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Rocco & Alexsandra's 19 Night Zambian / South African Excellent Adventure!!!

Rocco & Alexsandra's 19 Night Zambian / South African Excellent Adventure!!!

Sep 28th, 2005, 11:38 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
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Hi Safarinut,
Well said, I'm with you. Nothing gives you that tingle like being in the company of big cats.
tegards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 12:50 PM
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I'm with you. Once you've seen all the animals, you want to see behaviour and better still inter species interaction. To do that you have to be in the right place at the right time, you can never plan for that but you can increase your chances. I also love seeing old friends and a familiar landscape.
napamatt is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 01:44 PM
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I agree with Micheal about Jaipur, we also felt it was one of the least interesting stops we made in Rajasthan. However, I have to say that whenever I say this on the Asia board someone else always said it was one of their favorites!

Roccco, just to say we were in Bundi last year (as part of one month in northern India)and you should know that one part of the Bundi-Udaipur road is brutal. I would highly recommend some of the heritage hotels including Deogarh and Rohetgarh among others. i-escape.com has wonderful pictures and descriptions.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 02:05 PM
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I actually just read your trip report this morning!

Would you mind breaking down your exact itinerary as your trip report was a bit difficult for me to follow, but then again, sometimes I am a little bit slow.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 02:35 PM
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safarinut is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 03:07 PM
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I promise I will post the Simbambili report in the next six hours. I just want to be able to do it justice rather than rush through it.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 05:14 PM
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Rocco, it was very interesting to see your photos from Simbambili after having seen Taga's video, and hearing the click of each photo.

Do you know what kind of camera Taga used? It was like watching a professionally filmed movie -- very clear, great sound. Was it edited and uploaded from the bush?

thit_cho is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 05:50 PM
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When Alexsandra and I first missed out on Night #1 in Cape Town when we got stuck in Lusaka, Alexsandra was insisting that we not even go to Simbambli, but instead spend our full four nights in Cape Town, followed by two final nights in the Cape Winelands.

However, after the first couple days in Cape Town, as beautiful a city as it is, it dawned on us that we had already done most everything!

Cape Winelands? Check.
Table Mountain? Check.
Cape Peninsula? Check.
Robben Island? Check.
Hermanus Whale Watching? Check.
Botanical Gardens? Check.

Fortunately, even Alexsandra was ready to leave Cape Town after only three nights, despite another lovely stay at the Twelve Apostles.

So, it was in good spirits that Alexsandra and I boarded our 9AM flight to Nelspruit (KMIA) aboard a SAA Express plane. These planes hold a maximum of about 40 passengers and are a 2-1 configuration.

The flight was approximately 2 hours 15 minutes and landed at KMIA around 11:15AM. After retrieving our luggage, we were met by our charter air pilot, a 26 year old woman who, much to the dismay of Alexsandra, could pass for about 19 years old! Alexsandra, despite being a successful business owner, is not exactly a champion for female pilots.

Much to the pilot's credit, she was able to act in a professional manner and did not take it personally and before long we were aboard a Sefofane Cessna 206 four seater on our way to Simbambili.

It was a short 25 minute flight and we landed at Elephant Plains airstrip. Elephant Plains is the neighboring lodge, a short five minute drive from Simbambili. This portion of the Sabi Sand is very interesting in that there is a very high level of cooperation between the various game lodges.

The lodges all sharing a common traversing area covering their own boundaries are Simbambli, Elephant Plains, Chitwa Chitwa and Nkhoro. All of them seem like wonderful lodges, but I never inspected the others.

We were met at the airport by one of the managers, Laurica, whose husband is the lead guide and manager, Jaco (pronounced Yaaco). After the short five minute drive we pulled up to Simbambili.

Upon arrival at Simbambili, it was immediately apparent that Simbambili was a very luxurious lodge, not far behind Singita yet $650+ per person per night LESS than Singita.

The common areas at Simbambili were just in pristine condition, and like Singita Boulders, there is a raised walkway over a fish pond with these beautiful oversized vases that are actually fountains. Additionally, the common area also overlooks a very nice water hole and the daily guests conquering their thirst included buffalo, giraffe, kudu and leopard.

I was placed in Suite #5 and although just a standard suite, it was a beautifully appointed room. Honestly, the only difference between it and Singita is that this room was likely about 900 sq. ft. while Singita is likely about 1500 sq. ft. with his and her bathrooms.

The room featured air conditioning, an oversized bathtub, a wonderful shower, and a beautiful deck with private plunge pool and a daybed. Thankfully, Alexsandra was thrilled with the accomodations and compared the amenities to the Twelve Apostles Hotel (in the bush).

Rather than going day by day into the menu, I will only say that the food was AWESOME. Whatever weight I may have lost in Zambia, was quickly gained back at Simbambili. I mean the chocolate filled croissants at breakfast were just as good as the ones I enjoyed daily at the Twelve Apostles Hotel.

The French Toast was perfect, better than most places back home. The omellettes were wonderful with fresh vegetables and very good cheeses.

The steak was beautifully done and was complemented by a wonderful bottle of wine that was recommended to me by someone I met while dining out in Lusaka. Something like Trilogy or other, it was called a Cabernet Franc blend, and I nursed it along for my full stay, having a glass of wine with each dinner.

As far as the game drives go, they were action packed as we raced from one Big Five spotting to another. Unlike Zambia, there is not wildlife and birdlife all along the way, but rather a very high concentration of predators, with not quite enough of the other animals. However, that was my entire intent with ending at the Sabi Sand, so that I would be able to focus primarily on leopards, with whichever lions, rhino, buffalo, elephant and other wildlife just being icing on the cake.

Jaco had this infectious enthusiasm for his job that I really believe was enjoyed by all of the guests. He proved to be very knowledgable, as did the tracker, Lucky.

Within the first three game drives we had already come across five different leopards, including a spectacular sighting of a mother leopard with her seven month old cub on a very fresh duiker kill. The cub was quite feisty and actually had a bit of a standoff with her mother when the mother wanted to take a turn on the duiker! Then the cub turned her angst towards the vehicle, and I would like to think towards ME, since I was the obnoxious one that was closest to her with my zoom lens poking not more than 10 feet away from her. She hissed a couple times to voice her displeasure and since the mom was not upset, this was more entertaining than scary.

Other gameviewing highlights included following a pride of seven lions (all lionesses, I believe) out on a hunt. This was despite the full moon and although we did not see it as it happened later in the night and on a neighboring reserve, the word is that they brought down a buffalo that night.

Another highlight was following a couple different leopards that were out hunting. One of the leopards, an elder female leopard who is blind in one eye from a standoff with a male leopard, engaged us for a couple hours as she allowed us to follow her. Occasionally, she would climb atop termite mounds for a better view, and often used the ignition of the vehicle to her advantage. Just for fun, Jaco did a demonstration for us, and it was almost like playing "Simon Says" with the leopard, as when the vehicle was shut off the leopard froze and when the vehicle was started, the leopard moved!

One thing that really helped the gameviewing is that there are half a dozen vehicles all talking to each other and telling each other what they have found. While this does take the magic out of the tracking of the animals, it does make for some very good gameviewing. However, it does start to have a contrived feeling when one is asked by the guide whether they would, A) like to go see the leopard that is 10 minutes away, B) go see the rhino that is 15 minutes away or C) head 5 minutes away to see the large tusker elephant. Also, it spoils the guests so much that when we were unable to see a certain spotting because there were already the maximum three allowed vehicles at the sighting, that it is a big letdown. Also, when there are NOT three options and nothing yet has been spotted, then the raised expectations are dashed. However, this is only temporary because with so many vehicles patrolling a relatively small area, something always seems to be spotted quickly.

Just for the record, however, I do not believe the Simbambili/Elephant Plains/Chitwa Chitwa/Nkhoro area to be any more saturated than, for example, the Mala Mala or Londolozi area, since there are such high capacities at each of these two lodges.

Another highlight was, after a couple days of trying , finally finding the dominant male leopard of the area. The first time was on the second night of my three night stay and we vigorously followed him, but he was on a mission and was not about to wait around for us. So, we rummaged through the bush as best we could, but the leopard was too quick for us and we eventually gave up on him.

However, the next morning the same leopard turned up right near Simbambili and we followed him right to the Simbambili watering hole and it was from there that I was able to get my photos of him drinking with his reflection perfectly showing in the water. Jaco was able to position the vehicle a few times in such a way that he passed on each side. Those on the right side of the vehicle were quick to remind Jaco that it was their turn to face the leopard, as did those of us on the left side of the vehicle!

As a final highlight, on my final morning game drive, Jaco beamingly informed us that a cheetah had been spotted! This was just a big tease as the cheetah was actually on land that Simbambili did not have traversing rights over (Djuma). However, he told us that the leopard looked like it was heading into this no mans land called Manyeleti that was privately owned and non-commercial.

Fortunately for us, Jaco told us that Simbambili was just wrapping up a deal with the landowners in Manyeleti that was going to allow Simbambili exclusive access to this very sizeable area (see attached link).


After frantically trying to reach one of the landowners on the radio, Jaco made a decision to just head towards the area, which was about 20 minutes from where we currently had been. Meanwhile, he was also trying to reach someone back at Simbambili so they could try to reach a landowner by telephone just to make sure that it was alright for us to traverse on their land in search of the cheetah.

Unfortunately, we were never able to reach a landowner, but much to his credit, Jaco made the decision that we would enter into Manyeleti anyway since he said it was a 99% done deal that Simbambili was going to secure traversing rights in the next few days (for an intended bushcamp that will offer walking safaris).

I, along with the other guests, celebrated this decision by Jaco and we ventured into a wild no-mans land that did not have a single commercial lodge in its 30,000 hectares, despite bordering the Sabi Sand, Timbavati and Kruger National Park.

It was such a vast area, and we had such limited time that I gave up completely on finding the cheetah and just enjoyed the scenery. Meanwhile, Jaco and Lucky were trying their best to theorize where the cheetah may be.

Fortunately, Jaco had a decent knowledge of the area from being onhand with the owners of Simbambili as they were making their plans for the walking safari venture. Even so, finding that leopard would be like finding a needle in the haystack and to make matters more difficult, no offroad driving is permitted in Manyeleti. Given this fact, Jaco suggested that we try to track the cheetah down on foot. Five bumbling Americans, a guide and a tracker trying to track the world's fastest land animal on foot...Jaco must have been out of his mind!

So, there we are, parking at a spot that Jaco said may be attractive to a cheetah...after walking not more than 150 meters, either Lucky or Jaco called out CHEETAH! My heart raced as did my eyes in search of the cheetah. About 30 yards in front of us, there it was! A male cheetah lying in the shade under a large tree!

We all marveled at the sighting and Jaco and Lucky, although loving every bit of it, quickly excused all of our praise and summed it up to nothing more than luck.

The cheetah stuck around for about a minute, but then as we attempted to get closer, like a bolt of lightning it was gone, never to be seen again.

Although brief and not close-up, the cheetah spotting was incredible given the circumstances...a perfect way to finish up my 2005 safari!

(I do have some unposted photos of the cheetah that I will try to post by tomorrow, although, as I said, it was not a close up encounter, but hopefully knowing the background, the photos will still be appreciated).

We arrived back at Simbambili with only enough time for me to have a quick breakfast before our 10AM departure back to Nelspruit (KMIA) and subsequent 11:15AM departure back to Joburg.

We said our goodbyes to everybody and it was with a mixture of happiness and sadness that I said goodbye to the bush. Happy to be going home to my dogs and my home and Italian and Mexican food, but sad since I would not mind spending another few days on safari!

Our flights back to Joburg were without incident and after spending seven hours at the Joburg Airport we boarded our flight back to London, counting the hours until we would see "Daddy."

Daddy (real name, Scooter)...


Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 06:20 PM
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Great report! We are in the planning stages of our first African trip and your report is very motivating. Welcome home!
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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hawaiian traveller,

In case you are headed to Zambia and need some help, feel free to e-mail me.

It is not hard to write a motivational trip report after the wonderful itinerary that I experienced. There were very few negatives but so many positives. Also, although I have not yet highlighted it, I met so many interesting people on this trip, from lodge owners to directors of conservation programs to teachers and students at one of the conservation programs. That in itself will get its own topic and photo album as soon as I have wrapped up my entire trip report.

Although I will get into it more in my "final thoughts and conclusions", one thing that one is able to experience in Zambia is the "Real Africa", as is the Zambian Tourist Boards slogan. Unlike some other places, the real Africa is not shielded from view of the tourists, but rather ingrained in the entire experience.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 06:29 PM
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Fantastic report! Thank you!

How do you rate Jaco as a Guide?

Thanks again for your excellent trip report=D>
safarinut is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 06:37 PM
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Honestly, Jaco is the best overall guide that I have yet experienced. It was a pleasure to spend three days with Jaco and I really learned a lot from him that I never knew before. He just really KNEW the wildlife and that cheetah tracking was absolutely amazing.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 06:47 PM
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Let me add a couple more thoughts...it is my experience that some of the more experienced guides, even the very good ones, tend to clam up when they think that their guests do not appreciate their commentary. I think this is unfortunate, because, quite honestly, even I, while most appreciative of what I am seeing, do not want to necessarily engage in further conversation, yet this does not mean that I am not immensely enjoying my guide continuing on with his teaching/guiding.

Jaco loves to hear himself talk, but he is also a pleasure to hear. He has a wacky/dorky sense of humour and knows how to tell a good story.

Another thought that escaped me during the Simbambili report...the fruit...WOW.
I am not a big fruit fan but there was fresh pineapple, guava fruit, star fruit and even papaya, I believe. I am getting hungry just thinking about the Simbambili food right now, and now that I am burned out on too much Mexican and Italian food from this past week, I am more than ready for a Simbambili meal...if only it was that easy!
Roccco is offline  
Sep 28th, 2005, 07:55 PM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed Jaco as a guide.He was one of the first guides I had years ago while working at Chitwa Chitwa.

I will never forget his opening line"Stop me if I'm talking too much" He is certainly the best guide I've ever experienced.
safarinut is offline  
Sep 29th, 2005, 05:16 AM
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Rocco, any more info on Manyeleti - is it a private area that's owned by a family as their own private reserve?
thit_cho is offline  
Sep 29th, 2005, 05:43 AM
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It is my understanding that Manyeleti is privately owned by a few individuals. Djuma had formerly had traversing rights to the area, although I am not sure when.

Jaco said that once the deal goes through, Simbambili is to have access to 2/3 of the area (20,000 out of 30,000 hectares).

It does seem like it will be a nice place to add a two day walking safari combined with a stay in the Sabi Sand.
Roccco is offline  
Sep 29th, 2005, 06:21 AM
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Re: Manyeletti -

Is not completely private. There are four properties here - two are Honeyguide tent properties and two Twintswalo properties.

We stayed at Honeyguide Tent in 2001 before heading to Sabi Sands and Singita. We loved our time here. Though rustic, the camps had the best linens on their beds with fluffly down filled duvets (which we didn't need -n it was way too hot); food was excellent; best, we never saw another vehicle on game drives.

Since our visit Honeyguide has upgraded the camp we stayed at, added a second camp a bit more luxurious. I believe there is one smaller very rustic camp which belongs/ed to Honeyguide unless that property has now become their upgraded lux facility.

And then there is Twintswalo which I'm not at all familiar.

The Manyaletti Reserve during the Apartheid era was reserved for blacks and coloreds... has been the last to expand with facilities for safaris.

So, Manyaletti is not devoid of lodgings.
Sep 29th, 2005, 08:30 AM
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Jaco stands corrected!
Roccco is offline  
Sep 29th, 2005, 12:51 PM
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I'll email you the itinerary.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Sep 29th, 2005, 04:00 PM
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Enjoyed your cheetah encounter. It is always wonderful to see this threatened species.

Appreciated your Zambia vs. Simbambili
comments. That's the sort of stuff I find helpful.
atravelynn is offline  

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