The Long Report: South Africa, Botswana and Namibia

Aug 15th, 2004, 02:27 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 250

Thanks for the continuing saga. I love the description of the young elephants playing, it brings back memories of our first and still most memorable elephant siting at the waterhole at the Mountain Lodge in Kenya - we watched them for 3 hours, including 4 youngsters playing football with a small log!

Also I confess, I too have mistaken ostriches for elephants - only a few months ago at Savute.

Please keep going - we're all still reading and eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
RuthieC is offline  
Aug 15th, 2004, 03:02 PM
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OK, I'll carry on, as long as you pretend not to have noticed me use the term "breaking hand" and "break" instead of braking hand and brake.


Kavey is offline  
Aug 27th, 2004, 11:56 AM
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23rd May

We're both awake and up before the alarm goes off at 6 and quickly get ready and are dropping our keys off with the security guard at the main gate by 6.30. Reception doesn't open this early but this is quicker anyway so suits us fine.

We arrive at the Port Elizabeth airport by 7.30 am. It's really in the heart of a residential area ? if it weren't so well signposted I'd be convinced we were lost. Returning the car takes next to no time, I pause only long enough to ensure that charges are as expected.

We're a bit worried that the coolbox we're now carrying (with wine etc in it) might be an issue as it takes our overall luggage to 50 kg but everything is fine and we're so early we even get emergency exit aisle seats.

We enjoy a cooked breakfast at the "house of coffees" which has a range of different hot breakfast options and I catch up on the diary for a while.

On arrival at Durban we head to collect our next car, a Toyota condor and have to insist that existing damage is inspected and noted on our contract. The woman dealing with us seems to be the branch manager and eventually indulges us, though she says it's not an issue. The car has a lot of miles on the clock for a rental and is probably not far off being replaced but I still don't want to take any chances.

Although one circles and initials the various prices for additional insurance etc the overall is confusing so I also have the manager put the total price of the rental at the bottom. This is the price that we will buy minus any charge for petrol if the tank is not full or for damage should we cause any.

We take the car and head straight out of Durban to Ballito and to the shopping mall where we've arranged to meet Kim. Kim is an occasional Fodorite poster and had kindly offered for us to stay a couple of nights at her place during our trip. Changes in our itinerary mean we're only taking her up on it for one night but I'm looking forward to it. Pete, as always, is bemused at my somewhat global internet friendship thing.

We enjoy lunch at a lovely portuguese restaurant and relax as we realise Kim is as nice as she'd seemed to me in emails and she as she realises she hasn't invited complete head cases into her home.

We decide to have a lazy afternoon and just stop in a supermarket by the restaurant for supplies for an easy meal for the evening and for our next few days within game reserves. We'll be self-catering.

We also pause in an art gallery which has some of the Nelson Mandela prints that were on sale at the Robben Island Gateway gallery. Although the smaller size prints (including the one we purchased) remain the same the prices for the larger prints have just been raised significantly. We chose the piece because we really liked it but at £300uk it was still our most expensive art purchase to date and it's gratifying to know it?s likely to be a good investment.

On the way home to her flat Kim leads us to the building site for her new home. It's incredible! We clamber around the shell ? most of the building is done though the stair case remains to be fitted and the glazing too. Kim also explains her plans for the kitchen and so on. It has a wonderful view too and we can see just why she's so excited about moving here. It's not an inexpensive project but you still get a heck of a lot more for your money in South Africa than you do in the UK and even in the States.

At Kim's we really just relax. We swap some books, we read, we chat. We surf the internet and Kim shows us some of her photos. It's really nice to have a lazy house day and it's great that we can feel so welcome and so at home in the house of someone we just met.

Dinner is some pesto pasta and just perfect.

24th May

Kim invites us to visit her hospital department but having discussed in some detail the kinds of cases she deals with on a daily basis we decide that we're not emotionally prepared for such a visit today. She is faced with cruelty and tragedy every single day. That's emotionally draining and we're full of admiration and respect for the work Kim does.

We say our goodbyes and all 3 of us head up the N2 towards Mtubatuba. Kim veers off en route to her workplace. Tolls are not cheap along this stretch but the road is in very good condition.

We turn off towards the main Imfolozi Park entrance and arrive just before 10 am. We sign in, buy a map booklet which covers all the KZN parks and head for Mpila.

We encounter baboons, warthogs, zebras, impalas and a terrapin sunning on a rock within a river that we cross (via a low concrete ford).

We can't check into our tent at 10.30 so we decide to take a short drive around the park for a couple of hours until we can.

Suddenly I spot something. I'm cautious and don't want to get my hopes up but we grab the binoculars and it's true. There's a large white rhino lying on his side under the shade of a young thorn tree. He stays so still that for a moment we wonder if he's alive but then he flicks an ear to fend off an insect and we sigh with relief. This is thrilling. He's perhaps 30-40 metres away from us! His ears continue to twitch and we hold our breaths as he moves more significantly but all he does is roll over onto his other side and relax again.

After a while we leave him behind and continue our drive. The maps are clear and each junction is marked with a large stone structure with a unique number on it also shown in the map. It's impossible to get lost.

We pause again in the shade of a leafy glade to watch a group of impala that are right next to the road. A troop of vervet monkeys also plays in the trees, their occasional mad chases and raucous shrieks contrasting with the docile grazing of the impalas.

Moving on we come across impalas in the road (a very common occurrence in this park), a buffalo sitting on a distant sand bank that we can see from our elevated position and some wildebeest also on the road. Then a huge single giraffe stops at the roadside just at the same time we do. We look at each other and he pauses in what seems like a deliberate pause for the camera.

After finishing the loop we head back towards Mpila pausing to visit the waterpan. We see warthog, impala, kudu and zebra here. We don't stop too long but decide to come by again later. Returning to the camp we again pass the same rhino and he hasn't moved an inch in the two hours since we last saw him. Suddenly a locust lands on our car bonnet and we watch him for a moment before he flies away again. We are also amazed by the abundance of butterflies of many different sizes and colours.

We arrive at Mpila a little after 1 and head to our tent, number 23 to unpack. Ours is a tent for 2 but is positioned between two tents for 4 which tend to be noisier as they are taken by families of groups of friends.

The accommodation is good. We chose the safari tents over the chalets and are very pleased. The tents are similar in design to those used by the expensive private lodges such as Wilderness Safaris (whom we have travelled with previously) although slightly more worn, perhaps. In addition the decking leads out from the tent into a second area which houses an open sided kitchen. This kitchen is perfectly adequate for simple self-catering and there is, of course, a metal braai (barbeque) on the ground near the deck.

There is no catering at all at Mpila (and the shop here has the smallest selection of groceries of any camp shops we later visit) so we decide to head back towards the entrance to Centenary Lodge for lunch.

We see buffalo, kudu, zebra and a lizard that we spot on getting out of the car. The little takeaway is open between 10 and 4 and sells snacks and drinks for very reasonable prices. Pete has a toasted sandwich and chips and I have a burger. We decide not to take the tour of the rhino boma though they do have several in there at the moment from a recent capture exercise. They breed so well here that the park captures and sells some to other parks and breeding projects around the world.

After lunch we browse the craft market also at the lodge before returning back to camp. We decide to take the afternoon off and read, sleep and relax before an early dinner. Unfortunately it's 5.30 when we realise that we don't have any matches. The shop and camp reception is long closed, it's getting dark and we quickly decide to ask a neighbour for help. Grabbing torches and looking carefully around us we walk to their tent and are lucky that they spare not just a match or two but a whole box. Very nice South African family with young kids.

After our simple meal of frankfurters in buns we relax for a bit before a really early night in very comfortable beds.

Kavey is offline  
Aug 27th, 2004, 12:23 PM
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25th May

After a nice hot shower fresh bacon sarnies make a good start to the day even better. But we then discover that the wooden kitchen cupboard in which we were instructed to look food has been visited by rodents who have chewed our bread and even our dried pasta. The bread is thrown away but we decide the pasta, since it will be boiled and doesn't look very chewed, should be fine. We decide to ignore the camp's advice and move our food into our tent, we do put it into the sturdy wooden wardrobe.

Heading off for another drive at around 9 am we enjoy some more great sightings.

Early on we come across what we think is the same rhino we saw yesterday sitting down again under a tree less than 20 meters away from his favoured spot from yesterday.

Also during the morning we come across wildebeest, impala (many, many times and usually on the road infront of us), female nyala, another very large male giraffe who not only poses for us as his friend did yesterday but actually walks a few steps forward before pausing which brings his legs out from behind the bushes and makes for a better picture, herds of zebra including youngsters, warthogs, birds of many different kinds, which we slowly identify using our bird book.

Keen but wholly inexperienced birders we can't yet even flick to the right segment of the book but have to page through more than half of it each time. But the feeling of satisfaction when we make a firm diagnosis and even when we make a tentative one is gratifying.

We stop at a hide and see several rock terrapins sunbathing on rocks and tree stumps jutting out of the water. There are a couple of birds in a nearby tree that we don't identify but we know they arent the weavers that created the many individual nests hanging from the tree like christmas decorations. One has fallen from the tree and sits in the shallow water beneath the tree.

A sudden flash of colour turns out to be a malachite kingfisher and we watch it dart down into the water and back to the branch several times.

Leaving the hide for more driving we encounter a buffalo herd quite close to the road that includes some babies, a troop of vervet monkeys, more impala, a large group of waterbuck with the white toilet seat mark on their backsides, zebra, nyala females and a large male, kudu, zebra.

We take one loop marked for 4x4s but eventually turn back. We crossed two rivers with crumbling fords but when we began to slide sideways down a hilly gravel incline Pete reversed very slowly and carefully down it before turning around and heading back. We continued on the main road and decided to view the loop from the other direction but also turned back when we reached the incline area from the other side. On exiting back onto the main road this time we came across another vehicle who asked us about the road. We reassured them that their landrover wouldn't have any problems at all but they looked slightly green and skipped the loop completely.

Our next encounters include impala, zebra, mating warthogs followed by a youngster with prominent white hair fake tusks and some wildebeest sleeping beneath a tree.

At 1.45 we stop at the side of the road for a picnic inside the car from our wonderful coolbox. Whilst eating we watch mongoose, zebra, warthogs, impala (including more males than we usually see) and kudu.

Continuing on we are able to identify a beautiful pair of glossy ibis. We reach the viewpoint at the end and turn back towards Mpila. As we pass a waterhole surrounded by one of the largest groups of zebra we have encountered we spot a single hamakop that seems to be settling into a nest on the ground, perhaps to sleep already. A few minutes later we spot a secretary bird striding along, clearly not entertaining thoughts of sleeping just yet.

Wildebeest race across an open area to one side of us and we watch a large male rounding up others to make sure they move in the right direction.

We spot more of the same animals as we return to camp for another early meal. Pete goes back to the kitchen to make coffee and is momentarily very startled by the loud noises of a warthog foraging in the grass right by the decking. Another early night.
Kavey is offline  
Aug 27th, 2004, 12:56 PM
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Thanks, Kavey, for the review. I loved our visit together and wished you could have spent more time. I have moved into my new house with 2 unused bedrooms. All fodorites passing by are welcomed! (Again, as long as they are not lunatics)
kimwhits is offline  
Aug 27th, 2004, 01:12 PM
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Hey Kim! So excited re the house! Send me pics?
Kavey is offline  
Oct 30th, 2004, 08:07 AM
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26th May

After lovely hot, strong showers and delicious bacon sarnies we pack and set off early to spend the entire day driving through Hluhluwe towards our overnight stop in Ubizane.

Crossing one of the rivers we spot a woolly necked stork which we're proud to identify ourselves with reference to our bird guide. We continue through Imfolozi into Hluhluwe spotting lots of animals such as vervets, impalas, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest.

We are surprised at how different the landscape is in Hluhluwe to that in Imfolozi. I think it's definitely worth driving through both.

At around 10 am we arrive at viewpoint 24. Continuing on we come to a stop behind another car paused between map points 4 and 5. There are two white rhinos in the brush over to our left. The other car kindly moves a little to give us a better view - I think they have been here some time already - and we watch the rhinos as they sit in the shade for a while. Suddenly they get up and start eating. We reverse to keep them in view as they move just a couple of paces and then reverse quite a distance to find them again after they race off parallel to the road. The other car left some time ago. After a while they race off again into deeper bush and we finally move on, exhilarated.

Only a short distance further, at point 5, we take the turn that leads us to another viewpoint. We pass the car we saw earlier - stopped to look at some zebra and impala obscured behind some trees - followed by a herd of wildebeest huddled together in the shade of a small tree which they are sharing with a family of warthogs.

Soon after that we encounter a huge mixed-sex group of impalas and pause to watch and listen - Mature males chase younger males who zig-zag and leap frantically around the terrain barking out alarm calls as they go. One or two pairs of pursuer and victim race across the track just infront of us amazing us with their speed, agility and grace.

We arrive at the lookout at about 11 am and get out of the car, as permitted, though we stay very close to the car and leave doors open. Within a few minutes I am delighted to spot another rhino. We watch for a while. When the other car arrive I point him out but they don't seem to be too interested. Instead one starts staring in another direction and we notice his attempts to point something out to his friends, none of whom seem to be able to see anything. He comes over to us and says he's sure he spotted a lion in the grass but after several minutes of careful scanning we don't spot anything and conclude that he was either mistaken or that the lion moved quietly out of our sight.

We head back towards point 5 and just after passing it we spot more rhinos. This time it's a mother and young calf walking serenely along the hillside to our left. I am absolutely thrilled and we watch them for quite some time, no other cars in sight, before finally moving on.

Literally yards agead we come across one more lone rhino to our right. A group of impala near him are suddenly spooked by something and bounce away at top speed but we stay put to watch the rhino. Six rhinos one after the other - I am practically beside myself with excitement. As we move on and for much of the remaining day a chant of "six rhino, six rhino, la la la la" bursts out of me at random intervals.

We continue our drive coming across a crocodile in a river, various birds, some of which we recognise, some which we identify with the aid of our book and some which we enjoy without ascertaining their identities.

Sometime before our arrival at Hilltop we see the camp from a distance and admire it's fantastic position perched on a hill top which we are sure will afford wonderful views over the park. The prices for Hilltop self-catering accommodation are much too high compared with other government rest camp accommodation or we would have booked to stay here for the night. Instead we've booked one night's accomomdation in a self-catering chalet in Ubizane, just outside the park.

We arrive at Hilltop a little after midday having paused often to admire the views ourselves. The restaurant at Hilltop is housed in a spacious and airy building with huge windows onto the views. It's coolness is welcome.

Happiness, our waitress, takes our order for a shared roquefort salad, bush burger and fries for Pete and a venison hotpot for me. She returns to let us know that she can't find any vanilla ice-cream for the banana/ strawberry shakes we also ordered but offers to make them with blueberry ice-cream instead. When she brings them she worries that they will taste very strange but we find them delicious. She also explains that the burger and hotpot are both made from nyala today. We both enjoy our meals and the views while we eat. Before leaving we talk to Happiness about our destination for the night, Ubizane. She used to work there only a year or two ago and asks us to pass on her regards to her ex-colleagues there, which we promise to do.

After filling up with petrol we continue our journey through the park, admiring a handsome fish eagle, the strangely translucent gooseberry-like plants and a buffalo who scares us half to death by racing out into the road only a foot or two infront of our bonnet. After staring at us for a few moments, he disappears off into the thick bush at the side of the road. We are very glad we're not only following the speed limit but proceeding more slowly than it dictates. We have seen a few visitors blatantly disregarding the limit and wonder how they would fare in such an encounter. The thought of what might happen to the animal involved makes me very cross.

Some of the roads in the park are tarmac but many are gravelly dirt roads. The map makes clear which ones are open to visitors and also lets you know if any are suitable only for travellers in 4 wheel drive vehicles. We decide to follow on such road (between map points 19 - 20) in the hope that it will have seen less traffic and provide more wildlife opportunities than the main road.

A short distance along the road we spot an elephant in the bushes close to the side of the road on our right. Soon we realise that he's part of a group. Because they are so close to the road we move forward a little to put some distance between us. On entering the parks the staff were at pains to ask visitors to keep their distance from elephants in particular as they have many quite aggressive elephants in the park. Just after we move forward we see the elephants move out from the bushes and onto the road where we were parked. There are many of them and they stay there, feeding on roadside vegetation.

Just then we see another elephant to our right, also close to the road. She also starts to move out towards the road. We notice she has a small baby with her and I suggest that we move forward again since I have learned from all the documentaries how aggressive mothers with young can be.

Having moved forward we watch through our back window as the mother and baby both exit onto the road. Further behind them we can still see the other elephants feeding. It becomes evident that the mother is not feeling disturbed by our presence as she starts to gather up dust and throw it all over herself. The baby isn't able to gather and throw dust but plays with the dirt and fallen vegetation with it's tiny trunk.

As we watch mother and baby we notice a huge bull elephant leave the group at the back and walk slowly towards the mother and baby. When he reaches them he doesn't stop but continues along the road towards us. We're quite a few feet ahead but decide to leave and turn forward only to see that other elephants have come out of the bushes onto the road several feet ahead of us. They aren't paying us any attention but there is absolutely no way we can pass them. I urgently ask Pete to pull our car to the side of the single-lane road as tight to the bushes on our left as he can and to turn the engine off.

We sit in silence with our heads facing forward. We watch the huge elephant approach us in the mirrors. I whisper at Pete not to breathe and then suddenly he's parallel with us. He stops right by the car. Neither of us are breathing. The car is a big Toyota Condor yet it is dwarfed by the bull. We feel something tap the roof of the car and realise he's tapping us with his trunk. He turns to face the side of our car and lowers his head to peer in through the windows at us. We see him through the corners of our eyes, not daring to turn our heads and look directly at him. He isn't showing any signs of aggression yet we know he could flip us over with no effort at all just out of curiousity, playfulness or sudden pique. The moment seems to last forever.

Then he drops his trunk back down infront of him and turns to face the road ahead of us. He slowly starts to walk again, moving on towards the elephants infront of us. We start breathing again. After he's moved a few feet on I silently grab my camera from the back seat and take a shot of his departing backside.

After a few minutes he reaches the elephants in front and joins them. The group continues along the road for a distance before eventually turning off the road and heading into the bush at a right angle. Mother and baby elephant are still in the road behind us as are the group behind them.

We pause to let our heart beats slow a little more before turning on the ignition and continuing along the road. Shortly we come to a very steep hill and the adrenaline from our recent encounter spurs Pete to step on the gas sufficiently to take us to the top without sliding backwards. We are at Magangasi viewpoint, ontop of a hill with no bushes to hide the views around us and take a moment to get out of the car and breathe some fresh air now the elephants have been left behind.

After this experience we are happy that the rest of our time in Hluhluwe passes without incident and we continue towards the Hluhluwe exit. Ubizane is only a few miles (<10 minutes) outside of the exit, on the road towards Hluhluwe town and we arrive at Ubizane Zululand Safari Lodge at 3.45 pm.

We are very pleasantly surprised at our accommodation, especially given the low price we paid. The self-catering rondavel is absolutely huge. The bedroom is also huge and has a double bed, twin bunk beds and a table and two chairs without feeling crowded. The straw thatch ceiling is high above us and the windows are very tall. The bathroom is also large, well designed and offers a wonderful deep tub (perfect for a long soak and read) as well as a separate shower cubicle. The kitchen is small but well equipped, including a microwave. The rondavel also incorporates an outside eating area and a metal braai on the grass nearby. We relax for the rest of the afternoon.

Instead of self-catering we opt to eat at the buffet in the Zululand Tree Lodge (a few minutes drive further into the reserve) and have a very nice meal. The selection is good and so is the service. The restaurant area is open on one side and overlooks a fire pit and a wooden area. The female staff provide us with lively singing entertainment by the fire and we watch them as we eat. We also pass on Happiness' message which is passed around the group, several of whom smile and talk further amongst themselves.

We sleep well in our lovely rondavel.
Kavey is offline  
Oct 30th, 2004, 12:34 PM
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27 May

On waking we splash out on the buffet breakfast rather than self-catering. And then head for St Lucia. Doesn't take long to get there and we arrive at our bed and breakfast, Avalone, at 10.45 am. Monica, the hostess/ manager, is very welcoming indeed and we enjoy a coffee with her on the patio area.

We are shown to our room, on the ground floor. It's a spacious room with very high ceilings and a window out onto a quiet corner of the garden. The bathroom has a large, deep tub and a separate shower. The room is decorated comfortably and thoughtfully equipped with water, fridge, tea and coffee making facilities etc.

St Lucia is a small town so we are pleased with the location of Avalone. It's at the edge of town and the garden backs onto a nature reserve, yet it's only a few minutes walk into town. After settling in we head into town - it's almost too hot to walk (though I'm a weed and most people would probably love the hot weather) and stop for lunch at the Quail in Ale. I just have a starter portion of calamari and Pete has an omelette. Nothing amazing but perfectly acceptable and reasonably priced.

We check out a few restaurants for tonight and then pause in the Spar to pick up a few things. As I'm practically fainting from the heat my kind husband offers to walk back to get the car and leaves me waiting in the supermarket. I ask the manager if I can use a chair near the desk she's sitting at and she gestures me to join her. And then we chat happily for the next 20+ minutes. She came here on holiday from Cyprus many, many years ago and met her husband and they have been here ever since. She does go back to Cyprus on holiday and seemed a little wistful about moving back there but all of their sons have grown up here and are very much South African. Infact I meet one of her sons who is currently working with her between studies and he's certainly a handsome fellow. He tells me a little about his studies and plans for the future before Pete arrives.

We drive to a local beach but it's too windy and we quickly cut short our walk. At 3 pm we head for the dock having bought tickets for an estuary cruise via Monica. Our boat is called the Advantage and our skipper and guide is Steve.

The excursion was excellent. Despite clearly having done the trip a thousand times Steve was enthusiastic, informative and funny and had eyesight any hawk would be proud of.

We spotted a baby crocodile with a large bird clutched in it's jaw. The bird was almost as big as the crocodile and it was clear that it was struggling to swim to the shore without dropping it's prize. It did let go a couple of times, quickly grabbing the bird again, before managing to get onto the bank. Meanwhile a few of us worked on identifying the bird using guide books. The two of us who had concentrated most on noting down things such as colour of feathers, legs etc, concluded that it was a rare finfoot duck. Steve confirmed that these were seen in the area and that it was a definitely possibility.

We came across a huge lone crocodile sunning on a bank. Steve manoeuvred the flat bottomed boat really close to it, knowing how sluggish the creatures are at this time of year. He reminded everyone that they can move very fast and come high out of the water when they are in normal hunting mode. Later in the cruise we saw a lot more really large crocodiles sunning on a sandbank on an island in the centre of the estuary.

Birding was interesting - we saw a lot of fish eagles, getting unexpectedly close to one bird without it taking flight from the branch it perched upon. We also saw a pied kingfisher and a lone goliath heron, all the while listening to Steve's excellent narrative. He also told us about the history of the area - we learned about the local community, about the conservation efforts, about the indigenous flora and threats to it from imported flora.

But my very favourite thing was the sheer number of hippos we encountered at very close quarters. Many were out of the water and there were a number of small youngsters of various ages. On the return leg of our journey we watched one group slowly hawl themselves up and move back into the water. Watching the youngsters splash back in was captivating. We also saw a lone hippo called Tyson and I recall Steve explaining that he'd taken the ear off another male hippo in a fight some time back.

I don't recall the price of the boat trip, though I know it wasn't expensive. Drinks sold on the boat were also very reasonably priced. I'd certainly recommend it and would suggest trying to find out which boat Steve is captaining if you can.

We pop back home for a short time before taking the car and heading to Quarterdeck restaurant in town. I have a wonderful and generous seafood crepe followed by an absolutely delicious rack of ribs. Pete has loaded potato skins followed by a cajun chicken crepe main dish. We shared a chocolate mousse for dessert. With a beer, a soft drink and a capuccino the bill came to 203 Rand + tip.

On getting home we sat with Monica infront of the TV and really relaxed. Called my parents and my sister back home before finally retiring to a very good night's sleep indeed.

Kavey is offline  
Oct 30th, 2004, 01:30 PM
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29th May

Breakfast is generous and includes fruit, juices and a cooked breakfast. We're the only guests and get on well with Monica and she spoils us by also preparing fresh, paper thin crepes which I enjoy with sugar and lemon juice. Mmmm!

We head out of St Lucia in search of art and craft. The roadside stalls offer little of interest though we are fascinated by the freeform wooden "scupltures" created from polished upside-down tree roots. but we head to Monzi - a craft cooperative Monica had mentioned. There is an excellent selection of crafts and some food items too. As Monica was moving into a new flat on the premises (from a flat in a house just opposite) when we arrived yesterday we pick up an etched glass flower vase for a house-warming gift. I also choose some smaller items for myself and gifts included beaded christmas tree ornaments, clay and bead decorated coffee spoons and some hand made greetings cards.

Then we head to Empangeni to meet Kim. She had kindly allowed us to do some laundry at her house when we stayed but we'd managed to leave a small bag of clothes behind. Going all the way back to Ballito would be a pain but Kim has kindly offered to meet us for lunch half way. We meet in the De Hof Cellar restaurant in the Protea Hotel and it's very nice to see Kim again. The menu is innovative and I enjoy my fillet steak with honey, chicken liver, pastrami and mushroom sauce. Pete has ostrich with a green pepper sauce and Kim goes for a steak with sour cream and avocado garnish. After lunch we take some photos in the hotel gardens, make sure Pete and I have the laundry and say our goodbyes a second time.

Since we pass a Spar on the way home we pop in to buy dried groceries (pasta, ready to cook pasta sauces etc) for our stay in Ithala and then return to St Lucia. We pause at the fruit and craft market in town and also at the cashpoint opposite before returning to the lovely guest house mid-afternoon.

Monica has some friends over and we stop to have tea and coffee with them. One of the ladies works for KZN Wildlife in one of their camps on the western side of the St Lucia lake and her parents and neice are visiting her from Johannesburg for a few days. It's nice to meet more friendly people and while away a little time chatting. These friends leave and we join Monica infront of the TV. I also sneak a peek (with Monica's permission) at the suite which is marvellous for those wanting to splash out a little more. The guest house is owned by a European couple and this is their bedroom suite when in town. It has a ante-room with desk, a spacious bedroom and two ensuite bathrooms!

Two of her friends arrive a couple of hours later for dinner with us this evening. I agreed yesterday to cook an Indian meal for us and for Monica and two of her girlfriends if she would get the ingredients. Monica and one of her friends agree to chop onions for me and I finally set to work in the kitchen. No wooden spoons! After melting one black plastic spoon into the spice mix I am trying to cook in a large pan (and having to throw it out and start again) the things improve and I'm really pleased that I'm succeeding in creating stuff that tastes pretty close to how it should taste even though so many ingredients are not available. I create a marinade and set some chicken to marinade in that and also cook some tomatoey chicken curry.

We enjoy some wine and chat and I put the tandoori chicken into the oven and the rice on the boil. We sit down for dinner fairly late at around 9 pm but everyone seems to really enjoy the meal. Monica and I thought I'd be cooking far too much but nearly all of it is eaten with just a tiny bit remaining that will serve Monica well as a light lunch tomorrow.

One of her friends has been through a very tough time indeed lately and we're keen to take her mind off her troubles and cheer her up. A German couple are also staying at the guest house tonight and they return from their dinner out just after we finish eating. They join us at the dining table for wine and chat before we all call it a night and head to bed.

Kavey is offline  
Oct 30th, 2004, 01:57 PM
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Sorry - missed a day:

28th May

After another delicious and filling breakfast we ready a picnic purchased yesterday and head for Cape Vidal. The entry is 35 Rand for the car plus another 20 Rand for each person in it which makes the total 75 Rand for the two of us.

The ticket/ security guy at the gate also asks if we'd be willing to give his colleague a lift into the park? There aren't any official buses for workers so it's either a very long walk or hitch a lift from one of the infrequent visitors. We tell the man to hop in and learn that he works as a chef in the camp restaurant.

As we drive into the park I'm surprised at the extensive logging we see ? I hadn't expected to see this within a protected park. But the most surprising thing we see is a pair of white rhino munching the grass in a field by the roadside. They are very close to the road so we stop to watch them for a while.

Not long after dropping our hitcher off at the gateway to his working area we pick up 2 women, one of whom is carrying a baby on her back. The younger of the pair tells us she's visiting her boyfriend who works in the park. We drop them off at the staff residential area.

Next we take a scenic loop off the main road and find ourselves driving through quiet, beautiful terrain. We come to a point where we are looking out over a small lake. The signs warn against swimming because of crocodiles but the waterbuck and birds around the lake seem relaxed.

Finally we arrive at the beach and sit and walk and paddle there a while. I did change into my costume but although the water isn't so cold the wind is absolutely fierce and I would freeze on getting back out. Clearly this would be an idyllic spot in the right weather.

We end up eating our picnic in the car because the wind would just dump half a tonne of sand into our food if we tried to eat outside. We try to visit the hide on the way back out of the park but, disappointingly, it's closed.

We call it a day and head back to the house to relax for the rest of the afternoon. For dinner we visit the St Pizza Café wgere Pete has a medium Mexican pizza and I foolishly splash out on a Marmaid seafood platter. It's not far off 10 times more expensive than the pizza. I do enjoy it but the crayfish (which is what makes it so expensive) is tiny and dry. The prawns and calamari are delicious and the prawn only platter is much less expensive.

To bed and another excellent night's sleep.
Kavey is offline  
Oct 30th, 2004, 02:25 PM
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She's Baaackk!
Thanks Kavey, for continuing with your trip report...

Loved reading about the interesting encounter w/ that bull elephant. I can imagine the silence of you and Pete holding your breath and not stirring an inch while waiting for the big guy to move on.

Looking forward to reading the rest...
divewop is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 07:16 AM
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30th May

After another delicious breakfast of fruit, eggs and bacon and more delicious home-cooked crepes before we have to settle up and check out. Monica surprises me by kindly gifting me with an eggcup of hers - she knows that I collect them - which has a little zebra on it. Very sweet!

We set off before 9 am along the N2 northwards towards our next destination - Ndumo. It's not long before I'm desperate for a toilet break and when I spot a large craft market on our left we pause there to use the facilities. I recall that there is a small charge to do so but don't remember how much. The craft market is excellent and has a wide choice. I restrict myself to buying only a few more beaded christmas tree ornaments before we set off on our way again.

Not long after stopping for petrol at Mkhuze we are held up by road works. We end up waiting for about 15 minutes and enjoy watching the fruit sellers walk between cars. These ladies have their faces painted red to protect their skin from the strong sun and are wearing a curious mix of modern and traditional clothes and jewellery.

After turning off the main road we enjoy spectacular views from the steep road up to Jonzini. Coming down on the other side the road takes us right across the dam itself. After this our route becomes more uncomfortable and we judder over some of the worst "road" we have ever driven. A dirt track would actually be better than this collection of uneven and jagged rocks that tests our suspension.

When we arrive at the park we are instructed to leave our car in a parking area not far from the gate house and wait there for collection by Ndumu Wilderness Camp staff. This camp is our main splurge in South Africa and we're really excited to be back in the hands of Wilderness Safaris. Andy, one of the managers, collects us and we're thrilled when he informs us that we're the only guests in camp for both our two nights. Strangely the camp was full the previous night and is almost full the night following our departure. We're surprised when he tells us that some guests don't appreciate being on their own but as far as we're concerned we know we'll relish the personal attention.

After freshening up with a welcome wet flannel we check in and fill in the requisite forms over a drink and are shown to our tent, a double, as requested. We are very touched to find a bottle of champagne in our room with a card from Andy and Shannon (the current duty managers, usually based at Rocktail bay). Our agent has passed on the information that the trip is a second honeymoon (though we'll hold the vow renewal ceremony at the end rather than the beginning of the trip) and they wish us well for our special trip.

The bedroom forms one zipped room on the platform and the bathroom is another. You will need to exit the bathroom and cross a very small open area to the bathroom door. It unnerved me a touch but I didn't feel unsafe. Very nervous travellers might find it too daunting. We settle into our tent and enjoy the view until returning to the dining area for tea. We have agreed to take tea a little earlier than usual at 2.30 in order to get out on our afternoon game drive a little earlier.

Our guide is James Tembe, a young man who grew up and lives in a town not far from Ndumo, in the direction of Tembe Park, nearby. Viewing starts slowly with sightings of a few birds but we're content as we enjoy birding in Africa and James is clearly very knowledgable and passionate about birds.

He drives us to the western area of the park and we leave the landrover for a walk. As we walk he points out plants and trees, spoor, birds and even the glistening quartz stones in red, orange and yellow. After a while we see a white rhino with calf in the distance. After ensuring that we're aware of safety protocol and comfortable James leads us closer to the rhino. He is careful to ensure that we are always clearly visible to the rhino and this certainly seems to succeed in keeping the rhino mother calm. Closer and closer we get and Pete and I both start wondering just how close he will take us to these huge and powerful animals. We come to a stop about 30 yards from the rhinos and stop for some time to admire them. It's an absolutely thrilling encounter and certainly all the more exciting for being on foot.

Eventually it's time to return to the landrover and head back towards camp. When we first met James before our drive he asked us what our special interests were. We assured him that we were interested in everything he could show us but mentioned too that we were particularly interested to see some of the birds for which Ndumo is famous as well as some of the smaller animals in the park. We knew we'd have our fill of lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, zebras, giraffes and more at other destinations on our itinerary.

As we got to know him better during the drive I start to tease him by pretending to expect sightings of a whole list of increasingly unlikely sightings. Don't worry that I am stressing out a young guide - James is fully aware of the non-serious nature of the requests and laughs heartily at the mention of a pangolin with baby on it's back a la recent issue of Africa Geographic!

Of course he gets his own back by delivering more than we expected in the way of small animals on our drive back to camp. As the sun lowers and darkness settles we spot a spring hare bounding along the road infront of us. James follows at a distance, highlighting the hare in his spotlight. We keep expecting it to dive into the grass to the side of the road but it continues hopping along infront of us until we reach a T-junction. The hare turns left which is also our designated route and we follow him for another minute or so before he finally bounces off into the grass to our left.

Shortly after the hare James spots a bushbaby peering out from a tree. We get a good sight of it before moving on. We also come across a sight Pete and I haven't seen before - a warthog sleeping in a fallen tree crook. He wakes as we drive past and James explains that warthogs sometimes borrow the sleeping burrows of nocturnal animals who are out foraging whilst the warthogs sleep.

A startled male nyala stops infront of us on the road. James kills the headlights and engine in order to give it time to figure out where it is and move slowly back into the bush.

And then the sighting that excites me the most - a porcupine snuffling at the edge of the road. We get a really great look at the face, quills and even little feet. I mention to James at this point that I'd really like to take home a couple of fallen porcupine quills as a souvenir. I explain that I have seen these on sale but that they seem bizaarely expensive. He enthusiastically agrees to keep an eye out during our stay.

We return to camp elated and take a few moments to freshen up before meeting for pre-dinner drinks by the fire. Dinner consists of soup, fresh baked bread, beef stroganoff with rice and a crème brulee without the sugar topping. We also bring the champagne along with us to the meal and share it with Andy, Shannon and James.

After that wonderful meal and with the help of hot water bottles, we snuggle into bed and fall asleep listening to the sounds of Africa through the fabric of our tent walls.
Kavey is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 07:18 AM
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Correction to passage on tents:

The bedroom forms one zipped room on the platform and the bathroom is another. You will need to exit the bedroom via a zipped tent flap and cross a very small open area to the bathroom door.
Kavey is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 07:24 AM
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This is great stuff, Kavey. I have been dying for you to reach this stage of your trip report. Thank you!
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 07:38 AM
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You're welcome.

A short bit I missed from last day's report:

As we are looking at a green backed dove James tells us about the sad little song that is said to be a translation of the bird's cries. "My father is dead. My mother is dead. My family is dead. Now I am crying".

James also tells us about the flora around us including a low bushy plant. The nickname given by his people to this plant is Mother-in-Law's Tongue because of the plant's sharp leaves!
Kavey is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 08:14 AM
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Great travelogue, Kavey. Is there anyway you can start a new thread for your Botswana and Namibia legs -- this chain is getting very lengthy. I'll read it no matter what, but I think it would be easier on some computers if threads were shorter. Thanks for the terrific detail.

thit_cho is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 08:33 AM
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I'm not too keen on splitting the report across more than one post as the different segments tend to get separated, not to mention that it's easier for me having it one thread. And I didn't want to flood the board with Kavey threads!
If you'd prefer me to email you when it's finished, just drop me an email.
Kavey is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 08:44 AM
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31st May

Having woken to visit our facilities at both 1 am and 5 am I am pleased to report that there are no scary critters waiting for me in that teeny area between bedroom and bathroom and I get through the night unscathed.

We're woken at the ungodly hour of 5.30 by the frantic calls of a Heuglin's Robin which is clearly sitting a branch somewhere very close by. At 6.30 we get our proper wake up call and meet for tea/ coffee and a banana 15 minutes later.

We leave camp by boat at 7 am. We spend the first hour and a half progressing slowly along the river stopping frequently to view the astounding variety of birds including jacanas striding across lily pads, little bee eaters huddled together on tall reeds bending with their weight, open billed storks, purple heron, a couple of huge goliath heron, purple gallinules holding water chestnuts in agile claws, lesser gallinules, black crakes, egyptian geese, common moorhens, African fish eagles and many more that I didn't manage to write down.

The scenery itself is beautiful and James takes us by boat to see a waterfall which we later see from the other side by landrover. We also stop for a while in the middle of an open body of water and have a go at fishing. I'm really not a natural with casting a fishing line and pause to write notes in my diary whilst Pete and James fish. With the exception of a water snail which Pete is keen to have counted as a legitimate catch we catch nothing and start heading back towards camp. En route we see more birds, some crocodiles sunning on the banks and some hippos doing the same a little farther ahead.

We enjoy breakfast at 10 am which consists of macaroni cheese, salads and breads plus a cooked breakfast. Having told Andy and Shannon about the "jungle juice" that some WS camps made for us in 2001 (during a wide-ranging discussion on all kinds of aspects of our last WS trip) Andy's had a go at producing a banana juice drink for me. It's a little thin and could do with a touch of sugar but I enjoy it and think it's a very sweet gesture.

After breakfast James asks us if we'd like to go out on an extra drive - of course we jump at the chance. We drive through an area of majestic yellow Fever Trees and Ficus Sycamores along the edge of the Bhanzi Pan. We see many birds, nyala, vervet monkeys, crocodiles and even a little red duiker race across our path. James stops the car when we reach the other side of the waterfalls we approached in the boat earlier and we stretch our legs and admire the scenery before driving back to camp for about 12.30.

After a glorious hot shower we sit out on our deck sharing the sunshine with some clothes we've washed and hung out to dry, in the hope that the monkeys don't grab them! From the deck we see a huge monitor lizard on the ground below us. He races after something then suddenly changes his mind and stops. We're not surprised looking at the size of the huge warthog he had targeted. The deck also gives us a lovely view of birds who enjoy the waterside setting as much as we do.

I decide to have a brief snooze though I'm interrupted by a monkey who decides to sit on our roof and pee off it. The arch of urine outside the window is certianly one of the stranger sightings of the trip.

At 2.30 we're back in the dining area enjoying tea, sausage rolls and crunchy flapjacks. Suddenly we're disturbed by a loud knocking sound and jump up to watch a daft pair of Forest Weavers attack themselves in the mirror just outside the dining room toilet. The mirror frame provides a ledge for them to sit on from which they glare angrily at their own reflections.

The dining area is open but the dining table itself sits under a tall thatch roof. Welded to one edge of the underside is a swallows' nest and we watch and photograph the babies being fed by their two parents.

After tea we set off on a drive to Nyamithi Pan. The sight of the yellow fever trees surrounding the water pan is one of the most beautiful I have seen. We drive along the edge of the North side watching lots of birds and some rather large crocodiles.

We watch some funny interactions between birds and crocodiles. On one sandy beach several crocodiles happen to be lying in a semi circle facing towards land. When a great egret lands at the centre of the imagined circle it looks for all the world as though the bird is lecturing a class of crocodiles. A yellow billed stork and a grey heron flap down to join the egret and that's enough to terrify all the huge crocodiles back into the water!

Away from the water's edge we come across crested guinea fowl hobbling along in a disorganised flock. James laughs as he explains that they are also referred to as Bob Marley birds. And sombre bulbuls, he says, are called Willie. Their calls to each other are translated as "Willie, come and play" followed by "No, I'm too scared."

Ndumo really does have a high nyala population and we encounter lots more of these beautiful animals in the open forest areas. We also spot two grey duikers darting through the bushes. As we're driving along we encounter another porcupine trotting along the road. James reverses skilfully allowing us to keep it in sight for a little longer before it races away off road.

Our sundowner stop overlooks a beautiful view of the water pan. On the opposite side we look at the beautiful yellow-barked trees and their reflection in the water. We also spot a lone giraffe approach the edge of the pan for a drink and laugh as it assumes the somewhat daft pose all giraffes adopt when reaching down to water.

For dinner that evening we enjoy thai green curry, breaded lamb chops, filo pastries with a spinach and cheese filling and a warm and spongey peach tart with cream. Chatting with Andy after dinner I ask if his ring is an engagement one and he whips it off his finger as he tells me it isn't. It is however a gift from Shannon and we're mortified when he drops it and it falls through cracks in the deck floor onto the ground below. He tells us not to worry as he's hopeful he'll recover it with the help of a metal detector in the next day or two. Remind me not to ask young men about their marital status ever again!

We retire to bed for another night in the bush.
Kavey is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 09:41 AM
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Message: Kavey

Thanks for the great report! Being an avid angler I can appreciate the "snail being counted as a catch" beats a waterlogged twig being the only catch.

rsnyder is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2004, 09:47 AM
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LOL Dick! We're not anglers at all! Infact the first time we fished was at Little Vumbura Camp in 2001 (Pete caught a nice bream) and the second and also last time we fished was this occasion at Ndumo!
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