Browsing Tag

wildlife

Ray's family at Kruger Elephant Museum

Kruger, Top to Bottom: Secret Places and Random Tips

Before my recent trip, I hadn’t fully grasped how large the Kruger National Park is. The park is 19,500 square kilometers (7,523 square miles), spread over a pipe-shaped area 360 kilometers (220 miles) long and about 65 kilometers (40 miles) wide. Our route through the Kruger, with all the rest camps and picnic spots where we stopped along the way. The camps where we slept are marked in red. I also hadn’t grasped how much there is to do in the Kruger, beside the obvious game-viewing. Kruger is so vast that traveling between rest camps is an experience in itself. We stayed in four camps over seven nights, starting in the northernmost Punda Maria camp for one night, then on to the Shingwedzi and Satara camps for two nights each, finishing at the massive Skukuza camp for two nights. (Note that booking accommodation in the Kruger is a special skill requiring a blog post of its own. Ray’s mother is an expert — maybe I’ll ask her to do a guest post.) The Kruger rest camps are historical, iconic places worth exploring in their own right. A thatched Kruger chalet. This one is at Satara, one of my favorite rest camps. […]

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bee-eater in the Kruger

15 Birds of the Kruger National Park

I like birds as much as the next person, but I am not a Birder with a capital B. In fact, I’ve been known to make fun of Birders occasionally. (Sorry, Birder friends. You make me laugh sometimes.) I did, however, catch a hint of birding fever on my recent Kruger trip, and came away with more bird pictures than I know what to do with. The lilac-breasted roller, one of the most common birds in the Kruger and also one of the most beautiful. So I’ve decided to throw them all into a blog post. If you’re a serious South African Birder, you won’t find any dramatic surprises here. Most of the birds pictured are common in the Kruger. But I think you’ll find the photos pleasing all the same. 15 Birds of the Kruger I’ll start with the birds we saw most often and work my way up to the rarer sightings. 1) Glossy starling A glossy starling waits patiently for crumbs at the table outside our chalet. Glossy starlings, or greater blue-eared starlings, are all over the Kruger, especially in the rest camps where they are prolific scavengers of human food. They’re very naughty and also ridiculously beautiful. […]

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Mom and baby hyena - mom looking away

Three Incredible Moments in the Kruger

I’ve just come back from a week with Ray and his family in the Kruger National Park. I’m not sure where to begin writing about it. This was an extraordinary trip. Sunrise in the Kruger. I’ve visited lots of games reserves in South Africa over the years — mostly private reserves with luxurious accommodation and a “guests must not lift a finger except to press the camera shutter” kind of approach. (There are tons of private reserves around the borders of the Kruger, while the park itself is public.) I know the drill at places like this: Wake up early, guided game drive or walk, return to luxurious accommodation, eat gourmet food cooked by others, sleep, eat more food, another game drive, drink sundowners, eat more food, go to bed, repeat. Such trips usually last three days at most, because: 1) Few people can afford to stay longer; and 2) Eating and drinking 10,000 calories a day is surprisingly exhausting. Luxury safaris are wonderful. I’m ridiculously fortunate to have stumbled into a profession allowing me to take trips like that from time to time. (Read about a few of them here and here and here.) But my do-it-yourself week in the […]

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Cheetah family feeding

Five Cheetahs and an Aardvark

We tiptoed along as the sun lowered behind us. The wind howled. Tendai pointed ahead and we could just make out the body of a large animal with three small, spotted heads bobbing around it. The body, we would later learn, was a kudu carcass. The spotted heads belonged to a hoard of little cheetahs. Warning: Dead carcass imagery combined with extreme cheetah cuteness below. Three cheetah cubs — wait, make that four — hover around the kudu that their mother (lounging in the background) killed.  We crept to within about ten meters of the cubs and I raised my camera to my eye, shooting madly. There were four cubs total. Their mom, wearing a radio collar, reclined under a thorn bush. Tendai kept moving closer. Ray and I exchanged glances. Surely it can’t be safe for humans to walk within a few feet of a family of wild cheetahs eating a fresh kill? But Tendai beckoned and he seemed to know what he was doing. Soon we were close enough to hear the cubs purring as they tore into the kudu’s flesh. The cubs occasionally glanced our way between bites. The mom ignored us. Get ready for lots more cheetah pictures. Mom, whose name […]

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Elephant orphan with caretaker at DSWT, Karen

Baby Elephants, Hungry Giraffes, and Other Cool Stuff in Karen

Karen is a suburb of Nairobi named for Danish farmer Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Meryl Streep), author of Out of Africa. The area was developed on the site of Blixen’s early 20th-century farm, where Out of Africa was filmed. I spent two days of my weeklong trip to Nairobi exploring Karen, which is anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more) from downtown Nairobi, depending on traffic. It’s an alluring place — quiet, heavily forested, scattered with colonial estates and shady tea gardens. I decided to write a separate post about Karen because it’s so different and far-removed from central Nairobi. Karen is also filled with great tourist attractions. Karen’s 6 Best Tourist Attractions Here are the six coolest things I did in Karen. 1) The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust If you like animals and have time to do one thing in Karen, visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). Baby elephants! DSWT is legendary in the animal conservation community — the first organization to raise orphaned elephant calves and integrate them back into the wild. Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the trust, developed a special a formula that substitutes for elephant breast milk and pioneered a process in which elephant calves are raised […]

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White lion sitting up

The Astonishing, Confounding Story of South Africa’s White Lions

Last weekend I visited the Global White Lion Protection Trust, a private reserve devoted to protecting white lions and returning them to the wild in South Africa’s Timbavati region. Almost from the moment I arrived, I began to think about how I would write this blog post. I’d been expecting a typical fun weekend in the bush — hanging out with my blogger friends, eating good food, and seeing wildlife in a beautiful place far away from the big city. Sunrise at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, which borders the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which borders Kruger National Park. I got all of those things, and a lot more: Dramatic tales of near-death experiences; an outspoken fashion-model-turned-lion-woman; scientific discussions; mystical stories of spirits and stars; horrific accounts of evil lion-hunters, past and present; a sunset parade through the wilderness with a giant white lion puppet; adorable children singing about the majesty of the Star Lions; and half a dozen Shangaan medicine women stomping the dry, brown earth, gasping through perfumed smoke and screaming into the heavens. I got all of this in just over 36 hours, book-ended by two seven-hour journeys in the back of a van between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit. Several days later, my mind is […]

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Sunset on the hiking trail above Walkersons

48 Hours in Dullstroom

Last weekend I was invited to spend two nights at Walkersons Hotel and Spa in Dullstroom, a holiday town halfway between Joburg and Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga Province. I had been to Dullstroom briefly once before, and while I found it quaint I wouldn’t have considered spending a weekend there. Dullstroom is known as a fly-fishing destination and I don’t fish. A man fly-fishes at sunset on a dam at Walkersons. (Photo by Ray) However, I’m not one to turn down a weekend at a five-star hotel. So I went to Dullstroom and brought Ray with me. In the end, we didn’t want to leave. We arrived at Walkersons on Friday afternoon and I was useless for the first five hours, having suffered a bout of food poisoning the night before. I collapsed onto the cloud-like bed and slept until dinner. Our suite at Walkersons, which looked out onto the lake. But despite my slow start we managed to do a ton of fun things during our two days in this tiny town. Here’s a run-down. Where We Stayed in Dullstroom Walkersons is an English-manor-style hotel on a sprawling estate just outside Dullstroom. The main building, with its 19th-century antiques and fox-hunt […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Dullstroom Bird of Prey Centre

It’s been a while since I wrote a pop-up travel post — a post about a place that I traveled to a long time ago, nearly forgot, then remembered and decided to write about. Today’s pop-up travel post features the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre, a rehabilitation centre for raptors that I visited during last year’s #MeetSouthAfrica small-town road trip. I can’t believe I waited so long to write about this visit as it was actually one of my favorite travel experiences of 2015. Norman, a five-year-old greater kestrel at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey & Rehabilitation Centre. The Bird of Prey Centre’s primary mission is to rescue and rehabilitate birds of prey — usually birds who have been injured or improperly handled by humans — and reintroduce them to the wild, if possible. (The centre releases about 200 birds every year.) Some birds can never be released for one reason or another; those birds receive a permanent home at the centre. The centre is open to the public (with a small entry fee) and conducts daily flight displays at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The main purpose of the flight displays is to provide exercise and training for the […]

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24 Hours in Kasane: Monkeys, Warthogs, and Elephant-Eating Dogs

Last week Fly Airlink sent Anna-Belle from shesaid.co.za and me on a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Kasane, Botswana, as part of a campaign to promote Airlink’s flights around Southern Africa. View of the Chobe River from Chobe Safari Lodge.  Kasane — which is approximately 90 minutes by plane from Joburg — is a tiny town whose main claim to fame is Chobe National Park. (Read my 2013 post about another whirlwind trip to Chobe.) We stayed at the Chobe Safari Lodge, which is just a few minutes outside the park on the banks of the Chobe River. While it would have been nice to spend more time in Kasane, I did a surprising number of interesting things in the short time that I was there: 1) Took a nap in my beautiful room at the lodge, under the mosquito net.  Even though my room was air-conditioned and I never saw a single mosquito at the lodge, there is something romantic about sleeping under a mosquito net. 2) Walked around the grounds of the lodge, which was a mini safari unto itself. Vervet monkeys frolicking on the grounds of the lodge. They’re very cute and fun to watch; just make sure you keep the door to your room […]

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Fun Fish Photography at the Two Oceans Aquarium

Visiting an aquarium is one of those touristy activities that I don’t normally seek out. I grew up in Baltimore, home of the National Aquarium, and I think I subconsciously believed that my home aquarium is the best in the world and there is no point in visiting any others. This was wrong, of course. Ray suggested visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium during our Hello Weekend trip to Cape Town back in June and it was one of the best activities of the weekend. I had forgotten how much fun aquariums are. I also realized that the Two Oceans Aquarium is a really fun place to take fish pictures. The aquarium’s entrance hall. Instagramming the fish. We arrived at the aquarium about an hour before it closed so we didn’t get to spend a ton of time looking at the exhibits. But we did have nearly the entire aquarium to ourselves, which was great. And I was there long enough to learn that Two Oceans Aquarium, besides being a lovely tourist attraction, is a world-class institution doing great things to conserve South Africa’s underwater ecosystems. (Read about the aquarium’s conservation work and sustainable practices.) Fish. (Update: Two Oceans Aquarium tweeted me to […]

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Wild Cats Belong in the Wild: #AnimalRightsInTourism

I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today, and I don’t normally use my blog as a soap box. But then I woke up this morning and heard about the #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign. If you live in South Africa or the United States, you probably saw last month’s terrible story about an American tourist who was killed in the Lion Park. The Lion Park, about 30 minutes north of Johannesburg, is a zoo-like game reserve where tourists go for an up-close look at lions and other big cats. One of the biggest attractions at the Lion Park is lion-cub-petting, in which visitors enter enclosures with big cat cubs (up to six months old) and are invited to interact with them. (The tourist was mauled by a lioness in the drive-through section of the park. Despite warnings to keep car windows up, the woman had her window open.) I confess that I’ve never been to the Lion Park. But about four years ago I went to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, not far from the Lion Park, which offers similar activities. I knew nothing about these cub-petting programs at the time, but while I was in the reserve I saw a couple interacting with a tiger cub and felt really unnerved. First, […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Addo Elephant National Park

I visited Addo Elelphant National Park about a year-and-a-half ago as part of a blogger trip to Port Elizabeth. Addo is one of South Africa’s largest national parks and one of the best places in the world to view elephants in the wild. There are more than 600 elephants living in Addo, up from just 11 when the park was proclaimed in 1931. I only visited Addo for about half a day. It rained the day we went and our safari was cut short. I guess this is why I never got around to blogging about it — I figured I’d get back to Addo sometime soon, take more pictures, and write a full-length post. But alas, I haven’t made it back yet and my Addo elephant photos are languishing. So here are a few of my favorites. A small herd of elephants bathing in a dam (small lake) in Addo. This young elephant was cruising the shore close to our vehicle. Still cruising. Now stopping for a drink. End of sequence. Heavy rain moved in around this time and we had to return to the camp. Addo Elephant National Park is less than an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth and makes a […]

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