Kwetsani in June (Trip report, continued)

Old Jul 3rd, 2004, 10:07 AM
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Kwetsani in June (Trip report, continued)

I'm skipping a bit as I continue my trip report, and will come back to Duma Tau. Its more complicated and raises issues that might belong in a separate thread...

Kwetsani however was fabulous. Did 4 nights at the end of the trip (during the first part of June), and enjoyed having the extra time to relax and really enjoy a place.

I think Kwetsani is even more beautiful than Mombo. The island, the dining area, and the accomodations were extraordinarily beautiful, and just the right combination of comfort, and rustic elegance. Accomodations were lovely-- not too large, but big enough to be comfortable. Photos don't do this place justice. The walkways between the 5 "tents" are long and make each very private. Also saw the most wildlife action around and under the walkways-- bushbucks and their young... fantastic birds.

But the excitement began before our arrival at camp. The guide told us a lion pride had just arrived at the airstrip that day and were waiting for us to take their photos. Fabulous encounter-- male, 3 females, one playful adolescent. The guide was super about positioning us, and let us stay until almost sundown...then it was time to zip off by boat to the Kwetsani island.

Kwetsani was developed and managed by the same group that did Jao (and the new highly acclaimed Tubu Tree) and it shows both in the perfect camp and the superb service. The managers and staff were absolutely the best here-- we felt like personal guests at a fantastic houseparty, the whole time.

The first greeting was with candles and marvelous sherry (as they did every evening).
Managers were just the best I have experienced. Their introductory discussion was honest and wonderful. Don't expect this area to have the amazing density of wildlife of Mombo...they would work really hard to find us the photogenic animals, but the charms of Kwetsani and the Jao concessions are those of a water camp, thereful more subtle. I appreciated their honesty and candor-- and although what he said was true, we had a marvelous wildlife experience here.

Game drives are done primarily on Hunda island, a large permanent island, as the plains in front of the camp were still flooded. We would boat over to Hunda-- a 25 to 75 minute boat trip depending on how much time we took to watch birds and hippos on the way! Even on Hunda, the game was not prolific-- in the June season with lots of water, the animals are dispersed. But we had beautiful close interactions with elephants, lots of lion action, very photogenic warthogs in front of their den...fantastic birds. Good walks, too-- we got very close to warthogs and various antelopes on foot. An added bonus that shows managements creative flexibility: since you have to boat a fair distance over the island, they offered us a day-long drive with picnic lunch for one of the days to maximize the time we could spend on Hunda. It was marvelous!

We loved the mekoro so much that we did this twice. It is extraordinary to experience the delta in flood in a silent mekoro. A bit of advice: do take mosquito headnets that fit over your hat...mekoros are perfect if you have one, and if you don't you'll end up saying they are perfect EXCEPT for the tiny gnats around your face!

Got stuck in a deep channel, and had a bit of fun watching how the rescue vehicle from Tubu Tree pulled us out. Fun, but don't put any of your gear on the floor if you are going through water!

Biggest excitement: a pride of lion moved into camp one night...we saw and photographed them the next morning on our way out to our drive. When we returned for lunch, the manager said he thought they might hunt in the afternoon, because there were lots of lechwe in the soggy, water-covered plain in front of the camp. Did we want to him to wake/get us if the lion started to move? Yes, yes, YES.

Of course the lion made their move while I was in the (outdoor) shower. I have NEVER in my life moved so fast. Dressed while still soaking wet, grabbed camera a knotted wet mess. I was the first one on the vehicle!!

Everyone piled in the vehicle, and we drove out to find the lion. The grass was so tall that the lion were hidden... we heard roaring, but still no lion in sight. Scanning with binocs from the back seat, I saw a flash of black tail above the grass. THERE!! One of my most thrilling safari moments, ever.

We approached, very close. The male, snarling and roaring, was trying to keep the carcass entirely to himself...the most assertive female trying to edge her way in... the others were making do with a small morsel torn off or waiting for their chance.

We took plenty of photos, but when he driver tried to restart the vehicle it wouldn't start. Kept was dead! He admitted that he had heard a troubling noise from the vehicle just as we drove up.

Oh well-- if we were to be stranded, there couldn't be a more exciting place. There was some joking questions about whether lions understood the difference between a vehicle that could drive away and an injured, incapacitated one. Perhaps these still-hungry females could put two and two together and figure out that there were 8 defenseless, edible humans in this broken vehicle less than 8 feet away...

Anyway, we had a superb time at Kwetsani, in all aspects. Mombo certainly has the most dense, intense, varied wildlife, but other than that, Kwetsani has it beat, both in natural beauty, lovely and appropriate accomodations, and service level.

I've thought a bit about the contrast between the two water camps I've visited, Vumbura and Kwetsani. Vumbura wins on variety of wildlife and the beauty of the water channels surrounded by high papyrus and reeds. ( I do love boating through those narrow channels surrounded by tall greens.) Kwetsani wins on the beauty of the campsite, view from the tents, accomodations and service level.
I love them both!

Further, I think the management of the Jao concession is superb---they are the one set of camps within Wilderness Safaris that is managed separately. It shows flair, commitment to guests and attention to detail...fabulous.
tashak is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2004, 03:25 PM
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fantastic report tashak. seeing bushbucks below you sounds incredible. thanks and i am very curious what your first comment about duma tau means. i look forward to the details.
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Old Jul 8th, 2004, 04:32 AM
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tashak - I'm still on the edge of my seat over your Duma Tau comment. What's the scoop?
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Old Jul 8th, 2004, 09:19 AM
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Hi Favor,
I'm not trying to build suspense...just waiting to tell this story to see if I get a reply from Wilderness on a pretty tough review I sent through my travel agent.

But the essence of it was this:
1) WS new policy of only using guides, and not trackers/spotters is not good. It is fine for some camps-- like Mombo, or the water camps where you don't do night drives, but in places like Duma Tau night drives with only a guide are a waste of time. (Or worse.)

2) WS management needs to have more flexible staffing and planning to give guests a good experience, and this flexibility was not evident at DT. Staffing was too groups too inflexible to adjust to changing conditions and guest requirements.

Basically, our stay at DT was not up to the standards that we expect from WS.
But in fairness to WS, I thought I would wait to post a review of this camp until I get their reply!

For those planning future trips, however, I should mention that this area is very hit-miss for wildlife until things dry out-- I suppose by August, but certainly by September/October. And if a camp doesn't have some flexibility with boats, vehicles and staffing to figure out how to give guests a good experience when wildlife is on the light side, it is a problem. So I'm not complaining that we were unlucky with wildlife-- some of my very best memories of Africa are of days without any exciting animals. But I wasn't happy that DT didn't seem to have the means or flexibility to make lemonade when nature deals you lemons...
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Old Jul 8th, 2004, 11:18 AM
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Thanks tashak - I thought it was some exciting animal encounter, and you were trying to craft just the right prose to sum up the experience! - oh well. Exactly when were you there?
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Old Jul 11th, 2004, 03:26 PM
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Just back from our safari, which included a 2-night stay at Duma Tau. The game viewing was fantastic - highlights were lion cubs and a leopard on our first day, and a wild dog kill on our last day. Still, I think I would have to say that this camp was the least favorite of ours. Don't get me wrong - we enjoyed ourselves, but after Xigera and Chitabe Trails, the atmosphere just seemed different. I can't really put my finger on what it was that bothered us - there did seem to be a bit less flexibility in catering to guests. For example, our flight from Chitabe Trails was delayed, so we were asked if we would like to go directly to a game drive upon arrival at Duma Tau. We said - definitely. Only to find that because another flight was also delayed, the managers had opted to change those plans and we were taken directly to camp instead - losing an hour of daylight time for our game drive. Perhaps it was the fact that the managers did not seem as interested in their guests - from what I gathered they were temporary and due to leave camp shortly. All that said, I have to give kudos to our guide - Cilas was fantastic and did a great job of sighting wildlife for us. I would highly recommend him to anyone staying at Duma Tau. I plan to post a full review and some of my 1600+ photos - when time permits, that is.
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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 07:56 AM
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You were very lucky to have Cilas I hear he is the best...if the best at a place that needs improvement.
And glad to hear that you had such great wildlife sightings...

Also happy to hear that Chitabe Trails was good-- it's one of my favorites, and I wish we had done this during the June trip instead of DT.
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Old Jul 12th, 2004, 08:03 AM
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In January of 2003 I stayed at Duma Tau and also had Cilas as a guide. He is exceptional in his game spotting while driving. He was particularly good following the wild dogs on a hunt and we were at the kill moments after the dogs caught an impala.

I totally agree on night drives, there is a big need for a spotter in addition to a guide. I do spotlight surveys for black-footed ferrets and other wildlife and I could not believe that the driver was the only spotlighter -- very difficult to do both the whole way. We were lucky at Duma Tau again that Cilas was an excellent spotter and we had some great sightings on our night drive but it is clearly not the best way to do it and I doubt many guides could do it well.
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Old Jul 13th, 2004, 03:55 PM
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After reading that how can I possibly only schedule 2 nights?!

Makes me both scared and excited to submit a itinerary to agents.
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Old Jul 14th, 2004, 01:23 AM
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It IS hard to finalise the first itinerary... at least once you have been once you know what you liked best and didn't like as much (not that this makes the agonising any less).
I am sure you'll love whichever camps you select!
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