Going back to Zimanga

Heading back to South Africa next week with Trai Anfield. We are looking for suitable locations to run Wildlife photography and Wildlife film making trips from next year. Our trip will take us back to Zimanga which has now been developed as a private game reserve exclusively for photographers. Can’t wait to see what they have done with the place. After Zimanga we are heading up to Rwanda to see and photograph the mountain gorillas. You might recognise Trai, she used to be on BBC Look North presenting the weather. She now runs her company ‘Enlightened Media’.

Hopefully I will have wifi this time and be able to do a daily blog. Please feel free to add comments so I know I’m not just typing away to myself :)

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Johannesburg

We left Zambia at 2.30 this afternoon and arrived in Johannesburg for an overnight stay before flying home tomorrow evening. 3 months have gone very quickly though it has been an amazing experience.
Thanks to everyone who has been following my blog throughout my adventure and particularly to those who have left comments.
I guess this will be my last post for this trip. :)

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Zimbabwe

Yesterday we decided to cross the border into Zimbabwe to see the falls from the other side where the water is flowing better. Crossing through the boarders was a bit of a hassle. It seems everyone wants to take money off you but once we saw the falls, the thoughts of crossing the boarders quickly disappeared. The view was breath taking and one of the highlights of my 3 month trip.
We spent most of the day at the falls, had a very good meal at the Rainforest cafe before making the journey back into Zambia.
There was no Internet working when we got back hence no blog last night. My mobile doesn’t work here either for texts or calls.
Packing up this morning and flying back to Johannesburg then heading home tomorrow evening. Just seen the uk weather on sky news :( not good, it’s 40 degrees here!

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Walking with Lions

Today we were picked up and driven to a local ‘Big 5′ game reserve for a walking with lions experience. The experience started with a talk explaining how the lions were captive bred and were being trained to be introduced onto game reserves where they would hunt and fend for themselves. We learnt that only 80% of lion cubs live to the age of 2 years in the wild and that their numbers were quickly diminishing. We were informed that today we would be walking three 9 month old lion cubs, 1 male (terry) and 2 females (lucky & diana). I was kind of expecting more African sounding names! We were then given a safety brief – don’t run, don’t turn your back on a lion, don’t stroke the top of their heads, if they jump on you just stand still! We were then handed a 3 foot stick each with another rule – if it looks like its going to bite your hand its only playing so offer it the stick. All fairly straight forward stuff :)
We were then taken to where the lions and handlers were waiting for us under the shade of a tree. Now when you try to imagine how big a 9 month old lion cub is you are probably picturing something fairly small and cute. As you can see from the photos that wasn’t really the case though they were cute.
We petted them for a while under the shade of the tree, took lots of photos then went walking with them. Apparently while we were walking with them we became part of the pride.
An hour and a half flew past very quickly and this was a very memorable experience.
This afternoon I’d booked a micro light flight over Victoria falls. I’d planned on doing a helicopter flight but had spoke to people who had done the micro and they recommended it. Again an amazing experience and one of the most memorable of my 3 months in Africa. The photos were taken from a camera mounted on the end of the wing.

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The Smoke that Thunders

Historically this is the name given to Victoria falls by the locals. Unfortunately this is the dry season so there isn’t much water flowing that can be seen from the Zambian side so a trip over the border to Zimbabwe may be in order on Sunday. We did have a lovely walk across the top of the falls where the water flows in the wet season.

Instead of squirrels wandering around the picnic areas we have very large baboons to contend with. A really lovely day. More news tomorrow after the Lion walk.

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Zambia

Today we flew from Cape Town to Livingstone in Zambia via Johannesburg. Our trip along the Siuth coast of Africa has been amazing though the weather hasn’t been brilliant. It’s been between 18 and 26 degrees though the wind makes it feel cooler. Stepping off the plane at Livingstone airport however was much different. About 38 degrees which was a bit of a shock to the system but very nice. We were picked up at the airport and taken to the accommodation which is basic but has a pool and aircon.
Coming here is another item ticked off on my bucket list. Livingstone is the nearest town in Zambia to Victoria falls, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit since watching Tarzan as a kid. The opening credits showed Tarzan (Ron Ely I think it was) standing on top of Victoria Falls. Don’t worry I haven’t brought my loin cloth and won’t be re enacting the scene! Anyway we will be going to the falls tomorrow morning at 10am on the shuttle service and on Saturday morning I’ve booked for us to go walking with lions. You will have to wait till tomorrow for photos :)

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Cape Town

After leaving Hermanus we continued to head west on the breathtaking R44 coastal road to Cape Town. We stopped off at Stony Point near Betty’s Bay on the way to see an African Penguin colony. The last time I saw wild penguins was in 1983 when I was in the Falklands. Yikes where has that 30 years gone!
Leaving Stony Point we were soon in the very modern city of Cape Town, such a contrast to many of the other places in Africa that I have seen. We found the hotel easily, in the centre of the city and I was pleased to see the email I sent to the manager several months ago had paid off. I’d asked for a high floor with a view of table mountain.
The main places to visit here are the Victoria & Albert Waterfront and Table mountain. The images show the penguins, the view from our room of Table mountain plus views from the top of Table mountain.

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Whale watching by boat

Yesterday I went on a whale watching boat trip from Hermanus harbour with Southern Right Charters. The trip was to take between 2 and 3 hours. It was a windy day and the sea was quite choppy. Within 10 minutes of leaving the harbour people were reaching for the sick bags but fortunately I was ok. Michaela had decided to give it a miss due to the weather and the way the boat was moving about I think she had made the right choice.
It was a slow start and we had only seen 1 whale in the first hour but things picked up and soon I was snapping away with my camera. At times the whales would come right up to the boat. I managed to get the shots I wanted, the classic tail shot plus a whale breaching (jumping out the water). Eventually we headed back to the harbour and the trip ended up well over 3 hours.

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Whales, Dolphins and the Beach

Today we were up early for breakfast then went out for a walk along the sea front and into the town. We saw a few whales from our balcony before we set off and then several more while walking along the front as well as a school of dolphins. We then went for a drive and found a beautiful beach called Grotto beach just a few miles east of Hermanus. The photos below are of the whales, dolphins, Hermanus bay, me photographing whales and Michaela on the beach. Going on a whale watching boat trip tomorrow so hopefully more photos from that.

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Hermanus

After a long drive we arrived in Hermanus about half 2 today. It was quite cool and raining though thankfully the forecast is much better for the rest of the week. This is the best time of the year to see the Southern Wright Whale from the shore though there was no sign of any when we left the guest house for a stroll along the sea front towards the town. We went into a sea food restaurant and got a seat overlooking the bay and before long we saw a few whales about 50m from the shore. This us something I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember. One of the photos below was taken from just outside the restaurant and the other from our room balcony. The other is Michaela on the beach last night at Wilderness.

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Wilderness

Just a brief overnight stay in Wilderness but could have easily stayed much longer. This guest house called Sea Paradise lives up to its name. The photo shows how close we are to the sea this is the view from our room. The other is of Michaela at breakfast this morning. Long drive to Hermanus now so hopefully photos of whales to come.

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Blog update

Just a quick update on my African adventure. I picked Michaela up from Port Elizabeth airport on Wednesday and after initially going to the beach at Port Elizabeth we set off to the accommodation close to Addo Elephant park called Addo Dung Beetle Guest Farm. Yes it might not sound too good but it was a lovely place. We had dinner at the Guest farm restaurant on the evening then the following morning I took Michaela to the Elephant Park. We had an amazing time and saw lots of wildlife including a herd of about 80 elephant by the watering hole. On the Thursday evening we went to the Zuurberg mountain inn for dinner. A really lovely building dating back to the 19th century at the top of the Zuurberg mountain range.
Friday morning it was time to leave Addo and start the journey west along the garden route. We stopped off at Tsitsikamma National Park en route and went for a lovely walk by the sea over a suspension bridge. We then continued west to Wilderness where we are staying tonight. This lovely guesthouse is literally on the beach so as I’m writing this I can hear the waves rolling in, just outside the window. We went for a walk on the beach when we arrived. There were jellyfish as big as dustbin lids getting washed onto the beach in the tide. Tomorrow we head further west to Hermanus, the Whale watching capital of the world.
The photos I’ve included here are some of the other animals at Addo. The spotted hyena has a tortoise in its mouth though was quite some distance away.

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Addo Elephant Park

I slept quite well last night and was up for breakfast at 8am. I decided to go to Addo Elephant park today so got all my camera kit together and set off in my VW Polo hire car for a journey of only 5 or 6 miles and drove through the gates about 10. Well it’s fair to say that if you like elephants and want to go somewhere to see lots of them then this is the place to go. Everywhere I went there were more and more. Some in small groups and some in huge herds. It was a very hot day so they were hanging around the waterholes and taking mud baths. There were quite a few very little ones, it was great to watch them getting up to no good. I took over 700 photographs and didn’t leave till almost 6 pm, the time the gates close. Apart from elephant I also saw buffalo, zebra, kudu, mongoose, spotted hyena (eating a tortoise!) lots of tortoise, black backed jackal plus lots of birds. Anyway from the 700 I have selected a few to keep the elephant lovers happy. Enjoy!

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Goodbye to Shamwari

After a quiet and relaxing weekend it was time to say goodbye to Shamwari and the start of phase 3 of my African adventure. Shamwari has been very different from Zimanga and I’ve enjoyed it in different ways. The setup and accommodation for the volunteer program is excellent though there weren’t as many photography opportunities.
The transport picked me up just after half 10 and dropped me off at Port Elizabeth airport just over an hour later where I picked up a hire car. A quick stop off at the Pick & Pay supermarket to get some essentials as my next stay was self catering, then an hours drive north to Addo Elephant park. Early in the 20th century during the ivory boom the elephant was hunted to near extinction in South Africa. Only 11 remained, all at Addo and it was set up as a conservation reserve to protect these 11. From these 11 the elephant has been reintroduced all over South Africa. Addo now has about 400 and Kruger about 1700.
I’m here till Friday morning when I’ll be heading west along the south coast of South Africa. On Wednesday I’m picking up Michaela from Port Elizabeth airport. I’ve known Michaela over 10 years and we went out a few times just before I left for Africa. While I was away I realised I would like to spend the last part of my trip with someone special so I asked her to join me. I’m really looking forward to us seeing Africa together.

The photos I’ve included are the camp areas at Shamwari including my room.

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Another weekend off!

Weekend off again after an eventful week. It’s been a fairly quiet day, sorted out a few photos on my laptop, cleaned my boots that weren’t looking too good from the fire, laid in the sun for an hour and watched the South Africa v All Blacks rugby match on tv. That’s about it. I found a few photos from the night drive that I’ve bit on here. Not sure if tomorrow is going to be any more exciting though I intend on watching the Chelsea match on tv.

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Community work part 2

Friday again which is working in the local community and today we went to a day centre in the local town of Patterson. Before we set off I said farewell to Jon, my room mate who was heading back to Australia today. We had got on really well over the 2 weeks that really seem to have flown over.
We loaded up the vehicles with loads of clothes that had been collected over the months, including just about all of Jon’s clothes apart from the ones he was wearing from the journey.
When we arrived at the day centre it was the intention for one group to set up and start selling the clothes to the locals to raise money for the day centre and for another group to work on adding to the climbing frame and swings that had been built over the months by the Shamwari volunteers. There was a delay as we were swamped by the happiest bunch of kids I’ve seen. It was such a pleasure to see children that had nothing having so much fun. Eventually the clothes sale started and so did the building with lots of little helpers. When one of the volunteers produced a bottle of bubbles and started blowing them we had to stop working to watch the children running around trying to catch them. They were just having so much fun.
It’s been a really good day, ending a very eventful week. Weekend off now and then on Monday I leave Shamwari to start phase 3 of my trip. I’m particularly looking forward to Wednesday but more on that later :)

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Born Free

What a contrast from the day before. 3 of us went to The Born Free Foundation. Me Jon and Simmo, the 3 more mature volunteers! There are 2 sites on Shamwari game reserve, one not far from our accommodation and one up north. We were picked up from the canteen by a nice guy called Glen. When lodge guests visit the Born free sites they get a talk, watch a DVD and get a guided tour and if they are lucky they get to see some of the big cats that this place looks after, however as volunteers we get to do the cool stuff. We get to feed the big cats.
We went via the cooler in the hospital to pick up some meat and when Glen opened the door we were met by the sight of 2 cut up horses on the floor. Glen the started identifying different pieces for us to load on the back of the flat back, some heart and livers, some big lumps of meat and some whole legs complete with fur and hooves.
Soon we were on our way to the nearest site where we talked about how Born free was set up and about some of the cats that we were going to see. All were from fairly grim backgrounds, rescued from circuses or caged tourist attractions, or some were just badly treated pets. Some had their claws removed and one male lion had his canine teeth filed down!
Soon we were throwing the lumps of horse into the large enclosures and seeing the big cats, all lions or leopards tuck in to their meals. The first cage was the most memorable, 2 lionesses, one kept as a pet and fed on pasta and spaghetti causing its bone structure not to develop properly, it had very short legs and walking was quite difficult, the other kept having epileptic seizures when it was scared or excited.
After feeding the 5 lion and 3 leopard, we had our packed lunches then headed to the northern site where we fed another 3 lion and 3 leopard before the drive back to our accommodation.

In the evening we went for a night drive and saw caracal, elephant, black rhino, white rhino, lion, jackal and lots of herbivores, we also drove to the site of the previous night excitement to see the extent of the fire which was now out apart from the odd smouldering tree.

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Africa’s burning!

Set of early to the north of the reserve as they wanted to start burning at 8.30 and its an hours drive. As we pulled up there was a large team of staff armed with fire beaters or branches from trees, a few flat back vehicles with a water tank and hose on the back and a guy with what I can only describe as a flame dribbler rather than thrower. As volunteers, we were just required to monitor the fire and beat it out if it jumped across the road until the water vehicle got to it. It all seemed fairly straight forward but how wrong I was!
We were burning an area about 600m square, there was no wind and things were going really well.
Suddenly the wind picked up and the fire jumped across the road in several places which caused problems as there weren’t enough water trucks to deal and when the wind picks up there is no stopping it and the situation was totally out of control. Vehicles with people with beating sticks were racing around trying to get ahead of the fire. I ended up on the back of a flat backed vehicle racing along a track, a fence to our left and the fire approaching quickly from the right, at one point the heat was so intense I was laid in the floor trying to get some protection from the side wall of the vehicle. It was one of those moments when you wonder if this is it! The fact I’m writing this means it wasn’t :) When we got through another guy on the vehicle collapsed so I had to give him some first aid.
I continued fighting fires till about 11 pm, at one stage it looked like one of the lodges, Bayethe, was going to burn down but fortunately it didn’t.
Got back to the accommodation about midnight, black as the ace of spades and in need of a shower.
In all I’d say the fire had covered at least 10 square miles and some areas will be burning still next week.
Today is a little calmer as I’m working at the born free centre.
More news to come :)

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Too windy to burn

This morning we packed the vehicles ready for a full day at the north of Shamwari helping in the process of burning off a large area of the game reserve. We went via the gift shop at long lee manor so if you are still following Steve I’ve got your hat!!
When we eventually arrived at the burn area there was a large team of workers getting prepared and some of the people in charge deliberating over the weather conditions. It was already very hot and the wind had picked up to about 15 mph. If the fire gets out of control it could be catastrophic so the decision was made to delay burning till tomorrow when the winds are forecast to drop. That left with a deliberation on what we were going to do today. There was news that an elephant in the ‘R’ herd had given birth last Friday. The ‘R’ herd was a smaller herd that frequented the northern region of the reserve so a decision was made to look for it. The trouble is this reserve is 25000 hectares and I now know that 1 hectare is 100m x 100m square so 25000 of them is pretty big so off we went looking for clues. The best clue is elephant dung on the road, and today I learnt that the feel, consistency, water content, smell and taste can help determine how long ago it was left behind and how far away the herd are likely to be.
Eventually, almost 5 hours later we found them in a very difficult to access valley and my only glimpse of the newborn elephant was it disappearing behind its mother into the dense undergrowth shown in the photo below.
We stayed with them for a while then headed back after collecting some logs for the camp fire.
Not a good day for photography and really hot, about 34 in the shade.
Tomorrow we are burning again, then Thursday I’m going to the born free foundation to work for the day and Friday will be working in the community.
(I was only joking about taste by the way :) )

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Start of week 2 at Shamwari

Early start this morning, though not by Zimamga standards! We were in the vehicles by 7.30, half an hour earlier than normal as a couple of the volunteers were leaving so it allowed them to go out on drive and be back for their transport. Today we were predator hunting, so looking for the big cats, lion, leopard and cheetah. On the way into the main reserve we spotted a black backed jackal so I guess that counts as a predator too. Having 2 vehicles in radio contact helps and soon a small group of lion had been found. Next up was the illusive leopard so we went to a location where a young female was known to frequent. This female had been hand reared as a cub so was used to people and lucky for us the guy who had reared her turned up while we were searching for her and she came straight out into the open to greet him by looking into his car door window.
Next up were cheetah. On the way to find them we came across 2 male giraffe fighting. We found 2 male cheetah brothers and they were doing what most big cats like to do most of the time,,,,,,,, nothing!
This afternoon we have been cleaning out water holes around the wildlife centre. Not a very clean job but an essential one as most diseases to animals are passed through drinking water.
Tomorrow we are calling off at Long Lee Manor shop to buy some bits and bobs like tee shirts, hats etc then we are burning an area of the game reserve. This is something that is done periodically to help fertilise the soil.

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