the past two days. We gazed down to the river to see if there were any animals. We spotted a couple of antelopes, which eventually made its way towards to homestead verandah. It was so much fun to sit on the chairs just to watch the animals do their thing - graze.

The American couple that was with us left today after lunch. We were joined by another American couple who just arrived today for the afternoon game drive. Luckily they were equally as friendly. Soon after we left the lodge we spotted a klipspringer, a crocodile, and a water monitor, all animals we've not seen previously. We made our way back towards the banks of the Sand River, where there were reported lion sightings this morning. As we made our way to the riverbank, we spotted about 12 elephants eating and playing in the area. Also there were a couple of buffaloes. After spending a good 20 minutes or so there, we continued our search for lions. We came upon a beautiful male lions and not too far away a pride of eight. What an amazing sight! We probably spent a good hour there simply watching their moves. The lions were sleeping when we arrived, and it was interesting to observe their movements and positions. Some of them looked like they were performing yoga. As the sun started to set, the lions began their search for prey. We followed for a bit before turning around when it was clear that they did not get what they wanted and began settling down again. It was at this time that we set down for drinks and some snacks before returning to home base for dinner, boma style.

Tomorrow is our last day at Kirkman's. It will be another exciting day, but a bittersweet one as most memorable leg of our journey across Southern Africa draws to a close.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 18th, 2016, 02:43 PM
  #49  
 
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Wonderful, I feel like I am right there with you. A girl can dream...
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 19th, 2016, 07:19 AM
  #50  
 
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How delightful! You know, I think sharing a vehicle can be quite fun. When you think of it, everyone is pretty much there because they have similar interests to you re: traveling and exploring the world. We have enjoyed the company of couples and singles from Belgium, Canada, Holland, the UK, Italy, and Argentina. I also like the experience of dining around a huge table with other guests and guides and camp managers. Some really wonderful conversation results from those opportunities.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Apr 19th, 2016, 12:08 PM
  #51  
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DebitNM, yes indeed.

Uhoh, I agree with you. I am a people person and enjoy the interactions with other travel. I've made some wonderful friends from shared experiences through my travels.

A Kill, Well, Not Quite

Our final morning game drive began with the spotting of some leopard tracks. We followed it for a while before coming across a male lion that we had seen on one of the previous evenings. What we found with him was a fresh buffalo carcass - blood, guts, and all. Just from the looks of it and the noises coming from the lion, according to our ranger, the kill took place less than an hour ago. We stayed there for a bit, watching it enjoying the fruits of its labor. We soon came upon the lion's brother, who went for his meal as the one who was feasting on it earlier went down to lie down by some reeds in the riverbank. We also saw elephants, hyenas, kudus, and several birds that we had not seen before on our morning drive.

Sabi Sand Farewell, Big Five Style

For our final game drive at Kirkman's, our ranger and tracker were determined to provide us with the experience of seeing a rhino up close and personal along with perhaps another leopard encounter.

We began our search as usual, with our ranger and tracker leading the way using their sights, hearing, and sense of smell. It was only minutes into our drive when our ranger spotted fresh rhino tracks and led the way to find one. Almost just down a path we came upon a large male white rhino, only several meters away. Wow! was my initial reaction. This was the first time I saw a rhino up close and personal and, boy, the animal is a monster. It was almost the size of an elephant or a buffalo, minus an elephant's height. For some reason I've always imagined rhinos to be smaller animals and would never have guessed what the true size of one could be (my impression of leopards are equally inaccurate; I assumed it would be much larger in size). We spent quite a bit of time watching the rhino grazing, moving about, and relieving himself.

From there we continued until we reached a riverbank overlooking a very small riverbed. What did we spot down on the riverbed, but a leopard in the distance! What were the chances! We were two for two. We saw leopards three times during our stay at Kirkman's. If this was the finale of our visit, we would have been more than happy. But it gets better. Our ranger tried to get closer to the leopard, a young female, but the animal was moving at a fast clip. Due to the inpassability of where we were, our vehicle could not make it down to the riverbank. We kept on seeing the animal and then losing sight of it again. Just as I was thinking to myself that our leopard viewing was complete, out of nowhere a leopard leaped a road just centimeters before our approaching vehicle. "Could this be real?", I thought to myself. Moments later, a waterbuck lets out a loud distress call which sounded almost like a barking dog. Luckily or not, depending on your perspective, the leopard did not reach the waterbuck but continued her search for food. We found the leopard again and followed it around for a good 20 to 30 minutes, witnessing it moving about.

As the sun began to set we stopped for a quick sundowner before doing some more searching and returning to home base.

What an experience the past four days have been! How lucky were we? We dreamed of coming to Africa for years and doing an animal safari such as this was one of our long-held wishes, but I would never have anticipated what we actually experienced over the past four days. The game viewing was spectacular and none of it would have been possible with the excellent skills, grit, and determination of our ranger Barney and our tracker David. They are extremely smart and always joys to be around. The same can be said about all of the staff at Kirkman's, especially Sam, our butler, and Gift and Nicolene, a couple of the homestead's managers. Everything about Kirkman's was top notch, from the comfort of the rooms to the delicious meals daily to the superior service and dedication that each individual at this homestead shows. We truly and thoroughly enjoyed our time here and deeply hope that we can make it back here someday.

Next stop: Victoria Falls...
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2016, 12:23 PM
  #52  
 
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Wonderful end to safari!!
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 19th, 2016, 06:44 PM
  #53  
 
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Wonderful! What a nice ending, looking forward to more.
nina88 is offline  
Apr 19th, 2016, 09:48 PM
  #54  
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Nina88 and DebitNM, thank you both for commenting. It's helpful to know that folks are reading and find enjoyment and / or use out of them.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 21st, 2016, 03:55 AM
  #55  
 
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I'm still here too, enjoying your journey with you.

[i've reported the previous post to the mods, BTW]
annhig is offline  
Apr 21st, 2016, 03:26 PM
  #56  
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Ann, thank you. I hope to get my Victoria Falls installment up tomorrow.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 02:29 AM
  #57  
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An Evening on the Zambezi

Wednesday morning began with an early departure from Kirkman's Kamp to Nelspruit airport, approximately two hours away, for our flight to Johannesburg and onward to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The transfer was very smooth and the ride was rather scenic. Along the way we saw some impalas and learned about some of South Africa's export products including bananas, avocados, and surprisingly, macadamia nuts. According to our driver, South Africa is the largest exporter of the nuts, which explains why we found them at the Mount Nelson hotel (we thought it was odd that the nuts were there given its association with Hawaii).

The flights were smooth and uneventful. Immigration was rather quick. We purchased our double entry visas and were out of the airport in less than 20 minutes.

After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we booked for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River for this afternoon. We chose to cruise the river on the Ra-Ikane, a small and very intimate wooden boat. The cruise was two and a half hours long and included snacks and complimentary open bar. During the cruise we had the opportunity to view a group of hippos, a couple of crocodiles, some interesting birds, and a glimpse of the smoke coming from Victoria Falls. We also saw a beautiful sunset.

Water, Water Everywhere

Our only full day at Victoria Falls began with an early morning helicopter flight over the waterfalls and the surrounding region. The flight was thirty minutes long and well worth it, especially considering that we are here during peak flow and may not have been able to appreciate the full impact of the falls on the ground due to the immense mists. We flew over the falls themselves, the Batoka Gorge, and nearby Zambezi National Park, where we were able to see some elephants, giraffes, and antelopes from the air.

Following the helicopter ride we toured the Zimbabwean side of the falls. The visit was very straightforward. We followed the paved walkway along the sixteen different viewpoints, starting where the Zambezi River plunges down the cliffs to where the river flows under the Victoria Falls Bridge. The views were incredible and clear up until the first third of the main cataract. Past this point the intensive most obscures the views, although we were able to catch glimpses of this portion of the falls in between changing wind directions and captures more of it in photos than we had expected. We did get modestly wet, even with raincoats. The visit took about 90 minutes.

After a very enjoyable full circuit, we exited the park and proceed to Zambia so that we could view the falls from both sides. The walk between the park via the Victoria Falls Bridge took about 40 minutes. The border formalities were smooth on both sides and we were through in minutes.

Unlike the Zimbabwean park, where there is one pathway connecting the viewpoints, the Zambian side of the falls has several trails, all leading more or less from the entrance. We started with the path leading to Knife Edge Bridge, viewing the eastern portion of the main cataract up close. From here we braved our way across the bridge, sans raincoat. Having taking it easier with the raincoat, we chose to go without on the Zambian side in order to experience the full scale and scope of the falls, and experience it we did. The power of the falls was enormous. We were thoroughly soaked through and through, but it was awesome!! From Knife's Edge we did a circular loop to view the main cataract as best as we could and continued to be further drenched.

We made our way back across the bridge and onto the train that led to the Boiling Pot. The hike down Batoka Gorge was also a pleasant experience. We appreciated the opportunity to view the cliffs from a different perspective. And to be at the edge of the Boiling Pot, with fantastic views down the gorge, made the hike well worth it.

We also followed the other trails. There is a photographic trail that follows the cliff with views across to Zimbabwe. And there is also a trail that follows the river upstream to where the falls originates. In all, we spent about three hours in the Zambian park.

To fully appreciate the falls, you need to visit both sides. From Zimbabwe we enjoyed panoramic views of the falls. From Zambia we were able to get right "into" the falls. And from Zambia we better understood the falls - its geology, the extent of the flow, and the impact on the landscape.

We capped off the afternoon with high tea at the verandah of the Victoria Falls Hotel with views of the bridge and the falls. The public spaces of the hotel are beautiful and reminded me of the Mount Nelson Hotel, which we very much enjoyed.

Having visited on a full moon we also took the opportunity to take a lunar rainbow tour of the park on the Zimbabwean side. While the sky was clear the heavy mist made it difficult to see the lunar rainbow clearly although we did catch glimpses of it. Seeing the falls at night without the aide of any light other than the moon gave the waters an otherworldly quality.

The only downside of the night visit was the poor organization on the part of the park staff. They waited until exactly 7pm before selling tickets and we had to wait around for everyone to enter before proceeding as we had to be on a tour guided by a ranger and there was one for the entire group. With two tour groups and independent visitors, there were close to 100 of us, which was too large for one person to manage. And there were no flashlights to aide the navigation of the pathways in the dark; even the ranger didn't have a flashlight. In spite of the problems, we were glad we were able to experience the falls in this way.

Now we're off to Botswana, where we will spend three nights in Chobe National Park.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 06:02 AM
  #58  
 
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We went in September and the water levels were at low so we had little mist to contend with but I know we missed the intensity of the falls. What we did see was jaw dropping, I can only imagine it at high levels.

Can't wait for Chobe and Botswana report. We enjoyed our time there, though it was quite different than Sabi Sands.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 07:21 AM
  #59  
 
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Sounds great TP, and thanks for the details.
I once asked my niece where we should go in Africa, (her father was born in Zimbabwe, and she has been to Africa many times) the first place she named was Victoria Falls. Seems a good choice !
sartoric is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2016, 07:34 AM
  #60  
 
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I have had a yen to cruise across Lake Victoria ever since I had a client whose family runs the boats across the lake and of course I'd love to see the falls, but haven't got there yet.

thanks for painting such a great picture of what I've missed!
annhig is offline  

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