Second day in heaven....

Second day in heaven….

The sunrise was startling in its’ intensity, color and beauty…….’Is it always like this?’  “Just about,” I answered from behind my camera. Breakfast was nearly forfeited in our haste to capture the sunrise, with the wings of the flocks of Burchell’s starlings making piping sounds as they headed east to tall stands of fruiting jackal berry trees.  A hyena called from a distance, and hippo snorts sounded off to the south of the camp.  Baboons screamed and performed as we left the camp area, ‘Domestic Violence’ I think, and we watched their antics with amusement. The little ones are cute.

The little ones are cute.

The little ones are cute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyenas, leopard with cubs (again) and a myriad other wonderful creatures scored a wonderful ten for us this morning. Tea with the Family and fun with the guides was all part of it. It was an outstanding morning and we returned to camp eventually, hungry and chatty, pausing along the way to watch and photograph a bull elephant on his own as he threw muddy water all over himself.

Affection

Affection

3 month old cubs

3 month old cubs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon we found a pack of Painted dogs resting in the late afternoon shade. They blended in so well amongst the coppiced mopane that it took some of the my guests a minute or two before they could clearly see them individually amongst the dappled shade and autumnal leaves.  We stayed until the dogs woke up, yawned restlessly and finally went into their peculiar greeting frenzy, whining, defecating, licking each others muzzles in a submissive pose and generally ran around each other, their white-tipped tails held high. Eventually, the lead dog took off trotting determinedly through the mopane the others in a line behind it. Every antelope and warthogs night mare!

The pack whirled around each other in a greeting frenzy before heading off to hunt.

The pack whirled around each other in a greeting frenzy before heading off to hunt.

 

 

 

 

We followed them as far as we could , eventually losing them in the tall grass and dense stands of Kalahari Apple leaf trees. Their dappled, blotched forms melted into the bush like they belonged there, as they do. We wished them well and headed for home and brunch.

Another First from Greenville!

“After two nights in Jo’burg, we managed a major culture shock, when we sat in a open vehicle watching a pride of lions from a scant 25 yards!” or so the journal entry said. My ‘Family’ had never been to Africa before, bar the Matriarch, and I sat watching the awe and wonder on their fresh faces as they absorbed the presence of the lions. It is a great privilege to take folk on their first ever safari! I never tire of it.   The one very large and scarred lioness sat up, yawned prodigiously which evoked a rapid-fire of camera shutters and then stalked over to pee casually just behind our vehicle. Under my seat, in fact. Large eyes all round.  This was before we were even halfway to camp!

Afternoon lions.

Afternoon lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon drive produced another treat…..a leopardess with two 3month old cubs!   Not only that, but she allowed the cubs to suckle within 30 feet of our vehicle, watchful but at ease with our presence. We watched as she played with the little spotted things, batting them so gently as they ran at her on unsure legs and squinty eyes. They would stalk her white-tipped tail and roll over it hugging it with their front paws, biting at the furry length, until she would snarl quietly and gently bite them with her whiskered jaws agape. Once they took fright at something and bolted for a small slit in the base of an old lead wood tree  into which they squirmed and hid for a few moments before peeking out, and seeing their mother relaxed, they reappeared.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

 

Contentment

Contentment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset that evening was a first for the Family, and as the last light deepened into burnt reds we packed up and headed back to camp.  Dinner was on the verandah, and the frogs (very few at this time due to low winter temperatures) squeaked and chirped in the reed bed along the edge of the lagoon.

Early night, for an early start and a whole new day!

 

 

 

We spent two full days here….

Two days is a long time to do ‘things’ in!

We undertook a game drive each morning, and then did a different activity in the afternoon to break the ‘vehicle’ routine.

Lions seemed to feature considerably in our ‘wildlife collection’, and we were fortunate to find three different prides on one day!  Surely an amazing feat. I know one can spend days looking for the big cats to no avail. At night distant roars reached us from the rounded mountain south-east of the camp. General plains game was in profusion and elephants wandered about in small breeding groups as well.

Part of the drive was a visit to a Masai manyatta. We just arrived and the guides asked the residents if we could enter and spend some time learning about their culture.   I think the family got a surprise at the positive response to this casual entry!

The women made the female members of our family join them for a short sing-song.

The women made the female members of our family join them for a short sing-song.

Belts and bling hold a rung too.

Belts and bling hold a rung too.

The family spent a morning in a balloon on a flight over the Mara, and with some great glee told me they had had THE most incredible experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That afternoon we had a shooting competition with a bow and practise arrows, at a cardboard box placed 10 yards away.

Tea was a delicious cake whipped up in the kitchen and served by Hannah.

Basic skills can be fun.

Basic skills can be fu

Bow practise before tea.

Bow practise before tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea time!

Tea time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You mean we really are going to sleep in a tent……in the bush? But there’s lions here….

Richard’s Camp is a classic!   Located in an isolated valley overlooking a small water course in the Mara North conservancy. Kenyan’s do create great bush camps and have some of the greatest locations in their lovely country. Hosted by Finlay and Hannah, and their Masai staff the family had the most wonderful first ‘bush camp experience’. The Masai guides showed them lions within the first 10 minutes of being on the track back to camp! Spoilt, I said……’Camp’ was finally reached after a two hour drive over typical post-rainy season tracks, with topi, zebra, gazelles, giraffe ….lions……interrupting our passage.  That afternoon we were enjoying a sundowner…as it should be, when some (more) lions we had seen (with 12 young cubs between four lionesses) decided to stalk a buffalo we had been watching over the rims of our G&T’s. Chaos ensued…..as we packed/drank/cuddled glasses and scrambled back into the vehicles to see what the outcome of their chase was…..they missed!

Richard's Camp, dining room and lounge area overlooking the water course.

Richard’s Camp, dining room and lounge area overlooking the water course.

Richard's Camp tents are all 'river facing' with great views.

Richard’s Camp tents are all ‘river facing’ with great views.

Over the next few days we covered considerable ground, including a balloon flight over the Mara river. Wow….was a common comment. (All these superfluosities…) All manner of plains game, and elephant too filled our days and memory cards. It was outstanding.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the highlights here was after we had taken a long walk with the Masai over hill and dale, dotted with classic flat-topped Acacias and gazelles. A herd of confused wildebeest stared at our noisy happy group as we neared the fire and snacks which was a surprise. Thanks guys!   Hyenas sloped past us as sat around the fire to a busy den a few hundred yards away. There were fifteen pups, sub-adults and adults around it before we left. The little black pups resemble teddy bears and galloped around the den interacting with each other and the older animals with equal familiarity. Amazing!

The half light before night.

The half light before night.

 

The end of the walk...and sundowners at a fire overlooking the plains.

The end of the walk…and sundowners at a fire overlooking the plains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner was served under a different grove of trees, with the chairs arranged before a small pan, ringed by lanterns…..another total surprise moment. Thank you again….ALL the staff of Richard’s Camp. You set the bar for the trip!

Contemplation

Contemplation

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mara Experience

Nairobi was the first stop and there was no trepidation at spending a couple of nights in exquisite comfort at Hemingways, tucked away in fashionable Karen. The day was filled with interest, starting with the Giraffe Centre….filled with young school children from several local schools…..and there we fed the the giraffe and listened to the resident guide informing us about the different species of giraffe, notably the Rothschild’s giraffe.

A visit to Karen Blixen’s house/museum was next. Expensive but interesting and our guide was terrific.

Feeding the Rothchildee's giraffe....a close acquaintanceship.

Feeding the Rothchildee’s giraffe….a close acquaintanceship.

The restaurant at the Karen Blixen Cottages, formerly her brother Thomas’s house as farm manager, was a fine choice for a lunch break.  The staff very rapidly took our orders and brought lunch in the nick of time before we had to rush for our next appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touching the elephant calves is life-changing for many guests!

Touching the elephant calves is life-changing for many guests!

 

The afternoon was the pinnacle of our visit to Nairobi! The Daphne Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage hosted us with a private viewing of the baby elephants, and we wandered amongst them, getting squeezed between their red dusty hides, petting them and generally getting acquainted with them. For everybody, (including me) this was a wonderful hour that went by way too quickly!  The upshot of this was a number of baby elephants were ‘adopted’ by ‘Team Freeman’ and many little hearts made happy.

 

 

The next morning we journeyed on to the Mara itself!  Another adventure to be had!

 

Go North, friends…to a green river. There you will find it..the Namaqua Chameleon!

The landscape of Namibia is a geologists paradise. With no soil overburden, all is revealed to the learned and the unknowing. Miles upon miles of rock of fifty different shades and hues lies wind-scultpured or shattered by the forces of time, up tilted and folded, riven through with veins of quartz and coiling magma dried to colors only seen here. Then reddish sands color the plains after the veil-like dendritic drainage lines marked by shrubs form a net thrown carelessly over the plains, stemmed from the gap between hills. Eventually the smokey grays and blue hued mountains rear up marking the boundary of Angola, and the jade green Cunene river, the border of Namibia and Angola. Serra Cafema lies hidden in a grove of Winterthorn, on the southern bank of the river. We spotted a family of meerkats on the way across the plains, they watched us warily, ready to bolt to safety if we should prove hungry!  On our first morning the sea fog which had crept in during the night, we watched it as it slowly withdrew like smoke before a wind.

The fog is lifting out of the valley.

The fog is lifting out of the valley.

The Hartmann Valley (yes, the same man whose name the Mountain zebra enjoy) is a massive bowl-shaped valley about six miles long, and we drove across and over the edge along the high ridge, that is the southern river boundary. It is about 1000 feet above the river, and we descended on a sandy track, at times at an angle of probably 70 degrees! Scary stuff. The road wends it’s way through rocky ridges and hills of sand, and finally a rocky track on the very edge of a precipitous gully drops onto the river level, and one breathes a sigh of relief.

 

It was from one of these high ridges that I took the photograph of the mountains in Angola, with the Himba village in the foreground…..seen only as tiny brown shapes, with a dirty smudge around them.

View from downstream side. The camp in the trees, well hidden and very private.

View from downstream side. The camp in the trees, well hidden and very private.

 

 

 

We visited the local Himba village, and found a few women there and scattering of children, but no men. This is usually the case in the dry times, as the men take the cattle and head off to find grazing. We spent some time there talking to one of the adults. She had survived a crocodile attack in her youth, and her chest bore the scars. We later took a boat trip, and followed the Cunene upriver for some distance and photographed a number of large crocodiles and some babies too. The river had a number of mild rapids which we negotiated successfully, stopping on a convenient sand bar ‘on the other side’ for a refreshment break. The jade coloured water meant very few water birds as the water is clearly not clear enough for many piscavorous species.

"Crocodile" enjoying a deep draw on her pipe.

“Crocodile” enjoying a deep draw on her pipe.

 

We took the vehicle one day and drove out of the valley, fighting and grinding our way up and out of the valley, onto the plateau. Small groups of oryx foraged on the dry tufts of grass, roots exposed by the scouring wind, they lovely gray coats with white stockings at such contrast to the local conditions. What amazing animals they were!  The starkness of these plains is unique here, even in Namibia. Yet these animals and springbuck too, find a way to make a living. They glean the smallest greenery from the tufty grasses, nurtured by the sea fogs that come in, and their graceful and stately forms are seen in the remotest areas.

 

Endless gravel plains.

Endless gravel plains.

 

 

We spent one afternoon on quad bikes riding the winding roads and sand expanses on these fun machines. Madison had a small spill, but after shaking herself down jumped back on her bike and we carried on.  It was a very lucky afternoon, because the guide found a Namaqua chameleon……the holy graille of all reptile enthusiasts!  We watched him walk delicately and deliberately from stone to stone, eyes swivelling this way and that, scanning for sand snakes that eat tasty chameleons!

 

Namaqua chameleon in it's own habitat. The desolate gravel plains of Namibia.

Namaqua chameleon in it’s own habitat. The desolate gravel plains of Namibia.

 

The wind would blow every afternoon and it was better to be sheltered somewhere in the mountains or away from the dunes….except on our last afternoon when we ventured into the heart of the dunes at the bottom of the Hartmann Valley. What an experience!

The wind was strong enough to obliterate our tracks in minutes.

The wind was strong enough to obliterate our tracks in minutes.

Next stop….Ongava Tented Camp

Our flight east across the rock and tree covered hills took us to a ridge line of dolomite along the southern boundary of Etosha National Park. The bush here is mopane and Combretum scrub and small trees, interrupted sporadically by dense stands of White trumpet thorn and more congenial open grassland.

The tented camp is located in a stand of mopane (steadily diminishing under the attention of 5 elephant bulls now in the property), with a well-used waterhole just 25yards from the dining verandah! This waterhole is very popular with all manner of wildlife and we sat enthralled during our meals watching oryx, kudu, black faced impala, zebra (and mountain zebra), waterbuck, giraffe and even lion coming to drink. Day and night there would be some activity here.

Tent view

Tent view

25 yards from edge of the verandah, guests have the closest view of wildlife possible outside of a vehicle.

25 yards from edge of the verandah, guests have the closest view of wildlife possible outside of a vehicle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a walk one day we visited possibly the biggest moringa tree in the country, perched on the rocky edge of a dolomite ridge, looking from a distance rather similar to a baobab tree.  Walking through the bush was a sensory highlight as we found abundant sign of big game and with the recent entry of elephant from Etosha (they broke the fence) we kept a good look out for them.  Several prides of lion are also active now, and there were three sub-groups wandering around the hills.  The open grassy patches were used by zebra, red hartebeest and small herds of brindled gnu. Lilac breasted rollers exploited the margins of the open areas, hawking insects from convenient perches. We watched several rollers and drongos catching emerging ‘Sausage flies’ or correctly, male driver ants in the middle of an afternoon. Needless to say, our efforts at photographing flying rollers was not that successful.

 

This tree is exceptional in size, and unusually located on rock.

This tree is exceptional in size, and unusually located on rock.

An awkwardly elegant antelope, with distinctive horns. Dry-adapted, so it does well here.

An awkwardly elegant antelope, with distinctive horns. Dry-adapted, so it does well here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ventured for a memorable morning into the national park, to see the great pan itself..and the wildlife, but the wind defeated us soundly. The drive to Okaukujeo was bearable, but the rest of it was way beyond enjoyable, so we headed home as soon as we could with a great visual memory of the ‘place of dryness’! That afternoon we stayed nearer ‘home’ and found some lionesses with small cubs. Much better.  We found two lionesses near a distant waterhole late one morning, and watched an unsuccessful ambush of three warthogs, and again a herd of impala.

The mopane trees around the camp were favorite food for a population of hyrax, which would descend from the rocky hills into camp, and then climb the trees to feed on the leaves. If disturbed they would either leap out of the tree and gallop away on rubber feet or freeze if they were high up, and hope you would pass by ‘unseeing’. Bare cheeked babblers, a species of Namibian endemic were regular visitors and gave me great pleasure with their close proximity. A Monteiro’s hornbill also paused one morning next to me, foraging in the leaf litter near the dining room.

A Namibian endemic, a flock regularly visit the lodge area.

A Namibian endemic, a flock regularly visit the lodge area.

Another Namibia endemic. Monteiro's hornbill.

Another Namibia endemic. Monteiro’s hornbill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time eventually came to an end, and we took away that lasting view of the lion cubs which had bewitched us in the afternoon.

Zebra always look good lined up together.

Zebra always look good lined up together.

 

 

 

Namibia…not for ‘First-timers’, but a wonderful country

Sam and her family had not been to Namibia before, but were seasoned Africa travellers. We had created an itinerary that would give them a piece of several locations, from the Namib-Naukluft in the middle south to the banks of the far north, the Cunene river. Flying is the quickest way to move between locations, and one sees the country from a wider perspective in a shorter period. It has the most spectacular topography, and variety of habitats too.  The order of the camps was atypical due to last minute arrangements and availability.

Bedouin style tents, very comfortable and well appointed.

Bedouin style tents, very comfortable and well appointed.

Large, spacious tents, en suite with a fan and large windows for ventilation, and floor to ceiling glass in front.

Large, spacious tents, en suite with a fan and large windows for ventilation, and floor to ceiling glass in front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hoanib Camp, near the river of the same name was first, and was a fine start to our trip! Recently opened, it is located in the rocky hillocks east of the Skeleton Coast Park boundary only a few hours drive from the Atlantic waves and fur seal colonies. En route you may see Desert adapted elephants, giraffe, oryx, springbok and if you are REALLY lucky, lions on the dunes. The Hoanib flood plain is also home to rare birds like Black harrier, Peregrine falcons and others who seem to have strayed out of their accepted distribution range.

A small herd frequents the Hoanib river valley and flood plain.

A small herd frequents the Hoanib river valley and flood plain.

 

A delightful surprise!

A delightful surprise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the camp is 50 odd kilometres from the coast, the famous ‘sea fog’ penetrates this far, bringing the fresh water to plants and insects that rely on its’ gray, silent cloud for survival.  We experienced this blanket, and drove off from camp in a thick fog towards the river en route to the coast. The silence that comes with it is as profound as its effect. It normally retreats reluctantly as the sun rises so that by 1100am it is back over the sea, and gradually dissipates over the waves.

These beautiful handsome antelope are common in most of Namibia.

These beautiful handsome antelope are common in most of Namibia.

Several thousand seals are found along this coast.

Several thousand seals are found along this coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We set up lunch on the beach, not far from a rusted wreck lying amongst the rocks of its destruction, with the Atlantic waves our companions. After lunch we drove back to the airstrip close by and flew back to camp.

Lunch on the beach with the waves and gulls.

Lunch on the beach with the waves and gulls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Going!

This is an educational trip…..

So, we visited several boutique lodges along the way..in fact enough for everybody to get a good comparison of styles, quality of accommodations and still have great wildlife drives too. Leadwood lodge is great, but we could not see any rooms that day.

Dulini is a very comfortable stop now. A home from home for me.

 

Fond memories!

Fond memories!

Very homely and comfy.

Very homely and comfy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth lodge was the end of the road for us for that day’s trip and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening and an afternoon and a morning drive….very successful too!

Sabi Sabi Earth lodge verandah

Sabi Sabi Earth lodge verandah

Earth lodge bedroom...cool, contemporary and comfortable.

Earth lodge bedroom…cool, contemporary and comfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lovely leopard silhouetted against the waning sky allowed us an audience, and a great afternoon was enjoyed by all.  Lions just rounded it off nicely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and on….and onwards..

We visited the most quaint Selati and Little Bush Camps, which are part of Sabi Sabi’s portfolio. Lovely little camps, and with great staff!  Thank you for a most welcome mid-morning break of fresh coffee, tea and subtle ‘eats’!

Lebombo was next, about a 2-3 hour drive inside the famous Kruger National Park.  A massive fire had swept through a large part of the central park in August-September burning away massive tracts of grasslands and deadwood too. This would have had both good and detrimental affects on the park and wildlife, and naturally removed some advantage for the wretched rhino poachers whose depredations are on-going in this great park. Viva the anti-poaching teams whose work is dangerous and mostly unseen. Brave men and women!

Lebombo is part of the Singita brand, and located in a private concession within the park. A very rugged and rocky part of the park, and very dry at the moment.

Lounge area

Lounge area

Dining area

Dining area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rooms here are unique, and most charming, with wonderful outlooks. The bedroom area is separated from the rest of the space by a stylish ‘drop’, where a comfortable 3-seater couch faces the huge glass doors and outside ‘sleeping’ balcony. The bathroom encompasses a full bath and a shower comfortably spaced between dual basins, a hanging closet and dressing area.

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

Bedroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a great lodge!