A Travellerspoint blog

Safari Day 2

The Big Five in One Drive

overcast 65 °F

Today was our first full day on safari, and we basically saw in one day what many people do not get to see in a whole week! Our rangers name is Lucky, which is very fitting for how are day went.

After an early breakfast, we headed into the bush at 7:30am local time. Initially, there was not much to see because it was so cold, and the animals were not very active. However, about an hour in, we heard that other rangers had found two female cheetahs, which are very rare to see. We sped over to the area and tracked the cheetahs for about 30 minutes, when we realized that they were stalking a herd of impalas. We actually got to see the larger of the two cheetahs attack and chase the impalas but she missed the kill. It was extremely exciting to see how fast the cheetah could accelerate! After the failed attempt, the cheetah was so tired that she simply laid down to rest for a few hours.

After the cheetah, we moved to a different area and saw a full herd of buffalo. There must have been 200 buffalo in the herd. Interestingly, there are small birds that move with the herd and land on their backs to eat the ticks and flies that are attracted to the buffalo.

While driving back to the camp for lunch, we also ran into a pair of young warthogs, more impalas and a couple of water monitors (lizards). It was a great morning!

However, it got even better in the afternoon! We managed to see the Big 5 game: elephant, buffalo, rhino, leopard and lion in one afternoon drive. First, we tracked and found two female leopards. They were not together but we found out that they are siblings. They are spectacularly beautiful. We found out later that the second one was hunting and eventually found a hare that she took back to her cubs (more on that later).

Second, we traveled about 5 minutes to find a full herd of approximately a dozen elephants. There was even one very small baby elephant. The alpha female elephant gave us a dirty look that made our ranger a bit nervous, and he moved us a bit further away because elephant can be very dangerous if they charge.

After the elephants, we saw a pride of nine lions. They had fed very recently and were, therefore, extremely lazy. They were all lying around asleep. We sat and watched them for a long time. After a while, a kudo (large antelope) walked near by and many of the lions woke up and thought about going after it, but it never got near enough. However, that got them up and they started moving around and grooming each other. At one point, one of the females came within about 3 feet of the vehicle. We were all a bit frightened and Lucky told us not to make any sudden movements. We were all relieved to find out that she just came over to relieve herself (she peed)! We literally could have touch her head had we reached out of the jeep.

We left the lions and were joking with Lucky that the only thing we needed to see to get the Big 5 in one day was a rhino. Sure enough, as we were driving back, we rounded a corner and ran into a small group of four rhinos! The rhinos were a bit more skittish and moved away, but we were able to chase them for a while and get a few good photos.

At this point, we were extremely excited to have see the Big 5 game animals in one day when many people do not see them in a full week. As an added bonus, we stopped by the female leopard's den and were able to see one of her two young cubs. He seemed to come out for a few minutes just so we could get some photos! He was extremely cute, and we hope to go back tomorrow to see if we can see more of them.

As we were headed back to camp, we saw another lone buffalo on the road, which meant that we had seen the Big 5 animals all in one afternoon!

As an added bonus to our already amazing day, we met the owners of the camp in the bar before dinner, and they asked us to join them. We learned lots about the history of the area, the camps and South Africa. It was really fun and was the perfect ending to a spectacular day. We have no idea how they can top it tomorrow, but we are sure that they will find a way!

Posted by kshunter 12:35 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Safari - Day 1

Kruger National Park and Mala Mala Camp

sunny 70 °F
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This morning, we got up early, checked out of our hotel and headed into the Kruger National Park. In a word, WOW! We were not 5K into the park before we saw an elephant standing next to the road. A bit further up, impalas. Next, giraffes and a group of three elephants. Later, zebras. And so on! In the 40K from the gate to the Skakuza main reception where we met our guide, we saw all of the above plus monkey and the butt of rhino. At one point, the three elephants were so close to our car that you could reach out an touch one with a ten foot pole! Needless to say, we were pretty awestruck!

After dumping the rental car at Skakuza, we were picked up by a ranger from the Mala Mala Camp (http://www.malamala.com/malacamp.htm) who drove us to the camp in an open top safari vehicle. The road was all dirt and the trip took approximately 45 minutes. Along the way, we saw more giraffe and some warthogs.

Once at the camp, we quickly dropped our bags, had a quick lunch outside on the deck, and headed right out to meet our guide, Lucky, who was already out in the bush with a couple other clients. As soon as we got there, he said "Let's go see if we can find some lions!". So, we headed out along the dirt roads until we came to the area where he thought they were. The area had very tall grass and Lucky was driving extremely slowly. We discovered why when we nearly ran over one of the lions! They were very tired from a kill the day before and were lying prone in the grass. Their coloring makes them very, very difficult to see and they were not moving very much. Once, we saw the first, we were able to find 3 males and 1 female within about 20 yards of each other. We were extremely close, but for the most part, all the lions did was pick their heads up, take a look an go back to sleep. It is almost like we did not exist to them. We were very, very close!

After leaving the lions, we stayed out until about 7:00pm and it got really dark and chilly. Since it is winter here, it gets dark early. We saw the most amazing full moon rise over the bush and were able to see the Southern Cross constellation for the first time ever.

When we got back, we had a short time to wash up quickly, and then, we had dinner in an outdoor boma, which is a large, round area with a big open fire in the middle. After dinner, the staff came out and sang happy birthday to Kellie, brought her a cake and sang two more songs. It was really fun!

After dinner, Wil got on Facebook with friends, Kellie got the photos onto the computer, and I watch the US lose to Ghana.

All in all, a pretty amazing first drive and evening!

One very cool thing about this camp is that there are no fences. So, animals may walk by or up to the camp at any time. Therefore, at night, we have to be escorted to our rooms because occasionally, a lion, leopard or elephant wanders into the middle of the camp.

A quick word on our room. It is spectacular! It has an incredible thatched roof and a view out onto the dried up river outside the camp. They even have a special little nook for Wil and he gets his own bathroom.

We will post some pictures in the next day or so when we get them uploaded.

Posted by pmonahan 03:14 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The World Cup

Africa, in a word, is amazing! Friday we had our only free day (without planned activities) and Wil decided to do a zipline. He and Peter went to the top of a large hill and rode a zipline at a 45 degree angle…I stayed on the ground filming. I just don’t have that love for adrenaline gene.

From there, we went to Blyde River Canyon and to different lookouts such as the Pinnacle and God’s Window. Beautiful scenery with a large gorge in the middle ~ it was much like being on top of the world looking down on the mountains, green grass and water and slopes.

Imagine, driving through the rolling hills with beautiful countryside one either side of the road, workers sitting on the side of the road or using what I would say is a combination machete/scythe to cut down the brush on the side of the road and perfectly aligned forests of trees for logging. We are cruising down a hill into town and there is a woman in the middle of the road who points to Peter to pull over. Nothing like getting a speeding ticket on our first day! Us and every other tourist coming back from the Canyon. The funny thing is she sent us directly to the magistrate to pay the fine. We paid R100 which is about $15.

From the magistrate in Sabie we headed directly to our World Cup match, Ivory Coast vs North Korea, and there is nothing in the States that compares to the craziness of soccer fans! The party atmosphere was contagious! There was no driving to the stadium, the towns had Park and Ride which was free and amazingly well organized. While on the bus (to and from the stadium) there were about a dozen guys singing and dancing the entire way. Every 5th person had a vuvuzela which was LOUD, especially on a bus or a stadium filled with them! People tried to out-do each other with their dress from masks of the president of North Korea to crazy decorated hats and outfits. Sadly, due to our visit to the magistrate and not being clear on the start time of the game we arrived at the start of half time.

Here are some observations about South Africa after 1.5 days:
•South Africans are amazingly polite and helpful. They seem genuinely happy to be the hosts of the World Cup and go out of their way to chat. While buying a SIM card at the local mall the salesman was talking about how happy they are to be the host and he is just one of the many representatives who want to make our experience a good one.
•Per my friend Carl who also pointed this out, the South Africans have amazingly good teeth. I feel like everyone I speak with could be in a Colgate commercial and would give any Hollywood starlet a run for their money with their perfect smile and straight white teeth.
•Driving on the left side of the road makes me nervous!
•I didn’t think I would love the World Cup game but I did! I would go again….I love a good party! I would even show up on time the to the next one.

Posted by kshunter 12:17 Comments (0)

South Africa - Day 1

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

sunny 70 °F
View Africa Trip 2010 on pmonahan's travel map.

We finally arrived in Hazyview, South Africa after traveling for the better part of 24 hours. None of us got much sleep on our red eye flight from London to Johannesburg, but we did catch up on our movies. We had a relatively short connection between flights in Johannesburg, but we ended up making it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare. All in all, everything worked as planned.

After landing, we made a quick trip over to the FIFA Ticketing Office in Nelspruit to pickup our tickets for the game this evening. Then, we drove the 45 minutes up to Hazyview. Kellie and Wil both slept almost the whole drive. One fun thing for me is driving on the left side. It takes a fair amount of concentration. The road was very hilly, and the little Toyota rental could not keep speed up the hills. Even though there is only one lane, slow cars just pull to the left into the breakdown lane while going up the hills to let faster cars pass. Can't image that happening in the U.S.

We are now at the Protea Hotel in Hazyview, which is one of the gateway towns to Kruger National Park. Last night, we spent the evening in the beautiful bar at the hotel that overlooks a valley. Wil and Kellie saw a small pack of monkeys roaming around the grounds of the hotel. I managed to miss it because I was trying to get the wireless to work in the lobby. Everyone in the bar was watching the football matches and were very chatty. In the early evening, there were lots of Mexico fans in the bar, and then, after dinner, a whole group of Australians came in. Unfortunately, we were all so tired that we went to bed really early, but tonight, we will strive to stay up later for the second match.

Today, we have the morning and early afternoon free, and then, we will attend the Ivory Coast vs North Korea football match which is at 4:30pm local time. We are not sure what were are going to do, but a few of the options that we are considering are a drive through Blyde River Canyon, a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary, the Sudwala Caves (oldest caves in world). Needless to say, there is not shortage of things to do.

Here are a few quick observations:

1. In general, South Africans are very friendly and willing to help us find our way about.
2. The weather is beautiful. 70s during the day and 50s in the evening. It is very dry. Bottled water is a must.
3. Security around the stadiums is very tight. When we picked up our tickets, we must have seen 15 police cars.
4. It's a very tip centric society. Everywhere you go, there is someone willing to help you out for a tip. At the shopping center, there were uniformed "security" people who made sure that the car stayed safe even though Kellie and Wil were in it.

All in all, yesterday was a good day. Will post some pictures once Kellie gets up.

Posted by pmonahan 20:37 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Pre-trip excitement

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View Africa Trip 2010 on pmonahan's travel map.

Now that we are only a day away from our trip, we are all very excited! I woke up really early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep because I was thinking about how cool this trip is going to be. There's still lots to do since none of us has really packed. Now, I am sitting at work trying to stay focused when I really want to be home getting ready.

Yesterday, Kellie and I went to the used bookstore in town to grab some reading material for our 19 hours of flight time. We were able to download Wil's summer reading, Fahrenheit 451, to my iPod so that he can listen to it on the plane. Will be interesting to see how that works out for him.

This morning, I checked us into our flights and took my first malaria pill. We all decided to take the newer malaria medicine, Malarone, instead of the old school Lariam because my doctor told me that Lariam can cause wild nightmares in some people. Taking one pill a day instead of one a week is worth not going crazy.

This afternoon, I have to go to the bank to get cash. The travel agent told us to get nothing larger than a $50 and no bills older than 2000. Apparently, they have some counterfeiting issues in South Africa.

All in all, a busy but exciting day!

Posted by pmonahan 06:24 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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