Addo-Elephant Utopia

I love elephants and so it was inevitable that on one of my trips to South Africa I would find myself in the thick of a mighty breeding herd at Addo Elephant Park  just 72 km’s  outside of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

 

ADDO is the third largest national park in South Africa  expanding rapidly since 1978 when it first opened to the public . As of 2016 this finely tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to over 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle. In fact there is some exciting news on the lion front with Sylvester the Karoo lion being relocated to Addo . Sylvester recently made headline news when he escaped from the Karoo National Park.

Addo can exclusively claim to be the only national park in the world to conserve the “Big 7” – the Big 5 as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the Algoa Bay coast.

Map showing the roads we traversed in our sedan car
Map showing the roads we traversed just in one day  – self drive holiday – fantastic value

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Driving around Addo was very easy with tar and gravel roads in great condition. We enjoyed the lush surroundings, saw two of the Big 5 plus lots of ostrich, antelope and plains game. The elephant herds are very habituated to vehicles and seemed at ease with the passing parade. We drove ourselves but you can easily organise to take a guided drive in an open vehicle. Main Camp offers a variety of accommodation to suit various tastes and pockets whilst other concessions within the National park  offer upmarket lodges.

Buffalo having a mud bath by the side of the road

We chose not to stay in the Park itself but at Elephant House in the sun drenched Sundays River Valley  just 8 kms from Addo. This meant we could do a morning self-drive after breakfast, return to our beautiful cottage for lunch and a siesta and then head back to the park for an afternoon drive. Enjoyed an early dinner at Main Camp which was  very pleasant as the food was good and we enjoyed the scenery for  the restaurant is surrounded by trees

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Elephant House was fantastic – The Stables Cottage which we had booked for 2 nights was huge with its own kitchenette, separate room for our son and a large bathroom. Grounds were divine with 2 swimming pools, waterfall, playroom, & verandah by the bar stocked with a vast array of books and magazines. I enjoyed a manicure and felt totally at peace with the world. Recommend it as a must stay.

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Directions: Take the N2 from Port Elizabeth towards Grahamstown, then turn left onto the R335 towards Addo Elephant Park. You will reach Elephant House 8km before Addo National Park, on the left hand side.

Cape Town – Glorious City

Cape Town is a glorious city steeped in history with a diverse culture and blessed with jaw dropping scenery. The entire Cape Province is paradise for anyone who appreciates great food, nature & loves their photography. I compare the Cape to a slice of cake – you taste a smidgeon & then want to devour the entire piece in one sitting, but in fact it is better to savour every morsel and keep returning to savour more & more of the taste. 

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South Africa’s oldest city has a number of nicknames “Tavern Of The Seas”, “Cape Grab” and my favourite “The Mother City”. With an approximate population of 3.5 million there is no shortage of people to meet and the words vibrant, sophisticated, fashionable, come to mind. Table Mountain flanked by Devils Peak to the east and Lion’s Head to the west  looms over the City and if you are lucky you will see the mountain without its famous tablecloth. If so immediately discard all other plans & take the moment to catch the Aerial  Cableway to the top. The Cableway  operates only if weather conditions deemed safe, each car holds 65 people and offers rotating 360 degree views over Cape Town for  R240 return.

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Cape Town is blessed with beautiful beaches such as Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno – all strung out along the Atlantic Coast. However be warned the sea water off these beaches is freezing. Further out of town the beaches along the Indian Ocean such as Muizenberg and Fish Hoek offer a more pleasant water temperature.

SA -2 One of my favourite things to do is to incorporate a visit on a day trip to Cape Point (must do)  to swim with the penguins at Boulders Beach in Simonstown. To have a penguin surf a wave with you and then flop down on your beach towel is surreal.

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Accommodation wise there are many options. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is very popular but an expensive area to stay. Air Bnb is exceedingly popular and there are many apartments to choose from but personally I prefer a Hotel or Bed & Breakfast. The knowledge gained from a concierge  is invaluable and when in South Africa it is important to be vigilant about your personal security.  I personally stay at either Welgelegen or Belmond Mount Nelson.

Welgelegen is a stylish home with 13 rooms -some offering views of Table Mountain. There is a courtyard, small pool and the location is fabulous with many of the exciting restaurants along Kloof St less than a 10 minute walk away. There are a great many interesting shops and boutiques along Kloof/ Long streets. To walk to the waterfront would take about 45 minutes but please at night either catch a cab or drive yourself.2007 SA-2

The Mount Nelson is an institution – opened in 1899 to passengers from the great cruise ships of the Union & Castle lines. This grand lady has maintained its grace and charm throughout the years and one always feels special when walking thru the doors. Positioned right in the heart of the city within 3 hectares of parkland  guests can easily stroll through the Company Gardens down Government Avenue past the Houses of Parliament to the heart of Cape Town’s shopping and commercial centre.

Mount Nelson with Table Mountain in the background
Mount Nelson with Table Mountain in the background
High tea at the Nellie is for me a must do in Cape Town
High tea at the Nellie is for me a must do in Cape Town
French sleigh bed was all mine on a solo trip- so comfy- best sleep-want one now!
French sleigh bed was all mine on a solo trip- so comfy- best sleep-want one now!

The Waterfront precinct is an exciting place to spend an entire day. You can watch the seals relaxing on the wharf, catch a ferry to Robben Island, shop at the Red Shed for african crafts or indulge in more upmarket shopping if your heart desires. Many restaurants to choose from and for kids there is the Two Oceans Aquarium.

I recently acquired a very beautiful necklace thru the Legacy Collection based in Cape Town  which  ” keeps alive the sacrifices made for the freedom of a nation by creating artwork and jewellery from Robben Island’s  original Prison Fence”. This emotionally rich collection symbolises the power of forgiveness, faith and love.” I discovered this collection by Charmaine Taylor when at a marketing event for Sun Luxe in Sydney where a necklace was given away as a lucky door prize. I was stirred emotionally as I have been a long time admirer of Nelson Mandela, was in the Kruger Park when he was released from prison and I am so proud to wear the Honour Pendant. A percentage of the profits are passed on to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Click on the link to read more  – very interesting and also easy to order online if you can’t get there.

The Cape Province is so beautiful it is definitely worth allocating time to explore further afield. Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden & the wine estates of Groot Constantia are within cooee of town.

Franschoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch offer a chance to explore majestic wine estates and delve into their history. I would really recommend overnighting in Franschoek. Check out Trip Advisor for some great suggestions on accomodation for all budgets. I stayed at La Fontaine which I loved. Next time would love to stay at La Petite Ferme for their legendary hospitality and meals. Do not miss Fairview winery  near Paarl- the goats are legendary and Diemersfontein for their pinotage with chocolate overtones. Wow!

The Whale Route is plagued with breathtaking scenery and Hermanus is one of my favourite places in the world. To see whales in Walker Bay  June – November so close to the shore  you can literally touch them has spoiled me for life. Stayed at the Marine Hotel where I could look out and see the passing parade of whales from my room.

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Marine Hotel in background. Bientangs Cave is a great spot to eat and do some whale watching.

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There is still more to explore – Garden Route, West Coast, Kgalagadi,  Namaqualand, Augrabies, the list goes on. Truly this post has only just touched on the wealth of things to do in this province so do yourself a favour and go……experience…..photograph……enjoy.  My next post will be on Addo National Park so watch this space.

Maasai Cricketers Advocating Change

Cricket is certainly not a game that has enjoyed popularity amongst remote african communities in the past, however a small group of Warriors from Kenya’s Laikipia region are doing their best to change this and simultaneously draw attention to cultural and social issues affecting their people. All communities need strong role models.

Poverty, the spread of HIV and female genital mutilation (FGM) are some of the issues impacting heavily on their culture. Also living within the range of the Northern Rangelands Trust the Maasai have learnt the value and importance of Conservation. Hunting lions which was once a right of passage for young men to become warriors  has now become relatively outlawed as lion populations dwindle and replaced by other means such as the Maasai Olympics.

Female genital mutilation is still common place amongst Africa’s tribes as my family and I discovered on a recent trip to Kenya. See my post A Handshake Says It All. Our Samburu guide explained how change will have to come from the elders as cutting of both girls and boys is still currently regarded as a right of passage and that change must come from future elders being more educated as to the alternatives.

The Warriors learned to play cricket  in 2007 and have already traveled outside of Kenya to play in Cape Town (South Africa) and at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. The Primary Club has funded part of their trip to Australia and  I am thrilled that my son and I were privileged to watch a friendly cricket match between Newington College and the Warriors at Buchanan Oval. Never before have we  seen such flamboyance attached to a game of T20 cricket.

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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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Reach Out and Embrace Africa