Just back from South Africa -- wow, wow, wow!!

Reply

Dec 12th, 2003, 02:30 PM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,297
Just back from South Africa -- wow, wow, wow!!

Just back from South Africa ? wow, wow, wow!! Our departure was delayed by 3 days due to work, and getting there was a nightmare. But the trip was incredible.

Flew DCA-DTW-AMS-LHR-JNB-HDS. Yes, you read that right. Fortunately, all of the long flights were in business class which made it tolerable. We did have quite the series of mishaps. After already having been delayed by 3 days, imagine our chagrin when our NW flight from DTW to AMS had a mechanical problem and sat on the runway for almost 4 hours before departing, causing us to miss our connecting flight from AMS to JNB. Having already missed the first three days of our trip, we were determined not to miss another. So upon our late arrival in AMS, we eventually managed something which I now look back on as almost miraculous: We somehow persuaded the ?It Is Not Possible? KLM agents at the transfer desk to fly us to Heathrow and put us on a BA flight to JNB later that same day. Don?t ask me how. Thank goodness we hadn?t checked any baggage. We arrived in JNB in the early morning (impressive airport BTW), went straight to the ABSA ATM machine to withdraw some Rand, inserted my card (which had worked in Europe, Asia, Australia...), punched in my 4-digit pin, and read the message on the screen: ?Your card has been retained.? No explanation, no nothing...no cash. At this point it was starting to seem like someone was deliberately conspiring to make our trip as challenging as possible. Went and bought a phone card so I could call my credit union and cancel my ATM card. Fortunately my sweetie still had his ATM card, so we were OK. Finally, we caught our South African Airways flight to Hoedspruit.

Landing at HDS airport, we emerged bleary-eyed from our 5 flights and over 30 hours with almost no sleep, and were met by warthogs running along next to our plane! We picked up our Toyota Condor from Europcar, and turning out of the airport we saw our first giraffes. It finally felt like we had arrived! It was a short drive to Orpen Gate at Kruger, and upon entering the park in the heat and bright sun of early afternoon, we began spotting wildlife almost immediately. Impala, zebra, giraffe, baboons, waterbuck, warthogs, elephant, hippos, crocodile, wildebeest, two baby hyenas, and more bird life than we could believe. Dozens of masked weavers building nests. Vultures, hawks, storks, eagles, herons, francolins. Three enormous kori busters (which we were later told are Africa?s largest flying birds). We were stopping so much to look at wildlife that we soon began to worry that we weren?t going to make it to Olifants before the camp gates closed at 6:30pm.

Shortly after 6pm we pulled past the enormous elephant tusks at Olifants gate and proceeded to reception. Unfortunately, the reservation we had made 11 months earlier for a river view bungalow was for 3 days previous. Had we arrived as originally scheduled, we would have been given bungalow number 9. Instead, we got bungalow 96. Still on the perimeter, but no river view. Oh well. Our bungalow was more rustic than we had expected, but the beds were comfortable, and we were so exhausted from our journey that we slept like rocks. In fact, we slept right through the river walk we had booked for 9AM the next morning. Whoops. We never even heard our alarms. Apparently someone had pounded on our door trying to wake us, but we never heard them. We were like zombies. When we finally awoke around 10AM, we went to reception and apologized, but from that morning on it was clear that we were persona non grata as far as Olifants front desk was concerned. Since we were there, we decided to ask whether any river view bungalows had opened up, and were told that they had not, but they could move us to another perimeter view bungalow. Immediately after they told us this, another woman walked up to the desk, asked for a river view bungalow, and was given one with a smile.

We moved to bungalow 106, which was significantly nicer than our previous one, and did have a distant view of the river through the trees and brush. I use the term ?river? here loosely, as the area was experiencing a fairly serious drought, and the Olifants river was so dry that it was nothing more than a series of puddles. Hippos could be seen huddling together in the small pools, and huge herds of elephants wandered the water holes, drinking and dousing themselves. Our bungalow had a nice verandah with a table and 2 chairs, and the camp had an enormous viewing deck overlooking the river, where we sat on benches each morning and ate breakfast sandwiches while watching the wildlife. It was a lovely setting. The camp also has a restaurant where we ate a buffet-style dinner each night. The food was pretty decent ? roast meats, soups, salad, cooked vegetables, rice, potatoes, etc. ? nothing fancy, but just fine. Desserts were really bad though. They all seemed vaguely Jell-O based. The camp has a small store where we purchased fruit, cheese, cashews, juice, bottled water, etc. for picnic lunches which we brought on our drives each day. They also sell beer and wine which we enjoyed back at our bungalow in the evenings. Overall we found the wines to be incredibly reasonable in price, and very good.

What we enjoyed most about Kruger was having the freedom to drive ourselves around the park and explore as we wished. The park was amazingly uncrowded compared with U.S. National Parks. We drove long periods without seeing any other cars. In general the roads were excellent. Surprises were always just around the next bend in the road. Sometimes we would drive for almost an hour without seeing much of anything...and then suddenly there was a huge herd of elephants, or a lioness walking toward us down a gravel road, or a herd of buffalo.

During our second evening at Kruger, it began to rain, and when we awoke the next morning, the land had been transformed. Where before there had been puddles, there was now a raging river! The change was remarkable.

My favorite experience at Kruger was the morning game walk I took at Olifants. There were seven of us plus a ranger and a tracker (both armed). At one point we were completely surrounded by a herd of over 30 elephants of all sizes. We got to watch an old bull enjoying a mudbath, saw a female nursing a calf, and we were charged by one of the young bulls and had to beat a hasty retreat behind a large rock. I will never forget what it felt like to have a giraffe look me in the eye as I stood about 15 feet away from him, or hear the sound of lions roaring (unseen). The tracker fished a baboon spider out of a hole and picked it up for us to see ? it was furry and so large that it barely fit in the palm of his hand. While I was on the game walk, my fiancé went mountain biking ? just himself and two armed rangers. He enjoyed the ride a lot despite being hampered by a bike whose gears weren?t working properly. They got quite close to some hippos. We also went on a game drive one evening, during which we got very close to a herd of elephants, including some bulls who were in must ? the ranger pointed out the telltale fluid running down the sides of their temples and the distinctive spicy/musky scent.

Overall we had great game viewing in Kruger. The only one of the Big Five we did not see in our three days there was leopard, nor did we see cheetah or male lions. We did see 3 white rhinos. Herds of elephants were massive and numerous. At one point a large herd of elephants crossed the road in front of our vehicle, and there were so many we could not count them all.

Still to come: Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge in Sabi Sands, and Cape Town....to be continued next week.
lisa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 12th, 2003, 10:31 PM
  #2
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 32
Lisa,

Sounds like an exciting trip thus far. Please let us all know how the game viewing is in Sabi Sands versus the other parts within Kruger. I have read that it is one of the best (in terms of density of game). I am planning on stay in that region and would appreciate your thoughts.
jet_setter is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 13th, 2003, 08:07 AM
  #3
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,657
Oh boy! You were brave to do self drive at the start ESPECIALLY after that 30 hours of flying. Can't wait to read the rest of your report.
uhoh_busted is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 14th, 2003, 08:07 AM
  #4
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,142
Lisa
Thanks for the report, and so glad that, after your nightmare marathon journey, that the wonders of Kruger were laid out for you!
Sorry to hear about the unfriendly staff at Olifants desk - we're booked in there for June next year.
Just curious as to whether you were charged for the missed booking at Olifants?
Can't wait to hear about the rest!
Kind Regards
Kavey
Kavey is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 15th, 2003, 03:03 PM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,297
Part II: Chitwa Chitwa
On the fourth day, we checked out of Olifants around 9am and hit the road for Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge in Sabi Sands, taking the scenic route back to Orpen gate and stopping often along the way for more game viewing. The weather was unusually cold compared with the previous few days. We arrived at Chitwa Chitwa around 2:30 in the afternoon, in time for a tasty lunch and a few minutes to settle in before the 4pm game drive. We were greeted by Nikki, the manager (originally from Australia), who explained the schedule, the rules (basically, don?t go swimming in the water hole, due to the resident crocodile), etc. to us over lunch in the lovely open-air bar/lounge/pool area.

At 4pm all the guests (10 including us) gathered in the bar for coffee and tea and cakes, where we were met by the tracker, DeBeer, and the ranger/driver/comedian, Mike. They asked what we were most interested in seeing, and we told them that the only one of the Big Five we had not seen was leopard. ?Oh, that?s easy here!? Mike assured us. We piled into the Rover and were quickly off in pursuit of a pair of leopards who had been seen mating in the area the previous day. As we drove, we couldn?t help noticing how different Sabi Sands was from Kruger. For one thing, the brush and foliage were much more dense, and it was generally not as pretty as Kruger. For another thing, most of the animals we were spotting ? impala, zebra, giraffe, etc. ? were not in large herds as they had been in Kruger. And compared with Kruger, there were very few elephants.

But Sabi Sands had other advantages that Kruger did not. That evening we came across a pride of four lionesses with two cubs, relaxing in the grass as the sun was going down. The cubs were wrestling playfully and running around in a very entertaining way. And later, after dark, we finally saw our first leopard ? not one, but two! A female leopard was in a tree, munching away at a baby impala, as her cub sat on the ground looking up at her and drooling. Finally she brought what was left of the impala down to the ground and looked like she was thinking about sharing some with her cub, when suddenly a hyena jumped out of a bush and tried to steal the kill. The hyena was unsuccessful, and the leopard quickly dragged the impala carcass back up the tree. After she finished eating, she climbed down and, in front of her cub, slowly licked all of the blood off her paws and cleaned her face, as if to say, ?Mmm, that was delicious. Too bad there?s none left for you!? She was a gorgeous animal, and seeing her so close was amazing.

We returned to our room after the drive very impressed with what we had seen. Shortly we heard the drums being played, signifying that dinner was served. All the guests gathered in the bar area for drinks before walking to the boma where our tables were arranged in a semicircle around a large fire. The cook described the menu and we proceeded to the buffet, which was full of delicious food. Exhausted, we retired to our lovely and comfortable room immediately after dinner. Our bed had been turned down for us and the mosquito netting lowered, looking very inviting.

At 5AM the following morning we were awakened by Mike knocking on our door for the morning game drive. We were starting to get a feel for the locations where game was often spotted and for the other rangers and trackers with whom Mike and DeBeer shared information on tracking and spotting. Interestingly, one of the other game lodges we had considered staying at, Elephant Plains, shared traversing rights with Chitwa Chitwa over the same area, and Mike and DeBeer spoke highly of EP?s rangers and trackers. They also communicated a great deal with the rangers and trackers at Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge?s sister lodge, Game Lodge. Halfway through the morning game drives we always found a pleasant place to stop for coffee and rusks, and halfway through the evening game drives we would find somewhere lovely to watch the sunset while enjoying sundowners.

Morning game drives were followed by a hearty cooked breakfast, featuring wonderful baked goods, fruits, cereals, juices, eggs, bacon, etc. After breakfast, DeBeer would take guests on a walk if they wished (I went with him one day and learned about various interesting birds and plants). Lunch was served at half past one and was always delicious as well. Then guests would rest or relax by the pool until the evening game drive at 4pm. The swimming pool and sundeck overlooked the waterhole, which was frequently visited by game. We were also fortunate in that our bungalow, number 1, overlooked the waterhole. It was exciting to look out and see buffalo, impala, waterbuck, and duiker so close. Our bungalow was a thatched-roof rondavel which we absolutely loved. It featured two showers, one outside and one inside, plus a huge soaking tub with a massive picture window above it overlooking the water hole. The bungalow was air conditioned and also had a ceiling fan over the bed which kept it comfortable.

During the game drive on the second night of our stay, we had the privilege of witnessing two leopards mating, which was unbelievable. On the third night we saw another pride of female lions and cubs. We also saw elephant, buffalo, hippos, rhino, zebra, giraffe, and all sorts of great birds on various drives. Mike and DeBeer were really fantastic, and their enthusiasm for the game viewing was contagious. The whole staff were quite excellent, all very likable and hard-working and eager to please. The small size of the lodge ? only 5 bungalows ? added to the comfortable feeling of the place. Other guests we met were from Germany, Spain, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands.

After 3 terrific nights at Chitwa Chitwa, we sadly bade goodbye to Nikki and Mike and drove back to Hoedspruit for our flight to Cape Town... (to be continued tomorrow)
lisa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 15th, 2003, 10:03 PM
  #6
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 32
Lisa,

Loved your exploits in Sabi Sands. Ironic that you stated Chitwa Chitwa shared traversing grounds with Elephant Plains because that is where my wife and I will be staying in July 2004. Sounds like fantastic game viewing. I have a question for you. Would you recommend flying into HDS from JNB or taking a charter flight direct to the camp. I guess my question is, how scenic is the drive from HDS to camps in Sabi Sands?
jet_setter is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 16th, 2003, 07:53 AM
  #7
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,297
Jetsetter -- I wouldn't say the drive was scenic. On the other hand, it's not long or hard either. If you don't mind spending the money and don't mind the little puddlejumper planes, go ahead and fly in. We were glad we drove though, because going through the little towns on the way allowed us to at least get a glimpse of how most South Africans really live. We saw lots of cinder-block and tin dwellings. I think even that small dose of reality was a healthy thing for us to see and be reminded of. We stopped to buy gas at a BP station in one of the little towns and there was a thriving little outdoor market where the locals were buying eggs, bread, live chickens, greens, etc. Very interesting to see. And we drove by lots of cattle and goat farms.

I think you will enjoy Elephant Plains. A family from Finland who were at Chitwa Chitwa with us for two days went to Elephant Plains immediately following and we ran into them on our game drive that evening (we all met for sundowners on Big Dam -- you'll see!). They really liked their rooms at EP but also really liked Chitwa Chitwa -- they said they were different but both great. And I know the rangers and trackers at EP are really good. The vehicles they use are almost identical. You will probably meet Mike and DeBeer from Chitwa Chitwa on one of your game drives (or you will at least hear Mike over the radio during the drives). Mike is a trip. Very silly, but a fantastic guy. And he had the utmost respect for the folks from EP. I will be interested to hear how you like it there, as we had a hard time deciding between Chitwa Chitwa and EP. They were two of the more reasonably-priced places with excellent reputations in the area.

In terms of game viewing, if you want to see leopard, I don't think you can beat the area, and you will almost certainly see all of the big five. And you will see them close up! However, you will not see the massive herds of elephant, buffalo, etc. that we saw in Kruger. For some reason they just don't have them in the same numbers; I'm not sure why.

Kavey -- Yes, we were charged for the 3 missed nights at Kruger as well as all the activities we had booked and paid for in advance. If you cancel anything less than 7 days in advance, you lose 100% of what you paid, unfortunately. We knew this, but it couldn't be helped. By the way -- If I were you I would fax or e-mail Olifants with your reservation number, and request bungalow number 10. We scoped all of them out and thought that one had the best view. If you can't get number 10 then ask for any of numbers 1-24 with the best possible river view. They will try to accommodate your request, and give priority to those written requests that they receive furthest in advance. The camp manager at Olifants is Mr. Hein Grobler and his e-mail address is [email protected]. His assistants are Mari du Plessis and Julia. And make sure you sign up for at least one of the game walks at Olifants -- they are awesome! By the way, the drive to Olifants is going to be extremely long. I don't know if you have a map, but just to drive from Lower Sabie rest camp in the southern region of the park to Olifants is almost a 5 hour drive. They are not kidding about the drive times.
lisa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 16th, 2003, 09:17 AM
  #8
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 9,142
Thanks so much for the tips. I have booked a river view bungalow so will email as you suggested.

We will definitely prebook some activities, and include the walk, thanks for that. I'm not hugely agile as I have arthritic hips but think I could do a slow walk for a few hours.

Kavey is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 16th, 2003, 09:40 AM
  #9
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,657
So was that guy, DeBeer, a real "diamond-in-the-rough?" (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)

I am really enjoying reading your report. more! more!
uhoh_busted is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 17th, 2003, 01:51 AM
  #10
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,719
I'm really enjoying reading your report! It's brought back lots of memories of our SA trip in February.
Funnily enough, I reckon we were in hut 9 or 10 at Olifants. I can certainly vouch for the view!

Which ranger took you on your bush walk? We had a great chap that looked just like your typical "Great White Hunter" - tall and rangy with a moustache, khaki shorts, knee socks, the works. Can't remember his name, but he was an excellent guide. It was incredibly windy the morning we went on our walk, so the animals were lying low, but it was still a thrilling experience.

Can't wait to hear about Cape Town
hanl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 17th, 2003, 08:18 AM
  #11
sandi
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
lisa -

Love reading your trip report. Does seem that with exception of the delay, you did have a great trip so far; waiting on the rest. Thanks
 
Reply With Quote
Dec 17th, 2003, 10:07 AM
  #12
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 532
Great report Lisa! Looking forward to the rest!

You'd mentioned 10 guests (including yourselves) at Chitwa Chitwa -- did all of you have the same vehicle for the game drive? Was that a bit crowded?
hlphillips2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 19th, 2003, 01:11 PM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,297
Sorry I've been very delinquent in leaving this thread for so long. Bad, Lisa, bad!

Hanl -- Yes, I'm sure we must have had the exact same "Great white hunter" guy that you had. He was almost a caricature.

Uhoh busted -- Actually, yes, DeBeer WAS a real gem

Hlphilips2 -- The vehicle held 3 rows of 3 people each, plus one seat next to the driver (DeBeer sat on a special "tracker" chair out front as did all the trackers), so when the lodge was full, the vehicle was too -- but we didn't find it crowded. And the vehicle was only full on 2 out of our 6 game drives. In fact, on one drive there were only 4 of us. On another drive there were 8, and on the other there were 6. So it wasn't bad.

I'll have to finish this next week -- Cape Town is still to come, I promise.
lisa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 18th, 2005, 05:53 PM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,297
To the top for muzaway...yes, this is now almost 2 years old...
lisa is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 19th, 2005, 06:21 AM
  #15
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 52
Cheers Lisa,

Printed it out and read it last night, very informative.

Think I may have narrowed things down to Idube, Chitwa Chitwa and Exeter River Lodge.

Muz
muzaway is offline  
Reply With Quote
Aug 19th, 2005, 06:49 AM
  #16
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 1,766
You may see large herds of Elephant and Buffalo in the Sabi Sand, you were just unlucky in your timing. I have regularly seen a herd of over 600 Buffalo at Mala Mala, and up to 50 Elephant.
napamatt is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 07:04 AM.