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


BieneMaja

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Atravelynn

Page 1: Way to take advantage of a flight error. Can you briefly explain how that worked.

 

I must commend you on how "birdy" you are for a first safari. Great bird shots!

 

Leatherback and Leopard--now how many people can claim that in one outing? What was the date of your turtle laying? You left at 6 pm. When did the turtle outing end? Your may be more civilized than my 9pm to 4:30 am turtle viewing (Phinda.) All depends on the tides. Your airline ticket luck continued to tide levels and leopards.

 

I'm sure your addiction was recognized early in your trip. I see you are planning more before page 1 is done!

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The next morning we went to the airport early to catch our flight to Durban. After arrival we picked up our car which turned out to be a Hyundai i10 – small, but our large backpacks just fit into the

We departed around 6pm and picked up one other couple on the way and drove along the beach after getting some more information about the wildlife and what we were up to do that night. Only two vehicle

The next morning, we met Ivan for a quick bite (fruit, cereal and coffee / tea). After the British couple arrived and had their tea, we left for our second game drive. It started similarly to the last

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BieneMaja

@@Marks We had some lamb and boerewors together with sweet potatoes, spinach, cooked tomatoes and something that I don't know. It was all cooked in these heavy pots that you can put into the fire. The boerewors was grilled on the BBQ on top of the large campfire spot that they have in the dining area.

 

@@deano Your planned trip sounds good! Kwandwe is close to Addo Elephant NP / Port Elisabeth.

 

@@Atravelynn Thank you for joining and for your nice comments! The flight error fare is basically pure luck - you can't plan ahead for something like that. For some reasons airlines or websites sometimes show wrong (=too cheap) fares online. Usually they are only online for a few hours so you must book quickly and wait for any other bookings until you got your eticket issued. We got cheap flights from Prague to Cape Town which also only worked on some Tuesdays, but we decided to spend a weekend in Prague before the trip.

 

I am actually not a birder but like to look at nice birds if they are around ^_^ The focus on birds mainly resulted from the fact that they could be seen during the first hippo cruise, but I indeed liked especially to watch a bird catch a fish and the stork flying. The turtle and leopard indeed seemed to be too good to be true! We were very lucky. We were there around 25 November and returned to the B&B at around 1am.

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BieneMaja

The next morning, we quickly packed all our remaining stuff and drove over to the lodge where we met our ranger for the morning drive. First sighting of the morning was a rhino mum with her baby. We watched them feed for a while until they disappeared into the bush again.

 

Searching for other wildlife, we saw a juvenile lion, probably the one that we saw the previous day, on a small plateau again. Next we saw 6 zebras who seemed to be curious about us. They all stopped feeding for a bit and looked at us before they carried on to feed. We also saw four buffalos taking a bath and drinking from one of the manmade waterholes.

 

But the highlight of the game drive were the elephants. First we came across a large bull who we watched feeding and walking. He walked into our direction so we had to back up a few times. Seeing him so closely was very special, especially as he was quite calm. He also dusted himself a few times.

 

A little further we found a small herd of elephants. Two young bull put on a real show for us! They were playing and fighting a little, so lots of action! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Let me just say that it was absolutely amazing to watch this, certainly another highlight of the trip. They came really close towards us and one of them ate some leaves next to our vehicle after the play-fighting was over. And even the sun came our for part of it!

 

After they disappeared in the bush, we drove on to find the mating lions that the Norwegian group saw again this morning. We were radioed much earlier in the day that they have been seen again, but despite our wish to go and see them it was apparently not possible to join the other group or find an agreement that we could go there right after they left. We were explained that they don’t like to have two vehicles at the same sighting, but I was somewhat disappointed that the other group saw them twice for quite a while both times and we were not allowed to go there. When we arrived in the area later, we could just spot the mane of the male lion in the bush after driving around for quite a bit. I wondered if it was their general policy or if it was also due to the fact that we didn’t pay as much as the other group…

 

Anyways, the location of the lions was close to the fence and on the other side of the fence, we spotted a turtle on the other side upside down. It seemed quite weak and didn’t move much, but our ranger turned it around with a wooden stick and we hope it survived…

 

In another area, the two cheetah brothers have been sighted, so we make our way there. On the way, we see a nice nyala bull drinking. The cheetahs are on the “wrong” side of a dry riverbed where we could not go with our vehicle without having to do a large detour, so we decided to leave the vehicle on one side and walk towards the cheetahs with our ranger. We didn’t get very close, but it was nice to say goodbye to them. Afterwards, it was time to go back to the lodge for our last brunch before we had to leave this amazing place.

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optig

For many of us South Africa is the first place we go on safari and become addicted.Obviously, @@BieneMaja you are one of them. I love all of your photos especially those of the Zulu dancers.I feel that culture is an integral aspect of safari.

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Atravelynn

You saw a low fare and acted on it to purchase it before it could change. Understood. You got some great action whether of the Zulu dancers to the highly animated eles. It almost appeared that your own vehicle could become part of that action at any moment!

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TonyQ

@@BieneMaja

Lovely photos and very engaging writing - a very enjoyable report.

Great Elephant action in those last posts!

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BieneMaja

After brunch, we drove a long way to the Drakensberg mountains to do some hiking. The drive was long, but very scenic and the weather was good, so we enjoyed it. However, it was a packed day and we underestimated the driving time a bit and arrived at the Drakensberg mountains in the evening just before it started to get dark. Especially on the last part on the winding road it was necessary to drive slowly due to the ups and downs and the curves, there were quite some people on the road, sometimes also goats.

 

The scenery is spectacular. We enjoyed our stay very much, but be warned that the hiking is very tiring, especially around Cathedral Peak. The Didima camp has an amazing setting - the first two pictures are taken from there. Also the view from Thendele was amazing. On the photos you can also see the huts used for accommodation.

 

From Thendele, there are a couple of hikes that are not as strenuous. However, if you want to do the hike up the amphitheatre, you have to start at the Sentinel parking lot which is 2.5 hours driving distance (one way) from Thendele camp – but we only found out about that after we arrived. So it is not possible to do this hike from Thendele. It is based on the foot of the mountains, but there is no way to hike up the amphitheatre from there, so you have to drive around the mountains to the other side to do the hike. So even though we wanted to do that, we could not because we could not drive there, do the hike and drive back in the same day. But it turned out the weather went really bad during the afternoon with thunderstorms, so that one would not have been feasible anyways – some relief. Instead, we did a more leisurely hike to a gorge which was nice and as it was not steep, there was no problem in walking back in the rain.

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michael-ibk

Wow, that scenery really is breathtaking!

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BieneMaja

After three days in the mountains, we had another long drive to Kwandwe, our next safari destination. We decided to extend the drive even by a bit in order to drive a little bit through Lesotho to get a first impression and see if it was very different to the surrounding South Africa. So from Thendele, we drove North and then West, entered Lesotho in Ficksburg / Maputsoe. Formalities were no problem at all, we had to pay a nominal fee to use the bridge (can be paid in ZAR).

 

Right after the border, there were so many people on the road and many little kiosks and stalls that sold pretty much everything, also some larger shops in houses. It reminded me a little of some street life in Asia. People were walking on the street and driving rules didn’t seem to exist any more. At a bank, I got a little bit of local money from an ATM as I collect coins or small bank notes from countries I have visited. Being out of the city, the scenery was really nice with some mountains and plains to see. We drove through a couple of villages and noted that the houses were mostly built of the same stones, quite interesting. A fun fact: we were stopped by the police four times in 38km! Some of them only checked the license plate and my drivers license, one also wanted to see the warning triangle (which was of course below our big backpacks), one asked us for our driving route and even gave directions, and one asked for a bottle of water because it was so hot and we had quite a lot in the back of our car. We happily gave him a bottle. All of the policemen were very nice and helpful.

 

Continuing on to Maseru where we wanted to cross over to South Africa again, I went to a bank to exchange a bank note for some coins. The lady there was so happy to see a tourist and was extremely nice. She and her colleague gave me a Lesothian name and didn’t just give me a few coins that I had asked for in exchange for my bank note, but after I explained why I wanted some coins, she asked me to wait for a moment and went to the back. After she returned quite a while later, she gave me all coin types available in the country and counted them all at least five times to make sure it was the correct amount. During that time I just watched some other customers and found it interesting to see that some came in with huge bundles of cash in their bags and under their clothes to put in into their bank accounts. A very different kind of using cash than at home apparently. Finally I left the bank with many coins after talking a bit more to the extremely nice and helpful girl. It was really great to see that it was at much fun for her as for me to do all that! Driving to the Maseru bridge we were stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour and it started to rain for maybe half an hour. But after crossing over the sun came out again. It was interesting to see that apparently many people crossed the border on foot being driven to the border by buses or private cars and taxis.

 

Back in South Africa, we drove on and decided we would just drive as long as we wanted and then stop somewhere to stay over night. We ended up driving through nice scenery again and stopped for some pictures sometimes. We found a pretty B&B in Aliwal North where we spent the night. We just drove there and stopped at a B&B which a family operated. We took a short walk and went to the supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks. Doing that, we watched one of the most amazing sunsets ever. The sky was red and purple and orange, just amazing. In the evening, we went to bed early as we were quite tired.

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deano

@@BieneMaja - you can always count on South Africa for epic scenery and you have some amazing pictures. The elephant activity right in front of the vehicle is fantastic as well. Really looking forward to your Kwandwe reports....

 

kind regards

 

deano.

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Atravelynn

Vervets it is for your monkey ID. But I see photos of baboons as well. That 2nd warthog photo in #28 is just adorable. Not many people's first cheetah is really 2 cheetahs with a kill.

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elefromoz

@@BieneMaja, what a view from Thendele, and that little tent pitched out there looks great.

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elefromoz

@@BieneMaja, how funny being stopped by the police and being asked for a water bottle. You are the first person I have read of here, having such a good time in a Bank. You are pretty adventurous nipping all over the place, crossing borders and back, good on you.

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Marks

You are making all kinds of friends in Lesotho! It sounds like a great idea for a little add-on, well done.

 

@@Marks We had some lamb and boerewors together with sweet potatoes, spinach, cooked tomatoes and something that I don't know. It was all cooked in these heavy pots that you can put into the fire. The boerewors was grilled on the BBQ on top of the large campfire spot that they have in the dining area.

My mouth is watering just thinking about it...

Edited by Marks
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BieneMaja

The next morning, we checked out early and drove towards Kwandwe. After a quick fuel and breakfast stop, we enjoyed the scenic journey and finally arrived at the gate of Kwandwe around midday. After our reservation had been found, the nice guy at the gate opened it for us and asked us to just drive straight ahead until we saw a house on our left hand side. So that’s what we did. The drive took another 20 minutes and was very nice, we already saw so many animals! Arriving at the house, we were warmly greeted by the lodge staff. We were asked to sit down on one of the sofas outside and were served a yummy homemade lemonade. After filling in our personal data, we were driven to Great Fish River Lodge, the lodge we had chosen to stay at. We were driven in an open landcruiser so already had a perfect view and greatly enjoyed the ride, also seeing some animals on the way.

 

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the lodge manager and shown around. The lodge itself is magnificent – we both have never stayed at a property like this before. It’s on the luxury side, but the interior design felt African e.g. with ostrich eggs as decoration. The main area had lots of wood and a huge fireplace in the middle which made it even cosier. There were drinks to help yourself at any time. There was also a library with a TV which we however did not use – we came to watch wildlife and scenery, not TV shows! The staff was incredibly nice and helpful. Our luggage had been brought to our room from the car. The room was absolutely stunning. Large sleeping area and bed with a view of the river and amazing landscape, small plunge pool with chairs outside, really nicely furnished bathroom with both indoor and outdoor shower. I absolutely loved the outdoor shower and actually never used the indoor one.

 

After leaving our things in the room, we had a very tasty lunch. The menu changes every day and there are about five different options of food – you can either get all of them or chose fewer. All dishes were served in small portions shared for the two of us so you can put as much as you like on your plate. Dessert is served afterwards. As it was windy outside, we had our first lunch inside with the glass panels towards the veranda closed, but many other times we also could chose to sit outside which we usually did.

 

A little rest after lunch, then it was time for our first Kwandwe game drive! Upon arrival at the main area, afternoon tea was already prepared with fruits and varying little pieces e.g. of cake as well as drinks including coffee. We met our guide Ivan who would guide us during our four game drives at Kwandwe. He chatted with us for a while and asked what we would like to see. We were to be teamed up with a couple from the UK that had not arrived yet. They arrived quite late but wanted to go to their room to freshen up and get changed before the game drive, so all the others left before us.

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BieneMaja

This is our room:

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BieneMaja

We were incredibly lucky during our game drive. That evening, even Ivan could not believe our luck – we basically drove around the corner and saw amazing animals every time! Our spotter who was really great and could spot some animals from a distance of more than one kilometre did not really have much work to do that evening.

 

It all started with lions, yay! First, we saw a female walking, behind a bush she walked to was a male hiding. They walked a little bit together and seemed to be very tired, so they lay down soon, both yawning frequently. They were very impressive and the first lion couple that we saw together and we never have been as close to a male lion before! After watching them for a while, we decided to drive a little further and saw another female with two cubs lying next to the road. She was quite lazy, but the cubs started to play soon. They played with each other and also with a piece of metal they had apparently found. Absolutely amazing action. The mum seemed to be a little annoyed of the action around her and the cubs also jumped on and across her body sometimes. They cought each other’s tails and played for quite some time. When we left, one of the cubs was very curious and came close to our vehicle and even ran after us for a little bit.

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BieneMaja

Ivan did not only explain a lot about the animals and their behaviour, but also stopped for some plants. My boyfriend and I especially liked the cactus of which the fruits are edible, especially elephants like them a lot.

 

Next up was a white rhino with a baby. The mum had a large, beautiful horn. They ate some grass and leaves from the ground and finally disappeared into the bush, but it was amazing to watch them. The baby was curious on the one hand, but also shy on the other hand, it watched us quite a bit from a safe distance.

 

Around the next corner: buffalo! Three of them in the middle of the “street”, many more feeding in the bushes. After also those three disappeared, we continued to drive on.

 

Not even 15 minutes later: a journey of giraffes. We watched them and five minutes later, a really large and beautiful male strode down the path towards our vehicle. What an impressive animal.

 

Ivan always also told us what to look for when we searched for specific animals – e.g. we didn’t know that you don’t look out for a leopard pattern, but more for the “suspicious white”, the colour of their tail ends and belly. He also asked us to tell him if we (think) we saw something that could be an animal. So a little while later, I asked Ivan to stop because I had seen something of a brownish colour moving in the bush. So we stopped, had a closer look, and a little later a black rhino appeared on the other side of the bushes! It walked around feeding from the bushes and was so nice to walk closer to the path and towards us at some point. In the one photo it looks a little bit like it was wearing lipstick while chewing or smelling something. It was our first black rhino and proved to be our last one at the same time, so we were really have to have seen one.

 

Now it was time to stop for a sundowner. That day they had a special sundowner for all of their guests with champagne, lots of different drinks and small bites to eat like canapés and meatballs. We got to know another German coupld who unfortunaltely left the next day but they equally enjoyed their time at Kwandwe. After the sundowner, we went back to the lodge and enjoyed a great dinner. Three courses were served and after we were escorted back to our room, we went to sleep very happy and tired. What a great start to the stay at Kwandwe.

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Atravelynn

Amid all the classic animals, I really like the cactus.

 

"we didn’t know that you don’t look out for a leopard pattern, but more for the “suspicious white”, the colour of their tail ends and belly."

 

This is a great example of how time in the bush can change our perceptions and what we look for. It also hints at why the experienced guides and trackers seem to have magical abilities--the are searching for different signs than the novice.

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Peter Connan

Great sightings!

 

The cactus with the fruit is a prickly pear. Unfortunately this plant is an alien, one that spreads rapidly and is difficult to control. The lodge really should make an effort to erradicate such a large specimen.

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BieneMaja

@@Atravelynn Absolutely! This, amongst other things, is one of the facts why we liked the game drives with Ivan so much. He only recently finished his guiding license but was so knowledgeable about everything, shared so many things and was extremely passionate about his job. After this, I knew why the more seasoned safari goers like to rely on a good guide and say that the guide can somewhat make or break the experience.

 

@@Peter Connan Thanks for the ID! Ivan also told us about the rapid spreading of the prickly pear, but it apparently is controlled quite well. We only saw them in some places and not in huge numbers.

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BieneMaja

The next morning, we met Ivan for a quick bite (fruit, cereal and coffee / tea). After the British couple arrived and had their tea, we left for our second game drive. It started similarly to the last one: with lions! Not far from camp, the lion family we saw the previous day came up the street from the opposite direction walked towards us. The cubs were really curious and came close to the car, the adults laid down in the grass next to the road.

 

Next we saw a male and female sable (?) antilope which are not often seen there. We watched them graze for a while before they walked off into the bush. They were quite far away from the vehicle. A little further, we saw lion tracks. Ivan took the opportunity to teach us about tracks and how it can be identified if it’s fresh, if it’s a male or female, how it is different from other animals’ tracks,… Shortly after, we saw a couple of giraffes again. As the sun was shining by now, their fur was really shiny. They walked and some of even ran which was fun to watch.

 

30 minutes later, we see three white rhinos on some plains. It’s a mum with two smaller rhinos. They let us come pretty close. We see that there is an oxpecker sitting on the mum’s back. They walk around a little, are somewhat curious and at the same time shy, and at some point they run away a little further. However, they stop again and watch us. Then they come a bit closer again. After a while, they run off again, this time further. At this point we decide to call it a day and head for breakfast after another amazing meal. As if the early morning fruit and the stop for snacks and drinks on the game drive were not enough… Definitely not a place to be on a diet!

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Atravelynn

Amid all the classic animals, I really like the cactus.

The cactus with the fruit is a prickly pear. Unfortunately this plant is an alien, one that spreads rapidly and is difficult to control. The lodge really should make an effort to erradicate such a large specimen.

In that case I withdraw my support from the cactus and am all for eradicating it.

 

@@Atravelynn Absolutely! This, amongst other things, is one of the facts why we liked the game drives with Ivan so much. He only recently finished his guiding license but was so knowledgeable about everything, shared so many things and was extremely passionate about his job. After this, I knew why the more seasoned safari goers like to rely on a good guide and say that the guide can somewhat make or break the experience.

 

So true! When the guide can involve you in the process by sharing what they have learned, all the better.

 

A sable indeed. Big prize in the antelope family. Nice going. The romping rhinos and the posing lion are winners as well.

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michael-ibk

Beautiful Sable! Great report, enjoying this a lot.

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Spell-binding trip with lots of close encounters! Makes me want to go !

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