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Nottens Bush camp, Sabi Sands May and September 2015


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After an absence of several years I returned to South Africa twice in 2015 for stays at Nottens Bush camp in the Sabi Sands. Both were short trips as my wife doesn’t share my interest in wildlife or photography and I need to limit time away for this reason and also the requirements of my job.




In August 2006 myself and family (wife and 3 kids between 14 and 18 years old) visited friends in Pretoria. While there we hired a guide and he drove us in a minibus for 3 days in the Kruger NP. We stayed in SanParks camps and apart from an ill-advised attempt to BBQ buffalo had a good time. Overall though it was voted as ‘too passive’ for the majority and my interest in going back was vetoed for some time. On this trip I was using a Nikon D50 and 70-300mm lens (occasionally and not very successfully with teleconverter). Some images from that trip:








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Since your first Safaritalk post was in my trip report, it is my privilege to be the first to make a post to your first trip report! Everyone follow that? :)


Great start. Looking forward to more.

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Planning a return


Whilst in the Kruger I thoroughly enjoyed encounters with a variety of animals and we spent quite a lot of time watching what was going on. We were unable to go off road of course and this, together with little contact with predators caused me some frustration – I wanted to get a better lion photo than that!


Fast forward to 2015 and the kids are safely off and independent (well most of the time). I had arranged a 4 day trip to Tswalu but unfortunately a month before the planned February departure the illness of a close family member meant it would be impossibly selfish to head off to Africa. With a heavy heart I cancelled and was grateful that the lodge compromised on the cancellation charge. A few weeks later the situation had changed and I was able to look at a last minute trip after all. Flights were easy to reinstate but finding a lodge with space for a single for 4 nights within easy reach of Johannesburg in March less so. I contacted a number of lodges without much joy and Nottens were the latest to reply with a, ‘Sorry’. An hour later however another e-mail arrived with the almost hesitant offer of a single room that lacked bush views and didn’t feature on the website. However it also lacked a single supplement :-)


40 minutes later I had confirmed and after a bit of wrestling with international bank transfers all was sorted. Internal flights between JNB and Skukuza took seconds to organise and I had 2 weeks to get myself sorted.

Edited by pomkiwi
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Preparation and Travelling


One of the benefits of a scheduled flight to Skukuza is a 20kg baggage allowance with a standard bag and a good hand luggage allowance – made packing much easier. I had already worked out that Nottens is a small and informal place so the dinner suit was not going to be needed. Much of my summer hill-walking gear worked well for this trip with layers of merino t-shirts etc. An extension cord with 4 sockets was essential for charging cameras and computers etc (Nottens have only one socket in the room – all lighting is paraffin lamps or candles and the only other electric appliance is a ceiling fan – a headlamp was also packed – essential).


Since ACSA had just introduced a strict rule on hand luggage weight I invested in a photographer’s jacket with a multitude of pockets which if challenged would have allowed me to secrete camera bodies, lenses etc about my person and reduce my bag weight to nothing (at the cost of looking as though I was wearing a comedy fat suit). As it turned out I have never had to use this for any of the flights.


Camera kit for this trip was a Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 70-300 lens attached and backup was my old D90 with a 16-85 lens. A spare battery for each body and around 10 memory cards of varying sizes were in the hand luggage together with a wireless remote shutter release. I took a monopod which got some use on occasions but I rapidly learnt it needed some practice – most shots were hand held.


The D7100 has dual card slots, one set to record images in Raw and the other to act as a backup. At the end of each day I transferred images to my Macbook Air but little review happened until the flight home.


Flights out were with Emirates from London Heathrow through Dubai to Johannesburg. A longer journey time than going direct but fare was notably cheaper. The flights were fine but it took a considerable time to get through JNB immigration partly down to a fairly disorganised ebola ‘screening’ exercise. I then wandered to the Intercontinental Hotel for a civilised (and by UK standards, cheap) breakfast. Then back over the road, quick check in for the domestic flight, avoided the absent hand baggage clampdown and had a coffee. The flight to Skukuza took about an hour or so and then I was on the ground inside the Kruger!


My first African sunrise (from 11000m)



Headed to Kruger



Skukuza - one of the prettiest airports I've been to.


Edited by pomkiwi
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Nottens Bush Camp


After a quick trip to the toilets (mentioned as it is undoubtedly the best airport facility I have ever visited). I was met by one of the Notten’s staff. My bag was collected after I produced the baggage tag – excellent security but not as necessary as in almost every other airport I’ve been to. Then into one of the game vehicles with my case in the row behind and through the airport gate. 5 minutes later we stop suddenly and a wild dog is pointed out asleep under a tree. We the stop again for impala and kudu – I could get used to this!


The camp itself is small – only 9 bedrooms all of which are separate stone chalets. Not particularly attractive but comfortable. As mentioned my room was without a view as it was in the middle of the camp but had a large double bed, lots of space an indoor bath and shower and an outside shower. A large selection of biscuits , snacks, tea, coffee and wine was in the room (hardly necessary as you can get whatever you want from the bar at any time). The main deck is spacious with a raised viewing platform and a boma below with a few chairs to look over the bush. The view is to a water hole but banking and thin bush obscure the view and it is also 200-300m away. The camp has a small gym and a 20+m long pool which was lovely in March. Food was plentiful. Rusks and hot drinks before the 6am morning drive, breakfast around 10am, high tea about 3pm and a 4 course meal after the evening drive. All drinks apart from champagne and some premium wines (never identified a wine they wouldn’t open) included. All the staff were friendly and the owners chatty. All of the rangers and trackers I encountered appeared to be local people and were very knowledgeable about the area.


Leaving the airport:







The camp:






My room:






I will start with the safari proper tomorrow....

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On this trip I was using a Nikon D50 and 70-300mm lens (occasionally and not very successfully with teleconverter). Some images from that trip:




The good old D50 has an incredibly fast auto focus, I am still using it as a second body for wide shots while on safari. Great beginning of the report, looking forward to seeing the continuation!

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Very nice to get a wild dog right off the bat!

Your vervet picture from 2006 is quite pretty.


Looking forward to following along.

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This safari lark is easy – wild dog and cheetah on first drive J


After a quick swim I was sitting on the deck when movement caught my eye. A lone male elephant was headed towards the lodge at a fair pace with some slightly puzzled glances from surrounding impala.




I wondered what the fuss was about but in the end he was only after an urgent scratch.




It was soon time to set off, and as for every drive this trip I was lucky to have a row of seats to myself with one or two other couples occupying the other rows. My set-up for drives was fairly simple. I have a small photographers backpack with me with some spare layers of clothing, hat and sunblock etc. I always pack a couple of large plastic bags to protect cameras if it rains. A monopod slips down the side and I carry both cameras on the seat beside me, switched on with lens caps off. As always with a new experience there was a buzz of anticipation about exploring something new – and I had invested a deal of emotional energy in getting to this point.


After a quick loop around we came to a bank behind the waterhole to find a group of 6 or so wild dog sleeping under the trees (an emerging theme of dogs imitating lions after my drive in that morning although I’ve never seen them since doing anything but constantly moving). An occasional stretch but little else to indicate a need to move before it cooled down so we headed off.




We next chanced upon a family of vervet monkeys before meeting our first rhino.




Now I have been honoured with a friendly welcome since first posting on Safaritalk but I fear I am now about to put all that at risk. I must confess that I don’t find rhino very interesting. I appreciate they are important and valuable but somehow they don’t excite me. Their role as ‘apex herbivore’ seems to allow them to cruise along like a house sized lawnmower unmoved by anything. Give me elephant, giraffe, zebra or even impala when there usually seems to be something happening or at least changing colours and patterns to appreciate. I find rhino difficult to portray in an interesting fashion and rhino encounters tend to be the ones where I get my best landscape photos (once I’ve finished with ox-peckers). There I’ve said it now but will show the first one we saw.




A quiet interlude followed as the sun lowered. We came across a small herd of wildebeest with a persistent and greedy youngster.




Then the mood changed and we headed off at some speed to join another vehicle. The reason was a cheetah out on the open section of land and looking for a meal before nightfall. We were able to spend about half an hour following him around and witnessed some territory marking behaviour before he settled on the road to get the last of the warmth.














It’s only since that I have discovered how infrequently cheetahs are spotted at Sabi Sands. All in all an excellent first experience of an African game drive and every bit as good as I’d hoped for.

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A Sabi Sands morning and our first leopards


5.30 am is early. It is also dark. It is particularly dark in a room without electric light. Fortunately I had bought a head torch and this bought me some time whilst my co-ordination improved to the point where I could safely handle a match close to inflammable fluid and get the paraffin lamp going. Wisely I had left clothing and gear where I could easily find them and staggered out to the lodge for coffee and rusks (I had worked out that in the early morning and darkness making my own coffee from a thermos would be somewhat unwise). The gradual breaking of dawn and wakening birds made for a lovely and peaceful start to the day.

As it got light we scrambled aboard our vehicles and set off.


It was a quiet start.


We sat and watched a family of monkeys sorting out their morning grooming.






Then a group of impala caught the sunrise in a pleasing manner.




A kudu was displaying some impressive horns.




A solitary elephant was starting breakfast.




The giraffe was well into his breakfast




All in all a morning for contemplation rather than excitement.


Then just as we were wondering about our breakfast not one but two leopards crossed the bridge in front of us.




Mother wandered off but the cub stopped for a drink.






It wasn’t long before it was before being called to follow.




We lost sight of the cub who clearly knew how to hide when told to. Mum was hunting but long grass made her difficult to follow.




There were three vehicles around the sighting it it didn’t take long for us to decide we were too intrusive and move on. It did seem that on quite a few of our drives vehicles from the other lodge sharing the traversing rights were somewhat more assertive than those from Nottens and may have altered the dynamic more than I was comfortable with.


It felt like a good moment for breakfast so we headed back.


After breakfast I took the opportunity of a bush walk but my overall impression was of a hot and slow stroll without too much of great interest. There were some impressive spider webs – many with builders present.




We also witnessed a scrap between a kite and eagle – but from a distance.




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A quiet afternoon


Although I often find myself with an urge to see big cats (or failing that elephants), there is also a restful quality to spending time cruising around and enjoying the space, the quiet and the lack of urgency that the end of a hot day brings.


We spent time with some daga boys cooling down and tried (unsuccessfully) to compose something artistic with a pair of saddlebill storks.







We did come across a rhino sighting that made me warm to them a bit more than previously – the young one squeaking in a quite a comic fashion as there was no chance of getting to feed without submerging which was a talent yet to be acquired.




The ox-pecker seemed to be sharing in the irritable mood of the young rhino.




That was basically it for the day apart from a hornbill (also looking rather grumpy I felt).




Apart from a mundane sunset to accompany the sundowners!





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The (unquiet) morning after the evening before – lion, cheetah and leopard


5.30 was still early but as befits a now seasoned professional I was sorted, dressed and drinking coffee before anyone else emerged. My feeling of quiet superiority lasted just as long as it took to knock the mug over and lose the coffee through the gaps in the decking….


No delay this morning. A coalition of 4 male lions had conveniently planted themselves just outside the camp. They were being boys and chose to sit and lie quite a way from each other (later groups we saw were females and seemed to lie beside and over each other with lots of mutual grooming).











The biggest was apart from the others and it seemed a good idea to lie across the seat to get an eye level shot until I did it. I think it was hannahcat who quoted somebody as saying that they saw dying ponies when looking into the eyes of a lion, I think I understand. Humbling.





The boys were not going anywhere in a hurry so we excused ourselves and moved on. Briefly stopped with an elephant (elephants will feature in greater numbers later)





After quite a lot of driving not much had been seen. We the spotted a lone hyena (although our tracker said there was a cub in the bush I never saw it). The hyena looked unusually vulnerable I thought.






We headed to the airstrip after more lions – nothing doing. Then as breakfast beckoned we began the fairly long drive back to the lodge only for our second cheetah of the week to be spotted. He was happily resting in the vicinity of a large tree and we spend half an hour just watching him wasting time. The overriding impression was of constant alertness.

















A bonus rhino was seen as we left the cheetah to his own devices.




We were making good progress homewards when a sudden stop woke us all up. Leopard tracks had been spotted and a conference was necessary to work out the significance….






Edited by pomkiwi
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Great photos throughout. Enjoying this very much.

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Great trip report! I especially love your pictures of the cheetah and those of the male lions. Sabi Sands meets expectations again!

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@ Alexander33

@ Terry


Thank-you for your kind words. I will try and get the leopard encounter from the busy morning drive up in the next day or two.

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Great pictures....we were there in September. Sadly, no cheetahs, but we loved it there. Hope to go back someday.

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@ xyz99 Thank-you. When were you at Nottens - and how did you find it?


I was there in mid-September and as you say - no cheetahs. Wewere very lucky in March.


The weather in September was not great but we did still have some good sightings - but I'm getting ahead of myself!

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@ pomkiwi:

We were there in early Sept. I guess we were lucky with good weather and good sightings. Everything we wanted to see, minus the cheetahs and female lions. The truth is, it was our first safari, and we probably would've been happy with any sightings, but really...it was amazing.

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Intrigued by the "photographers jacket" for storing cameras and lenses, really? One would have to be careful where all the lumps and bumps are I should think. Lovely range of sightings so far. I love big, bulky, vision impaired, cranky Rhino so don't hold back on the photos of those. To me, Rhino calf are just about the cutest.

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I really enjoy the writing and all the photos - the Cheetah, the Wild dogs, the drinking Leopard cub, the Baboons, the Buffalo with the Saddle-billed stork, the Rhino with the calf, the kite and the eagle in flight and especially the eye level portrait style shot of the lion. Thanks for sharing and looking forward to seeing the rest of the report.

Edited by FlyTraveler
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@ elefromoz It is actually very well designed and quite practical - you can carry a couple of bodies and 3 or 4 lenses quite comfortably (although you do lose the racing snake figure somewhat). I haven't had to use it yet but most airlines are only interested in the weight of your luggage and not what you're wearing. It has become a possible problem in South Africa where recent regulations restrict the weight of your hand luggage (to 7kg or 8kg if you are with SAA). This has only been intermittently enforced but I would have found it essential to move 1 or 2kg out of hand luggage had they done so. I promise you another rhino or two later on....

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The rhino with its calf is a very nice sighting.

The cheetah and hyena, too.

Great photos.

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Breakfast or Leopard (you choose)


A brief wander around and the team climbed in. ‘She’s around but we’re not sure which way’. We were offered the option of heading straight back for breakfast or backtracking to see if we could find her – it took all of 3 seconds for a unanimous decision and we turned around. After 10 minute we’d had no joy and reluctantly retraced our tracks. 50 metres after our original stop a shout signified that she had been seen.




She then wandered out of the bush on to the road, crossed and headed to a vantage point.








She was clearly intent on finding breakfast herself and sat to look for any likely prey.






After a while she gave up on that and came up the road and wandered around the truck for a while.








Initially she sat underneath our tracker before finding a piece of road for herself.












Then after a few minutes she got up and disappeared.




I understand she is a female known as the Nottens female (or Nottins if you are a neighbouring lodge) although she is a descendent of the original leopard to be given that name. She is now approaching 15 years old I believe and was not seen for several months over the winter before being seen again early this month. Whatever she has been called it was a privilege to spend 30 minutes or so in her company.


Happy we set off to explain why we were so late….



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Another impressively aged Sabi Sands leopard! I saw the well-known "Safari" in 2010, when I believe she was 17.

This one has put on quite a performance for you.

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@ Marks


We were very lucky - there was no other vehicle around and she was completely relaxed around us. We had the fortune to spend another 30 minutes with her a couple of days later but the sighting was a bit busier - both in terms of her activity and other vehicles.


More of that later!

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