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3 weeks in South Africa in Nov/Dec 2015: the beginning of the Africa addiction


BieneMaja
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~ @@BieneMaja

 

Thank you for the confirmation that the night drive was at iSimagliso Wetland Park.

Is the monkey with baby a vervet monkey?

Your spider on the acacia flowers is a powerful image — great photography!

Those resting swallows are so well presented in your excellent image.

Wow! You were especially blessed with superb rhinoceros sightings!

Warthog young are so cute. Thanks for sharing them and other lovely images.

Tom K.

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@@Tom Kellie Thank you for your help identifying the vervet and swallows and for your nice words! We were very impressed by the rhino sighting especially as they were so close to the road and did not run off quickly. It was really a great first day on a game drive on our own.

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The next morning we were greeted by a warthog that we could see from our tent. Outside near our car was a nyala mum with her baby feeding from a bush. And on the drive to the reception there was a warthog with its baby feeding in front of one of the permanent houses! We did a little bit of game driving before breakfast but didn’t see much else than impalas. After a quick breakfast we then left the camp and saw another giraffe and a baboon family. Then it was time to head to Amakhosi where we would spend the next two nights.

 

It was quite a long drive as at some point there was construction and a long detour on unexpected gravel roads and therefore low speed. However we managed to find the gate to Amakhosi easily. At the gate, the guard radioed the owner of the self-catering chalets and finally called her on her cell phone. She told us the chalets were still being cleaned but we would meet there. Fortunately we have printed out the description to get to the chalets as it was quite a bit of driving involving many turns. When we got to the chalets, nobody was there – neither Amanda nor cleaning staff nor anybody else. Cell phone reception was pretty bad so I couldn’t get a connection with Amanda on the phone so tried sending a text message. The reply I got didn’t help though, she only told me we were at the parking lot but not where we needed to go or how everything works. Another message followed that she was at Pretoria at the moment, but again no directions to the “right” chalet. So we went from one chalet to the next one (luckily there were only three options) trying to find out if somebody was staying there – but no, all chalets apparently empty. Then we finally managed to find “our” chalet after we saw that there were the chalet numbers on the petroleum lamps and we had a number on our reservation confirmation. So we left our luggage and drove over to Amakhosi Lodge, approx. 10min away. It all worked out in the end, but that was not really the start we hoped for… But the day only got better!

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When doing research on the trip, we found out that at Amakhosi there are some self-catering chalets in addition to the luxury accommodation. But even when staying at the self-catering chalets, one could book game drives and also participate in the meals at the lodge if previously arranged. And that’s what we did. Upon arrival to Amakhosi Lodge, the staff knew that we would have afternoon tea with the other guests but were not informed about our game drive. However, they were very professional and after handing over the invoice with the game drives on them, they spontaneously arranged a game drive for us. It was revealed later that the game drives conducted for the self-catering guests are done by the ranger of the chalets in other vehicles, but he had a soccer game that afternoon and was not on the property. So they organised two nice guys from Amakhosi to drive us.

 

As you can see, the greeting at Amakhosi Lodge was very professional and the staff was really nice and helpful. The afternoon tea was delicious. Apart from us there was a group of 8 from Norway staying at the luxury lodge who all wanted to be in one vehicle and were seated at a long table for the meals. But we talked a bit to them and it turns out they have been here before and really enjoyed it. After a quick tea (we arrived around 3:30pm and the game drive was supposed to start around 4pm), we took off in our private vehicle with ranger and spotter, two really friendly guys.

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The first highlight for us was that we saw elephants and drove off road to get closer to them. They were feeding and came closer to us until they were pretty much around us. One female walked towards our car and smelled us, she came so close that I could have touched her trunk. What an amazing experience. We just sat there and watched the elephants eating and their interaction. It was a herd of 12 elephants with two juveniles. After they walked further into the bush, we left. Just a little further, we saw our first two wildebeest.

 

A few minutes later, our ranger gets radioed and takes us to a specific spot where another spotter already meets us on the road. They tell us that there are cheetahs with a kill close by and that we could approach them on foot. How exciting! Our first cheetahs, and not “just” cheetahs, but cheetahs with a kill! They are brothers and well known by the staff. They tell us we can approach them quite closely so watching their reaction we came as close as maybe 10-20 meters to them. One of the brothers was already done with dinner and lay down next to a tree, but we watched the other brother eat for a while. After he was done as well he joined his brother. They were very relaxed.

 

After this sight, it was time to enjoy a sundowner at the river which was also dry due to the lack of rain. It was nevertheless beautiful, we enjoyed it very much. It was our first African sundowner after all. Drinks and little snacks were served, a lot of talking about the sights of the day and the wildlife. And even a really nice nyala bull walked along the riverbed in front of some lovely trees, what a nice sight. After the sun went down, it was time to get back to the lodge.

 

Back at the lodge we were greeted with wet, hot towels to refresh and an apero. Dinner was next to the pool in a nice setting with candles everywhere and we got a five course meal which was delicious. After dinner, the head ranger offered to drive us back to the chalets in our car with a game drive vehicle in front of us as we didn’t feel completely comfortable finding our way on our own in the dark. What a nice gesture. We thanked him and took him up on the offer which turned out to be a good decision as we still weren’t sure we had taken all the right turns. But driving that way a couple more times made us feel more confident so up from the next day we always drove there and back on ourselves.

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Very cool Cheetah pictures!

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@@BieneMaja - glad to see another report for SA and in particular Cape Town and Addo which rank very highly on my list of all time favorite places. Great pics of the elephant sighting and like @@michael-ibk said, very cool cheetah pics.

 

Looking forward to the rest featuring some places I'd like to visit.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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Some lovely experiences you had!

 

The birds in post #25 are lesser-striped swallows, and the raptor on the next post is a yellow-billed kite.

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Excellent cheetah and elephant sightings!

I've spent a very pleasant evening perusing the South Africa subforum, and this thread has been a big part of that.

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@@michael-ibk and @@deano, thank you for your comments! I am happy you enjoy the photography. deano, which places of those we visited would you like to see? If I can help with any details, please let me know.

 

@@Peter Connan thank you very much for the identification of the birds! It must be great to live in South Africa with all the great birdlife close to your home as I read in some other trip reports and being so close to all these amazing places!

 

@@Marks thank you for your comments, I am happy you enjoy the trip report.

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The next morning started with another game drive . First we came across a small group of wildebeest. A few minutes later, we saw three white rhinos feeding hay. Due to the lack of rain and hence the severe drought in KwaZulu Natal, they had to add hay for the animals to feed on. Also in St. Lucia there was a lack of water and we read some newspaper articles about it. During our boat trip, we could also not go as close to the shores as usually as the water level of the river was quite low. The rhinos were really exciting for us as they were very calm and we were able to get pretty close. Next was a nyala family, they were not too shy.

 

Birdlife is very abundant in the game reserve, there are more than 300 bird specied to be seen. We saw many on our game drives but I only photographed a few – you can see one photo below. I however didn’t take notes on which bird it was. Our guide told us that once he had a group of people who only came for the birds and wanted to see as many species as possible but they were not really interested in the mammals. So for bird lovers, the game reserve might be of interest.

 

Next we saw a giraffe mum and her baby close by. The baby was drinking. We were so excited! We would have been happy about only a giraffe and even more happy about a giraffe baby, but a baby drinking was really great. We watched them for a while before they walked into the bush again. Our guide told us that the two cheetah brothers we saw the previous evening would likely be somewhere in the plains, so that is where we went next. And indeed, there were the lazy cats. Tummy still full from the previous meal, so there was not much incentive to move a lot. We watched them for a while but they only sometimes put their heads up or moved their tails, not much action to be expected.

 

Now it was time for “adventure driving”. I honestly didn’t think that some of the paths we drove on and also patches of off-road driving were even possible to tackle in any kind of car… But we made it. I tried to take a photo when we drove up a steep road with lots of stones on it, but the photo doesn’t do the situation justice. A little further uphill, there was a group of buffalo grazing. On some of them, there were some oxpeckers. Our guide explained that they clean the skin of the buffalos from little insects so it’s a win-win situation. After driving completely up we arrived at a little plateau where a juvenile lion was waiting for his family. He mostly lay down with a view down into the bush and called for his mum, at some point he also got up and walked along the ridge of the plateau.

 

After driving down again, we saw a nice kudu bull close to the river. In the river itself, we watched three large birds (can somebody please help with the ID? Thank you). Sometimes they got up and flew for a couple of meters, but they stayed within their “pond” (that remained of the river) all the time. A couple of meters to the right, we saw our first lizard – quite far away (photo is heavily cropped), but it was our first!

 

That was our second game drive during which we could only spot animals and observe them without having to drive ourselves – quite a nice change! It was also really interesting to get a lot of other information about the wildlife. Now it was time for breakfast, so we made our way back to the accommodation and drove over to breakfast to the lodge.

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Breakfast was really nice. There was a buffet of different cold dishes, hot drinks and hot food like eggs could be ordered from a menu. It all tasted really nice. And the view was just magnificent! The breakfast area is placed in a shaded area on top of the river, so we often saw impala or nyala from the breakfast area. The staff was also very friendly and helpful.

 

After breakfast, we drove back to our chalet and sat on our balcony facing the river which was however completely dry. But also there we saw some nyala and a couple of birds in the trees next to us. As it was getting quite hot, even in the shade, we decided to just relax, have a look at our photos, read and talk. In the morning, In the afternoon, we drove over to the lodge again for afternoon tea (again really tasty food and homemade lemonade). After that, we went off for the evening game drive.

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@@BieneMaja, fancy seeing a Turtle laying eggs, then a Leopard, what a surprising combo. Enjoying reading about places that don't get so much attention here, you've already seen so many unique things.

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~ @@BieneMaja

 

What a teensy young giraffe you saw!

I've never seen a giraffe that small.

Your nice images provide a sense of scale relative to the mother.

Hay is brought in as forage during times of shortage — I hadn't known that.

I like your photograph of the white rhino trio.

Thank you for posting these.

Tom K.

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@@BieneMaja, glad to see the adventure continueing!

 

The first bird is a yellow-billed kite. The three in the river are Marabou storks (where they near that Kudu carcass? They are carrion eaters). The bird from the balcony is a Black-headed Oriole, usually very shy. I have never managed a good picture of one!

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@@elefromoz Thank you for your comment! I am glad you enjoy reading the report.

 

@@Tom Kellie Thank you for looking at my photos and reading the trip report! It means a lot to me that you are enjoying it. I was very excited to see the baby giraffe and watch it for some time, a truly amazing experience. I hope you'll enjoy a similar scene during one of your next safaris!

 

@@Peter Connan Thank you for the encouragement and again for the help regarding the ID of the birds! The marabou storks were indeed close to the kudu carcass, maybe 100m away from it. Maybe it was one of their meals? The oriole were very shy, they didn't rest for long in one place and if I moved they went somewhere else. So it was really just staying in one spot on the balcony with the camera in position and then waiting until they relaxed a little bit again. There were also some really nice birds, orange and brown in colour with a quite long tail, but these were too shy for my to photograph. The photo is also quite heavily cropped as I use a full frame body and my largest lens is currently a 70-200/4 (but I'll get the new 200-500 for my upcoming trips), but I still like it a lot. I never attempted bird photography apart from maybe a few ducks fighting in a lake at home before but quite liked to take a few photos during the trip to South Africa. There are so many different species and they are so colourful!

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@@Peter Connan Actually, I just doublechecked - I do have a photo of the other bird. It's not that great though and is a 100% crop.

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In the afternoon, the weather was really nice again. The first sight of the evening were some waterbuck in a really nice setting on the plains in front of some nice trees. On the plains, we also saw a small cobra from the vehicle. Next we went to a part of the river with more water where two hippos lived. They were only visible at some points when they were not completely under water.

 

Now it was elephant time! First we watched a young bull feed hay close to a water hole. He was very friendly and finally walked into the bush again. Later on, there was a large bull feeding from the trees next to the road. We watched him for quite some time and followed him up the street.

 

Apart from these sightings, we didn’t see any other animals that night. We spent quite some time searching for lions that the group of Norwegians saw previously, but we couldn’t find them. Apparently, they went hiding in the bush. So finally we had to go back to the lodge as it was getting dark. On this game drive we also didn’t have a sundowner but didn’t mind.

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~ @@BieneMaja

 

Wow! Photographing a cobra in the wild from a vehicle ranks as a very special sighting.

I couldn't imagine ever spotting a cobra on the track during a game drive.

Thank you for sharing the cobra image here.

Tom K.

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The other birds are Mousebirds, i think Speckled based on where you saw them.

 

The 70-200 is a great lens, but not ideal for birds. @@xelas reports good things about the 200-500, it will help a lot.

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We camped in a cave on the beach in St Lucia near First Rocks a few months back and awoke to see leopard tracks outside in the am. Lucky you to see it- if it was same area? Maybe same one :) Great pics!

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@@Tom Kellie Thank you, I think we were quite lucky with the cobra as it was seen in the plains where we watched the cheetahs soon after we left them.

 

@@Peter Connan Thank you again for the identification! I also follow @@xelas ' trip report and the results of the 200-500 are stunning! I am very much looking forward to taking it with me to Africa in June.

 

@@lll It was further north. We drove from St. Lucia into the park and saw the leopard nearly at the end of the road in the north. We saw it after going back towards St. Lucia after the drive on the beach. Thank you for the compliment!

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The head ranger of the lodge announced that today was a special night. Before dinner, a local group would perform a traditional dance for us. This was a collaboration between the lodge and the village nearby – the lodge would pay them something for their performances and hence contribute to their living. So we walked to an area with a campfire in the middle. They already had prepared chairs for us and we were greeted with a fruity aperitif. The performance itself was a lot of stomping and strong movements, really impressive to watch how powerful they all were, even the smallest one! There were some drums used to have a rhythm for the group and it was very impressive.

 

After the performance, we went back to dinner which was very traditional African food. It was all cooked in the fireplace using a campfire and grill above it.. The setting was again very nice by the pool at the riverfront, but as it was dark

We were quite tired so went to bed right after dinner.

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Very impressive elephant!

What kind of traditional food did you have?

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@@BieneMaja - you don't need to take time out from your trip report to provide me with any information (but thank you for the offer). Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is somewhere we are looking at for 2017 (along with everywhere else in a safaritalk trip report) as we have been to the Eastern Cape a lot but never ventured any further up the coast. Besides, it would be good fun trying to pronounce it when our friends ask us where we are off to next. We do like the Eastern Cape (four visits to Shamwari) and I think Kwandwe is in that area too?

 

I agree with @@Marks above - that elephant in the road is very impressive. Massive.

 

Looking forward to more.

 

kind regards

 

deano.

Edited by deano
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