The Garden Route – Africa’s ‘Pacific Coast Highway’

by Kelley Austen

Every once in a while I catch myself missing that wandering Route 1, especially from Santa Barbara through Big Sur… until, that is, I did South Africa’s Garden Route. What a different picture of Africa! Polo fields and beachside towns, towering evergreen forests and top-notch golf courses. It’s what the locals do to get away, and isn’t that often what we as travelers are searching for?

The Garden Route is about 400km along the southern coastline of SA, a few hours east of Cape Town. Starting in Mossel Bay and ending in Port Elizabeth, the region provides a stirring study in contrasts. You could spend a few days, or a few weeks exploring this meandering land of stunning landscapes and endless activities. Honeymoon road-trip post Cape Town… Family of 4 in search of adventure… Guys trip for golf, fishing, hiking… the Garden Route delivers. Invariably, you start in Cape Town (voted 2012 ‘Best Destination in the World’ by TripAdvisor, and a blog unto itself). After 4 or 5 days exploring the city and vineyards you head east. Do be sure you’re comfortable with the idea of driving on the left with a left hand drive car before embarking on the journey!

We recommend starting with the meandering Route 62 (modeled after the State’s Route 66actually) which delivers you to the fertile inland valley of Oudtshoorn in the sunny, mountainous Klein Karoo. If you are looking for ‘Garden’, you’ll see it here, with over 500 types of succulents among the impressive fauna along the way. Cozy B&B’s, famous Cango Caves, Ostrich Showfarm (and riding!), quiet nature reserves, meerkat tours, vineyards and fine dining. Try the ‘Art, Cheese, Chocolate and Liquer Route’, where you’ll get acquainted with the local artisans who make this region delicious as well as gorgeous.

If your time is limited, you can skip Route 62, and fly directly into George and rent a car here. This delightful town, known as “The Gateway to the Garden Route”, graces a coastal plateau in a fertile area of lush greenery at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. Now that you’re connected with the coast again, head east along coastal Route 2 for a spectacular visual display: indigenous forests, golden beaches and bays to play in… dramatic bridges and cliffs dropping to the sea… colorful flowers that all connect the dotted coastal towns.

Knysa and Plettenberg Bay are perfectly charming beach towns with a classy, casual, boho vibe. You could base yourself here for a few days or so as there are so many activities to choose from: canoeing, whale watching, hiking in the closed-canopy forrest, tour the valleys and lakes on the historic steam train, Knysna Elephant Park, Bird Sanctuary, Monkeyland, Adventureland, fantastic golf, catch a polo match on Kurland’s picture perfect fields, Saturday craft market… to name a few.
Visitors flock to the Knysa Oyster Festival each year in July,
Knysna Oyster Festivalwhich incorporates both a half-marathon and cycle tour into the festivities as well as an Oyster and Wine Mardi Gras, with plenty to eat and drink over the two weeks. If you’re traveling the summer, check out the Bottomless Barrel Wine Festival in George, or the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in March in Oudtshoorn. 

For adventure seekers, choose skydiving, absailing, jump off the world’s highest commercial bungee at the Bloukrans Bridge, canopy tours, or what about an epic overland hike, such as the Otter Trail? Everyone should experience the Tsitsikamma National Park, even if only a short hike to experience the spectacular views and mountain fynbos.

Finally, complete your trip with a good ol’ African safari. The Eastern Cape truly does offer a fantastic game experience and is finding it’s place on the international safari map. Lodges like world-class Kwandwe and and the intimate Hillsnek deliver the wildlife, first-rate service, dining and accommodations that you’d find in all of Africa’s most popular destinations, and it’s malaria-free. From Port Elizabeth, you catch an easy flight to Jo’burg and you’re on your way, road warrior!


Kruger vs Serengeti

Before we even begin to tackle this much talked about rivalry, let’s get a few things straight right off the bat. There is no clear winner! It’s a lot like the art world or buying a house. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What suits you and your pocket do not necessarily mean it will be the same for me. The big question to me is why do East Africa game parks get so much more airtime on all the animal channels than Kruger? I think the answer lies in the media. Serengeti has always had a place in Hollywood and on TV. Ernest Hemingway has had much to do with this. Imagine the “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was replaced by “On the Banks of the Sabi River” OK it doesn’t sound as romantic, but you get the drift! Let’s forget all about the media hype, and look at the facts on the ground and make our own choice. One thing is for sure, you have to visit both places and see for yourself.

Game Viewing

What do you like viewing? Some people just love the birds, while others are cat people. Personally I love the cats, especially the leopards, so excuse me if I favour Sabi Sands. Serengeti is great for wide open spaces and plenty of action, while Kruger is a tad denser and more difficult to spot the wild life. Big five will also play a part in this scenario and Serengeti will probably edge ahead. Of course if you are into rhino then Kruger wins it hands down. Can you see the pattern yet? The same goes for lion, huge prides in the Serengeti whilst you will still get your fair share in Kruger, it just gets out muscled by its big brother up north. The fact that Serengeti has no fences counts in its favour. The predators just follow the herds, as they have been doing for thousands of years. Fantastic!  One nil to Serengeti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landscape

The Serengeti has so many options in this department, it’s difficult to see Kruger comparing. And not without good reason, the Serengeti is just spectacular and seeing is believing. This place is something to behold and will leave you gobsmacked. Huge, wide open spaces, the odd rocky outcrop, spectacular thunderstorms in the summer months. Did I say summer months? There is hardly a change in temperature all year around. Simply sublime!

Kruger can get quite nippy in the winter months, which also are the best months for viewing the great selection of wildlife on offer. One point in Kruger’s favour is the well organized network of roads. Serengeti fall abysmally short in this department. Dusty, busy roads you have to share with trucks, donkeys, bicycles and anyone trying to get from one place to another. Small, expensive planes are the only way to go, watch out wallet. Having said that, Serengeti must take the laurels here as well. It is just too spell bounding for words and is worth the trip, if, for this reason only.

Amenities

Room with a view? Well, get ready to pay. Serengeti falls way short of Kruger when it comes to accommodation. Campsites or exclusive lodges are the order of the day, both with their drawbacks. The campsites are not up to scratch and can get rather busy, as well as costly. The lodges are great but very costly; unless you have platinum Am Ex, forget about it. In Kruger you are spoilt for choice. Guesthouses, rondavels, luxury villas, quaint campsites, safari tents…the list goes on. Then we have the issue of getting around from one site to another, a real challenges in the Serengeti believe me. Roads we have discussed already, a huge disappointment up north, now what about keeping everyone occupied and content? In Kruger you have many options of fun thing to do wherever you are. Hiking, fishing, 4×4 trails as well as swimming pools, BBQ areas on tap, information centres and even a museums and a golf course. Kruger wins this one big time!

 

Cost

To say this is a mismatch is an understatement. The basic entry level at the Serengeti is a minimum R2700.00 per night for a family of four, and forget about luxury, this is camp with shower and toilet. Even in Dollars, it quickly adds up. Remember that you pay per day for access to the reserves, $200.00 per day at the crater and up to $60.00 for the other parks. Add this to the charter flights you have just got off and before you know it, the bank’s on the phone. Kruger is way more cost friendly, with ample accommodation to suit your pocket. Booking in advance is advised to avoid disappointment but this goes without saying. Landing at Oliver Tambo, it’s then just a short flight into the park, with a variety of landing options. Driving is also an easy route, with tarred roads throughout the park and decent dust roads to top it off! A big win for Kruger a possible all around win, but until you have seen the Serengeti, don’t take my word for it, go and see for yourself.

 

Viva Zimbabwe!

Blog posted by MAE Partner, Kelley Austen

Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe has taken it’s licks the last twenty years or so. The overseas tourist that once flooded the country have since chosen elsewhere, leaving only the very lucky to experience it, in all of it’s glory, all to ourselves!! The core of the country has always remained – pristine, beautiful landscapes of rolling mountains, dramatic stone koopies, meandering rivers and raging waterfalls, indigenous rural villages, vast protected national parks teeming with wildlife, and some of Africa’s most vibrant, warm, friendly and creative people.

As an American recently living in Zim, I admit I can be a bit buoyant about the country, there is no denying that problems abound… however there is a certain positive pulse emanating from the people here, like a beating heart that is too strong and too proud to slow. Here in Harare, you see it everywhere. Sculptors create masterpieces of stone, woman weave baskets for their tomatoes, balanced and carried elegantly on their heads, children hurry to schools in their neat uniforms. All ready for a smile and wave from a willing passerby.

Economically speaking, the (US) dollarization has stabilized the economy, and new shopping centers are opening, brand names returning, major airlines adding routes back to Harare, and the selection of available goods, much to my satisfaction after traveling here two years ago, is not bad. It’s not South Africa, however that is what kind of makes it more ‘Africa’, you know?

Last week my family and I traveled to World Heritage Site, Mana Pools National Park, which rests so beautifully on the Zambezi River, dividing northern Zimbabwe and southern Zambia. This is my veritable Garden of Eden and most special place. Here, the world is as it once was, untouched by man, and alive with raw nature itself. The Chikwenya Safari Lodge opened two years ago, featuring 12 gorgeous en suite private chalets, with two outdoor showers and white claw footed tub to soak in the views of the river and Zambian mountains.

 

 

After a fairly exciting flight on a Sesna 206 with my three year old, husband, and parents visiting from the States, I was immediately at peace seeing the ancient, mighty Baobab that marks the entrance to Chikwenya’s private land.

 

 

With no required schedule, guests are free to explore this land, bursting with life at every turn, either by open air safari vehicle (you will not see another vehicle), or on foot with experienced guide, or try your hand at tiger fishing, or a sunset cruise where slowly moving elephant, the nearby hippos, and fish eagle passing overhead are your only other companions.

 

 

Highly touristed it is not, highly inspirational it is. Viva Zimbabwe!

 

Lion v hyena…….no contest!

Lion v hyena. No contest!

 

It is exciting times here at My African Experience, our website is up and finally functioning, bookings are starting to happen and enquiries are finding there way to our laptops. This is due to the tireless efforts of a number of people, but I would like to make special mention to my partner, Kelley Austen, whose dogged approach and quest for perfection has made this dream become a reality. Well done and thank you. Our partner Saskia Brown also deserves special mention. She proves that a positive attitude goes a long way……It’s also the start of the rugby World cup!

Pride at one carcass

On a recent trip to the Kruger park we were fortunate enough see many amazing sightings. One that stands out in particular was the interaction between a pride of six female lionesses and their nine cubs and a large pack of hyenas. It was late in the afternoon at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands, when word came through the radio that two large male buffalo had been brought down simultaneously by the pride.

Pride at rest

This is quite unusual, as the buffalo were fully grown males and would have been quite a handful. two of the female were heavily pregnant and one female would have stayed behind to look after the cubs. Working in perfect harmony and clearly taking advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, they had secured food for themselves and the cubs for the next few days. The buffalo carcasses were about 100m apart and were being eaten at a rate that would have impressed Joey Chestnut at a Nathan’s world hot dog eating championships in Coney Island. They were piraña like in their approach, even the cubs, who were totally stuffed, still found the space to suckle on a not so happy surrogate mom!

I suppose it’s like the old adage says.’ make hay while the sun shines’, the sun, however, was not on our side, and was soon dipping far too quickly over the pink horizon and it was time to head back to Ivory lodge for our own boma feast, content in knowledge that these buffalo would still be here in the morning for us to view at our leisure. A rather comforting thought. All the talk that night around the fire was about the pride and their cubs and how they had managed to bring down two such formidable beasts. An air of anticipation hung in the air as we waited for first light.

The following morning we headed straight to the kill site. The first thing we noticed was a fully grown male hyena with a leg bone between his jaws, looking around rather nervously. The lions had made the kill right in frond of a concealed hyena den, there must have been about twelve to fifteen hyenas and they were beside themselves with hunger, anticipating an orgy of buffalo meat and bones. Only the minor issue of of getting past this well drilled pack of lionesses stood in their way of scoring a perfect try! The buffalo carcasses were even further apart now, and one was just a pile of ribs and bones. The pride was concentrating on the second carcass, which still had a bit of meat left but were in no mood to share anything with the hyenas, not even a morsel.

Loving mom

This proved to be a game of cat and mouse and provided us with some insights and real close up action of what it must be like to be charged by a fully grown lion. We stationed ourselves close to the depleted carcass and waited. The hungry hyenas would creep up in small groups, nervously listening for any movement from where the pride was congregating, and snatch of a rib, or leg or anything they could get their teeth around. The lions in turn would listen for any noises coming from the neglected carcass, especially the sound of cracking bones. This would set them off and they would tear through the thicket toward the sound of the misdemeanor, eager to crack a few hyena bones if they could. The hyenas would drop whatever it was they had pilfered and race off toward the den and relative safety.

What impressed me most was the speed in which the lions would reach the hyenas. Sitting right there in their pathway gave you a good understanding of what it would be like to be charged by one. In a flash she was there, just a blur and a swish of wind as she flew past us reaching incredible speed in no time at all. Hardly a noise until she was upon her victim, then a low guttural sound, which would normally be the last thing you heard before being despatched to meet your maker! It was quite awe-inspiring, and I am extremely grateful too have moved up the food chain, so to speak.

 

As for the so called lion v hyena debate…….with this particular group, a nonstarter, a mismatch. To put in perspective, let’s say its like the Springboks Wales, or Samoa or Fiji….Hmmm not sure anymore, I’d better rethink this one! John Smit how about becoming a spotter and leaving the serious work of being a full time ranger to those fit enough to handle the task at hand! On the rugby field, as in the bush, there is nowhere to hide!

Go Bokke!

How to spot a leopard….in ten hours!

Some people are just plain lucky! They wake up one morning, go to the corner cafe, buy a fifty cent lottery ticket and by the same time the next day they are filthy rich! Others go on safari for the first time and bring out a treasure trove of photographs and walk off with a lifetime’s worth of memories….. Not me!

I have been going to the bush for many years and I always thought that the game viewing was mostly a matter of luck. Have a good day and you see it all. Have a normal day, and its the ‘antelope special’! Boy have I always struggled, especially with leopard! A flash here and a glimmer there is really the sum total of my leopard viewing history. And to be honest, I kind of accepted that. How wrong I was…

Enter Mark E, our game ranger and Mishack, our guide. We set off at six thirty am. No sooner had we left Singita Ebony Lodge in the Sabi Sands, when Mishack  put up his hand, signaling for us to stop. After a quick look around he announced that the very shy
Ravenscout female was out and about. We were ecstatic! We had been looking for
her for the past two days with no luck. Was today going to be any different? My
history suggested not!

After what seemed like and eternity, we gave up. She had disappeared into thick undergrowth and there were no more tracks to follow. On the bright side, we were spoiled with other sightings: lion, rhino, loads of elephant - it was a fabulous morning. But as usual, no leopard for me. I was certainly not expecting was was about to follow.

After a scrumptious lunch it was back on the road. No sooner had we gone around the first
corner when the radio lit up. She was around! She was spotted in a nearby koppie. A shadow in the darkness of a mass of rock.  A glimmer of gold and black. We had hope
again! We stopped and waited. Nothing! Mark E reversed back up the road when Mishack waved frantically for him to switch off. Again we waited! A faint squeak wafted through the thick bush. There it was again, cat-like and faint. Mark took a chance and just turned toward the noise and slipped into an opening in the bush, then switched off.

What happened next will remain with me for a lifetime. She arrived like an old friend. Almost as if the whole process had somehow been staged. She glided softly toward the Landy. Was this actually going to happen? She moved into the opening and headed straight towards us. She had arrived and she was magnificent. She paused, as if waiting for something. A quick call and it was apparent what she was waiting on.

Out popped the cutest creature I have ever laid my eyes on. Bounding along, playing catch-up with mom. They joined forces and marched straight towards where we were parked. I remember catching my breath, not quite believing what I was seeing. Mom
and daughter right in front of us. The whole vehicle just sat in awe. This is why you come to the bush, this is why you don’t mind spending ten hours, or a lifetime, tracking this elusive, most majestic of animals. We had hit the jackpot!

The Ravenscourt female paid us no attention and stood dead still for a while, deciding what to do. She had made a kill about 5 km away and was computing the best and safest way forward. This was her last remaining cub, and she intended to keep her safe. Two of the original three had been killed by the usual suspects. This little mite had a much better chance now that she was just about a year old and mom gave her all the attention. But still, it was no guarantee. Such is life in the wild.

We had the amazing good fortune  (thanks to the skills of the Singita team) of spending the next forty minutes with the duo. The words of a dearly departed friend came to mind: ‘Zero and the neighbors by the max’.

I could not hide my grin. Cheers Dibs!

 

Nature versus nurture: Lions born bad?

The ‘nature vs nurture’ debate has been going on for centuries, and will probably continue for many more. Nature refers to the natural instincts of a given species while nurture refers to the way in which an individual animal is raised, rather than the characteristics of a species. The definition seems simple enough, i.e.: you can train a lion not to kill and dogs
can be trained not to bark! So far so good.

Three days later.

But can you get an evil, murderous lion (or even worse, a coalition of them)?

They have a real bond.

The answer seems ‘yes’ and judging from my recent encounter with a certain coalition, I must agree. Meet the infamous ‘Mapogo bros’ of the Sabi Sand private game reserve in the Kruger Park. They were originally six males, who through various acts of nature (excuse the pun) have been whittled down to just these three huge monsters.

Alpha male in search of his brothers.

I first met the Mapogo bros at the carcass of a male rhino, found by the trackers of Singita Boulders camp in the Sabi Sands.  Phanuel Masinga, the head tracker with thirty one years’ experience, gave me the lowdown on the coalition. It is believed that the rhino was originally killed by another male rhino, then descended upon by hyenas, who were in turn chased away by a pride of lionesses. After doing all the hard work by opening the rhino up, they were chased off by the three Mapogo males. Phanuel explained how this coalition has ruled the Sabi Sands for the past five years or so.

The alpha male of the Mapogo bros.

They have depleted many groups of animals and many of their own offspring. They had just killed a two year old male, two weeks prior. The young male was at a kill and was not expecting the kind of treatment he received when welcoming the brothers for a bite! They have been known to kill  females who were not ready to mate and also their own cubs. All in all, over forty other lions and countless other animal species, not always for feeding reasons, have been taken out by these marauding monsters!

One of the brothers at lunch.

It seemed that wherever we traveled in the Sabi Sands, the name of the Mapogo Bros would be uttered with hushed voices. We visited eight camps in all, and all knew the tale of these brothers. We met two of their cubs at &Beyond, Exeter camp. “Those are the Mapogo bro’s cubs”, said our tracker, as if it made them seem a bit bigger. Everyone seemed to know of them!

I think my point is, are these lions just being lions, or do you get lions gone bad, for whatever reason?  Wiping out a pack of wild dogs and killing for the bloodlust, these are
the questions that have been bothering me for a while. I suppose I’m no closer to an answer now than when I first started this blog.

But life in the wild is full of subtle ironies! It seems the Mapogo reign will not go on for too much longer. A bad right wrist sprain has affected the alpha male and it would seem he is only running on the strength of his two brothers. They are constantly  waiting on him; we heard him calling out to them on our last night in Singita. A bewitching low roar, echoing through the night. Eerie!

Not a worry in the world.

I felt strangely sorry for him when I saw him limping around the carcass of the dead rhino. I understood his fragile fate. I wanted to hop off the Land Rover and give him a reassuring hug and tell him it was all going too be OK!  Remembering a few of the stories that Phanuel had told us, these feelings soon evaporated like the first rains of spring!

 

 

Wayne’s Wilderness Adventures Part III – I LOVE SOUTH AFRICA!!

The local community and the effects as created by themselves due to their own initiatives, with some help from their friends (lodges in the Kruger surrounds).

I AM PROUD TO BE SOUTH AFRICAN!

I mean really proud, not winning the Rugby World Cup proud, or proud of how we showed the sceptics that we could host the FIFA World Cup. And pulling IT off!

The pride I feel is an altogether new emotion. Pride is but a small part of what I am talking about. It is a combination of intrigue and, to brutally honest, awe! And a sense of brotherhood.

You may recall, in our first My African Experience blog, we promised to illuminate the staff and the roll of the communities and individuals in the day-to-day running of the various lodges, and what makes some lodges better than others. This was supposed to be my follow up!

The Kruger Park is pockmarked with tiny villages surrounding the various entrances, not towns with municipalities relying on government handouts to sustain their day to day goings on. These budding future leaders take the initiative themselves, or, as Thaddeus pointed out ‘or we can wait our whole lives.’  On average, each village ranges between five and ten thousand people. Not a small number when it comes to policing, crime, and general community services. Try telling these folks that! In fact there are twenty-six such villages. All running with their own community structure!

Some of the local ladies harvesting

Mandla, the Singita Community Development Officer (yes that’s his full time job), met with me on my first day at Singita’s Ebony Lodge. I was expecting a half hour brief on some school projects and perhaps a cooking school etc, then take a nap before my game drive. Wrong! He suggested we take the next few hours to go into one of the little communities called ‘Justicia’. I agreed.

We were collected by a certain Thaddeus Zamani, a thoroughly enthralling young gent, with a beautiful command of the English language! After the usual triple handshake (a South African thing), we were off in our open Landy, with Mishack at the wheel. At this point I think I should point out that it was hot, I was tired and thinking about my fully stocked bar fridge and inviting plunge pool back at the lodge!

Thadeus, left and Mandla, right, from Singita

Thaddeus turned to us in the back and stated matter of factly: “In Justicia we have no crime”. I was immediately sceptical (remember, we are locals, not your average Scandinavian on his or her first trip to the Dark Continent). Mmmmm…. no crime, I’ll reserve judgment on that one.

We approached Justicia… neat, compact brick houses with garaging for their vehicles, fully fenced in the old sense of the word. Loads of space for their kids to play with small, well maintained veggie patches, swings, jungle gyms a few scattered livestock. What was this place…? It went on and on, plot after plot in the same vein, street after street. It was as close to Utopia as I had ever seen in this so called ‘rainbow nation’!

Neat rows of fresh produce!

Open areas of communal growing tracts, supporting all sorts of sustainable produce. Waving ladies, taking a break from their harvesting to sing a song and perform a well rehearsed dance for our passing vehicle. I woke up! What was this place? Who are these people? And the real burning question: WHY CAN’T THE REST OF THE COUNTRY LEARN FROM THIS??

First stop was the local pre-primary school. ‘Happy Home’, situated in a neat, structured plot of about 2000 square metres, immaculately brushed with a dozen or so varieties of vegetable gardens, all neatly marked and planted. The kids pick once a week and subsequently take part in the bounty. Talk about grass roots. It was unfortunately a school holiday, so we didn’t meet any of the little ones personally, but we saw glimpses of them all along our route through the village. The school originally started with a classroom as big as one of our bathrooms at Singita. This now serves as a museum! They presently have three huge brick structures housing over one hundred and fifty bright young students, ranging from two years to eighteen.

This place lives up to its name

The original school, now a museum

The new school, three buildings

We were like two reporters hot on a juicy celebrity story… a barrage of questions, desperately trying to dig out as much as we could to find out if this was merely some elaborate charade (did I mention I was a bit of a sceptic?). We fired away questions about policing, water delivery, garbage collection, family disputes, medical care, crime, electricity… basically all the problems we have in our leafy suburbs further south (paid by our ever increasing rates and taxes). All were calmly explained away, making perfect sense! My partner was so impressed, she inquired about buying a plot and building a house there, offering a small clinic off one of the back rooms. Again the answer was ‘You are a doctor, we will give you a house’!

Local kids on school break

We were then treated to a symphony of music and dances on different plots in quaint, clean houses, all beautifully performed by the locals (our open Landy stood unguarded, packed with my belongings… I was told not to be silly, nothing will ever happen to them. I kept a visual in that direction just in case!). We saw some amazing performances, cooking classes on how to prepare local food from scratch, dried corn, beaten then sifted, before undergoing a couple more processes. And then we sampled the delicious produce. Homemade peanut butter and dried Maroela nuts, all enough to sustain you with their protein packed power. Meat is served two to three times a week, but judging from the bright teeth and lean profiles of my hosts, they should sell this diet to LA!

Dried corn, ready for the next step to make it into 'pap'

I am a bit concerned that this blog is moving toward a PR promotion and will start to bore you… Please, this is so important, as it has far reaching implications! Our fragile country can learn so much from what the various lodges and local communities have done, once they decide to amalgamate and go forward with a game plan and TRUST! Obviously the Kruger Park and lodges play a major role in providing jobs and building schools to take care of the little ones while mom and dad are at work, but so what, it works like clockwork! There’s no reason why big businesses can’t do the same! Sending migrant workers sans family to isolated areas is clearly not going to endear them to their employers. They should send management to these areas and do an in depth fact finding mission! I am going to try to get hold of my hero Helen Zille, see what she thinks of this!

Mischak and Josephine

 

Wayne’s wilderness adventures – part II

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My partner and I have just returned to a sunny but fresh Cape Town. While many people around the world would think how lucky we are, it is with a heavy heart that I post my second blog to all the keen followers of My African Experience.

You see, we have been utterly spoilt by our recent visit to the Sabi Sands private game reserve. Spoilt in every sense of the word! The abundance of exquisite food, fantastic staff, and possibly the best game viewing I have ever had the privilege of viewing! As well as making some awesome new friends.

We kicked off at Singita Boulders camp and were immediately given a quick tour of the understated but subtly opulent lodge. It is only once you are exposed to the attention to detail that you will understand where I’m coming from. A wine cellar that would be the envy of any fortune 500 executive (if they could have it situated next to the original boulder that gives Boulders it name and unique setting). Did I mention that Boulders and Ebony Lodges were just voted number two in the world? (after Singita Grumeti in Tanzania).

Singita Boulders Lodge

The famous 'Boulders' wine cellar

A stunning gym and spa, stocked with the best treatment products, rivalling any I have seen in major cities around the world awaited us, to knead out some of  those bumps acquired during our three and a half hour game excursions. Not that I’m complaining mind you!

Our suite at Boulders was better than expected! (I was fortunate enough to visit Lebombo a couple of years ago, and thought that was unbeatable). Singita manages to not overpower you but leaves you wondering what on earth you could do to improve it! You would be hard pressed to come up with anything! Their attention to detail is quite simply, off the charts.

Our suite at Boulders - what a view!!

We were chomping at the bit to get out on our first game drive. A quick bite and then we waited in anticipation. I’m sure you are aware of the old expression ‘You can choose your friends, but not your family’. Well, game drives are much the same! Your game ranger, tracker (Mishack) and also your fellow guests are a lottery! It seemed we had just had a big windfall! We hit pay dirt on all fronts! Mark E, our game ranger and guide (aka Google Wikipedia humanoid) was a pure delight, and Funny with a capital F. But the real win was having such interesting fellow guests. Lambert and Sam (a honeymoon couple from Hong Kong) were so much fun during our three days!

Our friend Mischak at drinks

Not knowing anything about the bush, these two adventurous love birds picked up so much so quickly, and were game for anything! On the first day, Lambert asked me why Singita was as expensive as any top five star hotel in Hong Kong? I replied, matter of factly, he should just wait and see! I’ll cut to the chase and tell you by the fourth game drive he enthusiastically acknowledged that now he understood just why!

Mapogo brother drags a rhino by himself!

With a ten hour leopard tracking, following and finding the infamous ‘Mapogo’ brothers (a coalition of three male lions) and many more unique game stories to mention (for a later time), I think I should move on to what this blog is about, before I get into a reverie I may just not escape!

It’s about the Sabi Sands and our incredible hosts!

Singita was simply perfection, and it seemed at the time, it would be a bit of a downhill from there. This was not the case!

Enter Lion Sands Ivory Lodge.

WOW!

Bearing in mind this magnificent lodge was washed away in the floods of 2000, one can only sit in awe at what Nic, Rob and Britt have achieved in making this into such a unique experience. Hats off to them!

Ivory lodge is one of the best designed contemporary lodges I have visited. At first glance, reminds me of an authentic Thai villa (only in thatch), a main entrance, leading off to two separate living areas set left and right between a plunge pool. African Zen personified!
The Sabi river is your southern boundary, teeming with wildlife.
A spectacular outside shower, to freshen up before your late game drive is a must!
Minimalist furnishings, all thoughtfully interwoven, creating a simply unforgettable first impression.

Ivory Lodge

Once again the gods were on our side, as we were very lucky with our selection of ranger and tracker. Jono, our ranger, was the quintessential ranger, cut from the ‘Out of Africa cloth’. Mind you, a bit of digging reveals a thoroughly affable chap, with a dry sense of humour and extremely knowledgeable, not scared to take on any obstacle in order to get his guests the best view. We followed him through incredibly thick bush to witness my first leopard kill, first hand! Probably the highlight of the Lion Sands experience! Beki, the tracker was amongst the best around. We did site inspections of the River Lodge and Tinga, both gems in their own right.

What a stunning leopard

Our next stop was &Beyond and sister camps Leadwood and Dulini. We walked into the main dining area at about 2 pm to find a heard of elephant (40 strong) mucking about in the river about two hundred meters away. A lone bull was causing a bit of a scene at room no two. Quite the welcome!

from the Lodge at &Beyond

More delicious food and then the much anticipated game drive…..one quick point, you will never tire of the game drives, each one offers a unique experience. No two are the same, so if you ever think of lying in one morning to lick your wounds after a heavy night in the boma, don’t even think about it! You never know what you are going to miss.
Our game ranger was the exact opposite of Jono from Lion Sand. Andrew had an impish way about and his boyish enthusiasm was contagious. What a delightful character, combined with the excellent tracking ability of Phickson, we were in for a roller coaster of a ride.

All three companies had such a different experience to offer, but all came through in spades. I will be going into more detail on our game experiences, the food offered, including wine, and the various accommodations on offer. Nine sites in eight days kept us very busy but I would not have swopped it for anything. What an amazing treat!

Sunset

Please follow our weekly blog to be released every Tuesday on the www.my-African-experience.com website and get all the inside stories. Leopard kills right in front of our vehicle, lions chasing of a pack of hyenas after bring down two male buffalos right in front of us and I have a special treat for all of you. An in-depth look at the people behind the scenes, and the impact the Kruger is having on the villages surrounding the Kruger Park. Engrossing reading, I can’t wait to tell you more.

Bye for now and catch up next Tuesday.

Wayne Human

My African Experience.

Greetings from My African Experience!

If you are reading this, you will be following our first official trip into the Kruger Park, and all the excitement that comes with this amazing adventure.

Put on any TV wildlife program from the comfort of your armchair or open any wildlife magazine and terms like ‘sustainable development, eco-tourism, community development and low impact hospitality’ are sprinkled around like confetti at a Royal wedding!

But what do we, the man on the street, really understand about these ideas, and more importantly, how do they impact on the local communities plying their trade in the various areas?

Of course Eco-tourism and Conservation go hand in hand with community support, and we are not discounting their  importance for a minute, but for our initial blog we feel it would be appropriate to concentrate the driving force behind these sublime establishments, and what makes them great, the PEOPLE!

Undoubtedly, the behind the scenes operations department  that landed you on your private airstrip is not to be taken for granted. I have had the pleasure of being invited to the Singita head office in Cape Town, and see first-hand how this delightful, friendly and professional staff made this all possible, so kudos to them.

But this blog is about the grinning face, waiting for you under a thatch boma next to the runway, with a silver, giant  filled  ice bucket, stocked with your favourite bevy, along with a thoughtfully handcrafted array of delicious nibbles from the kitchen. We will concentrate this blog on the wonderful staff, trained and employed at the lodge you will be privileged to spend your incredible African Experience with- from the smiling porter, to the well trained management, who will greet you by name, along with a few more delectable cocktails and the compulsory delicacies.

We want to know where do these marvellous people come from, how were they so well-trained, where do they and their families live, and crucially, what impact has this company had on their lives. We plan to dig around at will keep you posted on our findings!

Of course the real reason My African Experience is here is to see the nature, and the animals as they always were, so don’t fear there will be plenty of that as well, and remember, out here we are still part of the food chain..Mmmm!

No matter how much effort a company tries to make things perfect…..the last line of contact with you, the guest, is ultimately the staff……and this, ultimately separates the very good from the simply outstanding! We shall see.

To quote Luke Bailes CEO  The Singita Group

“With a vision of securing and preserving an increasing number of pristine locations, we have a firm commitment to maintaining the sustainability of each property by continuing to build upon our three pillars of wildlife conservation, eco-friendly tourism and COMMUNITY SUPPORT”