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Cape Town, SSGR, Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa & North Luangwa...

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Nov 17th, 2004, 05:24 PM
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Cape Town, SSGR, Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa & North Luangwa...

After at least three months and hundreds of hours of intensive research, this is it...my final itinerary for next August/September!

After mulling over Botswana, Zimbabwe, Madikwe, Phinda and an extended time in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve (SSGR), this is what I have created. In a way it is a relief to be done with it, yet it is also saddening that I will not be rewriting the script either!

What originally was going to be another trip with just my wife and I, even if I had to abduct her to get her back on safari, has turned into a wonderful holiday that now includes my mother and my sister. This will help keep up my wife's spirit, and it should be a great experience.

In choosing my itinerary, there were so many factors. Rather than go through each and every factor, however, I will instead highlight what ultimately became the DECIDING factor...the GUIDING.

The other key factor was VALUE, as I didn't want to just spend a week in Botswana for the same price that I will ultimately spend 13 safari nights in the Sabi Sand and Zambia. This was further compounded by the fact that there are FOUR of us, and I only half-heartedly asked for discounts this year, but ultimately will be paying nearly the same as any other person. Due to finally opening my eyes to Conservation, I do not mind paying a bit extra, as in Zambia, 50% of the tariff goes back to wildlife conservation.

Back to the guiding issue, however. After reading of reports from Clematis' time at Mombo and Liz F.'s time at Ker & Downey, I did not feel completely comfortable with going to Botswana, where the guiding seems like a secondary matter, and too much faith is put into their seemingly unbeatable wildlife viewing. Great gameviewing or not, without the best guides, any safari experience will fall short.

In any case, here it is!!!

--This may be viewed, complete with photographs at the following link--
http://tagasafaris.mywowbb.com/forum1/23.html


Unfortunately, I must begin in Cape Town, arriving on August 31st. Otherwise, I would still have to land in Cape Town, only to then fly back north, and wasting half a day. In any event, it may be nice to escape the San Gabriel Valley heat of late August for a few cool days in Cape Town, and it is not as if it would be summertime had I waited a couple more weeks for Cape Town.

Not really realizing just how expensive it would all be, I am committed to the following itinerary, and already have confirmations from each lodge. I am now furiously stuffing my piggy bank, 10 months in advance in order to make this trip a reality:

August 29th - Nonstop flight, likely on British Airways at about 9:30PM, at my own expense and in economy class, direct to London.

August 30th- 3:30 PM arrival in London, allowing about a 4 hour layover. I don't mind, as I will now have access to the Baobab Lounge, SAA's Business Class lounge, and my wife and I discovered an excellent Italian restaurant at London Heathrow on our last visit about five months ago. Overnight flight using 80,000 ff miles on SAA Business Class, direct to Cape Town.

August 31st - 9:30AM arrival in Cape Town. 5 nights, hopefully at a great looking 3 bedroom Penthouse Loft located at the V&A Waterfront.

Although I am no stranger to Cape Town, I do hope to spend a couple nights with a top tour guide like Selwyn Davidowitz. This will be most beneficial as I get very tired acting as a tour guide and, after all, I am on vacation! I think my family will enjoy his guiding and it will hopefully save me from renting a car, as I will use these days to visit the Cape Winelands and Hermanus. On the other three full days, I will use one to go White Shark Cage Diving, and then have a couple days at leisure.

September 05th - 8AM flight to Johannesburg, arriving at 10AM, for a likely Noon flight to Simbambili (Sabi Sand Game Reserve). I will spend three nights at Simbambili and hopefully see a good deal of leopards, as well as lions and rhinos, and if I am very fortunate, wild dogs. This will be the perfect introduction for my mother and my sister. Last year my wife and I stayed at the neighboring Vuyatela, and while the game viewing was pretty good, I didn't care for the overall experience, but I am hoping that Simbambili will prove to be a winner. I will be assigned Jaco, who is reputedly one of the very top guides in the entire Sabi Sand (Safarinut said he was the best he has experienced and no other Fodorite has more experience in the SSGR than Safarinut).

September 08th - I will return back to Joburg in the early afternoon, well in time for a 6PM flight to Lusaka. Who knows, maybe we will even have time to run to Sandton for a leisurely late lunch at one of their fine restaurants. I will arrive in Lusaka at 8PM, and will likely stay at either the Holiday Inn or Intercontinental (they are both owned by the same group of hotels and although I/C's are usually higher end, in this case, both the quality and price look identical. The reason for staying in Lusaka, rather than Joburg, is so that I will be both better rested for my 10 night Zambian safari, and moreso that I will be able to experience a 4 hour road/river transfer to my first destination, Kasaka River Lodge in Lower Zambezi National Park!

I picked Kasaka River Lodge over Chiawa and Sausage Tree Camp because I really liked the managing couple whom I met when I was passing through the lodge on the way back from Kulefu Tented Camp, earlier this year.

September 09th - 3 nights at Kasaka River Lodge. They have set aside the honeymoon suite for my wife and I (at no additional charge) and they have lowered their rates for 2005 to a mere $285 per person sharing. This is a beautiful camp and they have a great little resident Jack Russell named Vodka who has the run of the camp! Besides the honeymoon suite, they will place my mother and sister together in the next best available tent offering the best view. We will have the opportunity for game drives, game walks, fishing and canoeing here. I will likely do night game drives but enjoy canoeing and fishing by day!

September 12th - It will be a 20 minute air transfer back to Lusaka, followed by a 1hour 10 minute flght to Mfuwe, or if I am lucky, maybe it will be a direct flight from Lower Zambezi to Mfuwe (South Luangwa) since there are four of us in the plane. I expect to arrive in South Luangwa by no later than about 2PM for my 3 night stay at the very opulent Chichele Presidential Lodge. This will be my first visit to South Luangwa in high season, as I have twice visited previously in early June. While it will not be as green in mid September as in June, I do expect the views to be less obstructed by the bush, as the elephants and other wildlife will have already fed heartily on most of the vegetation, offering prime time views of predators by mid September, hopefully!

September 15th - It will be a one hour flight to Lubonga Airstrip for my grand finale of four nights at Kutandala. While I had originally hoped to end with Chichele Presidential Lodge, it may be a bit of a shock going from what I consider a luxury lodge on the same level as some of the best South African lodges to Kutandala, a bush camp, I do think that this will really leave a lasting impression to finish with Kutandala. Kutandala just has the most amazing guest comments that I have ever seen on their website and the managing couple (also the owners) seem like a great pair and they are the same age as my wife and I, making it all the more attractive.

We will really experience the bush while at Kutandala and have all the sights and sounds with us the entire time, hopefully being serenaded to sleep each night by hippos. Bush walks are the order of the day here, and I am looking most forward to it.

Again, this entire trip, from Cape Town (with Selwyn D.) to Simbambili (with Jaco Buys?) to Kasaka River Lodge (with Hugo) to Chichele (with Nic Polenakis) to Kutandala (with Rod Tether) is all about the best guiding at the best possible lodges, and I strongly believe this will result in an unforgettable time in South Africa and Zambia. While it will cost me dearly, I want the absolute best on this next trip, and I will not settle for less. For my tastes, this is the absolute best itinerary for me...not Mombo...not Singita...but instead, La Louise Penthouse, Simbambili, Kasaka River Lodge, Chichele Presidential Lodge and Kutandala!!!

It will bring me great joy to be able to share the magic of Africa with both my mother and my sister. After they are bitten by the Africa bug, both are still young enough to enjoy many future visits, and I do think that I am providing them with the best possible itinerary. In any event, this has GOTTA be a lot better than diong a guided tour of Italy, as I did with some of my wife's family earlier this year. Thankfully, my family is open minded enough to want new experiences, rather than wanting a 10th visit to Europe. It will be a real test for me and for all that I think I know to see if I can put together an amazing and unforgettable experience for my family and I with this next trip!

Lastly, I do want to mention that my decision to visit North Luangwa is 90% based on my desire to help with the conservation efforts of North Luangwa. This area was devastated by poachers and there were no camps up until as recently as about five years ago.

However, after about a decade long fight led by Mark & Delia Owens (American biologists and authors of Cry Of The Kalahari and Eye Of The Elephant), North Luangwa was finally saved of its poaching problem and is now rebounding strongly. They risked life and limb to save the elephants (and other wildlife) in North Luangwa and I do want to do my part to help them fulfill their promise to the people in North Luangwa...kind of like a "Build it and they will come" (Kevin Costner & Field Of Dreams) but rather a "Stop killing the elephants and they will come" (American and European tourists with pocketsful of dollars and euros). My four nights alone here, should pump over $3,000 back into the local economy, as 50% of the tariffs go towards wildlife conservation and back into the nearby villages (besides providing necessary jobs). Somehow I think that Kruger National Park with its 1 million annual tourists and Botswana with its 9 month waiting list at its best lodges, will survive just fine without me!

Instead, it is a place like North Luangwa, with only a 4.5 month season from June 15 - October 31st, and under constant threat from renewed poaching if conscientous visitors do not continue to come, that really require my support (and I am happy to provide it).

This itinerary just feels so right on so many levels!!!
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Nov 28th, 2004, 08:31 PM
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Well, the managing couple at Chichele is leaving to go back to private guiding, and, as a result, I have abandoned Chichele Presidential Lodge.

Also, Award Planner (www.awardplanner.com) was able to save the day again. After initially not having seats for me to start in Joburg, they have come through with seats for me, after all.

Therefore, my itinerary now looks like this:

Day 1 - Arrive Joburg at 9:30AM. 11:40AM flight to Lusaka, arriving at 1:40PM. 3PM light 1 hour 20 minute air transfer to Lukuzi in northern (Nsefu) part of South Luangwa for 3 night stay at Tafika (www.remoteafrica.com).

Tafika is the only game lodge I know of, anywhere, that has a microlight, and it will be an amazing experience to fly low over the Luangwa River over thousands of hippos and crocodiles, and also flying over elephants, buffalo and whatever else may be out there in large groups. I cannot wait to see my 63 year old mother up in the microlight, as she has promised to engage in just about anything on this trip, including bush walks and canoeing. Maybe if my wife sees my mom doing these activities she will feel enough peer pressure to also engage in these activities!

I chose Tafika over Tena Tena and Kaingo, the other two best regarded camps in the Nsefu area. Although Tafika is the same price as Tena Tena and more expensive than Kaingo, they seem to offer the best variety of activities, from bush walks, to microlighting, to cultural visits and of course morning and night game drives.

Day 4 - Light air transfer to Kutandala in North Luangwa (www.kutandala.com) for 3 night stay. Although I would have preferred a 4 night stay, by staying at two different South Luangwa lodges, I must limit my time to 3 nights. It looks like an amazing place but 3 nights may be the right amount of time considering it is all bush walks. I don't know how many times I want to chance tracking lions on foot!

Day 7 - Light air transfer to Mfuwe International Airport, servicing the Mfuwe sector of South Luangwa National Park for my 3 night stay at Luangwa River Lodge. It was a tough decision, but I chose Luangwa River Lodge over Robin Pope Safari's Nkwali and over Star Of Africa's Chichele and Puku Ridge.

Ultimately, the fact that the owners operate the lodge seemed to make the most difference. Star Of Africa had too many channels to go through before making decisions on requests I made. I will have to get to Puku Ridge some other time.

Day 10 - Transfer to Royal Airstrip in Lower Zambezi National Park to finish off my Zambian safari with 3 nights at Kasaka River Lodge. (www.kasakariverlodge.com) By saving this for last, I am hoping that the elephants will have ventured into the river to the small river islands, as all of their food resources may have been exhausted on the mainland by then. This would provide amazing photographic opportunities, as well as some very close encounters while canoeing.

Day 13 - Return to Johannesburg. I will now probably send my family off to Cape Town for 7 nights while I spend the night in Joburg and then make my way up to Simbambili the next morning for 3 nights to get some prime leopard and hopefully rhino action.

Day 17 - Transfer from Simbambili to Cape Town. 3 nights in Cape Town. With my two full days with my family, I will spend one likely visiting Hermanus and the other likely cage diving with great white sharks.

That would be an amazing holiday...microlighting over the Luangwa Valley, bush walks in North Luangwa and South Luangwa, cage diving with the great white sharks in the Western Cape, whale watching in Hermanus, and of course a plentitude of morning and evening game drives in South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
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Nov 29th, 2004, 07:42 AM
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Sounds like a great itinerary. I'm sure you'll do extensive research before booking your cage diving trip, but I have gone twice (the first time was not that great). The second time I went with White Shark Ecoventures (http://www.white-shark-diving.com ) and the guide, Robert Cope, was excellent. At that time, August 2001, the dollar was much stronger so the trip, including round trip transport from CT, breakfast and lunch, many hours on the water and half-hour whale watching in Hermanus on return, was round US$100. No matter the price, its an amazing experience.

And to top it off, we transported several oil-soaked penguins from Hermanus to the CT aquarium!

Michael
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Dec 2nd, 2004, 03:19 AM
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(Actually this is Rocco responding, on my wife's laptop, from Costa Rica, not wanting to log in/log out, etc.)

Thit Cho,

I will definitely have a look at the cage diving operator that you recommend. I only get one shot at this, as next time, I may very well opt to skip South Africa entirely if the dollar does not improve or if I go to East Africa next.

I do wish that I, personally, had a couple more nights in Cape Town, but not so much that I am willing to sacrifice 3 nights at Simbambili. 15 nights of safari at five different game lodges in four different national parks should be an incredible experience.

Hehe...here I am in Costa Rica, and people are lining up to pay $100 for a half day crocodile tour. While at Kaingo, in South Luangwa (www.kaingo.com), all one had to do was step out of their chalet, walk about ten paces forward and that put them at the edge of the river bank, with no less than a dozen hippos present and an equal number of crocs, and this within about a 500 foot stretch of river!

It is amusing to be here in Costa Rica on a group trip with people in my same industry, and to hear all of the "scared Americans" see what they believe to be a 3rd world country, amazed that the people actually have to step foot outside their door of their house (that is no less than you would find in a low income area of the USA) to still use a pay telephone.

In any event, I am so looking forward to next summer. Tafika, besides offering microlighting, bush walks and game drives also offers cultural visits to a nearby local village, and I think this will be an excellent intro for my mom and sister (both of whom love children, and my sister as a teacher, should enjoy visiting a Zambian school).

Kutandala is important since it will contribute to the conservation of North Luangwa. Imagine, a park seven times larger than the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, yet with only three small seasonal camps, offering a maximum capacity of 24 guests, with mostly only bush walks available. I am guessing that we will be the only guests in camp during our stay, having the whole camp to ourselves (there is only the capacity for six, and I would be surprised if Kutandala would want to mix a family group of four with two strangers, as that is usually how things are done in Zambia, as far as my past experiences go). There will literally be no other guests for probably 15 miles in each direction.

Luangwa River Lodge will be a nice, luxurious way to wrap up things in the South Luangwa. It is nearest to Mfuwe Lodge, yet opposite the river, probably about a mile or two away, hopefully offering all of the excellent gameviewing that takes place around Mfuwe Lodge, without all of the traffic that passes by Mfuwe Lodge (and without 20 beds, as Mfuwe Lodge has availalbe). Currently Luangwa River Lodge, I believe, only has capacity for 6 guests, making it likely again, that we will have the place to ourselves, although they are building a luxurious house that will be much like Robin's House at Nkwali, a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house, that will accomodate families, providing them with private guide and vehicle, private chef, private valets, as well as a private swimming pool.

Either way, at no additional charge, we are being provided with our own private guide and vehicle. What an amazing value for only $350 pppns.

Although feedback has been limited, I have read very good things about Luangwa River Lodge, thus far.

About Kasaka River Lodge, the Lower Zambezi, whether at Kasaka, Sausage Tree Camp or Chiawa, is a must see place for the unacquainted. Such a beautiful area!!! I can hardly wait to jump on a canoe and again brave the hippo/croc infested waters, this time in mid-September, with likely elephants also in the river, as they cross over onto the small river islands to eat, as most of their vegetation on the mainland will have been exhausted by mid-September.

Simbambili will be an excellent way to round things out, as it is reknowned for its leopards, but if I am lucky I will also be rewarded with rhinos and wild dogs. There were numerous wild dog spottings there a few months ago, although I don't remember if they stuck around until mid-September or not.

A couple days of whale watching and cage diving with great white sharks will the absolute perfect way to round things out.

Tafika, South Luangwa (3)
Kutandala, North Luangwa (3)
Luangwa River Lodge, South Luangwa (3)
Kasaka River Lodge, Lower Zambezi (3)
Westcliff Hotel?, Joburg (1)
Simbambili, Sabi Sand (3)
V&A Waterfront Luxury Apartment, Cape Town (3)

For anybody visiting Zambia with a group of four or more, it is possible to save about 20% off normal air transfer rates by contacting Airwaves Airlink directly and chartering your own flights. I was pleasantly surprised at the quotation I received back for the five short flights I will require (Lusaka - Lukuzi, Mfuwe - Lubonga, Lubonga - Mfuwe, Mfuwe - Royal, Royal - Lusaka). It worked out to about $700 per person.

For our 12 night Zambian safari, even with air transfers it worked out to $412 per person per night, and this in high season with no special rates offered.

Tafika - $400 pppns
Kutandala - $400 pppns
Luangwa River Lodge - $325 pppns
Kasaka River Lodge - $285 pppns

Average per lodge = $352.50 pppns
$352.50 x 12 = $4,230 + $710 air = $4,940 per person.

One thing is certain, while in Zambia (or Cape Town), I will not be writing longingly about my next visit to Costa Rica. Great place, but nothing even remotely in the same league as Southern Africa!
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Dec 2nd, 2004, 05:57 AM
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That's a great itinerary.

I found Costa Rica interesting for a short trip -- the gold museum in San Jose is interesting, and we had a good time in and around Monteverde (we saw a quetzal on our first walk), and lots of other wildlife. If you have a chance, the zip line is a lot of fun (you're harnessed by pulleys to long zip lines and you glide through the canopy at least 100' above ground).

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Dec 7th, 2004, 06:29 AM
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Thit Cho,

I am back home now...did the Canopy tour and, quite honestly, it was a little unnerving! Just hated being all strapped up and buckled up and I guess I have never been a fan of heights!

My favorite activity of the tour was going seakayaking to a private beach where there was nobody other than my wife and I and the other couple that traveled with us to Costa Rica. It was a good 30 minutes in each direction and once we were there we just hung out for a couple hours, taking a short hike up to a waterfall that eventually drained into the Pacific.

Also, I went white water rafting a couple times, and while it was fun, the drive of 2+ hours in each direction, was not so fun.

Overall, Costa Rica had about triple the amount of tourists I was expecting and I didn't find it at all exotic but rather saturated with American interests and American tourists.

If ever in the Jaco area, however, the Los Suenos Marriott is a beautiful resort with fine dining and excellent facilities onsite.
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Dec 7th, 2004, 03:46 PM
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Roccco,

Here is one more glowing comment about Kutandala. I was there in July 2003 and was so impressed I have tried to get Outside Magazine to consider Kutandala for its annual "best bush camp" award.
So far I've not been successful, but will keep trying.

Rod and Guz, the managers are indeed lovely and really put have put their heart and soul into the operation. I first met them in 1997 at a different camp in South Luangwa where Guz was the caterer and Rod was a guide.

I am a huge Africa fan, but I don't usually get that excited about the various camps, which are all really nice in my opinion. It is the wildlife that truly interests me. But I have to say Kutandala itself, aside from anything we saw on the walks, was just a magical experience. I am not one to gush over accommodations, but I have to make an exception for Kutandala.

With Rod guiding the walks, there also was plenty of exciting wildlife from herds of buffalo to lions to elephants crossing the Mwaleshi to a bush pig.

I had to weigh in on this location you have chosen and I wish you a wonderful time on the rest of your trip.
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Jan 16th, 2005, 12:37 AM
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I agree totally with your inclusion of Kasaka in your itinerary. I found it by chance last year, stayed four nights, and wished that I could have stayed another four. The hospitality there is superb. The Lower Zambesi is still relatively undiscovered, but it is enchanting. The combination of the South Luangwa with the Lower Zambesi makes for the perfect safari. I'll take Zambia over Botswana any day.
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Jan 16th, 2005, 05:52 AM
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Roccco -- I promise you that there are parts of Costa Rica that would blow you away...next time try spending some time at one of the luxury ecolodges on the Osa Peninsula, in the vicinity of Corcovado National Park. Very remote and somewhat pricey -- you have to fly in and then be transported on some horrible roads -- but the advantage of that is that very few tourists make it down there, and those that do are there because the wildlife experience is unique. Waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys and scarlet macaws in the jungle is an unforgettable experience! (So is getting a massage outside on your private verandah while toucans and squirrel monkeys watch.) Hiking through old growth rainforest with massive trees, seeing tree sloths and spider monkeys and capuchins...it really is lovely. No, it's not Africa -- and I too have caught the Africa bug and will be going again this year and agree that there's nothing like it -- but Costa Rica has its own charms, especially if you know where to look.
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Jan 16th, 2005, 04:08 PM
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Lisa,

Thanks for the advice. I wouldn't mind returning to Costa Rica to visit the places that you described. Sounds like a nice 1 week getaway for the future.
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