Trip report: Cape Town, Namibia, Botswana

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Jul 12th, 2003, 05:34 PM
  #1
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Trip report: Cape Town, Namibia, Botswana

After a mere 4 months planning with lots of feedback from this forum, we embarked on our first African safari in late March 2003. We flew Lufthansa from San Francisco via Munich to Cape Town where we were attending an international meeting of real estate valuers. The host member arranged our stay at the Twelve Apostles, a small, intimate and elegant hotel on the Atlantic coast between Camps Bay and Hout Bay. The day after our arrival many of our group of about 40 toured the area ? Table Mountain, a Constantia winery, Buitenverwachting Wine Estates, the jackass penguins at Boulder Beach and Cape of Good Hope. Over the next four days, while my spouse Joe attended meetings I visited other noteworthy sites ? Robben Island, the Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Stellenbosch, the Bo-Kaap district, and the Footsteps to Freedom walking trail. I thought the geography and climate of the area nothing short of spectacular, but the constant warnings to beware of personal crime were disturbing, and yet we never actually experienced anything remotely threatening.

On April 1st we flew to Windhoek to begin an 8-day winged safari with 2 friends from London. We had chosen a private Wilderness Safari (arranged by Greenlife Southern Africa) because we felt that with only a week to see Namibia we didn?t want to take a chance with delayed or cancelled flights. We were met by our pilot and whisked off in a 6-seat Cessna to Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp, just over an hour away. The camp was perched on a hillside and consisted of 9 individual guestrooms, each with its own plunge pool. The rooms were attractively decorated in rattan and dark woods. Huge folding windows overlooked the vast vista of mountains and dunes in the distance. After tea at five we set out on our first game drive. The mammals were pretty much limited to springbok and oryx, but our guide was very knowledgeable about the birdlife and flora. The next day we were up before dawn to drive more than an hour to the Sossusvlei area to catch sunrise on the dunes, an inspiring scene. We drove all the way into the park and by 9:00 am we were starting our climb up Big Daddy, the tallest of the dunes. We hiked to the top barefoot in about an hour and a half and ran down into Dead Vlei in five minutes. Great vistas along the way and a worthwhile experience, plus great exercise. We returned to camp via Sesriem Canyon, a narrow half-mile walk with some interesting rock windows, but otherwise not particularly special. I was impressed with the quality of the food at the camp.

We left the area the next morning and headed to Damaraland. Our pilot flew us over the dunes and we got to circle Big Daddy on our way to Swakopmund. There we were met and driven to Walvis Bay where we were taken by boat out onto Sandwich Harbour. The ride was too Disney-esque, with a trained cape seal jumping aboard and performing tricks, an unsuccessful attempt to entice some dolphins into following us, and the toss of bait into the air to attract the pelicans. I had been keen to see flamingoes but these were in short supply on this day. On our way back to Swakopmund our driver had a ?surprise? for us- ATV rides over the dunes. This would never be on my list of things to do but we gave it a shot and actually had fun. Before returning to our plane, we were delivered to a tent set up on the beach where we were wined and dined for lunch. We continued on to the Damaraland Wilderness Camp, about 2 hours away. The landscape here was dry and the temperatures were hot. The facilities at this camp were much simpler but still comfortable. We slept in canvas tents with a nice ensuite bathroom. The dining room, bar and lounge were attractive and an outdoor patio with a fire pit was the scene of music and dancing that evening. The food at this camp was not as good but the staff was fantastic. Management was friendly and warm and our guide, Michael, a Brit, was incredibly knowledgeable. The full day we spent there, he took us out to track the desert elephants and he was successful in locating 3 herds (is that what they are called?). At our last, he was able to maneuver our vehicle fairly close to them.

Our last destination in Namibia was Ongava Tented Camp just south of Etosha National Park where we spent three nights. The camp was under a canopy of trees and as soon as we walked into the main lodge we had a view of a water hole surrounded by eland, waterbuck and kudu. We could sit in the outdoor lounge or swim in the pool with this constant parade of animals only 20 yards away. The tents here were identical to Damaraland?s but our ensuite bath was very attractive and our shower was open to the sky. Some of the tents had a view of the waterhole. The staff here was welcoming, the food was varied, plentiful and tasty. Our guide worked hard to make our wildlife experience the best he could. The next two days we went into the park and within a mile the show began ? wildebeest, zebra, kudu, giraffe, ostrich, elephant, springbok, hartebeest and more. It was quite spectacular after the limited activity of our first four days. During our evening game drives on the Ongava Reserve we got up close and personal with numerous white rhino, giraffe, zebra and antelope. On the way to the airport on our last morning we made one final attempt to spot lion. After 2 hours we met with success ? a mother and 3 teenagers. They were resting after a hartebeest meal and were content to let us observe them from only a few yards for 30 minutes. It was the culmination of our week in Namibia. We flew back to Windhoek where we spent the rest of the day wandering through town. We ate dinner at the delightful Joe?s Beerhouse with its fantastic décor and large selection of game on the menu. Our hotel was the Villa Verdi, a guest house that was modest but acceptable accommodation.

Our London friends left us to return home the next day and we flew Air Namibia to Maun, Botswana, albeit 3 hours delayed. Our charter in Maun waited for us, however, and we flew over the Okavango Delta to Little Vumbura Wilderness camp just as the sun set. Two giraffe greeted us upon landing and 2 elephant roamed the road as we drove toward camp. Just before dark we arrived at the jetty where we boarded a motorized skiff to cruise the last mile through the narrow reed channels to Little Vumbura. The camp is situated on a wooded island and a long jetty leads to the lounge, bar and dining room. They are built around a huge tree and the décor exudes comfort and chic elegance. An observation deck and fire pit are perched in the reeds and we could hear hippos below us during cocktail hour. Our tent was down a long winding path and looked out on a marshy meadow. The tent was again canvas but the windows were adorned with printed roman shades and the furnishings were of a better quality than those in Namibia. The bathroom was enclosed in the tent but we had a separate outdoor shower 20 feet from the tent as well. We enjoyed the meals here with lots of salads and plenty of variety. This was my favorite camp of all. The setting was delightful and having the water feature was fantastic. We went out for a mokoro ride one morning and our guides knew so much about the fascinating aquatic life and prolific birdlife. We were paddled through the reed channels to another island where we took a hike, spotting vervet monkeys, two bull elephant, red lechwe and waterbuck. When we came suddenly upon a mama elephant and her young our guides instructed us to follow them at a run. We were upwind of them and they weren?t comfortable with this so we serpentined through the bush until they felt we were safe. Our evening game drive was pretty exciting, too. We had a bull elephant trumpet us, saw warthogs, zebra, giraffe, four kinds of antelope, a large herd of cape buffalo, lion, crocodile, hippo, and finally wild dogs. The dogs were such a rare sighting that the recently arrived guests from Little Vumbura and the guests from Vumbura were hailed to come to view this spectacle. The morning of day 2 we took a hike and that evening we took a sunset cruise on the waterway. On our last morning our game drive produced a cheetah and several full grown male lions. The one cat we did not see was a leopard. Perhaps on our next safari.

We flew without incident to Johannesburg, where we had a 24-hour layover before our flight back to the USA. We stayed at the Grace in Rosebank, lovely, comfortable and a nice close to a wonderful and memorable trip. We did all our shopping the final day at the Rosebank market, a cornucopia of great artifacts, and souvenirs. I bought a 15? doll for my niece for US$20. I saw the same doll in a store here last month for US$290! Why didn?t I buy a dozen?!?!

If you have any questions about any place we went, I will try to answer them. If you?d like to see some photos of this safari, click on or copy http://www.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp?i=...21b32648216576 In the slide show mode you can see the 60+ pictures in less than 5 minutes. Or browse the thumbnails for those that might interest you. The purpose of these is to give you an idea of what you might see while in Cape Town, Namibia and Botswana and what the accommodations are like.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to my thread when I had so many questions about Botswana. We had a wonderful time and I will no doubt return some day but for the next 6 years we will travel wherever our committee decides to meet twice a year.

Mary
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Jul 12th, 2003, 05:51 PM
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Excellent post and pictures Mary!!!! Thanks so much. Can't wait until my wife and head there next year. All pictures came out clear and vibrant. Thanks again.
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Jul 13th, 2003, 12:44 PM
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Very good photos.I really enjoyed looking at them.It sounds like you had a wonderful trip.

Could you tell me more about your time in Cape Town? I haven't heard of the Footprints to Freedom trail before,and what did you think of Robben's Island?Is the Kirstenbosch Gardens a must do?
Thanks
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Jul 13th, 2003, 11:53 PM
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Fantastic report and superb pictures - thanks for sharing!

So glad you liked Little Vumbura - we did too!

It all sounds absolutely wonderful!!!
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Jul 14th, 2003, 06:58 AM
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Really great photos! Thanks
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Jul 14th, 2003, 07:41 AM
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Great report Mary. We are thinking about booking Little Vumbura at the same time next year (Mar. 27-30). What was the weather like? Were the tents comfortable to sleep in, even without air conditioning? Did you feel this was a good time of year to be there?
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Jul 14th, 2003, 09:02 AM
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Mary-
A truly wonderful trip report. Now thats the kind thats nice to read and dream on. Just made me want to be there with you. Thank you. Ah, Namibia, I can't wait to see it. I too love the Delta and am looking forward to many more mokoro rides in the future. Thank you again for the treat of accompanying you there. Just enough details and the descriptions of the camps were wonderful. I love your photos and how you set them up. Very professional and just the right amount. Liz
 
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Jul 15th, 2003, 06:55 PM
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Thanks for all of your feedback. I'm delighted you like the photos. Now to answer some questions.

Dottie, the Footsteps to Freedom is a walking tour of historic Cape Town. With 4 people its a privately guided tour that cost R150 pp. (R100 if not a private tour) It starts at the Vistor Info Center on Burg St. & takes about 3 hrs. The tour includes St Georges Mall, Greenmarket Sq, Flower Mkt, Groote Kerk, St. Georges Cathedral, District 6 museum, Company Gardens. The guide we had was wonderful and catered it to our desires. Robben Island was fascinating - our guide was an ex-prisoner & it was a foggy, windy day which added to the atmosphere. Allow about 4 hours. Kirstenbosch Gardens was probably not at its peak since it was fall but I still thought it was exceptional & the protea were prolific. It's quite expansive and I could have spent most of a day there but some of our group weren't as keen about gardens as others. SA has a phenomenally large number of plant species and a lot of them are here.

dlm, the weather at LV was probably 90-100 degrees during the day the 2nd wk in April. Those mid-day siestas are perfectly timed. Sleeping in the tents at night was great. It was cool enough that we didn't even need the overhead fan - besides we wanted to be able to hear the night wildlife. As far as the time of year ... I was thrilled with the amount of game we saw in Botswana. I'm pretty sure it didn't come close to what we would see in June or July because the foliage was so thick and offered the animals a lot of protection. But I liked having the hot days and warm nights and was content. If it's your first trip, you will be amazed too. One thing, the guides really work it so that you have a good experience. It was rather fun to have a challenge to see certain critters. Have fun!
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Jul 16th, 2003, 05:15 AM
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It sounds like you had a wonderful trip!

You have given us a great trip report and wonderful photos to view. Thanks for that. What camera/lenses did you use?

Cindy
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Jul 16th, 2003, 09:02 AM
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I used a Nikon N-80 with a 28-50mm, a 35-135 or a 70-300. I wish I had used my tripod, but it seemed like too much trouble. The film I used was 200, 400 & 800. I was disapponted with the results of the 800. In spite of the fact that there are claims that 800 is much improved recently, I still thought it was grainy. I wished I had 2 cameras.
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Jul 16th, 2003, 02:07 PM
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Mary -
For what reason do you wish you had two cameras - so you wouldn't have to switch out the lenses or to use 2 different speeds of film or what? I'm concerned about the switching of lenses and the dust.

In all of the reading I've done about Africa they say tripods aren't that convenient to use. They mostly say to take beanbags. Could you have used one? I have a monopod on order and am hoping that will suffice.

Thanks again
Cindy
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Jul 16th, 2003, 02:40 PM
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Mary -

Just got around to reading your report which I had printed out when first posted - I'm just catching up.

Great to recall our time in South Africa and what to expect, if and when, we finally get to Namibia and the Delta in Botswana.

Haven't had opportunity to check the photos, but will - I'm sure they're wonderful. And thanks for the information of the camera/lenses/film that you used.

Cindy -
I do take two and sometimes have had three cameras with me. They're so small and weigh practically nothing. While I've been lucky, travel partners have run into problems with having only one camera and I hope to avoid that - so it's at least two cameras.

I don't like to combine panoramic shots with regular (I don't use an ASP camera), so I use one for panoramic and the other for regular pics and when I have a third, for nite pics. If not one for nite pics, I've taken a disposable with 800 film and that's worked just fine.

On our trip to SA, one of the guests at Singita did have a tripod which she had set up very well on the floor of the back seat of the Land Rover - her camera did have a big lense and naturally was heavy, the reason for the tripod. Her husband had similar camera equipment but he did much better handling the weight of the lenses.

Personally, once the vehicle stops and motor turned off, I just lean on window ledge or anything steady. Surprisingly, I've gotten some amazing shots as the vehicle was moving and/or birds were flying. Don't ask me how, but they're so clear and perfect!
 
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Jul 17th, 2003, 10:36 AM
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Cindy-I wanted 2 cameras for the film speed aspects. Generally on game drives I would use the 70-300 since most of my shots were on subjects I wanted to zoom in on so I wasn't doing much switching in the field. Still I would clean the camera & lenses every evening after being in the dusty environment. The wide angle I used to shoot our tents and the inside of the lodges. The 35-135 has a macro so I'd use that on flowers and the odd item I wanted a close-up of. I find the 35-135 to be my favorite all around lens when I'm on vacation.
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Jul 17th, 2003, 11:23 AM
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Thanks Sandi and Mary - I'm leaving for South Africa on 7-29 - I can't believe the day to leave is almost here! I have a digital SLR which allows you to change "film" speeds and a couple of lenses including one of the big lenses and I can't hand hold it either. From hearing what you guys are using - and why - I think I'll be okay in the camera dept. Thanks again.
Cindy
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Jul 17th, 2003, 01:35 PM
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This is a great review of your trip! One question, how would you compare Little Vumbura to Vumbura? We have the choice and cannot decide.

Thanks!
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Jul 18th, 2003, 08:59 AM
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Novsafari - Sorry but we never got to see Vumbura. When we were making our plans we were told that LV is always a water camp with optional land activities, but that Vum has water only during the "flood" season, which begins in May or June. There may be little difference right now.

Cindy - Do you have the Nikon D-100??? That's what we hope to get next. Will you post your photos when you get back from Africa - please?

Mary
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Jul 18th, 2003, 10:09 AM
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Mary - I have Canon 10D. I looked long and hard before I decided between Nikon and Canon because I already have some Nikon stuff. But I ended up choosing the Canon and have no regrets. The camera and lenses are incredible.

I think you will be very happy with the d100. If you are in the US and don't have a source for one I can give you the names of a couple of places that are dependable and also have used equipment and I would not hesitate to buy used from these stores. Actually, I tried to buy used but they didn't have what I was looking for at the time. write to sundownr313 at hotmail.com if interested.

I'll post pics when I get back.
Cindy
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Jul 18th, 2003, 12:36 PM
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Mary,

Loved the pictures but especially the pelican in flight - what an incredible photo.

Also how many total days were your safaris especially Namibia & Botswana total.

Thanks.

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Jul 18th, 2003, 01:04 PM
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Mary -

Just got to go thru the photos - they're great. If anyone ever asks why we travel to Africa - just let them go thru these photos and they'll have their answer.

Thanks for sharing with all of us.
 
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Jul 21st, 2003, 10:21 AM
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You are all being too kind. I look back at the photos (after seeing other postings with awesome action shots) and think mine are way boring. All of our animals had already finished dinner and were lazy. Guess we'll have to go again to catch some action.
We were on safari 6 full days in Namibia and 2 full days in Botswana. Then we had 4 days (2 days in each country) were we were flying but had time for at least one safari activity on those days.

Mary
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