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


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I’ve read that the Sabi Sands is a safari on steroids and that some feel you’re served up animals on a plate but to be honest I’ve not had that same impression. There were times when you could drive 30 min. in the Sabi Sands and not even see an impala. Yes, I love going for the leopards, you do have that. And, I have read that the game viewing at Tswalu isn’t for everyone and I also have to disagree with that opinion. We both felt that we had more sightings at Tswalu than at Sabi Sabi. No not leopards or cheetah but certainly those beautiful lions and everything else.


At Tswalu we never drove far without me wanting to stop and look at something whether it was a roan, bat eared fox, weaver nest or a puff adder. But you have to take my opinion with a grain of salt because I find everything interesting and I always want to stop and talk about it. In fact it got to be that Caroline would spot something ahead and give me a hard look meaning we’re on a mission (dogs hunting, male lions…) and we’re not stopping for another springbok. There was a woman and daughter on their first safari at Tswalu and after their first drive I asked what they saw. Their reply was “oh my gosh, what didn’t we see!?”








And here again it looks like I’ve goonied the colors but this is just how the original photo looked.








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We talked about tracking the black rhino on foot but to be honest they were usually located about an hour out and we decided there were too many other things we wanted to do instead. But we did get out and walk into a journey of giraffe twice.










Since these photos were taken I’ve been told that the puff adder is one of the fastest striking snakes and I realize just how our enthusiasm for photographing him could have had a very regretful consequence.















And Like Josiah at Phinda I have no idea what got ahold of Ben who hadn’t showed us any emotion suddenly jumped right smack dab into the middle of puff adder photo shoot. I can only guess he got tired of having all of that attention on the snake.



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Our last afternoon we headed back to the predator section to look for the two male lions, kings of both prides. I was thinking that with only 6 vehicles in this vast space what are the odds of finding them? But they had been spotted that morning and we did find them close by.


The Kalahari lions are built a little different in that they’re a little shorter and stockier than other lions much like a bull mastiff. Plus the males have the black manes that make them even more beautiful.


The boys were just starting their grooming and yawning routine when we heard their lionesses calling and shortly after walked up. It was the pride of two with the teenagers and young male except the 2 yo wasn’t with them. They fed on a warthog having the usual poor table manners of snapping and snarling with no one wanting to share.


And BIG eyes was at it again.












Suddenly there was roaring from the young male in the distance. Up jumped his mum and she took off with the males following her. It sounded like a roaring contest. As we started to follow the action we spotted the young male, the trio had run right past him…it seemed as if his mother had led the dads on a false chase diverting attention away from her recently ousted son.


Son very cautiously circled back around and found the rest of the lions at the warthog. He tried his darndest to take part but auntie popped him several times so he watched them eat from a distance.












I feel for this young male, he had been the darling of the pride, but I can see why his dad was making him move out. He’s a good looking fellow and will soon want some girls of his own. But, I hate to see him on his own with no one to hunt with, groom with or love on. Roger said that management might try to find another home for him. It would be a shame to let him stay and possibly get killed, he's a fine specimen.





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@@madaboutcheetah the whole 250,000 acres is fenced like Phinda, Madikwe, and The Sabi Sands/Kruger park. But, unlike Phinda unless you were traveling through the gate from one section to the other we never saw the fencing. Not once. When we stayed at Londolozi which is in the middle of the Sabi Sands we never saw fencing but we did while at Sabi Sabi. I was wondering if it was only because Marc made use of those roads near fencing since they were quicker and if a ranger that worked for Sabi Sabi simply might avoid them.

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Thanks for the info @@PCNW -

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Peter Connan

Gorgeos Patsy. The semi-silhoutte of you and C together is another POW! I also love the Puffy on the stick among others. talking about that, while it is certainly a very fast striker, I believe it can only strike to about 1/3rd of it's own length. Thus if you are more than half the length of the snake away from the pointy end, you should be safe?

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Ok Peter, I think we were that far away so I guess it was all good. Thanks for the info.

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Peter Connan

Pleasure. By the way, I believe this to be true of all snakes.

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My final impressions are that Phinda really is a great bang for the buck, great food, accommodations and that beautiful and varied landscape. Plus it offers a variety of activities, at certain times of the year it can be arranged for guests to go swimming with the whale sharks, diving, or a visit to the sea turtle nesting sites. Also boating, canoeing and walking safaris are possibilities. But it’s mainly the stunning landscape that does it for me.


Sabi Sabi is first class, gorgeous accommodations with very current décor and in leopard territory with excellent food from a fairly large and varied menu. They take pride in their wine cellar although we didn’t ask to see it. The only downside to the Sabi Sands lodges is that there’s not much to the landscape. It’s all pretty much just scrubby and flat.


Tswalu, contrary to few reviews, does have excellent game viewing and I think more birds than I’ve seen elsewhere. Not so much of the larger variety but many, many small species flying all around. But, although the service, presentation and effort were certainly there the food just wasn’t as good as Phinda or Sabi Sabi. It almost seemed as if they might be trying to hard. However their wines were excellent. Also you’ve got that lovely landscape, an important factor for me.


Thank you for following along and the kind words, these trip reports are phase three for me….there’s the planning, the doing and then the reliving.


A few random photos.


























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Your pics are so wonderful @@PCNW, your experiments in FLA birds really paid off.....such a great trip for you and Caroline --and the memories! OH my...I relish my memories of travel with my daughter. Your commentary was fun to read, you had it all. :)


NOW I want to return to SA haha . Yet there are so many unexplored areas for us; I don't know where to choose. My friends think I should Just Move.


Do you know the name of the "bird" app...I'd like to have it for our upcoming safari. HOPING you may remember..




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@@graceland thanks for all of the kind words. Caroline, you might know, has contact info for all three guides. Ill get the name of the app.


I'm with you on so man unexplored places. Tough call for me too.

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Fabulous report with exceptional photography. Just spent a half hour savoring the entire report on a big monitor.


Here are my favorite pictures in no particular order.

1. Night silhouette (post #5)

2. Silhouettes in trees (#10)

3. Peeing cheetah (#11)

4. Male Lion (#12)

5. Leopard walking (ins shot) (#12)

6. Bird & Rhino (#21)

7. Leopard silhouette (2nd) (#21)

8. Snarling lioness (#24)

9 Monochromatic Lioness yawn (#27)

10. Horned Bill close up (#28)

11. Two owls (#33)

12. Meerkats 1st and solo (#39)

13. 8 lioness' walking (#39)

14. Horses looking at wild dogs (#45)

15. 11 dogs walking away (#47)

16. Puff Adler (#52)

17. Snarling male lion 1st) (#53

18. Male lion in golden light (1st) (#53)

19. Lioness grooming portrait (#59)


And my choice for top three are in order (drum roll):

1. Snarling lioness (#24)

2. 8 lionesses (#24)

3. 11 dogs (#47)

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What an excellent trip, and full of so much variety. Thanks for sharing everything with us. The sense of how much fun you had really comes through.

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Wow, thanks @@AKR1 and @@Marks, I really appreciate your time and kind words. I can't believe I'm dreaming of a return trip already.

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@@AKR1 that was a treat to go through your list. Thank you!

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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.



















I don't know what you consider stupendous but I think that first lion photo in this post is pretty fantastic, and the last one ain't too shabby either! I really enjoyed the Phinda part, having visited there myself and really liking it. Looking forward to the rest!

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Fantastic report, thank you very much for sharing. Your pictures are really extraordinary, just beautiful!


When I read Tswalu I kind of expected to see Aardvark, Aardwolf and Pangolin (not necessarily in the same picture ;) ), they seem to have a reputation for those. Were you told how common sightings are?

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Amazing photography!


I'm putting Tswalu on my list for next year!


About the fencing @ Sabi Sands; I think it depends on where you stay in the reserve. If you stay, at a lodge that sits close to the outside fences then surely you will see them. But if you stay further in, you won't.


A few examples; at Elephant Plains I never saw a fence except when driving in & out of the reserve. At Umkumbe I only saw the fence one day, when we drove all the way west on their plot. Well, I didn't actually see the fence, but it was getting dark and we saw an anti-poaching patrol drive on the fence line.


Maybe the best example I can give; we were at Sabi Sabi for our FGASA level 1 training, and in contrast to you, we never saw the fence. This is most probably because our bush camp was located close to Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, while Earth lodge sits on another plot which is basically fenced on three sides.


The map explains it all;


(hover over Sabi Sabi to see lodge locations)

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Uhm... I just saw the Tswalu rates. Ouch. :(


Let's say I'll visit it when my rich and unknown-to-me uncle dies in the Congo.

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@@michael-ibk thank you for the kind words. My guide had a client coming in that wanted to see pangolin and secretary birds. I gathered the pangolin was going to be a tall order but certainly not impossible. I really wanted to see brown hyena but didn't.


@@Jochen thank you. Tswalu rates are steep unless you're planning on getting a PV anyway. Then that rate is pretty darn good since a PV is included. It also includes the 1 1/2 hour flight there and back.

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Hmmm... that's true.

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What a trip, what amazing sightings, what a level of photography (NG)!!! A stunning trip report, thank you for sharing @@PCNW! I will be coming back to read more details and periodically enjoy the photos!

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What a great report! Amazing photos!

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I was waiting on the Tswalu report too. All the photos are stunning but the interaction one can visibly see between the dogs and the horses is fantastic. The white horse and the dog - you've really captured more than just a moment with that shot! You get better and better with each trip, @@PCNW :)


Did you head out every evening for the nocturnals? How habituated are those meerkat?


The colors of both the sky and the land are truly astonishing.

Edited by Sangeeta
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Thank you all for the encouraging words.


@@Sangeeta the night drives for us were the tailend of the afternoon drive and I'll be honest it gets really cold after the sun goes down. 45 min. to an hour and I was usually ready to head back in. But since all guests have a PV you can do whatever you want with your drives.

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