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SA trip report - Capetown, Phinda Forest, Kirkman's Kamp

SA trip report - Capetown, Phinda Forest, Kirkman's Kamp

Aug 20th, 2008, 11:08 AM
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SA trip report - Capetown, Phinda Forest, Kirkman's Kamp

Hi all.

Just back from our 17 day adventure in South Africa! Thanks everyone for your advice and guidance in planning our first (but definately not last safari). It may take me several days to get this report done, but here goes.......


After a veerrryy long flight from Washington D.C. to Jo'burg, we arrived at the O.R. Tambo Southern Sun at about dinner time for an overnight stay prior to connecting to capetown. The Southern Sun was more than adequate for an overnight stay. 5 minute shuttle from the airport, very nice room, good service, and a nice dinner buffet. It was just what we needed before making the 2 hour flight to Cape Town the next morning.

We arrived in Capetown aroung noon on a Sunday. The weather was cloudless and relatively warm. We checked - in at the Tarragon Inn in Hout Bay. The Tarragon is perfect if you're traveling with a family (we had our two teenagers with us) and are looking for nice self - catering accomodations to spread out in. We had the 3 bedroom "Angelica" cottage, which had a great view of the valley. The unit was serviced every day, and laundry service was available for a modest fee. That afternoon, we took a walk on the beach in Camps Bay and had a nice dinner at a little beachside restaurant called "the Dunes" in Hout Bay.

The next day we set out for a self drive tour of the Cape Peninsula. I know many people prefer to take the guided tour route, but we've always enjoyed going at our own pace, so off we went. Unfortunately, because of earlier mudslides, Chapman's Peak drive was impassible to Cape Point. We were however, able to drive up to the lookout point and take in some absolutely astounding scenery. On the way to Cape Point we passed some Ostrich farms, had a troop of baboons saunter in front of the car, and saw some bontebok and eland. The point itself is a wonderful place. We took the furnicular up to the light, had the obligitory photo taken in front of the Cape of Good Hope sign and just soaked in the salt air.

On the way back we stopped to see the penguins at boulders beach. They are very accessible via a boardwalk (which we paid a small fee to access). The entire trip to the better part of a day and was very easy to self drive.

That night we had an interesting development occur which would completely alter our trip. Our plan called for us to fly to Durban, then charter hop to Phinda, Kirkman's and back to Jo'Berg. Unfortunately, our daughter came down with a medical condition that we were told would prevent her from flying for a least a week. Armed with this knowledge, we decided we had 2 options...hunker down in Capetown for a week and miss a big chunk of safari, or attempt to drive the 3000 kilometers from Capetown to Phinda then Kirkman's. A family "vote" set the wheels in motion to take the road trip of a life time....(more on this later)

With our revised itinerary taking shape, we decided to visit the V & A Waterfront and Table Mountain our last day in Capetown. We all enjoyed the small aquarium, ate lunch on the wharf and walked around. Table mountain lived up to it's reputation and gave us spectacular views of Cape Town. (One surprise...we didn't know that the floor of the cable car rotated to give you a constantly changing view..cool!!) The day ended with some shopping and bartering in Green Market Square.

Up next.....the BIG drive Cape Town to Phinda, day one.

jgoebel is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 12:39 PM
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This sounds very interesting--I am looking forward to your next installment.
bat is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 01:59 PM
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welcome back - start promises a good portion of excitement!

cannot wait how you managed to drive that leg...

divine54 is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 02:47 PM
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What were your dates of travel? Chapman's Peak was closed for me too. That's great you saw bontebok. I was looking but no luck. Nice combo of activities.
atravelynn is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 03:28 PM
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Lynne - we were in SA from 8/2 - 8/17...amazingly enough the sky was cloudless the entire time we were in Cape Town. I have my son's sharp eyes to thank for the Bontebok sighting!
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 20th, 2008, 03:52 PM
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Day 5 saw us depart Cape Town bright and early on the first leg of our marathon drive to Phinda and beyond. Our goal on this day was to reach the town of St. Francis Bay by sundown. After about a 90 minute drive we made our first stop to check out the whales in Hermanus. My wife has always dreamed of whale watching and the cliffs of Hermanus did not disappoint. There were 4 whales within 50 yards of the cliffs. We watched them for about an hour...it would have been nice to stay longer, but the long drive ahead beckoned. One observation about Hermanus - if you have the time, they offered kayak tours to view the whales; it looked like a great way to experience them.

After Hermanus, the towns started to become a blur. With the kids in the back seat doing very bad voice impersonations, we passed interesting locations like Swellendam, Mossel Bay, and Knysna. Knysna in particular looked like a town worth spending some time in... next up was a drive though Tsitsikamma National Park. A beautiful drive to be sure, but extensive road works started to get on our nerves and made the drive less enjoyable. Finally, we arrived at our destination in St. Francis Bay just in time to see the sun go down.

We spent the night at a place called the Dunes Guest Lodge. This was one of the great surprises that occasionally pop up when you take an epic road trip. Wedged between the beach and a world class golf course, the Dunes is on a 600 hectare nature preserve. Our 2 bedroom cottage was beautiful and there was abundant birdlife. We were told there are honeybadgers, antelope and other wildlife around as well. We received terrific service from our host , Chantelle, to make it a very special, albeit short, stay. We have every intention of spending a couple of days at the Dunes when we return to South Africa!!

All in all, this leg of the drive was very tolerable. The roads were good and fuel was easy to find.

Up next....St. Francis Bay to Durban...the day from he**!!!
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 25th, 2008, 07:43 AM
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Please continue we are leaving in 2 weeks for Phinda and want to hear about it. Especially if you did any activities other than game drives. If they are worth doing instead of game drives or not.
scfphoto is offline  
Aug 25th, 2008, 07:54 AM
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Welcome home! I hope your daughter is ok. You have me hoooked.....

A word my recent travel buddy used ..."Serendipity"! <)
CarlaM is offline  
Aug 25th, 2008, 11:32 AM
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sfcphoto - I'll try to get the next post up tonight after work!!!! Trust me when I say that Phinda was beyond spectacular!!

Carla M - my daughter got a bout of vertigo...thus we got "grounded". she's much better, thanks for asking!!!
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 25th, 2008, 07:42 PM
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What a curve ball you were thrown! Reads like the plot of a movie. Good for you for the quick revision. When someone complains of a glitch, we should link them to your report.

Glad your daughter is better.

I know Hermanus is The Place to watch whales from the cliffs, but can you tell me a little more about how it is done. Must one drive to these cliffs? Is there a hotel or B&B or similar where you can stay and easily walk to the whale watching cliffs? The kayak sounds cool.

We both lucked out with the Cape Town area weather. I had 4.5 hours of rain in 9 days (July 20-28) Before my arrival it rained a lot for weeks.

Another Phinda fan! I loved the week I spent there too. Some people don't care for the fenced aspect and I can understand that. The habitats, the people, the "star birds," and animals all really made it a special place. Did you encounter anyone named Thulani?

One unique thing I did at Phinda was rhino tracking. I think you could request going when you get there since it is just your morning game activity at no extra charge. I went three times and each was fabulous. You must stay at Forest or Vlei to do this because that's rhino habitat.

The canoe trip was outstanding too--the sun is best in the afternoon. Maybe that's the only time they go. That was no extra charge--game drive there, do the canoe--game drive back as night drive.

The homestead visit was very worthwhile, and done between game drives and you paid for this extra excursion.

JGoebel again, I'm eager to find out all the reasons you found Phinda beyond spectacular and if you did some of the other activities too, maybe some of the same ones I did.
atravelynn is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 08:31 AM
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Lynne -

The whale watching in Hermanus couldn't be any easier. There are several B&B's that would be easy walking distance from the cliffs. The town is very quaint (although somewhat touristy with a KFC and a Wimpy's) From the edge of the rocks, it's an easy scramble of about 50 yards down to the best viewing area. There were only about 10 people watching with us, but a tour bus did arrive as we were leaving.

Alternately, a local told us that 30 minutes farther down the coast the whale watching was even better (and much more private) in a little town called DeCalders. Unfortunately, time did not permit us to get there.....

OK, time to get to work on the next trip installment....
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 09:01 AM
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Lynne, thanks for the info. The rhino tracking sounds great and something not available at other camps. We are also doing Mala Mala for 4 days and will have plenty of game drives. We will be at Forest lodge for 3 days and Rock for 2. We wanted forest for all 5 days but it was not available. On the canoe trip do you see water animals, hippos, crocs etc. or is it mostly birds and a peaceful scenic activity? We are very active and excercise regularly so getting out of vehicles I think would be good for us.
scfphoto is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 09:01 AM
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Before I get into this, let me tell you a couple of things I learned from my 13 hour drive across the Eastern Cape:

1. When you tell your TA what you're going to do, and she responds with "ARE YOU CRAZY?", take a minute and re-evaluate.

2. When your tell your host at The Dunes what you're going to do, and he responds with "ARE YOU CRAZY?" take a Loonngggg minute and re-evaluate.

3. When the police officer at a routine traffic check at the entrance to the transkai highway say's "are you sure you're headed in the right direction?" you should respond with "why do you ask??"

However, a man behind the wheel of an auto does not always pick-up on subtle hints such as these. And so, we headed off on our drive in ignorant bliss. The morning was very uneventful taking us through Port Elizabeth and East London by lunch. Shortly after that we entered a portion of hte drive referred to as the "Transkai highway" by most locals we talked to...

Some facts about the Transkai:

1. the road is technically one lane in each direction, however, at any given time it can be modified by the local drivers into up to 5 lanes going either or both directions. Blind curves and villages in no way limit this possibility.

2. the speed limit on the windy road is an insane 120kph. However, should you feel the need to drive as fast as 150kph or as slow as 20kph, that's OK too.

3. Cows, goats, and people may also use the highway as they wish. However, they do not necessarily have the right of way. Should you run over a living "creature" you may proceed as long as your auto is not damaged beyond repair.

4. When entering town, you may have to honk, shout, and even bumper tap to work your way through the throngs of people and vehicles.

And that's about all I can do to descibe the transkai. And so at 9pm we arrived at "The View" guest house south of Durban, white knuckled, exhausted, and very hungry. Imagine our dismay when we discovered that every store and restaurant in the area was closed for the evening!! We celebrated the event with our very own 4 course meal on the bed.....potato chips for the appetizer.....chips-a-hoy in place of a salad....a 2 day old roll from the Spar split 4-ways for the main course.....and the grand finale....finger dipping into a jar of peanut butter for dessert (yes, double dipping was allowed!!)

The irony of the whole moment was that we sat there as a family and laughed ourselves silly...it was one of those "remember when" moments for sure. One note on "The View" guest house. Don't bother.

Up next.....off to Phinda - the big payoff.
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 09:56 AM
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DeCalders is a great hint that I am copying and pasting. Merci!

ScPhoto, Our trips are so similar. I too had 4 nts MM, along with Phinda. The canoeing would be easiest while at Rock Lodge. No hippos and I forget if that's because there are none or we just saw none.

This is copied from my trip report,

"Back to the river and the canoe: You need shorts and no shoes or socks to canoe. The paddle was what you’d use for a kayak so it got a little drippy in the canoe. Life jackets are provided and I requested to wear mine.

The river has barely a current and is quite wide. Afternoon gives the best sun on the fever trees on the far bank, spectacular in fact. There are no elephants on that bank, so the fever trees flourish.

The first couple of minutes you canoe directly into the sun, but then the sun is off to the side.
A large water monitor scooted along the bank next to us for quite a ways. Then a malachite kingfisher did the same, flying from perch to perch.

We had a great view of one of the star birds in the area, the Southern Banded Snake Eagle, as he sat in a tree. A bull nyala walked through reeds along the bank. Small crocs slid into the water as we passed. We only knew this from their splashes.

We saw darters, cormorants, and a jacana. Near the end of our hour or so of paddling were some grooming vervets high in a tree who were being entertained by us. No hippos. A beautiful outing."

This can serve as an intro to Jboebel's Phinda Grand Finale.

atravelynn is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 10:02 AM
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Jgoebel, Have you seen this thread?

When you are done with this report, maybe you could put in a link to it. Or just respond. It seems like those folks (2 couples) are looking for something like what you did.
atravelynn is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 10:04 AM
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I've really enjoyed your report so far. So many trips on this board are micro-managed to the second....it is refershing to see you and your family enjoy crazy, spur of the moment adventures that will be really lasting memories....
cruisinred is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 03:38 PM
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I wonder if you would have had the same family bonding moment if your plans had not been blown up? You certainly would have missed out on the goat and cow viewing.
atravelynn is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 05:31 PM
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Lynn - over the years, we've found that when our plans implode it usually ends up in a dinner time story that is relived over and over!!!

BTW..very jealous of your honey badger sightings! Maybe on our next trip...
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 26th, 2008, 06:10 PM
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First things first; the drive from Durban to Phinda is an easy one. Good roads and good signage. Before I detail Phinda, I will throw out htis disclaimer: Phinda was our first safari experience, so if I seem to gush you'll understand. So here goes.....

Upon arrival at Phinda Forest lodge, we received a warm welcome and were ushered to our rooms prior to the afternoon game drive to freshen up. The cottages at Forest lodge are beautiful. Set in a dry sand forest, they are climate controlled and very private. The all glass walls, add to the feeling of seclusion in the forest. During our stay, we had Nyala, Impala, warthog, and red duiker all roaming freely around the cottages.

In an effort to help other potential visitors to Phinda, I thought I would organise htis by sections:

GAME VIEWING: I know some people are bothered by the fact that Phinda is a fenced reserve, but frankly, we didn't care. We only saw the fence on a couple occasions, and it never detracted from our experience. There was a great diversity of terrain...our favorite being the marsh area. During our 4 night stay, the game viewing highlights were:

-5 separate cheetah sightings, including a male making a nyala kill, a female with 5 cubs on a bushbuck kill, and a cub climbing up in a tree.

-multiple black and white rhino sightings, including a black rhino with her calf.

- a herd of about 30 elephants, one of which gave us a very adrenaline pumping false charge in the dark

- an hours old baby giraffe still trying to gain it's legs

- a pride of 5 lionesses on a wildebeest hunt (unsuccessful)

- in addition we saw buffalo, wildebeest, genet, nile monitor, zebra, kudu, suni, 4 species of eagles, and side striped jackel
to name a few.

Our ranger Brandon, was beyond fantastic. Besides anticipating our every need, he was exceptionally knowledgeable and never in a rush. Our last two days, we were fortunate enough to have Brandon to ourselves. His motto of "let's make a plan" was alot of fun.

SERVICE: Are you kidding me? This place had it's act together. I admit that we have not traveled to many exclusive resorts, but the service that Forest Lodge provided was simply outstanding. One small example...the first day my son asked our waiter for an apple and commented on how much he enjoyed them. Every morning after that, he was offered an apple prior the morning game drive (and not always by the same person!!) The food was tasty and everyone always had a smile on their faces.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: there just wasn't enough time to do all that we wanted to do. My daughter and I horseback rode at false bay. Very enjoyable..you didn't miss any game drives and the ride along the bay was very scenic. We did trot and canter a good bit, so I would probably think twice if you've never ridden before.

In lieu of the CC Africa offered community experience, our tracker Zideli offered to take our family to his village one afternoon. What an amazing experience!! We visited the clinic, the school, and several of his relatives. We were given a very special glimpse into daily Zulu life.

We were on our way to take a river cruise one evening, but on the way we happen to run into a cheetah with cubs, 2 white rhino, a black rhino with a calf, and a large male lion....needless to say, we never made it to the river.

In summary, Phinda was a place that I could return to again and again. I would like to canoe, go snorkeling at Sodwana Bay, take the flight of the fish eagle and do some rhino tracking. My son is "mr. tough guy 14 year old" and he actually teared up when we left Phinda. Before we hit the paved road we were trying to find a way to get back!!

Up next....Phinda to Kirkmans via Swaziland and Kruger...including our serval sighting.
jgoebel is offline  
Aug 27th, 2008, 07:27 AM
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Great report. jgoebel. We are really psyched up for our Phinda stay. Less than 2 weeks to go! Thanks again!
scfphoto is offline  

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