Category Archives: Africa
Pretty much any resort in Africa is going to offer guests a thrilling vacation escape. We loved every aspect of our time in Africa. Sadly, one of our favorite spots, &Beyond Xudum Okavango Delta Lodge, was completely destroyed by a bush fire this past May. I hope they rebuild, it was such a special place. Here you can read about two of our favorites from South Africa, the Forest Lodge at Grootbos down on the southern coast of and the &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp in Timbavati.
Once at the Forest Lodge at Grootbos, we met with an activity staff member and planned our stay, checked into our beautiful, private suite and enjoyed a relaxing lunch.
We have a lovely, very modern suite – set up like an apartment with separate living room, bedroom, two bathrooms and walls of glass windows overlooking the reserve and ocean. Dinner was a lovely multi-course, gourmet experience that included horseradish hummus, lentil & saffron soup, pork, and a white chocolate mousse for dessert. The meal was served with a special starter from the chef, palate cleanser sorbet between courses, and very unusual (but tasty) garnishes and sauces. Even my husband liked his tempura-style salmon and Thai soup.
From the Lodge there are all sorts of active outdoor activities and hikes and visitors are perfectly positioned for nearby adventure activities like cave exploring, whale watching in Hermanus, and White Shark viewing in Gansbaai.
&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp|Timbavati
The dusty airstrip in Ngala in about a half-hour away from the &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp and our Ranger was waiting for us when we landed.at the strip to meet us.
The ambiance at Ngala is incredible. The facilities are very elegant, upscale, permanently tented suites with full power, A/C and heat, no windows-just screens open to the elements and, of course, incredible gourmet meals. My husband can be a picky eater, but he even said: “I have nothing to complain about the food here, it is really good.”
Ngala borders Kruger National Park, and our camp with just a few permanent tented rooms is very laid-back with much more flexible schedules than many safari camps and a bigger focus on tracking. A lot more time here is spent waiting and watching – often, with great rewards.
Ngala means lion in the local Shangaan language and our safari drives lived up to the inferred promise. In fact, in 2019, the area is home to two rare white lion cubs many lucky guests have been able to spot.
The food was exceptional and they had no difficulty in producing gourmet fare for a vegetarian guest. At this camp, unlike some others, we shared meals with other guests (unless having a romantic dinner on your own) making for some lively, interesting conversation. We were the only Americans in a very international crowd.
On a typical morning drive, we turned a corner and there was the staff cooking a fabulous breakfast. Linens, glassware, champagne, yogurt/granola cups each with special nametags for us, and breakfast made to order – it was a dream.
It can get quite cold here at night and while we were at dinner, staff put down shades and drew drapes making guests extremely comfortable and cozy, tucked in the wonderful bedding with dual control electric blankets. We also had an outdoor, secluded shower in addition to the indoor bath with freestanding tub. Glamping at its finest.
The night sounds are amazing as the temps drop and many animals move around; we heard the lions roar, elephants trumpet, monkeys play, and many more sounds I am happy not to be able to ID.
While a few guests napped or hung out by the pool between safari rides, the staff made arrangements for us to visit a local school. The impeccable service and attention to detail continued until we went back to the dusty airstrip and boarded our next small plane.
In honor of Shark Week, I’m reposting one of my very first blogs from 2010. Getting in the water with Great White Sharks was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Today sadly, Great White Shark sightings are down due to the arrival of Orcas who have killed some of the sharks to feast on their calorie-rich liver. In 2017, several Great White carcasses (sans livers) washed up at Gansbaai and there is speculation the sharks have left to avoid the Orcas. Two brother whales, given the names of Port and Starboard due to their flopped dorsal fins, have been named as the likely predators. As a result, additional Orcas have now moved into the area to hunt.
I’m glad I have this memory to treasure.
We Star in Our Own Episode of Shark Week. While some of you were sleeping soundly, we were up at dawn and ready for our next great adventure – getting in the water with Great White Sharks. I know I speak for both of us when I say, this has been one of the most exciting and incredible experiences we have ever had. Read the rest of this entry
All Good Things Must Come to an End, and this wonderful trip is no exception. This morning we had an elaborate breakfast buffet and dined on the patio overlooking the Zambezi. Then, off to see Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side.These are the tallest falls in the world, but Iguazu’s are wider and Niagara puts out more volume. So, they can each make a #1 claim. This happens to be the low water season (just as it was when I was at Iguazu) and so you can actually see more and get to all the vistas, many of which are inaccessible when more water is running.
Usually timid around heights, I actually ventured to a location on top of some boulders called Danger Point, to see the view. My husband, of course loved it ~ my Father would not have been happy.
It was very hot and the light spray from the Falls actually felt “quite nice” (a big expression here). The wet environment has actually created a rain forest in the area. Cute Monkeys were running around everywhere. Our guide explained a lot of history and interesting Zimbabwean facts as we walked.
Then, off to change clothes at the Victoria Falls Hotel and to the Vic Falls airport for our British Air flight to begin the long journey home. Once in Joburg we fly to Dulles by way of Dakar, Senegal (about 18 hours), then connect to Charlotte and make the drive back to Linville.
The British influence is obviously quite strong here and many expressions are the same.
And so, as they say in Africa, this trip was “brilliant.”
Home Again – after 28 hours of flying!
We had a game drive on the way out today and spent most of our time watching lions, including two females by the river, who actually made an unsuccessful move on some Roan Antelope that appeared on the scene.
Then, before we knew it, it was over.
We traveled by car to the river that borders Zambia, crossed in a small boat (while truckers are backed up for 4-10 days to get their rigs across on the ferry), paid our $100 immigration fee in a very sketchy circumstances, during which we did not interact with any officials, and were driven about another hour to Livingstone.
Back to Civilization
It’s hard to believe the texture of our hair – it took three washings to get the sand out . . .
But everything is very proper at the lovely and elegant Royal Livingstone Hotel and we felt transported back through time to the world of the British Colonial era.
We even see pith helmets (on some hotel staff) for the first time.
Took a pretty walk over the see the Eastern Cataract of Victoria Falls from the Zambia side and later took a relaxing sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. Tomorrow we will see the Falls from the Zimbabwe side, but we are already impressed.
On the way to the River Cruise, we had a reminder about just how dangerous it can be around all these magnificent wild creatures. We came upon some elephants on the side of the road, and I had just commented to my husband that the elephant staring at us did not look happy . . . when we discovered that earlier in the day, that elephant had killed a woman walking along the main road. The elephants, including the perpetrator, were still in the area when we returned and in fact, held up traffic. Everyone was clearly very nervous and we were unclear what was being done about the elephant.
The entire trip, my husband has been talking about this movie called Elephant Walk (that I had never heard of) and how a herd retaliated against a village. Now he’s googled the movie (1954 with Liz Taylor) and is trying to buy a copy . . . I’m sure a showing at out home will be available soon.
Our final night in Africa was spent having dinner on the lovely outdoor patio of the restaurant at the hotel.
BTW: The food was not as good as any of our lodges.
Sand & More Sand
We had a long day of varied travel today: mokoro, helicopter, small plane, and finally truck. Once at the Kasane airport we met a couple from New Zealand who joined us for the rest of our adventure.
One thing about Chobe – it is very sandy and driving around is like being on an ATV. This is different than our other excursions; Chobe is a national park and vehicles must stay on the “roads” (generally sand). There are also more vehicles than we have ever seen; it’s reminiscent of our visit years ago to Yellowstone.
In Chobe we are doing something I doubt any of our friends would try – we are going to stay in a mobile camp – & Beyond’s Chobe Under Canvas. Having always read about the “Hemingway-style” safari experience, I wanted to be sure we tried it all. But we were going to have a lot of excitement prior to arriving at camp.
First, we drove through the park and eventually stopped at a shady area along the Chobe River for an unexpected picnic lunch. Then, along with our fellow camp-mates and Ranger Peace, we took a boat trip on the river. It was beautiful and an incredible green contrast to the surrounding brown and beige sandy terrain. We had two particularly amazing experiences; the first seeing so many hippos in and out of the water.
Then, incredibly we saw a herd of elephants cross the water to an island – and then, we could not believe our luck, they crossed again, to the other bank. They were a breeding herd of females and kids – with one really tiny one. They use their trucks as snorkels and the little one bobbed up and down! If I could post the video from here I would – it’s an amazingly special sight to see.
Finally as the sun went down we reached the camp. They were waiting for recharged batteries for the lights in the tents (and the truck had broken down) so we didn’t get to organize before dinner. Drinks were with the other 8 guests around a campfire and dinner was with crystal, linen and china by lantern light. Although we were told Lions roared during the night – I heard nothing and slept like a log.
It isn’t getting any easier to get up and hit the ground running so early in the morning . . . we were back up with the promise of going back out in the boat.
We took a lovely ride on this cool morning to a nearby island for a nature walk and lesson. Disho taught us about tracking, identifying animal poop, setting traps for animals and many local hunting customs. Being with Disho is like having an anthropologist with us – he is amazing. Before we knew it two hours had passed and it was time to get back to the boat. Once on, we headed back to the fish camp for our promised breakfast. We were not disappointed by these incredible generous and hospitable people who had prepared boiled fish for us. The fish (ours was Tilapia) which was served along with an incredible fish broth, was delicious. Mu husband and I shared a fish – which we ate in local custom – with no utensils, just our fingers.
Amazingly, this group had a generator which provided a small amount of light, a radio and power for several freezers used for the fish they caught (generally with nets). Other fish was being smoked, using an old metal bed frame.
Our afternoon adventure included a trip on a local mokoro. We drove to our launch site and observed wildlife along the way including a herd of about 200 Water Buffalo. Mokoro are canoe-style boats that were traditionally wood, but are now made of fiberglass to help protect the environment.
We cruised down the Matsibe Channel, sitting at water level, gliding through reeds watching the incredible African sunset. With a full moon rising on the other side, we agreed it was incredible ending to our time in the Delta. Then we landed and were greeted by the Lodge staff with wines and a variety of goodies. Just when you think they can’t come up with anything else – they throw one more surprise your way.
Tonight at dinner I tasted Impala – it’s not for me – once again, they are just too cute.
Now, to prepare for our departure to an “under canvas” camp, we are off to sleep al fresco in our second story open-air loft (all made up for us complete with mosquito netting). We’ll see how long we last up there; the Hyaenas have been making some noise tonight and a bunch of Monkeys seem to be waiting for us, playing in the trees.
PS – we did not last too long outside. Bats seem to love me and a couple came in just after we were settled. Of course there were lots of sounds, but the final blow was a very loud thud with no “voice” sounds . . . My husband speculated it might be a leopard and that was enough for me.
So, back in our room, finally asleep, I am awakened by something moving through the leaves and figuring it’s a Hyaena, go look outside seeing nothing. Minutes later a very large Elephant is right outside our screened walls! Seemed like just a few feet from the end of the bed. Later we had Hippos also outside the room. Hard to get back to sleep after all that . . .
Our Ranger Disho and Tracker Palo are both from the area and a wealth of colorful stories and demonstrations (soccer with elephant dung, spitting contests with Jackalberry pits). This morning with an incredible sunrise, we headed out for another drive. We saw many animals including the beautiful and rare Roan Antelope as well as the locally common Tsessebe.
Our big drama for the entire day, however, was when a young bull Elephant stomped his feet, flapped his hears and came towards us in a very threatening manner. I have to say it was both thrilling and frightening. The group included mothers and their young (with one just a few weeks old) and the young bull was really out of place with them and creating a lot of nervousness as they rushed to catch up with the rest of their herd. That little elephant was the cutest thing ever!
We stopped for a morning break along the water’s edge, and the next thing we know the guys are cooking another amazing bush-breakfast for us. For this one, they were totally contained and did it all themselves. Then they laid out picnic blankets on an overturned mokoro (traditional wooden canoe) for our special waterfront seats.
While Wildebeest and Warthogs were running around we learned about the “Uglies” – the 5 ugliest African animals: Marabou Stork, Baboon, Warthog, Wildebeest & Hyaena (I notice we are spelling this the British way).
Our second bit of trouble occurred when we got stuck in some deep mud; but the guys knew just what to do and had us on our way again soon.
Fishing in the Delta
This afternoon we went out in the boat for the first time – it was beautiful. We wove in and out of the grasses and reeds, spotting many beautiful birds along the way.
We were on a Hippo-hunt and after finding several who surfaced very briefly to make threatening noises for our benefit, we finally did find one big boy hiding in the reeds. He was really shy and to escape us, took off out of the water and on land moving really quickly. It was exciting, but we all would’ve liked to see him stay around a little longer.
Eventually we found ourselves within sight of an encampment of local fisherman. As previously mentioned Disho and Palo are part of a local tribe – it’s called the Hambukushu and is the largest of the five tribes that inhabit the Delta. These fishermen were from the tribe and we were welcomed very warmly. We learned how they catch (with government permit) and prepare fish. We also tried some Jackalberry fruit with its 4-5 pits. We were invited to return in the morning for a fish breakfast.
Being suitably inspired by our visit we decided to fish. Using only lures, you cast and quickly reel in the line. I was the only one that struck out with this catch and release endeavor.
We reluctantly packed up the gear and headed back to Camp.
Back at the Lodge – I discovered a bottle of Jack and tasted Springbok for the first time (it was good), even though this was not my dinner choice – they are too cute.
Sadly Leaving Ngala
During our last drive at Ngala we searched the far reaching corners of the property for Cheetah and Wild Dog tracks. Along the way, we saw Zebra at a huge water hole, as well as some great Hippos and one lonely Croc. We did find Wild Dog tracks – but they had moved very rapidly and left the property before we found them.
Then off to J’burg and the lovely AtholPlace hotel in Sandton. We are just relaxing & resting . . . . tomorrow ~ the Delta!
Water, Water, Everywhere
Up early today for our flight from J’Burg to Maun, Botswana. In Maun, we caught a six-seater even smaller than the last, for our trip to the Kiri airstrip, shorter and unpaved vs. our last landing spot. Usually this time of year small planes can land at the Xudum strip, but since it is currently under water, we took a short helicopter flight the rest of the way. My husband enjoyed being co-pilot for both trips.
The Maun airport is small but managed to be a hive of confusion with basically every visitor connecting to a small plane being told of issues with their luggage. Some were told their bags were too hard, some had too many bags; in our case my bad was deemed too hard on one portion, but Fred’s was perfect. It was all much ado about nothing, since, in every case, passengers proceeded without further delay.
The 20-minute flight from Maun flew under 500 feet over the Okavango Delta and was beautiful. We saw a herd of elephants playing in the water and I spotted a pair of the huge and rare Wattled Crane.
Once the chopper landed we were met and took a 6-passenger motorized skiff to the &Beyond Xudum Lodge, arriving just in time for a lovely lunch.
The Lodge was built as a semi-permanent structure, since the government does not allow any permanent structures to be built in the Delta. They’ve used a lot of retro and recycled material in creative and unusual ways. It’s very eco-chic. The scenery is similar to the Everglades, but with fresher air, lower humidity, friendlier grass and a clear view to the sandy river bottom.
Before you knew it, we were off on another game drive and this time, it really was like being on a swamp buggy ride, as we drove through water and mud during a very bouncy afternoon. When you have game drives you are touring the various islands and higher ground that makes up the Delta area. This past year was the wettest anyone can remember so many areas are still inaccessible by road. We are very remote here and there are no other groups viewing the wildlife. You will find the very occasional fishermen, period. This translates into the fact the animals are not used to being watched and we have the opportunity to observe some different behavior patterns than our prior gaming experiences.
Today we had a thrill when something began chasing a herd of Impala. The herd sounded their verbal warnings and, all together it actually sounded as if shots had been fired. And, those animals can sure run fast. Whatever was in pursuit went into the brush.
We also watched a beautiful journey of Giraffe, Saddlebilled Stork, and on the night drive back to the Lodge watched a Wild Cat hunt (incredibly like a cute house kitty), a well-hidden Genet showing only his long striped tail and Bushbabies hiding in the trees.
Our room at the Lodge is the most remote (about a ¼ mile from the Lodge) and we had a few issues due to Hyaenas chewing through our phone and electrical lines the night prior. As a result, we had no choice but to change rooms. Electricity here is run by generator and phone is merely inter-Lodge. Dinner is a lovely lantern-lit affair, with an open-air kitchen, lounge areas for drinks prior and the usual incredible food. My husband is loving the berry sorbet!
At night, instead of Lions roaring, we heard Hippos from a nearby pool of water.
After an extremely windy night, the temperature stayed about 30 degrees cooler today with breezes all morning. We trekked to the Southern border this afternoon and saw baby Elephants (even nursing), Giraffe, and Zebra. So cute!
We also spent some time watching a leopard, believed to be one we had seen the day prior. Some Leopards are what they describe as “relaxed” and easier to observe. Like with people, it’s a personality issue. . .
Eventually, we turned a corner and there was the staff cooking a fabulous breakfast. Linens, glassware, champagne, yogurt/granola cups each with special nametags for us, and breakfast made to order – it was heaven.
Back at Camp, my husband and I went to tour the nearby village of Welverdind. It’s a typical village and we visited a school and a day care center. The children were so cute and the seventh graders asked questions about what it is like in Miami. Everyone seemed happy and healthy – but they live in a village with no running water, and this is not unusual.
&Beyond, the company that arranged our trip, does a lot to help the locals, as well as the environment.
It was a moving and emotional experience.
Our afternoon was partly spent doing some incredible tracking of a Lion. It was the same Lion we had previously seen – but now the lioness was gone. He was sort of flushed out of the thicket in which he was lounging, and walked off across the riverbank. It was magical to watch our tracker, Adam find this Lion. He is a man of few words and with nods of his head and slight hand movements would signal Rob where to go. In this case – it was a lot of crashing through thick thorny bushes. We would see the Lion, then he would disappear from view – then Adam would spot a paw print in the sand and off we’d go again. This is the Lion previously described as a “sissy” and a “nancy pants” by Rob; he is powerful, very large and beautiful ~ so we dubbed him the “Lion Queen”.
On our first morning drive, Adam our tracker found a Leopard in a tree with its recent kill. She was so camouflaged even our Ranger had trouble spotting her. Adam seems to have some sort of magical tracking powers. Once we got it all sorted out, we watched her for quite a while. It is unbelievable how these animals blend in – a Lion can be 10 feet away, or a Leopard above you and you don’t know they are there.
Later, we went to a small lake that serves as a popular watering hole, found another Leopard (much more visible) in a tree and proceeded to wait for her to make a move on some Impala. She never took her chance, but in the process we watched herds of Impala, a few rambunctious Wildebeest, a family of Warthogs and several Hippos.
We were actually trying to get some photos of an eagle, when in the distance through the trees we started to see large black shapes and dust; first a few, then a few dozen, then a herd of several hundred Water Buffalo arrived on the scene. It was amazing to see them fill the landscape as well as a good part of the lake. The other animals filtered back after the Water Buffalo were settled and the Hippos raised their profile to establish their territory in the center of the lake.
After re-grouping and having another delicious lunch, we headed back out. Besides seeing many more beautiful animals and birds, we left the Land Rover to walk over to a large tree and see a very large, beautiful Python. Rob climbed right up to look for more and came down with some recently-shed snakeskin.
At night coming back we saw the cutest Scops Owl.