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Atravelynn

Penguins to Puku

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The comments on Simons Town are like a visitor describing the back yard that belongs to some of you. While residents of the region may know it better, I really liked that backyard.

 

First and Foremost—THE WINE LIST. Including a wine list with one’s trip report seems to have become fashionable on some forums so I will take a stab at being fashionable and propelling Safaritalk to the fashion forefront.

 

I often order two starters instead of one entrée and that was the plan at the restaurant, The Meeting Place in Simons Town. I had settled on the Parmesan Asparagus and asked the waiter to choose another starter and a South African wine for me. He chose the Moroccan Couscous and poured me a red wine and wrote down the name of it, at my request. My meal, including the wine, was delightful and now I had my wine list.

 

THE WINE LIST—SOUTH AFRICA, JULY 2008

Goats Do Roam

 

That’s it. My one wine. And that’s what it’s called. The only wine on my list and it turns out to be goat wine. How embarrassing. It’s not like I’ve listed all sorts of impressive names such as Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet, and Sauvignon and the Goats can Roam discretely in the midst of the these. No, with a single entry, the goats can roam but they can’t hide.

 

I did not ask what year it was, so I don’t know just when these goats were roaming, nor do I know exactly in which vineyard they chose to roam.

 

I googled the wine, hoping for some redeeming qualities. I found that it “woos adventurous and discerning consumers.” I may not be all that discerning, but I’m a tad adventurous and it’s nice to know that I was being wooed by my beverage while savoring my asparagus. With increasing enthusiasm, I read it has “full bodied distinct dark fruit and spice.” I vividly recalled some full bodied dark fruit taste during that meal. But then I wasn’t sure if it was the wine or the raisins in my Moroccan Couscous.

 

“This whimsically named robust wine is perfect for the cold months.” Well, there you go—it was the perfect combo of whimsy and robustness and the perfect choice for July. I drank red Goats do Roam wine and I’m proud of it!

 

Careening from the ridiculous to the absolutely absurd, here’s a photo that should win first prize in any contest. No remote setup for this one-of-a-kind wildlife interaction, which has never before been captured on film/memory card. It is so remarkable that I no longer suffer my photographic inferiority complex known as “Pentax envy.”

 

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Itinerary:

 

July18 Fly from Chicago to DC to Joburg to Cape Town

 

July 19 Arrive in the evening in Cape Town; o/nt Waterfront Hotel with airport transfer by Take2 Tours

 

July 20 morning Robben Island, Cape Town city tour and sightseeing drive to Simons Town by Take2; o/nt Central Hotel

 

July 21 Full Day Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve; o/nt Sea Spray

 

July 22 morning-Shark Trip 1; afternoon-penguins at Boulders Bay; o/nt Sea Spray

 

July 23 morning-Shark Trip 2; afternoon-Baboon walk w/Baboon Matters; o/nt Sea Spray

 

July 24 morning-Shark Trip 3; afternoon-Kirstenbosch Gardens w/Take2 Tours; o/nt Sea Spray

 

July 25 morning-Shark Trip 4; afternoon-Baboon walk w/Baboon Matters; o/nt Sea Spray

 

July 26 morning-Shark Trip 5; afternoon-penguins Boulders Bay; o/nt Central Hotel

 

July 27 morning-Shark Trip 6; afternoon-Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve w/Take2 Tours; o/nt Central Hotel

 

July 28 morning-Shark Trip 7; short visit to penguins; transport to airport w/Take2 Tours partner; fly to Joburg & o/nt Southern Sun O.R. Tambo

 

July 29 6:30 am Joburg-Lusaka flight, on to Mfuwe, drive to Kakuli (Norman Carr) in South Luangwa

 

July 30 Kakuli

 

July 31 Kutandala in North Luangwa 5 nts

 

Aug 5 Depart N. Luangwa to Mfuwe to Lusaka to Joburg to DC

 

Aug 6 DC-Chicago

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Look forward to comparing your penguin photos with mine.

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Great White Sharks at Seal Island in False Bay departing Simons Town with African Shark Eco-Charters

 

-Out to the Sharks- Get to the dock a little before 7:00 am, and board at 7:00 am. That was July, maybe times change in other months when sunrise is earlier.

 

After orientation and a safety talk, the ride to Seal Island in False Bay took half an hour, motoring at a good clip. The maximum number of passengers was 12 and up to 6 could sit on top. The ride out to the island was cold, windy, and bumpy in July if you chose up top. I usually headed up top immediately because for some parts of the trip, this was the best spot to see. The sunrise offers some nice photo ops if conditions are right.

 

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-Part I of the Shark Trip- Upon arrival at Seal Island, the first 30 minutes to 90 minutes was spent looking for shark predations on the seals. If the seals were moving out to sea to feed, the odds of predation went up. For two consecutive days, the seals did not swim off of the island in search of food and we saw no natural predations. Another day, lots of seals were moving and we had more than one predation going on at a time.

 

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Mornings and evenings are when most of the predations occur, but they can happen at any time. The sharks may breach in a stealth attack from below, or they may grab the seal at the water’s surface. The breaches are the most exciting, but also the toughest to spot because there is no warning (none of that da-dump da-dump music precedes the attack) and the breach takes only a couple of seconds. It can occur anywhere in the 360 degrees around the boat, close by or near the horizon. You have to be looking in the right place at the right time.

 

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In 7 shark trips, I saw over a dozen natural predations, many with the shark’s head briefly protruding from the water, along with several breaches completely out of the water. One of the breaches could have been the poster that appeared on the dock, advertising the company’s trips. For the time of year, the predation activity was less than normal.

 

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This is not the best quality picture but it shows a shark with a seal.

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-Part II of the Shark Trip-After watching for natural predations, the next part of the morning was spent trolling with a seal shaped decoy to entice a shark to breach in response to the decoy. The maximum number of breaches that were usually allowed was two. That’s because it takes a lot of energy for the shark to breach (two swishes of the tail), and with no food reward, too much of that activity can take a toll. Limiting decoy breaching was one of many indications that show this company respects the sharks. With real seals, the sharks have over a 50% successful kill rate. Two days we had no breaching sharks on the decoy, two days we had one, and four days we had two breaches in response to the decoy.

 

Compare these two breaching photos of mine with a collage from a serious amatuer, at the end of this post.

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The best place to photograph this breach for the decoy is to kneel to the left of the motor on the back end of the boat. They have a pad you can kneel on. Other good places are (1) to kneel or sit to the right of the motor at the back of the boat or (2) to stand up top along the left rail (left of the motor) at the back of the boat or (3) to stand up top along the right rail (right of the motor) at the back. Those are the four best spots, listed in order, so with 12 people, not everyone is in a prime spot for photography. That was never a problem on any of my 7 days out because we had only a few serious photographers and many people preferred to just watch because catching the breach on camera was hard to do and interfered with the ability to just enjoy the sight.

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-Part III of the Shark Trip-After the breaching from the decoy occurred, or after about 40 minutes of trying without success, the boat would make a trip around Seal Island where you could see the 40,000 to 50,000 noisy, pungent fur seals, plus a colony of penguins, and Cape Cormorants. There were about 20 nests of the rare Bank Cormorants as well, but we did not see them. This trip was executed so the light was in the right place for photos.

 

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-Part IV of the Shark Trip- The last part of the trip was the cage diving. The cage is kept on the boat until it is used and then it is lowered into the water by three of the crew members and tethered to the side of the boat. For those not in the cage, the best place to see the sharks that would approach the boat was from the top deck that was limited to 6 people. There was no chumming to attract the sharks (again to minimize intruding on their natural behavior) but the seal decoy and a fish head/buoy were each tossed out of the back on a rope. Sometimes the engines were momentarily revved and the crew would bang against the boat to attract the attention of the naturally curious sharks.

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Then the waiting game began. Sometimes the sharks appeared immediately and sometimes it took over 2 hours. When a Great White appeared, the fish head was yanked into the boat so that it was not rewarded with food. If the shark just took a look at us and swam on by it was labeled a “drive by.” When one decided to hang around, it was called a “player.” When we picked up a player, it was such a privilege to know this wild creature of the ocean chose to hang around the boat out of curiosity and interest because they were not rewarded with food. Both drive bys and players could be seen from the deck (with the best views from up top) but it took a player for the cage diving to get underway.

 

Cage Diving Here is how the cage diving worked, as recounted by an observer from the boat who never went into the cage. My husband did not want me in the shark cage and I obliged since the only other demand he has made of me is that I replace the roll of toilet paper when I use it up. Because my compliance with the tp directive is sometimes shaky, I felt compelled to be 100% compliant with staying out of the shark cage.

 

The cage holds two, or maybe three participants if two are a pair and don’t mind being in close contact. The first group gets suited up in the onboard wetsuits (with masks, hoods, gloves, feet, and sizes up to 3X Extra Large, but BYO towel and wear a bathing suit or swim trunks) and waits for a player.

 

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The 7-foot tall shark cage never leaves the side of the boat and a portion of it remains out of the water where the divers can surface. The divers are helped into the cage (which is completely safe to do even with sharks swimming by) and they are given the breathing device so they can remain under water. If they prefer to just hold their breath and surface periodically for air, that’s fine too. Divers can maintain a grasp on the bars at the top of the cage, which is out of water, at all times if they choose, to steady themselves. About 15 minutes in the cold water is sufficient for most people, and then the next group goes in. Anywhere from 4 to about 7 people chose to go in the cage.

 

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All the while, everyone else on the boat watches the sharks swimming around. The best water visibility that can be expected is about 15 meters, which is considerable given the water is just over 30 meters at its deepest. Our best visibility when sharks were present about 7 meters, with most days about 5 meters. The clearest and calmest day must have been 10 meters visibility, but we had no players and no one went into the cage. There was also one day when the visibility was so poor and seas were so rough that no one opted to go into the cage. But the other 5 days all divers got to see Great White Sharks underwater.

 

Everyone who went into the cage enjoyed the experience and felt it was worth it. Some were apprehensive at first, but they ended up being more in awe of the sharks than afraid. They said you could better appreciate the girth of the sharks from in the water as opposed to on the boat. One woman changed her mind right after she got into the cage and she was immediately helped back into the boat. There was no pressure to stay in the cage. A few people went back in a second time after everyone had one turn in the cage. Unlike some of the other operators who pull bait INTO the cage to bring the shark close and offer a thrill, Eco-Charters removes the fish head and buoy whenever a shark gets close.

 

No diving certification is needed for the cage and there is no problem flying after diving because you don’t go down more than a couple of feet.

 

The best underwater pictures were not taken from the cage. Instead, the photographers had their cameras in massive waterproof housings and hung them off the back of the boat. A couple of guys just submerged the cameras with their hands in the water as sharks approached the camera for a look. Now that would scare me, whereas the cage diving would not. A better technique was to attach the camera to a long pole. The best method was using a pole for the camera and two ropes hooked to a special belt on the photographer and tethered to the boat to hold him in place.

 

-End of the Shark Trip-The cage was pulled back onto the boat and we would speed off, back to the harbor, arriving anywhere between 12:30 and 1:40. If we saw a whale, we would stop to look. There were two days when the 7:00 am departure was delayed an hour and one of those days we did not get back until almost 2:00. If you plan afternoon activities, keep the possible late return in mind. If they get enough bookings, occasionally there are afternoon shark trips that do the same activities, but look for predation at the end of the trip. Usually the afternoon activities focus more on the cage diving and see fewer predations, but you never know.

 

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Each day a cooler with sandwiches, chips, drinks, and snacks was on board. It made a good lunch, but depending on the proximity to Seal Island and the wind direction, the smell did not always provide an appetizing ambience. People started eating about 9:30 am.

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Cruella the Shark

Named for the nemesis in 101 Dalmatians, this shark was the most active one that had ever been seen in the area with a habit of stealing the buoy/fish head or seal decoy. Her tactics were stealthy and evasive. This was one smart shark. Cruella was a joy to watch and even the experienced crew was sometimes outwitted by her techniques and had to replace the buoy she destroyed. She was easy to spot because her dorsal fin had a white mark on it and her nose was slightly blue from brushing against a blue boat. She had first been seen about 3 weeks ago and had immediately established a reputation. She was expected to be around for another week or two. The extreme unpredictability of sharks was demonstrated when Cruella showed up during one of our outings and we expected to be treated to her routine of antics. But she had other plans and pulled a drive by that day without any interaction.

 

Observations about the Shark Trips

*For the peak predation season of June-August, book early, especially for a group, because space is very limited with a max of 24 spots. If a pro photographer has booked one of the boats, as was the case for 3 of my days, then it is down to 12 spots.

 

*The 24 spots represent two boats that each take 12. Chris Fallows has one boat and Rob Lawrence has the other; both are part of African Shark Eco-Charters. I spent the entire week with Rob, but both boats went to the same area around Seal Island and stayed out about the same amount of time, so the only difference was the luck of where the sharks decided to swim.

 

*There was never a day when we saw no sharks--some days there no predations, some days no decoy breaching, and once no players around the boat. But there were always at least 3-4 sharks that swam past the boat and we usually ended up seeing about 10 or more, between predations, breaches, and swimming sharks. Every day was different, but successful.

 

*Half a Bonine before departure worked wonders for me with no drowsiness.

 

*Bring sun cream to prevent burning your face, even in cold weather, plus sun protection lip balm.

 

* Though water and soft drinks are provided, I liked my own water bottle.

 

* There is a regular toilet on board and a small amount of paper could be used. You had to tell Captain Rob to flush it with an external button.

 

*Bring hand sanitizer for use after the toilet and before eating from the cooler.

 

*On Sundays sometimes other private boats would come out and follow to get a look. A permit is needed to tow a decoy so they had to watch ours. I was told this could be a nuisance but the Sunday I was out, the bad weather kept the other boats in port. A few other days there was one, maybe two other boats in the area that were not supposed to be there.

 

*Captain Rob and the crew were very informative and congenial and they mixed with the guests on the main deck and up top. They were a great group that was fun to get to know over a week’s time.

 

*I saw no tipping guidelines and I did not notice others tipping, but I gave a very modest lump sum at the end of my week to Captain Rob for the crew.

 

*The estimate was that there were between 20 and 30 Great Whites that hung around Seal Island at one time, with new sharks coming and going on about a monthly basis.

 

*The people really interested in sharks or serious about shark photography booked 4-10 days of trips. Those of us with longer stays represented about 3 of the participants each day, the rest being day-trippers. I extended my 5 days of shark viewing to 7 because it was so fascinating. To get a broad spectrum of the behavior of Great Whites, several days are needed. To just see a Great White Shark, only one day is needed, assuming weather does not cancel the trip.

 

*I was told that as predation picked up, the breaching for the decoy and the interest in the boat and cage diminished. During my week’s stay, my observations and experience supported that theory.

 

*With a 5 day shark trip booking, you receive complimentary lodging at the Sea Spray, a posh self catering accommodation overlooking the bay in Simons Town.

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Penguins in Boulders Bay in Simons Town

 

Advance apologies for the many penguin pictures. These creatures were one of the big reasons for the trip.

 

* It is so easy to get to the penguins on foot from anywhere in Simons Town. It is about a 20-minute walk from the shark boat dock along the main street and walking around Simons Town is completely safe. The prominent naval base there seems to contribute to the safety.

 

* There are two entrances to the penguins along the main street. I would suggest entering at one and exiting at the other to be sure you cover all their habitat areas.

 

* The entrance fee is 25 Rand, but if you just want to walk along the boardwalk that is the farthest from the ocean, where the penguins nest and hang out, there is no charge. I always paid the entrance fee for greater access.

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* The hours of operation for the park vary by season, but in July it was 8:00 to 5:00, with the last people admitted at 5:00, but you did not have to leave right at 5:00 if you were already in.

 

* I had read to avoid visiting on weekends because it can get crowded. There was even a sign at the entrance that indicated: Open, Closed, and Full. I can’t imagine how unpleasant it would be if the place reached maximum capacity. But in July there were not many people and I couldn’t tell the difference in numbers between weekday and weekend.

 

* There were dassies sitting around near the penguins and they were submissive to them. They are like rock hyraxes.

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* Around 4 pm to 5 pm, groups of penguins came ashore after fishing in the ocean. That was exciting to see them waddle out of the water onto the beach en masse. About an hour to an hour and a half before they made it to shore, you could look out in the ocean and see groups of tiny black and white shapes bobbing in the waves in the distance. One night the penguins arrived about 4:50 pm on the main beach. Another night one small group got back about 5:45 and the other penguins were still at sea and looked like they would beach themselves in an area where you couldn’t see them.

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* I spent two 3-hour sessions with the penguins and one final short visit before leaving for the airport and enjoyed every minute. In contrast, I overheard others saying they were not that impressed with the penguins, plus they smelled. It’s true about the smell.

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* I saw tours that spent less than an hour with the penguins. That is plenty of time to cover the entire grounds and see probably 100+ penguins—adults, chicks, juveniles—on the beach and in the nesting areas. It is not enough time if you want the perfect penguin picture or you want to watch more than a few twig’s worth of nest building or you want to wait for them to swim ashore after their day in the ocean.

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Baboon Walk with Baboon Matters

 

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I felt this encounter was right up there with the gorilla and chimp visits. The baboons are habituated to human presence in similar manner and you get a close glimpse of troop life for a couple of hours, with no set time limit for the visit. Participation in this activity at 250 Rand/person (lots less than the $500 gorilla visit) supports two dozen local monitors who help keep the baboons away from the towns so they don’t raid these inhabited areas. It is a win-win-win scenario for the local citizens who want to be baboon-free, for those employed as monitors, and for the Cape Chacma Baboons—the only protected baboons in Africa.

 

* There were two troops you could visit, named for the dominant male in each, and I visited both George’s troop and Eric’s troop. Each troop had the whole spectrum of members and they were equally interesting as they went about their business of eating, grooming, mating, sleeping, nursing, playing, sparring, and climbing trees, in our midst.

 

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* Six people go on the walk, so I’d reserve early, since this is popular (and reasonably affordable) for families, who can take up the majority of the 6 spots with parents and a couple of kids. I requested my walk dates and times through the Baboon Matters website about six months in advance.

 

* Walks require a minimum of two participants, but Baboon Matters agreed to take just me if no one else joined when I scheduled, since I was willing to pay for two under those circumstances.

 

* There are both morning and afternoon walks that spend about 2 hours with the baboons. My schedule allowed only afternoon visits, which seemed to be a great time to visit.

 

* You meet at the Baboon Matters office, about a 10-minute ride drive from town. It is easy to get to by Rikki Taxi or even the train that runs frequently and stops in Simons Town, then heads down the tracks to stop across from the hotel and offices where Baboon Matters is located.

 

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* From the Baboon Matters office, where the 20-30 minute orientation takes place, you drive to wherever the baboons happen to be and begin the walk. This drive component can be tricky because only certain staff members are licensed to drive paying guests. So you might end up getting a ride with other guests who drove there if you don’t have a car. One of my scheduled visits even got switched to a different date because of this driving issue. I think more staff are in the process of getting the needed licenses.

 

*Jenny, the founder, and all of the staff are super people with very interesting lives and tales.

 

* The baboons were completely non-aggressive, in contrast to behavior that may be witnessed at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. That’s because the aggressive baboons have been fed and have learned they can acquire food with hostile actions. Wayne of Take2 Tours even told me that the baboons in the reserve target children and people with gray hair because they offer the least resistance to attacks for food. In contrast, the baboons on the walk do not associate people with food and see the monitors and the guide as dominant.

 

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* Unlike gorilla visits, you do not have to stay close together in a small group and remain still. You can venture out several meters in various directions for better views and photos during much of the approximately two-hour visit. We remained prepared to regroup or relocate ourselves at the direction of the guide if needed.

 

* For one of the visits, the climbing was rigorous, over rocky hill slopes. We felt like mountain goats. In addition, this area had been burned previously and had charred remnants all over. We all ended up with black clothes by the end of the walk, even the guide. Cold water was suggested for washing the charcoal stains out, and it worked, thanks to the complimentary use of the washing machine at Sea Spray.

 

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* The Baboon Walks alone should make Simons Town a prime wildlife destination.

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Thanks for an interesting report and pics, Lynn. Good to know there is no chumming for the sharks.

I might want a tp holder at the top of the cage, though :mellow:

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Good to know there is no chumming for the sharks.

I might want a tp holder at the top of the cage, though :mellow:

 

Ha ha. That unpleasant thought with the shared wetsuits never occurred to me, I guess because I knew I wouldn't be getting into one.

 

No chumming. It was fascinating how some of the sharks were truly interested and curious in us. The different personalities of some of the sharks were evident even during my short stay.

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ZAMBIA

 

There were at least three reasons I wanted to include Zambia on this Africa trip. (1) I wanted to return to my favorite camp, Kutandala in North Luangwa. (2) I wanted Aubrey to be my guide in South Luangwa at the camp he now manages. I had met Aubrey in 2003 in the Lower Zambezi when he was doing a guide exchange program where he joined me in a variety of walking and water activities. (3) I was missing pukus. Though this antelope is common in much of Zamiba, it is not typically seen elsewhere.

 

Kakuli Camp in South Luangwa The name means old buffalo and that’s what Norman Carr was affectionately called in his later years. This charming camp has five tents without excessive and unnecessary luxury, although my ensuite combo of toilet enclave, spacious foyer, and powder room came close. Kakuli is perched on the Luangwa with beautiful views of the river and the abundant wildlife it attracts. This is the view from Kakuli.

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I was so pleased to meet up with Aubrey again and appreciated his excellent guiding, both in the vehicle and on the walks, as well as his enjoyable company at mealtime. He looked the same to me. “I am still slowly ticking,” was his response. I learned after all these years that he had not really enjoyed the canoeing parts of our trip in the Lower Zambezi, his preference was for solid ground where hippos cannot lurk. As I recall, he and I were the only two people who ever wore life jackets in the canoes.

 

I shared a vehicle with Canadian grandparents and their 14-year old grandson, all on their first safari. They were fine company and always prompt even on the 5:30 am wakeup days. Their pleasant dispositions were maintained despite diarrhea affecting 2/3 of them for half of our time together and a couple of wisdom teeth that were making a painful and untimely arrival for the 14-year old.

 

- Highlights of the drives –

* A pride of 9 lions with 1 male, 4 females, and 4 one-year-old cubs, with the star performance going to a cub in a tree. I never expected tree climbing lions in South Luangwa.

 

 

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* Each of our two night drives we had wonderful views of hunting leopards. We watched the initial crouching and stalking, then sat in darkness for the majority of the hunts. When alarm calls and scrambling hoofs indicated the chase was on, we turned on the spotlight to see the aftermath. In both cases, the leopard did not make a kill.

 

*A pair of porcupines waddling around in good view at night.

 

* a relaxed male kudu and a less relaxed male bushbuck

 

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* About 6 hyenas, all solos I remarked that I was more accustomed to seeing the hyenas in packs but I was told that solitary hyenas were more common in S. Luangwa.

 

* Elephants digging in the dry sandy river bed for water.

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* Every puku was a big deal since that was one of my reasons for coming.

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-Highlight of the Sundowers-

Gathered around the sundowner collapsible table, Aubrey and I were reminiscing about one of our previous shared adventures in the Lower Zambezi. We had walked with a pair of honey badgers! It was a first for me and more notably a first for Aubrey. He had never repeated that feat since. Just then, I saw a honey badger wander into the open about 30 meters in front of the vehicle. I was quite proud of my sighting and amused by the coincidental timing.

 

A little later the sun had set, the glasses were empty, and the miniature gourmet versions of what I grew up calling wiener winks had been consumed. That’s when I heard rustling in a nearby bush. I put my binocs on it and saw our friend, the honey badger. He was about 10 meters from the vehicle and digging madly. We directed the spotlight on him, which he ignored completely. We could see the rolls of muscle and fat in his neck that looked like those of a Shar Pei, as he dug and dug. This went on about 10 minutes until he reached his prize of something too small to see.

 

Then the honey badger roamed around the vehicle, alternating between sniffing the ground and gazing at us, maintaining a distance of 8 meters or more. Aubrey suggested we board the vehicle at that point and then he remarked that he had never seen such a relaxed and social honey badger. Another honey badger first for us!

 

There is some kind of honey badger vibe that manifests itself when Aubrey and Lynn combine forces. So far we are two for two. To put my theory to the test, we’d have to give it one more shot. Sadly, the third trial of the honey badger experiment may never take place, as it is unlikely I’ll manage a return.

 

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-Highlights of the walk-

I did one morning walk. Stomach problems kept the grandmother and grandson from joining the grandfather and me on the walk.

 

* We heard puku alarm calls and squawks from distressed guinea fowl. Our tracker thought he saw the flash of leopard fur in the brush. So we headed in. We found fresh leopard tracks, and some upset puku and guinea fowl, but nothing else. It was an exciting way to start the walk.

 

* 8 round hornbill

 

* 3 wood hoopoes

 

* Mother, juvenile, and baby elephant—we were concealed enough so that the mother felt comfortable nursing.

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* We smelled it before we saw it. Aubrey pointed out a couple of bones on the ground from a small animal. Aubrey and the tracker weren’t sure what it was until a tiny remnant of fur gave it way. The black spots on white indicated it was a leopard. Then they found the skull and held it up for us to examine and touch the teeth. It was surprising how bad the smell was when there was so little of the remains. We wrapped up that on-foot sighting with a round of sanitizing hand gel. The squirts were on me.

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Puku on foot

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-Wildlife highlights around camp-

* 8 ground hornbill coming to drink at the river

 

* ever present huge pods of hippos in and out of the water plus crocs on the bank and sandbars

 

* 1 eland across the river

 

* 3 lionesses showing interest that was short of actually hunting 2 buffalo on the opposite bank during breakfast

 

* African skimmers, a couple of fish eagles, yellow billed storks

 

* puku, impala, a couple hippos, baboons, and vervets at the waterhole next to the dining area

 

* enough animal noises at night, especially hippos in the river, to be serenaded to sleep by a Luangwa Lullaby

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-Highlight of my own stupidity-

After our first night drive, we were escorted back to our tents and asked how long we wanted for freshening up, as is the custom. I requested ten minutes.

 

Five minutes later I was fully refreshed. That’s when I heard a whistle outside my tent. I thought to myself, “This escort is really quick and I recall they usually alert you with something more polite than a whistle. But whatever, I’m ready.” I bounced out onto the veranda but didn’t see anyone. “Now where is he? If he’s going to whistle for me, he needs to show up. What’s going on?” Then I heard the whistle again. It was a puku. The males make a territorial whistle to announce their property rights.

 

I went back into the tent and awaited the sound of my escort’s footsteps, which were followed by the polite call of, “Good evening.” In my defense it had been five years since I had heard or seen a puku (that’s why I was missing them) and this was my first night back in Zambia.

 

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-Highlight of the table-

Everything I speared with my fork or scooped with my spoon was delicious at Kakuli. But I must single out the chocolate crunch cake that we had at tea as exceptional. If you plan a visit to Kakuli, schedule it around the chocolate crunch cake’s appearance at teatime.

 

-One of Aubrey’s African tales: The Leopard, the Wart Hog and the Baboon-

This is one of several he told. A leopard came upon a wart hog and was about to kill it. The wart hog had to think quickly to save itself. So the wart hog started licking his lips and said, “That was a tasty leopard I just ate, yes it was. You know I love to eat leopards. Oh, what’s this? I see another leopard. Good, I’ll eat this one too.”

 

The leopard became scared, turned around and ran, convinced that the wart hog could kill it too, with those mighty tusks. The leopard ran and ran until it was out of breath and then it lay down panting.

 

Along came a baboon and he saw the leopard. “Why are you so out of breath?” asked the baboon. The leopard recounted his close call with the wart hog and explained that he had run away as fast as he could.

 

The baboon laughed and said, “You silly leopard, don’t you realize the wart hog was just fooling you? Wart hogs don’t eat leopards. You have been made a fool by that wart hog. Now you must go back and kill it and eat it.”

 

The baboon agreed to help the leopard find the wart hog who had made the threat. The baboon hopped on the back of the leopard and they rode off in search of the wart hog. Eventually they saw the wart hog grazing. “That’s him,” growled the leopard. “You must kill him,” urged the baboon.

 

The wart hog again realized he was in trouble resorted to some quick thinking once more. He shouted at the baboon and leopard, “Lazy monkey, where have you been all this time? I sent you long ago to find me another leopard to eat!”

 

I wish I had a picture of a baboon riding a leopard to illustrate. I suppose the same skills that produced the penguin on the puku could conjure up a baboon on a leopard. But it's better left to the imagination.

 

While that tale is obviously make believe, the one Aubrey told about the tourist wandering around at night in the bush away from camp was both real and ridiculous. Aubrey asked him what he was doing and the response was, “Trying to get reception on this satellite phone.”

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Posted (edited)

Yes, honey badgers are such a find. I'd love to see a (regular) badger in the US because it is my state's animal.

 

- The drives to/from Mfuwe & Kakuli -

Shortly after entering the park, the trademark scenery of dry season South Luangwa appeared—sandy river beds with concave banks, trees and root systems left dangling, testament to the force of the Luangwa’s rushing water during the rains. I came because I was missing pukus, but I realized that I had been missing this classic landscape as well.

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The most unusual sighting on the airport transfer was a pregnant wart hog, who was so close to giving birth that she stumbled as she walked. I wondered if predators noticed the stumbling wart hog, like I did.

 

Moses drove me to Mfuwe Airport to catch my flight to North Luangwa. Shortly before we left the park, he pointed out a lovely Crested Barbet, Aubrey’s favorite bird and my last memory of visiting Aubrey on his home turf in South Luangwa.

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Quote of the trip

On the way to that morning flight out of South Luangwa, we did not have a lot of time for game driving. But since I had come to Zambia because I was missing puku, I asked to stop for puku photos at almost every opportunity and Moses obliged. When we transitioned from the park’s dirt road to the paved road that led to the airport, Moses remarked, “We are out of puku.”

 

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Edited by Atravelynn

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Kutandala in North Luangwa

 

I brought a bottle of Amarula that was given to me, compliments of The Fallows, because I booked several shark trips. My first night in camp we drank a toast to the only guest in the whole 4600 square kilometer North Luangwa Park—me! On Night #2 we toasted the Cape Clawless Otter we had seen in the river and on Night #3 we toasted the arrival of our two new guests. On Night #4 they tried to get me to toast the buffalo herd that had grazed across the river from camp, but after three nights of this raucous, wanton frenzy of toasting, I declined, breaking the nightly tradition.

 

Here’s why Kutandala is my favorite:

* The owners and operators (husband/wife team of Rod and Guz) are uniquely qualified and skilled to fill the niche for a remote bush camp like this. They are wonderful as hosts, and at the top of their game in their respective roles as guide and chef, plus everything else that running a camp entails.

 

* The chalets are works of art with a nice hot water bucket shower! They are beautifully decorated with natural materials. The floor is hardened ground and the bathroom is sand. Thatched mats were added to the bathroom sand floor since my last visit. The front of the chalet juts out in a semi-circle toward the river where you can sun yourself. Even at night you have unobstructed views of the stars because there is a clever use of rolled mat-like blinds to secure you safely while you sleep, with open skyward views. The little swinging doors for morning coffee/tea and for the hot water pitcher are downright cute in addition to being functional.

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* It is a temporary camp that is built with local materials from outside the park each season, which provides a lot of jobs. Care is taken not to use things like nails that could be left behind and injure the animals. The ratio of two months construction time for about five month’s use of this beautiful structure makes me appreciate it all the more for its lack of permanence. I am reminded of the Tibetan Sand Mandala that is meticulously and artistically created by Buddhist Monks, only to be returned to a pile of sand when it is done.

 

* In contrast to the temporary nature of the shelter, Rod and Guz and their growing family offer a constant, stable, responsible presence. Their mature and personal commitment to their operation is evident. It is heartwarming to see their adorable boys romping around (little sister is way too young yet). The romping with guests was limited to greeting me upon arrival, a breakfast-time good morning in their matching jammies, and a short presence during one teatime; it’s not like the guest chalets are their playground or they come terrorizing at tea.

 

* The dining areas, bar, and library, are smartly designed to fit in with the existing trees and natural contours of the environment.

 

* You take off your shoes and socks to cross the very shallow, slow flowing Mwaleshi River for your arrival in camp. Going for a paddle it is called. How cool is that? It really sets the tone of the whole camp and its activities.

 

* There is no unnatural noise, just sounds of nature, day and night, with hyenas dominating the night and a little lion roaring thrown in.

 

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* The setting on the river is beautiful and peaceful, whether viewed from your chalet or from the lounge chairs under the umbrellas along the shore. Many times the view included animals such as impala, puku, kudu, a herd of buffalo, or elephants.

 

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* The staff is great and many of them have been there for years. They remembered me from five years ago.

 

* The odds of meeting like-minded visitors is high. Kutandala attracts a certain type.

 

* And I haven’t even mentioned Guz’s wonderful cuisine.

 

-Guz’s Wonderful Cuisine-

The two British ladies who joined me at Kutandala were anticipating the fine dining even before arriving because they had been reading the guide books, where Guz’s reputation precedes her.

 

We had tremendous cuisine from around the world, including Mexican Nachos and Refried Beans, Indian Pau Bhaji with Apple Chutney, Greek Dolmas (grape leaves out here?), and Italian Tortellini. When I asked Rod for his favorite, he thought it would have to be Tortellini. I must say those little cheese filled pasta pillows may have been the best I’ve ever eaten.

 

Many of our dishes were en croute. Having battled phyllo dough with a pastry brush in my own kitchen, I appreciated the effort that went into creating anything en croute in the remote wilderness.

 

We had fresh mint leaves on our guava mousse. One night dessert was warm lemon pudding that contrasted with the ice cream served in a lovely frozen bowl made only of ice. Even the lunch that Rod carried for six hours in his backpack on our journey to the falls was delightful with the Cob Cole Slaw in Piquant Dressing remaining crisp and fresh.

 

We did all burst into laughter when the Watermelon Granita in a Brandy Snap was served at the end of one meal. There was nothing funny about the dessert, however we had found a watermelon on our walk that morning and had destroyed the invasive species, but not before our tracker and I could have a few nibbles. Guz pleaded not guilty to planting watermelons in the park.

 

Most of our evening meals we were serenaded by hyenas, which enhanced the wonderful flavors on our plates—a multi-sensory experience.

 

If someone had no real interest in Africa and detested walking and didn’t care about seeing wildlife, I’d still recommend a stay at Kutandala if they sought out exceptional cuisine served in a unique and beautiful setting by gracious and entertaining hosts.

 

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Thanks for a very well written report, Lynn ....... and a nice variety of pictures to add to it!

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Thanks Hari. There is such a variety of pics that I hope I have not used up all the MBs for other members. I may have gone a little overboard on those penguins and especially pukus. :o

 

-Animals seen on the hour drive to/from the air strip-

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* Cookson’s Wildebeest

* Buffalo herd

* Marabou stork

* Martial Eagle on the ground

* Several Zebra, a couple of waterbuck, many impala, wart hogs, an ele or two, but not a single puku to or from the airport. Fortunately the puku were there to greet me at camp.

 

-July Water Bird Count-

I arrived at Kutandala midday on July 31, just in time for the month-end water bird census meaning we had a mission for our first afternoon outing. We walked to all the nearby pans and waterholes to accomplish the mission. In addition to finding water birds, such as a nursery full of baby Saddle Billed Storks and a flock of 53 Egyptian Geese, we located about 5 terrapins and numerous crocs.

 

-Some other noteworthy birds on our walks beyond the bird count (not all birds seen are listed)-

* Three Banded Courser

* Pair of Crowned Cranes

* Juvenile Saddle Billed Stork who still had a downy neck, along with adults

* Kingfishers: Half Collared, Giant, Malachite

* Purple Crested Lourie

* Lesser Black Winged Plover, details below

* White Fronted Plover

* Palm Nut Vulture, which has become my favorite vulture now that I see how closely it resembles the Fish Eagle. There were no appropriate palms for the vulture in the area, but he had been a regular visitor for the past couple of years, anyway.

* Honey Guide that would not give up. I asked if we could just give it some honey, but it is not the actual honey the bird wants; it’s the bees’ wax. We didn’t offer candles.

 

-Visiting Chipopma Falls (Mwaleshi Falls)-

This is an all day trip (6:30 am to 6:30 pm) and is usually undertaken with a 4 or 5 night stay only. We drove a couple of hours and Rod took a route along the rhino fence that encloses about 24 black rhino so I could get a feel for the immense size of this enclosure. Rarely are rhino seen. Eventually the fence will come down.

 

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After the drive, the walk begins. We visited a hippo pool and climbed through wooded slopes. We saw a few impala and numerous elephant shrew paths of cleared circular landing pads for the elephant shrews to hop silently through leafy underbrush at night. But wildlife viewing was not the main goal of this hike to the picturesque falls.

 

However no one told that to the Cape Clawless Otter! Rod was taking photos of Big John and me in the river when he noticed it. We watched it along the shore in dense vegetation. We saw it swim, fish, catch a crab or fish, eat the crab or fish, and even zip toward us for a better look.

 

We were entertained for 30 minutes and Rod kept snapping shots with one camera and I pulled out the other, though conditions were poor for photography. This Cape Clawless Otter was one of only four Rod had ever seen in the Luangwa Valley. Wow!

 

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When we approached the pools just below the falls, Rod told me to quietly inch up the hill and check out the huge crocs before they slipped into the water. The water is so clear that entire bodies of the hippos are visible under water.

 

We proceeded to the falls where Rod began preparing lunch and Big John took me on a walk on the boulders around which the water tumbled. There were a few spots that formed pools where you could even swim in the cold water. Rather than swim, I zipped off my pant legs and did some refreshing wading, along with some reading and napping in the shade of this gorgeous, pristine setting.

 

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About 3:00 pm after the heat of the day had passed, we walked a few hours back down to the vehicle and drove back to camp and toasted the Cape Clawless Otter. It was a wonderful first full day at Kutandala.

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-Burnt Grass- There were several instances when grass, burnt months earlier in a controlled burn, proved to be significant. On our second day, we came across a herd of five zebra, grazing in the burnt areas. Rod mentioned a theory that hypothesized zebras come in shortly after a burn to graze specifically on the charred vegetation. We watched them through our binocs and observed that their heads were not down far enough for them to be eating the burnt grasses. So the theory remains just that.

 

That same theory applies to the Lesser Black Winged Plover, that we saw hopping around the blackened grass. He was definitely enjoying the recent burn and it was the first time in four years that Rod had seen that little bird and the first time I ever saw it. I almost didn’t see it because it was so well camouflaged.

 

Burning grass (current tense because some areas were still smoldering and igniting into small flames) was the source of a wild goose chase or more appropriately a wild vulture chase on our last day. We spotted a variety of vultures circling and landing and followed them to find the quintessential African scene of a dead tree laden with vultures. So many different vultures was an indication of a food source for them, perhaps a lion kill. We carefully surveyed the charred area, which sent the vultures flying.

 

Although we found no carcass or predators, we saw wisps of red flames right under the dead tree where all the vultures had sat. Tracker John stated, “The vultures came to the fire because they have learned when poachers light a fire to dry meat, there are scraps.” He went on to explain that when he is part of a military patrol, their campfires often lure vultures, for the same reason—the birds had been conditioned to associate food with fire. We would have preferred to have the vultures lead us to something other than a bonfire and we would have preferred that the vultures’ behavior not be conditioned by poachers. But we were impressed with Big John’s interpretation of the behavior.

 

Finally, because burnt grass had played a role in our safari, I wanted to get a few photos of bright green shoots sprouting though charred vegetation. This mission was most amusing to my two safari-mates and they enjoyed pointing out to me the myriad of potential subjects that surrounded us. “Here’s grass, over here! There’s some grass. Oh look, grass. I found you some grass. Grass! Grass!”

 

-My sightings, both visual and audio-

They may have spotted grass, but I can boast the only wart hog sighting of our walks. Not one but three of them, angled attractively up the slant of a hill! I followed up my wart hog sighting with an “audio spot” that night around the campfire when I heard something moving in the river. It was an elephant.

 

That was not my only “audio spot.” The first afternoon in camp when I was returning to my chalet, I could hear something in the bushes. After I got inside, the noise grew louder and from my open-sky, ensuite bathroom I could see the bushes behind my chalet moving. I figured it was an elephant but I couldn’t see for sure until I stood on my toilet (lid down to prevent going for an unwanted paddle) and enjoyed some nice game viewing.

 

That night I was awakened with a start right after falling asleep. I could hear the chewing, slurping, lip smacking and digesting and did not need to hop on my toilet to confirm it was an elephant grazing on the trees overhanging my chalet. The whole place shook, which was unsettling at first but it soon took on a comforting cradle rocking effect and the next thing I knew it was morning. The ele greeted Sue on her first night in the same manner, at about the same time. Guz said when the camp was empty of guests, he grazed near their home. Assuming this is the same elephant, how social of him--or how territorial.

 

-Other elephant action -

* Unlike 5 years ago when we saw only 2 elephants in 4 days and they ran in terror after detecting our scent, we saw about 30 this time with sightings on just about every outing. Watching elephants, whether lone males bathing in mud or small families feeding, was a highlight of our walks.

 

* A couple of elephants joined us for lunch at a respectable distance and provided a nice backdrop for photos of the staff that I’ll eventually mail.

 

* One big elephant crossed the river right in front of my chalet and I have pictures of him next to the riverside shade umbrellas.

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-Most elusive sighting of the trip award-

And the winner is Big John, the Tracker! He spotted a monitor lizard entwined in the high branches of a tree and spent several minutes patiently showing of us where it was. Despite its large size, if we blinked we lost the thing. It was still there the next day.

 

-Pukus I no longer was missing-

We saw them on most walks. They were sometimes hanging with their waterbuck cousins, other times they mixed with impala, but mostly they liked their own company. On one walk we were herding them as we took a circuitous route.

 

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They grazed in the open across from camp, often crossing the river. I caught one male by surprise mid-day and mid-river when I stepped out of the shower and strolled to the front of my chalet seeking warm sunshine. His dumbfounded stare lasted long enough for me to grab the camera and shoot. I’ll take that as a compliment. It would have been funny if he had given the territorial whistle like I heard at Kakuli. At least he did not give the alarm call, which is what happened in a similar post-shower instance at Tena Tena. Obviously, the Kutandala pukus are more refined than the Robin Pope pukus.

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During lunch on our fourth day, we were commenting on a trio of puku across the river at a distance. Ten minutes later, the puku were gone and a herd of about 200 buffalo had replaced them! How did that happen so quickly and so silently?

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-Buffalo-

The buffalo herd appeared to be getting their drinks and then heading back away from camp so we used the spotting scope near the lunch table to get some good views while it lasted. I followed my after-lunch ritual, which consisted of taking a shower and little nap, then reading. I was wakened from my nap by a bellow. The buffalo were moving right in front of camp across the river. What an exciting matinee! And I never got to my reading that day.

 

For our afternoon outing and the following morning we spent a lot of our time approaching the buffalo, watching them watch us, observing them run away for a short distance, and repeating until we became one with the herd. Our mid-morning tea was taken on a ridge overlooking the herd. There was some interesting sparring and I enthusiastically pointed out mating. Then Rod corrected me that since it was two males, it wasn’t mating I was watching. Eventually the herd of a couple hundred quietly and quickly disappeared into thick brush. I am always impressed with that magic trick.

 

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-The Civet Plug and the Zebra Tail Hairs-

This looks like one of Aubrey’s African stories, but it is actually just two of the many cool things that we found on our walks. Next to a midden of little round dung pellets was a dry grassy packet that looked like remnants of a woven basket. Rod explained that we were looking at a civet plug. The civet wants to be able to control where it deposits its feces and does not want to suddenly lose its load due to an unexpected fright. So right after a visit to the midden, the first thing it eats is some fibrous vegetation that does not digest well. The First In First Out principle results in a plug to hold in the contents until a deliberate effort is made to excrete back at the midden. Maybe there is a tale or at least a nursery rhyme here. “Civet plug” is the answer to the question, “How does your midden grow?”

 

Who knew I could go souvenir shopping while on the walk? Last time at Kutandala it was a lion hairball and this time it was the hairs of a zebra tail that became a prized souvenir of the trip. The tail hairs were the only sign of zebra, no bones or other clues. I gathered up enough hair for me and for a gift. Not that I am a stingy gift giver who wouldn’t purchase something, but I appreciate uniqueness and authenticity for people who already have everything.

 

I was a good citizen and declared the zebra tail hairs, along with one porcupine quill, at customs upon my return. These odd items required a group meeting of several customs agents, a show and tell of my quill and hairs, a few chuckles, and only a 5-minute delay on my part. So my zebra tail hairs are completely legal.

 

 

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One minute I’m following Big John and Rod through elephant grass, admiring a civet plug, and walking with buffalo. The next minute I’m at the airstrip saying goodbye.

 

As the Sky Trails plane gained altitude, Pilot Edmund switched on the classical music for the headsets. The hippos became ants in the Luangwa River far below and I knew “we are out of puku.”

 

 

 

 

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