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First time safari! Vic falls, Makalali and Sabi Sands


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It was worth a return to the lions.


You should write the flyer on traffic stops. Very interesting and you covered all the scenarios. You've even got some great photos with which to illustrate it. You can chalk it up to an adventure; and while some wildlife viewing time was missed, you did have many good sightings anyway. It is stories like that--plus my terrible sense of direction plus my fear of driving on the other side of the road plus being alone--that deter me from a self drive.


I was waiting for you to write something scary about exiting the vehicle. Glad you did not have to contend with a problem out of the vehicle also.

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When we arrived at Lion Sands river lodge we were annoyed. Annoyed a 3h drive had taken us 6h and just generally frustrated.


So when the first thing out of the girl that was leading us around mouth was: "we had expected you much earlier" I wanted to punch her. I managed to refrain myself :)


We had been looking forward to this lodge since it was in Sabi Sands and the most pricey one. The room was gorgeous. Maybe a bit too much "hotel" room for me but it was beautiful. Just being as annoyed as I was already from the events of the day, I got put off by the hustle and bustle going on at the room right next to us. They were cleaning/rethatching the roof and as with every task in Africa that requires about 5 men to do it. "Hmmm, so much for my honeymoon privacy" grumpy me was thinking.


We had just made it in time for the afternoon game drive though. When we arrived at the lobby for tea it was full of kids. Well not full. But there were two families with young kids and one other couple like us. So it was clear they were putting us in a car with kids. "Ugh", grumpy me was thinking, "kids on my honeymoon safari". Now I love kids (ok maybe i don't love them that much) but on safari, really? So far the place wasn't living up to my expectations.


In all fairness though, the young boys we had in our car were extremely well behaved. Better behaved than some adults we had met :)


We went out and the first thing we saw was this guy:



He was hard to photograph but I tried my best when our guide, Liam, became extremely excited and starting basically screaming "Pell's fishing owl, its a Pell's fishing owl". When he then grabbed his camera (the one and only time he would ever do that on our trip) I figured it was an important bird.


He went on to say that there were only about 60 left in the greater kruger area. And our very experienced tracker, Mr. Juice had never seen ones before and didn't know what it was. So we managed to get a bit more excited about "a bird" (sorry @TomKellie, I know you feel birds are under appreciated)



He was very high up in a tree and hard to get so sorry for the shoddy quality.


So to quote Liam "if you are quite happy with that folks, I suggest we continue on" And we did just that.


We saw a nice journey of Giraffe, that posed for us in beautiful light




But we moved on for what makes Sabi Sands famous: leopard





It turned out she was a diversion on our way to these guys


Again, we refrained from going over for a belly rub


Tiring being a lion




No, not more paparazzi!



Time for a clean. Gotta look pretty in all these pictures



Hmmm, might be in need for a new deodorant



All in all he/she was a very cute fella and I enjoyed watching them a lot!



We then saw our first Nyala. Pretty hairy animal :)



And we were then on our way to drop the family of four off at the tree house. We would be going there the next night!


We met up with a very group of elephants, before stopping for sundowners





Elephants just never get old!



In Sabi Sands we were so impressed with the eye sight of our tracker. How could anyone see this in the dark sitting on a tree that was the exact same color??



Liam then got out to show him to us in detail. I think we could have probably done without :)post-49653-0-19871200-1454870388_thumb.jpg


Next up they found us this little guy in the dark! It took me 10min to see where he was with the spotlight with 3 people telling me where to look :P



After that we headed back to camp for a delicious dinner. Food was in line with expectations definitely the best here!





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I am never self driving again @@Atravelynn ! It is just not worth the added hassle! And we didn't need that car. Twice in camp it was just standing around. It's not like you can take it out and go somewhere… No no, not doing that again. For all the reasons you mentioned above, you made the wiser decision :)

Edited by martywilddog
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I am never self driving again @@Atravelynn ! It is just not worth the added hassle! And we didn't need that car. Twice in camp it was just standing around. It's not like you can take it out and go somewhere… No no, not doing that again. For all the reasons you mentioned above, you made the wiser decision :)

Wiser for me. Perhaps wiser for you in the future. But there are lots who love it. If you ever venture to Namibia, I think you could give self drive another shot. Namibia is a different driving experience from South Africa, says the lady who only observes from the passenger seat. There are lots of lessons we learn on a first trip to Africa. If you live to tell/write about it, then it was a lesson learned, adventure had, ordeal survived!


I wear a life jacket too! Nice you were able to add canoeing to your mix of safari activities.

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@@martywilddog, Bruce canyon is beautiful, hope it makes it worthwhile when you look at the photos now. A few glitches along the way but you saw and experienced so much, luckily the bad experiences in your mind fade with time. You both look gorgeous in your safari clobber, could be posing for a cover! Enjoying your youthful enthusiasm for all the wildlife you saw, and you saw a lot.

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@@martywilddog - shame about the ticket. I got one in SA a couple of years ago (110 in a 100 zone - it was 120 as far as i knew but I did see a sign on a subsequent trip so fair cop) ) and was actually told that I could not pay them but had to go to the station or pay by mail. We went to the local post office and it was too busy so in the end we just had our SA travel guy deal with it once we got home. It was sorted a few months later and we have been back to SA since and managed to enter the country and rent a vehicle again with no problems.


Enjoying the report and the photos - especially like the lions captured pulling all sorts of poses. Did you stay in one of the Lion Sands Tree Houses at all? I will be very jealous if you did.


kind regards



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Hi @@deano, thanks for your nice comments!


Yes, we did ;-) The Kingston tree house will feature in the next post! It was a great experience.

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~ @@martywilddog


What a splendid mix!

Had I been with you, I also would have enjoyed a long viewing of so many species together.

Thank you for posting such a lovely image.

I like your cheerful writing style!

Tom K.

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Thanks @@Tom Kellie ! It really was great to be able to take a pic like that from the pool area!


I had to think of all your posts when I was writing about the Pel's fishing owl. I felt bad I couldn't get more excited on the safari about the birds :)

Edited by martywilddog
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After a very successful first day in Sabi Sands, we wondered what would be next.


It seemed that this would be the morning of close ups




Generally speaking, Sabi Sands seemed to be quite good also for rhino's, we saw them very often



But we also managed to see our first hippos out of the water



And half in the water



This fella had quite interesting coloring. I have no idea anymore what he is called though



We had another quintessential Africa moment when we visited a nearby watering hole. I alway loved these scenes!



A lot of plain game around this morning but no predators




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During the siesta time we had another "epic" pool day. It was very hot that day and Lion Sands has 2 pools, a shady pool and a sunny pool. We started off to the shady pool since it seemed just a tad too hot in the sun.


We watched these guys for a while, doing what they do best




Then the father of the kids in our car came to tell them you could see elephants from the other pool. Not wanting to look like we were too eager (we were adults after all) or eaves dropping, we stayed at the shady pool. Until 5 minutes later when I couldn't handle it anymore and had to go see if they were still there. Oh boy were they still there!


They were standing around a watering hole just across from the pool




These youngsters are so adorable. Especially the one was very persistent that he would find someone to play with him!



His mother really had to put him in place a few times. This was the first time we heard the elephants make so much noise. Constantly she was touting her horn to get the youngster to stay put and be calm. Such a sight to behold! One I will also never forget :)


Then they decided the grass looked greener on the other side (the buffalo were not impressed and didn't move an inch)



They came so close to the pool they could almost put their trunks in it for a sip. And they probably had in the past (there was a rather new looking fence around it which you can just make out in the bottom right corner)


Then they all walked off to the other side (right next to some of the rooms - those had no fence)



Tom missed almost all of this, not giving in to his curiosity and staying at the shady pool. Ha, sometimes it pays off to be childish and give in to curiosity ;-)


But lucky for him another herd soon followed and the whole process was repeated! We hung around the pool, hanging over the infinity end, watching elephants for hours.


Since eaves dropping had paid off I was curious to see what the french couple with their kids were doing sneaking around the bush in front of our cottage later (they were our neighbors on one side). It didn't take me long to figure out they were looking at this guy



They had literally see the mother give birth a few hours before (but being French they hadn't shared that info with anyone in camp… They seemed to consider all of us non french guests as more dangerous than all the wild animals. Even when I tried to start conversation with them in French - thinking maybe they just didn't feel comfortable in french - it was a very short and one sided conversation. That probably sounded meaner than I meant it, but they were very posh french and very snooty, so there)


The little baby bush buck hadn't entirely gotten the hang of how to use his legs yet



I went to find Tom so he wouldn't miss it again and the little thing was incredibly curious and inquisitive and just walked right up to him for a cuddle (or a sniff?)




So wonderful! Definitely a plus of going during wet season/green season is seeing all the new borns!







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For some reason, around tea time I had gotten quite annoyed again with all the maintenance work going on in the little cottage next to us. Did I mention the camp was not half full?


So I had puffed myself up and with just the right amount of indignation I went up to reception just before our drive to let them know that "I was quite upset" that they had given us such a bad room on our honeymoon in a half empty camp. The manager was quite apologetic and assured they would be gone by the next day - we wouldn't be there that night as we were going to the tree house. So I let it go and skulked back to where tea was taking place. Tom asked me what I was up to and I quoted my "quite upset" speech - which he now still makes fun of :P It's just a tad out of character for a western european to go and "complain" all the time, like I was doing.


Right before we were about to leave, the manager came back up to us and said she was really sorry but she had just been informed they would need another day to work on the roof. But they would not just move us, they would give us an upgrade. Yes! Now we're talking honeymoon! Finally ;)


But off we were on our (short) game drive - we had to be in the tree house by 6pm


First up, more lions!



And here we had a little photo bomb :)




But they were doing what lions do best so we decided to go off in search of something else (and what could that something else be in Sabi Sands?)


We got a nice eery picture of these guys, with a stormy background. By that point my nerves were frayed with the prospect of a thunder storm in a tree house - I am not the most adventurous of sorts)




See those clouds? Brrrr.


We saw some more plain game, but we went on our way in search for a spotty cat. We couldn't find her where she was supposed to be, but saw this tiny little buffalo calf



Now of course someone else had also spotted it, and just like that we had found our spotted cat after all







One of the bulls had smelled her by this point so he went out to investigate and to chase her off, but for the life of him he couldn't find or see her, though she wasn't even sitting one meter away from him when she sat down on these rocks! Her way of blending in was remarkable. Even we wouldn't have been able to see her had we not known where she was sitting. And it's not like the rocks have spots, so remarkable!



She continued to stalk and crossed the river bed to our side



At this point she was so close we could almost touch her (not a good pic but just to prove my point - we shared the sighting with 1 other car)



The buffalo moved from the dry river bed into the thick bush, which seemed stupid to me. In there she had so many places to hide and of course she followed



We were eager to follow too! But Liam wouldn't because some stupid couple had to go to some stupid tree house and we were running late for the rendez-vous :( There was a unanimous "ugh" in the car.


Even though there was no kill (or maybe because there was no kill), this was definitely my favorite sighting! You could just cut the suspense in the car with a knife.


The tree house was gorgeous, this is their official pic and it really did look like that - the bathroom is to the left and that thing that looks like a tree growing in the right hand corner was actually the shower.



Here's a not so flattering picture of us in it :)



but somehow it was not an experience we feel the immediate need to repeat. The circumstances were just not ideal. Though we had not known this before, and I had thought we would love the tree house and it's decadent luxury, we had turned into true safari lovers by this time and we were so annoyed that we were forced to leave the leopard (though we had been with her for about an hour and we were 30min late for the tree house - so our guide had done what he could). I had never thought I would want to stay out there so much more.


It was also almost a bit too decadent. Way too much food was left for us and there were so many drinks. A bottle of white cellar wine, a bottle of cellar red, a bottle of champagne. Also food, soup salad, sandwiches, desert, fruit, cheese plate. You name it and it was there in our tree house. Instead of really relishing it we felt almost a bit unconfortable, there was just so much. I don't know why we felt this way, it was strange, but it was there.


That all aside, the weather had turned pretty bad, it was an oppressive heat with ugly clouds, storms were definitely brewing and it scared me.


We didn't get a real sunset, but the colors were gorgeous



And right above us, it did clear up for a time so we saw many many stars. It was all in all very romantic.


We had been told to keep the tented sides down for the weather to come and so the place was unfortunately stifling. It was not pleasant to sleep in. Luckily bug wise it was quite alright. They must have fumigated the place well, because it was exactly the kind of place they would have loved.


And I was at this time also pretty sick with a bad head cold, just from sheer exhaustion. We had been taking more planes than we usually do in a whole year, traveling around all the time and this with a mere 5h of sleep a night was just not enough for me. But I didn't care because I was on safari :) So resting (i.e. sleeping in) was out of the question if it meant missing a game drive!


It did storm, but not right above us. We woke up from a few thunder bursts and we could see lightning all around us but it remained civilized right above our heads. The storm in the distance actually gave us a bit of reprieve from the unpleasant and oppressive sticky warmth.






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That's part of the adventure going on your first safari - experiencing different camp types and accommodations and leaning about whet you'll like for your next safari! My wife and I feel also sometimes feel that there is too much food offered at camps we've stayed at (three course lunches and four course dinners). By the second or third day we often skip lunch and just have soup for dinner as we just feel too full. More importantly, what a great leopard sequence of shots and a very quality sighting (an hour with just one other vehicle).

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That's so true @@PT123 ! As I'm planning our next safari we have gotten already a much better idea about what matters to us and what not.

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Despite the inclement weather we survived the night in the tree house :)


What was a bit disconcerting to us was that I actually received a text message from my parents that night, with some every day life practical comment about our washing machine breaking down - hello, we're trying to have an authentic bush experience here! So after that - phone with perfect reception thing - it was kind of over with the feeling of "being out in the wild". They could have kept the radio for emergencies and just told us to text them ;)


At 6am we got picked up and immediately went of for the morning drive.


Did I mention we saw a lot of (white) rhino's? Again they were there and without any effort we found them (or they found us)



The rain we had been worried about during the night came then and we got drenched. Ponchos or not, when you're in a true down pour, there's no escape in getting wet. So it was a rather quiet morning. All the animals were hiding and we decided to do the same for coffee. We went into one of their hides, I unfortunately forgot the name, but it had warthog in it. I'm pretty sure it was warthog waterhole.


Anyway, there we saw this fella with the catch of the day




And that was pretty much it. Due to the bad weather we returned back to camp early.


When we arrived there, we didn't really know where to go though since they were changing our rooms (true to form they were still doing maintenance next to our old room). The manager asked us to get our things together from that room and then they would move our luggage while we had breakfast and she would show us to the new room.


Now I know this is safari talk and not "hotel room" talk, but oh my god! I have never before been in a room that size! They gave us not 1 upgrade but more like 4. They only had 2 rooms like this and they were massive. You could already tell from the outside. Our eyes looked like saucers and I think the manager felt that we were suitably impressed with our new "humble" abode. We didn't have the thought of mind to take pictures (except for the night time one at the bottom) so I took some from the internet, but they don't even do it justice.



Huge huge windows gave you an amazing view! These were also the 2 rooms where the elephants walked up to the day before. So I sat outside on the deck all afternoon (even though I should have slept a bit given my head cold) hoping they would come back, but no such luck. But hey, you can't have all the luck right ;)


The bathroom in this room was about the size of our first room. It had this huge tub you see here right smack in the middle in front of the window, and then a massive double shower (his and her of course, can't be expected to wait or share), plus a gorgeous outside shower (which you can see a tiny bit on the left). I think I have used the word decadent here before (and huge once or twice), well this was it! Unadulterated luxury. I have no idea what a room like this goes for a night and I think I would prefer not to know!



Thank you Lion Sands for giving us a taste of this, it was amazing!












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Because of the bad weather there was not much to do but lie around during siesta time. It was not pool weather and the water hole was also empty of activity. I sat (laid) around on the deck in the hope of ele's, just reading and dosing off once in a while.


Soon it was time for our last evening drive. I hated the word "last" in this context so much!


Mr Juice immediately found us this guy


Now mind you this was super zoomed and you can still barely see his head. He saw him without any zoom or bino!


Coming to the end of this story, I realize that I haven't gushed enough about Mr Juice's amazing talent as a spotter! He could see things from such a great distance that it was just mind blowing. (at some point our vehicle fellows suggested he planted some of these animals :) )


If ever your travels bring you to Lion Sands, do yourself a favor and request Mr. Juice as your tracker! I know we mostly talk about the guides here, but - and correct me if I'm wrong - I think that's in part because having a separate tracker is rather specific to SA. Our guide was great and he shared so many wonderful stories with us (to come below), but Mr Juice was as seasoned a tracker as they come (had been doing this since beginning 80's) and it showed!


Next we had another great Ele encounter. Looking back this trip was especially good for Ele's!




They just kept coming closer!


In the end the big gal walked right passed our car around the back. I still smile when I think back of the moment, and especially how i could hear the one kid behind me in the back letting out his breath again when the elephant had moved past :)



Liam and Mr Juice did find us a leopard again, but she was shy and uncomfortable. And nothing could live up to the day before (funnily enough, this lady was the grandmother of the daring one of the day before, and the mother of the one we saw drinking the first day - so grandma, mom and daughter in one trip)



Next up was a funny hyena moment. We ran into one who seemed to be in an existential crisis, thinking it was a flat cat. It was just sleeping and not moving at all.



So Liam said he wanted to try something. He had just downloaded this new app with animal calling sounds and he had one from Hyena's at a kill. So he suggested to play that and see whether he/she moved. And sure thing, she/he was up rather quick



It definitely worked! Almost too well because out of nowhere there came another one



It was hilarious to see them converse with each other! (in my head it went a bit like this: he,he,he, buddy, you called about some food? No, he, he, he, you called me - both look over to us and go 'dang, they got us again')



We saw this one for a fleeting second (serval?) so the picture is really not good, but he was so well hidden



Then Mr Juice spotted this guy, who looked like part of the tree to me



I can't remember the name of this cute little owl. He was sitting there rather at ease. Again marvelous spotting!




That evening dinner was at the boma, a traditional braai. The food was delicious. No it was incredible! I tried my first kudu and I was sold. This was the only group dinner we had in Lion Sands (with the vehicle and our guide). And Liam told us quite the story. He had only been a guide for about 4,5 years (before that he had been an economy major and a bush pilot). The camp he started at apparently wasn't so worried about guide qualifications and training. It was before he had even started his proper training. He didn't know yet how to read tracks and he surely didn't know how to shoot the rifle. First day on the job though they send him out with a (too) large group on a walking safari. And as these things go of course something bad happened. 'Something bad happened'? we echo. Yes, one of the guests was attacked by a lion! Apparently she did what you are not supposed to do on a walking safari, she strayed a little from the group and crouched down to redo her shoe laces. Before she could get back up a lion had jumped her from behind and had his teeth in the back of her neck and paws/claws around her face. Our guide said that at the time he was clueless as to what to do. He had the rifle but had no idea how to use it so he used the back of the gun instead to hit the lion over the head with it and get it to let go. Eventually it did and ran off. The woman survived but needed a skin graft in her neck and 160 stitches around her scalp. Needless to say the camp where it happened is no longer in business. And Liam immediately showed us a video on his phone of his rifle shooting practice to assure us that he can indeed now use the gun!


Quite the story we thought and it fit so well with the setting by the braai.


He also told us another story about a family member being impaled in both legs by a hippo while canoeing the Zambezi (Liam was originally from Zimbabwe). Thank god I didn't hear that story before our trip!

Edited by martywilddog
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And there it was - inevitably too soon - our very last game drive.


And unfortunately a rather quiet one.


We had another quick glimpse of the Pel's fishing owl (which made me think it really wasn't as rare as we had been told - until i looked it up on our return)


(sorry, again he was rather well hidden)


The weather was acting up a bit again with a bit of drizzle and wind - nothing we couldn't handle, but you could definitely see this was detrimental to game viewing.


We did see these gorgeous blue birds and two hippo bulls going at it!




I'm sorry that I can never seem to remember the name of any bird. I will try and do better on my next safari :)


The one hippo bull's heart wasn't in it though. He seemed more than happy to be in a submissive role and kept backing off. Soon enough the dominant one seemed to tolerate his presence.


The elephants never failed us though, so soon after we saw this magnificent one




who only had 1 tusk


If you have ever been on a safari you know that it is really rather quiet when the guides start picking up and talking about the little guys



So we didn't get to go out with a bang, but we loved every moment of this safari! It was just magical!


We had another week in Cape Town and Franschoek after this, but that part was almost anticlimactic. Why were we not on safari? I'm exaggerating a bit of course, it was great to see Cape Town and the surrounds as well, but the safari stole our hearts and was impossible to live up to, let alone to beat !


I will put up a few pictures of Cape Town and surroundings later (because I'm sharing this with family and friends as well), but without a trip report, because all has been said :)


Thanks for reading and off to (planning) the next safari!


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@@martywilddog I think that your little owl is likely to be a pearl spotted owlet. Also, I think the cat in the bushes is an African wild cat, rather than a serval. For your first safari, you have done well to remember ANY bird names

Edited by Tdgraves
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@@martywilddog - great report in terms of both words and pictures with a good variety of images. I especially liked the monkeys grooming and that crocodile eating dinner is amazing. Does anyone know what the heck it is actually eating? The treehouse looks like a fantastic place to spend a night. I must get there one day.


Thank you and looking forward to your next trip report - have you decided where you are going yet?


Kind regards



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Hi @@deano, thanks for support! Yes, it was a catfish he dragged out of the water!


We're still going back and forth between SLNP and Masai Mara/Amboseli. But I would like to decide soon :)


Thanks for the help @@Tdgraves! I really wasn't sure about the serval or wild cat and I'm pretty sure you're right. I checked my notes again and that was indeed what I wrote down :) I shouldn't have been so overly confident trying to do it on memory alone :)

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@@martywilddog You've entranced me with this report, I read every word, all in one sitting. You have a nice style, it felt like you were talking to a friend, not leaving anything out. Loved the highs -- you had really good sightings and a range of experiences. But what I'll remember most is your retelling of the rocky parts: getting a room next to construction and then getting the fabulous upgrade, having to get out of the car to clear the road, telling the policewoman that it was extortion, the snooty family that wouldn't share their discovery right by your cottage. Thank you for sharing all the thrills and occasional disappointments of a first safari.


I'm eagerly following your planning thread for your next trip.

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An African wild cat - that (I think) would be a rare day light sighting which I hope to see at some point!

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Wow, @@fictionauthor, so great to read your praise!


Travels like these hardly ever run perfectly, but that's half the experience :)

Edited by martywilddog
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Lovely to ride along with you on your first safari. Always a magical experience - even with the disappointing bits and as you say you will know more of what you want next time.


The Pels fishing Owl is really special but many of us know very little of the birds the first time we go on Safari. At least you have a couple of images. Similarly with the antelopes; important as they are 1. beautiful and varied and 2.predator food; we learn over time


The blue birds are Woodland Kingfishers.


Thanks of sharing this trip report . I have really enjoyed it

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~ @@martywilddog


Comprehensive from start to finish — a little bit of everything in generous helpings.

Your trip report has been a guilty pleasure while working on my own current trip report.

The leopard sightings — WOW! Great photos, too!

Rhinos, lions, birds, crocodiles! All so compelling described with humor and care.

Yet what stands out above all is the one-of-a-kind newborn bushbuck.

Your photos of it are priceless! What a remarkable sighting and experience.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience in both delightful commentary and very nice images.

Tom K.

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