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Safari tails : Treepol and TreeMumís adventures in Kruger, Cape Town, Kalahari and elsewhere

Kruger Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Isimangaliso Cape Town Swakopmund Etosha Kalahari Bagatelle Game Ranch Phinda

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#1 Treepol

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 07:24 AM

Safari tails : Treepol and TreeMum’s adventures in Kruger, Cape Town, Kalahari and elsewhere

This year I was privileged to share the wonders of safari with my mother. The trip was booked as a soft adventure and an introduction to the daily discovery and delights that a wildlife safari delivers. Mum has now been bitten by the safari bug and we plan to return in 2014. The highlights of Mum’s first ever safari were:
  • Birdlife in the Kruger Restcamps
  • Two young male lions (hopefully) trailing a very large herd of buffalo near Satara
  • 3 cheetah hunting kudu
  • Eles and lion at N’semani in Kruger
  • Wildflowers at West Coast NP
  • Lunch with Dikdik in Cape Town
  • Coastal scenery on the flight from Cape Town to Walvis Bay
  • Living Desert Tour (ex Swakopmund)
  • Elephant gathering at Rietfontein, Etosha
  • Meerkats at Bagatelle
  • Cheetah with 3 x 4 month old cubs, Phinda
The itinerary was:
  • Forest Camp, Moholoholo Rehab Centre (1 night)
  • Kruger 7 nights (2 Satara, 3 Olifants, 1 Pretoriuskop and 1 Berg-en-dahl)
  • Hluhluwe-Umfolozi NP (Hilltop Camp 2 nights)
  • St Lucia (Lalapanzi B&B 3 nights)
  • Cape Town (Blackheath Lodge 4 nights)
  • Swakopmund (Hotel Schweizerhaus 3 nights)
  • Etosha (Dolomite Camp 1 night, Okaukuejo 2 nights, Namutoni 1 night)
  • Bagatelle Game Lodge (3 nights)
  • Phinda (Forest Lodge 4 nights)
Photos from the safari (including accommodation) are now online. I’ll include some notes on planning at the end of the TR.

Finally the 4 August has dawned and safari 2012 is here at last - the VIPs (very important pets) have been temporarily re-homed and Mum and I set out for 5 weeks in Africa. My brother and sister-in-law drove us to the newly renovated Devonport (Tasmania) airport and a quick 70 minute flight gets us to Melbourne for an hour stopover before boarding the plane for Perth. We overnighted at the unremarkable Bel Eyre Comfort Inn, where the redeeming feature was the free, convenient airport shuttle. The flight to Johannesburg from Perth was the longest I have ever experienced on this route - exactly 12 hours due to strong headwinds. I was lucky to snag the last row of 4 seats before the plane took off so we could take turns to stretch out for a snooze.

The first night in Johannesburg was at the Airport City Lodge in comfy rooms with dinner at the airport Mugg and Bean. Breakfast next morning was up to the usual City Lodge standard (my first blood oranges of the trip) after which we met our guide Shelagh Webber and set out for the first night at Moholoholo Rehab Centre. Shelagh hired a 9 seater Hyundai for the first 13 days of the trip - plenty of room for us, the luggage, food supplies and Shelagh’s kitchen equipment. The dusty drive east was due to the strong winds that were battering parts of South Africa and the heavy traffic partly the result of coal trucks. We stopped at Milly's Star Stop for lunch before heading further east. We drove over Abel Erasmus pass, part of an early voortrekker route before arriving in a citrus fruit growing area with curio and citrus sellers at the roadside.

Forest Lodge, Moholoholo Rehab Centre

Wildlife started at the gate - 'kneeling' warthogs, nyala and giraffe. This continued during the late afternoon game drive where Mum saw her first African sunset, roosting vultures, more nyala, impala, a lone wildebeest and 4 giraffe.

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When the 6 lions at the rehab centre roared and the sound rolled across the Drakensbergs and I knew I was back in Africa. During the drive we smelled the potato bush that is just like boiling potatoes and is usually evident in the late afternoon and early evening. The common wild pear tree is a sweet smelling tree which (reportedly) is used for making love potions. The guide told us about the solo rhino at Moholoholo that seeks the company of the grazing hippos at night, and later we saw this unlikely trio close to the lodge. The staff served a delicious dinner of butternut and stilton soup, pepper steak (Mum had hake and prawn sauce) and chocolate fudge pudding.

Following a good sleep Mum and I were both up early to see the sunrise across the Drakensbergs. Nyala graze at the front of the chalet and 2 young lambs spent the night in the shelter of the front steps. Breakfast was a delicious parfait of fresh fruit, yoghurt and muesli followed by bacon and eggs.

The tour of the rehab centre was very informative and I have photos of Mum patting the cheetah and even putting on the leather gauntlet to feed the vultures (never thought this would happen!). Other animals that we saw were lion, leopard, hyena, honey badger, a 3 y.o. black rhino and a free ranging 4 month old white rhino that was being raised at the centre before being returned to her owner’s farm.

Kruger NP

We entered Kruger through Phalaborwa gate and soon saw several eles and impala. This began Mum’s deep interest in elephants that grew throughout the trip. We were lucky with a distant, yet clear sighting of a leopard in a tree - the late afternoon sun caught her spots beautifully. Next we saw a large herd of buffalo being optimistically tailed by 2 two year old male lions that looked longingly at this big prey but didn't push their luck. At Nsemani a pride of lions lazed with bloated stomachs - 2 males with lionesses further back in the tree line.

Up at 6.10 the next morning and prowling around the campsite looking for birds - hoopoe,

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green wood hoopoe, a Bennett's woodpecker and a gray lourie are around the rondavels. Less welcome are the vervet monkeys, one of which stole my breakfast strawberries. After breakfast we drove the S100 where a small pride of lions is lazing. Morning tea is at the delightful Timbavati Picnic Site and lunch at N'watetsi Picnic Site. Mum and I did a Sanparks night drive during which we saw hippo, 3 lionesses, a distant porcupine, 2 genets, a disappearing civet and a chameleon.

Up early next morning I was entertained by a pair of crested barbets, yellow billed hornbills and flocks of glossy starlings. Later we drove north to Olifants, via Nsemani where a lioness was walking slowly along the road. Along the way we saw zebra and eles at Ngotsi waterhole and a very large herd of buffalo, probably the same being trailed by the young lions - sadly there were no tawny shapes padding along behind the slow moving line. Stopped to admire a pearl spotted owl just before the Olifants River where we saw open-billed storks

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hadeda ibis, egrets, a pair of spoonbills, Egyptian geese and bathing glossy starlings. The river is scenic with lots of rocky outcrops and pools. Lunch is at the Olifants restaurant where I had bunny chow - yummy chicken curry served in a scooped out quarter loaf of bread. A knobbly fig tree shades the restaurant deck and red-winged starlings, gray louries

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and a black-headed oriole feast on the fruit above our heads. A short game drive revealed elephants at the Olifants and a wide drag mark made by a crocodile on its way down to the river. Bushbuck and kudu, together with the elephants from the river crossed the road in front of us on the way back to camp. My rondavel has river views and I can hear the hippos honking and smell braais cooking as the sun sets.

Up at 6.45 looking for birds - a gray headed bush shrike lives somewhere near the laundry and the brown-headed parrots are breakfasting on aloes. Other breakfast birds are crested barbets, yellow and red-billed hornbills, a single gray hornbill, red-winged and glossy starlings. A tree squirrel entertains Mum but evades the camera. The first new animal of the day is a klipspringer on the rocky skyline. We had morning tea at Letaba and spent some time in the Elephant Centre where there is an elephant skeleton, lots of ele-related information and photos and the tusks of 7 Kruger 'big tuskers' with a few biographical details of these giants. Mum thought this was a great place and it was hard to get her away!

Bushbuck roam around Letaba and I saw a cinnamon breasted bunting at the plant nursery. Heading north bull elephants are drinking from reservoirs where the short (and smart) animals stand on a small step to gain a height advantage. Further on we saw eles enjoying a dust bath

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and surprisingly, a lone roan antelope. Ate lunch at Mopani where open-billed storks, egrets, Egyptian geese and crocs could be seen from the deck. Returning to Oliphants we saw 11 bull elephants at the reservoir and closer to camp a lappet-faced vulture. There is a white-backed vulture nest along the road near the restcamp where we watched an adult feeding the demanding chick. Another beautiful Kruger evening and the hippos are honking in the river below as I write up my notes. Next morning I found a dark-capped bulbul,

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a black headed oriole

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and a white bellied sunbird all feasting on aloes near the gate. We drove south to Satara and giraffe, 2 of which were fighting, smashing necks in a fight for dominance. Further on we have sightings of a distant rhino, a peaceful breeding herd of eles and lion. We enjoyed a skottlebraai lunch (eggs, bacon and tomato) at N'watesi Picnic Site where a Spotted bush snake dropped out of a tree, eventually slithering into another near the shade area

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This was a zebra day as we saw 2 large dazzles with over 100 animals each as well as other smaller herds.

I realised the next day was Sunday when I heard the staff singing at the restcamp church whilst at the restaurant black collared barbets hop around in the top of the knobbly fig tree

Posted Image.

Later we departed for Pretoriuskop, passing a kori bustard which appeared to have been hit by a car (the number of speeding cars in Kruger was very worrying)

Posted Image

and in a nearby tree a martial eagle waited to feast on the carcass. Further on we saw 2 waterbuck males squaring off, and later a cheetah. This sighting eventually turned out to be 3 cheetah hunting kudu and we enjoyed distant sightings of all 3. We had scarcely stopped talking about this than we came upon a large gathering of cars watching a leopard eating a porcupine - he was well hidden behind a bush but we saw his spotted head and neck as he tucked into the luckless porcupine. We had planned to have lunch at Tshokwane Picnic Site, however when a vervet grabbed Mum's banana before we had even put the picnic basket down we decided on boerwors rolls and peppermint crisp ice cream from the kiosk. Later we saw eles and lion at N'semani, rhino closer to Skukuza and buffalo - so the Big 5 in one day! As we settle into Pretoriuskop at dusk someone at the staff camp is whistling a song reminiscent of Love me tender as night falls.

Pretoriuskop is my favourite camp as the grounds are spacious and home to a small herd of quiet impala and a wide variety of birds. Next morning I eventually photographed a scarlet chested sunbird.

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Leaving camp we saw a tree full of green pigeons and later some gray hornbills. A Sanparks vehicle and armed guard accompanied women cutting thatch to be used in the maintenance of park buildings. Along the road we saw 3 rhinos and at Transport dam impala, swallows, a magpie shrike and a sentinel fish eagle sitting high above the water. We stopped at Lake Panic where a pair of mating hippos had drifted close to the hide. We also saw 4 grey herons on 2 nests, crocodile, bushbuck, our first Goliath heron, African darter, malachite and pied kingfishers and jacana. On the road once more we saw a lone lioness and 4 giraffe. Stopped for lunch at Nkhuli Picnic Site where we again ordered boerwors rolls much to the delight of the resident baboons who paid close attention to our food. Closer to Berg-en-dahl we saw a lone (and very fat) lioness at a wildebeest kill and later a rhino and calf.

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Next morning I tried unsuccessfully to photograph scarlet chested sunbirds and purple turacos. Breakfast birds included a black-headed oriole, bulbuls, gray louries that were joined by the pesky vervet monkeys.

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is next...

Edited by twaffle, 14 October 2012 - 04:58 AM.
Fix links

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#2 Vlad the Impala

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 10:42 AM

Fantastic start! I do love reading trip reports from areas I'm familiar with and can picture exactly where you are. I'm also looking forward to the rest of your report, particularly the Namibia part, as I'm hoping to take an 'Africa-newbie' there for my next trip to the continent - so it will be interesting to see what your Mum made of it.

You had some great sightings in Kruger - particularly the Roan and Cheetahs, and your photos are great. I really liked the bird shots - I've spent many happy hours trying to get similar shots around the camp gardens and picnic sites in the past.

Looking forward to the next installment.

(By the way, hope you don't mind me saying, but I think your snake at N'watesi is a Spotted Bush Snake).

Edited by Vlad the Impala, 07 October 2012 - 10:43 AM.


#3 Treepol

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 11:15 AM

Hi Vlad,

thanks for the comments.

Mum thought Namibia was the best part of the trip - actually the Etosha waterholes really won her over. She preferred Etosha to Kruger because we saw more animals in less time and the visibility was so much better at Etosha. This was my 3rd trip to Namibia and I am convinced that Namibia has it all, but you have to move around the country to see the diversity of animals that you would see in say Masai Mara or Northern Tanzania. The coastline is stunning, Etosha for iconic safari species, Caprivi for wetlands and the Kalahari for dryland animals.

Thanks for the snake identification - it was the Sanparks ranger at the picnic site who said it was a boomslang.


Cheers,


Pol
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Groucho Marx

#4 PT123

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 11:48 AM

Cheers Treepol, I'm very much enjoying the report and looking forward to more!

#5 twaffle

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 11:58 AM

Very enjoyable and lovely photos.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#6 Anita

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 01:00 PM

Great start Pol and beautiful pics. Your TRs always have the smaller things and I am now getting what Jo meant when she talked about the bird life in Kruger

#7 Patty

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 02:54 PM

Great start! Good to hear mom caught the bug. Looking forward to more.

The picasaweb link takes me to a login page but no access to pics.

#8 Marks

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 05:40 PM

Wonderful pictures, though it's a shame about the kori bustard. Looking forward to reading more!

#9 Rainbirder

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 07:07 PM

A very entertaining report and great images!!!
It's heartwarming to read of your Mum's increasing allure to the joys of Safari!

#10 Sangeeta

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 08:14 PM

The chop-chop was very successful, Pol, though your images don't look like they need any improvement :D Beautiful photos and so much variety.

That korhan accident is disturbing if the result of a speeding vehicle.

This seems to be the year for converting mums to the joys of safari - after my India wildlife trip earlier this year with mine, she too can't wait to get to Africa! And your 'soft' itin has given me many ideas. Thanks and looking forward to Hluhluwe.

Zindagi na milegi dobara... Chalo Africa
You only live once...Go To Africa

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#11 Atravelynn

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Posted 07 October 2012 - 08:44 PM

Beautiful birds, starting with my favorite, African Hoopoe. Is your mother a fan of birds too?
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)

#12 KathBC

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 02:06 AM

Great report but also wasn't able to get to your picasa web albums...just mine. :mellow:

Edited by KathBC, 08 October 2012 - 02:07 AM.


#13 ZaminOz

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 02:18 AM

Treepol - are you sure that was a boomslang? It looks more like a spotted bush snake to me? ... But I confess I often struggle to distinguish between the two in pictures, without seeing the snake live (ie its size and mannerisms)... I also confess that I am no expert on reptiles!
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#14 Treepol

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 06:34 AM

Thanks everyone for your interest and kind comments.

PT123 and Twaffle - thanks for reading along.

Anita - I focus on the small critters because that is where I am most likely to find a 'new animal'. This year at Phinda I saw my first white-tailed mongoose and whilst it was tempting to list it as a highlight, I didn't because I thought it wouldn't be a highlight to many people. The birds around the restcamps were very entertaining and not at all shy!

Patty and KathBC - sorry about the link, try this one for the safari photos and this one for the accommodation.

Rainbirder - the elephant fascination grew and grew and culminated in a morning at the Hartbeesport Elephant Sanctuary where Mum got to examine an elephant's feet, tusks and tail as well as leading it on a short walk by the trunk - she was in pachyderm heaven and she didn't mind the elephant snot one little bit!

Sangeeta - my photos have had the Picasa treatment as well. Happy to talk more about the soft adventure itinerary as you get into the planning process.

Marks - I was very concerned about the number and size of speeding vehicles that we saw inside Kruger

Atravelynn - Mum does like birds as my grandfather had aviaries, keeping and showing mostly budgerigars and canaries, however I don't think she likes them quite as much as I do!

Zaminoz - no, I'm not sure and Vlad the impala also asked the same question. I'll send the photo off to a fundi and see if I can get an accurate ID.




Regards,



Pol
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

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#15 pault

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 11:11 AM

I thought I couldn't possibly be bothered reading a report about Kruger at the moment but a combination of bad traffic, good writing and interesting observation made it a breeze. Nice photos definitely helped too.

Safari with Mum #2 starts next week for me.
August is coming.... that waiting nearly over

#16 Treepol

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 12:11 PM

Hi pault,

is this your northern Serengeti safari, and I'm wondering how it took you so long to get your Mum back to Africa? ;) Mine is champing at the bit for a return trip!

Have a great safari,


Pol.
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#17 dikdik

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Posted 08 October 2012 - 03:49 PM

Ahh - Good to see you started the report. I wasn't able to access you photos on the link.

Great start and great photos. - Will follow the thread.

NIce to have met you and Mum in Cape Town.

There's none so blind as those who will not see.


#18 Treepol

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Posted 09 October 2012 - 07:13 AM

Hi Bugs,

Thanks for reading along and for meeting us at Quay 4. Mum and I said later how nice it was to meet someone for lunch and to chat about local issues and topics of interest. After you left the rain set in so we climbed onto the red bus for a damp tour of Cape Town and surrounds for the afternoon. Fortunately, the weather was kind for our Cape Point trip the next day.

Sorry about the dodgy link in the first post - sorry about the link, try this one for the safari photos and this one for the accommodation.


Regards,


Pol
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#19 Treepol

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 08:04 AM

Hluhluwe Umfolozi NP

We packed up our gear for the last time in Kruger and set off on a long drive to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi GR. Close to the Berg-en-Dahl gate we saw 2 tawny eagles standing on their nest. We stopped at Komatipoort to restock at the Spar and had morning tea at the local Wimpy. Swaziland immigration was a breeze and we drove through mile after mile of sugarcane, travelling through Hlane Royal NP. We arrived at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi GR shortly before 6 pm and were very excited to see 2 wild dogs just outside the Hilltop Camp gate. Home tonight is Unit 16 at Hilltop Camp. This is a family unit with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms a central kitchen and TV area. There is a pleasant deck for eating and reading, although the resident samango monkeys also visit – they stand on the lower window sill peering inside where we had retreated for breakfast. No sooner had they left the lounge window than they would appear at the kitchen window.

The park has been badly burnt by a fire that started outside the boundary and swept through a large area of the Hluhluwe sector. Lizards and tortoises perished in the blaze, however other animals thankfully escaped. It was both sad and strange to see animals like rhino and zebra grazing (and sleeping) the recently burnt ground where some trees still smouldered.


Posted Image

Next day we breakfasted on fresh pawpaw purchased from the fruitsellers near Komatipoort before heading into the park for the day. First stop was at Maphomolu Picnic Site which was peaceful and scenic and alive with birds.

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Mum was particularly taken with this place on the river bank, so we returned the next morning. Later we saw a family of 3 rhino resting on the burnt ground. We had morning tea at Centenary Park, and Mum enjoyed looking at the curios - she is working out what she can buy to take back to Australia and more immediately, what will fit into her pack. Lunch was at Sontuli picnic site from where we could see buffalo and impala at the river. On the drive back to Hilltop we saw 8-10 rhino and a young male lion calling for the pride. Back at camp neither the Internet nor phone worked so I walked back to the unit where the crested guineafowl were foraging.

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St Lucia

Next day we spent the morning in the park before leaving for St Lucia. Shelagh saw 3 elephants below her unit feeding from an unburnt strip of trees, but we couldn’t find them. We returned to Maphomolu Picnic Site for morning tea where 4 buffalo were drinking on the opposite side of the river and further down a large family group of nyala were also on the river. Nyala roam the picnic ground around our table and birds flit through the undergrowth.

Posted Image

After morning tea we head south through the park and enjoy a close sighting of a single rhino standing close to the road and further on an anxious slender mongoose looks over its shoulder for trailing family members. We stopped for lunch at Mpila and left the park around 2 pm, driving a short way up the highway that bisects the park, where a rhino grazes on the skyline. Along the highway school children make their way slowly home. The trip to St Lucia takes about 90 minutes, and we check into Lalapanzi before exploring the town. Late in the afternoon we enjoyed a stroll along the boardwalk that links the estuary and the beach, past a family of 4 hippos floating close to the shore.

Lalapanzi is a very comfortable B&B which fronts an unfenced nature reserve where red duikers graze late in the afternoon. Breakfast is served on the outdoor terrace which is surrounded by lush vegetation reminiscent of the Daintree area - it reminds Mum of Broome.

I was up at 7 am next day and once the rain stopped I went searching for sunbirds but with no sun they weren’t showing their best colours, and were far too quick for me. Returned to Lalapanzi for a delicious breakfast that is served on the undercover terrace where a Natal robin is hopping around. This was a town day so I went to the Internet café and Mum and Shelagh went for a look around the shops. We had lunch at the Ski Boat Club which has a scenic location at the estuary mouth. Unfortunately the afternoon estuary cruise on the Fannus was a washout, with everyone crowded under the shelter of the roof. However, despite the rain I saw reed cormorants, a Goliath heron, giant and pied kingfishers, egrets, African darters and a fish eagle. Two hippo families live in the lower estuary and we were fortunate to see both, indeed one territorial male showed his displeasure by ‘bumping’ the bottom of the boat. We ate dinner at Braza where I was surprised to be served a suspended kebab in a gallows like contraption suspended above a Greek salad and grilled vegetables. Sadly, the camera was at Lalapanzi.

Next morning I went looking for red duiker in the nature reserve and collared sunbirds in the coral trees.

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After breakfast we set out for Isimangaliso Wetland Park which was a real surprise for its coastal scenery and varied wildlife. The area is overwhelmingly green and is quite swampy in places which are havens for hippo and buffalo. The mammal life included gray rhebok, bushbuck, waterbuck, rhino, hippo, warthog, zebra, impala, wildebeest and buffalo. Birds included spoonbills, squacco heron, woolly-necked stork, jacana, dabchick, cattle egrets, yellow-billed stork, martial eagle, malachite kingfisher and gray heron. Mfazana hide was well worth the half hour that we spent there.

The rocky coastline at Mission Rocks and sandy Cape Vidal were very scenic as was Cotalinga Bay where we had morning tea and where I was surprised to see hippo on the sand flats. Cape Vidal is a busy area where the sandy beach stretches for miles along the edge of the Indian Ocean and attracts campers, caravanners and self-contained cabin guests.

The following day Shelagh drove us to Durban for our flight to Cape Town where we arrived in the late afternoon and checked in Blackheath Lodge for a 4 night stay.
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#20 Atravelynn

Atravelynn

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Posted 10 October 2012 - 04:29 PM

The crest on the crested guinea fowl is downright bouffant. Sunbird on the red flower--a study in color.

Can you give some details on St. Lucia--how long you were there. Did you stay there or nearby? Lalapanzi and Isimangaliso Wetland Park, how do they fit into St. Lucia or are they nearby?
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Kruger, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Isimangaliso, Cape Town, Swakopmund, Etosha, Kalahari Bagatelle Game Ranch, Phinda


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