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TRIP REPORT – 5 fantastic weeks in South Africa, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Mauritius

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Feb 19th, 2009, 11:23 AM
  #21
 
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I have so enjoyed reading your trip report - it brought back many fond memories.

We too have visited Didima and loved it - such a beautiful setting in the mountains. I hope you visited the interpretive centre - we found it very informative and there were some great baskets for sale.

I can't imagine Bergville on Christmas Eve. We went in July in the middle of the week and it was insanely busy then. I think we were the only whites in town, and we looked as though we had been beamed down from another planet. I have never felt so completely out of place - although, like you, not in any danger.

Your baboon story reminded me of an experience we had in the De Hoop Nature Reserve (east of Cape Town on the coast). We returned to our rental cabin after a day on the beach to discover that a troop of 30 baboons had found the only window we had left slightly ajar. They had taken over the cabin and eaten every bit of our two-week supply of food. Fair warning - they did succeed in opening the kitchen cupboards and even the refrigerator. Thankfully, we were able to scare them out of the cabin, but it took us hours to clean up the mess. The baboons returned every day after that to see if we had been stupid enough to leave a window open again. Thanks to the closed windows, we nearly sweated to death for the duration of our visit.

I am sorry to learn that your accomodation in Kruger wasn't quite up to scratch. One thing I have always admired about the SAN park accomodation is that we have always found it to be spotlessly clean and very comfortable. Hopefully, your experience was the exception and not a new trend.

You had some great sightings in Kruger - I would love to see hyena pups and civets!

Your drive between Muizenberg and Simonstown was proabably delayed by whales. There are often great whale sightings along that route and, when there are, the traffic slows to a crawl while people try to find a place to park.

Interesting that everyone wanted your husband's shoes. When we were at Vic Falls this past August, the young men wanted our water bottles - status for school, we were told! As we were at the end of our trip, we happily gave them away.

Re the car guards - when we lived in CT for a year (2004-2005) we frequently paid car guards - always when we returned to the vehicle. We paid according to how long we had been away from the car. R2 for a grocery stop - R 10 to R20 if we were hiking for a few hours. Dirt cheap to ensure the safetly of the car and its contents! No matter how long we were gone, the car guard was always standing faithfully nearby when we returned.

Thanks again for a most enjoyable read! Robin
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Feb 19th, 2009, 07:47 PM
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Wonderfully detailed trip report, PRLCH – felt like I was walking beside you! Like so many, can relate to those ‘robber baboons’ who managed to unlock a screen door in our case, stole the soap and then jumped on sleeping daughter's bed. Her screams still echo in my memory, as does the calmly soap-eating baboon surveying everyone’s panic with disdain.

We laid bets on whether there would be bubbles – no one won, as probably the bubbles were part of the evacuation rather than ingestion!

Looking forward to more ... see you on the Oz board!
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Feb 22nd, 2009, 01:46 PM
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Thanks everyone. Not much more to write - only the Garden Route and Mauritius. Writing this report plays havoc with all those less enjoyable chores one needs to do.

MrsAK - I envy you your high school years in Stellenbosch. I went to school in "ugly" Johannesburg and used to dream of going to university in Stellenbosch and marrying a Franschhoek wine farmer. Something went wrong with that dream - I went to university in Johannesburg and married a Sydney lawyer. (Never mind, I love him dearly ... and Sydney is almost as special a place as the Cape Winelands).

Canadian_Robin, Thanks for your nice comments. I have been enjoying reading your trip report through South Africa and Namibia. We considered Namibia, but (1) we couldn't "do it all" and (2) it is really too hot in summer I think. I had thought this trip would perhaps be my last trip to Africa - it is 14 years since I was there and I had forgotten how much I loved it. Now I know it was definately not my last trip - I showed your report to DH and he agreed it looked like a fantastic trip. And .... there are so many other places we would like to see in Africa.

ArthurSA - The R490 charge from Budget has been sorted out by the lovely Carina at Selftours. Budget had charged us a one way hire fee that had already been prepaid, so they have reversed it now!

FurryTiles - I love your story of Bubbles the Baboon!!

Today I must do my urgent chores - will try to post again tomorrow.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 02:47 AM
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Happy to hear you got your R490 back.
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Feb 23rd, 2009, 06:57 AM
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Glad you are enjoying the report - it is a work in progress - I am about to get started on the Namibia section. Robin
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Feb 24th, 2009, 02:51 PM
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GARDEN ROUTE
From here we drove down through Somerset West and along past Mossel Bay to Knysna. We did not stop anywhere significant along the way as it was a very dull day with light rain most of the time – quite an uneventful trip. We had booked into the Knysna River Club (http://www.knysnariverclub.co.za/) for the next 5 nights.

Knysna was very central on the Garden Route which allowed us to explore quite easily, but we really did not like Knynsa. I don’t consider the lagoon to be pretty or inviting, and while they have done the marina area very nicely, we would not stay in Knysna again. Next time we would either stay on the ocean side; eg. Brenton-on-Sea or Buffelsbaai are both close to Knysna and very pretty places; or more likely we would stay at Wilderness. This has the sea and lagoon, a vibrant village atmosphere, and a wide array of B&Bs and other accommodation.

Our accommodation at Knysna River Club was in a timber chalet; 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room and very well equipped kitchen, with a veranda for taking meals. The beds were comfortable and the accommodation impeccably clean and neat, but somehow it was a bit characterless after Soverby. In fact, it did not feel anything like the pictures on the website. The website photo shows the only chalets which faced the water and the rest of the resort is built on a very deep, narrow block. The chalets are built very close together, so when we ate our dinner we had to keep our voices low so that we did not share our dinner conversation with our neighbours across the way having their dinner. Thankfully, our neighbours were a very nice retired English couple who had escaped the cold of England for the balmy climate of the Cape, and we often chatted and exchanged news on our day’s outings. As this was really the end of our South Africa holiday, and it felt a bit “flat”, we checked out of The Knysna River Club one day early and relocated to Wilderness for our last night (more about that later).

On our first day we headed to The Crags, near Plettenberg Bay, where our first stop was the Elephant Sanctuary (http://elephantsanctuary.co.za/cragshome.htm). Here we “walked with the elephants”. It was amazing to see these enormous animals, not from a vehicle, but standing alongside them. We all expressed surprise at how hairy the elephants are. We fed them some vegetables and fruit – they had to stand behind a low bar, I guess to stop them pushing someone over in their eagerness for food. They extend those beautiful trunks and so gently remove the offerings from your hand. After they were fed, they were able to roam freely, grazing on grass and bushes. We were able to wander amongst them, patting them and getting some photos. A young baby elephant stole a bottle of milk from one of the rangers and took off with it, very carefully holding it with its trunk while at the same time pouring it into it’s mouth. Suddenly, the elephants all trotted off behind the bar again. At first we thought this strange, but upon listening carefully, we could hear the tractor & trailer that was bringing the next load of guests with their food. They really are very clever animals!

From the Elephant Sanctuary we went to Monkeyland (http://www.monkeyland.co.za/experience.htm). This was a really interesting place. It is a forest full of a variety of monkeys and primates (not just from South Africa). They were all previously captive monkeys (eg from zoos or pets) who were no longer wanted. They have been “dehumanised” at Monkeyland and almost returned to a wild environment. I say almost, because they are still fed by rangers on food platforms, but the feeding is done very early in the morning when the monkeys are not yet up and about. This is to prevent them from associating people with food. We saw a range of monkeys and other primates. None of them showed any fear of us, but none of them showed any interest in relating to us either. They also have a smaller enclosure for “anti-socials” who have not dehumanised well and thus cannot be realised to the forest. We saw a monkey there that was sitting on a tortoise’s back; as soon as the poor tortoise stuck its head out, the monkey grabbed its neck and yanked it backwards. Clearly, a very antisocial monkey! We also visited the Birds of Eden (http://www.birdsofeden.co.za/), a very nicely done bird park.

On our second day we headed inland through George to Oudtshoorn. This was a very hot day! We visited an Ostrich farm, which was very interesting. As the days of big feather hats are no longer with us, I did not think it would be as large an industry as it is. I was very surprised that they said they exported a large amount of ostrich meat to Europe. Anybody ever seen ostrich meat in the shops in Europe – I cannot say I have? We planned to drive through Meiringspoort, which I believe is beautiful, but we took the wrong road out of Oudtshoorn. We drove through another lovely valley and a little way onto the Swartberg Pass. I had thought we could do a circular route back to Meiringspoort, but my map was not very good. As the Swartberg pass road was corrugated dirt and we did not know how good or bad the road would become, we decided not to proceed and turned back. As it was very hot, everyone seemed keen to just head back home for a cool swim.

On our third day we spent a lovely day at Storms River Mouth. We first drove to Storms River Village (not much there, especially as Daughter#1 could not do much walking), and we then headed into the National Park to Storms River Mouth. Once again, a very hot day! We started off by doing the boat trip up the river. It does not go very far, but the gorge is spectacular. We also walked along the path to the bridge. More walking would have been lovely, but just not possible in our circumstances. We then found ourselves a little “cave” next to a small waterfall on the beach. We sheltered from the sun, enjoying the views and reading books, while one mad daughter took to the sea. The water was icy cold, but she did not seem to mind – she had a wonderful time! It was a really special day, and I think I could easily spend a few days there doing very little and just enjoying the beauty of the place.

On our fourth day we decided to relocate to Wilderness for our last night. We packed up, checked out and explored the coastline between Knysna and Wilderness. Each time we found a nice beach, we had some time out for a walk or exploring. We found Brenton-on-Sea and Buffelsbaai to be lovely beaches. We passed Wilderness, and a short distance out the other side we hired some kayaks and went canoeing. Once again, some magical views from the water!. The only problem was nobody liked having Dad in their boat. First one daughter had him and complained. Then the other – much the same result. Finally I was told to share a kayak with father while the girls teamed up together. It seemed I was the only one who could cope with father’s strength in rowing, but lack of steering. Kayaking is much too hard work to my mind, but it was a lovely hour, and the girls (who are practised at this sort of thing from school camps) had a fantastic time.

In Wilderness we stayed in a lovely B&B called Cloverleigh Guest House (http://www.cloverleigh.co.za/index.html) . We had two cottages in the garden, and highly recommend the venue. As we checked in we saw a bushbuck and her baby browsing in the bushes in the back garden! I gather they are regular visitors to the property. That night we walked along the lagoon into Wilderness for dinner. We had a very nice meal at The Girls Restaurant, upon the recommendation of our hosts. We were amazed how busy all the restaurants in Wilderness were, and were very glad our host had booked ahead. We enjoyed the walk back along the lagoon after dinner, and did not feel at all unsafe walking in the dark! There is a well maintained, well lit path all along the lagoon. We were really pleased we had moved to Wilderness for our last night.

JOHANNESBURG AGAIN
We flew from George Airport to Johannesburg the next morning, and stayed overnight in Bryanston at a comfortable B&B called Cape Elegance (http://www.capeelegance.co.za/). We also stayed here again for a single night after our time in Mauritius, before flying back to Australia. We found the location to be ideal. While we did need a car as it is not close to the airport, it was an easy trip along the freeway. It is set in beautiful gardens, the pool was enjoyed by our youngest, and the hosts were very helpful. We did not “do” much on either of these days in Johannesburg. We visited Sandton City shopping mall for some retail therapy on one day (found a lovely dress for one daughter to wear to an 18th birthday party for a mere R200)! On our last day we spent the morning at Montecasino, which is only a short trip from Bryanston. It was a lovely place to visit, just to see how it has been done, and was a good place to “kill some time” before our flight to Australia. It is a large complex built in the style of an old Italian village – complete with peeling plaster on buildings – a very authentic look. There is a very nice Bird Park there – sadly a thunderstorm came up very quickly which washed us out half way through visiting it. We met my brother there for lunch – which was very really a nice way to end the trip.

Only one installment left - Mauritius will be coming next.
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Feb 28th, 2009, 09:34 AM
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You really really really missed out on Meirings poort! I have lost count how many times I've driven through there. It used to be a narrow, winding two lane road hardly any place to pull over when I was a kid. My mom grew up in George and she told me that back in the day, it was a single lane dirt track and they had to hoot at every corner to prevent collisions!

After most of the road was taken out in flood, they rebuilt the road and added picnic spots.

I'm so disappointed for you that you missed it!
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Mar 1st, 2009, 04:16 PM
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MrsAK, it sounds like I will just have to go back again one day. I would very much like to see Meiringspoort - it sounds delightful with picnic areas to enjoy it from. I would also like to visit Calitzdorp. My grandmother grew up on an ostrich farm near there, so there is still much to be seen in the area! My grandmother will turn 100 in 2010, and I have promised her I will go back for 100th birthday party - maybe I can take my mother back and we can have a little side trip at the same time! Oh, how easy it is to dream up travel plans!
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Mar 2nd, 2009, 04:55 PM
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And now for the very last bit of the report.

MAURITIUS
Due to a delayed departure from Johannesburg, we did not arrive in Mauritius until about midnight. We were standing in the immigration queue, patiently waiting our turn when we were directed to the priority queue. No sooner were we next in line to be helped, when all the flight crew and assisted passengers arrived, and suddenly we were put to the back of the queue. I think we were the very last passengers to get through immigration. Then when we got to the luggage carousel, there were only 3 bags still going around. We had 3 bags, but only 2 of the bags belonged to us – our third bag was missing! Further delays while we made enquiries ..... nobody knew where our bag was, but we were given a phone number and told to call the next day to make further enquiries. Eventually it was well after 1am before we found our very patient driver waiting for us in the arrivals hall – by now we were about 4 hours later than our scheduled arrival time!

It was supposed to be an hour’s drive from the airport to our accommodation, but by this time our driver was in a terrible hurry. We did the trip in about 40 minutes – the whole way we were hanging on for dear life hoping the van was not going to tip over given the way we were going through traffic circles! A hair-raising ride to say the least!

In Mauritius we had booked our accommodation via the internet. We stayed in a block of 4 apartments; all owned by our landlord, called Mo ti Paradis in Troux au Biches (www.motiparadis.ch). The owners are Swiss, and the apartments are managed locally by the owners’ daughter and her Mauritian husband and his family. The apartment was spotlessly clean, with 2 bathrooms, 2 air-conditioned bedrooms, a very well equipped kitchen, a lounge / dining area, and a beautiful big covered balcony where we spent most of our time when we were home. There was a lovely pool. We did not have a beach view as the apartment is set about 2 blocks (150m) back from the beach. It would have been lovely to have had ocean views as the beach area was very pretty, but being set back gave us a lot of privacy and also meant the area was very quiet. All 4 the apartments were occupied when were there, with our neighbours being French and German. It seemed quite often a single unit was rented by 2 couples travelling together. The local small supermarket was only a block away, so it was lovely fresh baguettes every morning.
It was very hot and humid while we were in Mauritius, but we were fortunate to only have one wet day during our stay. Many more wet days had been forecast, but we were lucky! While we often got a soft breeze, we were extremely thankful for the air-conditioners in our bedrooms. Many apartments that we looked at did not seem to have air-conditioning, but we thought it was essential.

Our one irritation in Mauritius was our missing suitcase – it was the one that contained all our toiletries, spare shoes, DH’s blackberry, suncream, medications etc. We tried and tried and tried to call the number we had been given, but it just remained engaged or just rang and was not answered. Of course, after 3 days, after going to lengths to cancel DH’s blackberry connections, Air Mauritius called to say that someone had taken our bag by mistake and that he would contact us regarding returning it to us. After a further 24 hours we managed to chase down the bag “thief” – after a poor phone connection, one talking English and one talking French, we finally arranged that he would deliver it to us. More wasted time waiting for him. We thought the entire “wrong bag” story seemed very strange. We had met this young French fellow waiting to board the plane in Johannesburg, and had joked with our elder daughter that he had especially enjoyed chatting to her in French – he was very friendly! He was the one that mistakenly took our bag. It took him 3 days before he realised that the bag he had did not belong to him!?!? Then, despite our bag being clearly labelled with all necessary contact details, he broke the lock on our case and had clearly been through our belongings – it was definitely not as I had packed it. Nothing had been taken, it had just been “gone through”! Of course, this made me paranoid. I unpacked the entire case, checked all “secret” zippers etc to make sure nothing had been put INTO our bag. Checked all our contents very carefully before repacking the bag!

Mauritius was a very restful part of our holiday and we had lazy days. The beach nearby was very easy to walk to, and the pool was also very nice. I am not much of a swimmer and do not like cold water, so I had a wonderful time in Mauritius. I was able to walk right into the ocean without even flinching as the water was so warm, and was able to wallow for a very long time. My daughter thought the water was too hot, but I had a great time!

Sometimes we got a taxi into Grand Baie, where there are markets (clothes, curios etc), and also an enormous supermarket. We stocked up well here a couple of times during our stay, as we ended up eating all our meals at home. (DH had food poisoning or a virus early on in Mauritius – not sure which – but that made us very careful with what we ate and where we ate for the rest of our stay).

One day we got a taxi out to the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens, where a guide showed us around. The gardens were beautiful and it was great to have a guide. He had a great sense of humour and was able to quickly show us some of the sights, explaining the significance of various plants so that even the girls (who are not fans of anything to do with gardening) had an enjoyable time.

On another day we hired a taxi driver for the day to show us the south of the island. We headed off at 8:30am which was a big mistake – we should have left much earlier as we had to pass through Port Louis and the traffic was horrendous – we crawled along for well over an hour. The south of the island was very pretty, and the highlight for us was visiting a tea plantation. It was a beautiful setting for tea after a fascinating tour where we got a great insight into the production process.

One day we had a most enjoyable day riding the local busses. We took a bus to Cap Malheureux at the northern tip of the island where we explored. We then took a bus back stopping off at various beaches along the way – Point Aux Cannoniers and Mont Choisy being our favourite beaches. While we liked Troux Aux Biches very much, if we were to return we would probably look at staying around Mont Choisy or Point Aux Cannoniers. DH also liked Cap Malheureux. Ideally staying with a waterfront view would be perfect! We would have liked to have done a boat trip to Ile aux Cerfs for one day, but somehow our stay was over before we got around to arranging this.

Mauritius is a very beautiful place, but is has a feeling of “third world” about it with a fair amount of litter about. Roadsides are diligently swept every day, but 1m off the road there can be a lot of litter. (We were amazed that taxi drivers and bus conductors simply opened windows and threw bottles or paper out without a second thought!) I also thought that a lot of development did not seem to be very sympathetic with the beautiful environment. To me it seemed a bit of a paradox. What surprised us most was how much French was spoken in Mauritius – it was firstly a French colony and then later (and for longer) a British colony. While a lot of government bureaucracy is in English, the locals all told us that they can read (not speak) English but speak French (or Creole which seemed to be a French based dialect). We were also surprised by the make-up of foreign tourists. I would probably have expected mostly South Africans, but the vast majority of tourists were French – and were mostly retired. I understand that a lot of French come and stay in Mauritius for 3 or 6 months at a time over the European winter period. They certainly did not have the “sun smart” view that is so much part of the Australian culture. We were amazed that some of the French people seemed to lie in the sun for hours on end, day after day, with no apparent worry about the ill effects of the sun.

Sadly, before long, our stay in Mauritius was over, as was our 5 weeks holiday in Southern Africa. It was a great family holiday and we took some amazing photos! Now I am trying my hand at making a DVD of our trip – I have bought Photostory7 and am enjoying playing with our photos. My biggest problem at the moment is that we had 3 cameras going, so we have thousands of pictures, and trying to choose which to include and which to leave out is a difficult job. I am enjoying the process however, and hopefully we will have a very special DVD by the end!
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 06:09 AM
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Wonderful report.
Thanks for sharing.
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Mar 3rd, 2009, 01:59 PM
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<<The gardens were beautiful and it was great to have a guide. He had a great sense of humour and was able to quickly show us some of the sights, explaining the significance of various plants so that even the girls (who are not fans of anything to do with gardening) had an enjoyable time.>>

hi prlch - have your kids met my kids? sounds as if they are of the same ilk. I now resort to bribery and coruption - I'll take you to X if you let me go round a garden without grumbling. sad isn't it?

regards, ann
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Mar 4th, 2009, 12:31 PM
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Thanks for the kind words, Cybor.

Annhig - you made me smile - such a familiar negotiation. My kids are even afarid that I may want to visit nurseries and garden centres when I travel abroad. When we went to Europe in summer a couple of years ago I kept lamenting that I clearly live on the wrong continent - the European gardens were so pretty and colourful, with all kinds of things that just will not grow in Sydney. Needless to say, the kids rolled their eyes every time I took photos of yet some more gaily coloured gardens.
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Mar 4th, 2009, 05:43 PM
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Kingdom Hotel is a nice find at the falls. Glad you enjoyed them so much and finally got there.

You really had variety on your holiday, almost including baboon bubbles. What a great trip and you'll have detailed memories with your report.
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Mar 15th, 2009, 06:16 PM
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Just caught up with the Mauritius section of your t.r. prlch, thanks for posting! Sorry to read your sojourn was marred by both your dh's food poisoning and The Mystery of the Missing Suitcase. I agree, the whole episode sounds very suspicious and like you, I would doubt the truth of the 'explanation'.

We too found Mauritius stunningly beautiful, rich in history and sugar cane - and we too were struck by the opulence of the tourist resorts and the relative poverty of suburbia.

One of the highlights for us was a group of traditional Sega dancers on the beach around a big bonfire. Still hear that drum. Such an exhilarating, sexy dance.

Thanks for the memories. May all our travel baboons of the future only blow bubbles and refrain from stealing suitcases at airports!
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Nov 15th, 2011, 09:17 AM
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Bookmarking for January 2013 trip.
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Nov 17th, 2011, 03:44 AM
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@eenusa;

I saw Gomo Gomo, so I decided to read as well, as it is a place I know a bit (visited 2 lodges nearby that share traverse). For you, and for all others reading this:

- The old Gomo Gomo is now called Simbavati River Lodge, in Timbavati. Indeed, right before you reach the lodge, you need to cross a small river, but that place is dammed now so you end up driving on the concrete dam, so it's quite OK now.

- Gomo Gomo itself moved to Klaserie reserve, next to Timbavati. This means that right in front of Timbavati gate you need to take a left, onto a dirt road. After about 5 mins you reach Klaserie gate. The funny thing is; from that gate, you need to turn right, and drive about 10-15 mins (depending on your car & the weather; the road is quite bumpy with a few big ups and downs), and then a right again towards GomoGomo, which basically almost brings you back to... the asphalt road of Timbavati. Yup; the plot of GomoGomo touches the Timbavati border, which is that asphalt road.

Just to be complete; no, none of the reserves are fenced; game goes where it wants to go, freely.

Safari nyema!

J.
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Nov 17th, 2011, 05:34 AM
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I just looked at this again. Did I read that right? A civet carrying a baby in its mouth? I'd love to know if this was day or night. Civets are hardly ever seen in the day.
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Nov 20th, 2011, 10:17 AM
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Atravelynn - you are right - a civet cat during the day. That was why we were so surprised. Over my many trips to KNP I have never seen one before (nor has anyone in my extended family). I just checked the photo again - definately a civer cat. My daughter got a great photo of one - not the one carrying what we thought was a baby, but the second one.
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Nov 20th, 2011, 10:37 AM
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Just thinking how nice it would be if this forum had an area where we could share such pictures easily.
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Jan 31st, 2016, 12:34 PM
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PRLCH - just came across your lovely TR again, as i am researching a trip to Madagascar, and somehow came across the tour company you used who go there as well as SA etc.

I also want to go to Victoria Falls, which I see you covered as well.

would you still recommend self tours?
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