Return from SA

Oct 8th, 2003, 03:48 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 30
Return from SA

We just returned from South Africa and had a fantastic trip. Below was our trip plan and each place had it's own incredible sigtings...over 100 roles of film for the 16 nights. If anyone has any particular questions I would be happy to answer from our experience and opinion.

3 Nights Londolozi - Safari Lodge
2 Nights Kapama
3 Nights Capetown - Table Bay Hotel
1 Night Franschhoek - Grand Provance B & B
2 Nights Hemanus - Le Fontaine Guest House
2 Nights Knysna - Phantom Forest Lodge
3 Nights Phinda - Forest Lodge

Recreational items included:

Guided Tour of Cape Point
The City Bus of Capetown
Mama Africa's
Capetown Dining - Codfather's, Baia
Winery visits in Franschhoek and Stellenbosh
Whale Watching Boat Tour in Hermanus
Shark Diving
Whale Watching Boat tour in Knysna

leoville is offline  
Oct 8th, 2003, 05:14 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 49
Welcome back! I'd be curious to know what you thought of Phantom Forest? Also, did you see any sharks on your shark dive?
OSC is offline  
Oct 8th, 2003, 11:22 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
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I would be interested about the place you stayed in Franschoek...would you reccomend it or did you visit see other places you would have referred. Also how was the Le Fontaine Guest House in Hermanus.

Thank you,
d43 is offline  
Oct 8th, 2003, 11:41 AM
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... and what about Phinda Forest - did you meet Guy or Benson, Kenny G, Jabu, or any others on the staff? Which chalet - #3? Did you enjoy the verandah for meals? What about trhe sand forest - isn't it great! Details, please.
Oct 9th, 2003, 06:19 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,305
We will be in SA in November-December, so I would love more details. We'll be at Chitwa Chitwa in Sabi Sands for 3 nights, in Kruger for 6, & in Cape Town for 6. Would love to hear your recommendations/suggestions for Cape Town in terms of restaurants, sightseeing, wineries, etc. Also, I don't know if you have your photos developed yet (100 rolls -- yikes!), but we are avid amateurs & would love any tips in terms of the lenses, film speed, etc. that you found most useful. This will be our first game viewing experience so would also appreciate hearing about what you saw, enjoyed, etc.
lisa is offline  
Oct 9th, 2003, 07:20 AM
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Lisa - one day on the top of the mountain, when it's clear - one day RT to the penisula.

Food - restaurantt in Cape Grace Hotel is terrific. Try the waterfront area as well. Lots of fun things to do, sort of like Fishermans' Wharf in San Fran.

Also, Camp Bays offers good places to dine.
Oct 9th, 2003, 08:19 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 35
Like Travelsmiles, I'm interested in Phinda. What sorts of game did you see there?
Thanks for posting.
Joey is offline  
Oct 9th, 2003, 08:25 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Welcome home! I'd love to hear anything about the trip you'd be willing to share, all the places you visited, the meals you ate (where, cost), more about the hotels, people you met, game viewing, just all of it!!!
Kavey is offline  
Oct 9th, 2003, 08:27 AM
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Joey, from my two times at Phinda I can tell you you see it all, every day. Big Five galore. Phinda consists of seven ecosystems, and the rangers are very good educating you about the particular area you're in. There are also hundreds of birds species in that part of Natal. Phinda is world class.
Oct 9th, 2003, 11:22 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 145
Was your trip a pre-packaged tour, or did you organize and select all the places you visited yourself?

What was best, what was worst? What would you recommend from your experience?
Elaine22 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 11:23 AM
Original Poster
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Posts: 30
Sorry for the late reply, I have been on an unexpected business trip. Wow, lots of questions to answer. Okay, I will take it from the beginning and run through our experiences. We planned this trip on our own through reading and websites. Then we gave what we wanted to a company called Recreational Tours in Johannesburg to handle some of the transfers, etc. We did book most of the flights through the internet with South African Airlines. The only portions we did not book were the flights into the CC Africa game parks(Londolozi & Phinda), the transfer from Londolozi to Kapama, and the Avis Rental car from Capetwon to Knysna.

For the photographers: I brought two camera, Canon EOS Elan 7E and the Canon EOS 3. Three lenses: 300 f/2.8 IS L, 70-200 f/2.8 IS L, 28-135 f/3.5 IS. 1 Gitzo uni-pod. 1 bean bag, empty. Polarizer filters and various others. EF 1.4x extender and the EF 2.0x extender. Pleanty of lens cleaning materials. Speedlight 420 EX Flash. Lots of batteries for the flash and the cameras. A photo vest and photo backpack to hold all of the above. Permanent markers to mark film canisters. I used only Fuji film?.Provia 400, Provia 100, Velvia 100 and Velvia 50. Of course the Velvia 50 produced the best quality pictures, but it was also the hardest to use while in a truck with a uni-pod. That being said, some incredible shots were produced with the Velvia 50. I made sure that I used the 100 first and if the subject was still, I would switch to 50 to see what I could get. By the way, the Velvia 100 produced very nice shots also and I most likely will use this as my main film on my next African adventure. The 400 came in hand when it was too dark or if the subjects were moving too fast(or if I was moving, for instance, on the whale boats.) For as close as we were to the animals, I felt the above lenses combination was perfect. There were a few times that I would have loved to have a 500 or 600 mm lens, but the weight and price were too restrictive. The 1.4x converter produced great results getting the 300 to 420. I used the 2.0 sparingly and knew that I would loose some light with those shots.

Okay, on to the trip!

We live in Europe so it was easy for us to fly down without experiencing any jet lag?a major plus. We arrived in Johannesburg early in the morning and were met and transferred immediately to a flight to Londolozi. There are 4 camps at Londolozi and we stayed at the secluded Safari Camp. I say ?secluded? because Safari is at least a 45 minute drive from the other three camps, which we never saw during our stay. Safari has only 6 bungalows which all have a small veranda and outdoors shower. What made our stay here was the staff and food. We had a wonderful experience here and highly recommend James Tyner as a Ranger and Bentonn as a Game Tracker. If you stay here, please tell James that Rob & Mona suggests that he shows you the Kori Bustard. Each night we sat by the fire place with the other guests and staff sipping some of the great SA port wines. Londolozi, and all the parks we visited, are experiencing sever droughts which is very tough on the animals. However, at the same time, it does make gave viewing a lot easier. Animal experiences were many and varied. We saw four leopards during our three nights here, and the big five easily two times over. Two of the leopards were mother and daughter which were in a tree with a mother duiker kill. We then watched the daughter leopard kill the daughter duiker right in front of us. They proceeded to carry both kills into the trees prior to the appearance of 3 hyenas. This was during the evening and the light was good until around 5pm. From there I used the flash and eventually the car search light and flash. All of these pictures came out with good quality. One of the other leopards, which we were 10 feet away from, had an eye which was completely grayed out. The Rangers believe that she came across a spitting cobra. She has adapted to hunt with one eye and when we found her she had a small impala kill with her. Other sightings included a lion pride feasting on a waterbuck, a male cheetah looking for prey and posing on top of a termite hill at sunset, a fantastic surrounding by a herd of Cape buffalos, a single large male elephant drinking from a reflective pond, and 3 rhinos(one baby) feeding while multiple ox-peckers cleaned their ears and heads. Londolozi turned out to be our favorite of the trip and make sure you have a hot chocolate with Amarula every morning if you go.

Next up was Kapama, north of Londolozi and east of Krueger. We drove from Londolozi to Kapama with a detour through part of the south Krueger for a few hours. The drive was nice and we saw a very large male elephant, a group of baboons, and hippos. We stayed at Buffalo Camp in Kapama which had tents raised above the ground amongst the trees. The tents were very nice. The food quality was not nearly as good as Londolozi, but we did not expect it to be and had no problems. The Rangers were younger and we felt they were not as experienced as those from Londolozi. Kapama was also a fenced game park, and it felt different knowing that. Londolozi is attached to other game conservancies and is eventually fenced also, but it is a lot larger in scale and you do not feel it. Despite the fences and the electricity columns which run through the middle of the park, we saw two amazing Lion pride kills while here. One was a mother lioness and two of her teenagers, one male, one female, who killed a very large pregnant Giraffe. This was a little gruesome, but it is nature and was intriguing to watch. The other kill was a small cape buffalo by a large pride. There was a very old male lion, two small cubs, and around 5 or 6 other lioness around. What was out of the ordinary with this sighting is that the male lion was letting the cubs eat before he did while he kept guard keeping the lionesses away. We also had a pulse raising meeting with a young male elephant in Musth. This elephant moved quickly backwards and forwards, stomping his feet, flapping his ears, and running up to each side of the truck and looking in, stopping within inches from my face. We had to sit dead still while he did this to each side of the truck before trumpeting and running off through the brush. Kapama is hit hard by the drought and there is not a lot of greenery in the park. Therefore Kapama has been forced to feed the herding animals by providing oranges and hay at various spots around the park. In Kapama there are 13 orphaned elephants which were moved (saved?) from Zimbabwe. They are trained to walk through the park together with you on their backs. We went tried this and had a good time. We did not see a lot of animals on the particular day we went, but still enjoyed it. Kapama also has a cheetah breeding project which was interesting to see, because they also have Wild Dog there. However, this visit was not for me. Seeing the cheetahs, etc. in cages, albeit for the survival of the cheetah, was a little sad. Kapama had the best night drives with some rare sightings of Aardvark, Ganets, and Cervette (sp?).

Next up was a flight from Kapama to Capetown where we stayed at the Table Bay Hotel. The hotel was very, very nice. It is attached to a large shopping mall which is hard to avoid. We ate our first dinner at Baia in the harbor complex. The food was incredible and we enjoyed a fantastic bottle of Rustenberg Chardonnay. The next day we hired a private guide to take us on an all day tour down along the coast to Cape Point and back. Stops included Camps Bay, Haut Bay for a boat ride out to a seal colony, Cape Point with a walk out to the point, Simon?s Town and the penguins, a Lunch at the Harbor Restaurant in Fish Hoek, and a wine estate visit at Groot Constantia. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we enjoyed our day. If anyone would like his contact details, please let me know. Lunch at the Harbor Restaurant is not to be missed. While we chomped away at our creative fish dishes, we watched two whales breach in False Bay. Below the Harbor Restaurant there is another Bar/Restaurant which has some great lounging couches to relax on while you watch the whales and sip Rooibos Tea. The name escapes me but I believe it begins with a ?P?. That night we were not in the mood for a large meal and we walked up to a Cuban Bar/Restaurant called Buena Vistas which was crowded with a good atmosphere. Afterwards we went next door to the Buddha Bar and enjoyed our evening. Day two we planned to hike from Kirstenbosch Gardens to the top of Table Mountain. It started out as a clear day but as soon as we were starting our tour of the gardens, the clouds rolled in with rain. When the rain stopped the wind picked up and we never made it to the top of the mountain. So, we walked around downtown for awhile and eventually jumped on the city tour bus to see as much as we could. From the bus we decided to get off in Camps Bay since we had reservations for dinner at Codfather?s. We were early and decided to watch the sunset from the Tides Hotel bar. This place is definitely recommended for a glass of wine and to relax by watching the surf and sun. Dinner at Codfather?s was one of our favorites of the trip. Reservations are a must. Codfather?s theme is one of a fish market. You select your fish from a glass display and they prepare it the way you want. Prices are affordable and you can eat as much or little as you like. After dinner we made our way to Mama Africa?s. This bar is great for live, impromptu, live music and we had a blast here.

From Capetown we rented a car and headed to the wine region. We made our way first to Paarl and visited Fairmont Winery (cheese tastings also) and Laborie wineries. Nice wineries but if I were to do the trip again I would concentrate more on the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch regions. We headed to Franschoek and tried to visit as many wineries as possible. These included visits to La Motte(we enjoyed these wines), Cape Chamonix(nice place to visit), Le Petit Ferme(fantastic restaurant), Stony Brook, Dieu Donne(great views), Moreson and Mont Rochelle. We had lunch at Le Petit Ferme which has beautiful views through the valley and wonderful food. Again, reservations are a must and the price was more expensive than a normal lunch in SA but definitely worth it. Our stay at Grande Provence Guest House(Augusta Wineries) was nice, but I most likely would choose elsewhere on my next visit, possibly Le Petit Ferme. The next morning we headed to Boschendal (beautiful estate and great for picnics), Delaire (great views and has a nice restaurant for lunch), Spier (huge estate with a great wine shop and deli), Blauwklippen and Vervelegen. Vervelegen, despite the entrance fee, is a must see for the beauty of the grounds and the views of the mountains. From there we made our way to Hermanus.

In Hermanus we stayed at the Le Fontaine Guest House which was located very close to town and made a great base for whale watching. Most of the whales were centered in the bay in front of the Marina Hotel, however we did have consistent sightings from our deck at Le Fontaine. If you plan to stay at Le Fontaine, request room #1. The room is huge with a deck looking out to sea?a memorable spot for their great breakfast. Only rooms #1 and #2 have views to the ocean. We would stay here again. That night we ate at the Ocean Basket which had good food and priced really well. It was a very casual establishment with many locals dining. We decided to go on a whale watching tour the next day and potentially join one of the shark boats. The seas were rough and it was really windy, however, we made our way to the town of Gansbaai to catch our early morning boat ride. The seas were really rough and we were not able to get too close to the many whales we saw. Only do this trip if the seas are calm. I was a little mixed on joining the shark boat due to the nature of feeding wild sharks and having them get used to the boats/cages/people. The boat owners claim not to feed the sharks and pull the bait away from the sharks, which they did most of the time, but not always. However, since we were already out by the boats we decided to join the shark boat. Our captain arranged for us to be transferred at sea. As we approached the shark boat a whale surfaced within 15 feet from the boat?our closest encounter of the day. Continuing closer to the shark boat, we could see a very large Great White directly between the two boats. Our boat maneuvered close to the shark boat the best it could with the waves rocking up and down. When the boat was 1 to 2 feet away from each other they told us to jump. I looked back at my captain, at the shark, and then at the other boat, contemplating this jump. Before I could say anything my wife was already on the shark boat. So now it was my turn and I jumped over despite the 14 foot great white below. The name of the boat was the Predator run by Brian Mcfarlane and is recommended due to their expertise and we liked the size and structure of the boat and cage. I quickly got my camera ready and went up top to photograph the 10-14 Great Whites which approached the boat tempted by fish bait. It was truly amazing to watch these graceful sharks live. I decided I wanted to see them from the water and along with encouragement from my wife I joined the last group of divers to enter the cage. The cage held 4 divers at a time and was attached to the boat firmly. The scariest part of the adventure was entering and exiting the cage. Once inside, and since we were the last group of divers, they were using all the bait they had to attract the sharks. We were approached by many sharks, 3 of which came directly up to the cage and chewed on the cage. They were huge!! One was estimated at 17 feet and while this one chewed the bait and was banging against the cage the guy next to me and I rubbed its? belly. What an experience! To appreciate how they move you must see them from underwater. On the way back to Hermanus we picked a cove to watch the whales and witnessed two breaches. Be sure to go and see the Rock Hyrax off of the main point in Hermanus. That night we dined at Burgandy?s which was a very pleasant meal at an upscale restaurant.

On to Knysna. We traveled along the inland road to drop off the people we want shark diving with via Oudtshoorn. I would suggest taking the ocean route for times sake. It took us 4 to 5 hours. However, on the way we did visit Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson vineyards which were both worth visiting and had wonderful estates and good wines. On the way we also stopped in Calitzdorp to visit some of the great port producers. We pulled into Phantom Forest Lodge late that evening, just in time for dinner. What a great place. Our rooms were fantastic with bath to ceiling windows and a large comfortable bed. The best thing about Phantom Forest was the food. So good, we decided to have both nights dinners there. The only downside to Phantom was the proximity to the freeway. You can hear the cars and trucks going by which did not sit well with being in the forest. However, we would return. We have a friend who lives in Plettenberg Bay and he arranged for us to join Ocean Safaris the next morning for additional whale watching. We highly recommend Ocean Safaris. You launch from the beach in your whale boat and are soon alongside huge Southern Right Whales, unfortunately named for being the right whale to hunt in prior years. Just when I thought we have just about seen it all on this trip, one of the larger whales started breaching right near our boat. The whale was so close to our boat that I was not able to photograph the last set of breaches with my zoom on the smallest setting. The pictures came out great, but I wish it was a sunny day?.can?t have everything. We recommend visiting the Knysna Oyster Company for, you guessed it, fresh oysters and wine.

We drove to George?s airport the next morning and flew to Durban. Upon arrival we were supposed to be picked up by a representative to drive us to Phinda?a three hour drive. We were ecstatic to find a Phinda pilot waiting for us to fly us in instead. This allowed us to arrive in Phinda in time for lunch and the afternoon game drive. We stayed at the Forest Lodge which was very nice?room #6 out on its? own. One of the readers asked if would say ?hi? to many of the Rangers and Game trackers. Unfortunately we did not meet any of the people on your list, but we did say hello to #3 and enjoyed the sand forest. Lunch on the veranda was fantastic, and the Phinda staff went out of their way for dining experiences which included a dinner in the bush by candle light and nightly singing. We saw the big five here also with a night lion kill of a nyala, which was haunting due to the sounds of the kill. Other sightings included an elephant herd with baby elephants playing, rhinos, dung beetles, night leopard, cape buffalo, kingfishers, two male giraffes butting heads, many warthogs, zebra, and a mother and two son cheetahs. To top it off on our last drive our Ranger, Walter, positioned our truck at the water edge and waited while 3 cheetahs approached us and proceeded to drink from the waterhole. We were about 10 feet away from all three. On one of the days we visited Vlei lodge by foot and if we were to return to Phinda, I believe we would stay there. Not that we didn?t enjoy Forest, but Vlei is a smaller, more personal (only 6 cabins) lodge. Another day we went to the Zulu culture center which was fun to see, but very, very touristy. The only downside was we had new people in our truck each day that wanted to see lion. The lion pride had positioned themselves next to one of the main gates so we found ourselves each morning along the fence line and main checkpoint with trucks going in and out?.not really a bush experience.

We proceeded to fly to Johannesburg from Richard?s Bay airport and squeezed in a tour of Soweto prior to our departure home. Soweto is worth taking a tour of for the historical aspect.

There it is. Let me know if you have further questions.
leoville is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 11:54 AM
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Fantastic trip report, thank you so much. I really enjoyed reading it!
Kavey is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 09:24 PM
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Hello Leoville,

Phenomenal trip report. What really sticks out is the fact that you enjoyed South Africa to the full and I am so happy about this.

I need you to clarify something when you use the word breach pertaining to whales. Surely you meant spyhopping (the upper head of the whale showing above the water) when you have used the word breach. Breaching means that the WHOLE WHALE BODY comes out of the water and I cannot believe that this happened within meters of your boat. If this was the case you would have been washed out by the splash and wave affect from the FULL breach. Maybe the boat was a lot more than a couple of meters away?? I would be intrigued to know if you experienced a full breach or a spy hop when this happened.

As far as Phantom Forrest is concerned I have to ask you whether or not you found that the lighting in your tree house was terribly poor. This has always been the case with me when I have stayed at the venue and it is for this reason that I dont visit the establishment anymore. Furthermore as much as the food is wonderful so it is frightfully expensive imho.

Your shark experience sounds amazing to say the least however once again I ask, "14 feet in length great whites" ???? Not sure about this as the legendary "submarine", which is reported to have only been spotted twice and is the biggest great white ever seen in False Bay, is just over 17 feet long according to the experts.

No matter what it is great to see how a visitor to our wonderful country had such a fabulous time when visiting us. Your usage of time, planning of day trips, opportunities taken and all else that you did obviously came with great pre-planning and as a professional in the tourism industry I have to compliment you on doing it all so grandly.

Once again thank you so much for such a great trip report. I can honestly say that it is one of the best that I have read on this page.

Come back and visit us again because you still have lots to see that you have not experienced yet.

Selwyn Davidowitz
Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa

Selwyn_Davidowitz is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 04:35 AM
Original Poster
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Hi Selwyn,

Thank you for your response. Yes, we were fortunate to see 3 whale breaches(completely out of the water) during our visit. The first was while we were dining at the Harbor Restaurant looking out to False Bay. The whale came out of the water 3 times. The second was a baby whale off the coast of Hermanus and he continued jumping out completely numerous times. The last was the boat experience where the whale breached 4 times, each time closer and closer to the boat. The last time the skipper anticipated where he/she would come out and quickly drove the boat as fast as possible to get out of the way. I have pictures of all four breaches showing the whale closer and closer. I don't believe I wrote the last breach was meters away, but if I had to put an esitmate on the distance I would say 40meters, enough where my lense on the smallest zoom only got the head of the whale. Sometime in the near future I will scan these slides in and post them somewhere.

For the size of the sharks, the captain was stating that each of the sharks we saw were between 3 and 5 meters long(thats between 9 and 15 feet, correct?). There were two sharks that were longer than the four person cage. Again, I will post these pics when I get them scanned.

I really did not notice any problem with the lighting and Phantom Forest. However, we did not spend a lot of time in our room. After dinner we were usually so stuffed we went straigt to bed or sat by the fire outside. I remember it being soft lighting with two lamp posts next to the bed. My wife agrees that it was not very bright lighting.

Thanks again and we look forward to coming back to your beautiful country.

leoville is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 04:47 PM
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Do you know how amazing that report is to someone who is just starting to plan a trip? I am freakin' out of my mind. If we can plan something half of what you saw, I will be nothing short of, um, well, let's just say "very happy" as we are in polite company here. AWESOME report!
uhoh_busted is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 11:16 PM
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leoville, your report made my heart pound. That ele challenging your truck.... the sharks... wow!
Clematis is offline  
Jan 15th, 2004, 02:35 PM
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Leoville - What a wonderful trip report! I would love the name of the guide that you used in Cape Town. I will be staying at the Table Bay Hotel in a couple weeks for business and I would love to hire the guide on my leisure day! Thank you -
cincin is offline  
Jan 15th, 2004, 05:05 PM
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Since someone topped this fabulous report from last year, I'm wondering if leoville is close to posting some of these photos yet? I can't believe the number of kills you managed to see. And the whales breaching...
Clematis is offline  
Jan 15th, 2004, 05:37 PM
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Incredible trip report! Don't know how I missed it the first time around...must have been while I was planning an India trip that never materialized and was away from the board for a few weeks.

All the lion and leopard kills, breached whales, 14 foot long great white sharks, Londolozi, Table Bay Hotel, Hermanus, Knysna AND Phinda...what an amazing trip!!! Amazing that you were able to get in such a well executed trip in only 16 nights.

Thanks for sharing.
Roccco is offline  
Jan 15th, 2004, 05:59 PM
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I'm like Roccco. I can't believe I missed your post. I'm glad someone topped it. Thanks.
Joey is offline  

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