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Trip report - Arathusa in Sabi Sands, Pafuri Camp and Mashatu Tented Camp

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Aug 12th, 2009, 03:03 PM
  #1
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Trip report - Arathusa in Sabi Sands, Pafuri Camp and Mashatu Tented Camp

My husband and I went on our our second Southern Africa trip in June 2009. Here is our trip report – it is too long, but we had such a blast I wanted to share it with you.

May 29 – Fly to London AA in coach. We wanted to have a layover so we could get used to the time change, so we visited London for a few days.
June 2 – Fly BA to JNB in business class (yeah for FF Miles!!)
June 3 – Ariive JNB, transfer to Federal Air Terminal, fly to Arathusa
June 3 – June 6 Arathusa Safari Camp
June 6 – Driver transfer to Pafuri Camp in Northern Kruger
June 6 – June 9 Pafuri Camp
June 9 – Driver transfer to Mashatu Tented Camp in southeast Botswana
June 9 – 13 Mashatu Tented Camp
June 13 – Fly Mashatu to Polokwane to JNB
June 14 – Lipizzaner horse show, late flight home, business JNB-LHR, coach LHR-JFK
June 15 – Arrived home. Started planning our next trip to S Africa

We landed at JNB in the morning, we were met at the airport and taken to the small airport where Federal Air operates (had to go back to main terminal – we forgot to get money from an ATM. Too tired, I guess). We were there for a few hours napping and having a light continental breakfast. We boarded our small (about 8 seats, I guess) aircraft and made our way to Arathusa with a quick stop to drop other passengers off at another camp. We were met at the "Arathusa airport" and made ourselves comfy in our room where we'd stay for the next three days. Wow - Arathusa was so much nicer than expected!! Our rondovelle was one from the end in front of a large waterhole. There were animals everywhere. It was very large with a king bed (nice surprise) and mosquito nets. There is an outside shower, as well as an inside shower and a bathtub (another surprise). Very large, neat as a pin and very clean. The camp was being spiffed up while we were there - painting and adding brick pathways. The common areas were very nice. It even had an infinity pool that looked over the waterhole. Our meals were served on a deck overlooking the water hole. At night with lanterns in a circle and brunch was under a shaded deck. The food was excellent. We always had two options for dinner (great soups!) and brunch was cook to order-pretty much anything, plus muffins and fresh fruit. The snack before the afternoon game drive was always a nice bit of something yummy. The staff was very friendly and we had a great experience.

We were lucky that everyone there with was so nice. There were ten of us in our vehicle. At first, I was a bit ticked off that there were so many of us, but the rest of the guests were so much fun. There was a single woman from Kansas who was there for the week, a couple from Brazil, a couple from France and a trio from Germany. It was fun getting to know them a little. Our guide, Ryan - a young man from S Africa and our tracker, Maurice, were very friendly and knowledgeable. We were just amazed at the numbers of animals we saw on all the drives, and we never felt rushed or “bored” at the sightings. It was our first time in Sabi Sands, so we were really surprised at the number of leopards and rhino. We loved Arathusa and would recommend it for anyone looking for a quality game experience but not looking for a luxury lodge and spa treatments with a really fun mix of guests. We missed our last drive on Saturday morning, but we could have left after it as our drive to Pafuri was not as long as expected. We got there in less than 5 hours.
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Aug 12th, 2009, 03:05 PM
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Continued.....
That was an interesting drive. We got a driver, as we did not rent a car. Our driver, Arthur, was very friendly and talkative so we got a bit of history and fun stories the whole way. We didn't go through Kruger Park, but Arthur thinks in the future that might be a better way to go to Pafuri from Sabi Sands. We did get to see the small private game reserves they are creating outside the park. It might be fun to visit one in the future just to experience it. One thing we saw on the ride was a giraffe truck!! They were transporting giraffes from one place to another in a tall, skinny truck with their heads sticking up. They must have been terrified, but I hope they were going to live somewhere nice. Interesting to see, though. We entered Kruger through the Punda Marie Gate. While Arthur was paying for our entry, I used the rest room. I have to say it might have been the nicest public rest room I've ever used.

We arrived at Pafuri in plenty of time for afternoon snack and game drive. Pafuri is a Wilderness Safari (Adventure Co) Camp and it was nicely done. Elevated decks and walkways and a large tent for our room – the norm for WS. The tents are elevated with two twin beds together and a bathroom with outdoor shower in the back. Some rooms were family rooms that had a twim room attached. Our tent overlooked the river, so there were animals in the river almost all the time. We also had herbivores on the grass under the walkways whenever we went from the common areas to/from our tent. The open air common areas were stone, thatch, wood and canvas and dinners were served in different areas every night. Due to the bad weather (it got very cold and windy) we ate under the thatched area with the canvas sides down the last two nights. There was a pool that looked nice, too. The food - especially the lamb - was really good!!

Pafuri is interesting. It is not known for its game, but getting better, but the area is greener than the rest of Kruger, and there are baobab trees that were incredible. Lanner Gorge was fantastic. It's a huge canyon that is beautiful!! Unfortunately our weather was not great, so we didn't get to see it at its best. We saw amazing birds and some really interesting animal interactions we had never experienced before. There is a Fever Tree Forest that was so cool. The trees have a light green bark that gives the entire forest a green glow. There were large herds of zebra, lots of kudu, ellies, impala and nyala, and there are hippos and crocs at Crook's Corner. Crook's Corner is where two rivers meet and is the intersection of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and S Africa, thus crook's corner. Our guide, Alveet, was very nice and had a personal relationship with the group we were with so we got some insight into the lives of the local Makelule tribe where he was from. The final three game drives, my husband and I were the only ones assigned to our vehicle, so it made for a private safari. All in all, I liked Pafuri, but I don't think we'd go back.
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Aug 12th, 2009, 03:08 PM
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Continued.......
We got picked up for our final driving transfer to Mashatu Tented Camp by a very nice man, John. We had a good time again driving from Pafuri, through Messina (Mussina) and past the mine towns and farms in this most northern part of S Africa. Fascinating. We arrived at the border post and the river was shallow so no need to take the cage thing. We were able to drive through. After passport control, we got in the truck that was meeting us and our driver, Jakes made it clear that he would not be our guide for our time at Mashatu, but he was just driving us to Tented Camp. “This is not a game drive”. We pulled into a little office building area, Jakes said he had to get our paperwork and a gun. We thought he was kidding until he came out with a piece of paper and a big a** rifle. So off we went, in the rain, for our 40 minute (wet and cold) ride to camp. About 5 minutes into our drive, Jakes veered quickly to the left off the road, and was very excited. I looked up from under my warm blanket and low and behold a cheetah. Jakes was so excited because he hadn’t seen one for months!! We sat and took pictures of her until she walked off and we had to get to camp. When we arrived at camp, we were taken to our tent. Yes, a tent. When I saw it, I was ready to transfer to Main Camp. It was a tent on a cement slab, zippers in place of a door, and just one lamp that we were told doesn’t always work. When we went into the tent, I was sold!! A really comfy bed, real furniture, a small enclosed patio, an outdoor shower and lav. It was perfect!! I would have preferred doors, as the zippers were difficult – especially at night when nature calls – but we loved it. We met our guide, Daniel, our spotter Ephraim, and our safari companions, had a bite to eat and off we went. Since we were the newbies, Daniel (who was very excited about our cheetah as he hadn’t seen one in many months) asked us what we wanted to see. Wild dogs of course. Since we were having such luck, Daniel said OK, let’s see if we can find them. Their home area is far from camp, so we sped off in the wet and cold to find them. We saw some interesting sights on the way, including a leopard dragging an impala kill, a secretary bird and a kori bustard. Then as night was falling, we finally found a large group of dogs. It was amazing as we’d never seen them nor been anywhere that we would expect to. Yeah, they were sleeping, but who cares!!! We got to see them and so did our drive mates. From seeing the giant eagle owl on our final game drive in Pafuri to seeing the dogs at Mashatu and all the stuff in between, this was the best game day we’d ever had or could hope for. It was incredible.

The next morning, the weather was awful. It was raining hard and really cold. Bob and I were the only brave (or stupid) ones to go out in the weather. I can’t imagine Daniel and Ephraim were very happy about it either!! Well, off we went. I don’t know why we were having such luck, but that’s the day we found the lioness with her two cubs. That evening we found the funny hyenas (see the video but excuse the language, please). We loved Mashatu – the staff was incredibly nice, the common areas comfortable, the pool was nice, the tent was spotless and the food and service were excellent. We didn’t do any of the Adventure Mashatu activities because after our first drive where we saw the dogs, Bob and I were on our own with Daniel and Ephraim!! Three days of a private safari and it was spectacular!! When the weather broke on our third day there, we were able to take a walk in the bush. That was fun – I’d like to do that more. The wildlife at Mashatu was so much better than expected and after my initial thoughts on the accommodations, we really fell in love with it. All the staff seemed to know that I wanted to see a porcupine, so when one came into the staff area during dinner, they came to get me. No pics – we weren’t prepared. We heard the hyenas laughing out in the bush, an owl just outside camp and lions roaring in the night. We even had our own resident bushbuck, who was so cute. I can’t wait to go back. I would recommend tented camp to most, but would stay at Main Camp if you need the fancier atmosphere.

On our last morning drive, we found a pride of lions – male, 2 females, 2 month olds cubs and 2 weeks old cubs. OMG!!!! We looked for them for a long time, but it was worth the “hunt”. All the guides from tented and main were tracking the male’s tracks, but he had been all over the night before!!! We went back to camp, had breakfast, said goodbye to everyone and promised to return. We hope to be able to keep that promise and soon.

Daniel and Ephraim took us to the airport, and off we went in a tiny 2 passenger plane, transferred to Polokwane to an Airlink flight to JNB, and stayed in the Southern Sun Airport hotel (it was nice to have a door on a bathroom for a change). We were picked up the next morning for the Lipizzaner horse show outside Johannesburg. We’ve seen them in Slovenia and NYC, but his was by far the most entertaining Lipizzaner show we’ve seen. We even got to pet the horses in the barn after the show. We were dropped off at the airport, and made our way home.

I was not expecting so much from this trip. It was amazing.

Here’s link to our pictures. There are too many, and a couple of funny videos. Let me know if the link doesn’t work.

http://christaandbobafrica2009.shutterfly.com/
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Aug 12th, 2009, 03:26 PM
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Interesting report but the link doesn't work for me. Too bad about some of your weather though!
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Aug 12th, 2009, 04:28 PM
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Great to hear about your trip. Nice reminder of our stay at Mashatu tented camp, we loved it too, our guide was Jakes. Also sorry about your weather at Mashatu, did they say it was unusual for that time of year because they had unusual rains in Northern Botswana too? Good to see your photos too but the videos don't work for me.
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Aug 12th, 2009, 05:07 PM
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I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Mashatu. It's definitely one of my favorite places.
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Aug 12th, 2009, 05:09 PM
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Nice descriptive report. Thanks. Mashatu Tented always gets good reviews. It's on my (too long) list of places to go.

I was able to access your photos and will look at them later. I did watch the elephant video!!!

Did you use your camera for the video or a video camera?
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Aug 12th, 2009, 05:20 PM
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Sorry you can't see the photos or videos. I use a mac - maybe it's that. I don't know how to fix it so you can see them. If anyone knows, please let me know. (cw- the ellie was pretty funny). We used a camera and just got lucky a couple of times with some funny happenings for the videos.

The weather was bad but it didn't dampen our spirits. We had a great time. All of our camps were great and it didn't break the bank too badly. Just put a big crack in it!
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Aug 12th, 2009, 07:06 PM
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Love the hyena video! Sounds like you had a great first trip. Excluding the rain, of course. Wild dogs, little bitty lion cubs, a porcupine (I've never seen one!), hippos, crocs and a private vehicle. What more could you ask for. I'm glad you liked Mashatu Tent Camp. I do too. Thanks for the report and photos.
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Aug 12th, 2009, 08:57 PM
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Hi christabir

Pleased you loved your gameviewing at Mashatu - I have now included it in my trips as I loved it so much the first time. I am also stopping at Pafuri for two nights and I am not expecting big gameviewing, but I am into the birds now and it will be a break from driving from Mashatu to MalaMala. I am really surprised to hear 10 in a vehicle - no matter how nice the other guests are, I think that is too many for safety and for photography purposes.

I considered doing Pafuri to MalaMala in the Sabi Sands through Kruger, but was told it was a 6hr drive on the main road and would take much longer through Kruger because of speed limit. I also need to be at MM by 2pm so we are leaving early enough without doing it slowly through Kruger, which is a shame, as I thought I would have a six hour gamedrive!
I also go out in the rain, and usually am the exception - it does always turn into a good gamedrive. We had some dreadful thunderstorms at Mashatu and we rarely returned dry but that was in summer and not so bad to be wet.

Kind regards

Kaye
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Aug 13th, 2009, 03:26 PM
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Loved your pictures and videos. Elephant was very impressive!
We'll be going to Pafuri and Mashatu next October - glad to read about your experiences there.
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Aug 13th, 2009, 07:10 PM
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SD- Loved the hyenas. African porcupines are about three feet high and long with 18 inch quills. We were too close to him for my comfort, but what a cool animal. Private vehicle for 5 out of 10 days was great (and it was luck of the draw, we didn't pay extra) - I think that's why we enjoyed the packed truck so much. If not for that we wouldn't have had much people interaction.

Kaye - I might chance the drive through the park. It took us less than 5 hours on the highway, but not the most interesting drive. Some large towns but lots of farms and citrus groves. Our driver really thought we could have made it through the park in less than 7 hours - maybe closer to 6. But like you said, you can't be sure. When we came home, everyone was shocked that we could actually be cold and wet in southern Africa. "We all" think it's hot, dry and buggy everywhere in Africa all the time. We kind of loved that our weather was so bad - at least it was different!

We got lucky with a couple of those videos. You just never know what's going to happen!!

Leslie- You'll love both places. By then the animals should be even more acclimated to people in trucks in Pafuri and the game viewing will be even better. We can't wait to go back to Mashatu. It's really special.

Christa
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Aug 14th, 2009, 10:51 AM
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Hi Christa -
As far as rooms, or tents rather, at Pafuri -- we were asked if we had any preference. Would you say there's something we should request such as over-looking the river or would any tent location be as good as another?

We're in Main Camp at Mashatu so I don't think you'd have a recommendation there - maybe anyone else reading this thread might??

Thanks -
Leslie
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Aug 15th, 2009, 11:33 AM
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Leslie

There are two sides of Pafuri camp. To tell you the truth, I don't know which side we were on - north or south (I think it was north). And I can't remember what number tent we were in either. I think all the tents are on the river and in theory should have a view. But we had a great unobstructed view of the river, but our neighbor had a big tree blocking most of their view. They had a family tent. I didn't talk to anyone else about their location.

We wanted to go to Main Camp just to check it out, but our game drives were so incredible, we didn't want to "waste" our time. I don't think there is a water source there, but I don't know for sure. Tented camp was on a dry river, but we did not have a view, others did. I've never requested a room location, but now I know it really can make a difference. Lots of people here have been to Mashatu. Maybe they can help.
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Aug 15th, 2009, 12:16 PM
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Thanks Christa. Maybe I'll start a thread asking. Feels kind of nit-picky with all of the other 'big' questions being dealt with!
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Aug 15th, 2009, 08:24 PM
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We stayed on the South side of Pafuri (as you are walking up to the office from the parking lot, the tents on the right) and it looked like every tent on that side had a great view of the river. We also had a family tent that was quite simply a perfect setup.

You won't get the cat viewings in Pafuri that you do in the popular places, but we love ellies and there were tons of them there. We were mock charged a couple of times (INCREDIBLE!!!) and ended up stopping one night right in the middle of herd in complete darkness (TERRIFYING!!).

We also really enjoyed the different ecosystems in that area. Pafuri was the only place we didn't get a little bored with after 2 nights. The fever tree forest makes for some incredible photo opportunities as does Lanner Gorge (and whatever the name of the spot where they do sundowners with the crocs/hippos where you can see 3 countries).
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Aug 15th, 2009, 11:55 PM
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Hi Christabir and LeslieS,

I would love to come down through Kruger, and I am told that distance wise it is a six hour drive, but that is driving at 100k per hour, the speed in Kruger I would think would be about 20k to 30k per hour, plus stopping for animals and other vehicles - too many unpredictabilities!

Concerning Main Camp at Mashatu, the huge glass window looking out from our room was quite treed, so not much of a lookout though we did see a little bushbuck there one lunch time and a few birds on other days, so to me I wouldn't be bothered requesting a particular room. There is permanent waterhole at Main Camp but near the dining area.

I have my first visit to Pafuri in December this year and I don't think I shall bother requesting a room.

Hi Statefan,

I would not be happy with a vehicle stopping in the middle of an ele herd in darkness - that is not only terrifying but I think stupid as well! I am really looking forward to the diversity of Pafuri and am not expecting huge big 5 gameviewing, so will not be disappointed. Just as a matter of interest, is it the gameviewing that has you a little bored after 2 nights?

Kind regards

Kaye
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Aug 16th, 2009, 07:01 AM
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Kaye - trust me, it was not intentional. We were heading back to camp when we rounded a corner and saw 3 ellies in the road in front of us. We had been mock charged by a couple around this area on the way out so everyone was concerned about spooking them again. So, our guide cut the engine and lights hoping they would move on. As soon as he cut the engine, we heard munching on both sides of us - turned out there were several ellies eating the small trees right beside us on each side of the road! They were on the other sides of the trees so we could not see them, but you could not miss the munching and that rumbling sound they make.

We got bored after a couple of nights at some of the other places because we kept seeing the same animals over and over again. On the contrary, we spent 4 nights at Pafuri and went somewhere different every day. I'm not saying we did not use the same roads to track game, we just always did something different in addition to that.

We left Pafuri and decided to spend 2 nights driving thru Kruger on our way to the Timbavati private reserve. It's slow going and the game viewing on our trip was just ok. We weren't a big fan of the restcamps either.

The Pafuri experience would be much, much better if they could go offroad.
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Aug 16th, 2009, 07:47 AM
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statefan - I believe they started offroad at Pafuri this past April so that should be a plus.

Thanks for your comments on the tents and views.

KayeN - can't wait to hear your report on Pafuri after your trip.

I think I'll just go with the rooms we're given - I'm betting there's not a 'bad' one to be had.
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Aug 16th, 2009, 10:34 AM
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Oooohhhh, if they are offroading at Pafuri, we may go back there next year and add in Mashatu.

My wife still keeps in touch with our Pafuri guide through Facebook. I think he has started a blog of some sort that describes some of his adventures. I'll see if I can get a link from her and post it here in case you are interested.
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