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Jochen

(yes, the title makes sense. You'll see)

 

Intro:

 

We were in the lowveld eight months ago and would never have dared dreaming of being back there so soon. Certainly because our "big trip" this year goes to Canada. Normally, our 2nd holiday is a rather cheap one. Either to my parent's place in southern France, or to some affordable European destination. This time we had set our eyes on Portugal, but Sun Safaris made us a very good proposal, so Portugal was easily dismissed (sorry Matt :D ).

 

So a few weeks ago we found ourselves on the platform of the train station of our hometown, waiting for a train to Brussels, and from there the fast train (TGV) to Paris CDH airport. From there the trip goes to Jo'burg with a red eye flight on the A380. And then another flight to Nelspruit. To be honest, of all the aforementioned, only the local train rides scare us. NMBS, our national railway company, screws up a lot.

To remind us of this, there was a young girl on the platform, talking to her folks on her cell phone. She had taken a train in Brussels, which should have been the one going to Charleroi, but it was another train and she ended up in Liedekerke. This is fairly typical for NMBS. She was in tears, as she thought she'd never make the last train to her part of the country now. So, in French, she yammered to her folks "I don't know where I am. Somewhere in Flanders!"

She howled out "Flanders" as if it were a far a way place, some exotic country she'd never been. Perhaps, I thought, she had never been here. Goes to show how very different us and the Walloons are. We hardly have anything in common. Better split this country up. Then at least the individual railway companies would do better (typical for any Belgian government-controlled company is that it does not work). And so she would never end up here no more, nor would she have to wail about it for the whole station to hear.

My thoughts trailed to Africa. People had made fun of us the last time because we still did not have a government four months after the elections. Well... we still don't have a government now. That's a world record I vowed to shut up about around the campfire.

 

The train came (15 mins too late, as usual), but we had made sure we had plenty of time in Brussels. So no more trouble from then on. The TGV seats were 1st class (Air France always gives you that if you book a flight with them), and our seats on the A380 were pre-chosen using SeatGuru.com.

 

We landed in time in Jo'Burg, but had plenty of time to spare there. There were two flights to Nelspruit. One only one hour after we landed (so we dared not book that one, which was a wise decision as we would never have made it). And one in the afternoon. We did a bit of shopping, ate a small snack, and a whole lot of resting. About 24 hours later we finally found ourselves in a van from Nelspruit to Sabi Sands' Shawns Gate.

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OK, here we go!   We left that morning, and soon found ngala (lion) spoor. And soon after that, the lions (thank you, Moses!) Two males and a female. Here's one of the males:     We left them a

Day two!   That morning we got a nice impala show. It's rutting season, so the males chase each other around, and chase their females around as well. Incredible how high an impala can jump. Again th

Day three.   Yup, the cold front was there, albeit (luckily) without being overcast. Still, there was a cold wind, and it was at least 5 to 10 degrees colder. For the first time, the long trousers

Jochen

We arrived at Umkumbe shortly after sunset, and were met by the owners Herman and Celeste. They showed us our room and made us feel right at home. And home it was. This business is family-run. Herman does most of the game drives, together with a very good tracker called Moses. Celeste does the bookings and most of the management tasks. This is them:

 

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Their kids (two boys) are in college and are only there during weekends, so we only saw them briefly that night, as it was Sunday evening and they had to get back to school, to beat up their peers in a good rugby match. Good choice of sport, I admitted. One of the few rare sports I like, together with ice hockey and perhaps boxing. I mean; in a rugby match they might lose a tooth, or blood may be dripping from their faces, at least they still try to make the goal. Compare that with football (US:soccer), where they fall on the ground and whimper for 15 minutes just because someone touched them.

 

Anyway... Herman told us we were going to be all alone at the lodge. No other guests. Apparently we were just in between other groups of people. In fact, the next weekend a really big group was coming in, filling up the whole lodge (the rooms, plus the dorm as well). So Herman absolutely wanted a deck extension to be finished before that time. More on the dorm and the deck later.

 

The lodge and our room were great, but Herman immediately showed us what's really important and offered us a small (30 mins) night safari just before dinner. Of course we did not say no to that. Our first good sighting on that short ride was a white tailed mongoose. Mira's got it on video. It was too dark for pics. The rest were ungulates, which we left alone once we identified them.

 

Dinner was excellent (and in case I forget to mention it later; it was excellent throughout our stay), and as I said: our room was fantastic too. But we decided to hop straight into bed and have a better look in the morning. We needed to catch up on sleep (damn red eye flights...) and be ready for our first game drive in the morning.

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Jochen

I'll give you guys all info on the lodge first. Get that out of the way, so I can talk about nothing but the game drives afterwards.

 

Umkumbe is on the Sabi river front. That river front proved to be very wide (had not anticipated that, but it makes sense given the amount of water that passes by in the rainy season). Right now, the water is still flowing constantly - I guess it does so throughout the year - but only in the regular (deepest) part of the riverbed. This "deepest part" changes over time. Right now it is at the far edge, but next year it may be in front of the lodge. One can clearly see that the middle part of the riverbed is the highest. That middle part has a lot of luscious grass, so from the deck you can see nyarhi (buffalo) coming to feast on it, and you can see ndlopfu (elephant) coming to drink too. This is a view from the riverbed:

 

1_037.jpg

 

The central part of the lodge is on the left, their own home (barely visible from the lodge itself) is on the right. The central part of the lodge that is visible on the pic contains a bar, a place where everyone can dine under a thatched roof and a sun deck (which, as you can see, was being rebuilt while we were there but which is already finished by now). More to the back is a bigger building which now contains the kitchen and a dorm, but which will soon be turned into a reception area and curio shop (they are no longer booking groups). In between that building and the one on the pic is a garden with an open air salon (under thatch as well) and a boma where you can enjoy dinner around the campfire.

 

More to the left are the units where guests sleep. Ours was a bit to the back, just behind the trees, so you cannot see it on the above pic, but even further to the left is another unit with three rooms (plus bathrooms) in it, and that one is visible from the river. Here it is;

 

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That unit had just been refurbished. It was the last one to get an overhaul. So I got the scoop, lol. Here's what you can expect:

 

Room 1:

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Room 2:

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Room 3:

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Note the missing led lights, lol. They were coming in that afternoon. So I'm quite certain this is the 1st pic ever of that room. In fact, I sent some pics to Sun Safaris. I'm sure they can use them.

 

This is one of the bathrooms:

1_035.jpg

 

I should not forget our own room:

1_031.jpg

 

I know I said it lots of times before; I prefer canvas over stone walls. The reason is not the concrete itself, but rather because lots of lodges tend to make their rooms too closed off from your natural surroundings. They add airco, and therefor add small doubled glazed windows as well, which lots of times cant even be opened. Well, Umkumbe was better then; the airco remained off at all times (I want to hear the sounds of the night), and the windows were rather big and we kept them open at all times. Here, I did not mind the stone walls at all.

 

Enough about the lodge, on to the gamedrives!

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twaffle

This is great reading Jochen, I'm enjoying it very much. Why are they discontinuing group bookings? The lodge looks nice but I'm looking forward to game sightings.

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Jochen

OK, here we go!

 

We left that morning, and soon found ngala (lion) spoor. And soon after that, the lions (thank you, Moses!) Two males and a female. Here's one of the males:

 

1_013.jpg

 

We left them after about an hour.

 

Other "special" sightings that morning; a dark chanting goshawk in flight, and a pearl spotted owlet. Apart from that; lots of kudu, impala, waterbuck, some dagga boys, a giraffe, a brown snake eagle and a crested barbet. And lots of stuff I forgot (I am passed the point of whipping out my camera for every sighting...). A couple of pics:

 

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That morning, we did not get that far from the lodge; we drove all around camp (so: all the parts near the river), and then a bit further west. Lost of mixed woodland, and a huge area of bushy patches with some nice open areas here and there. And some mopane patches too. But in the afternoon Herman took us further from the lodge. the western part of Umkumbe goes all the way up to the fence, and there's a big open area there. A grass veld as far as the eye can see, with even a little stream running through it if I recall correctly.

 

Again we saw the regular plains game, but this time we had some other treats like warthogs, slender mongoose, LBR, and vervet monkeys. Top sightings that afternoon; purple roller, a very good zebra sighting, and last but not least; umkumbe (rhino). We spent a HUGE amount of time with a rhino family (male female and calf), just milling about in the long grass enjoying themselves. Such magnificent animals. I do like a bit of company now and then, but in some way we were lucky that day that there was no one else in our jeep who asked to go look for something else.

 

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After sundowners, the night drive revealed hyena, chameleon, civet (video only), scrub hare, and even a mouse.

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Jochen

Why are they discontinuing group bookings?

 

I think it's a combination of things.

 

First of all; it could be that groups get in the way of regular visitors too much. I mean; those groups come for a much lower price I presume (there's groups, like church groups, whose prime focus is not even on wildlife). So if you cannot book a "regular" customer because a group is taking the rooms ..you end up losing money.

Secondly I also think it's the work involved; catering for big groups, making sure they can all go on a drive if needed, providing space and equipment to give lectures, ... all that kind of stuff.

 

Mind you; I am sure they will still book groups (and even give a good group discount :lol: ) but then only for people using the regular rooms and following the regular (game drive) regime. The dorm is definitely going to be turned into something else.

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Jochen

Day two!

 

That morning we got a nice impala show. It's rutting season, so the males chase each other around, and chase their females around as well. Incredible how high an impala can jump. Again the usual suspects after that. Had very good sightings that morning of waterbuck and bateleur.

 

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(sorry for not describing more sightings. We DID get plenty to see, but nothing special so I just treasured the moment, did not take pics ...and by now I forgot what we exactly saw).

 

In the afternoon we went to the plains again. This time we were treated with more rhino, and a nice elephant herd.

 

First something about the rhino; the were just on the other side of the cutline this time, on Sabi Sabi territory. I wish I had taken a picture of that cutline. On one end; the high, blonde grass like it is supposed to be at this time of the year. And on the other side; a football field. Obviously Sabi Sabi has "helped" nature a bit. The grass had been cut. Perhaps to give the rhino greener pastures. But more importantly to give their customers a more clear shot of whatever animals decide to go stand on their football field, for sure. I found it to be unnatural looking (well; it was, quite literally). And although this was a different rhino family than the day before (dad was ehm... very horny) I only kept one shot of them in my final album.

 

1_074.jpg

 

When we drove off, a jeep of Sabi Sabi drove in, and started photographing the rhino. And I could not help but wonder; "will they notice the difference of the grasses on either side of the cutline? And if so, will their suspension of disbelief do what's necessary?" I hoped so for them.

 

The elephants' sighting was much nicer then. Yes, again in the high grass. And yes, because of that you hardly see their legs. But at least it looked natural. I loved every minute of it. And again we spent as much time as we wanted with them. In fact, we spent the rest of the afternoon with them. Food for the soul, this was.

 

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That afternoon and evening the weather started to turn. A cold front was definitely coming. Wind was picking up too. So our night drive did not reveal much. A lot of the animals already went into hiding. But we DID get a fantastic sunset.

 

1_058.jpg

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Jochen

Day three.

 

Yup, the cold front was there, albeit (luckily) without being overcast. Still, there was a cold wind, and it was at least 5 to 10 degrees colder. For the first time, the long trousers came out. Mira covered herself in blankets. Game was definitely much more sparse that morning. The only "special" sighting was a brown-hooded kingfisher. The snap's not fantastic as it was sitting in the shade. But oh well, you don't see these often so...

 

1_067.jpg

 

Herman, "he who only wears trousers on weddings" in Shangaan, wasn't exactly feeling warm either.

 

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We saw one rhino again, but far away.

 

That noon I decided to go on a little bird hunt on the lodge premises. After all, this was the day my chances were slightly better. Normally birds are most active in the morning, while we were out on gamedrive, and they'd be hiding from the sun by the time we have had breakfast. But since that day it was only starting to warm up a bit after 11 AM... Well, I did quite a few species. My RAWS show hornbills, babblers, starlings, a few LBJs, a hadeda ibis, a scarlet-chested sunbird, white-browed robin-chat and black-backed puffback. Here's some pics:

 

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The one that got away without granting me a sharp image was the male paradise flycatcher (long tail).

 

By then, us and Herman had become good friends. Seems we share the same sense of humor, to name but one thing. And while he helped me with trees and shrubs (been trying to get the most common species into my head, with the plant to never let them escape again), I helped him with his photographic skills. He knows perfectly where to position the vehicle and all that, but needed to get to know his new gear. So when we heard that there was a group of day trippers coming in that afternoon, and that we'd be joining them, we were a tad uneasy. Was the experience going to be the same? We need not have worried; Johan (the guide for that afternoon) was a great guy as well. He knew the area well, and has worked together with Herman (or for Herman) lots of times.

 

Unfortunately for those day-trippers, the cold front was still in full swing. So Johan tried his best, but did not have it easy. Yes, we saw most of the "regulars", including ellies and hyena. But I can't recall seeing rhino that afternoon. Nor any cats.

 

We did come across some dagga boys though. One guy was absolutely massive. Check out the horns;

 

1_070.jpg

 

I had told Herman and also Johan that, if all possible, I would like to have a shot of big game with a (full) vehicle in the frame. Today was going to be my only chance for that pic, as the day afterwards we'd be all alone again. So he dropped me and the tracker off behind a bush (and near a tree to clime! :P ) and repositioned the vehicle behind the two dagga boys. Dilemma: the bufallo needed to look my way. Was this going to work? Well yes, since I was upwind. Duh. He didn't like this though, and veered off. I took the shot anyway, but his nose was out the frame. Here's the pic, with the aid of a bit of PhotoShop (blush):

 

1_072.jpg

 

 

On with the show; best sighting for me were tho giraffe during the golden hour:

 

1_052.jpg

 

We stopped for drinks on an old railway line, which is about the highest point of the property. The tracks are gone though.

 

1_087.jpg

 

After a short but uneventful night drive, we arrived in camp for dinner around the campfire. I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the day trippers. They most certainly had expected to see more. The weather was against them, for sure. But the most important lesson must surely be; STAY! LONG! ENOUGH!

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Jochen

Day four, and the cold front was still there.

 

Sunrise was absolutely stunning that morning

 

1_063.jpg

 

We saw a bit more game that day, and had good sightings of elephant (lone bull), vultures and waterbuck. Still no cats to be found. We combed out the area closest to the river, and found leopard tracks, but she escaped us.

 

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In the afternoon, Herman had a little surprise in store for us; it was our turn in the "bait seat" (the tracker seat, that is).

 

Other guides may call this unprofessional, but Herman has had his own boys in that seat since they were two years old. And quite frankly, you are just as safe in that seat than in any other seat of the vehicle. It's a little thing that he does, just to give his "product" a unique touch, and we loved it. Unfortunately, we did not run into "dangerous" game. The only thing that comes close is a hyena that passed a few meters in front of me. I still treasure the moment though.

 

Anyway, we had great fun taking dives into lugga's (dry riverbeds) and back up again. And filming it all. At one point, I laid Mira's video cam on the ground, and it filmed the Landy while it was approaching with Mira in the tracker seat. We drove over it (not on it, hehe) and the stopped the vehicle and picked the cam back up.

 

Finally we stopped at some rhino on the plains in the west, and had our sundowners a few meters away, while Herman tried his newly acquired photography skills on the rhino. Whenever it went away a bit, Herman lured it closer by imitating the snorting, shuffling of feet, and grass being eaten.

 

1_056.jpg

 

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Here's a little outro for you guys;

 

1_088.jpg

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Jochen

Looking back on Umkumbe; I must say we were quite pleased with it.

 

I mean, we did get to see a lot. Yeah sure, a bit more cats would have been great but that's mainly because of the lousy weather the last two days. Besides, another species made up for that; we saw rhino EVERY day. So Umkumbe, Shangaan for rhino, lives up to it's name.

 

If you look at the rooms, the meals, the hospitality of the owners (some of the finest people we ever met), the location near the river, and the game we saw, then there can be only one conclusion; this place is a gem.

 

And if you consider the price (R1850 pppn) and the location in the reserve (in between famous and pricy places such as Mala Mala, Londolozi and Sabi Sabi), then the conclusion is; it's not only a gem, it's a steal.

 

Next weekend part two; nThambo in Klaserie.

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Looking back on Umkumbe; I must say we were quite pleased with it.

 

I mean, we did get to see a lot. Yeah sure, a bit more cats would have been great but that's mainly because of the lousy weather the last two days. Besides, another species made up for that; we saw rhino EVERY day. So Umkumbe, Shangaan for rhino, lives up to it's name.

 

If you look at the rooms, the meals, the hospitality of the owners (some of the finest people we ever met), the location near the river, and the game we saw, then there can be only one conclusion; this place is a gem.

 

And if you consider the price (R1850 pppn) and the location in the reserve (in between famous and pricy places such as Mala Mala, Londolozi and Sabi Sabi), then the conclusion is; it's not only a gem, it's a steal.

 

Next weekend part two; nThambo in Klaserie.

 

Jochen, Umkumbe is one of the places that I've been wanting to have more info on for some time, and kudos to you for the coverage on the lodge. This would surely come in handy for all who are wanting to visit Sabi Sands area. One question though, am not clear if you can visit the other lodge's areas/reserves (Londolozi, Mala Mala etc.), or there's a limitation of any sort to that. I'd assume not, but just want to confirm, as Umkumbe could be a very affordable alternative to visit the "Leopard capital" of South Afica.

 

Great pictures, especially of the stunning sunsets. Any news of The Mapogos?

Can't wait for the next installment :)

 

EDIT:

 

 

Umkumbe is on the Sabi river front. That river front proved to be very wide (had not anticipated that, but it makes sense given the amount of water that passes by in the rainy season). Right now, the water is still flowing constantly - I guess it does so throughout the year - but only in the regular (deepest) part of the riverbed. This "deepest part" changes over time. Right now it is at the far edge, but next year it may be in front of the lodge. One can clearly see that the middle part of the riverbed is the highest. That middle part has a lot of luscious grass, so from the deck you can see nyarhi (buffalo) coming to feast on it, and you can see ndlopfu (elephant) coming to drink too. This is a view from the riverbed:

 

I guess this map can help in visualizing you accurate description of the location too!

Edited by Shreyas
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Sangeeta

"The elephants' sighting was much nicer then. Yes, again in the high grass. And yes, because of that you hardly see their legs. But at least it looked natural. I loved every minute of it. And again we spent as much time as we wanted with them. In fact, we spent the rest of the afternoon with them. Food for the soul, this was."

 

Beautifully put, Jochen. Really enjoyed the first installment.

 

So interesting that your zebra photo illustrates exactly the same behavior that was mentioned on the other thread by Ice, and now that we know that represents, I'm looking at it as so much more than just a very nice photograph.

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Atravelynn

From the vehicle filling the frame to your birds and leaping impala, this place really is a gem. It is harder to get some of these photos than relaxed predator shots.

 

Edited, at Atravelynn's request. Matt.

 

Looking forward to the next installment and more zebras and their farts.

Edited by Game Warden
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Game Warden

Atravelynn: I have edited out the text which caused offence in Jochen's post. Jochen, please refrain from using language which causes offence to other Safaritalk members - please refer to Safaritalk's forum rules.

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ZaminOz

Jochen

Nice narrative report and great pics. Cheers :)

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Jochen

Atravelynn: I have edited out the text which caused offence in Jochen's post. Jochen, please refrain from using language which causes offence to other Safaritalk members - please refer to Safaritalk's forum rules.

 

Matt, Lynn,

 

Sorry for having offended. I'll use the word "sissies" from now on. :P

 

Cheers,

 

J.

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Jochen

Great pictures, especially of the stunning sunsets. Any news of The Mapogos?

Can't wait for the next installment :)

 

Thanks Shreyas. Apparently the Mapogos are no longer around, or at least not as one group. I don't have any details on the lions we saw at Umkumbe, but I don't think the Papogos were ever there, otherwise I'm sure Herman would have mentioned it.

 

 

I guess this map can help in visualizing you accurate description of the location too!

 

That's the place!!

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Jochen

Jochen

Nice narrative report and great pics. Cheers :)

 

Thx Zaminoz!

 

J.

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Treepol

Jochen,

 

Good to hear that you had a wonderful safari. Thanks for such a detailed report and the photos. Umkumbe looks a very comfortable camp and the variety of wildlife is interersting. Wow - this is a great taster for Umkumbe and I will be there in about a month, I do hope I get to ride in the bait seat! Umkumbe and Shindzela are our only chance of seeing rhino and after reading your report I am hopeful that we will be lucky.

 

Looking forward to the next instalment.

 

 

Regards,

 

 

 

Denise.

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Jochen

Hey Denise,

 

You WILL get your time on the tracker seat. If not, I will eat my hat.

 

And you are there for at least a day or two-three right? Then you WILL see rhino. No doubt in my mind about that either!

 

B.Regs,

 

J.

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Treepol

Jochen,

 

we have 2 nights at Umkumbe preceded by 3 nights at Shindzela - do you have any idea how long the transfers will take?

 

Oh goody, the bait seat and rhino. My friend who is a newbie (this is her first overseas trip) says she is struggling with the idea of open safari vehicles so the idea of the bait seat is totally beyond her. :)

 

Regards,

 

Denise.

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Jochen

Hi Denise,

 

The transfer will take about 2.5 hours. Problem is you need to go out the Timbavati gate, to Hoedspruit en then south to Hazyview, and then East again, to Shawn's Gate. And there are road works on the R40. There's no other way though. Via Kruger park would take much longer.

 

The transfers are done at mid day, so you can still do a last game drive at Dave's place, and the evening game drive with Herman. Better make sure though; ask beforehand about that transfer! Since you only have 2 nights at Umkumbe, that means four gamedrives (I assume you'll be able to have your last one in the morning on the day you leave?)

 

B.Regs,

 

J.

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Treepol

Hi Jochen,

 

thanks for that detail, I will follow up. Did you use Schoeman’s Transfers, just wondering which company does the midday transfers as I would like to maximise the game drive opportunities.

 

Regards,

 

Denise.

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Jochen

Hey Denise,

 

I forgot the company name. Transfers were arranged by Sun Safaris (like the rest of the trip excl international flights).

 

B.Regs

 

J.

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