Monday, 24 February 2020

The end of our Great African Adventure

Morning coffee with giraffes
The Garden Route: day 20 part 2

It was a night drive, hurrah, the new guests, three ladies from the U.K. were happy to join us, so after an early dinner at 18.00 we set off, joined by our waitress and chef, we had space so why not? Just an example of the ‘family feel’ of the lodge we were in. Obviously the danger with night drives is the dark and the possibility you won’t see anything, but we were hopeful for something a bit different, though aware that there wouldn’t be photographs. It started slowly but then we came upon a spring hare, the first of many, this was new, he looked like a little kangaroo which was a real surprise, and what a cutie. Baby
On our night drive with hand held searchlight
jackals, three, playing with mum were new, then giraffes sitting down. They sit down to sleep, but still with their heads up, they only lower their heads to drink, engaging the valve in their neck to stop all the blood rushing to their brains! I’d wanted a porcupine and in theory got one, though all we could really see was a different style of movement before it vanished into a bush, so we’ll have to take his word that that was what it was.

Here's a photo of a Spring Hare. I didn't take this one as my camera just wasn't up to taking a photo of a very bouncy hare in the dark. I got this one off the Wikipedia website, it was taken my someone by the name of Bernard Dupont. I hope you don't mind me using it Bernard. Cute little things aren't they - and they hop around just like a miniature kangaroo
I became aware we were in the area we’d been seeing the lionesses, but before we saw them we came
Suddenly we came upon a lion wandering around in the dark. Scary!
upon the lion himself. As far as we are aware nobody had seen him for a few days, and yet there he was, gently ambling along, so not phased by us, looking very handsome. We followed him for a bit before having to divert round to where Oubiet assumed he might be going, and he was right, to the water hole, to be joined very shortly by the lionesses ‘wife’ and daughter who also hadn’t seen him for a few days. How lucky were we to see the loving reunion, head rubs and ‘stroking’ it was perfect timing, what a great drive. The final thing Oubiet hunted for was the hippo as all we’d seen were eyes and ears. Just about given up, and we came upon one, right by
Here's another photo in just the jeep headlights
the road, but not for long. He veered off, and you don’t want to come between a hippo and the river.....

So a late night, we weren’t back till after 22.00 and early breakfast would still be at 05.30....

The Garden Route: day 21

Our last drive on our last proper day. Only two of the ladies made it, but this didn’t seem to surprise them and we were off. Giraffes the only request. Rhino aplenty seemed to be the thing of the morning. They are very protective of their rhino, they are the most poached animal so we only know they have more than 10 and less
The lion meeting up with his two lionesses
than 100, (we totalled 7 today) if you put photos on social media you have to ensure the GPS positioning is off and there is a heavy APU (anti poaching unit) presence in each park. Oubiet had to radio in if he got out of the vehicle by a rhino footprint and left a footprint of his own so they knew it wasn’t a poacher. In the evening if the rhino were too close to the road as we returned home he radioed in so the APU could come out and steer them inland away from prying eyes. We met Zulu, an Alsatian, with his owner in the bar one evening, Zulu is a trainee ‘rhino dog’. Should the worst happen and a nursing rhino be killed Zulu would be sent into the bush to find the calf so it could be rescued and cared for. It’s all taken very seriously.

It was a special moment seeing them greet one another

Rhinos on our final game drive

A final glimpse of the cheetahs seemed to be on the cards, but sadly they eluded us, but we didn’t mind so much, we saw them moving around earlier. Giraffes then. It took a while, they seemed to be hiding, but then we found a ‘tower’ (the collective for a stationary group of giraffes, it’s a journey if they are moving) happily grazing away. “Do you mind if we stop here for coffee?” Oubiet asked. Silly question, it was the icing on the cake, coffee and muffins with giraffes.
This one was having a good scratch on a handy cable

We finally had to say goodbye and head back to the lodge for breakfast, we still had to shower, eat, finish packing and vacate before 11.00. We rounded a corner to come upon a beautifully laid table, linen tablecloth, the works, how lovely for someone, then realisation dawned, it was our waitress, our other guide Rogan, and our chef at the camp kitchen. 

The perfect breakfast was for us! It was so lovely, mum and I were quite overcome and emotional, hugs for the ladies before they served us coffee, fresh fruit and pancakes, followed by the full cooked English, in a beautiful setting, the cherry on the icing on the cake.
'Do you mind if we stop here for coffee?' Silly question! There were a total of seven giraffes nearby, the one you can see to the left was the closest, another three were off to the left almost as close and three more slightly further away. It was fabulous!
Coffee with giraffes. There's not many people who can say they've done that

What a way to finish, it was a joy. I told Carly in the office on our return that I didn’t want to know if they did it for everyone, I wanted to believe we were special. We do know the Germans didn’t get it in their last morning!

We’d just finished packing the car when Bill and Rose arrived to say goodbye, we hadn’t seen them the previous evening before the night drive as we were early and apparently they were at the airport. “Hope the night drive was ok, they can be a bit boring “ they both said, Bill to Brian and Rose to me. We assured them that the lion reunion had been very special and we were very happy. Though not happy to be leaving....
Look at this baby zebra! It was part of a dazzle of zebras (that's the name for a group of zebras)

Leave we had to do though to Port Elizabeth (location: Isango Gate Boutique Hotel), our final destination to catch the first of three flights the following day. ‘Proper’ packing, getting everything into one bag before a walk by the sea and a wave at some dolphins. Dinner and bed.
We had to stop behind this other safari truck at one point as a herd of Impala were running from the left across in front of us to the right. They were jumping high in front of us over the track and I tried very hard to get one in mid air as it crossed our path. It was very difficult and I have lots of photos with nothing in. In this photo the one on the left has just got airborne and the one on the right has just landed. That's how far they jumped...

The Garden Route: day 22 and 23
Here's another one just landing

All good things must come to an end, but three flights and 24 hours of travel is back to reality with a jolt. We were asked by a tourism lady in Johannesburg airport if we could answer a few questions. An hour later she probably regretted asking us, as we’d had to list what we’d done and seen in each province (and we had visited 7 of the 9), how many nights we’d spent, how much money we’d spent, how we’d travelled..... she didn’t get the standard answers from us! The flights were fine, we all got some but not enough sleep, the baggage all arrived untampered with, we ate curry and drank beer at lunchtime Emirates time, but that was about 09.00 U.K. time....
We rounded a corner and there in the bush was a beautifully set picnic breakfast.'How nice for someone' we thought. As we stopped we realised it was for us - what a fantastic surprise!

Oubiet parked the truck and we sat down for a full breakfast

Back in dear old Blighty, and there’s Dear old Abi, to collect us with a hug and deliver us home with a pint of milk. What a star.

We spent the weekend slightly vague, popping in on Sarah for a chat before roasting chicken and all the trimmings, a jigsaw and a Sunday afternoon film. It’s cold and wet, we’ve both got the dentist and he’s got an appointment at the skin clinic for a check up tomorrow . Africa already seems so far away!

Here's our ladies preparing our two course cooked breakfast with tea, coffee and juice
While we just sat and chatted in the morning sun. These are our two companions, Jen and Ann, old school friends originally from Kenilworth in Warwickshire. This area is not fenced off from the rest of the reserve, in theory there was nothing stopping lions, cheetahs and rhinos joining us for breakfast, but we assumed our hosts knew what they were doing!
She didn't put this in the notes, but this was the last picture as we neared the lodge at the end of the drive. This level bit of ground is actually a small airstrip and we drove out and back along it on each game drive. On most occasions Oubiet would say as he entered it 'Are you ready to fly?' With that he's accelerate hard and put both his arms out like wings of a plane, laughing. On this last run back we all did the same. I was in the back row and did the same but, from my position with everyone in front I realised a bit late that this was an excellent photo opportunity. I pulled out the camera a bit too late to capture Oubiet with his arms out, he had just grabbed the steering wheel again as we were nearing the end of the airstrip. Nevertheless, you get the idea

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Our Great African Adventure - Garden Route Section days 16 to 20

The unspoilt Nature's Valley
The Garden Route: day 16

We started today going for a play in the waves, they weren’t as exciting as the previous time, but it was a lovely way to start the morning. This was followed by a long drive, 4 hours, to Addo just outside Addo Elephant National Park, which is long for us, particularly as we didn’t feel particularly secure on the last 45 minutes of road. 

We stopped on the way at the beautiful seaside location of Nature's Valley (location: 33°58'52.2"S 23°34'04.5"E), where the Groot River forms a big lagoon
Snack break on our Addo Game Drive with Roche
where it meets the Indian Ocean in an unspoilt valley. Lunch stop was after a long drive along the N2, over Storms River, at Jeffreys Bay (location: 34°03'19.1"S 24°55'27.4"E), surfing capital of the world apparently (but not on the day we were there).

We’d driven down some of it on the Exodus trip and had been warned by Chantel that there may be demonstrations and we might have to divert. We were fine then, and fortunately fine now as we hadn’t realised that was where we were going, but there was evidence of fires and blockades on the road. Then there was a sign warning of carjackings and thefts, and then
Pauline & Jackie enjoying a swim at Silos Guesthouse
lots of litter blown from two townships and a general feeling of unease. Safely however we arrived at Addo to find it wasn’t really a town, which wasn’t a problem in itself as we knew the B&B was on a citrus farm (location: Silos Guesthouse). It was a beautiful looking place with a very inviting looking pool, which we all went in, as it was very hot. This was the main cause of our disappointment with the place though, the heat not the pool, in the “2 bedroom apartment” only one of the rooms had air conditioning, the one with beds made for two. The other room had twin beds but only one made up. (Did she think we were going to smuggle someone else in?) 

Baby warthogs learning to fight

After mum had a terrible nights sleep we asked for the other bed to be made up to give us sleeping options. This however was obviously a problem, the beds were changed but this time only one made up in the room with AC! Still no flexibility then, AND our hostess had taken the hump!

The Garden Route: day 17

We’d booked a game drive through Addo with the guest house vehicle and driver, Roché was lovely, knowledgeable, friendly and entertaining. He warned us it was going to be a hot one, which we already knew, and he was right.
A queue of zebra
The wind which was quite strong at times was like a hairdryer on hot, or what it feels like when you open the oven when cooking a roast. Unbelievable.

We saw lots of zebra, and then, hogging a waterhole, lots of elephants. Other waterholes had buffalo just sitting in them and then finally a group of about 50 elephants at a hole. It was an amazing sight. The group included the third set of twins ever to have been born at Addo, in September last year, still very tiny and very cute.

Our tally of new animals for mum was added to with a jackal, a green tree snake and many warthogs. Sadly no giraffes, there aren’t any as there is no record of there ever having been any. A great day but so, so hot, into the 40’s left us all wilting. A storm had been suggested which never really happened but the wind did change direction and it did rain overnight.

Here's our game drives in Addo & one in Amakhala Game Reserves

The Garden Route: day 18
Elephants with twin babies in Addo

Amakhala private game reserve was our final ‘proper’ destination. Only an hour by the most direct route, we managed to take 4 1/2 by taking ourselves back through Addo. What a difference a day makes, it was slightly overcast and low 20’s which made for a pleasant drive. We saw giraffes before we entered the park, in a reserve next door, which was a bit of a surprise. We then saw very few zebra and it took over 2 hours to find our first elephant. We did see a lion, sort of, having been given the heads up by Roché as we passed him out with more clients. We were pleased with our drive, but how very different from the previous day.
Part of the herd of at least 50 elephants at a waterhole in Addo on a very hot day
A fabulous African scene

Leeuwenbosch Country House is our bit of luxury, it is a beautiful, but slightly run down, old colonial house. We are in a room Prince Harry stayed in a few years ago and love the feel of the place. The staff can’t do enough for you and yet are friendly not obsequious (location: Leeuwenbosch Country House).

High tea was served at 14.30 before our first game drive at 16.00. We entered the park and immediately hit ‘giraffe alley’ they were everywhere. Fabulous. Many warthogs, rhino in the distance and two lionesses. We stopped for a ‘sundowner’ G&T and snacks
A buffalo cooling off under a hot African sun
overlooking a fabulous view before returning to the lodge. Then to ‘Bill’s bar for pre-dinner drinks followed by a lovely 3 course dinner. Bill and Rose were in the bar, they started the reserve 25 years ago, changing the land from beef and sheep farming to a wildlife reserve to the amazement of their neighbours and employees. It’s a great story.

The Garden Route: day 19

Light breakfast at 05.30, first drive at 06.00. Oubiet our guide an amazing man, full of passion, at home chatting to us, and knowing all the animals in German for our other 4 guests. We saw big cats with legs, actually moving, not just lying under a bush. Two lionesses and two cheetah brothers. The lionesses were funny, mother and daughter, with the daughter giving mum a little bounce before getting so irritated by the jackal that was running around yipping she gave him a little chase. The cheetahs were also on the move, so beautiful to see. The eyes and ears of a hippo and then a mum and baby rhino made us all coo as did the just less than 20 elephants travelling over the hill. Then the light mizzle turned to rain and we returned to the lodge for brunch!
This is a black headed heron. Apparently they eat anything they can catch. this one had just caught a lizzard, if you click on the photo and zoom in on his mouth you can just make out the back legs and tail poking out of its beak. A moment later and it was gone

4 hours till our next feeding was spent very comfortably relaxing as the weather cleared up and our German friends left. No new guests so a private game drive. Feeling we’ve seen most things we told Oubiet not to rush so it became almost a walking safari in the jeep, lovely, beetles, plants, birds, and still a cheetah looking very grumpy. He could see the kill, he could smell the kill but sadly he couldn’t eat the kill. It belonged to a cheetah from Shamwari, the neighbouring reserve, who was lying there looking very fat! Sundowner, drinks and dinner followed the same delightful pattern.
This tree is a Acacia Karoo or sweet thorn tree and there's a few interesting things about it. See those very big thorns near the top? They were injected with a growth hormone by a wasp that then lays an egg inside to act as an incubator for its young. Later ants crawl into the hole created by the wasp and live in them. If a browsing animal (giraffe, elephant) starts to nibble at the tree the ants come out to attack in a symbiotic relationship. The trees second line of defence is that once an animal starts nibbling its leaves it creates tannin which surges through the tree to put off animals, at the same time it sends off a scent to nearby similar trees that causes them to raise their tannin levels too. The giraffes counter to this is to always browse up wind of the tree, so the scent blows to trees in the opposite direction to the way its eating so no early alert is received by the trees it nibbles. How very cunning!  

The Garden Route: day 20
Our fabulous room at Leeuwenbosch Country House

Same routine, different animals. The lionesses in a similar place to yesterday, but today having killed a warthog. They had just left it when we arrived and were having a drink from a puddle before relaxing to digest in the shade. The noisy jackal from yesterday was quiet today as we’d been told, he yips about if predators are present, as a warning, but is quiet if they have a kill in case he can sneak in and help himself. We watched him do just that, running off with a leg which he hid behind a bush under the watchful eye of the lionesses. We drove round to be closer to him and watched him bury a small piece before having a go at the stomach. This was tolerated by the lions but when he moved to the main body (some distance from the head which had appeared to be the ‘big’ bit) one of them leisurely came back sending him scampering off into the distance! Fantastic bit of ‘real life’ to see. No rain today so a stop for coffee and muffins before passing the cheetah brothers, relaxing under a bush but so close to a huge group of impala we feel there will be one less before the end of the day!

Here's another Youtube video in Amakhala Game Reserve we recorded this morning of two lionesses immediately after they killed a warthog:

Oubiet has suggested a night drive for us tonight but with new guests arriving today we are not sure of the logistics, but either way, we have one more drive today and one more tomorrow.

Here's the grumpy cheetah in Amakhala that couldn't reach the kill made by his brother in the adjoining game park
Jackie watches him through binoculars. If you click on the photo and zoom in you'll see him
And here's the successful, very content and full cheetah
Here's his kill, a Kudu, just the other side of the fence to our cheetah
Then he rolled over and we could see the size of his tummy!
Here's another African scene, Red Hartebeest with an elephant behind
A nice scene here, but look closely, there's danger for those Kudu in front of the bushes at the back. Underneath the nearer bush in this photo are two cheetah relaxing. If one of those comes too close they could be history!
Ouboet, our guide in Amakhala telling us about these bones of a male giraffe that lost a fight with another giraffe last June
A gemsbok
Warthogs and zebra living side-by-side. Warthogs quite often go down onto their elbows to feed
I like this photo of a baby zebra with its mum
We saw giraffes, lots of giraffes
And this is how they reach down to drink water
Did we mention rhinos? Here's a mum and baby white rhino with glossy blue starlings by each. They like to stay close as rhinos disturb the soil and expose insects and grubs they can feed on
Baby rhino having a drink from mum
Here's a couple of birds on the back of a rhino. Think they might be Oxpeckers
We saw big herds of buffalo and, in this photo is another red billed oxpecker sitting on one
Setting off this morning at sunrise for our fourth (of six) game drive with Ouboet at the wheel
Long shadows in the morning light
And early morning views down into the valley below. There's actually three rhino walking across the grass down there, but we could only pick them out through binoculars
Stopping for our morning coffee and cake. Its a fabulous way of life!
And suddenly round a corner is a giraffe browsing a tree
Here's a yellow mongoose
A howling black backed Jackal
A lioness trotting straight towards us
But lucky for us strode right past us
This baby zebra is less than a week old
A couple of Wildebeest
An Eland
A baby vervet monkey playing in a tree
And then two more popped their heads over the top to see what was going on
Rhino footprints
OK, so here's a few birds, lets see how many I can get right...A hoopoe
Slightly blurred photo but he had a fabulous song that he was in the middle of. Its possibly a Bokmakierie
Now here's a problem.....we think an ant eating chat
Might have to come back to this one! Found it, it's a Red Necked Spurfowl
We have a few more bird photos but we're not going to disgrace ourselves any more. This tree is a Spekboom also known as Pork Bush and Elephants food. Elephants love its juicy leaves and we can eat them too. It tastes slightly sour, a bit like a kiwi fruit. Its got some medicinal properties, its apparently a good hangover cure and its a mild laxative