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A Thousand Hills, A Million Smiles & Gentle Giants - a Rwanda and Kenya Safari


michael-ibk

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I was just commenting to Mark this morning "Michael still hasn't started on the Sandai portion" and found this, yippee! Glad your mom joined you and I can't believe Petra flew to Addis. If my parents ever said yes, I think I would faint. Great mongoose/hare sequence. I'm surprised it would try to go after the hare too. I like the term Aberdarcionadas.

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This was a special safari for three reasons:   It was my tenth (if I can count India and the Pantanal). It was the way I had decided to celebrate my 40th birthday. And my mother ha

The most endearing member of the family was - of course - the BABY!     The little one was very shy at first, but after a while he/she(?) became curious about us and checked us out. Cuteness ens

Our first animal - a Brown Snake-Eagle. I will not post every bird we saw on this trip, promise (at least not here, that´s what the Big Year thread is for), but this was one of our most photogenic rap

michael-ibk

Chania Falls is a popular spot because it is very easy to get to - a five-minute walk from the parking area.

 

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Needless to say we had this beautiful place to ourselves.

 

A bit of flora for a change.

 

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michael-ibk

 

We moved on to falls Nr. 2 - the Queen´s Cave Falls - yes, named after Queen Elizabeth who learned of her ascension to the throne here in the Aberdares.

 

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I have my birds ...

 

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... @@AndMic was happy about his flowers.

 

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A strong and healthy Waterbuck stag.

 

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I was very happy about a very good sighting of a Mountain Reedbuck, a pretty shy animal, and not seen very often.

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michael-ibk

We arrived at the Fishing Lodge in the late afternoon, with the sun brushing the moorlands in a perfect golden light.

 

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The caretaker has made very sure everybody knows which one of the the two cabins is theirs.

 

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Several Bushbuck, Waterbuck and also this Common Duiker appreciate the safety of the surroundings here and have made this their homes.

 

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My mother enjoying the last rays of sunshine.

 

Fishing Lodge is a KWS bandas for self-catering guests. Linen, towels and some basic cooking gear is provided, as is hot water on request - but I will readily admit none of us dared go showering since it was simply waaaay to cold. (Serious willpower was needed to crawl out of the warm bed to get to a very icy toilet.) The lodge is situated at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres, so it does get very chilly indeed. No electricity, but the solar lamps do provide sufficient light.

 

There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, one living room and one kichen, the (non-resident) rate is around USD 210,-- (season-dependent) for one cabin. (There are two.)

 

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The place is basic but perfectly servicable - although my mother sexistly remarked that it´s obvious the caretaker is a man - admittedly it could be a bit cleaner, esp. the linen.

 

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The living room is of course the most cosy place, because it has the only fireplace - desperately needed in the evening, we all tried to cuddle as closely as possible to the flames. :)

 

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The kitchen - cooking was easy for us, Petra had prepared a stew, and we just had to heat it and cook some noodles with it.

 

I liked this place a lot, it´s very much like the alpine cabins we have here in Austria, and the surroundings are just wonderful.

 

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michael-ibk

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Have I mentioned it´s cold up here? I got up early, and the moorlands were covered in hoarfrost.

 

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The vegetation and me were really really happy when the sun came finally out - I enjoyed the first rays of warmth on my face.

 

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A Jackson´s Francolin, a pretty common bird up here.

 

Originally we had intended to do some serious hiking in the Aberdares. Obviously that was no longer an option with my mother on board, so we set for a shorter walk from the lodge to the Karuru Falls which is about 7 kms. My mother rested a bit longer in the morning and would then go there by car with Paul.

 

Paul had arranged for a ranger to come along at the nearby Kiandongoro Gate, and Richard was happy enough to just walk from up the gate down to the lodge so we did not need to go up by car to get him.

 

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@@AndMic enjoying the scenery of the Aberdares.

 

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Care is needed here, and an armed ranger is obligatory because of the danger of Buffalos.

 

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We did encounter a few, and they clearly showed us what they thought of us.

 

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Again we were very lucky with the weather - even Mt. Kenya smiled on us today.

 

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Having one of the local rangers around is always very interesting, and Richard (who was a very nice guy) told us a lot about the park and his work there. And yes, the fabled Black Panther does exist in the Aberdares indeed, the rangers have had pretty regular sightings in the last year, especially on the road to Karuru Falls late evenings. Bongos are around as well, but even the rangers only ever see them from afar, and not very often.

 

Lions have been "taken out" from the Aberdares - which is a nice way of saying they were all killed because they had exerted too much pressure on the Bongo and Giant Forest Hog population. Still, rumours persist that some have survived, there are always stories about sightings, and friends of Petra swear they have seen a Lion near Chania some time ago. Richard said definitely "No", no sigthings, no tracks, nothing Lion-like the past few years. So that was definite enough for me. To my surprise, a few days later, we were chatting with a ranger at the Wandare gate (at the other side of the park, in the North), and she said there is one female lion around there, and they see her at least once a week.

 

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White-Eye

 

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This was the closest we would get to seeing Wild Dogs on this trip. There´s a big pack around in the moorlands, more than 20 according to Richard, and they are seen from time to time. The moorlands are a huge area, however, with a very limited road network, so actively looking for them is not easy and one has to be quite lucky to get a sighting.

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michael-ibk

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I was very proud about finding a Chameleon all by myself. :)

 

We joined up with Paul and my mother at Karuru Falls, the most spectacular and beautiful ones IMO, and walked down.

 

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A nice, calm creek ...

 

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... but once the water reaches the edge ...

 

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... it becomes something much more powerful.

 

 

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This is one of my favourite places in the world, so of course we had to take a group shot here.

 

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And one with ranger Richard:

 

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michael-ibk

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Giant Lobelia, one of the most distinctive plants of the moorlands.

 

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A couple of curious Waterbuck checking us out.

 

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A Malachite Sunbird - unfortunately we did not find the endemic Scarlet-Tufted Sunbird.

 

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We surprised this Red-Fronted Duiker, and for a while it could not really decide if freezing or running was the better option.

 

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A Tullberg´s Woodpecker.

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michael-ibk

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The bamboo forest here has reached the end of its natural life cycle and died. For some reason, Syke´s Monkeys seem to love this habitat, we have always seen them here, just a bit below the moorlands zone.

 

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They are most delightful creatures, always active, not very shy - really fun to watch!

 

They were also watching something - a herd of Elephants was feeding below us.

 

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An Elephant´s paradise - endless food all around. The equivalent of me living in a mountain of lasagna. :)

 

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We spent more than half an hour with the monkeys.

 

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michael-ibk

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A few more sightings from the way down.

 

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A Golden Weaver, aptly named.

 

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Buffalo roadblock.

 

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There are some seriously huge Warthogs in the Aberdares. Often they are seen in close proximity to the Salient´s apex predators - Hyenas:

 

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Well, these two still have some way to go before they grow big, bold and fearful. :)

 

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Like most people, my mother is not overly fond of Hyenas. But these two had a fluffy cuteness she could not help but appreciate.

 

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michael-ibk

But the undisputed star of the day was another predator. Paul suddenly stopped and whispered ....

 

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... Leopard! Yabba-dabba-dooooh! (The second part was not whispered by Paul.) :)

 

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A beautiful female was resting next to the road. :)

 

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Leopards are regularly seen in the Aberdares, but of course it´s always a matter of luck. And unlike other places, here they become invisible the moment they choose to - one step into the thick vegetation and they are gone.

 

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So we tried to approach very carefully, rolling with the engines off, inching forward metre for metre.

 

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She was unsure what to make of us, became alert, and we thought that would be it.

 

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But to our delight she instead decided we needed to see her giving herself a good scratch. :)

 

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"Not enough? Ok, then I will yawn for you, fanboys."

 

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After that she retreated - enough Leopard goodness.

 

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Needless to say we were thrilled about this - a proper highlight and super end to our two days in the Aberdares. :)

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penolva

If we see half the animals in the Aberdares as you we will be thrilled. The monkeys are beautiful and a leopard what luck. We may have to go back a second day. Do you remember the cost of the park fees? Thanks for posting this so quickly now you got started :)

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I am not finished reading your excellent report yet but I cannot contain myself.

 

You shouted "rhino"? Ohhhh Michael how could you? Just as well it wasn't a bongo. It must have been your mother's presence.

 

And woww .... Petra. Wow. She must really like you guys.

 

Mongoose- hare ... Almost as wow. You're into surreal territory there

 

This is such a great trip guys. You're getting a bit of everything.

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Ah you learned for the leopard. Well done - and another wow of course

 

Just keeps on getting better for you. What a wonderful advert for the Aberdares.

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amybatt

To think this report started with some gorgeous game rides in Rwanda, the gorillas and on to this? What an absolutely incredible trip this was!

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michael-ibk

Thanks, @@Patty , @@amybatt , @@penolva and @@pault ! :)

 

If we see half the animals in the Aberdares as you we will be thrilled. The monkeys are beautiful and a leopard what luck. We may have to go back a second day. Do you remember the cost of the park fees? Thanks for posting this so quickly now you got started :)

 

I hope you see more, still Black Panther out there, Black Serval and Bongo and other good stuff. Go get them! The fees are USD 52,--, KWS reduced the fees of their parks last year.

 

I am not finished reading your excellent report yet but I cannot contain myself.

You shouted "rhino"? Ohhhh Michael how could you? Just as well it wasn't a bongo. It must have been your mother's presence.

 

I know, Paul, I bow my head low in shame, and am prepared to hand in my pith. Mea maxima culpa! :(:unsure::wacko:B)

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michael-ibk

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This is Sandai, our "home away from home" in Africa, and where we spent the last week of this trip. The fact that we went there the third time in three years should make it very clear how much I like this place - and Petra Allmendinger, the one-of-a-kind hostess who has become a real friend to us.

 

Here´s the homepage (http://www.africanfootprints.de/en/), and I´ve written more about Sandai here in my last report (http://safaritalk.net/topic/14605-majestic-moorlands-peaks-and-falls-a-return-to-the-aberdares/?p=163041):

 

Note the very reasonable rates, EUR 85,-- per room per person, EUR 245,-- for a car all day (not including park fees), so especially with a party of more people this is one of the more budget-friendly ways to spend time in this area. Petra gets a lot of expat guests, and I always enjoy chatting with people living in Nairobi, a very different perspective from regular tourists.

 

Did not take too many pictures this time, here´s the lovely breakfast area:

 

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As a dog person I always enjoy the company of the farm´s "guardians" - Charly, Roxy and Lukas, three of the most friendly dogs I´ve ever met.

 

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Charly (my favourite I admit) - all grown-up now, we got to know him as a cute little pup.

 

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Lady Roxy

 

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And Lukas, the underdog.

 

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Our cosy little bungalows. The garden is a bit wrecked right now - during our visit and some time before and after Petra had visitors - Elephants were regularly coming to the garden and were making short work of plants, trees, lanterns, the green house and much more. The farm is fenced - as most of the area here, but fences can´t keep Elephants from their ancient migration routes.

 

They turned up shortly after Petra had put this in her garden - apparently the real ones liked it. :)

 

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We saw them almost every evening in the garden, and they came very very close, so care was needed when going to sleep. My mother was pretty frightened the first night when she woke up and heard strange loud sounds from outside. She did not dare turn on the lights and had to work up all her courage to peek through the bathroom window - and the Elephant was right outside, only metres from the house.

 

During the day the Elephants would keep their distance from the house but they were around. I used to do a birding morning walk every day and encountered them twice, I always retreated instantly when I saw them and did not pause to take photos. (I had the dogs with me who always gave early warning.) This is one from a very safe distance, one Ele down the hill from the farm in the forest:

 

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And here´s the Lady of the House herself, Petra Allmendinger:

 

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Who has her own ideas about how to do Christmas trees:

 

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We enjoyed some lovely dinners with Petra, her partner, two of the children and her grandson (and sometimes other guests as well), and of course Petra also organised a little birthday party for me.

 

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Turning 40 means I have about 50 more years to go on safari - and I´m very sure some of them will include Sandai again. :)

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michael-ibk

Since we began our activities later than usual I always had time to hunt some birds in the morning around the farm (while hoping not to startle some grumpy Elephant), here are some of them:

 

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Spotted Thick-Knee

 

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Speke´s Weaver

 

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Red-Cheeked Cordon-Bleu

 

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Tropical Boubou

 

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Speckled Mousebird

 

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Village Indigobird

 

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Red-Billed Firefinch (female)

 

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Bronze Sunbird

 

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Yellow Bishop

 

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Little Rock Thrush

 

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Black-Headed Oriole

 

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Sulphur-Breasted Bush-Shrike

 

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Violet-Backed Starling

 

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Hadeda Ibis

 

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Brimstone Canary

 

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Scarlet-Chested Sunbird

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michael-ibk

The "normal" way to do the Aberdares is to stay one night at one of the two waterhole lodges (Treetops and Ark), that´s pretty much how most operators advertise the park. That never appealed to us, and we´re glad we did it completely differently, but this time, with more than a week time at Sandai, we felt we could at least check it out and see how the experience is. Also, it seemed like a good idea to have a bit more relaxing time to go easier on my mother.

 

We decided on the Ark which has the advantage that it´s deeper inside the park (whereas Treetops is almost right by the park boundary). Guests do not drive there on their own but go to the Aberdares Country Club first, have lunch there, and are then transferred into the park with a bus shuttle. (It´s the same with Treetops, there it´s the Outspan Hotel functioning like the Country Club.)

 

I was pretty sceptical about the whole thing, a boring country club with some tame animals around, and a huge lodge with dozens of rooms and a waterhole - could that really be much fun?

 

I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed this day. After 2 1/2 weeks on safari it was very nice to relax just a bit, and - as was the norm on this trip - both the Country Club and the Ark had very few visitors, maybe 10 others at both places, at most.

 

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And the Country Club is well done. The premises are lovely, staff very friendly and accommodating, the whole atmosphere was very peaceful and nice. Not sure how it would be in high season or during the weekend (when a lot of locals are coming here) - probably a nightmare (for me), but the way it was - absolutely enjoyable.

 

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Nice big pool - and we had it to ourselves, a swim felt really good for a change. :)

 

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Lunch was excellent, one of the best of the trip, and even if the animals around (Waterbuck, Zebras, Eland, Giraffe) are completely tame it still is quite nice having a Bushbuck around for company.

 

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Or these cute little Warthog piglets.

 

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The Peacock, however, was overdoing it, no need to see this bird in Africa really.

 

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A Golden-Breasted Bunting in the garden.

 

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A Red-Billed Firefinch - confiding like our Sparrows but so much more beautiful.

 

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The Squirrels also made sure they got their part.

 

We stayed here for about four hours until we moved on to the Ark at 14:30.

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michael-ibk

The drive up to the Ark was pretty uneventful - until we found one of the Aberdares specialties.

 

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A Giant Forest Hog! We had searched long and hard for them last time, and were thrilled to get such a good and close sighting. Their numbers are going up since the lions have been taken out form the park and they are found more often these days.

 

This one was right in front of the Ark:

 

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The whole premise of the Ark is a bit silly, it´s deliberately shaped like, yes, Noah´s Ark - if you´re generous you can call it quirky. :)

 

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There are four "decks" with an absurd number of rooms - I think about 60, with a capacity for about 120 guests. I shudder to think how this place would be if only moderately booked - but as I said we were lucky about that, as I remember there were only maybe three other small groups (two to five people) around.

 

The rooms are servicable. No frills, but clean, and the bathrooms are brand-new. Petra made sure we got a room with a good view over the waterhole. One thing which I really did not like a lot was that there are no keys to lock the room. If that has something to do with the whole Ark notion it really is a very stupid idea IMO.

 

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Every deck has a viewing platform to the waterhole, an open one on the third floor, glass verandas on the others, some open seats to the side and a photo hide in the basement.

 

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Animals are not only attracted to the water but mainly because this is also a salt lick - so some mammals (mainly Warthogs, Bushbuck, Buffalo and Waterbuck) are always around, and of course birds are always present as well.

 

(Admittedly not very visible in these two photos but these were the only two moments of sun we had while there.)

 

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Edited by michael-ibk
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michael-ibk

And the waterhole was really worth it! We saw more than ten Giant Forest Hogs there, and for that alone the night at the Ark would have been worth it to me. No idea if they are always that easily seen, none were there next morning, and I forgot to ask.

 

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And there even were Piglets! Not so "Giant" yet. :)

 

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And we saw some very interesting behaviour - two of them had a proper fight and were loudly ramming each other´s heads:

 

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It soon became clear who was Boss!

 

 

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michael-ibk

One thing not to be missed out at the Ark is the feeding of the birds at 05:00, out here on one of the wooden walkways:

 

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The birds are only one reason why this is great fun.

 

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Bulbuls, Seedeaters and Weavers have to hurry to get their share.

 

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They could probably deal with this tiny Squirrel - but all birds fled when, most unexpectedly, this guy here arrived:

 

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A Bushbaby! We have never ever seen one, and really were thrilled about this surprise visit!

 

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michael-ibk

And since a lot of fruit is falling down to the ground during all this ruckus there are other animals who have learnt to profit from this:

 

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Mongoose (unfortunately the angle for this and most of the following was not very rewarding, the only way to shoot was straight down.)

 

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A lot of Genets

 

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Including a melanistic one!

 

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And - also a very, very rare animal to see - a Suni!

 

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Size comparison with a Genet.

 

So, three very special mammals in one go, and from what I was told this is a pretty regular occurrence at the bird feedings.

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michael-ibk

We enjoyed a very, very good dinner, I think this was the best of the whole trip. The general set-up of the Ark may be a bit weird, and the rooms have obviously seen too many years, but friendly service, quality of food and the uniqueness of the place more than mak up for it.

 

The Ark has a "bell system", if you switch this on in the room you are alerted if special animals come to the waterhole at night (and can then run down in your undies :)). I think 1 is for Elephants, 2 for Rhinos, 3 for Leopard, 4 for anything special happening (like Hyenas attacking an animal) and 5 for very special animals (like Bongo). Could be wrong about the exact numbers, but it works something like that.

 

Well, our night was quiet - no bell was rung. I spent quite some time after dinner at the photo hide (till about midnight), and while nothing too spectacular showed up there was always plenty to see. The watehole is not lit very strongly, so photography at night is tricky.

 

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Hyenas are around most of the time, but this night at least they behaved - unfortunately. I was told that sometimes they do hunt at the waterhole which must be a very cool thing to see.

 

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And I saw my first ever White-Tailed Mongoose.

 

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Elephants can gather at the Ark in big numbers but this night it was just one.

 

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And Buffalos of course.

 

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I saw at least five different Genets, among them the melanistic one.

 

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A Hare, approaching the waterhole very carefully. (I never am sure about the exact species with Hares in Africa)

 

The morning was also quiet, only the "usual suspects" around.

 

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Not only Hares, I´m also having ID problems with the Squirrels. :)

 

Usually guests are collected by the Country Club shuttle bus again, but we wanted to spend some time in the Salient so had arranged for Paul to get us.

 

So, all in all, the Ark really worked out very nicely for us, I was quite delighted about our sightings (and I admit the delicious food), and would gladly return - at least in the low season. Much better than expected really.

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penolva

Lovely photo of Sandai, Petra and the dogs. We can't wait to spend time there. Going to the country club for lunch one day. The birds are fabulous. Not being a birder I will take photos and ask for identification after! A Bongo! Who knows. So glad we took your advice to stay at Sandai. :) Pen

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... and would gladly return....

 

Maybe some things reach their peak enjoyment first time around.... not sure. Anyway, some great sightings is sure, and it must have been freezing down there by midnight!

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