BLOOD, TEARS & DUST

&Beyond as a company consistently delivers a bush experience like no other. Have recently returned from 5 nights in the bush – 3 in Kruger National Park and 2 at Kirkmans in the Sabie Sand. Our group of 6 adults thoroughly enjoyed their whole safari but particularly loved  Kirkmans Kamp, as to use an alliterative phrase  it was exceedingly exceptional. Why?
Incomparable service – staff were extremely pleasant and nothing at all was a bother. Our butler Moses in particular exceeded the service standard one would expect from a 5 star lodge. Moses you deserve 5 stars all of your own!

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All the common areas such as the bar, shop and lounge were spotlessly clean and there was always someone to assist you. The lodge (restored homestead of Harry Kirkman) is beautifully decorated in the original colonial theme. Roaming amongst relics from the past such as gun belts, kudu horns and fine crystal  I was immersed  in the history from another era.

Meals were absolutely delicious with inventive yet simple menus and gave us the opportunity to try some game meats such as warthog and springbok.  Boma dinner in the old cattle kraal the first night was accompanied by the staff singing gospel songs which couldn’t help but touch your soul. Leaving the Boma we were greeted by  hyena lazing on the lawn , their eyes glinting in the moonlight obviously waiting to forage for scraps. This is one reason why at night you must be escorted to your room by armed security as the Lodge is totally unfenced and you don’t want to end up as ” carnivore dining”. Dinner the second evening took place by candlelight under a star lit sky on the verandah and proved to again be an experience to write home about.

Breakfast was an event in itself with one morning our treat being champagne breakfast in the bush by the  river . Apparently the site had to be changed at the last minute as 2 male lions decided to crash the party. Never a dull moment at Kirkmans.

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The infinity edged  pool  situated a little walk from the rooms  is  just divine – there is a small “bush gym” area with weights,  towels, water and the treatment spa where you can be massaged into  a state of oblivion.

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Rooms were exceeding comfortable with free standing baths, exquisite toiletries ,  large showers and luxurious beds . Some rooms have balconies and loved the  total ambience of being able to sit looking into the trees across the river bed whilst sipping on a G & T or Amarula liquor.

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It is also well worth really looking around the Lodge – the monkeys were hilarious drinking from the flower pots and catching moths around the light fittings.  For once  I felt sorry for them as the current drought is really taking its toll. Found a most interesting snake in the tree  from which I recoiled   but which had beautiful colouring. Nature is all around you if you open your eyes.

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Game Viewing – I have saved the best for last. Superb. I personally have spent lots of time in Africa but every day is MAGIC in the bush for no 2 days are the same and you never know what is around the next corner.  We were not disappointed, our drives were exceedingly good. One hopes to see leopard in the Sabi Sand which was great but  seeing  4 male lions take on a 500 strong buffalo herd in the river bed  with only one other vehicle privy to the heart wrenching action was truly amazing. See my previous post  and video for more action from this event.

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Cheers to our ranger Sean Messham  and all the & Beyonders who made our stay special and for Swagman Africa for assisting with our booking arrangements.

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Life and Death by the Sand River

November 12th 2015 was for me an extraordinary day in Africa bringing to mind the saying “the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”.

The day began like many others in the African bush with the chorus of the hadedas serenading me as the sun painted the sky on the horizon. I left  my luxurious room at Kirkmans Kamp close to  5.30 unaware of the drama which was to unfold in the ensuing couple of hours. Laughing at the monkeys trying to steal our morning rusks I had a good feeling about the day ahead.

Our group of 6 adults had enjoyed a remarkable safari already with numerous sightings of wild dog, leopards and lions due largely to the terrible drought which South Africa is suffering. The predators are enjoying full bellies as their weakened prey are driven by thirst towards the riverbeds to find what little water is available.

The previous evening we had spent time in the riverbed surrounded by elephants, rhino and buffalo all searching desperately for water.

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We watched 2 male lions guard a buffalo carcass which they had recently killed and so on this particular morning decided to go back to that area about 30 minutes from camp and see what drama if any had unfolded during the night. As we rocked up with our ranger Sean Messham at the helm 4 male lions were resting with their full bellies splayed on the cool sand of the riverbed. All was quiet until a herd of some 200 buffalo came down to drink from a finger of water right in the middle of the river. Buffalo are not known as having great eyesight and so the herd were nearly on top of the lions before they came to a tremendous halt.

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SA-691Then all hell broke loose as the lions gave chase, dust was churned , bleating was heard in the dense shrub on the other side of the river and we were convinced the lions had been successful. Thinking we would go and look I was devastated to find that due to the fact the other side of the river was a concession owned by Mala Mala we could not traverse their land. Didn’t matter as one by one the lions emerged from the bush back to the riverbed so they had obviously been unsuccessful. This is where things got really interesting.

SA-671 SA-686Sean suggested we  wait a while and see if the buffalo herd would return as he figured they were very thirsty. Within 10 minutes they were back and in fact had swelled in number to at rough count 500 strong – the lions were sitting right on the water as if to say “you want it, dare you to come and get it”.

SA-602Much posturing and staring ensued. I felt a sacrifice was going to be made as the buffalo seemed to be absolutely driven by their thirst to access the small amount of water available to them. Suddenly as we were adjusting our position – it was  game on.…dust, hooves, a maelstrom of action resulting in death of a calf.

SA-650 SA-655 SA-684The kill I have waited almost 30 years to see from beginning to end is  actually pretty hard to watch in its entirety  but it is nature and for this reason I was able to accept what I had seen. Such a conflict of emotion, joy for the lions but heartache for the buffalo.  To see the lions work together to achieve their goal was simply amazing and even after they had made their kill they still made a couple of half-hearted attempts to bring down another buffalo as  the entire herd took turns drinking.

jb-134We stayed for about 30 minutes and left nature at its most raw. Then felt compelled to make a coffee break (liberal dose of amurula for sure after the mornings events) and barefooted with sand crunching between my toes I sat on the riverbank and contemplated how wonderful it was to be in my African home .

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The Changing Sands of Phuket

Visions of palm trees swaying gently on an island oasis had frequented my dreams in the weeks preceding our holiday to Phuket, Thailand’s largest Island. This picture however was shattered, when on arrival  the monsoonal trade winds buffeted us onboard our Jetstar A320  taking us for a complimentary circuit around the island. Eventually, our flight landed safely and we made our way from the airport to the island’s west coast and The Surin Phuket – our home for the ensuing week.

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After a very warm welcome by our hosts we were gifted flowers and  escorted to our beach suite. Set amongst coconut palms the cottages of The Surin cascade down a hillside overlooking  the private sands of Pansea Beach. The 16 spacious  beach suites are set far enough apart to afford guests enough privacy and are decorated with local fabrics and artworks. Our private sun deck led directly onto the beach but  what really impressed me was the attention to detail.  Apart from the normal luxuries found in a room of this calibre we were provided complimentary flip-flops and sun hats to use for the duration of our stay. Every evening edible treats were left for us to try and our tropical flowers were refreshed.

The Hotel itself  fits in beautifully with the environment and is well managed with immaculately kept  facilities . We spent many enjoyable hours by the swimming pool and lying around on sun  lounges drinking cocktails from the beach bar. The breakfast was amazing –  bircher muesli was in fact the best I have ever tasted and my son would polish off pancakes, eggs benedict and more pancakes at each sitting.  The library had a great selection of books and a pool table which was put to good use. Complimentary activities were offered each day such as the fruit and vegetable carving course which I attended and failed at dismally. Who would think it would be so difficult to make butterflies out of carrots!

During the week Management held a cocktail party for guests by the pool which we attended and were delighted with  the tasty canapés and selection of drinks available. All the staff we met were personable and seemed happy. The Hotel is on Pansea Beach but Surin beach itself is a 5 minute walk once you leave the Hotel grounds and is host to a number of restaurants and bars. Many of these were actually more expensive than eating at The Surin but is always good to have a variety and occasional change of environment.

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The view directly from our sun deck – room 344
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My son contemplating the power of the sea and the beauty around him

We are explorers at heart and so  we hired a car and drove to Patong which with its bars and subsequent massive drain on electricity might be doing its bit for tourism but is certainly not contributing to the environment. We visited Tigerland and wish we hadn’t – separate post to come on that one, and visited Old Phuket Town which we found very interesting and a delight to photograph and experience the atmosphere.

Totally enjoyed visiting Phang Nga Bay with John Gray Sea Canoes. The Hong by Starlight Tour was well run and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, delicious Thai food, and the  experience of canoeing through some very tight rock formations into caverns.

Unfortunately every night of our stay in Phuket the Andaman Sea was unrelenting – spewing forth flotsam and jetsam onto our stretch of island paradise. The Surin staff cleaned the beach every morning    (sometimes for hours) but the fact remained all that rubbish is floating out there in the water. I have travelled extensively but Thailand was where I almost stepped on a syringe nestled in the sand.  Of course the Hotel is not responsible for the filth in the sea , however it did impact on our stay.

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I would like to make it absolutely clear that I found The Surin to be a superb hotel and would recommend staying there in a heartbeat but Phuket in general – I think you either love it or not  – I am sure glad we visited but wouldn’t be in a hurry to return.

Reach Out and Embrace Africa