Southern Africa Safari Trip—Best Vacation Ever!!

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Jun 14th, 2015, 12:55 AM
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Southern Africa Safari Trip—Best Vacation Ever!!

After lurking here and getting a sense of generally where we wanted to go and what we could and couldn’t afford, we decided we definitely did not want to do a tour. We contacted Wild Wings Safaris ( I absolutely can’t recommend them highly enough!! Gavin was our advisor and he “got us” immediately.) We gave him a pretty lean budget, from what I had gathered, of under $4,000 US pp , not including airfares. 17 nights total, and we wanted at least 3 different safari experiences and all food and all ground transport to be taken care of. He came in under budget, so we began slightly upgrading and adding in, which I thought was a great thing, rather than starting high and having to cut back.

We had to travel in May-June and understood that this is not the best season… but it ended up being perfect for us! The weather was absolutely great every place we went. We found ourselves thinking that we would have been really hot if we had gone any time other than their winter! As is, we often slept with the fan on.

CAPE TOWN
We started in Cape Town and were neatly transferred to Rouge on Rose in the Bo Kaap district for 5 nights. Loved this place, their owner, and their amazing breakfasts! Our room was huge, with a big soaking tub and good blackout curtains for morning sleep-ins. Where to stay in Cape Town is a tough one… we didn’t love the town center area… it was a bit dense for us. The Waterfront area is lovely, but isn’t exactly our style. Bo Kaap is a really interesting neighborhood/area.. but it has its downside as well, as we were advised not to walk at night. Taxis are reasonable, however, and we were within an easy walk of the waterfront and downtown, so we were very happy there. (It is a Muslum area, and we loved hearing the calls to prayer in the background. We were in Turkey a couple of years ago, and the calls here seemed different, and more melodic to our untrained ears.)

First full day and still jet-lagged, we took the hop-on bus on 2 of the 3 tours. Wonderful way to get the lay of the land. Stopped off a few places, including the lovely Camps Bay for Lunch and a nice walk. This beach has a wild and mysterious feel to it—the waves seem to come in with unpredictable abandon. If we were to return to Cape Town I think we would try to stay in Camps Bay and just bus/taxi in and out of the city. We loved it. Up to Cable Mountain.. all through the town… a great way to spend the first day.

Second day, Wild Wings had arranged a driver to pick us up for a private tour of Cape Peninsula and Cape Point Nat’l Park. (Every transfer and activity was arranged by Wild Wings… so I don’t need to keep mentioning it…) Our driver, Irshaad, was relaxed and a great host. It was a wonderful luxury to be able to ask him every little question that popped into our heads… like about the whole parking guards thing… and the parking monitors, for that matter.

Saw the penguins at the Point, of course… didn't want to repeatedly purr...'oh my god, they're Sooooo cute!" but I did. Along the Cape of Good Hope, a morning of light rain made us appreciate afternoon sunshine.
And Chapman Coastal road can stand toe-to-toe up to the Amalfi... but it's those penguins and all their busy little tasks that made me swoon. It was a fantastic day, and we will venture out to the farmlands tomorrow in search of tasty cheese and birds in flight.

Same driver today—and he is a bit looser with us now, giving us a clue into his real thoughts and opinions. He is a Muslim, and has a beautiful perspective on life. We head to Stellenbasch, which is a nice whitewashed little town. Touristy, but worth a look . More perfect weather. We enjoyed visiting Lanzerac winery and had some very good wines paired with simple and delicious cheeses. We were dropped off at the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens… one of the best I’ve seen. Things are meticulously labeled and we most enjoyed the endangered plants section and the canopy walk. The walking bridge is just a brilliant design which reminds me a bit of Gaudi because of its natural lines.

Last day in C.T. we sort of pooped out and allowed ourselves a day to sleep in. Wandering a bit, we took the “free” (for tips) tour of our own neighborhood, Bo Kaap. The tour was interesting. Went to “Marco’s African Place, which was just a block up from us. Their specialty is regional game and dishes like boiled sheep head. We just went for drinks and had a wonderful time… seemed like a tourist spot, yet there seemed to be lots of locals there as well. No cover in the bar area and we enjoyed the local music and dance—it wasn’t the highest quality—but in that way, seemed very local and real. Sadly, they overcharged us for one of our drinks (“oh… I gave you a double”) with no apology… so check your bill if you go.

KRUGER – Skukuza Rest Camp
We were met at the airport by one of the owners of Wild Wings (Simon) and he is an absolute gem!! We would be lucky enough to have him all to ourselves for the next 3 days! He drove us to Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger and we immediately spotted a leopard in a tree with a kill on the way to our room. We actually saw leopards all 3 days in Kruger… and the big 5 all within 24 hours.

My husband is a birder, and Simon is really an expert birder, even though he doesn’t lead birding-specific tours. He told my husband that it was his goal to spot at least 100 different species during our 2-night stay… which we didn’t quite meet, but came close. (and it’s not even birding season .) He seems to know everyone in the part and you definitely feel you are in great hands.

Simon dropped us off at our room (much better than we had expected, with a wonderful porch area equipped with dishes and cooking gear.) We went out for an afternoon safari, then took a short break, then Simon made us dinner on a cook wok-like gas stove. Delicious. Coffee. Dessert. (a South African fav of “milk pie.” ) A little table with table cloth. It was great fun being outside in the park, and enjoying a delicious meal cooked by our guide!

Simon has endless energy, as he was there at 5:30am with rusks and delicious french-press coffee. Off we went… back to the leopard, where there is almost nothing left of the kill… a pride of lions … Simon can spot game effortlessly and in mid-conversation – and identify birds by the slightest song. He treats our lack of knowledge with respect.. and he just never tires! We return for a delicious brunch, which he whips up easily and deliciously. (we are somehow exhausted!) A rest, then more safari time… too many animals to list and overwhelmed by the beauty of Kruger. It changes completely around each hill and valley.

The next day is much the same… a rhythm we will come to know and love. More new animals, more great food under the stars. We sleep well and know that we will move on tomorrow, and will miss Simon a lot.

TIMBAVATI PRIVATE RESERVE
We are seamlessly transferred by “GAP’ transport to Kambaku Lodge in Timbavati Reserve. The driver takes a “short cut” which is wonderful, as it is down many dirt roads and we see lots of locals walking. This will be a 3 night safari stay, so we are feeling like we can settle in a bit.

**I would urge anyone thinking of a Safari trip to do things in this order… Kruger Park proper first, then a Private reserve!! (not the other way around.) We LOVED Skukuza, but of course one must stay on the road and only do daytime drives. When we got to Timbavati, we actually gasped the first evening, as the driver headed off the dirt road, over branches and logs, and into the woods in search of (yet another) leopard! We didn’t really grasp the difference until we heard the crunching of branches and rocks under us, and had to duck as we went through bushes and such. Had we gone to Kruger second, we might have been disappointed at all the ‘rules.’

We loved everything about Kambaku Lodge. The owner, David, is very kind and really tries hard to make it a special experience. We were always met with huge smiles and a treat or glass of sherry after our drives. The room was lovely, the beds were heavenly, the dinners very good… and a lovely view of a water hole. We felt relaxed and a peace here.

On our second night out, we tracked the leopard again… then drove a bit, still not back on the road, when the vehicle stalled out! At first, I thought it was a little joke… but no. Eventually, the driver and tracker had to get out (and the leopard is WHERE, exactly??) and push it backwards as a passenger started it up.

The driver (Giddeon) and tracker (Eric) were absolutely wonderful… working together beautifully.
First afternoon out, we found a gorgeous leopard… maybe 3 yards from it, we watched it for quite a while. Then it gave a warning growl… then a fake (??!) lunge when someone (stupidly) half stood to get a photo… a moment that is etched in my brain forever. 3 days and nights of wonderful day and night drives, and a beautiful game walk. (warning… going on safari will leave those of you who like to walk every day feeling a bit stiff… few real walking opportunities out there!)


Our last drive here, we saw a real show. Several lions with their kill (buffalo) and 15 or more hyenas trying to get at it! A scream-fest… watching the hyenas was like watching pre-school children who had too much sugar. The hyenas would choose one of their own to go in first… and try to force them to go in. With each failed effort, they would howl more loudly, retreat slightly, then reorganize and go in again. The hyenas were literally circling us as well as the lions. The lions fought back, but didn’t have to fight very hard on this morning. We had to leave before the hyenas had truly given up.

Sundowner sunsets, watering holes, wildlife from hundreds of turtle heads bobbing in the water to rhinos, the kind staff and comfy beds. We felt sad to leave Kambaku Safari Lodge.

TRANSFER TO OR TAMBO
A beautiful drive to Johannesburg, we had no idea that we would be driving through gorgeous cliffside scenery complete with a waterfall or two. The one ‘miss’ of a hotel was the Peermont Metcourt Emperor’s Palace Hotel. It gets pretty average reviews… but we knew it was just an overnight transit stay. We found it to be below average and just a bit creepy. We fly to Victoria Falls in the morning.
----must go to bed-- will continue tomorrow.
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Jun 14th, 2015, 05:44 AM
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Thanks for sharing. I'm thinking about a trip very similar to yours for next year.
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Jun 14th, 2015, 08:27 PM
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continuing on and finishing up....

VICTORIA FALLS
The British Air flight to Victoria falls was easy. It was not a long flight… and they served drinks and a hot lunch. Arrived at the Kingdom Hotel, which is not our style (sprawling water features.. a semi-fortress theme) I was ready to be a bit disappointed—but we loved it. Staff was super friendly. We asked for a room with a “natural” view—so were put at the back, with a nice balcony that looked out over an expanse of unremarkable-- but natural-- beauty. The baboons liked to hang out there, and I never tire of watching them. (also entertained watching the staff member who walks around with a sling shot, who picked up pebbles and shot at their back ends when they endlessly tried to jump on the rooftops.)

Walked over to the bridge… there were lots of folk trying to sell things, but none were very aggressive… and one was downright friendly and interested in American Politics. People were bungee jumping off the bridge—and I discovered that, after jumping on the right side, they bounced back up on the left side… so had fun watching them do their freaky bounces. Got the lay of the land, a bit of unremarkable dinner, watched someone else’s pretty good dinner show (African Dance and Singing) at the hotel. More perfect weather… and so far, there seem to be no mosquitoes at all in Africa!

Early morning pick-up. I had asked Wild Wings to book a good birding guide (as a gift to my birder hubbie.) If there are any birdwatching fans out there, CHARLES BRIGHTMAN was amazing!! He does regular safari trips as well (his company is called ‘Discover Safaris’ in V. F.) Highly, Highly recommend.

He knows the area like the back of his hand… could identify birds and knew where to find them…knew all about the animal life… told us many local stories… and was super generous with his time, going substantially over our arranged tour. After driving a while, we were able to walk through the park with him (and his ‘walking stick… a rifle of some sort) and had a nice little lunch by the river, being mindful of the crocodiles.

Charles started the Vic Falls Antipoaching Unit and is an amazing guy who has endless patience for questions and helping us to see what he sees. We were nearing the end of our day when he jumped out of the jeep. He spotted two poachers from Zambia (the other side of the Zambesi River)...we watched and watched through binoculars. Seeing us watching, they started packing up their tiny dugout canoe ...and one waved a little fish at us, as if to say, "just fishin' here." Charles began calling everyone he could think of with a boat....a boat being the only way to catch them. **Can you imagine the anti-poaching unit for Vic Falls has NO boat? Talk about a good Kickstarter campaign.... This went on for some time.....as the two took off in their dugout....basically a log...standing up at either narrow end as they skillfully paddled. (And this river is fast...it's about 2 miles up from the falls!)

Charles had taken pictures at the scene (our camera had died by that point in the day) and sent them along to us a few days later, telling us the end of the story. The poachers had actually returned later that day—and were arrested and are awaiting trial. Meanwhile, their canoe (to my eye, a work of art…) was burned by law enforcement. It was so kind of Charles to let us know how it all sorted out!

Next we visited the beautiful Victoria Falls National Park. Spent a couple of hours here just going oooohhh! Awwwwwh! It’s a mini rainforest at the falls, which is a welcome sight on a warm day. It was worth the visit, for sure.

Wandered over to the classic Victoria Falls Hotel for sundowners. They serve some delicious drinks and treat you like a million bucks, even if you’re fresh from two different park outings. We enjoyed the view and decided it was so pleasant that we’d just have dinner on their outdoor terrace (Stanley’s) from their “light Menu”. The food was reasonably priced ($16 for chicken paillard) and really very good, with the exception of dessert. A pot of their delicious, strong coffee, served with hot cream ($1.50 !!) Stayed well beyond sunset.
Walked back to the Kingdom Hotel (it’s next door) and packed up.

CHOBE (Kasane), BOTSWANA
An easy 1.5 hour car transfer to Chobe Marina Lodge in Botswana. Had to stop at the border… walk through something to disinfect our feet… but it all went really quickly.

Chobe Marina Lodge is almost in town… at first it seemed like it couldn’t be a very ‘natural’ setting. But as you enter, there is a gorgeous lushness and beautiful view out to the river. Super friendly staff. We loved everything about it except for the fact that they only offer 1 bottle of water a day—and the local water is PRETTY bad… I tried boiling it in our tea pot the first day (ok.. I’m a cheapskate) and it tasted awful. Our room looked out over the water and the bed was big and comfy. Very large bathroom with endless hot water.

The best part about our stay there was that the Smithsonian Tour Group was staying as well… so, keeping us separate from the group, we got our own safari guide each morning, and our own boat and guide each afternoon! Hubbie saw countless new birds out on the water—and the wildlife is just wonderful to watch. Many elephants, hippos and others head out to the little islands and the viewing is all just right there!

On the last day, of course our camera died just before I saw what I had been wishing for… ELEPHANTS (5 adults with 1 small baby) SWIMMING back to the mainland, after a day of grazing on the island mid-river. They surprised our boat driver by crossing an hour earlier than usual... while our boat could still be out on the water. They entered cautiously, then seemed to be attached in one long ribbon of gray. Like synchronized swimmers, all of their trunks came up at once, undulating at the half-way point.

And the world is probably better off that we next missed the recording the elephant with a '5th leg' (our guide's words...) And quite a 'leg' it was. I was truly scared for the smaller sweetie that he was chasing down. A head bull challenged him and a short fight began. Then all was calm and quiet.
And beauty. Beauty, quiet, and birds, birds, birds. We saw a lot on this trip, but it's the swimming elephants that will come to mind when I need to take a moment.

Three lovely nights at Chobe… and we do wish it had been 4. It was such a relaxing a beautiful place, with easy and stress-free viewing along the river. The ONE THING I WISH we had known about earlier was the “Pangolin Photo Safari” which is about $100 pp. They take you out on a boat with chairs that swivel 360, and long-lens cameras attached to stabilizers!! They give you a memory card, which you take at the end of the trip. We saw the boat the last day and really wished we had heard about it sooner.

Trip back to Victoria Falls for the flight home… left Chobe at about 10am and got to the airport WAY early for our 1:55pm flight. Big surprise… Victoria Falls Airport had some of the best and least expensive shopping of the trip. We talked to a couple who had gone to great pains to shop at the market the evening before… and they also found the prices to be better at the airport than they had bargained for at the market!

By the way… we flew with a stopover in London both ways. 3 nights going out, and 1 night returning. It’s so easy to get into London from the airport, and our luggage was checked through on our return. We used to just plow through without a stop… but we find that it’s less stressful (worry about connections) and just easier all around to stop over a night or more.

That’s about it. Let me know if you have any questions. Sure do hope I will be able to return to Africa one day.
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Jun 15th, 2015, 04:55 AM
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Thanks again. Appreciate your report.
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Jun 15th, 2015, 08:38 AM
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Great TR, of what seems like a wonderful trip. We'll be following in your steps (minus Chobe) in a couple of months, so this was very helpful. Thanks for sharing.
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Jun 15th, 2015, 06:49 PM
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I LOVE this tr! I'm so glad you had such a great time and such a fun, varied trip to Southern Africa. Happy to hear another great review for a Wild Wings. They certainly made sure you were taken care of at a reasonable cost.

I've always wanted to hire a guide for Kruger, but we like to be out all day and the guides, rightfully, prefer the morning/afternoon game drive schedule. Maybe when we go to Kgalagadi in the near future. But without a guide, I would suggest going after you've learned from a good guide at a private reserve how to search and identify wildlife.

I love your enthusiasm about the people you met who made your experience even better. Good info for future trips and it helps explain why a tour group is really unnecessary. There are many people who love safari and sharing their experiences with others. You had excellent guides on every leg of your journey.

Thanks for a sharing a perfect trip report. And yes, elephants are amazing and penguins are SOOOO cute! The Chobe/Vic Falls combo is great for those of us who can't/won't afford the private reserves in Botswana. It never fails to reward with great ele stories.

We've done every combo on those flights to SA. They are all bad so we just get there with the cheapest, shortest means available. We just want to be there...

When are you going back?
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Jun 16th, 2015, 12:00 PM
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christabir... oh, don't I wish!! Maybe some day-- but probably not until I can afford to fly business class... guess I better buy some lottery tickets!
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Jun 16th, 2015, 10:20 PM
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I accumulate as many airline miles as I can - we went twice in biz. I didn't realize at the time we were going to return so often, otherwise I would have saved them for coach (maybe not). Biz class is really great on those long flights. But I have a lot of better ways to spend $7000 pp. We are going to solve the problem by moving there.
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Jun 22nd, 2015, 06:24 PM
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christabir... wow! now that's what i call falling in love with africa!
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Jun 27th, 2015, 12:05 PM
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We did a trip similar to this in April. Started at Victoria Falls, stayed at same hotel, Kingdom for 1 night. Then land transfer to Namibia and 2 nights on the Pride of Zambezi houseboat. Then 3 nights at Elephant Valley Camp. Then flew to South Africa, to Kruger area and 3 nights at Gomo Gomo camp. Then flew to Cape Town for 5 nights at 2Inn1 Kensington.

My favorite safari experience was the houseboat, then Chobe, then Kruger area. My husband and I fell in love with Capetown and are now looking into moving there when we retire in a few years.

Our southern Africa trip was the best vacation we have ever been on too! Our itinerary was put together by Rhino Africa and came in at $4200 each with the flights except for the TATL one from the US.
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Jun 30th, 2015, 11:49 AM
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This is a wonderful travel report and its getting me excited about our upcoming trip! I wondered if you took out additional travel insurance? I keep going back and forth about needing it or not? Also did you take Malarone for Malaria? I am so happy you reported no mosquitos on your trip! Thanks -
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Jun 30th, 2015, 09:50 PM
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kthompson... yes, we took malarone... had taken it before in ecuador and vietnam. i had no problem with it, nor did my husband, though i guess some do... actually, nobody i've known personally has had a problem, but i have read here that some have trouble with it.

we did not get travel insurance of any kind. not sure whether you mean for the cost of the trip, or medical?? for medical, our own insurance covers us wherever we are (though maybe not a helicopter transport unless super-urgent). for travel insurance, we took a gamble and hoped that our trip arranger would work something out with us if we had to cancel last minute. really a personal choice.

you will love every moment... and hope you report on the trip here.
btw... even though it wasn't birding season, my hubbie saw well over 100 "life birds"... and posted it on youtube, if anyone is interested. (6 minutes) i'm not a 'birder' but it was a great way to spend time between big game sightings! here is the video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTMl05GpQ7Q
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Jun 30th, 2015, 09:53 PM
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ps... we had a lot of time sitting around the johannesburg airport... and found that there's a GREAT record (CD) store really close to the British Air lounge. the guy probably opened up about 15 different CD's for me to listen to on headphones... i was looking for gifts of various local music... and the prices weren't bad, either!
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Jul 1st, 2015, 07:39 PM
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More retirements to SA! Our criteria for area to settle - within 1 day drive to Kruger and JNB, waterfront, good private hospitals. Although Cape Town is exceptional, we are leaning toward the KZN coast - and buying a Land Rover for many self drive safaris. My husband wants a Land Rover with a snorkel. I only see trouble there.

kt- I responded on another post.
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Jul 3rd, 2015, 06:18 PM
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Dear Kawh,

What a Beautiful world - thank you for posting your video. Eye tearing well done . Thank you.
...what a beautiful world..

tic-tac - 10 days left
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Jul 3rd, 2015, 09:16 PM
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olia... will tell hubbie you liked it... he will be thrilled that someone far away looked at it!!
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Jul 4th, 2015, 06:56 AM
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What a wonderful report of a wonderful trip. I'm ready to go again!
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Jul 9th, 2015, 04:27 PM
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Great report. I really need to plan another trip.
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Jul 25th, 2015, 09:11 PM
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Great Report. And thanks for posting the birds video!
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Jul 26th, 2015, 10:40 AM
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Wonderful! I could seeing doing this exact trip for our first (and probably only) Africa trip - maybe 2017.

Thanks for posting!
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