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Cape Peninsula, Timbavati and Sabi Sand in May


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FlyTraveler

Well, it’s been several days since my wife and I came back from our second African safari trip and I’d better start my TR before the memories fade away (not that my memories from safari fade away easily, but still…).

Since last year we debuted in Eastern Africa - Kenya (Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Selenkay Conservancy, Amboseli NP, Ol Kyniei and Naibosho conservancies) we decided to get an idea about the southern part of the continent. The list of places to visit was long, time and funds were limited, so it took quite a lot of planning, starting from September 2013. There were two iconic places in Southern Africa, which we wanted to see – Cape Town and Victoria Falls, so I did my best to integrate them into the itinerary, while keeping the time spent there to a minimum (so we will have the bulk of our trip spent on safari.

In terms of national parks / reserves I really wanted to see some of the private reserves adjacent to Kruger NP plus the Okavango Delta, so the trip took place in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe (shortly, just for the Zim side of VF) and Botswana. This first TR will cover the RSA part of the trip. For the Zim-Zam and Botswana portion of the journey, I will write a separate report in the Botswana section.

The trip took place between May 16 and June 05, as you know the weather patterns in Cape Town are kind of tricky - the opposite from the rest of the country, so timing was not easy. We wanted also to see a green bush, without the rains, though. When considering other facts, like the water level of the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls, availability of well priced lodges and camps, time off from work, timing really turned out to be quite a challenge.

The RSA part of the trip was designed entirely by myself – booked hotels, activities, lodges, domestic flight tickets separately, one by one. For the Botswana section I used a very competent local agent in Maun – Nadine from Safari Specialists (also known as Safari Destinations). I will write more about them in the Botswana TR.

Itinerary:

2 nights in Cape Town.

3 nights at Motswari Lodge, Timbavati Private Game Reserve.

3 nights at Elephant Plains Lodge, Sabi Sand.

1 “technical” overnight in Johannesburg.

1 night at Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia.

2 nights at The Old House B&B, Kasane, Botswana.

1 night in Maun, Botswana.

2 nights at Pelo Camp, Jao Concession in the Okavango Delta (Wilderness Safaris).

3 nights at Sango Camp, Khawi Community area, Botswana.

Everything was very carefully planned by the hour and the funny thing is that the plan actually worked 100 %.

 

On our BA flight from London Heathrow to Cape Town we got an unexpected bonus – great aerial views of the Namib desert and Walvis
Bay (as far as views from a commercial flight go):

 

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Sea salt processing facilities in Walvis Bay, Namibia:

 

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Landing in Cape Town:

 

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Isn't this the best view one could get from an airport?

 

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Regarding Cape Town - what is the best thing one could do in CT for one half and one full day?

Best answer: hire a pro photographer guide with a car for the entire duration of the stay and do not hire just anyone, get James Gradwell - a great pro and owner of Photography Tours, Cape Town. The guy is really bright, very knowledgeable, knows the very best spots for photography in town and around the Peninsula and is flexible, decisions regarding where to go are made on the spot depending on weather and your preferences. If this is not enough, I will mention that James is also a qualified safari guide and has worked in several game reserves in RSA. To say that we had lots to talk about (from photography, history to safaris and wildlife) would be a serious understatement.

We were extremely lucky with the weather in CT – two beautiful sunny days, which helped for excellent landscape and even wildlife photography. I will not bother you too much with the landscapes (will post just a few, this is a safari forum, after all).

We stayed at an excellent location – Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, right at V & A Waterfront, so we were able to walk around the area even before we started our tour with James. We loved Cape Town, the city reminds me a bit of Vancouver, BC with the ocean and the mountains in view.

 

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James Gradwell showed up on time at the hotel lobby and we decided to start the photo tour with the colourful houses of Bo-Kaap
(the Malay Quarter), just stopped at the City Hall for a quick photo:

 

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Sorry for the non-safari photos, it is quite a temptation to post them, though, since they are a lot easier to shoot than longer lens wildlife shots :)

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After Boulders Beach we went to Cape Point where along with the amazing seascapes we saw something quite unusual (at least for us) – eland antelopes with the ocean as a background, rather than savanna

It looks like it is time for leopards. Great sighting of adult leopardess with a sub-adult male cub and impala kill in a tree. One of those sightings that we do not see just on every game drive:  

Well, it’s been several days since my wife and I came back from our second African safari trip and I’d better start my TR before the memories fade away (not that my memories from safari fade away easi

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TonyQ

@@FlyTraveler

I am glad you have started this - I have been looking forward to it

It looks like a fascinating itinerary

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FlyTraveler

@@FlyTraveler

I am glad you have started this - I have been looking forward to it

It looks like a fascinating itinerary

 

Thank you TonyQ! Itinerary was quite nice, for some places I wish we had done it in August - September, but then the prices would have been different, Victoria Falls would have been dryer and we wouldn't have seen greenish (kind of) bush... :) If everything is well, Ruaha at the end of September :)

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bettel

Your itinerary looks great! I am really looking forward to the report!

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FlyTraveler

The cable car to the top of the Table Mountain was not working but we managed to get some good views of the City Bowl, Table
Mountain, Camps Bay, the 12 apostles and the surroundings and finished the day at the beaches for a nice sunset.

 

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A sunset with a surfer:

 

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Marks

Great start to a promising itinerary. You really did catch great Cape Town weather, too!

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FlyTraveler

After so many beautiful landscapes it was time for some wildlife viewing – on the next day we had a very early morning call for a transfer to Simon’s Town for a Great White Shark tour. The company we selected was APEX Shark Expeditions, a property of Chris Follows, one of the best Great White experts and a great photographer, as well. He became famous with the Air Jaws documentaries broadcasted on Discovery Channel (possibly there are other films with him that I am not aware of).

The boat took us to the Seal Island in False Bay, the only place in the world where the Great Whites have learned to breach out of the water as a part of specialized seal hunting technique. The season was a bit too early for breaching, but nevertheless we went through their (company’s) usual drill:

After reaching Seal Island they first waited for possible natural predation.

Nothing happened, so they proceeded to step 2 – pulling a rubber seal after the boat with the hope that a Great White will tempt to attack it and to breach over the water.

This did not materialize either, so they went for the sure thing – lowered the steel cage in the water where customers with wet suites and masks would take turns (by groups of 3). The crew then threw the baits – tuna heads and when a spotter would see an approaching great white, she would shout, the crew would pull quickly the bates, the Great White would follow and pass very close to the cage and the boat while the people in the cage would submerge in order to see it underwater.

Although difficult to photograph, the sharks were well visible from the boat, so I and my wife decided not to get in the water. We were not afraid of the Great Whites, but rather had the fear that we could catch a cold (the water was cold and it was windy) and screw up the upcoming safaris.

 

Leaving Simon's Town early in the morning:

 

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Seal Island:

 

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Throwing the bate in the water:

 

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The steel cage:

 

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The sharks:

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FlyTraveler

Great start to a promising itinerary. You really did catch great Cape Town weather, too!

 

Indeed, Marks - we were very lucky to get 2 sunny days in CT (out of 2) :)

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FlyTraveler

After the Great White and the seals, we met our pro photographer guide at the pier and headed for Boulders Beach for African (Jackass) Penguins viewing. It was our first sighting of penguins in the wild, so we enjoyed them very much and spent some time with them, observing their behaviour and taking photos.

 

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Some penguins with chicks:

 

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FlyTraveler

After Boulders Beach we went to Cape Point where along with the amazing seascapes we saw something quite unusual (at least for us) – eland antelopes with the ocean as a background, rather than savannah or bush.

 

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Cape Point with Misty Beach (to understand better the scale of the landscape, look at the two people on the beach, right at the water edge):

 

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A Lebanese Cedar tree:

 

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Noordhoek Beach:

 

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Chapman's Peak Drive:

 

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Hout Bay:

 

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And back to Cape Town - the chick suburb of Llandudno:

 

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Finally we called the day off with a beautiful sunset with the fishermen at Sea Point:

 

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Marks

The thing I remember most vividly about Seal Island is the smell. Very cool place to be, though. Really neat shark pictures; I wish I had seen one. Just out of curiosity, did they go into much detail about baiting them? I was guessing they are permitted to "feed" them because of their endangered status - though it seems like the kind of thing we would frown upon if it were done (for example) for leopards or cheetahs.

 

Looking forward to more updates!

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Great report with superb pictures of Cape Town and surrounds. Brought back wonderful memories. You were lucky to get perfect weather and hiring the pro photographer, given the short time you had, was a wise move that really allowed you to optimize your time spent there. Loved the shark and penguin shots.

Really looking forward to the rest of your report. Thanks for doing this as trip reports like yours are the true attraction of ST for me.

One question. We also used Safari Specialists in Maun for our Botswana trip ( Erica). I was not aware they have another company you mentioned called Safari Destinations. I checked it out and the website is better than Safari Specialists but it appears to be a completely different group ( over a dozen) women you run it. I found no mention of Nadine or Erica there?

Edited by AKR1
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FlyTraveler

The thing I remember most vividly about Seal Island is the smell. Very cool place to be, though. Really neat shark pictures; I wish I had seen one. Just out of curiosity, did they go into much detail about baiting them? I was guessing they are permitted to "feed" them because of their endangered status - though it seems like the kind of thing we would frown upon if it were done (for example) for leopards or cheetahs.

 

Looking forward to more updates!

 

I believed that they used tuna heads, but I am not sure (I may have seen this on documentaries). In any case it was some sort of fish leftovers. The wind may have blown into the island, we did not feel any smell from the seals at all and we stayed there for quite a while. I was a bit disappointed that Chris Follows was not on the boat, I guess that he shows up only once in a while to keep the legend alive. :)

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FlyTraveler

Great report with superb pictures of Cape Town and surrounds. Brought back wonderful memories. You were lucky to get perfect weather and hiring the pro photographer, given the short time you had, was a wise move that really allowed you to optimize your time spent there. Loved the shark and penguin shots.

Really looking forward to the rest of your report. Thanks for doing this as trip reports like yours are the true attraction of ST for me.

One question. We also used Safari Specialists in Maun for our Botswana trip ( Erica). I was not aware they have another company you mentioned called Safari Destinations. I checked it out and the website is better than Safari Specialists but it appears to be a completely different group ( over a dozen) women you run it. I found no mention of Nadine or Erica there?

 

Hi @@AKR1, thanks for the good words! Hiring the pro photographer was the very best thing that we could do for just a day and a half in Cape Town. I liked James Gradwell very much and had a ball with him. Would not hesitate to recommend the guy to anyone who is interested in photography and visiting Cape Town. The price was the same as any other private guide would charge (without being a pro photographer). He travels extensively and has broad knowledge about things, not only about CT and surroundings. I did also get some very useful photography tips without hearing one useless comment.

 

Regarding the Safari Specialists - yes this is the same company, Erica works together with Nadine, I have received emails from her when Nadine was away during the planning stage of the trip. In some of the camps we were told that we have booked via Safari Destinations (this seems to be a name they are also using and this is how I got it into my mind). At Sango Camp in Botswana, there was an agent from the company on educagtional (Gaba) and she told me that there are about 40 people working in the agency (I am not sure which one from the two names is the bigger entity) - they have people with various languages and the ones like Nadine and Erica are working with the English speaking customers.

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Kitsafari

@@FlyTraveler fabulous aerial pictures. you captured the desert beauty so well.

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FlyTraveler

@@FlyTraveler fabulous aerial pictures. you captured the desert beauty so well.

 

Thank you @@Kitsafari, I was very pleased to see the Namib desert at least from the plane. We were hesitating very much between Botswana and Namibia for this trip and eventually chose Botswana, so seeing the desert from the air was an unexpected bonus for us.

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FlyTraveler

On the third day of our trip we boarded the first SAA flight to O.R. Tambo in Johannesburg, where we switched to the SA Express flight to the Eastgate airport in Hoedspruit (HDS). We wanted to see the Blyde River Canyon on the way back from Sabi Sand to Joburg, so I inquired with several companies about a land transfer via the Panorama Route. They all replied that in order to do this we must leave the lodge very early in the morning, which meant missing the last morning game drive. As anyone here would agree that missing a game drive is not exactly a noble thing to do, I cancelled the Panorama Route plans and booked a flight with SA Express instead.

 

The idea about the canyon remained in my head, though, so when I found on the Internet about the Leading Edge Flight School in Hoedspruit and their microlight aircraft scenic flights over Blyde River Canyon, I knew that this was something that we wanted to do. I am not a pilot, but have been aviation enthusiast since a kid and a flight over the canyon on a microlight seemed like an adventure. They also mention that the last 15 minutes of the one hour flight is a flying safari over the private reserves next to Hoedspruit.

 

The flight school is run by a couple - Rawena and Deon, who are both instructor pilots. I figured out that if the flight from Joburg to Hoedsrpuit was on time, we would have about two hours before heading to Motswari Game Lodge in Timbavati and will still be able to catch the afternoon game drive. Made an arrangements with Rawena for pick up at Eastgate airport and with the lodge for a transfer from the flight school. All we needed was to arrive on time in Hoedspruit and suitable weather for flying a microlight over the canyon. As a back up plan we had a flight only over the private reserves.

 

As we approached Hoedsrpuit, the weather became cloudy and I started having concerns about the microlight flight. The flight was on time and Rawena was waiting for us at the airport. My first question was about the suitability of the weather, but she said that they would check it at the last moment before take off. After some 15 minutes of driving we arrived at the flight school, Deon checked the weather and they both decided that we can give it a try.

 

Microlights are in general two types - a weight shift - where pilot and passenger sit one behind the other and 3 axis control where pilot and passenger sit in a tandem next to each other with control surfaces like a real airplane - rudder and flaperons (a combination of flaps and ailerons). The Leading Edge Flight School operated two aircraft of the latter type - New Zealand made Bantam B22-s. My wife chose to be flown by Deon, so I went with Rawena.

 

Bantam B22 microlight at the Leading Edge Flight School, Hoedspruit:

 

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Mrs. FlyTraveler ready to take off with Deon:

 

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Taking off and the flight controls:

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The Blyde River Canyon from the air:

 

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The Blyde River dam:

 

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Next we turned to the private game reserves around Hoedsrpuit. Rawena managed to find some animals for the 15 minutes flight that we had left.

 

Hippos:

 

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Cape Buffalo (if you look carefully, you would see a calf suckling in the center of the first photo):

 

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These look like some sort of a waterhole / dam with a viewing platform and safari lodge on a dry riverbed (if any of you recognizes these places, please let me know what they are):

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The irony was that on the commercial flight back to Joburg we were able to see Blyde River Canyon on a sunny day, but it was from a higher altitude, through window and still the thrill of flying on a microlight was a great fun.

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FlyTraveler

I apologize once again for the long non-safari introduction, but I thought that this would give a better overall impression of the entire journey.

 

So finally we arrived at Motswari Game Lodge in Timbavati Private Game Reserve. We liked the place very much - despite of the fact that we had all necessary comforts, the lodge would feel more like a camp rather than a hotel. The property is not fenced, so wildlife (mostly impalas) are roaming freely around the premises. We had an elephant only 5 meters away from our bathroom window.

 

Our room:

 

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The bathroom and the view from the window:

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The view from the bathroom window:

 

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I've been following for almost an year the blog and the Facebook page of one of the guides in Motswari - Chad Cocking, who is also a great wildlife photographer and I requested him as a guide about two months ago. One week before the trip I wrote to Chad on his FB page and he replied that unfortunately he will be on his annual leave during our stay at the lodge. The funny thing is that he spent his vacation from work in a wildlife reserve - Kgalagadi transfrontier park.

 

We had Harold for a guide and Difference for a tracker - they were very professional and worked really well as a team.

 

The lodge uses the typical for the private resorts adjacent to Kruger NP safari vehicles - totally open with 3 rows X 3 seats. Fortunately we never had 3 people in a row during our entire trip and in Motswari we had one game drive with total 3 guests (us plus another one) and 2 game drives with total 4 guests.

 

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The guides also carried a 10 mm caliber Winchester rifle on a special stand over the dashboard:

 

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FlyTraveler

The first wild animal that we saw on our first game drive in Motswari was a Southern giraffe with some oxpeckers on his neck and body:

 

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A pair of Egyptian geese were the next sighting:

 

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A lilac-breasted roller:

 

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A male impala "marking territory":

 

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Then we found a breading herd of elephants at a dry riverbed. The youngsters were quite playful, so we stayed for quite a while watching their behavior:

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Running around mummy:

 

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A teen practicing mock charges, trumpeting and trying hard to look scary:

 

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How was that? Was it scary enough?

 

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FlyTraveler

The first Timbavati sunset in my African sunsets / sunrises collection:

 

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Later on we run into two nomad male lions, lying in the tall grass. One of them didn't even bother to raise his head. I took several photos of the other one using the limited light produced by the tracker's spot light:

 

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Back in the lodge we enjoyed dinner in the boma. In Motswari guests share table with their vehicle mates plus the guide. I liked that since this gave us an extra time with the guide and opportunity to ask additional questions. The atmosphere was very pleasant and informal, I could not think of any better way for managing a safari lodge. Food is not really our priority during our travels, but the one in Motswari was really good. There was a funny guide named Richard (more about him later) who said "Beef is so good, I'm going to eat until I get into a coma".

 

The person with his back to the camera is the camp manager Dave:post-46619-0-28805500-1402638119_thumb.jpg

 

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FlyTraveler

Second day at Motswari game lodge, morning drive with only one person in the vehicle except the two of us - one guest per row.

 

 

The first sighting was a Steenbok (the very first Steenbok for me):

 

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It was quite shy, ran away to the bush:

 

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Next we saw a white rhino (first proper sighting of white rhino for me, have seen black rhino in Masai Mara and white rhinos only from a far distance in Lake Nakuru NP):

 

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Marking a territory (spraying urine like a garden hose):

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Harold (our guide) and our tracker Difference (yes, that was his name, we were joking that Difference makes a difference):

 

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Treepol

@@FlyTraveler thanks for posting the photos of the coastline from your flight to Cape Town, almost a scenic flight i n its own right!

 

Your photos of colourful Bo-Kaap and the coast and apostles around Cape Town have caught the mood of the city very well.

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FlyTraveler

@@FlyTraveler thanks for posting the photos of the coastline from your flight to Cape Town, almost a scenic flight i n its own right!

 

Your photos of colourful Bo-Kaap and the coast and apostles around Cape Town have caught the mood of the city very well.

 

Thanks @@Treepol! The city and the surroundings are amazing, I was with a local pro-photographer, which also helped for choosing the best spots and some technical tips. The aerial views of Namibia were a great bonus, it also made paying for advanced seat reservation on the BA flight worthwhile. :)

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FlyTraveler

It looks like it is time for leopards. Great sighting of adult leopardess with a sub-adult male cub and impala kill in a tree. One of those sightings that we do not see just on every game drive:

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JulieM

I am hanging out to hear the rest of your report! We are heading to Motswari in October and I've just been Facebook chatting to Chad to see if we can lock him in as our guide. Looking forward to your ongoing report. Cheers.

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