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TRIP REPORT: SOUTH AFRICA, May 2007 Madikwe Hills, Kings Camp, Leopard Hills

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Madikwe Hills, Kings Camp, Leopard Hills

On May 10, 2007 I arrived at Madikwe Hills Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa. I had flown in from California, LAX to LHR a 5 hour layover then LHR to JNB (ORT) getting in at 7am morning on 10th. At 10am I was shuttled over to the Federal Air terminal, a nice little terminal at the edge of JNB for Federal Air only. Comfortable, nice restrooms, complimentary drinks. With an hour flight and I was at Madikwe Hills Lodge. I say “I” because my dear Carolyn was not able to make this safari with me. It was ok doing it solo but I’d much rather have her company. The master plan was to spend five nights at Madikwe Hills, then five nights at Kings Camp, and finally five nights at Leopard Hills. These three camps are part of the Seasons In Africa management group. Madikwe Hills (Madikwe Game Reserve) is on the western border of South Africa while Kings Camp and Leopard Hills are on the eastern border (bordering Kruger).

When last March I asked my travel agent to suggest a two week safari for me, soon, like within a month or two, he came back with this three camp idea. These three camps with special five night stay rates and no single supplements. The total for all three camps and all airfare within Africa (but not to/from USA - JNB) was $6,400. This time of year, May, was also sort of the shoulder season for these camps. I have compare these camps to the other safari camps I have been to. And, so that you know where I’m coming from, I have been to two other camps in south Africa, Kruger (a camp?) and MalaMala. I have also been to four other camps in Botswana, Zambia, and Kenya.

Camera kit. A Nikon D200 body with Nikon 70-300 VR lens (105-450mm 35mm film equivalent). A Nikon D40X body with Nikon 18-200 VR lens (27-300mm equivalent). A Canon S2 for videos. Lots of memory cards, two portable hard drives for downloading cards, electronic flash, assorted batteries, chargers, etc. All weighed in at 12 kilos, 26 lbs. This I hand carried all the time when flying, a medium size duffel bag had clothes and other non-essentials. (The cameras, passport and credit cards being the only essentials!!!).

Photos. I’ve put up about 30 photos on my SmugMug, my page. HTTP:// There is a thumbnail photo titled “SAFARI MAY 2007” and that’s them. (Photos from previous safaris also accessed form this banner page). I have not separated them by camp. But they are in camp order and each photo has location noted. All photos were post processed in Photoshop. That is what you have to do with images generated by the D200. Many have been cropped to some extent or another and some I changed the format from 3x2 to 4x3 during cropping. My next project is to take these and more photos and video clips and make a DVD program using ProShow Gold to show family and friends “my safari”.

MADIKWE HILLS. But now back to Madikwe Hills Lodge. To quote the brochure “Eleven ultra-luxurious glass-fronted suites complete with their own verandah and private plunge pools are ingenuously placed amongst the boulders.” And that describes the suites well except to say that they are also huge. Mine, number 2, must have been 20 meters (60 feet) from end to end. The heated floors are a also very nice especially in the bathroom area. By far the most luxurious safari room I have ever had. My only minor complaint with it is that of privacy of the bathing area. The bathing area (not commode) although it can not be seen from the bedroom is wide open so that two persons can not use that area in privacy. If you’d like to see photos of the rooms and common areas, go to their web site. The meals, food was excellent, every meal. Coffee, tea, juice, muffins before the morning game drive. Breakfast after the game drive. Lunch a little later. Coffee, tea, etc before the afternoon game drive. Sundowners with snacks. And dinner after the game drive. All drinks, including alcohol, were included no charge.

Game drives. Madikwe Game Reserve is a fenced in 75,000 hectares of old cattle grazing land set aside in 1991 as a new National Park. It is not a private Reserve. Plans are to continue to expand the Reserve for another 20 years. (The Sabi Sand Reserve is 65,000 hectares, Kruger is 2,300,000 hectares). I asked the first Madikwe ranger I met about driving off road for game drives in the Reserve. They said, sure they could. They forgot to add that; only if the game is one of the big five, and, only if you can see it (no exploration), and, only if the soil is a certain type, and, only if the grass is over a certain height. Game drives were thus on established roads/trails and usually involved a man made water hole or dam. Basically, the game drives were a lot of drive and little game.

The game drive vehicles have three rows of three seats each row plus the seat next to the ranger (total 10 guests). (I never was with more than seven guest total, but that is still too many for photography). The vehicle sides are totally open, there is a canvas roof and a canvas back panel. Normally, I prefer a totally open vehicle but considering the amount of simply driving about we did, this setup was ok. The tracker sits on the front left fender. (There is a photo of the vehicle on their web site). The tracker setting up there can easily be in the way of taken photos and videos. Each vehicle has a radio. And the ranger uses it a lot to coordinate sightings with other Reserve lodge vehicles. I found the amount of radio traffic I heard to be distracting at best and painful at sightings and worse when you are trying to video. The radio is abuzz with requests for the location of the sighting, who is in control of vehicle traffic, who is on standby for viewing, who is leaving, who is on the way, requests for standby, etc. There are 30 lodges in the Reserve, how many vehicles are typically out and about, I don’t know. The morning game drive started at 6:30 am just a quick coffee or tea and got back about 9:30-10am. The afternoon game drive left at 4pm and got back after dark (and sundowners) about 7:30pm. The “dark” portions of the drives were cold and everyone bundled up. The days were nice and warm, sunny, very pleasant.

Game drive highlights. Two sightings of three cheetahs (male brothers) of the four cheetahs in the Reserve. One sighting was on the morning drive and offered good photo opportunities. The other sighting was just at dusk with no light left for photos. (Don’t get me started about these afternoon drives that leave to late for good afternoon sunlight). Wild dogs. Saw two of them one in the late afternoon with just enough light for a couple of good photos and videos. We had to leave them so other vehicles could see. Wild dogs were one on Madikwe Reserve big things, but not so much anymore. There were 40 of them there but around the first of this year (?) all but 8 escaped under the fence. At his time there is now a group of six and a pair (2). I saw only the pair that one time. Saw water buffalo on several occasions, up close around the road. Saw a couple of rhinos a couple of times around a man made water hole and dam. Lions were rather sparse, saw them about once a day, sleeping usually, “flat cats”.

Saw no leopards. They are in the Reserve, they are not sure of the number and are elusive and not seen often. Elephants. Now those are interesting. They have been brought in from Zimbabwe. And they are still very wary of man. Neither of the two rangers I was with wished to get closer than 100 meters of the eles. These eles like to damage vehicles, helicopters, and I think guests have been injured by them either directly or as a result vehicle overturning. It is hard to get much information about it all. But in all of my safaris I have never seen rangers so hesitant about approaching elephants. Which is really too bad, because it is quite a thrill to be in the midst of a breeding herd of eles. Give them perhaps another 30 years.

On my third day of game drives my vehicle became the “carriage” for newlywed/honeymoon couples. One newlywed couple form South Africa, one from England, and one from Germany. Well, it is the month of May, guess that explains it. But there is nothing sillier than a honeymoon couple on their first safari and on their first game drive. Oh, and also with a new video camera. I could go on, but I won’t, let me just say that newlyweds continued to plague me at the next camp and I will never again go on safari in May (or June?). Unless I have a private vehicle.

I thus asked to switch vehicles and in my new vehicle were two American ladies from Florida. Their first time in Africa and first safaris. They asked me what I thought of the game drives. I said ok, but I’ve had better. They said no kidding !!! We just came from Leopard Hills and Kings Camp and the game drives there were great. I had breakfast with them and they told me about several of the other camp game drives that they would never forget. They were doing the exact same camps (and same number of nights at each) as I but had started at Leopard Hills and finishing at Madikwe. I suggested to them that they had done their camps “backwards” and they agreed. For Madikwe Hills, maybe I’d go back in about 30 years after Madikwe Reserve has matured.

End of first part, I’ll post the rest as a reply

Regards – tom

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