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Tuningi Lodge, Madikwe - the safari for softies


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I am just returning from a three day stay at Tuningi Lodge in the Madikwe. An interesting trip - lovely lodge, very cold (and windy at times), the first game drive on which I took no photos at all, a couple of firsts:  a lion kill and an amazing waterhole. I will update as I sort my photos...




(And yes @Game Warden - I will add a lodge review) :D

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Lodge review added.

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Planning and Decisions

Some may remember from the 2017 planning thread that this short trip was a treat for a friend born in Africa but who left as a very young child. She has not been too well and wanted to go back to Africa and go on a safari for the first time. I had a stack of British Airways airmiles and a 2:1 voucher to make them go even further so we could travel in a cabin with a flat bed :).  We needed to be somewhere close to reasonable medical services which ruled out most of the safaris usually the subject of reports here.  In the end I settled on South Africa as travel is easy, health care is good and there are lots of BA flights.  I was able to get reward flights over a weekend and snapped those up. I then worked with Jacqui Sive of Lodge Trackers who has always been very helpful.

Then a snag...   It soon turned out that I had picked a South African holiday week and availability anywhere under $1500 per person per night was very limited (we needed 2 single rooms to placate our stay at home spouses). In the end almost the only place we could find was Tuningi which had the two benefits of looking very comfortable and being in the Madikwe which is malaria free.  Bookings were made and we arranged flights with Federal Air.  Finally as I did not want the chance of standing in JNB immigration for 90 minutes on this trip I booked a meet and greet escort with Pearl Assist for $59 which seemed like a good deal.


So we were all set - I provided a collection from home at tea time on Thursday, three days on safari and delivery home for breakfast on Tuesday.

Edited by pomkiwi
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I am looking forward to your TR @pomkiwi!   

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Travel and the lodge


All of the travel went completely smoothly. Although there are times when I quite enjoy the challenge dealing with plans going awry this was not the trip for that form of entetainment and I was pleased to sit back and enjoy. the meet and greet service at JNB had us landside within 20 minutes of exiting the plane which I felt was excellent value.

Federal Air did their stuff as usual and I really begin to feel I'm on safari when I sit in their lounge on the other side of the runway at JNB. 


I'm still trying to work out what I feel about the lodge. I have reviewed it in the relevant section of ST which gives most of the facts. It is very luxurious and the rooms were great. We had 3 ducks for each bath and I show one on an outdoor excursion to meet other lodge staff:




The grounds are well kept with stone paths and steps and it is fenced to keep out anyting larger than a squirrel (safe but not so atmospheric). We arrived about 3 pm and were simultaneously offered a full lunch but made to feel we had to rush for the 3.30 game drive in a manner that I found rather too abrupt. The general staff were all lovely and food was good wihout being exceptional.


A real plus was the waterhole which saw a constant stream of general game and made up for some fairly empty game drives of which more to come.



The grounds attract quitr a lot of birds -particularly around the plunge pool on the decking.




The lodge has children of all ages as guests which was generally OK although on occasions some were running and shouting sufficiently to disturb both animals coming to drink and other guests. The lodge is clear it welcomes kids and I guess my disappointment is that some parents (but not all) felt it unnecessary to impose boundaries. It was however lovely to witness and talk to a couple of 8 year olds as they had their first encounters with elephant and giraffe.


Overall I think I was pining for the relaxed informality and sense of place that I expereinced in tents in Kenya!



Edited by pomkiwi
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Very interested in Madikwe.  Looking forward to more.

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Game Drives


Tuningi sits in the southwest corner of the Madikwe. In theory lodges have the ability to drive throughout the reserve but in practice we seemed to stay in a relatively small area between the lodge and the south west corner.




Game drives were in an open topped Toyota landcruiser with 3 raised rows of seats. The weather was clear but quite windy as well as increasingly cold. This made the morning game drives quite a challenge - even with lots of layers, hats, gloves and blankets and hot water bottles supplied by the lodge.  It seems that many animals don't like it to be excessively hot, at all windy or excessively cold - a sensitive bunch.


The terrain could be described as uncooperative. There were a lot of large bushes with 70-100cm long dried grass filling most of the gaps. We saw few large trees and did not go anywhere near a river to break up the general scenery. I did not see any areas of shorter grass as is typical of Kenya (still pining) but also in the Sabi Sands and Timbavati.







Even within a couple of metres lions were difficult to see and almost impossible to photograph




There were some scenic photo possibilities...




The drives themselves were taken with the guide but no tracker - I prefer having a tracker as I believe the chances of spotting game are increased (atlthough our guide was excellent in this regard) but also that decision making is shared.  One reason we spent so long (over 6 hours in 4 drives) exploring one 2 square km area of scrub was trying to locate a leopard. Given that tracks could only be seen on the roads in the terrain pictured above this was difficult to understand and seemed to become almost an obsession for the guide. Despite prompting it was not possible to divert onto finding and spending time with some of the non-predators. Indeed my major criticism of the drives was that there seemed to be a single objective of finding big cats. If it hadn't been for the waterhole at the lodge I would have been an unhappy guest.


One morning drive produced no photos at all (happily a unique experience for me) and another only 5 images of zebra.  This is indicative of both a general shortage of game and the focus of the guide on big cats in general and one leopard in particular.


However I don't want to sound too gloomy - we had a lovely cheetah sighting, spent some time with lions that were active and hunting and saw a couple of 'firsts' for me. The sightings at the waterhole were relaxed, ver productive and interesting.


I promise more positivity from here :)



Edited by pomkiwi
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This is what silence looks like




One my the most amazing and thought provoking safari moments.


The waterhole is floodlit at night. In the late evening I sat there with cicadas providing a constant backround hum but uncannily going quiet as soon as one stood up.


One morning I woke up a little early and arrived at the lodge which was still dark - no coffee yet.


I wandered down to the waterhole and sat.  


For 10 minutes nothing moved - the wind had died completely. There was absolutely no sound. The cicadas finish early round here. I sat and enjoyed the complete absence of noise - although after a minute or two this seems deafening in its own right.


Finally a lion roared in the distance.


Without too much over analysis this was a unique and very special experience for me.




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Some Birds


Time for some animals.  We didn't see that many birds, partly because there weren't actually many to see and partly because there was a reluctance to stop for much for long.


We did have a nice sighting of a lilac breasted roller.



I managed to get an acceptable shot of it taking flight (lots of room for practice though).




There were a number of hornbills seen and I enjoyed the light for this one.




We saw no raptors at all other than a single pied crow that circled the lodge every afternoon.



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First Lions


Our stay was marked by a number of good lion sightings with more activity than I have often experienced in the past.  On our first evening we saw a pair of male brothers who were just waking up.




Both looked to be in very good condition.




One did a passable imitation of a 70's rock star.




One started to roar - we were lucky to be next to male lions roaring on three separate occasions in three days.


Apologies for the quality of the images - it was almost completely dark by now and I was working with an ISO of 10000. Better images to come later. 

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A couple of firsts


The Madikwe gave me a couple of first sightings.


The first was that of a black rhino at the start of a morning drive.  A couple of images was all I could get and again the light was poor and ISO high which reduces the quality of the images somewhat.




Unfortunately the rhiono moved onto the bush quickly and we did not either wait around or try to follow.




In the afternoon we saw a brown hyena. It was marking territory and it is possible to see the white paste if you look closely.






Unfortunately we again left quickly as we had a leopard to look for (unsuccessfully).

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 A few images of one of my favourite African animals.


The first in the morning light on a drive.



The rest are from around the waterhole which provided lots of excellent viewing although the light left something to be desired.









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Giraffes drinking


On a couple of occasions giraffe came to the waterhole.




They were always extremely watchful and when one sees how vulnerable they are when drinking this is understandable.





The youngster took the opportunity to suckle as the mother drank.




There was a fairly large shower at the end of each drink.






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Boys of the Madikwe


The Madikwe reserve is fully enclosed and most animals presnt are there as a result of a restocking programme.  The reserve has attempted to reintroduce cheetah but at the moment has only a small number (I think 3) male cheetah - they tend to travel in 2 pairs and a singleton. An attempt was made to introduce a female two years ago but she was killed - by the males it is believed.


We caught up with one of the pairs of brothers who were relaxing on a small mound before stretching and disappearing as the sun set.
















Hopefully not too many images but I am informed by some on Safaritalk that there are never too many images of cheetah.....

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Apologies - I meant to say that there are 5 cheetah in the reserve not 3.

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And gorgeous cheetahs they are...nice capture of golden eyes in that first photo.

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brown hyena! what incredible luck... did the guide choose not to stay to watch it? 



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@Kitsafari It was frustrating. I understand that guides often feel pressure to ensure guests get to see the usual suspects. The difference on this trip was that it was the first time that the guide hasn't stopped to share some enthusiasm and education about unusual encounters. In this case the hyena moved parallel to the road but we made no effort to wait and see where it came out. I found it difficult especially as we were not generally blessed with an abundance of sightings during our stay (the waterhole was great and there is an exciting lion story to come).

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@pomwiki so sorry to hear that. it does sound like the guide was just doing his job to show a bit of this and a bit of that. it's disappointing and frustrating and i Hear you.I would be completely tearing my hair out. who doesn't stop for a brown hyena and try to see find it again. But I also wonder about the camp - whether the guide's attitude and ethos reflect that of the camp's. If it does, i think it'll be more suited to the first-timers or those looking for a quick trip to the bush with no deep interest in wildlife, so just not suited for the more serious safari goers. and quite a fair chance of wasted opportunities to get people more involved and connected to the bush and in a way lure them back! 

but you and your friend saw cheetahs and lions - that must have been so cool. 

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@Kitsafari I think the guide was reflecting the general requirements of the lodge - to be fair I think it was a particularly difficult few days as the weather was cold and windy and animals were few and far between.  I did choose the lodge for reasons other than purely wildlife but other similar lodges in South Africa have been better at engaging guests in all of the bush experience - not just the headline animals. That being said I'm not sure I would have noticed or minded as much if this had been my first trip. The main thing was that my friend for whom this was organised had a lovely trip.

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Taking a mud-bath


When not out on a drive the waterhole was a great place to sit. As well as giraffes and zebra we were treated to several visits form elephants.  One was not intersted in drinking but did a great job spreading mud over everywhere that could be reached or sprayed.











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Some more elephants


Large family groups came to the waterhole quite regularly.






There was a lovely close view of a youngster suckling.




They wandered off raising a cloud of dust.



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A Chilly Morning


On one drive the sun rose beautifully but it remained very cold.


A jackal was curled up keeping warm.




Thought about stirring and yawned




Then thought better of it and curled up again...





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Vocal lions


On the way to another unsuccessful leopard tracking hour we met up with a pair of lions. Initially they were moving through the bush in a fairly lazy fashion.






The light was nice .





They then settled and the female started to vocalise




Thise inspired the male who roared for several minutes








It was impressive to be so close and at times you could feel the sound as much as hear it.  We were so close that you could see the moisture in his breath at the end of the roar.


Edited by pomkiwi
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Just as we expected them to settle for the morning the pair moved again.


Firstley there was some claw sharpening to attend to.







Then some careful positioning to use the morning light to best effect








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