SA Trip Report Part I: Kruger & Chitwa Chitwa

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Jan 26th, 2006, 03:58 AM
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SA Trip Report Part I: Kruger & Chitwa Chitwa

Part 1
Dublin - Hazyview - Kruger Ė Chitwa Chitwa

Having read so many trip reports while planning for our honeymoon in SA I thought it was only fair to give a report of our own trip. In brief, our holiday took in Olifants rest camp in Kruger National Park, Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge, Franschhoek, Oudtshoorn, Storms River mouth, Knysna and Cape Town.
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It's the 31st of December 2005. Mrs Muzaway and I got married on the 29th and today we're excited to be flying from Dublin to Heathrow and on to Johannesburg to start our honeymoon.

I woke up this morning with a slight pain in my back but I'm sure its nothing, just the stress of the last few days - not eating regularly or sleeping enough etc. We spent last night in the Merrion hotel in Dublin, a really great five star hotel situated in Georgian buildings right opposite government buildings, so now were just back home for half an hour to collect our bags before heading off to the airport.

Mrs M asks me to get some travel sweets so I walk around to the chemists to pick some up. I'm on my way back home when the muscles in my back go into a spasm the likes of which I've never felt before, it's like I've been electrocuted....and I'm on my hands and knees in the middle of the main street groaning with pain. I take about ten minutes to complete the normally two minute walk back to the house and crawl in the door to a shocked Mrs M.

I can't straighten up enough to stand up or lie down so I perch on the edge of the couch while with tears in her eyes Mrs M goes through the phone book and calls anybody we know who might be able to help with my back, but it's New Years Eve and it appears that there isn't a chiropractor, physiotherapist or even doctor open today so it starts to look like we might be spending the first night of the honeymoon at home. Eventually we find a doctor on duty near the city center so Mrs M's friend brings us on a mercy dash to his practice. I hunchback my way into the waiting area and ask if I can skip the queue, which nobody has a problem with, so I go straight up the stairs to the doc's office. The doc is brilliant and quickly gives me a shot of muscle relaxant in the buttock and a cocktail of valium and other drugs to get me through the next few days. He also gives me a note asking the airport folks to render us any assistance required. With the assurance that the injection will kick in and make a hugh difference within sixty minutes we head off to try and catch the flight (which is in an hour and the airport is 10 miles away)

We reach the airport with 30 minutes to go and I hobble straight up to the Closing Flights desk while my not-yet-long-suffering wife is left to lumber all the bags around! The Aer Lingus staff are fantastic and after making a few calls to the gate whisk us straight through security and escort us onto the plane. Between being driven all over the city by friends, being treated by doctors and fast tracked by airline staff today has been a great example of how kind and helpful people can be!

The flight goes fine, with just a few people giving us odd looks as I keep groaning every so often when my back locks up. The shot in the behind doesn't seem to be working though and we're considering staying in a hotel in London for the night to see if things improve, however with everything booked and a full schedule in place for South Africa I'm loath to delay our departure.

We get met by a wheelchair in Heathrow and are brought out to the check-in deck for the Johannesburg flight...thankfully these flights depart from Terminal One so we don't have to transfer to T4 which is a bit of a pain at the best of times.

Mrs M and I had discussed things on the flight and decided that we were willing (within reason) to pay for more comfortable seats on the J'burg flight as 12 hours in an economy seat with a dodgy back didn't sound too appealing. We explained the situation to the check in guy and asked him if there was anyway we could be 'made more comfortable' but he wasn't in a position to help so I sloped off to the sales desk and asked what the options were regarding waiting until the next day or purchasing an upgrade.

To wait until the next day would be fine. The lady, Ruth was her name, then started looking up the costs of upgrades, all the while I was randomly dropping to my knees when my back spasmed. Mrs M came over just as Ruth told me that to upgrade to business class and get lie flat beds would cost 1600 sterling each for the flight. Mrs M and I looked at each other and nodded. It was a lot of money but this was our honeymoon and it would make life a lot easier to have the extra space that comes with first class and to be able to lie down over night. As soon as Ruth saw that we were willing to pay she said she'd see what she could do to reduce the cost. She rang the duty manager and consulted quietly with him. To our delight they came back and told us that if we paid for the cost of upgrading from World Traveller to World Traveller Plus then they would upgrade us for free to business class. This was absolutely fantastic of them. We paid a nominal fee and went straight to the gate as the flight was nearly boarding by this time. (With the upgrade secured I dropped the pretence of having a sore back and we partied it up all the way to Joíburg! Only jesting, I still had to be lowered into my chair on the plane and Mrs M had to take my shoes off and settle me in. Our fellow passengers thought I had a really obedient wife until we told them about my back J)

What can one say about travelling first class...it's such a pleasure to step onto the plane and head up the stairs. With the fine wines, choice of meals and the ability to get a nights sleep it's the only way to travel. Mrs M and I were exhausted so we had some dinner, I took my valium and by lying very still managed to drift off to sleep.

1st January '06

We woke up with about two hours to go, feeling a good bit better. We had figured that if my back hadn't improved we'd check into the best hotel we could find in Jo'burg and seek medical attention but I felt reasonably good so after landing we went ahead and picked up the car for our drive to our first destination, Tanamera lodge.

The drive from Jo'burg to Tanamera, which is between Sabie and Hazyview was spectacular. The landscape was lush with the summer rain and the high rolling hills of the Long Tom pass made for a great first day. The fact that it was New Year's Day made it all the more fun as there were hardly any cars on the road.

Arriving in Tanamera we were greated by the manager who lead us into the main building. The view from here was amazing, a full panorama of a forested valley with the Sabie river flowing far below and the sounds of so many exotic birds filling the air. Mrs M and I were doubly delighted when we were shown to our room which was a hugh open plan building with a deck hanging out over the valley. We had arrived in paradise and spent the afternoon just sitting on the deck admiring the scenery and enjoying the heat while drinking cool chenin blanc.

The rates in Tanamera include dinner, which was a delicious affair taken on the deck in the main building as the sun went down. We went to bed pretty soon after, delighted to fall asleep to the sound of the nocturnal creatures coming to life.

2nd Jan '06

I was up at about 4am, recording the sounds of the dawn chorus and feeling much better. We were raring to get on the road and head into Kruger, so after taking breakfast on our own deck we headed off for the drive to Orphen gate. We would both recommend Tanamera to anyone seeking accommodation en route to Kruger, itís a beautiful location particularly for ones first night in the area.

We stopped in the Pick and Pay supermarket in Hazyview to pick up some essentials for Olifants camp (for essentials read wine and steaks for the braii) This was our first time to be out and about in SA so we were a little intimdated by the amount of security guards wandering around with machine guns, but everyone else seemed relaxed enough so we made our purchases and went on our way.

Passing through the gates of Kruger was an amazing experience. This was a first time on safari, so no sooner where we through the gates then we were jamming on the breaks and saying 'holy **** there's a giraffe!!' We were like a pair of kids all the way to Olifants, stopping again and again to look at warthogs, giraffes and countless Impala.

Olifants camp itself was fantastic. We had a perimeter view cottage overlooking about 20 miles of bushveld. This view was ever changing as the day progressed and the shadows of the clouds moved across the land. We were pleasantly surprised with the standard of the accomodation, while it was basic everything was spotless and well maintained. The food on the other hand was not the greatest. We got the impression that great efforts were being made to raise the standards of the cuisine but I guess there's still room for improvement. Overall though we were delighted to be in a restcamp that had a view such as Olifants, we passed through Satara and Orphen and were not nearly as impressed.

3rd & 4th Jan '06

On our first morning in Olifants we woke around 8 am (and soon realised we were probably the last people in Kruger to get out of bed that day!), had breakfast and headed off for a drive. Mrs M was commenting on how we hadn't seen any elephants, and wondering if we would see anyway, when all of a sudden about ten of them emerged onto the road about 150 meters from us. All alone on an unsealed road we suddenly felt a long way from home. It was hard to believe just how large some of the elephants were. I put the car in reverse just in case they came towards us and we sat and watched as they made their way across the road. At this time I realised that we really had no idea how we should conduct ourselves around all these animals. Not knowing how close we could get to the elephants, and not wanting to find out the hard way, we turned around and went a different route. Later in the day we saw people driving so close that they were basically hearding a group of elephants along the road. I guess they either knew something we didn't or were pretty foolish!

We had a game drive booked with sanparks that evening so we were looking forward to being out in the bush with an experienced guide, but in reality this was a disappointing trip. The group we were with insisted on talking loudly throughout the drive including every time we spotted an animal of interest, and the driver seemed to thing that 30 km per hour was a good speed for finding animals. The end result being we saw a lot less than we had seen when on our own during the day. In retrospect it was good to go on this drive as it contrasts nicely with our experience in Chitwa Chitwa later in the trip.

At 4am the following morning I was up and about preparing for a mountain biking trip I had booked with Olifants. I was concerned that I might hurt my back again but figured that this activity was more about game viewing than mountain biking so I decided to give it a go. (lets face it, I wanted to brag to my friends that I'd been biking in Kruger national park)

This excursion was truly memorable. I met the two guides and a Dutch man and his two sons at the reception and we loaded the bikes and drove off into the pre-dawn bush, spotting lots of little hares scampering around on the way. After about twenty minutes driving along dirt tracks we unloaded the bikes and got ready to ride. The guides told us to stay close and explained that they would deal with any tricky situations should they arise. With that we took off at a good pace towards the Olifants river. Every so often we would stop to examine some spoor or the various footprints we were passing, all the while the day was getting brighter and hotter.
After a mile or two we got off the bikes and started walking down towards the river. The sun was just rising as the Olifants came into view, and there in the water were about 10 hippos grouped together. This was a sight I'll never forget. We walked on down towards them over the next few minutes -giving them an opportunity to see us approaching and know that we were not a threat - until we sat down on the river bank about 20 feet from the group. The hippos knew we were there and kept an eye on us but otherwise just slowly moved around in the water giving the odd snort. This was an amazing experience and felt very intimate. To be so close to the animals in such a pristine environment was a privilege I'll not soon forget.

The cycle back to the truck was mainly downhill, which was a blessing as the day was now very hot even though it was only approaching seven am. One of the guides spotted several elephants way off in the distance and warned us to be on the look out for young males who may be following the herd from behind. With this in mind we took off down the hill, enjoying the speed and challenge of navigating the sandy paths. A couple of minutes later we rounded a corner only to see one such young male elephant about ten feet away behind a tree. The guide was off his bike with his gun in hand within about a second but thankfully the elephant just slowly turned and headed away from us....and just when I was starting to think the bush looked as harmless as the Irish countryside in summer!

5th and 6th Jan '06

This was the end of our two days in Olifants, so we packed up after breakfast and headed back towards the Orphen gate to make our way to Chitwa Chitwa Safari Lodge in Sabi Sands.

I had been dimly aware while making our plans to visit Chitwa that the access route involved some unsurfaced roads, but nothing prepared us for the journey from the Orphen gate to the Gowrie gate of Sabi Sands. At this point I'll just say that the signposting for Sabi Sands and Chitwa Chitwa leave an awful lot to be desired. In any case we arrived slightly frazzled at Chitwa shortly before lunch. The Ranger and host of the camp, Paul, welcomed us with a cold beer and an overview of what we could expect over the next two days.

In the meantime, one of the members of staff, Happy, had moved our bags into our room...and what a room it was. We had a large circular bungalow all to ourselves, directly overlooking the reservoir that the camp was situated on. We had a small veranda which Paul indicated was pretty much accessible to all of the animals so he recommended we didn't use it after dark. How exciting!

The food in Chitwa was of a reasonable standard, with lunch being served each day on a shaded deck overlooking the reservoir...a fantastic place to eat. The whole camp only sleeps ten people so lunch was a good time to meet everybody. Six of us had just arrived that day and a family of four had arrived the previous afternoon, with everybody staying for two days.

Our afternoon drive departed around 1530 pm. After Paul gave us a brief safety speech we took off into the veld. The differences between a game drive in Kruger and Chitwa were plain to be seen. Unlike Kruger we could pretty much drive anywhere we liked, and Paul seemed capable of driving up or down any incline while searching for animals. And given that there were only ten of us on board we all had a great view and could ask any questions...no matter how stupid! During the evening drive in Kruger I had had the best camera ( Canon S2 IS) while in Chitwa my camera was the most basic in the group.

Paul was enthusiastic and amusing in his commentary on the various animals we came across. At one point we found ourselves facing a young male elephant with the sun in our eyes on a narrow bush lined path. Paul muttered something along the lines of 'oh oh, not the best position to be in' and proceeded to do a very quick three-point turn. I think all of our pulses were racing after that, particularly since the land rover had a tendency to not restart first time after the engine had been shut down to view an animal! Mrs M and I had figured the game drives on a safari would be interesting and maybe a little exciting, but never suspected that we'd also experience the frisson of danger. Sundowners were enjoyed overlooking a reservoir and it's resident hippo, while Paul gave us his unique opinions on global and regional politics.

After a quick shower we assembled for drinks at the bar before the drums were sounded for dinner. This was impressively arranged in a semi-circle around a fire, kind of like a stone-age United Nations conference. The food was tasty including a delicious curried butternut squash soup. Following dinner everyone went to bed, with Mrs M and I having to negotiate a black snake on our route home....we never did get to identify what type it was.

At about 2am we were woken up by a couple of hippos going bananas in the lake, peering out the window we could just about see some dark shapes moving about in the water. Mrs M and I crept around our room whispering about the goings on outside...as if the hippos were going to take a run at our window any second! Turns out that everyone had lied awake during the night wondering if a hippo was going to crash through the camp, so we weren't the only ones huddled up in bed

Next morning we were up at 0430 or so for our morning drive. No matter what you see on such a drive it is a lovely time of day to be out and about. We saw various Impala and Waterbucks, plus to rhinos and spent several minutes watching a pair of giraffe munching away but our tracking of some lions proved fruitless. After coffee the tracker headed back to the lodge while the rest of us walked back with Paul who stopped and explained the properties and points of note about the plants and spoor that we found on the way. A hippo had taken over the lake by the lodge for the day so we gingerly made our way around to get back to the safety of the boma for breakfast.

We had a couple of hours at leisure then, to sit by the pool and watch daily life at the watering hole unfold. There were countless birds at the lake as well as herds of Impala coming and going. No doubt in the great tradition of wildlife photography, every time I reached for my camera all the animals would stop what ever they had been doing, but it very enjoyable to watch all that was going on. At this point the family departed the camp and a pair of New Zealanders and a Norwegian couple arrived for their stays. Now we were five couple all in our early thirties and we quickly began to bond over lunch.

Over lunch we all agreed that the drive into the camp had been a nerve wracking experience. The roads into the Gowrie gate of Sabi Sands are in very bad condition and there are little turn-offs all over the area with only the occasional sign to indicate that you are on the right track. One of the couples had got completely lost and were glad to come across the police who were able to show them the way. We ourselves at one stage had people running after the car insisting we were going the wrong way when we were fairly confident we were on the right track (and it turned out that we were). I was amazed that one of the most exclusive game watching areas in the world would have such poor signposting and access roads. Maybe this is because the majority of people fly in, I know next time we would certainly consider doing so. In any case, there were three cars leaving the next day so we agreed that we would travel the 40km out to the main road in convoy.

The afternoon game drive was largely uneventful, with a lot of fruitless coming and going in pursuit of some lions who were said to be in the area. Mrs M and I were happy enough not to see too much as we supposed that the whole experiences would all be a bit less special if the animals were always easy to find. The evening drive was the highlight of our safari though as we got to spend about 20 minutes watching a cheetah cub quietly gnawing on the head of a young impala, all in the golden light of the setting sun. We also came across a snoozing mother and several hyena pups playing about which was a joy.

That night was one of our best of the entire holiday. As a group we all gelled well, laughing all through dinner (as well as jumping up from our tables every so often as stick insects and hugh flying beetles landed on and near us) After someone coyly suggested another couple of bottles of wine things kicked off and we ended up drinking at the bar until the wee hours of the morning and chatting about everything from elephant culling to our impressions of south Africa to the merits of Gilbert and Sullivan musical pieces.

Iíd like to say that having gone to bed at 0330 we were up again at 0430 for the morning drive but it didnít quiet work out that way. It was a shame to miss our last drive but we made our choices by drinking too much the night before and we had fun so there canít be any regrets.

We had a fair bit of driving to do on the 6th as we had a flight to catch from Nespruit at 1400 so we left Chitwa on our own at 1000 sharp. Having got lost about 300 meters from the camp we turned around and decided to wait for the others who were leaving shortly after us. Following that our drive out to the main road went fairly smoothly. With a beep and a wave we parted ways with the others in Nelspruit and made our way to the airport for our flight to Cape Town.

Our safari experience proved to be a brilliant addition to our honeymoon and I think we would both like to do it again. We were also delighted with Chitwa Safari Lodge and felt that it matched our expectations and requirements very well. We had considered more expensive game lodges but in discussions with our fellow guests we all felt that perhaps a more exclusive camp would not have felt so relaxed and informal. Also, as first time safari goers none of us were sophisticated game viewers and we felt that Paul had explained things to us in a very educational fashion.

Details of our adventures in Franschhoek and beyond to follow.
muzaway is offline  
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Jan 26th, 2006, 04:26 AM
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Hi Mr Muzaway,

Congratulations to both you and Mrs Muzaway. To date, it sounds as if you have both had a fantastic and memorable honeymoon. I am surprised that you would go on a long flight with a back problem, but it seemed to have have all worked out in the end, hopefully with no permanent damage.
I arrived home from the Sabi Sands on 6 January, and now I feel that I must do my trip report this weekend, since you were away when I was home. I must do that! Fortunately I do not have such a dramatic get away story to tell!

Look forward to the next chapter as you seem to have a way with the telling of a story!

Kaye
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Jan 26th, 2006, 06:43 AM
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Thanks Kaye,
I had to write out my report pretty quick as I made no notes during the trip so I'm trying to get it all down now before I forget everything!

Muz
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Jan 26th, 2006, 07:03 AM
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i found your notes on the kruger most infectious, I really enjoy Olifants and reading your experiences brought back fond memories.

I often wonder why I spend time on this board, but now know that hearing first time experiences from folk like you is what most excites me. Thank you for sharing.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 07:28 AM
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Great report! Glad you had a nice honeymoon after the back pain went away.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 09:34 AM
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If Fodor's awarded Oscar's you'd get my nomination for Funniest/Most Charming Trip Report of 2006.

Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to the rest.
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Jan 26th, 2006, 09:35 AM
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Great to read this! We were at Olifants & Chitwa Chitwa a couple of years ago and enjoyed both as well (must have been pre-Paul -- we had Mike). Glad you had a good trip & look forward to the rest.
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Jan 27th, 2006, 12:56 AM
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Ohh, thanks for all your nice comments. I'd love to be back there now looking at Impala by the lake, rather than spreadsheets and emails!!
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Jan 27th, 2006, 01:21 AM
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Congratulations indeed on your marriage. So sorry to hear about the bad back but how lovely that everyone was so accommodating and that it didn't ruin the trip. Thanks so much for sharing the trip report!
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Jan 27th, 2006, 02:54 PM
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Loved your trip report, Muz - had some good laughs at your very funny manner of telling a good tale! Thanks for sharing. we'll be on our first safari in May, and I'm sure we'll be doing the "holy ****" routine for at least the first several days!
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Jan 28th, 2006, 11:37 AM
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Sounds great. I am indeed making almost the exact same trip in a few weeks (going from Orpen gate to Chitwa) so feel free to post tips on how to get there.
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Jan 29th, 2006, 08:21 PM
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Loved your report..we are planning on staying in Olifants in July. Glad you liked it. What's a good room to stay in with 4 people? Thanks, barbara
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Jan 30th, 2006, 12:46 AM
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Hi Bar153,

Looking at the bungalow descriptions on the sanparks.org website (http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger...ailability.php) it appears that the bungalows with ID's FQ4V1 and FQ4V2 would be your best bet. Both of these sleep 4 and both of them have views, 1 of the perimeter and 1 of the river.

If you look at the link above you will be able to learn more about the range of accommodation available and it's availability (If you are two couples for example you could get two seperate bungalows with double beds).

In general it is good to book your place in Kruger early as the best locations get booked first!

Muz
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Jan 30th, 2006, 12:50 AM
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Hi Stamiya,

I guess there's nothing like your first 'holy ****' experience in a game park.

We have been boring friends and family since we got home with our photos of all the animals we saw.

It's a great experience and I hope you have a brilliant time.

Muz.
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Jan 30th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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The best river view units at Olifants are #1-14, but I don't know which of these accommodate 4 as opposed to only 2.
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