A Travellerspoint blog

Our Last Animal Party

Nottens Bush Camp, Sabi Sands Nature Reserve


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

Arriving at Nottens Bush Camp was both exciting and a little bittersweet. It was a highly recommended nature reserve and lodge, and we were excited to get there but it was our last destination in SA - it marked the end of our adventure. ☹️

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Similar to other lodges on private game reserves surrounding Kruger National Park, Nottens offers an all-inclusive safari experience: accommodation, meals, game drives, with expert guides and trackers. Nottens is in the Sabi Sands Reserve, approximately 65,000 ha (2510 sq miles/6500 sq km), adjoining Kruger National Park. (The name is from the two bordering rivers, Sabi and Sands.) It is one of the last family run lodges in the reserve, about 60 years old. There are no fences between Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park, so the animals are free to roam. Many of the animals would have never encountered a fence as they exist free ranging within the reserve, or into Kruger. Our guide told us that many of the lions and leopards were born there, established their territory and have never left except occasionally for hunting. For generations, cubs have learned from their moms that the safari trucks were harmless so have become somewhat used to them coming by. They are still very wild and often disappeared but a bit easier to see because of that. Kruger Park, Sabi Sands Reserve or the game lodges within it do not feed, track or aid the animals in any way, other than keeping waterholes full and guarding against poachers, they just let nature take its course.

Sabi Sands Nature Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park, which is 3.5 M ha (3513 sq miles/35,000 sq km). Super-big, larger than any US National Park, and only slightly smaller than the two largest National parks in Canada. (Quite remarkable given the size of the US and Canada relative to South Africa.) Historically, areas of Kruger were first proclaimed protected in 1898, becoming a national park in 1926 and the Sabi Sands Reserve was formed in 1948. Bottom line: Many animals have lived here for generations without risk of man (other than poachers).

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The animals were truly amazing! It was an exceptional game reserve by all accounts, including very knowledgeable guides and trackers who taught us a lot about the animals and their behaviors. Nottens really knows how to maximize your experience. They kept us on a schedule to make sure we saw the most animals and ate the most food during our stay (Dean added the last part). The best viewing time for animals is sunrise, early morning and late afternoon as the light is changing, so a day at Notten’s looked like this:

5:30 am wake up call
6:15 am morning game drive (3 hrs)
9:30 am breakfast
10:30 am optional nature walk
11:30 am nap, pool or spa
2:00 pm lunch
3:30 pm sunset game drive (3 hrs)
7:00 pm dinner

Honestly it wasn’t hard to get up in the morning or follow the schedule because you were so excited to see animals. It’s always a surprise: what will we see today and what will they be doing? Also, staying in the bush you could often hear wildlife sounds that left you wondering - what was that? Or you might see something by the waterhole in front of the lodge - where did they go? Will we see lions today? It was all very exciting!

Our guide Jeffrey had been at Nottens for 24 years and his tracker Radon (sits in the chair at the front of the truck), 18 years. They knew so much about the animals, their predators, habitat and history:

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We met some great new friends at Nottens as well, the Carroll’s are from the States and do a “family trip” somewhere exotic every few years. We think that’s a great idea - Dad, are you reading this? It was super fun being on safari with them and we had the bushwhacking down pat!

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Here we go, the “Big 5” and their friends! (The Big 5 name comes from hunting, they are the five most dangerous to man if they are in attack/protect mode: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo.). We were very lucky to see leopards every day we were there, Nottens is known for their leopards that have established territories near the camp for generations. If you want to see leopards go here!

Our first introduction to Nysumi, one of the local leopards that was lounging in a dry river bed sleeping. We were told she had two cubs, but they were nowhere to be seen. The guide said she likely had hidden them away while she went hunting (or rested up for hunting?):

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The Lost Supper! Nysumi had gone hunting, killed an impala and carried it up a tree to keep it from other predators, such as hyenas and lions. Jeffrey said she would typically eat some of it, leave it in the tree and then go get her cubs to eat as well. However, three spotted hyenas showed up while she was in the tree, not good. They sat at the bottom of the tree waiting and snarling. We sat and watched for a while as she tried to tear into the impala, balance on the tree trunk, keep an eye on the hyenas, and not drop the impala. As we left, she appeared to be having a hard time biting into it and kept shifting the impala around the tree trunk.

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Enter the hyenas:

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We left the scene to go see another leopard and her two cubs who had been spotted by another tracker (the Nottens guide are all in radio contact with each other.):

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This is a cub under our truck!

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We loved watching them play and hang out:

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We returned later in the morning to see what happened with Nysumi and it was not good. It appeared she had dropped the impala from the tree, the three hyenas had finished it off in no time and she was stuck in the tree until they left. (A female leopard will avoid hyenas as they are bigger and stronger, especially three together.) We hope she got something to eat but not sure, and certainly her cubs lost their supper. Nature in action?

Listen for their “laugh” at the beginning, and the crunching near the end…

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Finally the hyenas left and she was able to come down, likely returning to her cubs empty handed.

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Later we saw the hyenas at the water hole washing up after their feast:

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Luckily they didn’t look like they were starving, as we saw the family together the next day:

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Mom must have been out hunting again, as we came across one of the cubs on her own. The cubs are taught from a young age to go straight up a tree if anything scary comes by, as they are smaller and can go up higher to skinny branches than any other predator that can climb trees (lions, leopards). Also she hides them separately, far apart, so that if one is found by a predator while she is gone and is unable to escape, she still has the other cub…now that’s practical thinking, ugh:

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Some days the driving was pretty exciting. Our guide Jeffery never wanted to miss anything, so if he saw the rear end of a leopard in the bush, away he went after it! We hung on tight, watching for branches, and made sure Radon, the tracker at the front of the truck was not lost as we chased a leopard. WOW, this one was definitely more about the drive than what we saw, lots of bum shots:

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Another sighting of one of the cubs:

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Our last leopard sighting on a morning drive the day we were leaving was of Nysumi and one cub, the guide thought she had made a kill and had gone to get the cubs to eat, she had one with her and was going to get the other as we followed them on the move. We looked for the kill but didn’t find it. Well hidden!

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Lions are territorial and a pride of two males, three females and their cubs had claimed a large area around Nottens. However we did not see them until our last night and morning drives as they had been away hunting, or so our guide speculated. When we finally saw them they were resting and had full tummies (you could actually see their round bellies), but the cubs were full of energy, playing and nursing. It was special to see the whole pride together:

The two male lions:

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The lionesses were sound asleep as well, but multi-tasking!

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The seven cubs were priceless:

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We saw the two males the next morning, sleeping about 50 ft away from each other on an open plain, I guess they don’t worry about predators when you are the “top of the food chain”. The first one was looking a little worse for wear, our guide reckoned there had been a fight with another lion, as the lionesses and cubs were no where to be seen:

The scrapper:

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The smart one? No visible injuries, Jeffrey said they were brothers so would not fight each other. This one is older, you can tell by the bigger mane:

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We saw many rhinos in the area, also territorial animals. They were all dehorned, except the babies. Notice the birds on the rhinos. They are eating ticks and insects, another symbiotic relationship. First some single males:

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A mom and youngster:

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Rhinos moving together at full speed are known as a crash. Even when they're just hanging around, they're called a crash because of their potential:

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Mom and baby, approximately 3 mths old, matching wrinkles?

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The elephants are just so big, they never cease to amaze:

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The buffalo calves are quite inquisitive, always starring at us as we pass by:

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Headache?

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There are no cheetahs with a territory near Nottens, so it was very lucky to see this one, even Jeffrey, our guide was surprised. They don’t tend to live near leopards, as they are “lower on the food chain”, faster but not as strong. They are so majestic. The tear stain reduces glare when they are hunting:

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One of our favorite friends, giraffes. The darker colored giraffes are older and the lighter ones are younger. Check out this neck action!

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Jelly roll, our favorite hippo, a young male who had been “voted off the island” so was on his own for now:

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Here he is on another day with terpins (turtles) on his back:

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Spotted hyenas are not really one of our favorites after what happened to Nysumi, but they are an important part of the ecosystem as they get rid of the remains, bones and all (final cleanup crew). They have very powerful jaws and even eat the bones:

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We only saw a few zebra here, not nearly as many as other parks:

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Vervet monkeys were always casing out the dining room, and were amazingly quick to steal a muffin or fruit when someone looked the other way:

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A majestic male nyala:

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One day as we started our guided nature walk we saw some female nyalas coming into the camp, close to our car. It shows how big they are, and the males are much bigger:

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Our guide for the walks, Tingatie is a very knowledgeable naturalist and knew the area well, he has never used his gun in 18 years at Nottens:

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Tingatie explained what animals these bones were from, which had been collected over the years from the reserve:

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An elephant jaw: elephants go through six sets of teeth through their lifetime:

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The jaw of a warthog:

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Jackals are not common here like they are in western South Africa, so when we spotted one our guide actually diverted us from a rhino to see it:

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Dwarf Mongoose, very cute and very fast! We had to borrow a picture:

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So many interesting birds, but hard to capture in a photo. Here are just a few, first the lilac breasted roller, we borrowed the second photo to share the beauty of this tiny bird:

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Vultures in a tree at sunset:

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Southern Yellow Hornbill (aka the banana bird):

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Crowned Hornbill (aka Zazu from Lion King):

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Grey Heron:

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Sabi Sands Reserve is big and beautiful, lots of water but also lots of big plains that reminded us of scenes from “Out of Africa”.

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The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular:

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The camp itself was a little piece of heaven. Nine separate cabins with decks overlooking the waterhole and lovely commons spaces, the “Summerhouse” which had the dining room, bar and waterhole viewing area:

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The pool and garden area:

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The library, Dean loved the big kudu horns:

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Our cabin:

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Each night when we returned from our game drive, there would be a bubble bath waiting for me in the room - so decadent!

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An outdoor shower:

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The deck for watching the animals:

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The chef at Nottens, Jan, was very talented, we had too many wonderful meals in many settings around the lodge and one night around a bonfire in the bush. This particular night, Dale the manager was doing the grilling:

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Morning coffee and sundowners in the bush:

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A truly wonderful place, website: Nottens

Last but not least, we even got dog time! The Nottens manager, Dale, brought his three dogs (two Rhodesian Ridgebacks and one other pup) to the camp one day for a visit:

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NEXT STOP: Back to Johannesburg for one night, a day tour and home! Thanks for joining us on this adventure, adios until next time!

Posted by margofiala 22:29 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Destination Kruger 🐆🦒🐘🦏🦁

Graskop, Kruger National Park


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

We arrived in Johannesburg from the Garden Route, quite a change in scenery from a coastline rainforest to a really big city! We rented a bigger car that would be more stable on gravel roads and have a much better ride than our little tinny Toyota Corolla (Dean hated it). He likes this new Audi Q3 SUV:

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We navigated successfully to our hotel, the Sunrock Guesthouse, which was enclosed behind 8 foot solid walls. It was somewhat like living in a compound, however it was truly an oasis inside with a lovely garden, cozy rooms, a pool, nice restaurant and even a pool table:

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Had a great meal, sleep and breakfast, and then hit the road to Graskop, about 4.5 hours on a really good highway, our halfway point to Kruger Park. We stayed at the Graskop Hotel which had great rooms, excellent customer service and terrific food.

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Graskop is also the start to the Blyde River Canyon or “Panoramic” route. It turned out to be a very interesting and scenic area to explore. We started at the furthest point, the Three Rondavels Viewpoint, about a 45 min drive and worked back towards Graskop. Stunning views of enormous rounds of rock, that look like giant grassy huts carved into the side of the canyon. You look down onto the river that feeds the Blydeport Dam with water.

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Next stop was Bourke’s Luck Potholes, no they were not on the highway! The area was filled with these bizarre cylindrical holes that were carved into the rock by whirlpools where the Blyde and Treuer rivers meet. The park did a great job of putting wooden walkways and bridges to explore the area.

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Really Dean!

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Next stop was Lisbon Falls, not Victoria or Niagara but still impressive to check out!

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Last stop was God’s Window. We were fortunate to have a super clear day and were able to enjoy stunning views of the hilly treed area below. We could almost see all the way to the coastline of Mozambique:

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Back in town we visited the Graskop Gorge, complete with a glass viewing elevator that drops you down 51m/167ft to a beautiful rainforest at the bottom of the gorge. There is a raised boardwalk to walk around the base of the gorge and then you take the lift back up to the top. It was like walking through Jungle Book and very peaceful:

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They tied in an adventure park that had zip lining, bungee jumping and a “big swing” at the top, completely the opposite feeling - Adrenalin and action packed. They actually did a great job of having the two quite opposite areas exist together. Who would have known!

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The world-renowned Kruger National Park is South Africa's largest wildlife sanctuary with nearly 2 million ha (4.9 million acres) of wilderness and wildlife land, and home to, not only the Big Five, but more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve. Established in 1926, we were very excited to finally get here, it is THE destination in SA and highly recommended to us by locals and tourists alike. Our route to Kruger from Graskop was 2.5 hrs, we left early to take advantage of our first day in the park. The gates:

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Another interesting sign. Given must parks and game reserves hide that they have rhinos for their protection, we found this a bit odd:

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Love the hippo sign, imagine seeing one of those giants on the road!

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We saw many many animals, some too far away to get a good photo of. We need a camera built into our binoculars! However, these are our best photos from Kruger:

First the highly endangered rhinoceros, one of the big five. We had heard about the practice of “dehorning” rhinos for their protection so the poachers don’t kill them for their horns, but had never seen one before. The horn does eventually grow back many years later, but it feels like a savage way to save these endangered animals from extinction. However, they are alive and thriving without their horns, their population is growing, so maybe it’s ok? (I keep remembering what one of the wardens told me “There are no stupid animals, just stupid people”):

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Here are some rhinos with horns that we saw in Namibia, just for comparison. The rhinos use their horn primarily for digging, but also fighting if they are male. One guide said that without the horn they didn’t kill each other as often, (which is a good thing with an endangered species I guess?)

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Hippos typically spend the whole day in the water and nights on land. We saw this pod was under the bridge near our rest camp early in the morning through to sunset:

We couldn’t decide if they looked more like olives or whales in the water:

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Sleeping after a busy day in the water:

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We saw several crocodiles cohabiting with the hippos:

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Lots of buffalos here, one of the “Big Five”. In adult males the horns are joined in the middle with a hard shield called a “boss” that covers the entire top of the head. Every time I look at them I get a headache! Imagine wearing a helmet 24/7 for your life, ugh:

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They normally stay in herds, so it’s interesting we saw several singles or pairs before:

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Calm elephants, another of the big five:

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We called him Grumpy Pants!

Giraffes, so regal and peaceful:

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Wildebeest:

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A dazzle of Plains zebras:

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A Bushbuk, a new animal for us:

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Waterhole gangs:

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A cute little lizard, might be a Rainbow Striped lizard, but not sure:

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Many beautiful interesting birds, starting with the Lilac-breasted roller:

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Egyptian Goose:

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Crested Barbet:

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The Grey Go-away bird has a very distinctive song that sounds like “go away”, typically warning animals of danger when they see a predator:

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Crowned Hornbill:

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Impala with a broken horn, I wonder if he gets headaches from being off balance?

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In between animals, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery as well. Kruger is so big, it really changes as you explore the park:

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We stayed in SAN Parks accommodation, which worked out fine, although we had been warned it was outdated and not well maintained. It was basic but clean, safe and fine. And had a restaurant! Where else can you have dinner listening to hippos roar?

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Right as we were leaving Kruger, this baboon carrying a young one went running across the road:

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No dogs allowed in the park, but I think this highly skilled service dog should receive special consideration, especially with his new haircut!

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NEXT STOP: Sabi Sands, a private game reserve adjoining Kruger National Park 🐆🐆🐆

Posted by margofiala 17:50 Archived in South Africa Comments (5)

Eastward Bound 🐘🐘🐘

Eastern Cape


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

We headed straight inland from the coast to Graaff-Reinet, about 4 hours northeast, deep into the Great Karoo. The drive reminded us of the change in landscape from the mountains to the endless flat prairies at home. The Karoo is a large semi-desert area covering 400,000 sq kms/155,000 sq miles, a large part of the interior of South Africa. The Karoo is from an ancient San word meaning “land of great thirst”. Graaf-Reinet is a town known as the “jewel of the Karoo” and is home to Camdeboo National Park, our next destination.

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We started in the game viewing area of the national park, where we met three new animals that we hadn’t seen before, first the Blesbok, with a very striking white face:

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The black wildebeest, even uglier than the blue wildebeests we saw in Namibia?

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Black wildebeest and blesbok together:

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And the Vervet monkey, the first of many we would see:

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We also saw the Mountain zebra in their element. We had seen them before in Kgalagadi, but not in the mountains. Their stripes are only black and white, no brown like the Plains zebra. They are also striped down to their hooves, other zebras stripes kind of fade down their legs. Most of all, their strips are very defined, their bums are quite striking!

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We saw many other animals, but from a distance so hard to get good pictures of. The baboons and a springbok hanging out with two ostriches did come a little closer:

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Our first hike was the Eerstefontein trail that winds through the Valley of Desolation up to the base of the mountain. It was VERY hot, about 34c/93f. The best part of the hike was: a) we survived, and b) I lost my sunglasses on the way up and found them on the way down!😊

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The Valley of Desolation is what the park is most famous for. Set against the endless plains of the Great Karoo, it really earns its name.

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The spectacular rock formations on the perimeter of the valley are made of piled dolerite, the result of volcanic activity 100 MM years ago. We hiked a loop around the top of the mountain, called the Crag Lizard Trail. It was very rough and rocky, not well maintained, but not as hot so we liked it!

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View of the town from the mountains:

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Graaf-Reinet is a very colonial, quiet town kind of in the middle of nowhere. Their church stands out, but all the buildings look “built for the heat”:

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There is a township right beside Graaf-Reiner called Umasizakhe. We had done a township tour in Cape Town at Langa, but decided to get another perspective in a rural location. Kwanele was our guide, age 28, born and raised in the township. He attended school locally and has just completed his college degree, studying business and tourism. He took us around the township and talked about both the challenges of growing up there but also the benefits too, such as a close community. Umasizakhe is one of the oldest township in SA and was the hometown of Robert Sobukwe, one of the original leaders within PAC (Pan Africanist Congress), a key political activist group that fought for the end of apartheid. The corrugated metal huts are eventually replaced by the government for small homes, but the process takes time, so many corrugated huts still stand. Some of the original homes were soldier barracks (from the Boer War over 100 years ago and were just recently renovated, ugh). Note the painting of occupants “shadows”. We also discussed politics and the upcoming election. It was all very enlightening.

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Our last day here was May 11 and we wanted to join our friends in Edmonton who were celebrating the life of Kathy’s brother and our good friend, Kevin Kennett. We really wish we could have been in two places at once. Cheers Kevin!

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Onto Addo Elephant National Park. We were excited to see more animals, at another spectacular SANPark. Established in 1931 to protect what was left of the huge elephant herds that once roamed the Eastern Cape, (11 elephants to be exact), today there are more than 600 in the park, so it truly has been successful. There are also many other animals in the park as well, such as lions, black rhinos, Cape Buffaloes and many others, but this really is an elephant park.

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Welcoming committee: Vervet monkeys

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Our first elephant sighting of the day was a large male:

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Quickly followed by a heated discussion, perhaps a herd or territory dispute?

It’s incredible how close they will come to the cars, a bit scary!

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We saw this elephant late afternoon, he played in the mud, had a drink and then walked away. Very cool to watch.

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A herd, or parade of elephants:

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Have you ever wondered how an elephant drinks?

There is a good reason you aren’t allowed to drive in the park after sunset, this is what we saw on the way to our accommodation (within the park), yikes!

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Plains zebras, see how they have a brown stripe between the black stripes? That is the difference with mountain zebras:

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Another brilliant kudu:

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An ostrich pair:

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A red hartebeest:

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Finally we saw Cape Buffalo’s, one of the big five. Quite the headpiece. We actually saw them twice, first late afternoon:

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The next day, look closely at his nose in the last two pictures:

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The famous Dung Beetle ….. critical here for obvious reasons (elephant dung is not small):

Our accommodation was at SANPark’s Nyathi Rest Camp. Our first stay in a SANParks facility and it set the bar high. It was recommended by Marguerite and Francois, the newlyweds we met in Kgalagadi Park and it was wonderful!

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As we were leaving the park the next day, we were sad to say goodbye to these gentle giants:

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More interesting signs…always a good reminder in life:

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The first sign for buffalos we’ve seen:

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Our last destination in the Eastern Cape was the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, an area of lush rainforest along the coast. It felt less developed than the rest of the Garden Route, and has great hiking on a dramatic coastline. Our first hike was the famous Storms River Mouth Trail, across a series of suspended bridge and up the mountain on the other side - a short but steep climb but well worth it! (200m/650ft elevation gain over just 2 kms/1.2m each way)

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Kayakers and tubers, maybe paddle boarders in the summer?

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The suspension bridges:

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A deep crevice that seemed to go on forever:

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And up to the top:

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The Big Tree is over 800 years old, a 36m/118ft tall yellowwood. Quite a wide girth!

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Where the highway crosses over Storms River canyon is quite dramatic:

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We also hiked part of the Dolphin Trail at the property. We just wanted some exercise and to enjoy the views but ended up spotting a Southern Right whale, apparently very early for their annual migration, the hotel staff was very excited!

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Our accommodation was very unique! We stayed at the Misty Mountain Reserve in a metal framed glass cube submerged in the rainforest. Designed to feel “close to nature”, literally in the rainforest:

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Pictures just don’t do this justice….enjoy the 4 videos, turn up the volume for a commentary:

Several signs warning of furry friends, we only saw one vervet monkey but it scurried away quickly:

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The main lodge and restaurant was lovely as well:

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Our cube was not that far to walk to (10 mins) but we were provided with a gator for the time we were there. Dean said “I want to be just like Phil!”:

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On our way to the Port Elizabeth airport we stopped in Jeffrey’s Bay “J Bay” to see the surfing there. Apparently #4 in the world for surfing at Super Tubes, “the best right hand ride in the world”. It also looked like a great beach!

We had lots of dog time! Piper was the resident dog in Graaf-Reiner at our accommodation. She followed us around faithfully, but also wouldn't go in the rooms. She had a toy lion and ostrich, funny to see. Bojak was the resident dog at the Cube who loved his belly rubs and chasing the gator. The 2 cute jackals are from Addo:

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NEXT STOP: Flying to Johannesburg, picking up a rental car and heading for Kruger National Park 🦁🦁🦁!

Posted by margofiala 15:42 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Best of the West

Western Cape, South Africa


View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

We arrived in Cape Town and picked up a rental car to head to Hermanus, our first destination in the Western Cape beyond the Cape Town area. The most expensive part of this trip is vehicle rental! $60 USD/day for a Toyota Corolla.

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The change from the deserted gravel washboard roads of Namibia to rush hour traffic in Cape Town was startling. Dean had mastered driving on the left hand side of the road, but this was a whole new level, ugh. Way too stressful for pictures. We made it, only about 1.5 hours away on the south coast. We stayed at “The Potting Shed” in Hermanus, which was a lovely spot. I loved the proteas painted on the wall:

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A highlight was the Hermanus Cliff Path, a beautiful sea walk along the coast. It was great to be near the sea after being in the desert, and to walk after so much driving in Namibia.

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We enjoyed dinner at “The Pear Tree”, (mushroom potato chowder, mussels, cape salmon, prawn and chicken curry) Yummy!

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We visited three different wineries in the area: Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge and Creation. Creation is the #4 rated winery in the world and #1 in South Africa, and totally lived up to their reputation. The wine was delicious and the vineyard was beautiful.

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We couldn’t resist going to see more African Penguins, this time in Betty’s Bay. It was miserable and cold but the penguins didn’t seem to mind (about 14c/57f, windy and raining on and off):

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Our next stop was Cape Aguilas, the most southerly point of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. There is a nice coastal hike there as well:

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The hike ended at a shipwreck, ominous!

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The next day we visited 3 wineries just outside of Robertson, the start of “Route 62”, a highway that runs parallel to the south coast through a farming and wine growing area called the Little Karoo, very picturesque. Viljoensdrift offered a boat ride down the river while having a picnic lunch and bottle of their wine. At Excelsior we met the owner (Dean hated that) and really loved the reserve Cabernet. Graham Beck was by far our favorite for yummy bubbles (2018 Rose and Blanc de Blanc). It was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed the sparking wine and a charcuterie board:

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Route 62 from Robertson to Montague was very scenic with steep canyons walls and a hole bored through the mountain for the highway:

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It was a very beautiful drive, maybe a good motorcycle trip John and Donna?

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Another stop on Route 62 was Calitzdorp, known for their port-style wines. Not as good as Portuguese port, but we suffered through. A very large “tasting”:

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We spent a few nights in Oudtshooren, ostrich capital of the world! We saw many ostrich farms approaching the town and stopped to visit one offering tours (Highgate). Although we had seen many ostriches in South Africa and Namibia, we definitely learned a lot about them. For example, ostriches are the only two-toed birds in the world, similar to dinosaurs; can turn their heads 360 degrees like owls; and have the second toughest skin in the world next to the kangaroo. Their feathers naturally have static in them, so are great for dusting, but in the late 1800s were very popular and lucrative for ladies hats. Here is Dean feeding one:

We had been told repeatedly that males were black and females were greyish brown, and we had seen many such couples. We learned that females can be black, not commonly, but it does occur, like this couple:

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Ostrich eggs are very strong and can hold up to 140 kg:

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Young ones:

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An albino ostrich:

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A highlight in Oudtshooren for us was Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, just outside of town. For my birthday I went for a pedicure there, and then we had a spectacular sundowner and dinner - a great birthday celebration, topped off with a visit from 3 hippos. No good hippo pictures, but we could see them through our binoculars and hear them all night! They sounded way closer than they were! Very cool, we haven’t seen hippos yet on this trip.

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The hippo pictures we did get:

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The setting was awesome and the food was fantastic: (Chorizo and vegetable skewers, Kudu steak, Kingklip fish)

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Magda (our B&B host at 88 Baron van Reede Guesthouse) was very thoughtful and had a card and muffin/candle for me at breakfast.

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Drove through the Meiringspoort Pass to Prince Albert in the Great Karoo, a very scenic pass:

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A few baboons on the way too:

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Complete with a waterfall and bathing dogs!

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There should be a sign for tortoises crossing the road:

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In Prince Albert we enjoyed their “Journey to Jazz” Festival. There were a number of artists performing but we saw the Guilliette Price Band in a beautiful garden setting - small venue and good music:

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We stayed in a B&B in a “Karoo-style” home, the town is very white and has a dramatic setting against the mountains:

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We headed back to the coast via the Swartberg Pass. Incredible scenery and a very rough road (MAMBA):

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We returned to the southern coast at Wilderness, on the famous Garden Route along the south coast of South Africa. It was nice to see the ocean and have some humidity. It is cooler though so we may not be in the water. Our Airbnb has a great view of the ocean and a nice deck:

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We drove west to Mossel Bay, the official beginning of the Garden Route to see more of this famous coastline:

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Two dassies enjoying the sun:

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Longest zip line over water in South Africa at 1100m/3600ft:

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On the way back to Wilderness we stopped to see Heralds Bay and Victoria Bay, both popular surfing spots:

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The “Half-collared Kingfisher Trail” is within the Garden Route Wilderness Park. It was a wonderful walk, partially on raised boardwalk through a rainforest with waterfalls at the end, the perfect hike:

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A pontoon crossing, all manual:

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The views of the beaches here remind me of Australia:

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We drove west to Plettenburg Bay to see the other side of the Garden Route. It is very different, bigger beaches and calmer waters:

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These were both concerning to see, note the peak activity months for great white sharks! Good thing it was too cool to swim:

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The next town on the Garden Route is Knysna (knees-na), which is a very cool geographic area with a huge headlands out to the sea and a large lagoon next to the town. We would have loved to paddle board there in summer. Here is the view from the eastern head, spectacular:

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The large lagoon:

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Seahorses at the SANParks (South Africa National Parks) office:

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Many dogs…making up for lost time! Chloe was the resident dog at our accommodation in Prince Albert (Saxe-Coburg Lodge), so we got to know her well. We were sad she wasn’t allowed in our room:

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Next Stop: Eastern Cape, the Great Karoo

Posted by margofiala 06:54 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Leopard Land

Okonjima Game Reserve 🐆🐆🐆

sunny 30 °C
View South Africa & Namibia 2024 itinerary on margofiala's travel map.

Our last animal stop in Namibia is the Okonjima Nature Reserve, home of the AfriCats Foundation. The reserve is 20,000 hectares/50,000 acres surrounded by the Omboroko Mountains, and provides the land to support the AfriCats animals and other naturally occurring animals. The AfriCats foundation is committed to the long-term conservation and survival of Namibia’s large carnivores in their natural habitat. They rescue, rehabilitate, protect, study and provide education regarding leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, and hyenas. They also protect pangolins, which are not a carnivore but at great risk and present in Namibia. They work closely with the African Wildlife Foundation, a larger organization covering all of Africa, but are focused specifically on animals in Namibia.

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As we entered the reserve, our first sighting was baboons, followed by a family of warthogs (another of the Ugly 5):

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As part of the ongoing research on leopards, approximately 14 of the 30+ leopards on the reserve have electronic collars, so they can be monitored, studied and cared for if needed. The other leopards are monitored with field cameras (mounted on trees on the areas they frequent) and patrolling rangers. This provides a very unique opportunity to see the leopards, which was amazing for us. This is our guide, Matthew, searching for leopard signals:

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Our first sighting was a rogue female who is known to be shy. She ran away immediately and we did not try to follow her:

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You can see her collar in this picture, our guide said after a few days the leopards do not appear to notice it.

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Our second sighting was very exciting. A female in a tree with a large male on the ground. Leopards are very territorial and apparently he was encroaching on her territory, so she was hiding out in a tree, watching him the whole time. When he fell asleep, she quietly climbed out of the tree and escaped. A male leopard is bigger and stronger than females, so she would avoid fighting him at all costs:

Here in the female in the tree, so well camouflaged:

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We drove around to the other side of the tree to see the male leopard. He clearly couldn’t care less about us:

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Tough looking guy:

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Here he is in action: (turn up your volume and hit the arrow)

An overview of the situation:

She is laser focused on the male trespasser:

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It was so interesting to watch her watch him that we missed out sundowner and had a beer in the truck - a whole new level of “living in a beer commercial”:

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Also observing this wildlife show in a tree nearby, we wondered what this giant eagle-owl thought of the situation:

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We were having supper on the outside terrace right by a large waterhole and guess who dropped by?

The next morning we saw a Small Spotted Genet at the bar. Genets are nocturnal, so we knew we were up early! (Not for the bar though)

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A herd of stripped mongooses were also up early:

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And another adorable black backed jackal:

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We visited the AfriCats Research center onsite within the reserve. The first picture is of all the types of collars and tracking devises they have tried over the years. (The older ones were much larger and bulky, some with an antenna. Technology improvements has really helped.) The surgical pictures are from their website. They are very explicit about the threat they are fighting:

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The cheetahs are enclosed in a 20 hectare space, as they were rescued as cubs and cannot protect themselves in the wild or the rest of the reserve. There are five cheetahs, three siblings and 2 singles.

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More leopards that afternoon. First was a young male who had been “voted off the island” but was allowed to stay in his mom’s territory for now. He is about 2 years old:

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Later that day we saw three leopards at a kill (Kudu). It was smelly and lots of flys, but interesting to watch as dad ate first, then the cub and mom last. We didn’t see the kill, just arrived as dad was finishing:

Dad:

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The cub (see the kudu antler):

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Mom - we can just hear her saying “I’m just gonna lay here and make sure these two don’t screw anything up, then I will eat in peace.“

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Onto our sundowner, a great spot for views of the reserve (ends at the mountains) and baboons in a tree:

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We did a night walk to see the mysterious pangolin, a nocturnal animal that is rarely seen. This is one they are studying, a 7 month old female. She will potentially double in size in her life, eating ants and termites. Pangolins are poached for their shell-like skin, similar to a rhino horn. They roll up into a tight ball for protection against predators (man, large cats and hyenas). Our guide said he has seen leopards playing with a rolled up pangolin (ugh), batting it around. The good thing is they get bored fast and often leave it alone. Hard to get a good picture at night, so one from their website as well:

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We also came across a honey badger and a brown hyena on our way back to the lodge, both nocturnal animals:

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In the morning, we did a walk to see two male rhinos. The rhinos here are not collared or fed (by humans), however they have a 24/7 anti-poaching team tracking and monitoring them, and lots of space to roam. It was interesting talking to the anti-poaching team, they are all African “bushmen” and very protective of their rhinos, “I sleep best when I am near them” one of the team said to me.

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Matthew, our guide:

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Okonjima Bush camp was lovely (we got upgraded!). The second chalet is our viewing room, for watching animals - who doesn’t have one of those?

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Hockey, figure skating or animal viewing?

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We drove back to Windhoek to fly back to Cape Town. We stayed at Villa Violet, saw a few sights in their downtown area and had dinner at Joe’s Beer House. The first two statues commemorate Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990:

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Their parliament buildings and the German Lutheran Christ Church:

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The last supper:

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Adios Namibia!

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No dogs, but more interesting road signs!

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NEXT STOP: land in Cape Town and drive to Hermanus, beginning our tour of South Africa’s western cape.

Posted by margofiala 07:47 Archived in Namibia Comments (4)

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