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Best trip yet....Phinda, Sabi Sabi, Tswalu


PCNW
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My daughter Caroline and I have just gotten back from our trip to South Africa. I had planned to go back to Zambia but I could tell she just wasn’t too excited by the itinerary that I proposed. I changed our trip deciding to do only SA. I used Tanya Kotez from Africa Direct and some of you may recognize her name from the advice she gives in the SA forum on Trip Advisor.

 

The tough part was finding lodges that would offer us a variety of activities and some different landscape and I’ll have to say I believe I found them. I think this may have been my favorite trip so far and one I just might do again someday.

 

Phinda Vlei for four nights

Sabi Sabi Earth for four nights

Tswalu for four nights

 

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We overnighted in the Intercontinental following dinner with a friend that I met through the internet of all places. Peter Connan, another STer and member of ODP. We really enjoyed meeting Peter and his wife, she was a delight and great company. And I already felt as if I knew Peter having emailed back and forth for the last year or more helping each other with our photography questions…..although he pretty much answers my questions…..

 

We had a flight to Richard’s Bay and then on to Phinda. For those that aren’t familiar with the Phinda Game Reserve it has four lodges and a home large enough for a crowd. Apparently the J. Paul Getty family owns the property and also has a vacation home on the reserve.

 

The property is vast, 57,000 acres and we guessed it would take about 1 1/2 hours to travel from one end of the to the other. I didn't have a clue that the landscape in this reserve would be as beautiful and varied as it was.

 

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We arrived for a late lunch and we could tell we were going to very much enjoy the staff…so warm and friendly….everyone. Plus these naughty monkies were so gosh darn smart. Carefully watching to see when the staff turned their backs, sneaking down to steal the sugar bowl. Watching them was our breakfast and lunch entertainment. So comical seeing them try to run on their hind legs with both hands were full….like cartoon characters.

 

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After lunch we met Warrick our guide. Josiah, our tracker, had met us at the airport.

 

Caroline thinking….we’re going to have a blast…and she would be right about that. By the end they were bantering back and forth like a brother and sister.

 

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We headed out early for the afternoon never wanting to hang around for tea. Our first drive would have been the perfect drive for a first timer….we saw a little of everything and lots of rhino. We even followed two cheetah brothers until we lost them in the dark. By the end we counted 20 rhino (all white) and caves. I've misplaced the card from this day so I'm relying on pics from my emails home for the next two photos.

 

Stopping for sundowners on that safari first day is special.

 

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Warrick will work us I can tell. Up at 5:00 and out the door. On this morning we found a female cheetah still catching her breath from a kill. We stayed with her for nearly two hours watching her nervously checking for the enemy while pretty much consuming this entire nyala.

 

Misty morning:

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For those that haven’t mastered the pronunciation for nyala I’ve got it down now….say N out your nose and then yala our your mouth….years now getting that one right.

 

Warrick is a photographer and I had told him that we wanted to do some different things with our photography and left it to him. The next morning we were up at 4:30 and headed out

 

wrapped in blankets for the chilly ride to the top of a mountain peak. We climbed up a very steep, narrow, rocky path in the dark to reach this summit before sunrise. Silhouettes were on the agenda.

 

When I got there it looked like Caroline was standing on the very edge of a cliff and I started squawking and clucking like a mother hen. But it was actually a flat surface.

 

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The view was beyond spectacular. This reserve has 7 distinct ecosystems and has everything from sandy roads to red clay roads, plains with long blond grasses to mountains to palm tree lined rivers. After coffee with amarula while watching the sun rise we left to go chase game.

 

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Mid morning we headed to the river to canoe but fortunately they got their wires crossed and had a boat ready for us. This was perfect. Breakfast was packed and for whatever reason Caroline and I acted as if we’d never eaten a soft boiled egg before. All delicious.

 

The river cruise felt like a scene from The African Queen. The fever trees were shining and plenty of birdlife for birders had there been one on board….we’re not unless they’re over a foot or so tall….

 

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On our afternoon drive Warrick and Josey took the rifle and headed into the bush to find a pride seen recently in the area.

 

Success.

 

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There were two females with cubs. We sat and listened to the cubs whine, cry and beg mom for a suckle but she wasn’t having any of it. One of the females is probably the largest lioness anywhere. Apparently she weighs about 220 kg. The photos you’ve seen of obese house cats….this is Quantum, as they call her. When they darted her she was found to have a high testosterone level so has never had cubs.

 

These are two poor photos but I’ll post them anyway.

 

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When they started moving and we couldn’t follow we headed to the water hole hoping to catch them there. When we arrived a huge herd of elephants were coming for a drink. The light was getting poor and photography going south. While there we had to quickly get out of the way of three separate elephants that took exception to us, once nearly getting blocked by another vehicle. And then sure enough the pride came in for a drink and we could appreciate Quantum’s size.

 

These are all very soft photos.

 

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On to the welcomed sundowners.

 

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And two more from the top of the mountain this am.

 

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Wow, Quantum really is enormous. I wonder if there are any health impacts associated with her size? Or even behavioral aspects, like hunting.

Beautiful pictures! I would really like to make it to Phinda someday.

Edited by Marks
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@@Marks Warrick said that he has seen her hunt and that she "still has moves". It sounded like she very much is an important factor in the hunt.

 

We talked about whether it would be worth the effort to give her hormone injects to bring her into estrus. She's such a large lioness I hate to see her not reproduce.

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Following the sundowners Warrick got us set up with his tripod to try our hand at some star photography with slow shutter speed and light painting on the trees with a flashligh. I can’t say I scored an A on this assignment but it gave me some thoughts about trying some light painting at home. He’s planning another go at this in a different location for tomorrow night.

 

Warrick was such a great guide, just enough experience yet still new enough to be enthusiastic. He seemed to know at least a little about everything. He and Caroline chatted on end about the constellations. He had a cool App on his Ipad that when you pointed it at the stars it filled the missing links so you could actually appreciate what each grouping were supposed to be. At one point possibly feeling I was being left out he asked me a question, I told him I didn’t know anything about astrology…..but their heads were so buried in the Ipad no one even remarked.

 

Following our photo lesson we headed back to the boma for dinner with Warrick. On the way there we ticked off one of our goals…..a chameleon.

 

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madaboutcheetah

Brilliant photography @@PCNW - Thanks for sharing this report!!!

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The next day was a full day. We headed out with a driver and Warrick to the Endangered Cat Rescue about an hour away. Having been to the one outside of Camp Jabulani I wasn’t sure that we needed to see another but it wasn’t a waste of time. And Caroline, AKA, “Ellie Mae Clampett” wasn’t going to miss a chance to pet a cheetah.

 

We spent a lot of time getting to know our young driver who was getting married in two weeks. He explained that it’s still his village’s custom to pay a dowry of 11 cows.

 

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Besides cheetah the rescue center works with serval, African wild cats and caracal. The center will try to release the orphaned or injured cat back into private reserves, never selling the animals, instead choosing to always maintain ownership in case the situation doesn’t work out.

 

 

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This serval spent time slobbering on Warrick's shoe and rubbing his neck in the slobber, I’m assuming he was spreading his scent on himself?

 

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Thanks @@madaboutcheetah. I have some good cheetah pics coming up, I thought of you often.

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lovely pics @@PCNW, looking forward to the next installment

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Breakfast on the deck over looking the vlei, pronounced flay, was always special. Mimosa’s, a tray beside your table filled with cheeses, fruit, salmon, chutneys, biscuits, juices, etc. and then a special of the day hot breakfast. The monkeys always entertaining us.

 

Ellie Mae couldn’t resist the temptation to get close to them and thought she would try this unobserved by sneaking around the corner with bread. At lunch, which is several delicious salad options, she got called out by the good natured manager, asking her if she got any good photos.

 

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Our good fortune continued on our afternoon drive. We found this new male that had been released into the reserve four months prior. He’s still collared incase he decides he’s not happy and heads home. He was perched on a hill with his new harem of two but the light was waning.

 

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For our last sundowner Warrick found us a beautiful isolated amarula tree for one last silhouette. After watching Caroline shimmy up into the tree and I can only assume that Josey was daydreaming of his younger years and took leave of any good sense he may have had.

 

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On our last day and drive at Phinda we headed out before light to find cheetah and with only about 45 min. before we needed to head back to pack for our flight Warrick and Josey took the rifle, got out, headed in different directions and found them. Two male brothers so fat from a kill that we knew they would only be looking for shade and a nap. But for whatever reason they marched on giving us just enough time for observation and some good poses.

 

Ever the curious and nosey giraffe looking at Warrick.

 

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When we had our fill we raced back, packed and headed to the airport. On the way I asked Warrick what he’ll do when guiding gets old. He said he knew of someone by the name of Marc Lindsey Rey that did private safari guiding and that he had trained under Marc. He thought I was kidding when I told him that we were meeting Marc that day at Sabi Sabi.

 

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And one last mark before his nap.

 

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Tanya had priced our four days at Sabi Sabi using Marc and a PV and it turned into a great option. Marc works for Tanya and Africa Direct, has photographic knowledge and uses Nikon to boot.

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Edited by PCNW
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We left Phinda with sad hearts and I’ll have to say of the places that I’ve been I think it’s the best bang for the buck. Very, very nice accommodations, competent, friendly staff and excellent food. But the highlight for us was Warrick. He was everything a guide should be and add a ton of fun on top of that.

 

We flew to The Sabi Sands from Phinda and met Marc, AKA, Ray, Ray Ban, Ray Ray, and our tracker Richard at the airport. The drive to the lodge was quick. Sabi Sabi Earth is just beyond beautiful with attractive open spaces everywhere. Having seen pics on the internet I was still surprised that it was even nicer than I had thought. Very tastefully done. And although it’s not only the accommodations that go into making a lodge, Sausage Tree and Chitabe being two favorites, this place has moved into the number one spot for me. All of the boxes checked off.

 

We headed out at 5:30 on our first morning drive to find leopard and within no time there he was. I had rented a 600 mm from Tanya’s husband Hilton Kotze from ODP and after handling one at home I was thinking that it would be impossibly too heavy to deal with. But surprisingly I got along great with the lens. Obviously hand holding is out but I have a plated flat surface beanbag that clamps onto the roll bar making it easy to slide from side to side. And while not as stable as a true gimbal or other head it sure is much easier to work with and I’ll take that compromise.

 

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And once Leo stopped leading us in circles and took a snooze two squirrels entertained us for an hour. Eventually we gave up and headed off.

 

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Wonderful photography - beautiful silhouettes

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Thanks @@Zim Girl. I love them because they're so easy to get right!!!

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I'm enjoying your continued report. Love the cheetahs - great detail on that cheetah "spray!" :)

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Patsy,

 

Another wonderful report here. Also your photography - what can I say, much like art, appreciation of a picture is very much in the eye of the beholder. I am going out on a limb here, given the tremendous photographic talent on this board, but your pictures, composition perhaps more than technical perfection, really strikes a chord in me. And I am not referring to just the pictures from this trip, but others before that. I hope you have some portraiture as well, something that you have excelled in previous reports.

Edited by AKR1
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Thanks @@Soukous and @@Marks much appreciated. @@AKR1 I'm not positive I brought home any better photos than previous trips but I do think I came with a little more knowledge and left with a little more. I've always left a little wiggle room for composition but more and more I'm getting it done in the camera and not in post.

 

I had just switched to back button focusing a few weeks before getting here and that takes a little getting used to but I do think its worth the effort. Thanks for the kind words and yes a few portraits....I lust for a POW (Picture Of the Week) in several catagories on ODP but portraits in natural light seem to be the category that keeps calling my name.

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Lovely report and I too am really enjoying your beautiful photography.

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Great and beautiful report, Patsy..You and Caroline seem to have the best times on safari with excellent guides and animal spotting. Your research pays off.

 

After reading the Phinda section and seeing Caroline with Warrick, I would have bet she'd stay :D She seems to be a natural in the bush!

 

Looking forward to following along,

 

I also think Tanya is a superb travel expert!

 

I love your photography as well, all things big and small. I could dream of attaining such success, but reality sets in - i've no patience. So I enjoy all I see here on ST!

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Our afternoon drive looked promising when we found a cheetah that looked like he was on the hunt. After following him for awhile Marc predicted correctly that he was heading to an open field with impala that had recently been burned.

 

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We left him strolling that way and hurried to the area, bingo the cheetah showed. But in the end all he did was pose beautifully for us.

 

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I always find it interesting when people come all this way to use an Ipad for their photography.

 

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Another great possibility that evening was the leopard that we stumbled onto. I had mentioned to Marc that I really wanted to try my hand had a backlit predator….heck, any animal would do. We got an opportunity although I didn’t come home with the photo I had envisioned but it’s a start.

 

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And then when Leo decided to take a nap in the road and right beside our car we headed for home. Odd behavior for a leopard but I guess this is why one comes to the Sabi Sands..

 

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Thanks so much @@twaffle, always an honor to get your kind words. @@graceland Caroline took it right up with Marc where she left off with Warrick. We both really enjoyed his company too. But she stays the course since she's had the same boyfriend for 5-6 years....most of her life, lol.

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That cheetah looks so pudgy and content in your third picture. It seems like you and your daughter had a lot of fun together on this trip.

 

Re: iPads, I've always found that interesting, too. But really I don't think they're much worse than a compact point & shoot (which are also common), and after reading the recent ST interview with James Sengeny, I can appreciate the aspect of sharing photos more easily. I can't imagine using one exclusively though, the zoom can't be much to speak of...

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The morning brought out the hot water bottles and we headed to find a pride of lions. On the way we found a herd resting in the early sun and after a while I got obsessed with the ox peckers.

 

Shortly after a guide radioed over to say they were sitting on a pride and gave directions. We found out later that when he said NW he actually meant SW…I was starting to worry about Marc and Richard there for a little bit as we drove around in circles but it all became clear when the mistake was admitted.

 

And again it looked promising. Seven very ragged, lean lionesses, it was still early and very cool…surely they needed to eat. Nope. And I won’t bore you with how we spent our time but 3 hours went by with just enough false starts to keep our attention. I will say we really enjoyed sitting there just talking, laughing, shooting a little of this and a little of that. Nothing stupendous came from this photo shoot but I’ll share anyway.

 

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Sometimes it's just nice to take a drive around Africa :D and chat with your guide and driver.

 

..and I have thought all my guides very handsome and charismatic; let alone smart as whips. I've also had the same boyfriend for about 38 years :rolleyes:

 

Also used an iPhone to snap pics- but not an iPad (too large to tote). When one is not a wildlife photographer, amateur or not, it is sometimes just easier to quickly use the iPhone - esp. when walking for 6 hrs in that intense sun. However, this next trip I am actually taking a NEW camera! Nothing fancy, but should do the trick for my friends and family.

 

However, I am VERY appreciative of the superb photos you and the other awesome photographers here on ST share. Wets my appetite for my next safari..so thanks!

 

And love your lion shots above. Sweet kitties always grab my attention - love the paw!

Edited by graceland
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