The Long Report: South Africa, Botswana and Namibia

Aug 26th, 2005, 08:36 AM
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6th June

Lovely egg and bacon cooked breakfast in our little outdoor kitchenette watching vervet monkeys play nearby and sparrows, starlings and another crested barbet flit about.

We head for reception and book the organised morning walk activity for tomorrow before heading out on a drive.

This morning we cross lots of streams and follow roads next to rivers leading to lots of sightings of hippos and elephants. We are able to get out at one viewpoint and enjoy the sighting of quite a few hippos at the water's edge infront of us. The water is so clear we can even see the ones that are fully submerged and moving along in the river.

As we cross more streams we enjoy the dragonflies – two main types, one which is bright red and the other a bright turquoisy blue.

We also come across several groups of the ubiquitous impala, a huge baboon that walks into the road ahead of us, a large giraffe with particularly dark markings and several oxpeckers picking their meals from his coat and a natal francolin having a bit of a dustbath.

At around 10 we head towards Letaba stopping at more viewpoints en route which afford more sightings of hippos by the river. We see a couple of adult francolins at the roadside being followed by a brood of babies which then follow the adults across the road.

Birding is good too including a great sighting of a fork-tailed drongo – it's distinctive tail shape certainly makes it one of the easier birds ot identify.

At a larger river crossing we encounter impalas, zebras and a large water monitor swimming across and then clambering out. The next river crossing after that gives us some great views of a lilac-breasted roller – these are probably one of the more commonly sighted birds during our Kruger visit, along with hornbills, starlings and francolins.

At the next viewpoint we come across a big tortoise (terrapin?) sunning on a rock jutting out of the water as well as a yellow billed egret, egyptian geese and two big elephants by the road munching contentedly.

The abundance of water is clearly great for animals and birds alike – we spot another fork-tailed drongo and a malachite kingfisher who is very close to our position indeed. We also think we've spotted a burchell's coucal if our identification is correct – we do spend some time on it but sometimes it's harder to know for sure.

A little after noon we arrive at Letaba Camp and stop there for lunch spotting more animals on our arrival including waterbuck, squirrels and a crested barbet.

Before leaving we also tour Elephant Hall which displays photos and tusks of some of the most famous Kruger big tuskers as well as information panels on these amazing animals.

On leaving we see more hippos but these ones aren't just lying in the sun but walking and feeding. Nearby birds include cattle egrets and grey herons. Waterbuck are also present. We can hardly go more than a few metres without encountering more hippos.

And then more elephants – a larger group at the edge of the river, two of them mock-fightings with trunks entwined, the rest feeding and walking away from the water towards the road. As they come right up onto the road we notice that other visitors have parked all over the road and we are completely blocked in and unable to leave.

Later we manage to get out of this little traffic jam and head for a series of tracks that are empty of other cars. We come across what we're fairly sure is a leopard tortoise though his shell is so dusty it's hard to be sure.

Stopping at a hide we watch crocodiles, hippos (in and out of the water), spoonbills, open-billed storks, grey herons, yellow-billed storks, black storks, black-winged stilts and another fork-tailed drongo. On a tree near the hide is a black and yellow striped lizard with an almost metallic sheen and an insect we think is a kind of cricket. We stay at the hide, transfixed, for almost an hour.

On leaving and crossing another ford we see dragonflies mating in the air and a pied wagtail bird before heading back towards the main, paved road.

When on the main road we spot more hornbills as well as a large group of buffalo and a lone elephant with a broken tusk. We also spot a pair of saddle-billed storks on a tree which contains their nest. I hadn't realised they nested in such high trees – I'd imagined they nested nearer water but I don't know why I thought that.

Back at camp we freshen up before heading to the restaurant for an early dinner. The buffet is pretty good – leek soup, lamb soup, fishcakes, salads, kudu pie (with tender chunks of meat), peanut sauce ribs, roast lamb, courgettes, baby yellow pattipan squashes, lemon meringue pie, cheesecake and then a complimentary amarula from the manager, Carl who we have been talking to during the evening.

After dinner an early night.
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 09:46 AM
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No no no my bad, not an early night but the following:

Tonight we do an organised night drive but the driver guide is clearly not enthused and completely ignores the guiding part of his duties. He passes the two large spotlights to the 4 of us on the tour and that's his entire involvement for the evening. We have to really persuade him to stop/ reverse when we think we have spotted something, he doesn't try and give us any information about what we're seeing and he certainly doesn't bother to contribute to the spotting efforts. Still, we see some hippo, giraffe, impala, elephants, a scrubhare, some birds (thought they'd all be asleep) and some bats.
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 10:13 AM
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SWEEEET wine?!
Aug 26th, 2005, 10:17 AM
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It's the only kind I enjoy!
I find it strange that people think it's cool to drink coca cola, sweet fruit juices and other sweet soft drinks with a meal but balk at the thought of a sweet wine with one!
For those of us who just don't enjoy dry (or even medium) wines - an occasional glass of sweet wine with the meal rather than just with dessert can be very enjoyable!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 10:25 AM
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Coca Cola with a meal? That must be the end of civilization...
Aug 26th, 2005, 10:36 AM
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Kavey-what do you do when you get a guide as the one described above? Do you still tip him, complain to the management? are you stuck with him the whole time there? Thanks, Dennis
matnikstym is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 11:23 AM
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Dennis, if I got a guide like that at an expensive private camp/ lodge I'd have words with management immediately but I figured that in this case chances were the guides were not all trained to the same high standard as those working in private camps, probably not paid as highly either.

I did mention it when I went to reception the next day but no one seemed very interested so I dropped it...
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 11:33 AM
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8th June

Up early today and leave chalet by 7 am pausing at reception to get a receipt for our last night – some changeover in booking system meant we hadn't been able to get this on arrival at the park/ camp – and at the petrol pump to fill up.

Headed in the direction of Satara pausing less often as we had quite a distance to cover but sighting lots of giraffe, zebras, many birds, a group of wildebeest, one large lone bull elephant and what we decided was a little banded goshawk.

Paused at Satara Camp for a comfort break before continuing on our journey and shortly afterwards paused by a huddle of cars to see a lioness and cub – saw the lioness but can't say we really saw the cub – there was a rustle of movement that may or may not have been it.

A little later an eagle rose out of the grass right by the road with a snake held in it's talons, flew to a nearby tree and proceeded to eat it. As it was doing that we looked in our bird guide but couldn't decide on whether it was a brown snake eagle or a tawny eagle.

When we passed Kumana Dam again a waterbuck family was there, as previously. At Mozithi Dam we saw a submerged hippo, more waterbuck, impala, several birds and 2 beautiful dead trees in the water.

I slept most of the way to Skukuza so I don't know what potential sightings I missed for the next hour or so! On arrival at Skukuza we saw a warthog rush across the road. We filled up with petrol and then headed straight on.

At 12.30 we exited Kruger Park and headed for Johannesburg, stopping for petrol and tolls en route. On arrival in Johannesburg we had a hell of a time finding our hotel – there were a lot of works going on on the main road by the airport and it seems that many of the exit signs had been changed – the instructions provided by our hotel on their website were clearly out of date. Eventually we got to our Holiday Inn and checked in at 5.00 pm.

We ate dinner at the Spur restaurant in the hotel – nothing to write home about – before an early night.

Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 11:40 AM
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I know someone to whom happened the same at J** Camp, and even there no one of management seemed very interested. (My friend still gets very loud if you mention the name of this camp.)

Conclusion: Such things can happen everywhere, not only at public lodges but even at '6 paws' private camps.

Aug 26th, 2005, 11:42 AM
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PS: This is a reply to the 08/26/2005, 03:23pm posting.
Aug 26th, 2005, 12:04 PM
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9th June

Wake at 6 and get ready, repack to split stuff between bags for Botswana and bag to be left at Johannesburg plus items in box to be passed on to James, our Ndumu guide. Settle bill and leave at 7.30 for the airport – it's so coooold outside! There's frost on the car!

Returning the car to Avis takes longer than expected as the bill is 1600 Rand higher than it should be and I have to insist that they call Nicky in the Durban office (where we rented it) to resolve it as they seem to be unable/ unwilling to do so. She goes into the system there and makes changes that bring the bill back down to what it should have been but they refuse to explain the reason for the erroneous initial bill.

We meet the Wilderness Safaris rep at our check in desk as arranged in advance and she takes the bag that they are keeping for us, the box for James plus a bottle of wine that we have bought as a thank you for keeping our bag and a few books we'd finished reading and wondered if anyone in the office might like.

We check in and have plenty of time for breakfast before going through security. I stop at a pharmacist who is a really helpful character, very friendly, and then relax, writing and posting the few postcards I hadn't got around to sending.

We board and sit down in row 1. I'm seated next to an older gentleman whose kids surprised him last night with this trip for his birthday. He's also headed for Savuti and for a few moments we marvel over that coincidence before I work out that he's headed for Savute Elephant Camp rather than the Wilderness Safaris Savuti Camp.

Flight is just 1.5 hours. I make a maths error (working out number of days we'll be in Botswana) and get a right telling off from the official but he does grudgingly allow me to correct it and grants me a stamp for the right duration (after some serious grovelling).

Only 40 minutes before our next flight which is a commuter plane (bigger than the teeny cessnas we prefer) and we hop to Tubu and Vumbura airstrips before our own at Chobe. From the air we see a hippo out of the water, some elephants at a waterhole and a herd of red lechwe.

We land just after 2.00 and are collected by our guide, Thuto. On the way to camp we see a Bataleur in a tree but not much else.

On arrival in camp I'm really disappointed to learn that the bathtub in tent one has been removed, part of the remodelling several months ago at which time raised walkways were installed and two extra tents added. Given that this specific aspect is actually part of our booking details I'm sorely disappointed that WS didn't bother to contact our agent and let us know in advance. We are shown to our tent – it's the furthest out from the others and doesn't have a view of the waterhole. On top of that the toilet and shower etc are not ensuite to the tent but along an outside corridor. I was willing to put up with that for a tub but not otherwise and the management offer to move us to another tent with ensuite bathroom and view of waterhole. We are reassigned to tent 3 which they make up as a double for us.

We have tea in the public area whilst our bags are moved for us and we head straight off on a drive. We're not too thrilled to learn that we have been put into a car with a family with two children rather than the other car which has only 3 adults in it (who have not booked a private guide or vehicle) and later learn that management were certainly intending us to be in that group but were persuaded by two women in that group to put us with the family instead so they could benefit from a smaller group – they were repeat visitors and were certainly treated as such. I don’t have an issue with looking after repeat visitors but don't think this should be at the expense of other guests. Whilst the family are friendly and we get on with them there are certainly times when we feel our experience is compromised by their actions.

The first drive is a gentle one – lots of birds, giraffe, wildebeest, zebras, impala and then a large herd of elephants during our sundowner. In the dark on the way back to camp we see impalas, spring hares and a pair of beautiful bat-eared foxes.

We get back to our tent at 7.00 and are collected half an hour later for drinks before dinner. When we meet the other guests (the two English ladies who have been here several times) and a single guest with them I recognise him and when I ask him where it might be from he looks at us and says, you and your husband were on my plane when you came to Namibia in 2001. He's a Sesofane pilot and had just started the job when we flew with him – infact it was early enough that he had another pilot on the flight with him. I am gobsmacked that he not only recognises us but remembers where from! He has resigned from the job and is heading back to Canada but is enjoying a well-earned holiday in WS camps around Botswana first!

Dinner is very nice – tomato and orange soup, roast beef fillets with peppercorn sauce, vegetables and sticky date cake.

We head off to bed at 9 with two hot water bottles each as some of the other guests decline theirs!

Mitch, that's certainly true but I'd have felt more cross about it happening at a luxury private camp where I'd paid a lot for the privelege than at a public rest camp where I'd paid considerably less!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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Wonderful Report! I am trying to plan a self drive tour for early next year. It sounds like driving was fairly easy.

Also, it seems like you enjoyed the KZN area better than the Krueger area. I was thinking about Krueger only because that was all I heard about, but maybe I'll look into KZN instead. We will only have about 12 days.
tandme2 is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 01:30 PM
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We definitely enjoyed Hluhluwe, Imfolozi, Ndumo and Ithala more than Kruger though that's not to say we didn't enjoy Kruger too.

We just prefered the lower visitor numbers of the other parks and the landscapes/ scenery were breathtaking too.

By the way, worth point out that we did this trip last year and I'm just now getting around to adding more to the report!
Kavey is offline  
Aug 26th, 2005, 01:32 PM
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PS Tandme2, welcome to the Africa board.

Please do post a thread on your possible plans and you're bound to get lots of input from many other Fodorites here who have done similar self-drive safaris in South Africa.

Kavey is offline  

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