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Unbelievable "Budget" South African Adventure


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Uh_oh busted

Yes, we knew our 40th Anniversary was this year. But in February I really didn't know we'd be celebrating in South Africa. I was researching honeymoon trips for my son and his fiancée, and while I figured a safari might be pushing the $5k budget, we'd been twice, and I knew it was as romantic a trip as one could plan. While searching various sites and options mentioned in posts here and on Fodor's Africa forum, I came upon an itinerary that combined "Bush, Beach and Battlefields" offered by http:// Wild-Wings-safaris.com that looked like something WE would clearly love and at an especially intriguing budget price. (Besides, the "kids" decided they wanted to go to Fiji.)

My brother-in-law's wife has wanted to go on safari ever since our first trip in 2004, so I forwarded the link and asked (as BIL recently retired) if they would be interested in joining us. She pounced on the opportunity, and accepted immediately - as long as I did the planning. Our dates, we knew, would be in May. Her birthday, my birthday, and Steve and my anniversary gave us impetus for that choice, as did a sudden offering of SA Airlines of $750 RT from Washington, DC to JNB. So, we plunked down the Amex card and picked our dates, and I checked out putting together the perfect itinerary (and also a couple of other TOs). Within about a week, I worked out the final adventure with Gavin Brown at Wild-Wings.

We would fly in to JNB on May 11, spend that night near the airport, at OR Tembo Premiere Hotel (where I'd gotten a good deal on Expedia), pick up a rental car and drive to Kruger, staying 3 nights at Rhino Post Safari Lodge. On the 15th, we would drive into Swaziland and spend a night at a guesthouse in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, then drive back into SA to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi in KwaZulu-Natal, where we had 3 nights at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge. On the 19th, we would drive towards the coast, to a transfer place where we would leave the car safely parked, and get picked up and driven to remote Thonga Beach Lodge on the Indian Ocean for 2 nights. After a morning walk on the beach and a full breakfase on the 21st we were transferred back to pick up our car and drive to Isibindi Zulu Lodge for two nights. Our last night -- I'd kind of left that to serendipity. It would be my birthday, and I really didn't want to spend it in an airport hotel in Jo-berg, but figured we would be able to get some advice on a place between Zululand and the airport, that would give us a pretty setting and a good meal and about a 3-hour drive. That place turned out to be the recommendation of the mgr at the Zulu Lodge, and he set us up at a place called Montusi Mountain Lodge, which turned out to be absolutely perfect in just about every way, with a view of the Drakensberg Mountains, and an easy 3 hour drive to the airport the next day.

 

Budget? I think all the karma from driving car pools when my kids were little, being patient in line at airline counters, helping people with directions even in places I've never been...all paid off in planning this trip. Well, also in pricing everything out in ZAR, at a time when the US$ to the ZAR was 1 to 15. But when it ALL was added up, including airfare, car rental, tips and 3 nights lodging and meals NOT included in the Tour Operator package, we paid under $2500 per person. This was less than either of our previous safari trips (Botswana in 2004, Zimbabwe in 2012).

 

I am positive that using Isibindi properties for all but 3 nights of our trip clearly helped the rates. The more I learned about the company, I liked what they are doing. The community is heavily involved at all the locations, even to the extent of being majority owners in at least one. Anyway, this trip met and exceeded all our expectations. So I will move on to the actual reporting task :-)

 

First stop: Rhino Post Safari Lodge. You enter through the Paul Kruger Gate, and follow the directions they have given you. The lodge is located deep in their concession within Kruger Park. Their concession is large, and as there are no gates between the park and neighboring concerns. One morning we drove one long dirt road that divided Rhino Post (which is in Kruger Park) concession on one side and Mala Mala, then Londolozi on the other. "Nice" neighbors. Rhino Post Lodge itself is located on the banks of the Mutlumuvi riverbed (currently totally dry). There is a borehole/water hole in the riverbed, which would provide many surprising sightings throughout our time at the lodge.

We arrived about half an hour before "high tea" which was held about half an hour before the afternoon/evening game drive. PERFECT! Rhino Post combined all my favorite aspects of a safari camp into one. Privacy between the units is ideal. They have canvas walls, with huge screen windows on the sides, but high thatched roofs with ceiling fans above, and the view from the bed is through huge glass sliders (with screens) over your own porch looking over the riverbed. There are double sinks in the bathroom, and a lovely free-standing tub, plus a separate potty-room and a sliding door to the outdoor shower, surrounded by thick reed poles. Evening meal is at a huge long table with all guests and some staff members included for great conversation at the end of the day. While all meals, teas and coffee and safari activities are included in your cost, all drinks are extra. However, we found them to be extremely reasonable, so this was never an issue.

My buttons were bursting. My in-laws, safari-newbies, were blown away. I had picked the perfect place for a first safari.

Now, for some reason, they had decided to pack their own pillows...worried about the quality of bedding they might find. WE knew this wouldn't be an issue, but...hey we are all grown-ups so while we told them it was not a problem, it was their packing space to fill. Also, my SIL, while she is NOT a large person at all, apparently needs to snack. She also packed bags of chips, crackers, nuts, etc. I figured she'd only brought stuff for the plane trip, but apparently not.

We had met our guide, Joey. We were all set to go after tea, cameras, binoculars, sweatshirts and scarves for later when we knew it would be cold...and suddenly SIL needed to go back to their room. ??? We were all loaded in the vehicle and waiting for Deb. I was getting embarrassed/worried -- was she sick, what happened? Finally, about 10 minutes late, she shows up. They had made the mistake of leaving their sliding doors open, figuring on allowing fresh air through the screens. Well, monkeys are quite capable of opening sliding screen doors and, yes, they had gotten in and found her stash of snacks, and made quite a mess of the room. The camp staff has obviously seen this before, but Deb was beside herself with embarrassment. We all laughed with her and finally took off on our first drive.

Now I know why people rave about Kruger as being such an incredible experience. I told Joey that while we'd been on safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe, there were two species still on my "must see" list: Rhino and Wild dogs, but as this was Don and Deb's first drive, we knew elephants, giraffe, various antelope and lions would be a great start.

I am not going to go through each and every game drive, but I have to say that first drive was an incredible success. Then, as an unexpected bonus, when we were picked up for dinner, we were told that a rhino was at the water hole! So, I saw my first rhino. And later, after dinner, the phone rang and we were told that if we wanted to, we could see wild dogs at the water hole! Our guide Joey picked us up at our tents and we all ended up again seeing one of my most desired sightings! As I was unsure my camera would pick up the dogs across the riverbed with the lights playing on them, Joey took my camera and took some good shots for me.

Wow. We slept REALLY well that night. And I felt like Queen of the World.

If you remember any of my other reports, you may recall that I like to make videos of my trip photography. It is easier to let someone see your pics in a 6 1/2 minute video than page through hundreds of photos. Here is the link for the Rhino Post video:

 

 

We DID get to see leopards - but it was towards the end of a night drive. Because filming at night was hit-or-miss for me, I just watched the leopards through the binos while Joey held the lights for us to watch. First, a small cub had scampered across the road in front of us. Obviously we stopped, and listened to its mother calling to it. They reunited and found their way across a drainage ditch where we watched them -- while a male also joined them. A jittery moment until it became clear he was the father, and the family of three proceeded to play together! Wow. What a sighting.

My recommendations for Rhino Post (and all the Isibindi properties we stayed at) could not be higher. They all had terrific chefs and we ate amazingly well. (And I live in a "foodie" town!) The staff at Rhino Post was probably the best and most experienced. If I were to suggest someone the best possible 5 night safari experience, it would be to do 3 nights at RP, and 2 nights at their next-door sister property, Rhino Plains. RP does walking safaris. No drives. They have an option to sleep out on platforms in the wild. Yeah. That could be incredible.

I'll pop in later and add to this report.

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Uh_oh busted

OK...now that I've remembered how to quickly upload single shots, I will share some herefrom some noteworthy experiences at Rhino Post in Kruger National Park.

 

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I call him "Daddy Waterbuck"

 

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Two beauties from his harem (one of my favorite shots from the whole 2-wk trip)

 

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Impala Panic -- we were in the midst of about 300+ on one of those mornings when it looks like "Peaceable Kingdom" with a water hole, grassy plain, buffalo, wildebeasts, zebra, hippo and impala all in one place. Then something apparently starting chasing someone and the impala went into a panic (see video for more)

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While we were out on drive, the wild dogs came back to the waterhole at the lodge, and left one who was apparently ill. He stayed the rest of the afternoon, and except for some buffalos, scared off other animals from the water.

 

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He was gone when we got back from the afternoon drive, so apparently the pack came back to get him.

 

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Do these birds make my butt look big?

 

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Horny wildebeest

 

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local pride with a buffalo kill

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Uh_oh busted

We took off from Rhino Post after a final morning drive and delicious brunch, to drive through KNP and out at the Malelane Gate not far from the Swaziland border. The driving directions provided by the lodges where we stayed and our South African TO, Gavin at Wild-Wings, had been great so far, but once over the border, there was a tremendous back up for construction and amongst the confusion (and long waits for one-way-traffic passage) we somehow missed the T-Junction turnoff that may have taken us "safely" to our next night's destination. But, once through the construction, we were thrilled to see what a lovely country Swaziland appeared to be! And, the GPS told us we would be at our final destination in about 2 hours.



Swaziland is a kingdom. I don't know what politics are there, but people appeared to be employed primarily in agricultural endeavors, sugar cane, lumber, pineapple, etc. and we saw kids going to school, bus stops taking folks from rural areas to small towns, etc. The only problem was the Human Navigator (me) had the stressful job of watching for potholes, and warning the driver about upcoming "traffic calming" bumps. We were happily tooling along the road, when we DID hit a pothole. After a short distance, the driver knew we had a problem. Now, the BMW did NOT have a spare tire (tyre in that part of the world) nor a jack, as they put their trust in run-flat technology.



Tip: Always take note of any signs with an "emergency" number to call. It never occurred to me to do so, and there may or may not have been such signs, although we did see them the next day. Meanwhile, I could not dial any of the Hertz numbers or my Amex international number, or the SA number for our TO, Gavin, with any success. We drove carefully (you are supposed to get 90 Km on those "run-flat" tyres) to the nearest town and pulled into a small grocery store lot at the intersection of the major highway we would have been taking to the capitol of Swaziland, Mbabane (not that far away, but no way were we going to drive on a highway with that tyre!) BIL Don went in and asked the clerk where the nearest Service Station was, and she directed us across the street to a cement block building with NduomoMotors.com painted on the side. Um, don't try that link, it goes no where :-)



Don went off with Mr. Nduomo Motors in his truck in search of an acceptable replacement tyre. They had successfully jerry-rigged a system so they could jack up the car and remove the wheel with the badly torn-up tyre, but they did not actually have any tyres. In fact, they didn't have any electricity.


Meanwhile, as I DID have a cell signal (although apparently AT&T international coverage doesn't include Swaziland while it does SA) I was able to text Gavin our TO in George SA, and my daughter in North Carolina, whom I hoped would be able to research a way for me to dial a number on my phone regardless of roaming charges! My daughter called back first, and she was teaching her 2nd graders but said she'd see what she could find out. (I think that was reassuring although clearly a long shot). Next Gavin called back told me he would contact our lodging place to let them know our situation. He also told me I could call Hertz by dialing 00 first. (?) He told me to keep in touch as he would help in anyway he could and gave me his mobile number.



It was getting dark. It gets dark in that part of the world at about 5pm in May. There was no way we would be driving to our reserved guesthouse, located in the middle of a Nature Reserve, in the dark! But we had Mr. Nduomo's teen age son to talk with, who was a charming and caring young man. We teased him that we might be spending the night at his house. Finally, Don and Mr. Nduomo returned. They had been to 3 different places to finally get a tire and have the rim damage repaired. Using flash lights and a hydraulic lift, Mr. Nduomo, his son and his father-in-law mounted the tyre. The brand new Michelin and work had set us back about $120. We gave Mr. Nduomo a generous tip for his help. He gave us directions to get to a complex of convention-type hotels on the otherside of the city (Mbabane) where he said we could find reasonable and safe accomodations for the night. He was right. We ended up in a comfortable hotel with a casino, with good food and good beds and nice bathrooms with good hot water pressure.



The next morning we traveled easily to the border, got our passports stamped, and traveled on using directions provided by the folks at our next stop, Rhino Ridge Lodge, in Hluhluwe iMfolozi National Park.



The drive through Hluhluwe iMfolozi park to Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is easy until you reach their "driveway." That was very twisty, bumpy, and up and down, but we made it. The place is drop-dead gorgeous.



The landscape is magnificent. The wildlife viewing was excellent -- not as many different species as were easily visible in Kruger, but WOW, there is no way anyone could be disappointed. We stayed in the "standard" acomodation choice. Ok. If you say so..."standard" should only be this incredible anywhere else. Again, the food was extraordinary. While dining here was not "communal," the tables were comfortable. The views were outstanding, especially sun rises drinking coffee before the morning drive. The common areas were fantastic. We had a lovely female guide, Libby. I rather enjoyed the fact that most of the other guests (except for the group of French videographers filming for a French TO) were from South Africa. Rhino RIdge is only a year old, but has become a favorite place for people to celebrate wedding anniversaries. We DID have our 40th that first night. We met another couple at drinks who were there for their 50th, and another who were celebrating their 25th.



Link to the 2nd video (it is a bit longer, but oh...that landscape!)


https://youtu.be/_1ow-fPQKU0



This was probably some of the best elephant and rhino viewing you will have anywhere on earth. Anti-poaching efforts have been seriously stepped up in South Africa. There is a shoot-to-kill order for rangers who are on anti-poaching duty in any of the National Parks in South Africa. They have increased reward amounts for locals who provide information on poachers. But still - it was chilling to have our guide tell us that while we were able to see so many rhino in the wild on our trip, there may not be any left in 3-4 years if the current rate of poaching continues.



Oh - I should also mention - when I spoke with Hertz emergency number while we were being repaired in Swaziland, they told us we were pursuing the most appropriate solution to our predicament, and to drive the car to Durban or Nelspruit to replace it with another vehicle for the rest of the trip. (They don't have an office in Swaziland.) By the time we reached our hotel for the night, we decided that it would be closer to simply drive to our next destination than either of those places, and call the nearest Hertz office. That is what we did. I called Durban, and was told there was an office in Richards Bay that I should call. I did that and the next day they sent out someone in a replacement car while we were on the morning drive. He got there after we'd eaten "brunch" and we exchanged vehicles. My Amex Premium International Rental Car insurance is worked as expected, reimbursing Hertz for whatever they are charged(looks like it ended up about $250). Besides the credits on my bill, I also got a check for $87.50, which may be reimbursement for the tire? I think we are stuck with eating the one night's prepaid lodging and paying for our casino hotel, because we really weren't "delayed" on the trip. To be honest, aside from this incident, our trip was so fantastic a value, it isn't that big a deal.



and again - just a couple pics


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Our guide, Libby, was wonderful. She knows a great deal about the wildlife, landscape, park history and the community. While we were there, a French Travel agency was busy filming, and it meant some shuffling of passengers on some of the vehicles, but as we were there for 3 nights, we stayed with her the entire time. My BIL and I switched off who got to sit next to Libby in the front -- it was extra special. I think I'd read before we left on the trip, that Hluhluwe was where most of the rhinos that have been moved into other parks in southern Africa come from.



You are limited to using park roads. You can take a walking safari as an option (although we did not...I would have loved it, but couldn't convince the others). There are not as many roads in this park as in Kruger. Still, there were considerably fewer vehicles overall, and there was never a queue to get to a sighting. (Well, on our way to see lions, there was a young bull elephant who decided to show off in the middle of the road so no one could move until he wandered off into the bush..but that hardly counts.) And honestly, the only time we saw more than 2 other vehicles, even at Kruger - was to see the lions. We had a couple of wonderful experiences when calm elephant breeding herds just sort of showed up as we were stopped and passed us on all sides. Really magical.

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Towlersonsafari

Hurrah @@Uh_oh busted a splendid report! Spookily we were just looking at the rhino ridge property and to see turtles sounds like you had a great time in spite of the tyre

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michael-ibk

A great and entertaining report, I really like the format of your videos, they tell the story well. Rhino Post looks like a splendid camp, and you are right about those landscapes at that place with the unpronouncable name - gorgeous!

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Uh_oh busted

Thank you all :-)

 

I do believe Rhino Post has become my favorite lodge. On our second night, we did not go straight back to camp, because they'd set up a braai for us in the bush under the stars, around a camp fire.

 

We were taught that it (the national park in Kwa Zulu/Natal ) is pronounced like this: "Shoo Schlooo weh" (that is the hard part) "em falozie" (that part is easier).

 

The next segment of this report will cover our beach destination, Thonga Beach, on the coast of the Indian Ocean in an environmentally protected preserve. Truly hidden away.

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Very nice report and pictures of what looks like a great trip. And happy anniversary as well!

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hannahcat

What an amazing trip! Everything from wild dogs to a very festive looking beetle at Rhino Ridge.

 

(I love it when people put in often-overlooked,colorful little animals like the beetle. In fact, I got so curious about your beetle that I did a little searching to find out what it could be. I think it might be a "mylabris oculata," or a CMR bean beetle. According to Beetles in the Bush, "'CMR' refers to the Cape Mounted Rifle Corps, a police force in the old Cape Colony whose uniforms sported black and yellow bands that resemble the colors of this beetle." Sorry, just a little beetle digression.)

 

These lodges all look wonderful, and the scenery at Rhino Ridge in particular is indeed spectacular -- so different than the scenery around the southern Kruger area. Thanks for introducing me to them, and congratulations on your anniversary. I look forward to reading about the turtles and your birthday.

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SafariChick

@@Uh_oh busted this is looking like a fantastic safari (other than the tire issue, which it sounds like everyone - including you and your group - handled as well as could be) and the price IS unbelievable! Looking forward to there rest.

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Uh_oh busted

Beach time!

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The only other beaches we've visited on previous trips in Africa, were Boulder Beach (for the penguins) and around Hermanus, near Cape Town, oh and along the Garden Route at Wilderness. Our itinerary this trip had us on the warmer side of the continent, where the water temp of the Indian Ocean was a comfy 75 degrees F. It was only about a 3 hour (taking our time) drive from Rhino Ridge Lodge to the Coastal Cashew Factory - a spot just off the road sort of between the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and the "Elephant Coast" where safe parking is provided for guests headed to Thonga Beach Lodge. We pulled in about 1:30PM, obviously early for the 3PM rendevous time with our transport, but the shuttle vehicle was still there from dropping off departing guests so we had an easy transfer of our luggage and were off on about a 45 minute drive through sandy roads, coastal forestland and dunes. Clearly, an impossible drive for any tourist especially as you neared the beach.

There had been a thunderstorm the night before and that morning, but it was clearing as we arrived. Thonga Beach turned out to be another beautiful place to stay. Private, romantic, and the perfect place to "come down" from the high of safari life. Because of strict laws governing building and development along that part of the coast, the spacious thatched-roof rondavels are tucked along wooden walkways amongst the natural greenscape of wild dunes. The sounds of the surf are mesmerizing. I'm not sure anyone has a "sea view" but with the "soundscape" and privacy...it wasn't a disappointment. You can hear monkeys and birds and frogs, etc. Like Isibindi's other properties, the food here was fresh and fabulous. We had a late lunch/tea and spent our afternoon settling in, relaxing, and walking the beautiful beach.

While we'd hoped to take advantage of snorkeling opportunities at the reef offshore the next morning, the from-the-beach option did not look promising, due to the previous storm, and the launch boat to the reef was already filled up. So we had to content ourselves with having a magnificent beach pretty much to ourselves. Honest, we were not disappointed in the least. We really DID go in and enjoyed playing around in the surf. I figure once you pass 60, however, you don't need to have your picture taken in a bathing suit. It wasn't turtle "season" but I think if we'd been able to go out snorkeling we might have seen some.

There was another European film crew here, documenting how the community was involved with the operations. (Actually, we learned later that the local community own 68% of Thonga Beach, and have paid off the mortgage!) The evening activity for everyone was a ride to nearby Lake Sibaya for sundowners and to see the local magic-man. It was a lot of fun, although the soothsayer and his crew were a bit tipsy, having attended an all day wake. But the sunset was a pretty one. When we got back for dinner, we were treated to a beach-braai, and of course, the food was again delicious. This also happened to be a full-moon night. So walking out to the beach we were treated to that beautiful silver moon hovering over the rolling black and silver surf.

Here's the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjpgPQTLP8A

Wifi internet access at all of the lodges was limited to the common areas. But honestly, while we wanted to share some things ASAP with our family back home, it isn't all that difficult to live with having time to just enjoy your gorgeous surroundings. We had 2 nights at Thonga Beach. Wish it had been three...

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Uh_oh busted

Final chapter -

 

One of the unique offerings in this itinerary that caught my eye to begin with, was a stay in the middle of Zululand, and the oportunity to tour the battlefields with an expert historian/guide. Our drive from the coastal area was easier than some had been, and we went through some beautiful countryside, thriving towns, and an area that didn't seem to be hit as badly by drought.

 

We arrived at Isibindi Zulu Lodge right on time, about 3 PM in the afternoon. Here, the rondavels are based on traditional Zulu design. The lodge was the first of the Isibindi properties to be developed, and not quite as luxurious as the others, but still quite lovely and perfectly comfortable. We turned out to be the only 4 guests, and the manager, Bruce, and the rest of the staff were so welcoming and kind that we felt like we were visiting a friend's home. Actually, the resident managing couple had been called away due to a serious medical emergency in the family, but the substitute Manager has been with Isibindi for a dozen years, and knows the property and everyone in the community very well.

 

While some of the details of our stay had not been communicated to him, it was no problem for him to step in and schedule the guide for our Battlefields trip the next day. Our dinner was again, fresh and made with care. Really, we couldn't have felt more at home. (Well, we aren't used to having someone cook and serve and clean up after our meals, but you probably know what I mean :rolleyes: )

 

When we woke up the next morning, Steve stepped out on our deck with it's beautiful view, and discovered a baby nyala had been left by its mother at the side of our hut. We also looked out and noticed zebra and other antelope on the hill facing us.

 

After breakfast, our guide arrived and so we met Mr. Anthony Coleman. He was tremendous. We were staying not far from Rorke's Drift, which was where the Michael Caine movie "Zulu" from the 60s was set. So we visited the general area first and learned about John Rorke, the settler who had standing agreements with the Zulu, and had traded with them for years. We also learned about the Zulu culture and how truly developed a civilization it was by that time. (We had read some books about all this before our trip, and Anthony noted which theories were solid and which were open to interpretation!)

 

We visited several sites, Isandlawanda, where the British had made some terrible "military" decisions, based on mistaken interpretations and underestimations of the Zulu. This resulted in a horrendous defeat, with many hundreds killed on both sides. Our trip ended back at Rorke's Drift - and the building which had served as hospital, and was where the "heroic" last stand took place. Anthony was a fantastic storyteller, who has spent many years studying this history, even to visiting British Military archives in England. He fleshed out some of the characters who played pivotal roles in the events. As I said "going well-beyond the movie." Steve and his brother, Don are both history "nuts" so Deb and I knew they would enjoy this day. But Anthony was so engaging and enjoyable that we all truly appreciated the experience. There is a small museum there, with some scenes depicted by mannequins, and various pieces of memorabilia. But honestly, you really want to have a guide like Anthony to get the most out of a tour like this. I apologize for the error of misspelling "Rorke's" drift in my video. Really not sure how that happened.

 

When we got back and cleaned up (and night had fallen - in May it gets dark at 5PM) a local troupe of Zulu dancers and singers (made up of kids aged 10-19) came and put on a show for us. It was really good, and they were so "into" it. Plus I just love seeing kids perform.

 

During dinner, we'd asked Bruce for a suggestion of a place to stay our last night before flying out of JNB. With an afternoon flight, we wanted someplace where we could enjoy a nice setting and a good dinner and good sleep, with only about a 3 hour drive to the airport. He suggested - then called to make sure they were open - a place near the Drakensberg Mountains called Montusi Mountain Resort. The Trip Advisor stuff looked good, and while it was going to cost us more than we really wanted to spend, it did include our dinner and breakfast the next day, so we went for it.
It turned out to be another easy 3 hour drive, and the spot was exceptionally gorgeous. We each got a cute little thatched roof house with magnificent views. In fact, Debbie and I agreed that if the kitchen (it was a self catering place but only had a tiny fridge and sink instead of a kitchen) was upgraded to include a stove and bigger fridge and dishwasher, it would make a perfect tiny house to build in our eldest children's back yards for us to live in one day! We had lunch in the dining room, then went on a trail hike into the hills. It was perfect, with beautiful views, delightful weather, and just the right amount of exercize for us. The very best part, however, was the sunset. We figured on our hike, that it would be cool, considering the mountain views we had from our back patios. We all went out back to take photos as the sun went down behind the mountains...only to be kind of disappointed. Where was all the color? Went back inside to get ready for dinner, but checked out the bedroom window before getting ready to shower and WHOA! Back into the back yard (and went to knock on Deb & Don's sliding door) and discovered that all the colors had taken over the whole sky. Not just behind the mountains, but all around and overhead the clouds were pink and orange and yellow. Dinner that night was OK. Probably the least impressive of any meal we'd had on the trip, but it was in a nice setting and the owner/manager came over to our table after dinner to kibbitz. This is a short video (well, hey, it was only one night). But a lovely way to end our celebrations.
Anyway, that was our last fun stuff. We left about 10AM and it was an easy drive to JNB. Flights home are usually boring, but on this one, we had to all line up (one line for men one for women) when we were at the gate and go through another screening and frisking. Then, when we stopped in Dakar for fueling, we all had to take down our bags from the overhead, and anything under the seats, to make sure everything in the plane belonged to someone. That was an interesting experience. We had noticed that a good number of military-looking-but-in-civilian-clothes men had gotten off the flight in Dakar. But we got to Dulles on schedule, and after driving back to Don & Deb's place in Maryland, we drove on home to North Carolina. On the right side of the road. :P

 

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xelas

An incredible journey, and a great trip report I have enjoyed to read. Another great option for us, more budget minded safari-goers. One questionmark only, why have you opted to rent a BMW???

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Uh_oh busted

Ahem. Well, we were originally to pick up a Toyota Fortuner, which would have been much better vehicle for the 4 of us. However, my husband got to fretting a couple of days before we left, that if we waited to pick up the car the morning AFTER our arrival, we would be cutting it short in making it to Kruger before the gates closed. So the day before we left, I called to see if we could pick up the car the evening we arrived, so we would be able to hit the road earlier in the AM. Apparently there was no Fortuner available that evening, so they set us up with the BMW (which actually cost less). The only other choice would have been a 6-passenger van - which made even less sense to us.

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xelas

Ahem, I have opted for Toyota Avanza instead of Fortuner (due to costs) but a beemer never crossed my mind! Will be able to report here in about 5 months how this car is suited for Kruger.

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Uh_oh busted

Kruger should present no difficulties at all. The Avanza looks perfect. There were lots of even smaller cars self-driving around Kruger. When we drove the Garden Route (with a couple of nights in Addo Elephant Park) we ended up with a Mercedes! Someone had recommended a South African rental agency to me, and the rate for THAT car was less than for a Toyota sedan. Our rate may also have been reduced both times, because we've rented the car for 2 weeks. Unfortunately for us, that SA agency seemed to have been bought out by Sixt since our 2012 trip, and I got better rates from AutoEurope than Sixt. With four grown-ups, we were pretty limited on the cars roomy enough for us.

Edited by Uh_oh busted
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Lovely pics

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Kitsafari

that video clip of the Montusi Mountain Resort and the Drakensberg mountains is stunning. I can understand why you thought it was a perfect place to move to!

 

thanks for sharing - very intriguing, interesting and cost-effective alternatives!

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Super LEEDS

Thanks for all the well detailed information. Would you mind covering how many guests per vehicle at the camps you stayed at? How did you find it?

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Uh_oh busted

post-16818-0-30879400-1468181893_thumb.jpg

 

Certainly - there were usually 6, 7 or 8 guests. The vehicles were, essentially full. (But having been in smaller vehicles in India, with 9 passengers, a guide and a driver, I will NEVER complain again!) These vehicles were spacious and comfortable, visibility was excellent. I think there is a park rule about when the front windshield must be up, but when we were at a special sighting, the guide put that baby down, obviously improving the photographic opportunity for the front seat passenger - well for everyone :-)

 

When there were 7 or 8, one would sit up front with the guide/driver (which I really love) and (with 8) the person who was stuck in the middle switched out with someone else after stopping for tea or sundowners. With 3 nights in both Rhino Post and Rhino Ridge, our group usually volunteered to do that. I think it only happened once or twice at each of the camps, so out of 12 drives, that was not really a hardship.

 

(I set up that shot purposefully to give our kids and grandkids an idea of how close we were). Obviously, I could zoom in from my back-seat perch -- and indeed I did -- to get my own flat lion closeup.

 

 

post-16818-0-30879400-1468181893_thumb.jpg

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Super LEEDS

Thank you!

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  • 3 weeks later...
pedro maia

Great report, less than two weeks ago I spent two nights at Rhino Ridge Lodge and I confirm all your impressions, we loved it and Hluhluwe iMfolozi is absolutely gorgeous and a really laid back park without crowds and a must if one is looking to see rhino.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Atravelynn

I am chuckling over the pillows and the snacks and the fate of the snacks.

 

It is rare to see an impala take a tumble like you did.

 

Rhino Post seems to be the Anniversary Capital of the World! What a gem.

 

Looking forward to the rest.

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Atravelynn

"This was probably some of the best elephant and rhino viewing you will have anywhere on earth." That's an attention getter regarding Rhino Ridge. The anti-poaching efforts that you mention are uplifting. It is refreshing to see women getting into the guiding profession in greater #s.

 

Your detailed account on the rental car will be very helpful for others doing a similar trip. Glad it all worked out and hope your first time guests were not too freaked or disappointed about it.

 

Happy Anniversary, @@Uh_oh busted, and I am sure your grandkids and family members back home were impressed with how close you got to the lion, plus all the other animals!

Edited by Atravelynn
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twaffle

Lovely report, and I especially enjoyed reading about your tyre adventure.

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