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Trip Report: South Africa; Kings Camp, Ngala Safari Lodge, September 2008

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Trip Report: South Africa; Kings Camp, Ngala Safari Lodge, September 2008

Planning this safari (late in the year of 2007) had the added complication of whether my dear Carolyn would go with me. Her daughter Elaine Youngs would be playing international beach volleyball during the spring and summer of 2008 to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. If she (and her partner Nicole Branagh) qualified then Carolyn would go to Beijing and thus could not arrange to do a September safari. Well, Elaine and Nicole qualified and finished fifth in Beijing. This was Elaine’s third Olympics and at the Athens 2004 Olympics Elaine and her partner Holly McPeek won the bronze medal. Anyway, I planned my 2008 safari to be easy to travel by myself, that is, just a few simple plane flights and accommodations. Also, I wanted safari camps with no single supplement charge assuming I would likely be traveling alone. (And of course if it did turn out that Carolyn could go on safari then I already had the rooms reserved).

So I settled on going back to South Africa to a familiar camp and a new one for me and both in the Timbavati Reserve that borders Kruger. I had been to Kings Camp twice before and knew I’d love it while the Ngala Safari Lodge would be new for me. Thus my safari was eight nights at Kings Camp followed by eight nights at Ngala Lodge. Obviously I like long stays at camps. The rigors of getting to Africa (from the USA) are worth if for me only if I stay at least two weeks. This would be my fifth safari since 2005. Most of my previous days in camps, 59 days, have been in South Africa, being - Madikwe Hills, Kings Camp, Leopard Hills, MalaMala and Kruger Park. The other camps being in Zambia Nsefu and Tena Tena, in Botswana Khwai River Lodge and in Kenya Little Governors.

I paid camp rack rates, Kings Camp of 2,800 Rand per night and Ngala 2,400 Rand per night. But note the Kings Camp special where for the cost of six nights you get eight nights, so this works out to 2,100 Rand. At that time the Rand was 7.3 to 1USD. Airfare was $1,535 from Premier Travel, LAX to JNB. Plus another say $350 for air JNB to Hoedspruit and camp transfers.

Photography. On of my joys of safari is the challenge of photography. Primarily still photos but short videos also add another dimension. Since our first safari I have after each made a DVD that plays on a TV (and computer) of “This Was Our Safari”. And using only photos and videos from that safari, no old stuff from previous safaris. Each safari then has for me the additional photographic assignment to take new photos of impalas, elephants, zebras, etc to use in the new DVD. My present kit is a Nikon D200 on which is the 70-300mm VR lens, a Nikon D40X on which is the 18-200mm VR lens and a Canon S2. The two Nikon bodies give me a back up body and not having to change lenses. The Nikon lens combination works fine for me and is good for most everything except for birds – unless I can get within 10 meters of the them. The Canon is my video camera even though it is intended for photos. I downloaded full camera cards into two portable hard drives. I do not take a notebook PC. The three cameras and electronic support kit is enough for me to handle and worry about. I took only 1,700 photos and 200 short video clips totaling about 2 hours. This was not very many photos for me for 16 days of safari due to rather “challenging” weather, lighting, and viewing situations. More about this follows. About 30 photos are up on my smugmug web site at- The top left thumbnail, SAFARI 2008, gets you into it. (Also photos from other safaris on site). A really measly few photos that I really like after two weeks on safari!!! And several of those are just “record” shots of the rooms and camp!!!! All photos have been “post processed” in Photoshop. Typically cropped, levels changed, sharpened, and more. I prefer to make these changes later in post processing on a PC rather than have the camera itself do it all.

Now on to safari. Well, not quite yet, have to get there first. Flight from California to New York, then on SAA to Johannesburg. Arriving some 31 hours after leaving my house. The rigors of safari!!!! And that’s just to JNB still not at the safari camp, another maybe 4 hours of travel time. For past safaris we have spent time acclimating to the destination and time zone changes (9 hours for me) by going over to Kruger for a few days before the private camps. But I didn’t want to do that by myself so I spent an extra day/night in Joburg. I stayed two nights at the Metcourt Laurel Hotel in the Emperors Palace complex. The Emperors Palace is a 10 minute free shuttle ride from the same shuttle stop used for many other hotels. My room at the Metcourt Laurel was very nice, quiet and comfortable. The included breakfast buffet was everything you could ask for. I got in about 6pm the first night, then slept off and on the next day/night. The hotel is part of the Emperors Palace convention, casino, shops, restaurant complex. An interesting place that provides some diversions not found at your typical hotel. That second evening I met at their hotel Chuck, aka Fodors “safarichuck”, and his charming wife Carol for dinner. Chuck and wife were in transit from MalaMala on to Botswana. We had a marvelous time chatting about safaris, photography and Fodors. Then the next morning I’m back to JNB for the SAA flight to Hoedspruit. Hoedspruit is the town just outside of Kruger and the basic commercial flight access to camps in the Timbavati Reserve.

KINGS CAMP. In 2007 I had been to Kings Camp twice. By myself in May and then in September with Carolyn and my sister Pat. I like Kings Camp, the manager Warren and wife Lisha are marvelous hosts. Warren is also an excellent ranger/guide. The camp has 11 bungalows, maximum 22 guests. The camp layout is quite nice, the bungalows very attractive decorated in British Colonial style. Complete spacious bathroom with double sinks are attached to the bungalow which makes it like two separate rooms. Also a small patio and outdoor shower. There are two photos on my smugmug of the room. Common camp facilities include a nice library with good internet service on a PC or you can wireless your notebook. The food/meals are excellent with gorgeous presentation, many thanks to Chef Himler. Excellent breakfast after the morning game drive, excellent lunch from 1:30pm to 3pm and guess what, also an excellent dinner after cocktails about 8pm in either the dining room or boma or on occasion an outdoor barbeque. Drinks, soda, wine beer, cocktails are included in the room rate. At dinner the game drive vehicle group and ranger dine together at a table. For breakfast and lunch you dine when and with whomever you wish. One other detail, since I was traveling alone I had made up a half sheet of paper with personal information, emergency contact, medical insurance, medjet, medications etc. and gave it to the camp manager.

Weather for the first three days was pleasant days with cool morning and evenings. Then for about three days it was very hot, 35C or about 95F, in the afternoon. Next evening a weather front blew across bringing very cool days and overcast skies to my last two days at Kings Camp. And it also followed me into Ngala Lodge. Sold overcast skies make photography most challenging and pretty much eliminates those “golden hours” after sunrise and before sunset.

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