Trip Report - South Africa and Kenya August 2009

Oct 24th, 2009, 01:56 PM
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Trip Report - South Africa and Kenya August 2009

I have been a long time viewer of this forum, with the very occasional post thrown in. The ideas and advice I have received from here has been invaluable, so I thought that I would share my experiences with everyone.

This was our 2nd trip to Africa. My wife Sam and I had previously visited Egypt, Botswana and Zimbabwe back in August 2005. That was meant to be our trip of a lifetime, but like so many others before us we were well and truly bitten by the Africa bug, and longed to get back as soon as possible. After 4 long years, that time had finally arrived.

Our itinerary changed a lot. It seemed every week there was a new lodge or exciting place discovered that we were keen to visit. Eventually we settled on the following

5 nights Cape Town - Commodore Hotel
3 nights Gomo Gomo Game Lodge - Timbavati
4 nights Arathusa Safari Lodge - Sabi Sands
1 night Johannesburg - Metcourt Laurel
1 night Nairobi - Holiday Inn
3 nights Keekorok Lodge - Maasai Mara
4 nights Mara Serena - Maasai Mara

Originally we wanted to spend 7 nights in South Luangwa after the South African part of our trip, but upon discovering it was cheaper to fly to Nairobi return than getting to Mfuwe and back I was more than happy to settle on Kenya. Besides, its migration time!

Having booked almost 12 months in advance it seemed to take forever for our departure to come around. But finally the day arrived. We boarded our flight in Brisbane and after a short stop over in Sydney flew into Jo'berg then onwards to Cape Town, arriving at approx 8pm. We checked into the Commodore Hotel, which proved to be a more than pleasant place to stay. We were on the top floor with a room with a balcony and a terrific view of Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront. The breakfasts here are very good, plenty of variety to keep everyone happy. Its also only a 5 minute walk to the Waterfront, where we went every night for dinner.

I'm going to breeze over Cape Town, as there are plenty of other reports on it. We really loved it here, such a pretty region to visit. We visited Cape Point, Simons Town etc on one day, did a tour of the winelands another, did the whole Robben Island experience as well as a visit to the township of Llanga. All terrific places to visit. The only let down was the cable car up Table Mountain was closed for maintenance so we didnt get to go up, but as far as I am concerned it just gives us an excuse to go back! We could easily have spent more time here, but the African bush was beckoning!

Gogo Gomo Game Lodge - Day 1

After a late morning flight and road transfer we arrived at Gomo Gomo in time for an afternoon drive. The lodge itself I found to be very good. There are never any more than 20 guests, and the 9 bungalows are well seperated by approx 30 metres, giving some privacy if wanted. There is a waterhole just outside the common area, constantly frequented by Elephant, Kudu, Warthog, Impala, Wildebeest and many different bird varieties. Its a very relaxing place to watch the wildlife come to you when in between game drives. Breakfast and lunch is eaten at the common area, but dinner is eaten around the boma, which was always good fun with a great ambience. The rooms themselves are more than adequate, large bedroom with a large bathroom as well. There is also a good sized verandah, the only downside being that only half the rooms have a view of the waterhole. Small price to pay for mine.

The days here went like this

5:30am Wake up call
6:00am Tea and coffee
6:15am Morning Game Drive
10:00am Breakfast
11:00am Optional Bush Walk
2:00pm Lunch
3:30pm Afternoon Game Drive
7:30pm Dinner

Our first game drive was pretty uneventful. But that was fine by me, I was just over the moon to be back in the bush! We did see zebra, Impala, kudu, steenbok and a baby giraffe. The giraffe was by itself with no sign of its mother, which was a bit concerning. There were also plenty of different birdsto be seen. I'm not really into birds but did come back from this trip with a greater appreciation for them.

Gomo Gomo Game Lodge - Day 2

On our morning game drive we quickly came across a troop of Baboons and soon after a Black Backed Jackal. We then saw a breeding herd of Elephants which we found ourselves completely surrounded by as they grazed on some food. Some were stripping leaves from trees, others pulling grass from out of the ground while others were effortlessly pushing trees over to get at the roots. This sighting lasted for half an hour at least, and we didnt have to move once. I love watching Elephants and the way they interact with one another, they are truly a beautiful animal. On this drive we of course saw the usual plains game as well, Impala, Kudu etc.

This afternoons drive was very exciting. After some plains game and a Giraffe eating leaves off some very tall trees we found a female leopard sleeping in the afternoon sun. We decided to stay with her to see what she would get up to. Eventually she woke up and after a stretch, a yawn or two and a roll in the sand she was on the move. We followed her for while and soon she came across a herd of impala. She immediately went into stealth mode and melted into the bush. We stopped following her so as not to tip off the Impalas that something might be around. All was quiet for 10 minutes when suddenly an alarm call went up and the Impalas started running. We sped over to where they had been to find our Leopard had caught one and was still in the process of strangling it. Once dead the leopard dragged the carcass into some very thick bush where it started gorging. I had been hoping to see it drag the carcass up a tree but for some reason it decided to feast on the ground, a decision it would soon regret. By this time the wind had picked up quite a bit, and 10 mins after the Leopard started eating its kill the sound of Hyenas was audible from off in the distance. They had obviously smelt the blood and were on their way to investigate. Soon after out of nowhere the Hyenas appeared and chased the Leopard off its kill. The Leopard sat 20 metres away as the Hyenas made short work of what was left of the impala. The noise they made as they tore into the flesh and crunched the bones was unbelievable, it was frenzied feasting, something i will never forget.
It was now time to head back to the lodge for dinner, but our sightings werent finished yet. Half way back we came across 2 female Lions, looking as if they were out hunting as well. We stayed with them as long as possible before we had no choice but to continue back to home base. The end of a very exciting day!

Gomo Gomo Game Lodge - Day 3

Today was a Lions day. The first thing we saw, even before the expected Impalas, Babboons and Birds were Lions. There were 2 large males and 3 females, lazing around as Lions do enjoying the early morning sunrise. They didnt do too much. They were all awake but not interested in moving, it looked like their bellies were reasonably full so maybe they had been feasting during the night. At one point a female got up and ambled over to one of the males, flopped down beside him and they started nuzzling each other, but that was the extent of their movements. Was still great to spend over an hour with them though.

This afternoon we decided to seek out the Lions again to see if they were any more active. And we wrere in luck. We eventually found the 3 females quite a way from where we had seen them in the morning. They were all lying down when suddenly they all started roaring at the same time. Soon enough they were rejoined by the 2 males and off they went. We followed them all afternoon and into the evening, the males marking their territory as they went, always lagging behind the leading females. The males must have sensed that one of the females was close to coming into heat, as they kept on fighting for her attention in between constantly sniffing her from behind and using the glands on the roof of their mouths to test whether this was the case. All too soon it was time to head back to the lodge. Needless to say we didnt see much other game this afternoon with Lions on the move, but i wasnt complaining one bit!

Gomo Gomo Game Lodge - Day 4 / Arathusa Safari Lodge - Day 1

Today we reluctantly left Gomo Gomo but before doing so we had time for a morning game drive. Plains game was everywhere as usual then we came across a herd of Buffalo grazing on the grass. The herd was about 100 strong, and we got very close as they wandered along either side of our vehicle, some stopping every now and then giving us curious glances. After spending some time with them, and then a cuppa by a watering hole we found our Lions from yesterday. This time the 2 males and 3 females had been joined by the rest of the pride, totaling 9 females all up. But there was an added surprise for us - 2 young cubs! They were only 2 months old and had only just recently been introduced to the rest of the pride by their mother. Terrific entertainment watching the exuberence of youth, playing and exploring their new world with not a care in the world.

After breakfast and a road transfer of 90 mins we arrived at Arathusa Safari Lodge. The rooms here are terrific. Large bedroom with a mini fridge, writing desk and sitting chairs. The bathroom was good with a good sized shower, and the added bonus of an outdoor shower if the mood took you. The rooms also had a good verandah, all with a great view of the large watering hole out the front. Plenty of animals to be seen here, including Waterbuck, Impala, Babboons, Nyala, Zebra and the 2 resident Hippos permanently living there. The only thing I would complain about was the food. Not that it was bad, just that our meals at other places were better. But we didnt come here for the culinary delights did we?

What we did come here for was the animals, and we were not to be disappointed at Arathusa! Our first game drive here was out of this world! Some Dwarfed Mongoose got us started followed by 3 Giraffe eating their way through the thick bush. Plains game all around and then a White Rhino, thus completing our search for the big 5. We stayed with the Rhino for a while, as he grazed on some grass and scent marked his territory. Then a real treat. Wild Dogs!! I had been really hoping to see Wild Dogs, they were #1 on my wishlist, but realistically I knew there wasnt much of a chance. And there they were! There was 3 in total, not many but more than enough to keep me happy. We spent the next hour with them, they started off slowly just lazing around but soon became more active. For a while they played and bonded with each other then all of a sudden off they went. They were chasing a small herd of Impalas which had drifted into the vicinity, and we were off trying to keep up with them. It was a very bumpy ride as the dogs moved so quickly through all sorts of rough terrain but it was great fun trying to keep pace. Soon enough they gave up on the Impalas (unfortunately) and went back to resting again. We decided to let them be and see what else we could find.
It was coming up to dusk by now, and as we came down the other side of a small hill we saw about 30 Buffalo having a drink at a watering hole. We were only with them for a couple of minutes when we noticed a huge male Lion lying flat on the ground about 100 metres away intently watching the Buffalo. We drove over to him and stopped 10 metres short of him, virtually directly between him and the Buffalo still at the watering hole. Our guide Jason told us the male was one of two dominant males in the area, and wondered aloud where the other one was. Right at that moment the earth began to shake. We turned to see the Buffalo stampeding, and they were coming directly at us! As it turned out the other male Lion had got himself around to the other side of the herd of Buffs and started chasing them towards his mate waiting in ambush! The Buffalo ran straight past us, on either side of our vehicle, some within touching distance. The male in front of us had gotten up when the stampede started, and using our vehicle to keep out of sight waited for the approaching buffalo. As quick as a flash he sprung from behind our vehicle and jumped on to the back of one of the fleeing Buffalo. But the Buff had too much momentum up and easily shook the male from off its back, and it and the rest of the herd continued on at top speed, racing to safety. It was a real buzz, an adrenalin rush like no other to have that all go in with you right in the middle of it!
The Lions came together after their unsuccessful hunt, and started nuzzling each other to re-inforce their bond. After doing a bit of scent marking, and with us just about to head back to the lodge, they both began roaring, an incredible sound that shakes you to your bones. It was so loud, no wonder it can be heard by so many animals from so far away! Deeply satisfied with our afternoons sightings, we smiled the whole way back to the lodge.

Coming up.....Arathusa continued
mopsy is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 02:12 PM
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Incredible...I am loving this report with a fabulous South African wine in hand and my eyes glued to my screen!

Can't wait for the next segment,
flowerpower is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 02:59 PM
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Excellent start.

What an exciting buffalo-lion encounter! You went to some action packed places. Interesting about the cost of the flights.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 03:53 PM
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Wow, Leopard already! Lucky you!
Femi is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 05:42 PM
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You had some wonderful sightings. This is the first report I've heard about the "new" Gomo Gomo. I guess they don't have any tented rooms in the new location. That's too bad, since I prefer tents over solid walls,but it sounds like you had a great time.
Lillipets is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 07:02 PM
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Arathusa Safari Lodge - Day 2

Getting out of bed early is easy when you've just had the sort of day we had yesterday. First up is the usual plains game of kudu, impala, and 2 very skittish steenbok. Our first major sighting was a female leopard. We followed her for about an hour as she stalked a duiker along a dried up river bed over-flowing with vegetation. The duiker knew there was something around but had no idea exactly what or where it was. But with birds setting off constant alarm calls the leopard never really stood a chance. She gave up after a while and made her way to a watering hole where she quenched her thirst. We parted company here as we set off to see what else we could find. We met up with a bachelor herd of elephant, with one of them in particular seeming very happy to see us.....if you know what I mean! We followed them as they ate their way through the bush before heading back towards the lodge. Along the way we saw a large group of impalas, wildebeest and zebras all eating together as a herd.

In the afternoon after driving around for quite a while we saw a solitary female lion with her 4 month old cub. She doesnt belong to a pride, so is doing it tough trying to fend for herself and her cub. She looks very thin, but the cub seems healthy enough. They arent doing anything much, mum trying to sleep with cub trying to engage her in some fun and games. We left them after a while, and were relieved to hear the next day from others that they had seen her and her cub, a kill had been made overnight and both had eaten well.
After the lion and cub we saw a male and female nyala, some warthogs and 5 giraffe. We were then lucky enough to see another female leopard, different to the one we followed this morning. This one had a very distinct feature - she is blind in one eye. Apparantly she was involved in a territorial dispute some 7 years ago and lost her right eye in the battle. Despite this handicap she is still going strong at 16 years of age and has successfully raised cubs since her accident. A truly remarkable cat. She is referred to as "Safari" by the guides, and we were to see her a couple more times throughout our stay. She was just relaxing on a grassed over termite mound, keeping an eye on what was going on around her. There were impala not too far away but she was showing no interest in them. Well, not yet anyway. Time was running out so we left Safari and made our way back to the lodge. Very lucky to see 2 leopards in one day, could it get any better than this?

Arathusa Safari Lodge - Day 3

Could it get any better? It sure did! How does Big 5 in one drive sound? This place is surpassing even the most wildest expectations! A slowish start in the morning, but the pace was about to pick up. First up we came across 2 male leopards engaged in a territorial fight. I think our arrival on the scene was the cue for the fight to break up. They stood 20 metres apart for a couple of minutes, keeping a wary eye on one another. Then they amicably parted ways, heading off in opposite directions. This created the sort of dilemma you dont mind facing - which one do we follow? We settled on the slightly larger of the 2, and stuck with him while he went about scent marking his territory. We left him to his thing and shortly after came across a white rhino. He was just grass picking, when he could anyway. He was having a hard time with the ox-peckers who were intent on getting deep inside his ears looking for insects. Next up was a breeding herd of elephants that we followed as they made their way to a watering hole for a drink. It was funny watching the youngest baby trying to drink. It obviously hadnt learnt to use its trunk yet so it had to dunk half its head in the water to be able to have a drink. Very cute. Lions were next. We saw 3 females and 8 cubs as they lazed around near a zebra carcass that they had brought down during the night. The adults were sleeping but the cubs were full of energy. Running and jumping and chasing each other around was top entertainment. It was now breakfast time so we headed back to the lodge. Along the way we found a small herd of buffalo, thus completing the Big 5 in one drive. Unbelievable!

After breakfast, lunch and our now traditional bush walk we were ready to head out again. Impala, waterbuck and babboons got us started, quickly followed by some nyala and then a small puff adder snake. Elephants came next, eating and picking at the bush as they cruised along. One of the younger ones decided to use us as the intended target of a mock charge, which resulted in nothing but us breaking up laughing! Great value elephants! Our last sighting for the day was the lions we saw this morning. We went back to the site of the zebra kill and found them finishing off their meal. Every one of them was around the carcass trying to get their fill, which was hard as there was mainly only skin and bones left. Every last strip of flesh was being shredded off the bones. The lions had been smart enough to drag the carcass under the cover of a tree with some thick overhanging branches, keeping it out of sight of the scavangers in the air. We left the lions as it was dinner time, and made tracks for the lodge. The end of another adventure filled day in the African bush.

Arathusa Safari Lodge - Day 4

Our last full day here in Sabi Sands. After some plains game we found the leopard known as "Safari". She was sunning herself atop a termite mound in the cool morning air. We stayed with her a while before going our seperate ways. Nothing much else of note seemed likely to present itself to us after a while so we started making our way back to camp for breakfast. Then to our great delight we came across yet another female leopard and her 2 cubs! Yes! They were wandering through the bush, mum marking her territory, the cubs running all over the place investigating whatever caught their attention. When mum lost sight of them she would let out a single quiet call and the cubs would come scampering back to her. After a couple of minutes the cubs would stray and the whole process would be repeated. Top entertainment. We left them to do their thing, and went back to home base.

This afternoon we saw a crash of rhino, 6 in total, including a baby. We followed them for a short period of time before they decided they didnt like us following them and they made their way into some thick scrub. Next was a herd of elephants, about 30 strong who were having a feast on some leaves and grass, but mercifully decided to leave the trees up-standing for once. On our way back to the lodge after dark we found Safari again. She was at the nearby airstrip, a place where a lot of the plains game congregate at night because of its wide open spaces. We turned off our engine and used the spotlight for vision, never shining the light directly on any animals so as not to give predator nor prey any advantage. Safari did nothing for 20 minutes while we waited, just sat there lurking in the long grass. We decided to move off. As soon as our engine started Safari was on the move. She is a very clever cat - whenever there are vehicles in the area she only moves when their engines are running, so as to mask any sounds she might make. She made her way towards a group of impalas, but was spotted at the last minute and up went the alarm call. This was repeated 2 more times in the next 15 minutes, with the same result both times. We will come back in the morning to see if she eventually made a kill we said, as we went back to camp for dinner.

Arathusa Safari Lodge - Day 5

Sadly our last day in Sabi Sands. We never want to leave. Needless to say the plains game were everywhere. Major sighting number 1 is a 250 strong herd of buffalo. We park ourselves in their path and they stroll straight towards and past us, picking at the grass and completely ignoring our presence. Then we arrive at a large watering hole, to see a pod of hippos and a couple of crocodiles. There are 5 hippos out of the water eating some grass, enabling us to get some good photos with the hippos in the foreground and crocs sunning themselves in the background. Our last sighting here was in true Arathusa style - you guessed it, a leopard! I thought they were meant to be hard to find? The reality is we have been exceptionally lucky. This male turned out to be the second leopard we saw a couple of days earlier - the one we didnt follow after the territorial battle. It was great to spend some time with him as he did some scent marking. There were impala around but they were aware of his presence and kept a very close eye on him, so there was never a chance of a kill. Too soon it was time for breakfast so we parted ways and went back to the lodge.

After breakfast it was time to bid farewell to Arathusa and Sabi Sands, so we reluctantly packed our things and took a road transfer to the airport for our flight to Johannesburg. We had a fantastic time both here and at Gomo Gomo, with all our wildest dreams being met.

Next up - the Mara
mopsy is offline  
Oct 24th, 2009, 07:13 PM
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Hi Lillipets,

Yes we stayed at the new Gomo Gomo. I too was a little disappointed to find out there were to be no tents at the new location. But the new accommodation is fine anyway. Being a new camp in a previously uninhabited area the game are not yet completely used to the sight and sound of vehicles, meaning the game often run in the opposite direction quite quickly as you approach. But this didnt worry me, if I wanted to get up close and personal with animals easily I would have gone to a zoo!
mopsy is offline  
Oct 30th, 2009, 08:02 PM
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I'll be very interested in what you saw in teh Mara, especially near Serena.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 12:15 PM
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Keekorok Lodge - Day 1

After a lay over in Johannesburg and Nairobi it was time to head to the Mara. The drive to Keekorok was long and bumpy, with a couple of stops along the way. One was at a lookout over the Great Rift Valley where we got some good photos and then later on at a large curio store where just about all the vehicles going to the mara seem to stop. Finally we arrived at the lodge and were assigned room no.1, which turned out to be an excellent room for viewing animals on the periphery of the grounds at night. We had elephants and hippo eating right outside our room at night on more than one occasion.

The lodge itself is good, but with about 80 rooms I find myself much prefering the smaller intimate camps we have just come from. Meal times can be hectic, but we just waited until about an hour after service had started before going in and it had died down a lot by then. Our room was fairly basic, but more than adequate. Good sized bed and a reasonable bathroom. The lodge also has a hippo viewing pool, complete with bar so you can have a drink while watching all the action. There were plenty of animals to be seen here apart from hippos, including elephants, zebra wildebeest, sitatunga, topi, hartebeest and eland.

We were looking forward to venturing out into the mara to see the sheer volume of animals reported to be here during migration time. And we were not to be dissapointed. We got a sample of it when driving from the gate to our lodge but it was nothing compared to what we were about to see. They are everywhere! Zebra and Wildebeest as far as the eye can see! And you can see a long way. The vastness of the plains is incredible. On our first drive we saw quite a few species we hadnt seen yet - topi, hartebeest, thomsons gazelle and eland. I was slightly bemused by the eland, found it funny that they are the largest of the antelope species but from our limited experiences they are also easily the most skittish. We couldnt get very close to them at all. Also on this drive we saw giraffe and buffalo. Our best sighting was of a female lion and her 3 month old cub. Mum was looking to have a rest but the youngster was having none of it, full of energy and looking for a playmate. We spent a while with them before heading back to the lodge for a sundowner at the hippo pool and some dinner and an early night.
mopsy is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 12:42 PM
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Keekorok Lodge - Day 2

On our morning drive after seeing plains game by the thousands we came across a coalition of cheetah. It was a mother and her 2 near mature cubs. They werent doing anything, just lying around keeping an eye on a group of thomsons gazelle that werent too far away. They didnt seem likely to go hunting though, as their bellies were already full. It was still good to spend some time with them as this was our first cheetah sighting of the trip.

After leaving the cheetah we saw plenty of other animals, including giraffe, a black backed jackal, reedbuck, waterbuck, topi and a large herd of buffalo. We followed them for a while as they made their way to the top of a hill before all flopping down for a rest. Striped mongoose were to follow before yet another 1st for us - mating lions! We waited patiently for 15 mins while they rested and then the male suddenly got up, wandered over to the female and began mating with her, an experience that lasted all of 5 seconds before the male let out a little growl and flopped back down to have another rest. On our way back to the lodge we saw some elephant having a drink at a waterhole to finish off our morning experiences.

Our afternoon drive wasnt so productive. Soon after heading out it began to rain so we had to put the top down on our safari minivan, which somewhat restricted viewing and photographic opportunities. We still managed to locate a pride of lions who were trying their best to get shelter from the rain under some small bushes. There was a male and about 5 females in total, with 2 cubs as well. Next up we saw a herd of elephants, with one in particular looking very impressive with a set of huge tusks. Soon enough the rain cleared but it seemed all the animals had dissapeared. After driving around for quite a while we found another herd of elephants. We got some terrific photos of these on top of a hill directly underneath a rainbow created by the recent rain. Plenty of eland and plains game were found as we made our way back to home base. The end of a very satisfying day.
mopsy is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 01:18 PM
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Keekorok Lodge - Day 3

This was to be our last day at Keekorok so we wanted to see as much as possible. We packed a breakfast so we could get out earlier than normal and spend as much time as possible out in the reserve. After the usual sightings we spotted 2 female lions playing off in the distance. We followed them as they strolled the plains, half heartedly trying to stalk some wildebeest at one point. Soon after they stopped off at a creek for a drink and continued on their way. Soon they found a lone buffalo hiding in some bushes, which they tried to bring down but they had no luck. After sticking with this stalemate for a while we decided to move on. Not too far away we found a hyena den, where there were 5 hyena all up just lying around trying to get some sleep. They must have recently been feeding as they were all still covered in blood. Soon after we discovered 2 young male lions sleeping under some small trees, we didnt stay with them long as they didnt look one bit interested in moving.

After a period of time, in between spotting jackal, giraffe and waterbuck we spotted a leopard. She was about 200 metres away and about to enter a dried up riverbed. We raced over just as she entered, and to our dismay we found it to be thickly covered in vegetation. But we decided to be patient. We knew where the leopard had gone in but we just couldnt see her. We also knew exactly where she was because whenever she moved we could see the thick vegetation moving. After about half an hour she finally emerged on the other side of the riverbed and posed for our photos. Soon after she climbed a nearby tree, giving us more fantastic photo opportunities, before curling into a little ball and trying to get some sleep. By now it was time to head back to the lodge, so we left the leopard and made our way back for lunch.

This afternoon we spent some time with a journey of giraffe as they made their way across the plains. There were 8 of them all up, and it was great to watch them gracefully going about their business. A herd of elephant and some buffalo were to follow prior to us finding yet another pair of mating lions. Plenty of birds seen as well. including the secretary bird, ostrich, ground hornbill, marabou stork and plenty of vultures feasting on the many carcasses that are lying around. The zebra and wildebeest are still everywhere, so much so that after 3 days here I am still shaking my head at the sheer number of them. The end of our game drives at Keekorok has arrived, now looking forward to finishing off our safari with a bang at Mara Serena
mopsy is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 01:35 PM
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Sitantunga at the Keekorok hippo pool? Really? Did you see it? Did you take a picture?

Besides that elusive antelope, you seem to have had great luck with other animals and the rainbow.

Since my last comment about looking forward to Serena, Keekorok has become a possibility so your entries were perfect timing.

Can you tell us again your dates of travel?

Do you recall where you went on your drives from Keekorok? Did you head toward the Talek River, or any other specific landmark that you can recall? How was the other vehicle traffic around Keekorok and more importantly around your sightings?

Keekorok and Serena are not all that far apart, so how did you end up choosing these two locations?

I still am looking forward to the Serena installment.
atravelynn is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 02:24 PM
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I was going to question the sitatunga at Keekorok also? Are you sure about that sighting? Sounds like you had some amazing viewing. It would be pretty hard to stay for long with resting lions when around every corner there is another amazing wildlife experience.
Looking forward to reading more.

Looking at your previous trip it would seem that this was your first venture into East Africa and although you only visited the Mara, it would be interesting to hear about your final evaluation of the both places (Eastern & Southern) as far as the wildlife viewing experience went.
twaffle is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 04:02 PM
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Atravelynn and Twaffle,

I wasnt sure what animal I was looking at, so I took a couple of photos and showed it to our guide. He told me it was a Sitatunga and I believed him. I will look up the pictures and my newly purchased animal reference books to confirm. Will let you know.

Dates of travel were from August 10 - 14 Cape Town
15 - 17 Gomo Gomo
18 - 21 Arathusa
22 Jo'berg
23 Nairobi
24 - 26 Keekorok
27 - 30 Serena

When driving At Keekorok we went in all directions. West of the lodge the first day, south the next then north the day after. We didnt get to the talek river though. My understanding is you can get there easily enough, you just need to be out on an all day game drive to make it worthwhile. Thats what we were told anyway. Upon reflection I cant remember any distinguishable landmarks that we came across. Sorry!

Sightings were often crowded here, but not all. We had our leopard to ourselves for quite a while, we were the only ones at one set of the mating lions and there were many other similar sightings. We often asked our guide to go off in a different direction to others, I didnt like the idea of vehicle following, which a lot of the guides seem to do.

We chose these 2 lodges for 2 reasons. One was the cost, the other was they are both within reasonable driving distance of potential river crossing points. They are about 50kms apart by road, but we never went anywhere near the same area twice.


Wow, how do you compare? I have been asked this a couple of times by people back here at home. From my personal experiences If I was going on safari for the first time and wanted to see as many animals as possible I would choose the mara. But if I had been before and felt less "pressure" to see the big 5 then I think southern Africa would win out. I just felt it was more like a wilderness experience with less vehicles around. At Gomo and Arathusa if we shared a sighting it was only ever with one other vehicle. On our previous trip in 2005 we stayed at Camp Okuti and Kanana Camp in Botswana and it was the same there. We stayed at Sikumi Tree Lodge in Hwange as well and in our 4 days there we never saw another vehicle once. In fact we were the only people staying there for the entire duration of our stay. it was like being in your own little world, something I look back very fondly on.
mopsy is offline  
Oct 31st, 2009, 04:10 PM
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Your lodge selecting criteria of reducing cost would be accomplished with this safari. Though no safari is inexpensive, your lodging was reasonable and your sightings are outstanding. It shows you do not need the most expensive, exclusive locations to see good stuff. The photos will further illustrate it.

Your directions of where you headed from Keekorok were fine. I really wondered if you had gotten to Talek or not.

Was there a difference in the #s of vehicles between Serena and Keekorok? If you answer that in the next Serena installment, I can wait.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 04:07 PM
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Mara Serena Lodge - Day 1

We sadly left Keekorok this morning, we have enjoyed our time here. We had a game drive en route to our new lodge, and saw lots of game on the way. First up was a pride of lions, they were all lying down though so we didnt spend much time with them. Also we saw elephants, zebra, wildebeest, topi, hartebeest, hyena, ostrich and eland, as well as many different bird varieties.

We had 2 stops on the way as well. First of all we visited a spot where the Kenyan and Tanzanian borders meet. We had our photos taken in "no mans land", a small strip of land that belongs to neither the Kenyans nor the Tanzanians.

Our second stop was on the Mara river, where some people belonging to an anti-poaching unit were sitting around. One of them offered to take us for a guided walk along the river for a small tip which I gratefully accepted. He took us on a walk which lasted about an hour, in which time we got up fairly close to many pods of hippos and quite a few crocs as well. I like getting out on foot in the bush whenever possible, it gives you a completely different perspective of every animal you are lucky enough to come across.

Eventually we made it to Serena Lodge, just in time for lunch. The lodge itself is situated in a terrific location, giving views over the plains and river that stretch for miles. The rooms are a little small but more than adequate. The most disappointing thing for me is the size of the balcony, as it is only big enough to stand on, impossible to get a chair out there and sit and watch the game as they come and go. But i didnt let this small "inconvenience" bother me.

In the afternoon we went out on our first game drive in this area and the first thing that strikes you is that there is nowhere near the amount of plains game in this part of the park at the moment. Compared to the east where we have just come from they are virtually non existant. But there was plenty of other things to be seen we were soon to find out.
Not far from the lodge we saw 3 lions sleeping in the shade, they showed no interest in moving so we let them be. Next up was a breeding herd of elephant, probably about 15 strong, and we stuck with them for a while as they ate their way over the plains. Soon after was a small herd of buffalo, quickly followed by a journey of giraffe. Some eland followed then we found another pride of lions with 4 cubs. we spent some time with them then began to make our way back to the lodge for dinner. On the way we saw a big male lion with the most incredible mane, it was beautiful. It was pretty dark by now so our photos didnt work out very well unfortunately. Our last sighting was of a black backed jackal feeding on a wildebeest carcass by the side of the road.
mopsy is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 04:54 PM
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Mara Serena Lodge - Day 2

This morning we had been out in the reserve for no more than 10 minutes when we came across 3 female lions feasting on a wildebeest they had brought down during the night. They had torn the carcass to pieces and were sitting 5 metres apart each with their own stash of food. It was good to watch them meticulously stripping every last piece of meat off the bones, leaving very little for the scavangers. There was a black backed jackal hanging around hopefully nearby, but there was to be precious little left for him.
Also seen on this morning drive was buffalo, hyena, warthog, eland and all the other plains game. A trip to the nearby Mara river brought the usual hippos and crocs.

This afternoon was very enjoyable. After some time with some giraffe and a bachelor herd of elephants we heard that there was a cheetah nearby. We spent about 45 minutes looking for him before finally tracking him down. When we found him he was showing the signs of having just woken up. He was constantly yawning as he sat on top of a termite mound, keeping a close eye on the nearby thomsons gazelle which seemed oblivious to his presence. After a while he got up and somewhat half heartedly began stalking the gazelles. Once they were aware of him the cheetah didnt have much chance of a kill as there was nothing but open plains between himself and his intended prey. Still it was a great experience to spend a lot of time with him, and as an added piece of luck just before we left he posed for more photos standing on top of another termite mound, with all the gazelles keeping a close eye on him in the background. The end of a great day.
mopsy is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 05:24 PM
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Mara Serena Lodge - Day 3

Today we started with a some buffalo and then a herd of elephants. Yet another pair of mating lions were soon to be found, which we spent some time watching. Then we got word that there was a potential river crossing about to happen. We raced to the banks of the Mara river to find thousands of wildebeest had gathered, with a constant stream of them still approaching. We waited patiently for 2 hours while the rest of the herd made their way to the river bank and then all seemed ready. To our horror our safari guide then said it was time to go back to the lodge for lunch, if we didnt go now we would be too late. We pleaded with him to stay, saying we couldnt care less if we didnt get to eat, and we wanted to stay here and see what happened. But this all fell on deaf ears, and he drove off with us feeling rather peeved at the whole situation. Our mood wasnt helped when we found out a bit later that the entire herd crossed the river half an hour after we left. I was quite upset at missing the river crossing, it was something I had dreamed of seeing. But after a while I snapped out of it, decided I wasnt going to let one missed sighting bother me, as we had been very lucky to see and experience so many other great things on this trip.

In the afternoon we head back to the river where more wildebeest have gathered, and wait to see if there will be another crossing, But it wasnt to be, so we head back to the lodge for a couple of drinks over looking the plains, a nice dinner and an early night.
mopsy is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 05:52 PM
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Mara Serena lodge - day 4

Our last day in the Mara, and our last day in the African bush, so we were determined to spend as much time as possible out in the reserve. We organised some lunch packs to take out with us, and headed out after breakfast on an all day game drive. We saw some good stuff too, including a herd of elephants feeding in some light scrub, a pair of female lions basking in the morning sun and too many giraffe to count wandering the plains. Of course there was the zebra, wildebeest, gazelle and eland to be seen quite often as well, Around lunchtime we saw our first serval of the trip, and watched him for a while as he leaped around the tallish grass trying to catch some prey. Then we went to the riverbank and saw some more hippos and crocs. Next up was warthogs , then hyena and then a herd of elephants all sticking together in a small bunch, all trying to stay in the shade of a smallish tree. It was a terrific sighting of what was to be our last elephants of the trip.

It was now time to eat our lunch, so we decided to go to the river and see what came about. There was about 30 zebra on one side and about 200 wildebeest on the other. Both looked eager to get to the other side. The stumbling block was there were 2 crocs waiting in ambush, and the animals on both sides of the river were aware of it. After about an hour they all decided it wasnt worth the risk and left the scene.

This afternoon we saw nothing but plains game, but there are now considerably more around compared to when we first arrived in this part of the reserve. Our persistence in continuing to search for game eventually paid dividends when we spotted a leopard walking through the long grass. We followed him for about half an hour before he climbed a tree and posed for us while we took photos. Was over the moon to spend some time with one of these majestic cats one last time. Nothing else of note was found during the rest of our drive, and we were somewhat glad to arrive back at the lodge around dusk for a drink and a shower.
mopsy is offline  
Nov 7th, 2009, 10:00 PM
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I would have been pretty mad to miss the possibility of a crossing for lunch too! Were there others in the vehicle insisting on returning to the lodge?

Thanks for the report, you had plenty of great viewing by the sounds of things.
twaffle is offline  

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