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napamatt_2 Feb 6th, 2009 12:27 PM

Trip Report - Pafuri, Mala Mala, Rattrays, Jan 2009
 
Time for the trip report.

The trip started with the journey down to SFO, where the judicious se of mileage plus miles had us in first class on UA954 to LHR.

The United offering is very tired at this point and we were not lucky enough to be on a plane with the new business and first class but we knew this ahead of time. United does offer excellent service up front, which was a nice change from the sometimes patchy service on Virgin.

After a long layover in London, which we spent having lunch with family and getting the bird list going on the very cold Heath, we headed back to the airport for the 2nd leg down to JNB on Virgin. Fortunately we had an excellent crew and realy enjoyed the flight. The move Rocknrolla is a must see.

We landed JNB on the NE runway, for any bird watchers out there, if you have a window seat and you land on this runway, have your binoculars ready. I had a list of 8 birds with an unidentified Duck by the time we had taxied to the gate. There is some great habit at the aiport, and one of the birders was a lifer for me. (Long-tailed Widow). Had I had my bin's I would have added the duck to the list.

We were greeted by Gordy who was transferring us to Lanseria for our onward flight. We grabbed a quick shower and breakfast at the premier lounge, met up with our friends and then headed off. The journey took about an hour and soon we were checked in at lanseria on a Sefofane caravan.

First we flew 40 minutes to Welgewonden, then another 1:30 to Pafuri - a long way in the not very comfortable caravan.

Pafuri was hot! And humid. Yuck. Temperatures were in the mid-90's with lots of humidity so it was a bit uncomfortable. On arrival we were met by Callum our ranger, a very likeable young guy, who had spent 2.5 years at Sabi Sabi. The vehicle was a landcruiser with a cloth roof. We asked for this to be taken off immediately - the camp is best known for birding, how can you do that under cover?
Unfortunately the beams and bars supporting the roof remained in place making photography and in particular Video a challenge. In fact I didn't get the video camera out at all.
The camp is in a lovely setting on the Lvuvhu river, there is a common area with pool, bar, shop, and dining area with rooms 1-7 to the north and 8-20 to the south. We had 5 and 6, both of which were quite private. The rooms 8-20 were much less secluded reported DW who walked the length of the camp a couple of times a day for exercise (I didn't).
The room was a good sized tent, with desk, armchair, large bed, a two sink vanity, indoor and outdoor shower. There was a nice seating area overlooking the river, with a comfortable couch. All in all, very nice, without being OTT.
The staff rustled up sandwiches for us because we arrived after brunch, greatly appreciated.
We had gone to Pafuri for the birding and were not disappointed. We saw several new species including Black-throated Wattle-eye, a great bird, and Orange-winged Pytilia, an unusual bird for the area. The scenery at Pafuri is very nice, there are some beautiful rock formations and an incredible Fever Tree forest, and there is the Limpopo river, which in full flow is quite a site.
There is a lot of general game, we saw more Nyala than ever before and a herd of about 60 Zebra, and also a nice herd of about 100 Buffalo.
We did not see any predators, in fact our ranger hadn't seen a Leopard since late December. The area had suffered a lot of poaching in years past, but an effictive APU has that sorted out, and as game levels increase, so presumably will predators.
One particular bird was a target for us, Pel's Fishing Owl. We were not having much luck, when Callum flushed one inadvertently at a small pan. I saw the bird flying away very quickly, not much of a tick, but a tick nevertheless. Our two day total was an excellent 151, a total that normally takes 4-5 days at Mala Mala.
Service and meals at the camp were of a very high quality. The staff were very friendly and we enjoyed the company of several at various meals.
Overall I would rate Pafuri very highly for the camp, staff and service. The area needs more predators which will take time, in addition there aren't many roads, and most are in and out rather than loops, which makes it a bit boring.
If you have more specific questions please ask away.

After two days it was time to transfer to MM. We arrived at the strip to meet a 5 seater Cherokee (fortunately a faster aircraft than the dreaded 206). The pilot initially thought we'd have to transfer our bags by road, but we said that everything was well within weight limits and he agreed when he picked up the bags, so all was well. I sat up front with the others in the back (I'm the worst traveller).
The flight took about 1:15 and was pretty smooth. We landed MM just after the SAA flight and were soon transported to camp.
At camp we had a great reunion with Leon and Jenny Van Wyk, many of you will know Leon worked at MM for 13 years as a ranger and know works with his wife at an operation in the eastern cape called Sibuye. They had joined us to celebrate Leon's 50th.
We were not sure what to expect at MM having known about the strike in advance, but we were actually very pleased with the quality of service, and apart from missing familiar faces, everything was pretty much as usual. The big new change was a professional chef in the kitchen. Lee had not made a huge number of changes, except in huge upgrades to the quality of desserts. We spent some time chatting with Lee as he moved over to Rattray's and we think the quality of food at Rattray's is going to really go through the roof, as it should.

More to follow....

cary999 Feb 6th, 2009 01:37 PM

Thanks Matt. I'm downloading a "complimentary" copy of the movie Rocknrolla as we speak. I was very interested in Pafuri, but not so much now. Silly about the vehicle top and beams. Other than the buffalo, did you see any others of the big 5? Not even lion, huh? What was camp occupancy like?

Who is Lee at MM, the GM for all three camps?

regards - tom

atravelynn Feb 6th, 2009 03:30 PM

Thanks for the Pafuri comments. A Pel's Fishing Owl. Alright!

KayeN Feb 7th, 2009 04:50 AM

Hi Matt

Is a tick for bird watching just having a glimpse or do you really have to see a bird properly? I do not count a leopard, for example, unless I get a good identifying photo. Just wondering as on this trip we had a fanatical birder, and she ticked off birds I would think she barely heard let alone saw! As long as someone in the vehicle saw it, it was ticked!

I have had some very bad luck regarding small airplanes - I now have a record of 2 flights taken out of 6 flights booked, the other 4 had to be road transport - my least favourite mode of transport.

I will be interested to see how your gameviewing compared with other trips from the past.

Have you ever considered Mashatu?

Kind regards

Kaye

Tom, I think that Lee may be the new chef.

LAleslie Feb 7th, 2009 06:01 PM

Sounds like some good birding. Would you go again this time of year? Who knew one might spot the first Africa wildlife on the JNB runway.
Do I detect some erosion of Virgin loyalty?

napamatt_2 Feb 8th, 2009 12:30 PM

Tom

A few elephant, no rhino, Lion or Leopard. I would imagine its much better in winter, but as of now, it wouldn't be on my list for a return.

The camp was almost empty, on our first night it was the 4 of us, then we were joined by another couple on the second night.

Lee is indeed the new chef, he fixed things at MM, then was moving over to Rattrays as we were leaving.

Kaye

Different people have different rules. I tick a bird if I have any view and the bird is identifiable. Usually a photograph is impossible for many sightings so most birders don't require that level of proof.
Some people tick heard only birds, I don't. For our group we had a checklist based on everyone's sightings for our group totals. But I also maintain my own list which will usually have a couple of variations to the main list. I have a habit of spotting birds while looking at Cats etc, I usually get told off by DW for having a short attention span, but I see more birds! I have to be very sure about a sighting if it is a life bird, a bird never seen before by me, if a bird is simply new for a camp as part of a whole trip then my standards are relaxed somewhat - your birder may have been in that category.

We went to Mashatu back in October 2003 and had some terrific game viewing, though it was so dry as to be almost lunar which we didn't like, also we were not thrilled with the camp set up.

Leslie

We go this time of year frequently, as much for the birding as game viewing, though we've never been let down at MM. It's funny how different the birding is at JHB compared to CPT, there we had Pied Crow's and Cape Wagtails.

Virgin - they are still my first choice, I just wish they were as good as in previous years, also I wish they would be more consistent, particularly with regards to service. Rule of thumb, get a good Flight Service Manager and you'll have a good flight.

The use of United was because I couldn't get free flights on VS and had a lot of UAL miles left over. I'll be doing the same next year.

napamatt_2 Feb 8th, 2009 12:58 PM

Mala Mala game viewing.

This was probably the strongest game viewing at MM since our January 2006 trip. Our highlights in no particular order were:

Newington male Leopard with an Impala kill, he was starting to eat under a thorn bush near 2nd Turning Piccadilly when the Styx pride showed up. We watched with baited breath as one of the females came closer, clearly she had smelt the meat. As she pounced he shot up the tree with his prize in his mouth, it was dark and very fast, but I did manage to capture most of his climb on video.
We saw him again the next day with his prize, then on our last evening, stalking Impala in a torrential downpour.
Gowrie male and blind female Leopard mating in the Mlowathi river every five minutes or so.
Kikilezi female was spotted on the runway when we transferred to Rattrays, we found her again later that evening and enjoyed her pursuit of some Impala.
Two afternoons in a row at Rattrays we were first out (always our goal) and came upon the Daughter of the Nogobswan female (we'd seen her and her sibling in April). She is quite the ham, and did a lot of posing for us.
We saw the Styx Pride and Eyrefield Pride on a number of occasions.
The Styx pride cubs are great value and we saw lots of play and some great greetings with the Lionesses and even with dad, who was a bit grumpy. We followed them for about two hours until they led us to a very large, very dead male Elephant, at the eastern end of the Hogvaal Donga. After inspection by the SSGR Warden, it was determined the Elephant was killed in a fight with a rival. The carcass was very smelly, and there was serious maggot activity and putrefaction around the soft tissue of the face. In fact it was quite the most disgusting thing I've seen. We expected the Lions to feed for days, but they were gone by the next day, and we don't even think the Hyena's bothered with it. We went back a few days later hoping for unusual vultures but had to be content with the usual suspects.
The Eyrefield Pride cubs seen three times now since they were 3 months old, gave a nice display of tree climbing. Ranger Nico suggests they are infact the illegitimate offspring of the Bicycle Crossing Male Leopard!
New to the pride is a sub adult male, who has been accepted pretty well. The old boy Rollercoaster male did however creep up on him and have a bit of a go at him, though he held his ground amid flying paws, bared teeth and much roaring. We were very close to the action, because Gordon our ranger did not want to start the engine and scare the RC Male right into our laps - we agreed.
We had some nice elephant sightings, though no really large groups. A small herd of Buffalo took a nice dip at Mlowathi dam for us, but there were only about a hundred, so no real chance of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.
We also had some nice Rhino sightings, though they really don't do much of course. Gordon has learnt a nice trick from Philemon which draws the Rhino's in for a closer look at you.
The big news for this trip was a nice male Cheetah who we saw twice up at the open area behind Campbell Koppies and the pack of 14 dogs. We shot down the Skukuza Road to the junction of Beaumonts Access to see them sleeping. Later they moved into Notten's so we didn't see them again. Even though we did not get to see a hunt, or some play, it's simply wonderful to see them, somehow it gives me a little hope for them and the world.

Other great sightings included a young BB Jackal catching and eating a Lizard, SS Jackal's at the airstrip. Some excellent monkey watching was had with some patience also. We also saw a large herd of Wildebeest at Clarendon, 15 including 5 youngsters, quite a number for MM.

Sighting of the trip was of course the Pangolin / Bushpig standoff, with a herd of Tsessebe in the background!

The bird watching was great, we actually had 150 after 4 game drives, on a par with Pafuri. Though it slowed down a lot after that (when Leon left!). I finished the 6 days with 172, though I admit to not being as crazy as in some years.
Exciting birds either lifers or new to the MM list were Black Cuckooshrike ( a pair on two occasions) Corncrake, and Great Egret. Other birds not often recorded including Red-collared Widow, Black-breasted Snake-eagle, and Chestnut-bellied Kingfisher.
We were amazed by the numbers of Quail, Button-quail and Cuckoo's this year.

Rattrays was as comfortable as ever, Alan the barman was on leave and Wes is now manager, the lovely Melissa continues to keep the office working properly and now tends bar, serves tea and coffee and checks the bathrooms have sufficient towels.

Rattrays needs better food, in particular it needs to manage food service so that guests do not have to wait for late arrivals to get their main course, we generally did not eat until 9:30 plus due to the kitchen being unable to manage the timing right. They did better by the last night, but not much, however once Lee is in charge I don't expect that to be an issue.
They also need better wine glasses, a horse I will continue to beat with management.

Our trip was a great success, we were able to fly back to JHB without weather issues (unlike 3 days previously) and spent a quiet afternoon at the Sun, before catching our 9:45 flight to LHR.

andybiggs Feb 8th, 2009 01:19 PM

Great report, Matt. Thanks for taking the time to share with us all. I look forward to returning to Mala Mala (Rattray's) next August.

Do you think the timing of the dining there was a result of the recent labor upheaval?

cary999 Feb 8th, 2009 02:03 PM

Thanks Matt. I'd like to get to MM, maybe 2010.

regards - tom

atravelynn Feb 8th, 2009 03:02 PM

Except for the horse beating you engaged in, I loved your report. It's a thrill to read Newington male and know the guy.

"Sighting of the trip was of course the Pangolin / Bushpig standoff, with a herd of Tsessebe in the background!" This could be a joke of some astounding sighting that would never really happen. Rather than sighting of the trip, it could be the sighting of a lifetime and I mean the ranger's!

Better luck with the wine glasses next time. It's about the only thing that you could improve on next time!

napamatt_2 Feb 8th, 2009 05:19 PM

Andy

Yes the dinner issues were as a result of the event (our nomenclature for the strike). Senior management had done a good job fixing MM, but the young and inexperienced staff at Rattrays really needed some help. David Evans is there full time now I believe.

Lyn - yup, thats why I keep going back, we first saw him in Oct 2003 and a couple of times since. We've seen Kikilezi from being a six month old in June of 2002 and the same with many Lions and Leopards. To me that makes it really special, we're even on our fourth generation of one Leopard family.

barbroy Feb 9th, 2009 01:16 AM

Napamatt_2,

Thanks for the trip report of Rattrays. Can't wait - we are off there for our 2nd trip in 4 weeks. When you say Wes is the manager, does that mean he has replaced Nils? Also I hope he still works as a ranger as we have requested him if he is available.

regards
Barb

ShellCat Feb 9th, 2009 05:25 PM

Matt-

Have you ever gone to Mala Mala in late March? There are some pretty incredible airfares from the west coast, and I am not getting over the last trip. Everything looks so different, that I may just go again if there is space at either camp.

Your opinion would be appreciated.

Shellcat

napamatt_2 Feb 9th, 2009 06:08 PM

Barb

Nils is Wes' boss. Wes is not available as a ranger, ask for Gordon.

Shellcat

Yes we have. Wwe were quite unlucky with the weather, we went for five days and they had a cold rainy front go through for about three days, but we had a great time and met the Spellar's, the world's best safari buddies.

ShanMck25 Feb 9th, 2009 07:53 PM

Barb

Even though Wes is managing, he has been told that he can still get out if he wants to/need be/guests request. So, while Gordon is a great ranger, hold your request for Wes if you want, you may get lucky!!!

andybiggs Feb 10th, 2009 04:33 AM

Matt, was Charlie still around, or is he managing one of the other properties?

napamatt_2 Feb 10th, 2009 12:09 PM

Charlie has left.

ArthurSA Feb 11th, 2009 04:08 AM

"We watched with baited breath . . . clearly she had smelt . . .".

Matt, I've been trying to resist asking you if your use of the word baited instead of bated was a very clever pun. Just in case it wasn't. :-)


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