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South Africa KNP to KZN and a bit more too!


Dave Williams
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Dave Williams

Like so many other people's trips ours was a long time in the waiting!

First booked at the back end of  2019 after our recent visit there, we had to wait two and a half years before we could return. I guess the delays had some advantages if truth be known. The enforced travel ban and lockdown confinement of covid gave me plenty of time to think more carefully about the plan and tweak it here and there. It also meant we were not spending money so instead I was investing by buying South African rand and loading them on my Revolut card. On our previous trip to South Africa the exchange rate was approximately 18 Rand to the £. At one stage I was getting 23 which is a considerable difference! It seems that South Africa's economy is in an even worse state then the UK's. 

I exchanged my original flight tickets booked with Emirates for vouchers instead of opting for the money back. They offered a great deal in as much as the voucher was valid for flights anywhere on the African continent so I could have changed plans altogether. As it happened we didn't , we stuck with flying in to Johannesburg and out of Durban, but by the time we took the trip the cost of the flights had increased 50% so another big saving there too.

Accommodation was a mixture of direct booking with the game parks or via Booking.com. Everything was planned in advance as I didn't want to chance leaving it until we got there, particularly in Kruger. My plan was to try and balance out my desire for wildlife and photography for Claire's need for some R&R. She is happy to tag along for some of my photo trips but our previous trip to Kruger was for 4 weeks and that was pushing her to the limits! 

This time I planned it differently, get the full on wildlife experience first then end up somewhere where Claire could lie on a sun bed with a book and if the worst came to the worst I had my photos to play with! This time we would also see a lot more of South Africa and the way people live rather than spending the whole time in a national park as was the case on our first visit.

So the plan was

arrive in. J'berg and drive to Malelane

2 nights in Malelane Belvedere-on River

4 nights Talamati Bushveld Camp in KNP

3 nights Tamboti Bushveld Camp in KNP

7 nights Biyamiti Bushveld Camp in KNP

1 night  Malelane Belvedere-on River

2 nights Buffalo Safari Lodge Manyoni Private Reserve

2 nights Ndumo KZN 

4 nights UMkuze KZN

12 nights Sandpiper Guest house St Lucia

drive to Durban and fly home!

39 nights away including the overnight flights.

Quite a trip and one I was really looking forwards to as it was one I was taking with my best friend and wife.

After the lockdown years I was raring to go and I'd declared 2022 my year of travel. With trips to Cuba and Fuertaventura  with Claire and photography specific ones to Spain , Bulgaria and Scotland with friends already in the bag since last November, I was already well accustomed to the demands of travel post covid.

It was going to be a breeze.

Well apart from deciding what to take in terms of luggage. There is a limit to how much you want to drag around airports even though we had a generous 4 x 23kg hold allowance and 2x 7kg Cabin bag allowance.

In the end we settled for three hold bags of roughly 20-23kgs and two cabin bags crammed with my photo gear which were ever so slightly over weight.

Having sold my two DSLRs and currently only owning one Canon R5 camera body I was a little concerned that if it failed I was basically screwed but it was a chance I decided to take. I wasn't prepared to buy another body for the sake of it, there are none I want at the moment, I'm perfectly happy with the R5.

With just one body though it does mean you have to change lenses so I just took two, my 100-500 and a 500mmf4. Of course you need batteries, chargers, teleconverters, Ef -R adaptor, laptop, card reader, external hard drives...basically quite a lot of gear despite leaving a fair bit at home. As most of my photography was likely from a car I just took a bean bag and left my tripod at home. 

So that was it all set.. July 21st, Manchester airport here we go!

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Looking forward to hearing all about your trip! I just got an R7 and am learning how to use it--I got my first photo ever this morning at a nearby lake of birds in flight that came out! This was amazing to me as it was something I had never been able to do. I know everyone says it's the photographer and not the camera but I have to say sometimes the camera helps too! And it's incredibly light. I have the kit lens and the 100-400 made for the mirrorless cameras, I could use an extender but was shocked to discover they cost $500! I will have to wait until I pay off this gear....

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Dave Williams

 

 I'm not sure what the score is in the rest of the world but as things attempt to return to normal post covid it seems the UK hasn't been prepared for it. In fact it seems that some things have changed forever. The UK was very supportive financially to try to keep everyone afloat when lockdown was imposed and lots of folk it seems decided they preferred government support than returning to work. Those that have done seem to have decided they want to work from home rather than return to an office environment. Many employed in one industry have left to find work elsewhere...yep..the world has changed.

The travel industry seems to have been particularly hard hit, from no business to too much business. With staff laid off at airports they now can't cope with the demand. Flights are being cancelled to try and cope with the reduction in numbers of staff who are key to keeping the wheels in motion.Security, baggage handlers, all sorts of people, not just airline staff . I was feeling pretty smug because although flying with Emirates involves a much longer journey which is actually not a bad idea in my opinion because you get a breather mid journey to stretch your legs, the best bit was they only have two flights a day from Manchester and as yet they haven't cancelled any flights at all. 
If you live in the north of the UK you basically have no options on a direct flight unless you drive to London and that isn't a prospect most want to contemplate. So it's a case of British Airways to Heathrow, Lufthansa to Frankfurt . KLM to Amsterdam and so on. Might as well go Manchester to Dubai or Qatar...the airlines are better and more reliable it seems. They were not cancelling at the last minute.
That's why I felt a little smug. Our flight would go ahead.

In fairness it did but it was late going due to circumstances beyond their control. The conveyer belt at the check in desks had failed. With the number of passengers on an Airbus 380, the queue to check in began outside the terminal in the drop off zone for cars. Hey ho. What's a few petrol fumes to complain about we were on our way!

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About 24 hours after leaving home we arrived in Johannesburg feeling pretty bright all things considered. 
Armed with my car rental voucher I headed to the Europcar desk.
Now there is a tip. I always order my vehicle well in advance and do so through Rentalcars.com . You pay up front but can cancel and get a full refund almost to the time you pick the car up.
I booked a Nissan X-trail for 33,500 rand for 38 days hire with Green Motion . Pretty expensive but it seems the rental companies have a shortage of cars so prices have sky rocketed. The problem is they sold off their stock in lockdown due to lack of customers but when the demand returned they couldn't get the cars as manufacturers couldn't get the microchips now needed to make them.
I get that, our 28 year old VW Polo finally bit the dust last September and our ordered brand new Toyota Yaris took 6 months from order to delivery.
Anyway, I was heading to the Europcar desk at J'berg airport because I had cancelled my Nissan nine months previouslyand instead spotted a Hyundai Venue at a mere 20,000 rand for 38 days . That was a big saving and despite not having a clue what a Venue was like, the picture looked good, as did the specifications.
The queue at the rental desk as quite long but after 30 minutes it was my turn and before you knew it I was heading off with a car key.
That's when I spotted the the tag on the key said I had a Toyota Yaris, not the Hyundai SUV like vehicle I had paid for. The Yaris is a beautiful car but totally unsuitable for the gravel roads of Kruger 
Back to the desk I pointed out this fact only to be told the Hyundai wasn't available
"Ok.Give me the "or similar" as promised on the rental voucher" I said.
The reply was that the Hyundai was now in a higher price bracket than when I had ordered it ( that made sense, I had spotted it was a superb price) but I demanded they give me what I had ordered and already paid for. I had a contract.
After consulting management I got the Hyundai which was now miraculously available  although not taxed for the road for the full duration of our rental.
No matter, we waited for another 30 minutes while a tax disc was obtained and then we finally got under way. 
Only we went the wrong way!
My fault, impatient after spending 3 hours since touch down I was off. The N2 is a swine if you go the wrong way because turning around and heading back is no easy feat believe me. We eventually managed it but it had added another 30 minus to our four and a half hour drive.
The last time we were in South Africa our first night was booked in Berg-en-Dal camp in the Kruger and we only just made it before the gates closed. With all the delays there was no way we would have made it this time but it didn't matter as we were staying outside the park in Malelane which was just as well. 
The last hour was spent driving at 120kph in the dark on a dual carriage way with no dividing barriers between the opposing sides. It is a tad scary on occasions but you have no option but to pass the slower moving trucks that are considerable in number on this road.
Anyway, all was well. We arrived at Belvedere on River, and were delighted with our choice of guest house.
A fabulous room
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A superb dinner , a couple of beers and bed.
Next morning an excellent breakfast and a view to behold was revealed from the terraced it was served.
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Yep, a good choice for a couple of nights to recover from the journey.
Well, it was also about doing some shopping for supplies for the next two weeks when we would be self catering but that done I was itching to get in to the park.
Leaving Claire by the pool I headed off for the 10 minute drive to Malelane gate and in to the park.
There at last.
And two weeks more to come too!
TBC
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Dave Williams

 With a half day tour around the Berg-en-Dal camp area already under my belt today was the day we moved on to Talamati Bushveld Camp. I saved time at the entrance gate having picked up the necessary form on the previous day's visit. Being a Sunday I wondered how long the queue would be but it was pretty quick to be honest, we were outside school holidays and by mid morning there were not many people waiting to enter the park. This isn't always the case as two weeks later and on a Sunday again there was a big queue at a similar time so it's not a given that it's easy to get in, certainly not in the school holidays or public holidays as it was then.

My own preference is for the smaller camps, I like the intimacy of only having 15 units and originally I had booked Talamati for a week but curiosity got the better of me and the near by Tamboti was getting rave reviews so I decided I'd spend 3 of the days there instead. Both are situated in the centre of the park but you have to be prepared to drive a reasonable distance each day to get the most out of the region although that has to be said for most of the camps if I'm honest. I had guesstimated at 150kms a day for our visit to KNP and in actual fact we drove 156kms on average...not a bad guess!

The map is a shot from the excellent and inexpensive guide book which are on sale in the camp shops.

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I'd stayed at Talamati previously , the accommodation isn't the most luxurious but it's more than adequate and you are in the park after all. 

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That said standards had slipped badly in my opinion. I couldn't care less that the cushions on the settee outside were ripped and that it looked grubby , we weren't likely to sit on it but what was off putting was the bathroom. It looked dirty because it was crying out for a lick of paint. Instead it was enough to put you off having a shower and it did so at first, but when needs must the shower jet was actually very good. 

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Such a shame because when you are faced with this you start looking for all the other minor faults too which might otherwise been overlooked. Although compared to the high end lodges in the private conservancies the fees are inexpensive but at 1860 rand per night for the two bed unit they  were on a par with the far superior Belvedere on river and you had breakfast and dinner as well as a few drinks thrown in for the price. Makes you think, do you need to be in the park? Especially when you are staying in the southern part where accommodation is plentiful.

As it happened most of our game drives based from Talamati were largely disappointing with game very thin on the ground although we did find some excitement with a few lions on one morning.

No for me Talamati is off the books in the future because Tamboti just up the road is far superior. It's a satellite camp in as much as like the Bushveld ones there are no facilities such as a shop or restaurant. It's beautifully laid out so most of the huts are hidden from each other and as they have shared kitchen and ablution facilities they are very inexpensive. We had booked one of the "luxury" safari tents and I have to say we were extremely impressed. They did actually feel simple but luxurious and spotlessly clean and important have their own private bathroom .

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Unlike Talamati which is indoors Tamboti have well equipped outdoor kitchens on the raised stoop .

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IMG_6291.jpg.bcacaf5a8a9951e905e0800af9ad547b.jpgThey are not without problems though. On arrival we discovered a huge male Baboon munching his way through a bag of rice he had lifted from somewhere but he was soon gone as we approached . Some time later and after we had brought in our bags Claire decided we'd have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. Stood right in front of the work top with the loaf just to one side, a long grey hairy arm appeared to one side of her and the loaf was gone in an instant. It took her heartbeat quite some time to fall back to normal!

Later that evening just after sunset and whilst I was stood at the braii I was amazed when two Honey Badgers trotted right past me within a few metres. Very frustrating as they were my top photographic target for the trip. Never mind , we had two more nights and they might return and return they did only this time much, much earlier. It wasn't even 6pm. I was stood on the elevated stoop and one of the Badgers was going to come up the steps. We had a face off and I won. The Badger joined his mate and ran off in the direction of the next chalet while I ran to get my camera. By the time they came back in to view the light had faded and my attempts to get a decent shot were poor. Tomorrow I'd be more prepared! I sat from 5.15pm watching the direction they had come from the previous two nights but to my despair they didn't turn up at all. Such is wildlife!

The next morning however all hell broke out on the stoop outside the bedroom door. It must be that big Baboon making that racket. I was going to get revenge and give it the same shock he'd given Claire . I exploded in to shouting and rattling the door before opening and closing it with a bang to realise it wasn't the Baboon , it was the Badger. Aghhhhhhh, missed my last chance!

It had ransacked the bin cupboard despite having supposed security locks. The chairs had been much better at keeping it out!

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From Tamboti the game drives basically lead you in one direction, on the tar H7 towards Satara camp. Much of the route was the smouldering remains of the deliberate burns that the Rangers were lighting.

We did get to see decent views of sleeping Wild Dogs who were enjoying the warmth of the recently burnt ground but from a photo point of view not the best, especially as one had a collar and another an ear missing. On another morning we had a male Lion walk right past the car within a metre, again and unfortunately good looks had left him in old age so not the best shots.

I had now been in the park a week and I was beginning to feel that things were not as I had imagined they would be. Yes we saw the usual Impala, Elephant, Kudu, Giraffe etc etc but nothing to grab the attention such had been the case on our previous visit. The sightings appeared to be sparse probably due to the late rains and the availability of water being much greater. That said my memories were over the course of a month in 2019, not a week.Had the first week been poor back then? No actually it hadn't but we had been in the south to start with!

Oh well, Biyamiti next. The one Bushveld camp I really was excited about. Bang in the middle of the game rich south and with a private road of 23kms to share with just 15 other units.There would be no Leopard jams blocking the road here ...I hoped!

Things had to get better, the highlight of the first week had been brunch at Tshokwane on a couple of occasions. Slightly out on a limb but the egg and cheese roosterkoek are fabulous and highly recommended, the best breakfast food in the whole of KNP in my opinion! 

TBC

 

Edited by Dave Williams
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Dave Williams

 Sunday 31st of July and we were already 10 nights in to our trip and half way through my much anticipated return visit to KNP. The first week hadn't exactly set the world on fire even if the rangers seemed to have tried their best to do so.

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In fairness we had had some fabulous sightings of Honey Badger even if I had failed to capitalise on the opportunity photographically, night visitors at both Talamati and Tamboti had included Genet, Tamboti had a family of Dwarf Mongoose and some Bushbuck that could be seen around the camp and in fairness both had a decent amount of area you could walk to stretch your legs after a day sat in the car. Out of the camp we had had some excellent sightings of Ground Hornbill which was something I was delighted to see as they had been limited last time. Overall it wasn't a disaster by any means , maybe my expectations were unreal. Still Biyamiti next and for a whole week.

Of all the camps in Kruger this was the one I was dying to visit as I'd not been able to get in last time. It's  highly regarded by most who stay there although in recent times I noted comments about lack of maintenance which seemed common about most camps.

We decided to go the longer way via Tshokwane for our third brunch visit of the week, another egg and cheese roosterkoek only this time we ordered a portion of chips, otherwise also known as fries. It was Sunday and it was busier than on our previous visits. There was a bit of a queue to be served but not too bad. Four American ladies behind us were deliberating on what to order so I gave them our recommendation which they took up. When our turn to collect the meal from the counter arrived my immediate impression was limp half cooked fries which indeed they were , the roosterkoek wasn't up to standard either, still doughy in the middle. I was embarrassed to have suggested it. All goes to show doesn't it how standards can differ from day to day depending on a variety of factors. Number of customers, the people cooking etc.

Driving further south the smell of burning was becoming stronger and a pall of smoke seemed to hang over the whole region.

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Not only were the rangers burning the park but on the southern borders the sugar cane crop was being burnt too prior to harvest. Did you know that burning the crop makes it easier and thus cheaper to harvest but in doing so destroys some of the sugar content? Not a lot of people know that including me before I was told!

Finally we arrived at Biyamiti and the smoke wasn't an issue there. The accommodation was not that dissimilar to other Bushveld camps. Unlike Talamati, there was an outdoor kitchen but otherwise there were lots of similarities. 

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Yes everything is a bit dated but at least it felt clean.

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 Sorry Talamati, no excuse there for the presentation of the chalet we had.

Biyamiti basically delivered what I was expecting.

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A nicely laid out camp with a decent walk around the perimeter fence overlooking the almost dry river bed.

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Over our week there the private road was being abused by some but not very many were disrespecting the "no entry except for residents" signs.

On the first morning and full of enthusiasm for what lay ahead I was first out of the camp and on to the road having left Claire having a lie in . It was 5.30am when I got up after all!!

There were 3 cars behind me, driving in a convoy.It was almost still pitch black  for the first 15 kilometres which were driven at a fairly slow pace in an attempt to see something. A Swainson's Spurfowl wandered across the road in front of me and as I kept a careful watch to make sure I didn't run it over I missed the sighting on my left. The car behind me fortunately flashed me , braked and reversed. I did likewise.

Sat next to the road, two males and a female Lion. So close in fact I had to lean over the passenger seat to look down and see them! Brilliant.

I didn't hang around long, just took a few snaps and moved on to give the cars behind a chance to view.

My favourite place in the whole of KNP lay ahead, or at least it was last time. 

Biyamiti Weir.

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A delightful spot where you can sit in the car at eye level to the water and photograph birds on the Lilly pads, the resident Hippo just a stone's throw away and various mammals coming down to drink. Another huge disappointment I'm afraid . The heavy rains had brought flooding, the lilies washed away and the Hippo gone for the time being. With plenty of water there was no need to come to the weir to drink either. I was very very disappointed. Over several visits I had little to show for it and on that first morning decided to cut my losses and head back to the Lions for some shots in better light.I got there just in time to see the back end of the last male disappearing over the hill in front!

In fairness the Biyamiti Rd provided another Lion sighting later in the week and much later in the morning too. I'd given up on early starts, I have decided there isn't that much of an advantage driving in the dark. I also had superb sightings of Hyena too but the one I didn't enjoy was the Elephants who spent most of the week in the area and made me very uncomfortable driving through. The young bulls being particularly intimidating!

Having decided that we wouldn't return to Tshokwane for another brunch we ended up at the other popular picnic site at Afsaal. How that has changed. Organised chaos and the food now not as good and served in polystyrene boxes. Like the former we tried on the Sunday on our way out of the park and being busier the food wasn't cooked thoroughly there either!

So, our final week was over but not before incident!

On the last morning I once again heard a noise coming from the kitchen area and wrongly assumed it was a Vervet Monkey. Not again! It was a Honey Badger sniffing around our cupboards.

I was on the inside looking out of the patio window and the Badger must have sensed me there or had finished the search.

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Leaving no damage he wandered off never to be seen again. I did try to see if I could spot where he'd(?) gone but half naked and in bare feet I didn't get far.

We left the park fairly early and I dropped Claire off at Belvedere on River where we were booked in for the night before heading south. She could have a day by the pool whilst I returned to the park for one last outing. That's when I realised the benefit of having a pass to re-enter which enabled me to avoid the queues to get in. If you are staying outside the park you can pre-book entry tickets but it incurs a cost over and above the usual entry fee, even if you have a "Wildcard" which once paid gives unlimited entry for a year. The latter costs 5345 rand for a family of two  international visitors but it's worth buying one if you plan more than a few visits. Of course if you have overnight accommodation you are guaranteed entry, even when it was for the previous night.

I wasn't that bothered about not seeing a Cheetah or Leopard on this visit although I would never say no, unless it meant getting involved in one of those road jams. I had literally just got my exit ticket to hand and stuck it where it was handy as I approached the T-junction to the tar road 2 kms from the exit gates when a car pulled in going the opposite way.

"Do you want to see a Leopard?" the fellow Brit driver asked.

"Where?" I replied.

"It's about 5 kms north on the tar road and currently there are just a few cars and it's all very civilised"

I didn't have too much time to spare but thought "why not" and went for it. Sure enough there were a few cars but they were neatly lined up and there was room to drive through the middle. I stopped the car and by sheer luck was in a position to see the Leopard drop down the trunk of the tree it had been in and disappeared. I could even drive over to the other side of the road to see if I could spot it. The cars travelling towards the entry exit gates started to drive through until one decided to stop and have a chat with the people in the car in front of me, no doubt asking for details. They just blocked the road simple as that and before you knew it there was chaos. I was in danger of being trapped so I reversed out of the situation and headed off. That's my idea of wildlife hell, sharing it with too many people, many too selfish in their actions to care about the impact on anyone else.

So that was it. Kruger done and dusted but I was happy that what lay ahead was all going to be new to me.

TBC

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Dave Williams

 I know many visitors to Kruger ask about mobile phone connections and internet access in general. Most seem to purchase a local SIM card at the airport, some go to a local phone shop which are it seems in very good supply. I decided another route, I read an internet suggestion that "airalo" was the most cost effective and least hassle. You have to have a compatible phone which mine is, they make that plain on their website as to the phones you can use, but instead of changing SIM cards you add an additional option to the one you have got. Installed you swop from your usual one to the "airalo" one whilst on holiday. You can buy options for different countries or even a global one if you are visiting several within a period of a month because like the ones sold in the shops at the airport 30 days is the limit after which you need to top them up.

5GB of Data lasting 30 days was $17, a further 1GB valid for 7days was $5 so $22 was enough to cover our trip.

The options at the airport were certainly more expensive and also necessitated replacing the SIM. 

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Coverage was no different, it was patchy to say the least in KNP but it uses exactly the same satellite so no difference there. We tended to use Satara and Skukuza Cattle Baron restaurants to access their free wifi if we wanted to do some serious browsing but the phone was kept up to date with mail and messages when and where it detected a signal. That was sufficient in the park although one message I got really annoyed me. My credit card had been debited £576 by Europcar. I was convinced they had charged me a higher price for the car as my rental agreement clearly said an amount would be blocked which is normal practice with hire companies, not deducted. To add insult to injury an international money transfer fee of £15 had been added too! My attempts to get any response from the messages I left on their website were unanswered. At least at Belvedere-on-River I'd have access to a really good broadband signal to send another demand!

Unfortunately the internet access brought different news.

A message came through from a pal walking his dog past our house that our brand new Toyota Yaris wasn't there! 

Being a new car and loaded with technology, I also have an app that tells me were it was. 

My heart sank. Total disbelief , it was parked somewhere else. To be there someone had to have a key. The keys were in our house. That meant we had been broken in to. I messaged back and my friend checked first that car was where the app said it was, and secondly went to our house . The pictures he sent back said it all.

The door to our stone built shed had been forced open, the wooden frame shattered. Attempts to smash the lock on our front door had failed so the just smashed an adjoining floor to ceiling window instead and in they had gone. It was a sickening moment to say the least.

I am very fortunate to have a very good contact in as much as my son is a serving police officer in a high ranking position and he when contacted got the wheels in motion pretty quickly. He organised a locksmith and for the damage to be made safe. The car was recovered and taken in to custody for forensic examination. 

There was nothing more we could do other than feel numb and wonder what to do next. Our immediate reaction was we wanted to know what had been stolen and to go  home to sort out the problem.

The police sent the full CSI team who apparently spent hours searching for forensic clues. My daughter in law attended but she went home after midnight leaving them there. A policeman stayed on site until our house was secured and dropped the new keys the locksmith had fitted at my D-I-L's house at 5.30 am. You couldn't wish for more attention.

The following day family members attended to try and clean up some of the mess and gave us a guided tour of the house. It was a bit of relief to find that although the place was a complete mess with drawers tipped out on to the floor or bed other than two bedrooms most of the house looked good. There was no sign of malicious vandalism that some have suffered. We were able to identify some of the things that were missing. To be honest the damage done was disproportionate to what was taken mainly because we don't have that much of value really. Claire's jewellery took a hit but it isn't seriously valuable and they had missed her gold watch, the most valuable item of all. My iMac had gone yet they had left a new iPad. The biggest hit was my photography gear but the most expensive items were with me on holiday. I hadn't taken a tripod and for some reason they threw that in a hedge as they left deciding it wasn't worth taking, obviously didn't know it was over £1k's worth then! They left my petrol trimmer but took my chainsaw. Worst of all they took all our keys as well as the two car keys. The car was recovered but it took two and half weeks to get a slip key for officers to open it to check for prints. We'd hoped that our property might still be in the boot but alas it was not to be. The cost of replacing two car keys has been put at £3200 as the  computer needs changing according to them. Anyway, it's in the hands of the insurers now but with the shortage of microchips I wouldn't be surprised if the car doesn't get returned from where it has been sent for a couple of months. We'll see.

Back then in Malelane we struggled with dinner our appetite gone, struggled to focus on anything to be honest.We said we'd go home , the family said don't be stupid, no way. We still had three weeks left, most of it paid for and it would all be lost. The insurance wouldn't reimburse for that. There would be costs in changing flights but the biggest consideration was did we leave the house unoccupied and with the alarm system disabled, in fact destroyed. 

A decision was made. We'd carry on. To come home was a defeat to us and more satisfaction to the thieves. They weren't going to win.

Next day we headed south to the Manyoni private game reserve and the Buffalo Hill lodge. The drive there , basically as far south as Mkuze, is from what I remember very scenic and mainly traffic free. I just don't remember much of it at all and neither does Claire.

Buffalo Hill is a lovely set up, our room was really nice but we were the only guests . We were greeted by the staff who served us dinner and disappeared. We were sat in the large dining room feeling odd in the emptiness. I turned to Claire and said sorry. I had made a mistake booking this place. 

During dinner the house manager came in made herself known to us and apologised that she had not been there to greet us as she had taken some guests staying elsewhere on a safari drive. No problem I replied but when asked when I wanted to go on a drive which I'd indicated by mail I wanted to do I said it certainly wouldn't be the next morning! Having had precious little sleep and then a long drive I was shattered and just wanted to go to bed.

Feeling much better and having had a decent breakfast again served by the two staff members, our host manager returned from the morning drive and came to say hello. I told her we would like to take the evening drive but she responded "meantime would you like to see some Lions I just passed about 10 minutes away"

Why not , so off we went. The lion sighting was close

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but what really caught my eye on the return journey was a Secretary Bird, one of my very top target species.

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I was delighted and being close and in fairly cool conditions I got some, if not the best shots, I have had of the species.

We returned to the lodge and I thanked her for the therapy . For the first time in two days almost, we hadn't been thinking about the burglary at home.

Our evening drive was very informative if not particularly exciting and the hunt for the reported Cheetah had drawn a blank but again we had relaxed. We really enjoyed dinner, and the empty dining room wasn't a problem either.

I could have stayed longer but our next destination was booked and paid for, Ndumo reserve, particularly well known for bird life.

I would thoroughly recommend Buffalo Lodge, it's more than a brilliantly located spot to break the journey, it's definitely worth longer. The Manyoni reserve has some excellent species to be seen. The Cheetah and Lions visit the waterhole a few metres from the garden fence. A stream of Impala and Wildebeest were regulars but the best species we saw was this White Rhino.

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Buffalo Lodge had been therapy indeed. We would continue our holiday and we would try our upmost to enjoy it. Those thieves were not going to bring us down. 

No way.

TBC

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So sorry to hear your news @Dave Williamsthank goodness you had people back home that you could rely on in a crisis.

 

WRT Kruger decor and cleanliness, I think that the accommodation is usually very tired, unless you luck out and get a newly refurbished room, but with the lockdowns we definitely noticed more technical issues, although not the lack of cleanliness that you describe. We have reverted back to the main camps. I find that the premium charged by SANParks for the seclusion of the wilderness camps did not provide us with the game viewing that we are accustomed to. Of course, the benefit of being in the park as opposed to outside in the nice B&B is that you can get going an hour (or 1 minute) earlier than the main gates and you do not potentially have to queue to get in twice a day. We balance the more rustic nature of these trips with a luxury guided safari every couple of years (funds permitting)! In terms of game viewing, having never been in the winter, I don’t know whether what you experienced was quiet or not.

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How awful to hear such news at the very start of your holiday @Dave Williamsbut as Tdgraves says, it's reassuring that you had a neighbour who alerted you to this (not convinced the ones around me would!) and that you have family at home able to take care of things. Totally in agreement with their and your assessment to continue on, there's not much else you could do at home other than wait. Glad Buffalo Lodge had provided some respite from the worry.

 

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So sorry to hear of your shocking news @Dave Williamsbut glad you were able to continue. Buffalo Lodge seemed to be just the job

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Very sorry to hear about the burglary, what an awful shock to have while on holiday. Good you had family and friends able to deal with this for you and allow you to continue with your trip.  Looking forward to hearing more about it.

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Dave Williams

 The drive from Buffalo Hill Lodge on the Manyoni to Ndumo reserve isn't too far, maybe about 120 kms heading back north east towards the border of Mozambique and around the bottom end of Eswatini. 

Our first stop was at Mike's Butchery and Delicatessen store, located next to the petrol station in Mkuze, to pick up some meat for our braii at Ndumo. The offerings are superb and great value, better than the local Spar which isn't the best to be honest. Stocked up we were set to go and the further we drove the less touristy it became, in fact we seemed to be the only ones! An interesting drive and again on an excellent road which noticeably had none of those huge trucks carrying mineral deposits.

I must admit I hadn't fully researched Ndumo from an accommodation point of view and I was under the impression that although a bathroom had been added to the accommodation, we would be using a shared kitchen. Having experienced a chalet in Kruger that came with no utensils we came prepared but what we found was quite the opposite to expectations. 

It was fabulous!

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The chalet had been adapted and the bedroom had a well equipped kitchen installed with everything you needed.There was even a TV which remained unused.

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 The bathroom was , like the rest, immaculate, 

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and the attention to even having a light near the braii was welcome. The outdoor seating area offered a great deal of space between you and the other accommodation.

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Remarkably during the two nights we were there only two other chalets were occupied and one camper van stayed a single night.

From a wildlife point of view the reserve is mainly about birds and I had been trying to make contact to book a guided walk for over a year, several emails went unanswered and attempts via a third party failed too.

I needn't have worried, with so few residents booking a drive was easy for the following morning but first I headed off to the only hide that is open, the second being out of commission. The views are fairly distant but there was a fabulous selection of species as well as Crocodiles and Hippos on the banks of the huge pan in front of me. The problem was the sun was straight in front of me so from a photographic point of view not particularly the best time to visit. The next morning though I'd booked the drive. Oh well, that sounded as if it would be top notch. The guy in the camper van told me the guide was fantastic, name your bird and he could call it in with his amazing mimicry.

The next morning came and Claire had decided to tag along too. As we headed out of camp we soon saw three fabulous sightings, all lifers for me, but photography was impossible as they were in obscured views or moving around the bushes. Never mind there would be more to come but first we headed to the reserve gates to pick up a student guide who was on work experience. He spotted a Klass's cuckoo which was good before we arrived on the far side of the pan to the hide. Our guide had been off on leave for over a month, in fact I think he mentioned 6 weeks, and he was anxious to check out the access on the far side. It was of course on the wrong side for the position of the sun but he assured me I'd be OK in the hide when we got back to camp. We went so far, didn't see much and I did head straight to the hide on my return and that proved far more fruitful than the drive. Still, I decided I'd try again the following day and booked a guided walk instead of a drive.

The evening walk around the camp gave me some excellent bird sightings but the most spectacular was seeing the bats take flight from their roosting place in the chalets in front of us. Quite an amazing sight, there were hundreds if not thousands of bats which soon dispersed for their nocturnal hunts.

The next morning I met the guide alone, Claire deciding to pass on the walk. I expected to be walking locally but no, we were going in my car I was told. It turned out we were driving about 20kms to a spot on the far side of the pan where we had a shortish walk through the woods, the guide armed with a rifle in case of Hippo attack from the nearby pan. No birds were seen before we then took a diversion to check out  the reserve picnic sight and the toilets as the guide told me there had been a school party there the day before and he was anxious to make sure it was still in pristine condition. It was and we made the 20km journey back without seeing anything. I was very disappointed. The only mimicry I heard was a very good impression of a Hippo. We were leaving for the next camp on my return and I think my guide hung around for a tip but I'm afraid none was forthcoming.I felt I had been used for his purposes, he hadn't tried to hard from a birding point of view and frankly I did much better on my own. 

The two night stay over we  headed back to stock up in Mkuze for the next reserve, UMkuze, where the next four days would be spent in Mantuma camp.

TBC

 

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So sorry to hear about the burglary Dave, so awful. Really enjoying your very candid report, extremely informative. I have lost count of all your honey badger sightings, so cool.

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 The drive back to Mkuze didn't take long and neither did stocking up for our final 4 days of self catering. Delicious though the meat on the braii was I was getting a bit fed up of meat and either salad or kebabs of pepper, aubergine, courgette etc usually accompanied by garlic bread and a baked potato. I was getting quite good at judging the coals and cooking the food without burning it. Unlike most South Africans I was using charcoal briquettes. I did try wood once and it was a disaster. Mind you I think a lot of those around me that were burning wood were doing so for the effect and using their kitchens to prepare dinner. One thing I can definitely recommend is not to attempt baking your potato on the braii and definitely don't wrap it in foil. Use the microwave to almost cook it then put it over the coals to crisp up the skin, much quicker and a better end product.

So to Mantuma camp and the UMkuze reserve off we went. The road from Mkuze is rough most of the way, as it is if you enter from the other side of the park too but once in the park the change was instant. I was impressed with the condition of the main tar road to the camp. I also noticed the lack of other vehicles. The park was empty and so it seemed was the camp. Just a few chalets were occupied and no one on the camp ground at all. Lucky we had all we needed because the shop was barely stocked and the take away restaurant wasn't open at all. We had booked a 2 bed chalet, and it was  one of two semi detached chalets which I hadn't realised when booking, not that it presented a problem, there was no noise coming from next door...especially the first night as it wasn't occupied!

The accommodation was a little dated as it is in Kruger, but it was incredibly spacious, fairly huge in fact!

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The main room had two single beds, a table and chairs, a TV and some comfortable chairs and a coffee table.

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The bathroom has a bath and a shower over

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The kitchen very well equipped and spacious too.

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Outside there was a small patio area with a table and two chairs and a braii with a cement table and two chairs. 

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If I have one quibble it was the we seemed to be the only chalet that had to braii in a farmyard! 

Unlike our next door neighbours who had a nice little walkway and braii area, we were on soil and nowhere  close to hand to put my drink down as I cooked! 

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I say we were in a farm yard because we shared this space with Impala and Nyala who left their droppings all over the place and seemed oblivious of us wandering past us with no concern at all! The camp is unfenced too so there is a possibility of predators wandering around but we didn't see any.

It seems that this reserve doesn't get that many visitors, particularly in winter and out of holiday time. I guess that the access roads are not the best with no major tar road within 30 minutes of the entrance gate. I hear of people saying there is little game to be seen and if you drive around the reserve I can see how that opinion might come about but it's totally misinformed. It's a stunning little reserve, immaculately presented and the pride of place goes to their hides. Kruger has nothing to compare in terms of either quality of the hide or viewing either. The kuMasinga hide in the middle of the park is as good a spot as I have ever been hide wise. It's spacious, spotless and overlooks a small waterhole. 

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They, unlike Kruger ,provide toilet facilities both at the hides and the picnic spot too and they are also spotless.

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Sit in the hide and give it time and you will be rewarded. Never mind game drives, this is much better! The waterhole is maybe 25m across and 50m in length at most and yet on one occasion I counted 50 animals in the immediate vicinity of the water and there were five different species. There are also birds to see too. I think I photographed Nyala,Impala,Wildebeest,Zebra,Warthog,Slender Mongoose , Giraffe, and best of all Rhino. Not just any old Rhino viewing, this was a bit special. Firstly a male White Rhino came to drink and then a male Black turned up. The White stamped his feet but the Black kept on coming and the White turned tail and disappeared in a cloud of dust! The diversity of species in this reserve is excellent and because it's small and well manned, the game is well protected too.

I decided to take a night drive and Claire came along too. Lasting three hours they charged just 760 rand so not expensive by any means. We saw what was probably a distant cheetah crossing the road but couldn't locate it as we got closer. I have never been a huge fan of night drives but I has hoping to see a Porcupine, it wasn't to be but we did see Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee so a couple of new birds for my list.

The most amazing thing about this reserve and Ndumo for that matter is the price, we paid 1000 rand per night for both Ndumo and Mantuma camp. After the online booking discount Talamati was 1695, Tamboti 1685 and Biyamiti a whopping 1933. On top of that entry fees in to Kruger are much higher too. We paid 5345 rand for our wildcard for two which gives a saving over the daily charge of 440 rand per person per day. Ndumo didn't charge as we were staying there, although my Wildcard would cover it, UMkuze comes under the Ismangaliso parks but the entry fee is peanuts even if you pay by the day it's still only 160 rand for two people plus a car, if you are staying overnight it's just 13 rand per person per night and a one off entry fee of 61 rand for the car. 

Given the choice I would opt for UMkuze over Kruger on the basis that it's free of crowds, has better facilities in terms of hides, and it does have the Big 5 too if that's your objective. However, if I return I'll probably do both!

So leaving Mantuma camp the next and last stop was St Lucia on the coast.

TBC

 

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So sorry to hear about the housebreaking incident which must have been so stressful. Hopefully the stay in SA was the antidote you both needed to ease the stress. 

I hope they found the culprit. 

 

Much enjoying the drive with you and Claire!

 

Edited to correct to antidote! not anecdote. :blink:

Edited by Kitsafari
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1 hour ago, Kitsafari said:

So sorry to hear about the housebreaking incident which must have been so stressful. Hopefully the stay in SA was the anecdote you both needed to ease the stress. 

I hope they found the culprit. 

 

Much enjoying the drive with you and Claire!

 

Thanks for the kind words and support Kit but South Africa wasn't the antidote, I would preferred to have been whisked home to sort out everything, then whisked back to carry on the trip but that would be impossible.

We flew home two weeks ago and the clearing up process continues. Claire has taken the sense of her home being violated quite badly, something that hasn't got to me in the same way. I understand where she is coming from as she goes through every room cleaning up every last trace of fingerprint powder left by the forensic team and slowly putting our house back in order. We are still waiting for the glass in our partly boarded up entrance door to be replaced. It's a special order but living with that is not a nice reminder, neither is the knowledge that we are vulnerable having no alarm system until the destroyed one is replaced.

We haven't a clue were we are up to with our car, I will give the place that took it away under instruction from the insurers a call tomorrow to see if there is any progress on replacing the keys. I feel it might be a long wait though thanks to the microchip shortage.

We have submitted a list of property taken and although it adds up to a few thousands of pounds, the damage caused both financially and mentally is worse.

 

The positive news is three people have been charged with a string of offences including ours and hopefully they will get what they deserve. Not in my opinion a jail sentence but an order to do community service and the enforced wearing of clothing the ear marks them as the low life they are. Shaming them in the community and stopping them from enjoying the freedoms of pubs, cinemas etc etc  would be far worse than them being sent at our expense to jail where they can spend time with fellow criminals, feel no sense of shame as they mix with like minded individuals and learn a few more tricks of the trade.

 

Of course my views on suitable punishment will never take place as it would be an infringement on their human rights wouldn't it.

Edited by Dave Williams
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 As I posted right at the beginning of this trip report, the original plans were put in place back in 2019 and then I had booked 7 nights in St Lucia. Those who have visited previously suggested it was  too long, much better staying in Hluhluwe/Imfolozi reserve and being close to nature. I  had decided to go the opposite way and actually extended the booking to 12 nights!

The reasoning was that I would have had the majority of nights in wildlife parks, 22 in fact, whilst those in more luxurious surrounds were just 15. The balance was slightly restored when I had cancelled a night in Ndumo and replaced it with a night in Buffalo Hills Lodge, it was in a reserve but it was luxurious and we were being cooked for .

20 vs 17 in my favour. Claire was worried that if we did all the wildlife first I'd be bored in St Lucia. Not at all I thought, much better to end the trip with some R&R for her and to a certain extent that's how it turned out.

We had picked our guesthouse well. The Sandpiper gets excellent reviews and quite rightly. Tastefully decorated, spotlessly clean and a joy to stay there .

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The staff are all lovely and the breakfast superb.

Three of the five rooms have a patio overlooking the garden which , surrounded by tropical plants , gives a sense of being part of the jungle.

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A reasonable sized pool, illuminated at night had plenty of sunbeds to choose and Claire had the choice of any of them as the other guests didn't stay long enough to use them.

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Most would not even appreciate the wildlife that can be seen beyond the rear garden. It kept me occupied for quite some time, particularly trying to capture images of the Livingstone's Turaco that was constantly vocal but usually invisible! There were many different birds as well as several mammals from Banded Mongoose, Red Duiker, Bushbuck to Warthog. Only when I got home I saw a report that a Leopard had been spotted in a back garden not that far away. The area was part of the ISimangalo park which borders the delightful little town that is St Lucia. You might have noticed that there were iron shutters on the window to our room. It seems par for the course in South Africa, along with electric fences, razor wire and security systems and St Lucia is no exception. It does though feel incredibly safe, well from humans anyway. Walking the streets at night you could well have a close encounter with a Hippo but other than the main street where the shops and restaurants are, the streets are deserted at night.

At the far end of town there is a woodland walk which is popular with birdwatchers and although challenging for photography I did manage a few new additions for my list.

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Access to the beach, which has security guards making sure no alcohol is taken there, was a short drive away. The estuary at the far end of this huge sandy beach had plenty of waders, Flamingoes, terns, gulls and ducks to be seen  but again you need to be wary of Hippos and Crocodiles!

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The entrance to both the Eastern and Western Shore parks is again a very short drive away. Claire came with me to eastern Shores and Cape Vidal but passed on the Western Shores. entry fees are very modest but neither park impressed, in fact they were disappointing but it was the wrong season for many birds and the mammals appeared thin on the ground.

We both made the trip on separate days to Imfolozi and Hluhluwe parks. There is a shared entrance gate and the road from St Lucia is excellent and easily covered in under an hour. The scenery is quite spectacular in both parks. Quite hilly with distant views and totally different to the majority of Kruger. Plenty of wildlife to be seen although Imfolozi appeared to have more.By now though I had seen enough Impala, Giraffe etc to no longer even bother taking photographs. I was there just for the ride. Entrance fees were covered by our Wildcard membership which was a bonus. Of the two camps, Hilltop looked the more impressive but I had no wish to stay in either. I was enjoying choosing were to eat out every night in St Lucia , part of the holiday fun for me.

Back to St Lucia we booked a sunset cruise to view the Hippos in Lake St Lucia. Unfortunately it was a very overcast and cold evening so it didn't deliver on the sunset but we had close up views of Hippos which were mainly lethargic and static in the water.

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The highlight for me was seeing a Half Collared Kingfisher, a new one for my list!

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Without a doubt though top of the list for the whole holiday in South Africa was a whale watching trip launched from the beach in the only two licensed small boats that take just 10 passengers. There are, weather permitting 4 trips per day and they are usually booked up. We waited until the weather conditions looked good and then booked to go. 

It was I think, the most impressive wildlife sight I have witnessed and I have been lucky enough to see quite a few. We were warned we would get wet, particularly during the launch through the surf on the beach. We didn't. The sea was flat calm , the sun was shining ( which for photography wasn't ideal!). I have seen Humpback Whales at very close quarters before but never as spectacular as this. First we witnessed tail slapping males and the noise it makes, especially when you are so close but then we had the breaching, not once or twice but over a dozen jumps and a very close but safe distance as to not endanger us or disturb the whales.

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It was a memory to last  life time.

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We had been so lucky to get almost perfect conditions which is far from the norm, especially in August where more sailings are cancelled than launched.

It was so good I decided I would invest another 1400 rand on a second trip. Claire elected to stay behind. After a day of cancelled sailings the day after ours, I managed to get the last seat in the 7.00am trip the rfollowing day. It turned out to be chalk and cheese. The high winds of the previous day had left the sea very choppy indeed. The boat lurched about all over the place and the whales were largely inactive, the only breaches were a long distance off and anyway, photography was nigh impossible as one second the camera was pointing at the sea, the next the sky. The wind was getting stronger by the minute two. The bonus though was that we were visited by two new birds for me. Antarctic Prion and Subantarctic Skua so not all was lost. Sailing back to the beach I was lucky that I had been allocated one of only two seats under the cover of the cuddy. Everyone else got soaked as we hurtled through the waves before the boat is run up on to the sand . It was as it turned out the only sailing of the day, it was deemed too dangerous to go out again so I was lucky to have had my second chance.

So that was it, the trip was over. The final day we drove to Durban and the airport stopping briefly to investigate Richards Bay. Briefly was enough for us to decide it wasn't somewhere we would ever consider stopping at! It's more industrial than tourist.

Over the course of our trip we had driven 4602 kms which was much less than I had estimated I would drive. This was largely due to the proximity of everything in St Lucia and the size of UMkuze reserve. Fuel in South Africa was at 25 rand a litre which was quite a lot cheaper than in the UK, and still is as I write. I had spent less than £300 on petrol. Our entrance fees and guided trips, including the whale watching came to roughly £600. Accommodation costs came to £2800 and the car £1080 which included the extra driver insurance and a one way drop off. We had been fortunate our original flight tickets cost us £1279 so they were inexpensive compared to more recent prices. Self catering was at most £15 a day , eating out maybe £30 including drinks so the food and drink element was probably less than £1000.

So a total cost of around £7000. It's not inexpensive by any means but we had been away for 39 nights and travelled through some spectacular countryside and seen some superb sightings along the way. Looking back now you only remember the best bits, just as I had my first trip to Kruger. Perhaps if you elect to go to a private reserve like Sabi sands you might get to see the "Big Five' all in a day, handed to you on a plate in your guided OSV. Of course, the accommodation will be more luxurious than the chalets of Kruger or Mkuze but for me no more enjoyable. Just as well really because my budget for the whole trip would have been blown in about three days by the time you add in airfares and transport to the reserve.

No, I'm more than happy I did it my way. No matter my financial circumstances, I would choose that way again too.

I hope the information is of help to those who fancy doing something similar, any questions don't hesitate to ask.

You might have noticed most of my photos have been taken on the iPhone. Having had my desktop stolen I might have to wait for a replacement before processing most of my wildlife shots but I'll be posting the avian additions to my Big Year thread in due course for those that might be interested.

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Thank you @Dave Williamsfor an interesting and enjoyable report.

I am pleased you were able to enjoy much of your trip after your awful news, and recognise the emotional and practical difficulties of returning to your home.

 

Mkuze looks like a really good place to visit, and having a longer stay in an excellent guest house in St Lucia seems to have worked really well for you both. The whale photos are incredible, and that this was one of your best wildlife sightings ever says how good it was

 

best wishes to you both from me and @Thursday's Child

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wow those whales looked quite close! and so awesome to watch them breach. 

Thanks for sharing your trip. and looking forward to your BY additions!

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Also best wishes from me, Dave, that this horribly incident will turn in nothing but a bad memory given time. Thanks for the report. Incredible whale sighting, just fantastic. And a brilliant new Kingfisher (photo).

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Love the mauve in Belvedere on River.  The honey badgers were taunting you.  What a whale!

 

I am so sorry you had a break-in while on your holiday.  Really awful and it had to weigh on you during your trip.

 

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offshorebirder
On 9/6/2022 at 2:20 PM, Dave Williams said:

Later that evening just after sunset and whilst I was stood at the braii I was amazed when two Honey Badgers trotted right past me within a few metres.

 

Holy Guacamole!

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/19/2022 at 1:11 AM, offshorebirder said:

 

Holy Guacamole!

 

 

 

Not the best shot I'll ever take, in fact one of the most frustrating experiences but at least the memory is captured even though poorly! So, jus t for Nathan:-

52391436893_8f7f1ea318_b.jpgHoney Badger by Dave Williams, on Flickr

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  • 2 weeks later...

I only found and read through your excellent trip report today. I had heard, of course, about the break-in, but reading that here in detail  makes it even more shocking. I am glad you still decided to continue the trip and enjoy the special moments it offered. Those whale sightings and photos are just incredible and I fully understand how that was the best wildlife experience ever! We visited Mkhuze in 2013 and really enjoyed it. Apparently it is still a good place to visit and I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the future. Thank you for taking the trouble to put together such a detailed report. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

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On 9/28/2022 at 3:19 PM, Dave Williams said:

 

Not the best shot I'll ever take, in fact one of the most frustrating experiences but at least the memory is captured even though poorly! So, jus t for Nathan:-

52391436893_8f7f1ea318_b.jpgHoney Badger by Dave Williams, on Flickr

I agree, I LOVE this shot.  What an opportunity!  Great report btw!

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