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Blyde River Canyon, Johannesburg, Zambezi river, May 25 / 26, 2014

 

 

This trip report will cover the second half of our safari trip in May / June 2014 and more specifically Victoria Falls, Kasane (Chobe NP), Maun (with a helicopter flight over the delta), Jao Concession (Pelo Camp), Khwai Concession and Moremi Game Reserve (Sango Camp).

 

You could find here the trip report covering the first half of our journey (Cape Town, Cape Peninsula, Timbavati and Sabi Sand).

 

For the sake of being totally clear, I am posting again the itinerary for the whole trip:

 

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.

 

 

After Sabi Sand and the transfer to Eastgate airport in Hoedspruit, we had a brilliant view of Blyde River Canyon during the flight to Johannesburg.

 

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One "technical" overnight in Joburg - found a very convenient and budget friendly place to stay near the O. R. Tambo airport - Peermont Metcourt At Emperors Palace hotel, 10 minutes away with a regular free minivan shuttle (every 20 minutes rain or shine).

 

Just a warning for the hardcore admirers of the classic Italian art and architecture - you might get a heart attack when you see the place. It is a cheesy casino complex / mall/ hotels with imitation of marble columns, Italian piazzas and even a replicas of Michelangelo's statue of David and Piazza Navona in Rome. It was so kitschy that it was even interesting :) The hotel I mentioned was really convenient, though (just keep in mind that your room may face the airport runways, we didn't have problem with that, there was no traffic at night).

 

 

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A view from the hotel room:

 

 

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A great SAA flight to Livingstone, Zambia on the next day.

 

 

Downtown Joburg from the plane:

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I did not appreciate the fact that there wasn't a screen with a map showing the location of the aircraft, so I couldn't ID this river (it seemed to me too early in the flight to be Chobe or Zambezi, if anyone can recognize it, please feel free to name it):

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Then we were rewarded with a view towards the great Zambezi river just minutes before touchdown at the Livingstone airport:

 

 

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Later on we had even a better view of Zambezi from Robinson R44 helicopter, operated by Batoka Sky:


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Edited by FlyTraveler
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Well, keep in mind that we had only one afternoon (kind of) and the next morning in Livingstone. I knew that Zambezi river would be full and the falls would be difficult to observe this time of the ye

Chobe river boat safari, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014     Elephants turned to golden color by the light of the setting sun:                                    

Chobe river afternoon boat safari. Chobe NP, Botswana. May 28, 2014     Next we saw one of the most beautiful sightings on this trip - Ellies swimming and playing in Chobe river:          

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JohnR

Sections of the Zambezi below the falls in the dry season before Lake Kariba do look like your photo. It should not be too hard to pick it out on Google Maps.

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FlyTraveler

Sections of the Zambezi below the falls in the dry season before Lake Kariba do look like your photo. It should not be too hard to pick it out on Google Maps.

 

Thanks @@JohnR, I thought of this, it just seemed a bit too early in the flight for Zambezi, now I am starting to forget actually when did we see it, should look at the exif info on the image file :) :) Will try a research on Google Maps, when I have time, thanks for pointing an approximate location.

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Marks

Good to see your continuation here. Will be interested in what activities you squeezed in at Livingstone.

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FlyTraveler

Good to see your continuation here. Will be interested in what activities you squeezed in at Livingstone.

 

 

Well, keep in mind that we had only one afternoon (kind of) and the next morning in Livingstone. I knew that Zambezi river would be full and the falls would be difficult to observe this time of the year, so I wanted to see the falls also from the air. There were two options for doing this:

 

1. Batoka Sky microlight flight - a great and adventurous option, no window, just floating in the air over the falls. Major disadvantage for me - can not take any sort of camera with me. They do have a camera (perhaps a GoPro) mounted on the wing and the pilot takes photos using a remote control, but I really wanted my own images.

 

So we went for the other option:

 

2. Helicopter flight. There were two companies offering such flights on the Zambian side of the falls - again Batoka Sky and United Air Charter. The latter operates Eurocopter models with no small window that could be opened on the back seat. The former operates two types of helicopters - Bell JetRanger (with a small window that could be opened) and Robinson R44 (no such a window, but only 3 pax plus pilot, so in any case everyone gets a window seat).

 

We went for Batoka Sky - either a good luck and possibility for a window seat (at least for one of us) with a small window that could be opened for better photography with no reflections on the JetRanger or at least a guaranteed window seat on the small Robinson R44.

 

It would be important to mention that all activities from Livingstone on (including scenic flights, accommodation and transfers) were organized by Nadine from Safari Specialists, based in Maun. Under very close supervision on my side, she would (eventually) give me the same (or almost the same) prices as the providers and I had the back-up of a local company in case something went wrong during the trip. Very professional service, at least 70 emails exchanged, I switched to different camps in Botswana 2 times. Flawless transfers, everything worked like a Swiss watch.

 

I decided the helicopter flight to be the first thing to do, so in case of problems on the side of the provider, we would have enough time to re-schedule.

 

Should have arrived in Livingstone at 12:30 pm in Livingstone (the SAA flight was one hour late - perfect flying conditions, no explanation on the side of the pilot at all), so arrived at 13:30 instead, which made me sweat a bid - we had a scheduled transfer from the lodge to the helipad at 14:30 for a flight at 15:00. Fortunately the transfer to the lodge (Bushtracks Zambia) were waiting for us at the airport (very professional service, they provided the transfer to Kasane on the next day, as well).

 

About 20 minutes service to Maramba River Lodge (we loved this place, more comments and some photos later on, a great budget option for overnight in Livingstone).

 

Managed to check in and get ready for the transfer on time. Short ride to the helipad, the aircraft turned out to be Robinson R44, window seat for both of us, but could not open a window, so there were some issues with reflections in the glass. We took the shortest and the cheapest flight - 15 minutes, which ended almost before it started. :) Great experience, though. I had seen several documentaries about Victoria Falls and Zambezi river (love the BBC ones) and actually being there and seeing them from the air was a big event for me. I have also seen the other two huge waterfalls (Niagara - many times and Iguazu on the border of Argentina and Brazil), but Victoria Falls is my favorite, perhaps I am biased, since it is in Africa, but it is twice as high as Niagara and the longest curtain of falling water - almost two kilometers wide. Iguazu Falls are absolutely spectacular, but there are a compilation of about 360 individual falls while Victoria Falls is one solid curtain of falling water.

 

 

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After the flight we were dropped at the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and it was time to see the falls from a closer distance.

 

 

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There was an official holiday (African Freedom Day - May 26), so there were many locals in the park, including kids bathing in Zambezi upstream from the falls.

 

 

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Local boy at the bank of Zambezi:

 

 

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Local teens hanging around:

 

 

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Some images of Zambezi and the falls at sunset:

 

 

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JohnR

Great to see the Falls in full flood.

 

I've only been (twice) in the dry season as it was a pick-up point for my study site in Caprivi. The Falls are a lot less especially when the hydro station is at full power. I took the longer 30 minute Batoka heli flight but time actually over the Falls was about the same. The rest of the time was spent in the ravines and over the Mosi Oa Tunya NP. I had the same problem of no open windows and additionally I was in the middle of the back seat. I am glad it panned out so well for you.

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Marks

Wow. Incredibly dramatic photos.

Can I ask what the general price options looked like for helicopter vs microlight? You clearly made a good choice in prioritizing photography!

 

Great to see the Falls in full flood.

 

I've only been (twice) in the dry season as it was a pick-up point for my study site in Caprivi. The Falls are a lot less especially when the hydro station is at full power. I took the longer 30 minute Batoka heli flight but time actually over the Falls was about the same. The rest of the time was spent in the ravines and over the Mosi Oa Tunya NP. I had the same problem of no open windows and additionally I was in the middle of the back seat. I am glad it panned out so well for you.

Would you say the time over the ravines/NP was well-spent, and were you able to see any wildlife?

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FlyTraveler

Wow. Incredibly dramatic photos.

Can I ask what the general price options looked like for helicopter vs microlight? You clearly made a good choice in prioritizing photography!

 

 

I can not remember the exact amount, but the price for the cheapest and shortest helicopter flight was in the 150-170 dollars (per person) bracket. I believe the microlight was about 150 dollars.

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JohnR

I think I paid US$250 for the half hour flight in 2008. In the ravines I did not take many photos as we were quite close to the scenery so I did not really have time to compose images. It was an experience and the price was comparable with other tourist helicopter flights I've taken. We also flew over the hydropower station, a cultural village and the national park where we saw elephants antelopes and giraffes.

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Peter Connan

Beautiful!

 

Why can one not take a camera on a microlight flight? I would have thought it an ideal photography platform as long as one has a safe strap?

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FlyTraveler

Beautiful!

 

Why can one not take a camera on a microlight flight? I would have thought it an ideal photography platform as long as one has a safe strap?

 

They do not explain why, but I would assume that there are two main reasons:

 

1. Safety - any loose object would be sucked by the propeller just behind the passenger.

 

2. If you do not have your own photos it is a lot more likely to purchase the once made with their camera mounted on the wing.

 

They say that you may allowed to get your camera if you present a solid proof that you are a pro photographer and if you purchase some sort of more expensive package. All this must be done several weeks in advance. This is why I decided to get the microlight experience over Blyde River Canyon and the private reserves near Hoedspruit (that was a different type of microlight - passenger and pilot sat next to each other and the propeller was in front of us and above us) and do the chopper flight over Victoria Falls.

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Safaridude

Beautiful aerial shots!

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Peter Connan

Thanks Fly!

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FlyTraveler

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia. May 27, 2014

 

 

On our second day we woke up early, had breakfast at the restaurant in Maramba River Lodge and enjoyed the view of the river with the vapor over the water:

 

 

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After breakfast we crossed the border and viewed the falls from the Zimbabwe side:


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The statue of David Livingstone on the Zimbabwe side of the falls:


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Street life between the falls and the border crossing point:

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Street performers (great a capella style singing):

 

 

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FlyTraveler

Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia. May 27, 2014

 

 

After seeing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side, we had about an hour and a half time to enjoy the surroundings at Maramba River Lodge before our transfer to Kasane, Botswana. As I mentioned before, I liked this place and believe that it is a great relatively low priced option for overnight in Livingstone, just 10 minutes drive from the falls.

 

 

Our tent (not the "luxury tent", but the "safari tent" option - had everything that we needed, including en-suite WC and shower):

 

 

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The reception area:


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The bar:

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The pool area:

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The beautiful almost "Okavango delta feel" view towards Maramba river:


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Egyptian goose in flight (didn't have my tele-lens on):

 

 

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Great white (common) egret:

 

 

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A Nile crocodile right next to the bar area:

 

 

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Unfortunately this was about the only wildlife viewing opportunity that we had during our short 1 day stay in Zambia, really hope one day to be able to visit South Luangwa NP.

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FlyTraveler

Boat safari on Chobe river, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014

 

Bushtracks (both the Zambian and Botswana divisions) provided an excellent transfer between Livingstone and Kasane, Botswana. I was kind of worried about a long waiting time for the ferry at the Kazungula border post, but it turned out we were not going to use the regular ferry at all. The Zambian driver dropped us there, had an immediate transfer to the Botswana side of Zambezi by a "private" motor boat and a Botswana driver took us from there to Kasane - piece of cake. We were in Kasane at about 13:30, two hours before the 15:30 Chobe river boat safari.

 

The Old House B&B was our choice of accommodation in Kasane (suggested by Nadine from Safari Specialists as a good low-budget option). We really liked the place - nice air-conditioned room with a safe, great riverfront location and we also liked their mid-size boat - large enough (two decks) not to worry about hippo encounters and small enough to get close to the bank of the river and observe wildlife from a short distance. I also appreciated the fact that I could walk to every part of the boat on both decks and choose the best shooting spot for each different sighting. We ended up booking two afternoon cruises + two morning game drives in the NP. We enjoyed the cruises very much (our first boat safari ever), the game drives were kind of OK, perhaps the least interesting drives that we had so far, more on that subject a bit later.

 

The parks in Botswana require that visitors write down their passport numbers on every visit. We had left our passports in the room's safe, so every time I had to fill in the the form, I would make a serious face and mark some random digits for both myself and my wife, after all, what they could do? Kick us out of the country? I believe that no one is ever checking these numbers and it is some sort of nonsense.

 

I am sure that most of you have been to Kasane, but still my humble opinion in a few words - the place is easily accessible and offers many budget options for accommodation and activities which has a good and not so good sides. The good one is that we do not break the bank with a visit there, the bad one is that the place is a mass market destination with high volume of visitors, some not exactly interested in wildlife viewing. One of our boat-mates asked me if I was a biologist, just because I would take more photos than her and once in a while ask the guide a question :)

 

Some riverfront lodges before reaching the park:

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View from the upper deck of the boat:

 

 

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Just before the park, the boat would berth and the guide would get off to submit the paperwork to the park authorities. Right after the "entrance" there was a military (I would assume anti-pouching) unit and the wildlife starts immediately after the base.

 

 

Impala with large monitor lizard (it is not a croc):

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The first of the many elephants that we saw during the two boat safaris in Chobe NP:

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Male Greater kudu with White-fronted bee eater:

 

 

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The female greater kudu was nearby:

 

 

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And more elephants:


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A mud bath feels so good...

 

 

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FlyTraveler

Boat safari on Chobe river, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014

 

 

Continuing with a croc, Egyptian geese, hippos, oxpeckers and cattle egrets:

 

 

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Here I got also an elephant in the background:

 

 

 

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FlyTraveler

Chobe river boat safari, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014

 

 

What a great experience a boat safari is! Excellent for wildlife photography, as well - no dust, no shaky vehicle, not even a need to stop in order to take a photo. I wish I had my tripod with me, didn't think of the boat safari when I considered the various situation when I could use it during the trip. It is also a lot more likely to catch several species of wild animals in the same frame next to water.

 

Hippos, cattle egret, pair of Egyptian geese, baboon (and another bird behind the baboon on the first photo) at the bank of Chobe river:

 

 

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Here a croc joins the group (at the far right on the photo):

 

 

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A breading herd of elephants:

 

 

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African fish eagle:


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Atravelynn

Quite the statue of David!

 

Beautiful aerial images and you gave a great suggestion of booking the aerial tour first in case of cancellations/problems. Even without a tripod, your river cruise shots are crisp and clean.

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FlyTraveler

Quite the statue of David!

 

Beautiful aerial images and you gave a great suggestion of booking the aerial tour first in case of cancellations/problems. Even without a tripod, your river cruise shots are crisp and clean.

 

Thanks @@Atravelynn! It is a good idea to book the aerial tour first, but still sufficient time should be left before the tour, just in case the flight to Livingstone is late (our flight was 60 minutes late).

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FlyTraveler

Chobe river boat safari, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014

 

 

Female elephant with a calf at the bank of the river:

 

 

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...and more elephants:

 

 

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FlyTraveler

Chobe river boat safari, Chobe NP, Botswana. May 27, 2014

 

 

African fish eagle sequence:

 

 

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Hippos, cattle egret and a croc:

 

 

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Atravelynn

We got to cruise Chobe with you! So much to see enjoy on that river cruise, and your weather and light were perfect!

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