Here’s a selection of my favourite photos taken during 2017 – from our travels, holidays and birding trips – chosen from my collection of over 2500 photos for the year. Each one has a story attached which I have tried to capture in a few words………..
If you have any favourites, do let me know by adding your comment!
Part Two includes more birds, the reptiles, butterflies and other stuff
Wishing all who may read this a 2018 that meets all of your expectations!
The previous posts on this “Trip of a Lifetime” to Southern Africa by our Canadian family covered the time spent in Kruger National Park and the nearby Panorama route .
Now for the real Africa!
I had booked a package a few months prior for our small group, which seemed to meet their desire of experiencing Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve. The package included the flight from Jo’burg to Vic Falls and 2 nights in the Kingdom Hotel, followed by a road transfer to Kasane for a further 2 nights in the Chobe Safari Lodge`, ending with a flight back to Jo’burg from Kasane.
Kasane lies in northern Botswana just 80 kms west of Vic Falls and has become well-known to me after a dozen or more visits over the last couple of years for a project in which I’m involved.
In years gone by it would have been a major undertaking to get to the north-west corner of Zimbabwe in order to experience this natural wonder of the world – nowadays regular flights from Jo’burg to the modern airport some 20 kms outside town get you there in just one and a half hours flying time.
We left home in Pretoria on Monday 13th March 2017 with time to spare, so once we had made our way through check-in and the security and passport formalities at OR Tambo, we could enjoy a Mugg and Bean breakfast before boarding the flight.
We landed at 1.15 pm at Vic Falls airport and our transfer was waiting to take us to the Kingdom hotel, where two comfortable rooms awaited us.
On the way we made a short stop to organise bookings for the afternoon excursion – a sundowner cruise on the Zambezi.
Sundowners on the Zambezi
There was time to chill before our 4.30 pm pick-up to take us to the river cruise dock upstream from the falls, where we boarded the Zambezi Royal for a “luxury cruise”, which turned out to be “super cool” in Sarah’s words. It’s worth paying the extra for the luxury of your own table and personal service on the spacious, smooth-riding boat, with drinks and gourmet snacks included ( canapés is what the grand people call them, I think).
As the boat departed we sipped sparkling wine, nibbled on the canapés and tried our best to look the part – there were a couple of other, somewhat more crowded boats passing by at the time, so we had to let them know what they were missing.
The boat headed upstream along Africa’s fourth longest river, with Siloka island on the right, skirting the riverside vegetation. The cruise manager kept us informed on what we were seeing and I was pleasantly surprised at his bird knowledge and spotting ability, with good sightings of White-fronted Bee-eater, Water Thick-Knee, Purple Heron, Pied Kingfisher and others. At each sighting he got the captain to take us close to the river bank for a close-up view.
It did not take long to find the first Hippos and they obliged with their trademark big yawns, showing us their massive jaws and fearsome looking teeth as we approached. We found more pods of hippos as we made our way up river, some with Red-billed Oxpeckers in attendance.
These avian scavengers are tolerated by a variety of animals due to the ‘service’ they provide of taking care of irritating ticks and other parasites. One Oxpecker was determined to stay put, clinging to the nose of a hippo despite its “customer” opening its jaws wide , but eventually it got too uncomfortable for him and he flew off, only to land on the next available hippo.
A large Crocodile, resting on the bank and partly concealed by the long grasses, caused some excitement amongst the passengers as the captain edged the boat up to the bank to allow everyone to get a good view.
We continued for an hour or more until all that remained was to watch the sun slowly set as the sky turned different shades of orange and grey over the Zambezi as we enjoyed a beer of the same name.
All in all, a great way to start our visit to this world-famous corner of Zim! Just not sure how we can keep up the high level of excitement that the sightings and doings have caused amongst the Canadians.
A Walk in the Rain Forest
If it’s Tuesday it must be …. time to ‘do’ the Falls, which is what the Canadians had come to see, after all.
After a good hotel breakfast in the large, open air dining room, we first walked to the nearby shopping area for a couple of essentials (a hat and sunscreen for me) trying not to make eye contact with the vendors with their billion dollar notes and wooden bowls etc. From there we headed back down the road past our hotel and along a pretty flower lined pathway that ended near the Falls entrance.
You would think that entrance to one of the seven ‘natural wonders of the world’ would be quick and automated, but no, the cashier laboriously writes out an invoice in long hand for each purchase of a ticket. Just a tad frustrating, but nothing could spoil the experience that awaited.
The views were as breath-taking as my previous visit 18 months ago, more so for our visitors seeing it for the first time, but compared to my earlier visit there was a lot more water gushing in shiny brown torrents over the edge and into the steaming turmoil below. What power!
We meandered along the pathways, with the spray from the falls varying between barely noticeable droplets to the equivalent of a light summer rainstorm and by the time we reached the bridge at the furthest end of the walk we were pretty much drenched.
There are a number of viewpoints along the way, each one numbered and each presenting the falls from a different perspective, all of them spectacular. The roar of the falls accompanies you as you make your way from one viewpoint to another.
Birds were rather scarce other than a few in the rain forest, such as White-browed Robin-Chat, Tropical Boubou and Paradise Flycatcher. Butterflies made for a splash of fluttering colour amongst the greenery of the rain forest and a group of Mongoose moved through the undergrowth.
Our last stop before turning back was at the bridge viewpoint with its grand view of the man-made structure from the colonial era that is still impressive.
Back at the entrance, tired after the longish walk, we enjoyed a thirst quencher and Alex ordered a toasted sandwich which a beyond cheeky monkey decided to plunder, appearing out of nowhere and giving us all quite a fright. The restaurant brought a replacement and the “monkey guard” appeared with a catapult which settled things down again.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and for the evening meal we decided to try the nearby (nothing’s very far in this town) Mama Afrika restaurant which had a delightful African flavour and atmosphere enhanced by a jazz band and a short power outage.
The next morning was our last in Vic Falls – I decided to take an early morning walk through the extensive gardens of the hotel and along some of the paths that lead to the Falls. It turned into an interesting walk when one William, curio seller, decided he had nothing better to do and accompanied me, showing me the quieter paths, where he also spotted and pointed out a few birds, although he didn’t know their names. In return I told him some of the names, showed him their illustrations on my Roberts App and played the calls – I could see he showed an interest and I suggested he learn more about the local birds so that he could perhaps help tourists with a birding bent in future. He asked that, if I came back to Vic Falls, I bring him a bird book to learn from – who knows, maybe that will happen – I would certainly love to help him.
The hotel grounds were good for Emerald Cuckoo which called frequently during our stay, Black-collared Barbet, Red-winged Starlings aplenty and Pied Wagtails at the pool. Village Weavers were nest-building in the reeds at one of the hotel ponds – at first I thought they were Lesser Masked-Weavers as the black on their heads extended well down their necks, unlike any Village Weaver I had seen before. Checking my Roberts app I realised that they were a sub-species of the Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) we are accustomed to in South Africa, with the scientific name ploceus cucullatus nigriceps and occurring in the northern parts of our region.
After joining the others for another sumptuous, relaxed breakfast, we had some time to kill so walked to the adjoining Vitoria Falls Hotel, still magnificent in its colonial splendour. You almost expect Rhodes himself to appear on the verandah at any moment in his pith helmet and join you in gazing at the classic view of the bridge in the distance, framed by the gorge and forever shrouded by the misty spray.
Soon after our bus arrived to transfer us to Kasane for the next leg of our trip…….. more about that soon.
When “Overseas Family” come to visit us in South Africa, it is always a big occasion which is eagerly anticipated, so we were thrilled when niece Sarah announced more than a year ago that she was bringing their family from Canada over to Southern Africa for a “Trip of a Lifetime” in March 2017. Even better was the news that my sister Sheila (Sam to them) would be joining them for the trip and brother Andrew would join them for the southern leg.
Our task was to organise the northern leg of the trip, which had to include Kruger National Park with Victoria Falls and Botswana being high on their wish list. We soon had a Kruger booking pinned down, together with a short stay on the Panorama route in Mpumulanga, which took care of most of week 1 of the two-week northern leg. A while later we secured a travel package which included a couple of nights each in Victoria Falls and Kasane Botswana which filled week 2, so we were all set.
The Highlights – Places, Sights, Food
The following is a brief diary of the two weeks, which I will no doubt expand on in further posts.
Monday 6th – Pretoria
The family arrived on Sunday evening (Alex, Sarah, Cassie and Rio) and Monday morning (Sheila) so Monday was a day of recovery and orientation for their travel-befuddled and time-zoned brains. Gerda prepared a nice supper with “just enough chicken” to go around (3 whole chickens with one in the wings just in case!)
Tuesday 7th – Pretoria to Satara Camp in Kruger
We set off for Kruger in the morning, loaded to capacity in our SUV plus luggage trailer. Mid-morning we stopped at Milly’s for the customary brunch and a good coffee, which set us up nicely for the rest of the day.
The journey took more or less the whole day and included an unexpected deviation in Kruger so we arrived at Satara just as the gate was closing at 6.05 pm (more on that story in another post!)
The evening braai allowed us time to reflect on the long day’s travelling and sights seen on the way to Satara, albeit a bit rushed!
Wednesday 8th – Satara to Nwanetsi
We had just two nights in Satara camp in Kruger so made the most of it with a long morning game drive on the Wednesday to Nwanetsi, where we prepared a genuine Kruger brunch. The afternoon nap time allowed everyone to rekindle their energy.
The route to from Satara to Phabeni Gate took almost the entire day, travelling at a slower and far more respectable pace, with stops at Tshokwane, Lower Sabie and the Lake Panic hide along the way. From Phabeni it was a short drive to Graskop and onwards to Thaba Tsweni Lodge for a two-night stay. The day was filled with interesting and exciting sightings with Kruger in superb condition after the good summer rains.
The evening meal was not in a restaurant as planned (we just could not face the trip to Graskop and back at night having seen the state of the road) , but a Chef’s Table conjured up by Gerda and Sarah with all the goodies packed by Gerda “just in case”.
Friday 10th – Panorama Route (Lite)
Sarah’s birthday was celebrated at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, after a late start and a visit to Bourke Luck Potholes (the kind formed by eons of water and grit action on soft rocks) and a section of the Panorama Route. A cabbage bought for R5 from a farmer was turned into a delicious fried dish that evening by inventive Sarah.
Saturday 11th – Graskop to Pretoria
Our first stop after breakfast at the lodge was God’s Window for a walk to the viewpoints and up the path to the rain forest.
From there we headed homewards to a “meeting of the cousins” , only stopping for lunch at Milly’s.
Sunday 12th – Pretoria
More family time as the cousins and their progeny got to know each other, interspersed with some of Gerda’s home cooking and much excitement amongst the youngsters.
Monday 13th – Pretoria to Victoria Falls
Off to OR Tambo for the flight to Victoria Falls, where we landed just after 1 pm and we were soon at the Kingdom Hotel.
We did the “Sunset Cruise” (Luxury version) which was “super-cool” in Sarah’s words, seeing Hippos and Crocs up close, followed by a meal in the local Spur.
Tuesday 14th – Victoria Falls
After a good buffet breakfast we walked down to the Falls and meandered along the path with heavy spray drenching us in parts but not enough to spoil the views.
We whiled away the afternoon at the poolside and dinner was at Mama Afrika restaurant with a genuine African flavour.
Wednesday 15th – Victoria Falls to Kasane
Another sumptuous breakfast and a short visit to the adjoining historical Victoria Falls Hotel, then it was time for our transfer to Kasane by small bus. There we checked into the Chobe Safari Lodge and relaxed over a light lunch and swimming at the pool.
A walk to the riverside “Sundowner Spot” was the opportunity for G&T’s and a spectacular sunset, followed by the Lodge’s Buffet Dinner to round off the day.
Thursday 16th – Chobe National Park
An early morning game drive into Chobe and an afternoon boat cruise on the river took up most of the day, with enough time for relaxing in between.
Friday 17th – Kasane to Pretoria
Today was all about getting back to Pretoria, where Gerda had a special dinner planned to end the northern leg of the Canadian’s visit.
Tomorrow they fly to PE to meet up with Andrew, their “tour guide” for the southern leg.
David Livingstone wrote after seeing the falls for the first time –
“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”
Sounds a bit melodramatic you may say, but having seen the falls myself again after 17 years, I can’t help thinking he was spot on.
It was back in 1998 that we first visited Victoria Falls during a driving tour of Zimbabwe and the intervening years had made my memories somewhat fuzzy, so it was like seeing the Falls for the first time and the experience was truly breath-taking.
This time around, I was part of a group of professionals that had come to visit the new Vic Falls airport under construction, accompanied by our client, and with the business side taken care of in the morning, we ventured into Victoria Falls National Park in the afternoon before returning to Kasane in Botswana.
The entrance to the National Park at Victoria Falls is quite unimposing and does not prepare you for the experience that lies ahead.
Once we had paid our $20 entrance fee, we took the pathway which initially winds its way to the David Livingstone statue – this famous Scottish missionary “discovered” the falls (they were always there and known to generations of African inhabitants, of course) on 17 November 1855, so the 160th anniversary is coming up next month.
After the statue you get to the first viewpoint with breath-taking views of the thundering waters, veiled in a thick spray which caused rainbows to form at the time of day we were there. The spray shoots up vertically in massive columns and you realize why the indigenous name is Mosi-oa Tunya or the “Smoke that Thunders”. Apparently the Zimbabwean government intends to rename the falls to Mosi-oa Tunya, hardly surprising I suppose.
A group of Asian nuns (Korean?) were enjoying the experience and I couldn’t resist asking them if I could take a photo, as they looked quite charming in their habits with floppy sun hats and petite stature – they did not object.
As you walk the designated pathways there are regular viewpoints where you can admire the different sections of the falls, which is the largest sheet of falling water in the world (although not the highest or widest) and twice the height of Niagara Falls at 108m. The mass of water, which averages over 1000 m3 per second, drops into a transverse chasm or gorge which is 1708m wide, then continues its way down the Batoka gorge (which my son Stephan and I rafted back in 1998 when I still had the desire for such things) through some spectacular rapids before becoming calmer and forming the mighty Zambesi River once more as it makes its way to Lake Kariba and beyond Kariba through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean.
The main streams of the falls have names –
We continued our meander along the path which follows the Zimbabwe side of the gorge for a Km or more, stopping at the regular viewpoints which allow views from strategically placed points.
Where the spray up flow is at its heaviest there is a constant “rainfall”, which wasn’t too heavy during our visit as the falls are at their lowest flow in October/November, but at other times requires a raincoat to prevent a drenching. It is along this stretch that a permanent rainforest has formed and it was a welcome relief from the sun’s heat while it also afforded the best views of the widest section of falling water.
Further along where the spray does not reach, the rainforest petered out and suddenly we were in grassy savannah with good views back along the length of the gorge and across at the strands of water cascading down the sheer face of the rocks.
Some brave tourists (or foolish perhaps?) out for adventure on the Zambian side, were bathing in a pool on the edge of the falls – this can only be attempted in the low-water season for obvious reasons. This activity has claimed a few lives over the years.
The pathway ends at the point where the gorge does a 90 degree turn and from there we made our way slowly back to the main entrance.
And the Birding?
This was not a birding outing but I had my binos and camera handy as usual and encountered a few worthwhile species
Trumpeter Hornbill which played hide-and-seek with me in the rainforest
Tropical Boubou busy catching and eating an insect of sorts – my first photo of this species
All that remained was to leave this wonderful spot and say “Bin there, Done that”