March 2015 Trip Report

View of the Pilanesberg looking east from the most westerly viewpoint

Three parks in two weeks - now that is going to be a fun trip. Stay with us over the next two weeks for this March 2015 trip report as we venture into the 3 lovely parks of Pilanesberg, Madikwe and Etosha, plus two Game Farms in Namibia.

The temperatures varied between 12 degrees celsius in the early mornings, then heating up to between 25 and 38 degrees by midafternoon. We took our warm clothes and Jackets, but never used them except for a brief moment on our way back from a night drive at Toko Lodge in Namibia and only because it rained and the weather turned for an hour or so.

We had a few overcast days with one or two rainy days but the rain was most welcome due the soaring heat and dryness in the west of Eotsha.

Most dams and waterholes had water in them but we could see winter was on its way as the levels had dropped dramatically.

The park was still very green in some part and the grass was very long in others, making game viewing a little difficult.

March 2015 Trip Report - Pilanesberg

Our first stop was Pilanesberg where we stayed at Manyane Camp. We did our normal route on the R565 to Pilanesberg which takes us about 1 and a half to two hours to do depending on the traffic.

We arrived at Bakubung Gate at 5-45 am, just before the gates opened at 6am.

We took a slow drive looking for leopards as the sightings during the week had been good, but sadly there were no leopards, lions or cheetah to be seen by us during our two day stay in the park.

We did see three hot air balloons going up - that's the most we've seen on one morning in the park.

Our two buffet dinners were nice - on our first night we had braai meat; lamp chops, wors, beef stew, pap and gravy, vegetables and desert. The 2nd night was also buffet style but you could also choose from the a-la-carte menu, but we stayed with the buffet.

The 2nd morning we left our chalet round 5.20 and got to the gate at 5.30 with two other cars ahead of us all eager to get into the park.

We had another quiet drive but we did have 3 different sightings of elephant and loads of white rhino’s and one very good black rhino sighting which was great.

Our two days went in a flash and it was time to leave for our next stop - Madikwe. We left Manyane Camp around 9.20 am and went along our normal route to Madikwe, but this time we took the Deerdepoort road which is a little shorter than going through the park but the road isn't in good condition! The trip was just 110km from Manyane to Makanyane Lodge.

March 2015 Trip Report - Madikwe

On arrival at Makanyane Safari Lodge we were warmly welcome by Maretha and Lynette (the GM) who were waiting for us with a refreshing welcome drink then they introduced us to our field guide. 

This was our first time to Makanyane Lodge and Maretha showed us round after our welcome drinks. We had 3 great days with good food and loads of help and information from Maretha, she is a true gem.

We stayed in suite 8 which is the furthest from the main lodge - the suite was great with large glass windows giving you stunning views over the river and surrounding bush.

We loved the outdoor shower, because it gives you a feeling of being at one with nature. The lodge is unfenced so animals walk through the grounds.

We spent our second night at the sleep-out hide, which is situated in the middle of the African plains.

We spent a night under the stars and what a lovely night we had. Instead of going on the game drive that afternoon they dropped us off at the hide round 4.30pm with a dinner pack.

We had a wonderful picnic on the top level of our deck; our picnic pack had beef meatballs, roast chicken, potato salad, vegetable kebabs and of course a bottle of wine!

We got some really lovely landscape photos of a sunset and then the beautiful stars...

Just before they collected us, which was around 6-15am, we got another great landscape of the morning sky.

Sadly the lions did not pay us a visit but we did hear the leopard calling a few times just before sunrise.

After picking us up from the hide it was time for our morning game drive, then back to the lodge for breakfast.

Our field guide experience started out well but didn't end so well. As we’ve said before, the field guide can make or break your safari and their attitudes seems to be the deciding factor, not their bush skill or photography knowledge. Just like other professions, you get the good, bad and ugly.

Our first game drive was fine but on the second one we were tracking lion spoor and Jenny was the first to see the lions. The guide’s comment wasn't ‘well done’ but “I would have seen them first but you’re higher then me”!

Who cares who saw them first!?

It was two lion cubs and we started to follow them  - the sun was rising behind them and they started playing, kicking up dust while back-lit – this was going to provide awesome photographs – or not.

We both asked the guide to stop as we could see the fantastic shots but he simply carried on driving and said “I don’t do the start-stop thing”!

We were the only people on the vehicle and Jenny was sitting behind the guide while I was at the back of the vehicle so I didn't hear this conceited comment.

Then the lions carried on playing and jumping into the air but went behind some bushes - our guide, instead of focusing on us HIS GUESTS and our needs and moving the vehicle to keep up with the lions and get around the bushes, is sitting on his radio telling the other guides how to get to his wonderful sighting...! 

The guide just didn't seem to get it - that we are doing a book on Madikwe and are at his lodge for just 3 days and we need to ensure we get good images so that HIS lodge looks good in the book! Maybe he did get it but simply didn't care due to his inflated ego?

On day two we were joined by an American family on our vehicle and a call came in over the radio while the field guide was collecting us from the hide and the American guest asked him what the name was in English. (The guides use Tswana names for the animals).

The guide said it was "nothing" but when the American pushed him for an answer he said it was a "place name". The American then said that the guy on the radio seemed very excited over a place name! The field guide simply refused to tell us what animal it was - very childish behavior.

We were then discussing the history of Madikwe and we mentioned that there is an old well in the park built by David Livingstone. The guide did not know about the well so we volunteered to take him to it. His answer: "I'm the guide so I show you things, you don't show me"!

Needless to say he did not get a tip as we ‘don’t do the gratuity thing’ for egotistical guides.  

In spite of the arrogant field guide we enjoyed our three night’s stay at Makanyane and got some landscape and lion images but now it was time to leave for Namibia.

March 2015 Trip Report - Botswana & Namibia

We left the lodge round 5:15am and headed for the Derdepoort border post into Botswana. This was a new route for us and we found it to be a pleasant trip but don’t do this during the week due to the traffic in Gaborone.

The route took us from the Derdepoort border past Mochudi then down to Gaborone and past Kanye. We followed the signs to Jwaneng and back onto the Trans Kalahari Highway. It is 240 kilometers from Makanyane Safari Lodge to Jwaneng.

We got through the border post into Namibia at 3.20pm and headed for on overnight stop at Londiningi Guest House in Windhoek.

We arrived at Londiningi at 6.30pm. Alexander warmly welcomed us like old friends; it is so nice coming back to this warm and inviting guest house.

At 7.30pm we had a superb dinner of Asparagus, Kudu steak, veg and our favorite thin apple tart with Amarula.

It was so nice seeing Nathalie and Alexander again but our visit was very short and we had to leave for Toko Lodge. We left very early at around 3am because we wanted to get to Etosha when it opened at sunrise which was at 7 am.

March 2015 Trip Report - Etosha

We arrived at the new Galton gate where we paid for our entrance into the park. It cost us N$60.00 per person and N$10.00 for the vehicle per day, so a total of N$130.00 for a daily trip into Etosha.

The new Galton Gate

In addition to the gate we noticed all the new signs...

It was lovely to see the park so green and lush and still so many animals at the watering holes but our first stop was the new double-story hide at Olifantsrus waterhole.

Olifantsrus Campsite

Olifantsrus Campsite is the newest addition to the western part of Etosha, and now campers and day visitors can enjoy this great place with loads of history about the old elephant abattoir.

Yip, 525 elephants were killed in this outdoor abattoir

You will notice a red path road leading from the museum to the hide - this represents the flowing blood of the 525 elephants and leads from death (the abattoir) to life (the hide where visitors can observe living elephants).

In addition to the museum, it has a day visitor’s picnic site and camp site, kiosk, ablutions, hide and kitchen facilities. It is fenced in making it safe to walk around.

The hide is a good concept but not really practical for photographers. I don’t know why the architects / designers of hides don’t consult with photographers before building hides and waterholes!?

Here are the problems with the hide relating to photography: 

  • The hide faces north so you have the sun in your eyes for most of the day.
  • The top level of the hide has windows that open so you can photograph subjects but you will be shooting down on them when they are at the water – we don’t want images of the tops of heads – as photographers we would like eye-level images!  
  • The bottom level of the hide has 2-way glass that cannot open. Two problems here – some animals will see the people and then run and secondly you will be shooting through glass! When we were there the bottom was locked as they don’t want people in there scaring the animals away! Apparently they are waiting for 1-way glass to replace the existing glass panes.

The hide was described as ‘state-of-the art’ – sorry to burst their bubble but it’s not.

The upper level does provide good views over the veld and gives you a bird’s eye view of spotting the game coming down to drink but that’s about it.

If you do go to the hide try and be there early morning or late afternoon as the hide is circular in shape and the water goes around the sides and you may be able to get some decent shots if the subjects are drinking to the east or west of the hide.

The roads round Olifantsrus have changed and we will be updating the map in our Photographer’s Guide to Etosha eBook in the next couple of weeks. Those of you who have purchased our eBook will be entitled to a free copy of this updated version.

March 2015 Trip Report - Toko Lodge

The day was marching on and getting very hot so it was time to make our way to our next stop, Toko Safari Lodge.

We first went to Kamanjab to fuel up the vehicle which is just 26 kilometers from Toko Lodge. We arrived at 17h10; this would be our home away from home for the next 4 days.

Nico and Karola welcomed us like we were part of the family, they are such good friends and their hospitality is superb. We spent 4 wonderful days with them and had some good laughs and great food.

We spent 3 days going into Western Etosha which is only 70 kilometers from Toko Lodge to Galton Gate making it ideal as a place to spend a few nights.

We had our dinners in the dining room, on night two we had a braai but the rain came down and we all had to move inside to finish off our meals.

Storm over Toko Lodge

All our meals were great as usual because Karola and their staff put in a lot of effort to give their guests the best.

We took breakfast packs with us on the 3 day self-drives that we did in Western Etosha.

We had a sighting of a black Rhino but it was not a good sighting because he looked sick and was not acting like black rhinos do. One rhino had just died at Dolomietpunt waterhole and the anti-poaching team was there investigating the incident so we went and informed them about the one we had just seen at the nearby waterhole. 

We didn't see any cats but we saw all the evidence:

Over 100 vultures at Jakkalswater waterhole - the kill was too far in the bush to photograph it
Giraffe examining zebra carcass near Otjovasandufontien
Jackal with zebra leg at Klippan waterhole

We spent a day exploring Toko’s great game farm and we found the devils claw and dubbeltjie plant at their camp site...

We also had great early evening game drives round the farm and got to see one of the elusive night creatures; the Aardwolf...

The farm has loads of other game; like giraffe, both types of zebra, springbok and kudu but the opportunities to capture landscapes is superb...

Katenda Himba Village

Toko now has a new addition to add to their activities; the Himba village which lies just a few hundred meters from the main lodge. We took a tour round this humble village and got to meet a few of their striking people.

On the last morning we slept in and had breakfast at the lodge. It was time to say farewell to our wonderful friends and head to Windhoek where we would spend three nights.

We left around 9-15 am and arrived in Windhoek just after 2 pm, we did a little shopping then went to check into Olympus Guesthouse….we would not recommend this guesthouse to anyone, the only reason we stayed there was because Londiningi was full. We won’t stay there again – basically it was grubby (dirty rooms and green swimming pool) and the staff members had bad attitudes.

In addition they do not appear on TripAdvisor and the lodge has no signage (no name or contact details on the actual B&B building) - very unusual/suspicious...?!

Each night we had dinner at the Olive Exclusive, which never disappoints us. The food and service are outstanding, not to mention the great views over Windhoek.

March 2015 Trip Report - Zelda's

Now for the last leg of our wonderful trip, we head out to Zelda’s Guest and Game Farm which is just 20 kilometers from the Namibian/Botswana border post.

After our arrival which was around 18h30 we had just enough time to unpack then it was off to dinner which they serve at 19h00.

We had a great dinner of Kudu steak and Kudu goulash with vegetables, salad and dessert. However, the desserts at Zelda’s need some improving – they tend to use boxed puddings instead of creating fresh and original desserts.

The next morning we went to see the Bushman village…this is such a great experience and I would recommend guests do the walk, watch the dance and stay over for a night to get a good feel of a day in the life of a bushman.

We then went and spent most of the day with Tornado, the 17 year old female Leopard. 

She is a good looking animal and has the personality to match, she was so relaxed with us and rolled around on the ground purring for us and giving us a great show.

She really does not look or acts like an old cat, she seems more like a young kitten to us. She played with a stick and some grass then walked next to the fence rubbing herself up against it as if to say stroke me please. We felt honored to have spent such an amazing day with her.

To see more images of Tornado please visit the Zelda's page and scroll down to the bottom.

At 18h00 it was animal feeding time and you can see rescued animals being fed. In addition to Tornado they have a porcupine named Piet, and a few other animals, depending on what they rescue.

Tornado does not like crowds and did not want to eat in front of the children so decided to wait till they had left before eating. We much preferred the time we spent with her during the day because she was so much more relaxed.

Another great dinner in the lapa; chicken stew, meat balls, lovely vegetables, salads, rice and a great potato bake with jelly for desert. 

After another good stay it was time to hit the road for home, which would be a 12 hour trip from Zelda’s through Botswana and back to SA.

The drive was good and we did not have too many crazies on the road, just cows, goats and donkeys, but a lot of cars coming into Botswana because it was the start of the Easter school holidays.

There was of course the normal Roadkill along the roads and inside the parks due to the speedsters... 

and some new crosses on the roadsides...

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