Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness’

Rocky Mountains, Boulder and the Black Hills, USA – July & Aug 2015

Twins thrash the Yankees 11-1 on a balmy summer's evening in Minneapolis

Minnesota Twins thrash the New York Yankees 11-1 on a balmy summer’s evening in Minneapolis

July marked the start of a long-awaited and much-anticipated trip to America with the whole family. Twenty-nine hours of long haul flying with two kids under the age of two is enough to fill even the most hardened traveller with fear and trepidation, but in the end the flights turned out to be a breeze with both the little boys proving to be real troopers and incredibly accomplished young travellers.

All the little cousins enjoying an evening pontoon ride around Lotus Lake

An evening pontoon ride with the cousins on Lotus Lake

The twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul was the first stop on our six-week sojourn to explore the American mid-west. Minnesota summers are something special and staying with my sister- and brother-in-law on Lotus Lake in tranquil Chanhassen afforded us a delightfully relaxed start to our American adventures with morning runs, craft beer tasting, and evening boat cruises the order of the day.

After ten days catching up with family and getting into the swing of holiday life, it was time to get our road trip underway. A long drive south through Iowa and then west across Nebraska brought us to the sunshine state of Colorado – undoubtedly my favourite state in America. And where better to be based than Estes Park: gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed in the aptly named Hide-a-Way cabin at Brynwood on the River – www.brynwood.com – and this proved an excellent choice for our young family. We quickly settled into the rewarding routine of taking a decent morning hike to the picturesque lakes inside the national park, followed by afternoon siestas, and a stroll into the downtown area for some local brews and other tasty fare.

RMNP's Cub Lake hiking trail

RMNP’s Cub Lake hiking trail

With majestic mountains, tundra wildflowers, abundant wildlife (we saw elk, moose and deer), the highest paved road in the US, and over 350 miles of rustic hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park – http://rockymountainnationalpark.com – is the perfect playground for active nature lovers and adventurous families alike!

Driving slowly south through contorted canyons presided over by mesmerising mountains, we made our way down to the city of Boulder. With a population of one hundred thousand people, Boulder is big enough to have everything you might desire in a city, but also small enough that you can learn your way around the place in a couple of days. Nestling in the foothills of the Flat Irons, Boulder enjoys a picturesque setting with everything an outdoor enthusiast could hope for right on your doorstep. As a consequence, Boulder has become a magnet for sports fanatics and active nature loving families to the point where this idyllic Rocky Mountain city now boasts the highest density of trail runners and triathletes in the whole country! But it’s not only professional athletes that are taking advantage of Boulder’s mountain trails and bike routes, everyone living here is active, healthy and loving the outdoor lifestyle. If I were to ever relocate to America, then this is definitely were I would choose to be based.

A day trip to ride the Gondola at Vail

Riding the Gondola during a day trip exploration of Vail

Heading north from Boulder, we cut through Wyoming to the Black Hills National Forest – www.blackhillsbadlands.com – for a week of running, hiking, biking, golfing and South Dakota sightseeing with the extended family. Highlights of our time exploring the western reaches of the state included a rewarding four-mile hike up imposing Harney Peak – http://harneypeakinfo.com – to the stone fire tower on its summit. At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak stands sentinel as the highest point in South Dakota with magnificent mountain top views looking out onto the 1.25 million acre Black Hills National Forest wilderness area. Other memorable excursions included visiting Mount Rushmore – www.mtrushmore.net – to admire the gigantic presidential heads carved into the mountainside, and a surreal dive through the infamous South Dakota Badlands on our journey back to Minnesota.

 

Kidepo's Lion population is being adversely affected by a mysterious disease - possibly TB or feline AIDS

A mysterious disease – possibly tuberculosis or feline AIDS – is afflicting the king of the beasts in Kidepo

Back in Africa, I recently received some distressing news about the lions of Kidepo Valley National Park. These cats are especially close to my heart as this remote savannah wilderness in northeast Uganda is where Katherine and I first spent time working in the bush together. Anne-Marie Weeden of the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) – www.ugandacf.org – contacted me to say that the local lion population is sick. Veterinary work is currently underway to try and deduce the underlying cause of the mystery illness affecting the ailing lions, but the bottom line is that Kidepo’s lions are in trouble and urgently need effective monitoring and timely veterinary assistance. In order to accomplish this UCF has initiated a fundraising drive – https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/ugandacf/KidepoLionProject – for the Kidepo Lion Project. Your support and any financial contributions to the project would be greatly appreciated.

Kidepo is home to the third largest - and only increasing - lion population in Uganda

Kidepo is home to the third largest – and only increasing – lion population in all of Uganda

Ollie’s Arrival and Brilliant Botswana, RSA & Botswana – May & June 2015

A female leopard crests a termite mound as the sun sets on Selinda Reserve in Botswana

A female leopard crests a termite mound as the sun sets on Selinda Reserve in northern Botswana

 

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Ollie and a very proud dad!

The arrival of Charlie’s little brother

The undisputed highlight of the month of May was the safe arrival of Oliver William Cunliffe on the final day of the month. Thankfully his birth was complication free, and both Katherine and Ollie are doing fantastically well. I am one very proud husband and the fortunate father of two perfect little boys who reassuringly have both inherited their mom’s good looks! A month in, Ollie has also already proved himself to be one of the easiest and most relaxed babies imaginable. We feel so blessed and fortunate to have him in our lives.

 

On safari in Botswana and Zambia

Ollie was no more than a couple of weeks old when my Passage to Africa private guiding work – www.passagetoafrica.com/team/stephen-cunliffe – stole me away for another safari. My mother-in-law very kindly agreed to move in and help Katherine take care of our two energetic little boys, thereby enabling me to accompany the Penry family from North Carolina on an incredible three-week Southern Africa safari. Their bespoke Botswana itinerary focused on a handful of exclusive lodges and associated mind-blowing safari experiences within three of the country’s premier wildlife and wilderness areas.

One-eyed lioness on the prowl

One-eyed lioness on the prowl at Chitabe Lediba

First stop on the Botswana programme was Wilderness Safari’s Chitabe Lediba Camp – www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/chitabe-lediba-camp – in the Okavango Delta. Small and secluded, Chitabe Lediba overlooks a buffalo-frequented shallow lagoon within a private concession adjoining the Moremi Game Reserve in the southeast region of the delta. Excellent habitat diversity throughout the concession area ensures high wildlife densities and a high incidence of amazing wildlife sightings. Our visit was no exception. Under the expert guidance of local guide Ebs, we were treated to some high quality wildlife viewing: lions roaring and eating a buffalo; a female cheetah stalking red lechwe; a pack of wild dogs on the prowl; and even a couple of daylight sightings of relaxed leopards during our four-day stay.  It was an incredible start to any safari!

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High jump hi-jinx in the Makgadikgadi

Next stop was Uncharted Africa’s San Camp – www.unchartedafrica.com – which perches right on the fringe of the vast and mysterious Makgadikgadi saltpan complex: the remains of an ancient super-lake that once covered almost all of Botswana. Each of San Camp’s stunning white safari tents stands under a gaggle of palm trees on the shoreline of this enormous sea of salt. After five days of hardcore game viewing in the delta, having the freedom to be able to safely walk and run around was most welcome, as was the opportunity to interact with habituated mobs of meerkats and learn from a tribe of local bushmen. But riding a fleet of ATVs out onto the great white expanses of the pan for a night under the stars was the unanimous highlight of our stay at San Camp: a soulful experience that certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon!

Full moon bush dinner at Zarafa

Full moon bush dinner at Zarafa

A five night stay at the decadently luxurious Zarafa Camp – www.greatplainsconservation.com/zarafa-camp/ – awaited us after our saltpan odyssey. Overlooking Zibadianja Lagoon, source of the Savute Channel, Zarafa is a small, intimate and very impressive safari lodge. The food was world class with service to match. And while the standard of the Zarafa guiding was a touch disappointing, the quality of the wildlife sightings we enjoyed on Selinda Reserve were certainly nothing short of exceptional. A huge lion pride squabbling over a red lechwe kill; wild dogs every day; a leopard with a young cub; plenty of spotted hyenas skulking about; and so much more…

After two action-packed weeks exploring the wilds of Botswana, the tranquillity of the Zambezi River and fury of the thundering Victoria Falls provided a welcome change of scenery and pace. Our Zambian home-away-from-home was child-friendly Tangala House – www.tongabezi.com/tangala_house.php: a beautiful family home located 15km upstream of the Victoria Falls on the Zambian bank of the mighty Zambezi River.

The house boasts four en-suite bedrooms, a large private swimming pool, and a big trampoline – perfect for energetic children needing to burn off some energy after all the game drives. Stylishly designed and functionally furnished, the Tongabezi owned and operated abode comes with its own private vehicle, boat, chef, waiter and house staff. While the Tangala staff are all fabulous, special mention must be made of the culinary king, Kenny, and the mouth-watering meals he consistently produces from his little kitchen.

The Victoria Falls in all its glory

The Victoria Falls in all its glory

The falls were an impressive sight to behold in late June with plenty of water thundering over the mile-wide chasm, but nothing can top the experience of an afternoon exploring Livingstone Island and swimming in the frothy Angels Pool. To be bobbing around in your own private ‘Zambezi jaccuzzi’ mere metres from the lip of a thunderous waterfall is a pulse-racing experience second to none!

The final week of our sensational southern Africa safari was spent in Cape Town at the Cape Grace followed by some well-deserved R&R and whale-watching in Hermanus. We based ourselves at the opulent Birkenhead Villas – www.birkenheadhouse.com – with its picturesque cliff-top position overlooking the angry winter waves of Walker Bay: an extraordinary seaside location and stunning place to end a memorable safari with the wonderful and welcoming Penry family.

San Camp overlooks the sprawling Makgadikgadi salt pans with its endless processions of wildebeest and zebra trekking past in search of water

San Camp overlooks the sprawling Makgadikgadi salt pans and its endless processions of wildebeest

 

Drakensberg family adventure, South Africa – Jan & Feb 2015

Enjoying a breakfast with a view at Lotheni Camp in the southern Drakensberg

Enjoying breakfast with a view from Lotheni camp in the southern KZN Drakensberg

With the South African component of my MBA behind me, the year began with a much-needed focus on family. Katherine was travelling regularly to East Africa with her job and, while this gave Charlie and me lots of boy’s time to bond, what we desperately needed was a fun-filled family adventure. So when a family-friendly 4×4 assignment came my way, I jumped at the opportunity to take the family and a new Subaru Outback on an exploration of the KZN Drakensberg.

Happy hikers at Giants Castle

Happy hikers heading out at Giants Castle

The Drakensberg Mountains comprise a jagged spine of dramatic rock formations punctuated by towering peaks, lofty basalt buttresses and tumbling waterfalls on a 1200 kilometres journey from the Eastern Cape to Mpumalanga. But nowhere is South Africa’s premier mountain chain more impressive and awe-inspiring than during its passage through Kwa-Zulu Natal where it forms one of Southern Africa’s premier adventure playgrounds for young and old alike. SA 4×4 magazine (http://sa4x4.co.za) provided me with a new Subaru Outback and an open-ended brief to explore the dusty back roads and scenic bypasses of this magnificent mountain region. I wasted no time in getting to Johannesburg where I picked up the vehicle and loaded up my wife, son and supplies before striking out on the quintessential outdoor adventure for a nature-loving family.

Injisuthi day hike

A spectacular Injisuthi day hike

Our Drakensberg quest involved exploring as many mountain bypasses and little known back roads as humanly possible during a weeklong soft-roader adventure. We made our way south, stopping for a delicious lunch at the Pig & Plough in the charming hamlet of Winterton, before eventually reaching off-the-beaten-track Lotheni: an incredibly scenic mountain retreat. Inconceivably, we had the place to ourselves! After a couple of days exploring the picturesque area on foot we made our way slowly north to the internationally renowned Giants Castle.

We had begun our mountainous sojourn with two of the Drakensberg’s finest retreats, but the empty wilderness and outdoor paradise that greeted us at Injisuthi was another revelation with some spectacularly scenic day hikes. Cathedral Peak and Champagne Castle followed. While the tall peaks and Drakensberg scenery remained as epic as ever, the scale of hotel and resort development here made this area the ‘grand central’ of Drakensberg exploration. But, the best was still to come as we had unknowingly saved one of the highlights – Thendele rest camp in Royal Natal National Park – for the final stop on our Drakensberg itinerary.

Didima rest camp at Cathedral Peak

Didima rest camp at Cathedral Peak

Enjoying the last two nights of our family escape in the shadow of the world famous Drakensberg amphitheatre was a real privilege. At five kilometres wide and in places close to a thousand vertical metres high, the sheer stone cliffs and flanking rock buttresses are nothing short of breath-taking.

A final family hike up to the distinctive Policeman’s Helmet rock formation was followed by a farewell braai. As the fire crackled to life, Charlie charged across the grassy lawns chasing guineafowl with the energy and exuberance of youth. Later, as we tucked into some tasty spare ribs under a star-strewn sky, Katherine and I agreed that this Drakensberg nature escape was without doubt the best family holiday that the three of us have enjoyed together to date.

The Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains boast a scenic outdoor playground and truly memorable destination for a family adventure in the shadow of towering rock giants.

A happy family poses below the giant amphitheatre of Royal Natal National Park and World Heritage Site

A happy family poses in front of the iconic rock amphitheatre of Royal Natal World Heritage Site

Beach Time in Arniston and Kogelberg Hiking – Nov & Dec 2014

Fellow Graduate School of Business students line up at the start of the Three Peaks Challenge

Fellow UCT Graduate School of Business students line up at the start of the Three Peaks Challenge

MBA completed

MBA done and dusted

With the exception of the scenic 24km Cape Point Nature Run (www.trailrunning.co.za), November was all work and no play. On top of completing my final MBA elective assignments and thesis, we also moved into our new home in Constantia. It was a brutally tough end to the year with the submission of my MBA dissertation on the 8th of December marking the end of one of the most challenging periods on my life to date.

Having now successfully completed the UCT portion of my MBA (www.gsb.uct.ac.za/mba), I am fortunate to have been selected to attend the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University next year on a tuition-free MBA exchange programme. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a leading academic institution in the USA will enable me to internationalise my MBA, while simultaneously focusing on elective courses in Leadership, Negotiation, Behavioural Economics and, most excitingly, a trans-disciplinary course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Conservation.

This final exciting chapter of my MBA will take place in Durham, North Carolina from March to May 2015 followed by graduation back in Cape Town in June where I am currently on track to graduate cum laude, so fingers crossed that the thesis doesn’t trip me up at the final MBA hurdle!

Charlie sets off to explore Arniston beach

Charlie sets off on a solo mission to explore Arniston beach

After a truly hectic and energy-sapping year, we were all in need of a relaxing family holiday by mid-December. Katherine’s dad and step-mom flew out from America and, along with my entire family, we descended upon the quaint seaside settlement of Arniston in the Overberg.

Charlie and dad reconnect post-MBA

Charlie and dad reconnect post-MBA

Named after the 1815 ship wreck of the Arniston, the town is known interchangeably by its Afrikaans name Waenhuiskrans which comes from the huge wagon-sized cave just to the west of the seaside town. To the east lies a traditional white-washed and thatch fishing village, which – in an attempt to protect its traditional character and integrity – has been declared a National Monument in its entirety.

Renting a big, six-bedroom, family-friendly, self-catering house (www.felixunite.com/news/arniston_self_catering_house/1) just a short walk from the main beach enabled everyone to slowly unwind with morning runs, twice-daily beach visits and social evening braais: a perfect family getaway spot and much-needed opportunity to hang out and reconnect with siblings. Charlie and his cousin Dom were in their element with all the beach time not to mention a plethora of doting aunties and grandparents to spoil them 24/7.

From Arniston we travelled homewards along the coast – via the southern most tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas – and on to Cape Nature’s Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (www.kogelbergbiospherereserve.co.za). Barely an hour out of Cape Town lies one of the Western Cape’s best-kept secrets: an area of such exquisite natural beauty and floral diversity as to be recognised by UNESCO as South Africa’s first Biosphere Reserve and arguably the world’s greatest biodiversity hot-spot.

View of the Palmiet River hike

The breath-taking view along the Palmiet River hike

Accommodation in this World Heritage Site reserve is limited to five eco-friendly cabins. The glass-fronted Oudebosch eco-cabins (www.capenature.co.za/reserves/kogelberg-nature-reserve/) blend seamlessly into the surrounding mountain fynbos, while affording visitors breath-taking 360-degree views of the mountainous reserve.

Each of the ultra-modern and intelligently designed cabins sleeps four people in two en-suite bedrooms along with a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area. A private deck and outdoor braai place complete the attractive set up.

Hiking through the wild flowers on the trail

Hiking through wild flowers on the Leopard’s Gorge Trail

Activities centre on the reserve’s network of hiking trails and mountain bike-friendly old roads. We tackled two hikes while we were there. On Day 1 we walked along a scenic trail that traced the perennial Palmiet River before looping back towards Oudebosch. The following day we took on the more challenging – but extremely diverse and rewarding – Oudebosch-Leopard’s Gorge Trail that ultimately terminates in the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty’s Bay.

It’s worth noting that for those who (like me) arrive in Kogelberg sans mountain bike, the bike routes double up perfectly for a leisurely trail run in the company of Klipspringers.

After this much-needed escape to nature, we ended the year in fine style with a big Llandudno Christmas back in Cape Town with all the extended family before travelling across to the Angala Boutique Hotel (www.angala.co.za) on the slopes of Simonsberg Mountain. A final week of rejuvenating downtime culminated with a chilled New Year’s celebration in Franschhoek.  Looking towards 2015… It is my fervent wish that the coming year proves to be as rewarding, but considerably less exhausting and stressful, than what has been an incredible 2014.

Angla Boutique Hotel nestles beneath the trees at the top of Vrede and Lust wine farm

Angla Boutique Hotel nestles amongst the trees at the top of Vrede and Lust wine farm in Franschhoek

Orange River Canoe Safari, Namibia – Sept & Oct 2014

Orange River canoe safaris are synonymous with bright blue skies, bright sunshine and mesmerising scenery.

Orange River canoe safaris boast deep blue skies, rugged landscapes and mesmerising scenery.

September kicked off with a four-day canoe adventure on the Orange River with my MBA classmates. Beginning its 2000km+ journey in the Drakensberg Highlands of Lesotho, the Orange – recently renamed the Gariep – River is South Africa’s foremost waterway. In its lower reaches, the Orange traces the South Africa-Namibia border and our multi-day camp-out canoe safari focused on the stretch of water snaking through the heart of the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park .

Sjambok Rapid action

A canoe aces the infamous Sjambok Rapid

Felix Unite (www.felixunite.com) – leaders in multi-day Orange River canoe safaris – put together our guided and fully catered trip: a stunning excursion deep inside the ruggedly beautiful Richtersveld and a much-needed escape from the GSB classroom! Drifting along the languid river, we passed through a geological wonderland of contorted red rock canyons. However, the episodic appearance of rocky rapids ensured we kept our paddles and life jackets close at hand, and it wasn’t long before the notorious Sjambok Rapid took its toll on our flotilla of glass-fibre boats. Only five of twelve canoes made it through unscathed, while everyone else enjoyed some mandatory ‘bonus’ swim time! The next hour was spent bailing out boats, collecting equipment bobbing in the eddies below the rapid and drying everything out.

Witches Mountain

Witches Hat Mountain in the Richtersveld

Having been fortunate enough to tackle the Orange on numerous previous occasions, I’ve also had the opportunity to write and publish a couple of magazine features on these popular and highly rewarding canoe safaris over the years…

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Travel-Namibia-Orange-River-Safari-Final.pdf

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Explore-Namibia-Gariep-River-Canoeing.pdf

Regardless of how many times I get to experience this magical river, I never tire of spending quality time on the Orange. I would classify the rapids as ‘fluffy’ rather than terrifying, but it is – in my humble opinion – the extreme arid beauty and mesmerising star-strewn night skies that make this canoe safari so enjoyable and utterly addictive. Check out www.felixunite.com/river_trips/orange_river for further details or to make a booking.

The sensational arid wilderness settings for a memorable overnight camp

A sensational riverside setting ensures another memorable overnight camp alongside the Orange

 

Celebrating after Cape Town Ultra

Celebrating after the Cape Town Ultra

Despite the fairly heavy workload involved with finishing off my MBA, I still managed to find a smidgen of spare time to hit the Table Mountain trails. The highlight being taking part in the inaugural Cape Town Ultra Trail Run (www.ultratrailcapetown.com). Tackling the full ultra was way beyond my current levels of fitness and training, so I opted instead for the short course route above the City Bowl. Starting from the city centre, we initially ran through the Company Gardens and Greenmarket Square before ascending through Bo-Kaap to traverse the length of Signal Hill, circling around Lions Head and then up onto the lower contour of Table Mountain before a final bone-jarring descent back into the City Bowl. Surprising even myself, I somehow managed to clinch a rather flattering 7th place on this hybrid 20km urban-trail run!

West Coast sunset

West Coast sunset

September and October also necessitated a final big push with my thesis in order to overcome the final MBA hurdle. My topic involved conducting an actor network analysis of the various social and environmental networks operating in the Bergrivier Municipality (www.bergmun.org.za). The research portion of the study demanded I take regular data collection excursions up the West Coast. On one of these occasions I was fortunate to be accompanied by my wife and young son for a couple of days in Velddrif (www.velddriftourism.co.za).

With a stunning seaside location overlooking Laaiplek Beach, Sunset Villas (www.velddriftourism.co.za/content/sunset-villas) boasts ocean-view sunsets of the highest order. Our unit comprised two en-suite bedrooms, an open plan living room, dining room and kitchenette, as well as a balcony with braai and five-star sea view.

Late October also saw the long-awaited publication of the final instalment of the Central Kalahari adventure that I shared with my brother-in-law in Botswana late last year.  If you haven’t read our tale of breaking down deep within the CKGR with only lions and Cape cobras for company, then you can access the SA 4×4 feature covering this epic adventure here: https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SA-4×4-CKGR-Cover-Feature-Proof.pdf

We had the West Coast's Laaiplek Beach all to ourselves when visiting Velddrif

We had the West Coast’s Laaiplek Beach all to ourselves when visiting Velddrif

Sensational Safari, RSA, Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana – July & Aug 2014

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Phinda Private Game Reserve boasts some of the finest cheetah viewing in all of Africa

During August I was fortunate enough to accompany the fabulous Traggio family from Connecticut on one of the best safaris of my life. After a disappointing stay at the sub-par Saxon boutique hotel (www.saxon.co.za), we said goodbye to the big smoke of Johannesburg and escaped to &Beyond’s Phinda Vlei Lodge: a highly rewarding safari destination in northern Kwazulu-Natal.

A suite at Phinda Vlei Lodge

One of the luxurious suites at Phinda’s Vlei Lodge

Overlooking a large, sweeping, dry (during August) vlei system on the 23 000 hectare Phinda private game reserve, this intimate ten-bed lodge (www.andbeyond.com/phinda-vlei-lodge/) boasts great game viewing from the comfort and safety of your own private veranda or plunge pool. I was thrilled by the night time visits from a friendly bull elephant that came to drink from my swimming pool by the light of a full moon. While during the day, we enjoyed some superb cheetah viewing, including watching a mother with three cubs bring down a nyala right before our very eyes!

But the ultimate highlight was undoubtedly taking a day trip to Sodwana Bay where we got to dive with whale sharks at close quarters, while watching humpback whales frolic nearby.  An incredible experience.

The elephants of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe

The elephant bulls of Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Zimbabwe

Bidding farewell to friendly staff at Phinda, we flew to Zimbabwe to visit a perennial old favourite: Singita Pamushana Lodge (www.singita.com/pamushana-lodge/) on the scenically diverse Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve (see previous blog for a write up on this incredible place).

Pamushana bush dinner

Pamushana bush dinner below an ancient baobab

In the company of talented local guide Tengwe Siabanda, we enjoyed great sighting of lions feeding on an eland, a male roaring in the midst of our sundowner spot, mud bathing elephants, and an abundance of white rhinos and general game. The top experience, however, was wiling away the midday hours secreted away inside a hide overlooking the last remaining waterhole in the south of the reserve. From this unique vantage point we were treated to close up visuals of elephant toenails and a non-stop procession of wildlife – warthogs, impala, kudu, hartebeest, sable, zebra, buffalo and elephants – that would have made Noah blush.

Livingstone Island tour and swimming in the precariously located Angel's Pool

Livingstone Island tour and swimming in the precariously positioned Angel’s Pool

Next stop was Tongabezi’s Tangala House (www.tangala.com) on the outskirts of Livingstone in southern Zambia. This spacious family-style home located on the banks of the Upper Zambezi River – 15 km upstream from the magnificent Victoria Falls – looks across southern Africa’s premier waterway and into the Zambezi National Park in neighbouring Zimbabwe.  But, even more rewarding than a tasty lunch on an uninhabited island or surveying ‘the smoke that thunders’ from vantage points within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, was the indescribable feeling of swimming in the Angel’s Pool right on the lip of the falls with the river thundering past and spray raining down on us!

A pack of African wild dogs - Africa's second most endangered large carnivore - bond ahead of hunting

A pack of African wild dogs – Africa’s second most endangered large carnivore – bond before hunting

Our final two destinations were across the border in Botswana. After flying over the sprawling elephant and buffalo herds of Chobe, we touched down at Wilderness Safari’s 14-suite Vumbura Plains Camp (www.wilderness-safaris.com/camps/vumbura-plains) in the Okavango. Tucked beneath a canopy of leafy trees with magnificent vistas over the watery wilderness, Vumbra was an ideal base from which to access the delta’s prolific predators with some top quality wild dog sightings and prime leopard viewing topping the charts.

Uncharted Africa's San Camp sits alongside the Makgadikgadi salt pans of northern Botswana

Uncharted Africa’s San Camp sits on the edge of the Makgadikgadi salt pans of northern Botswana

The final stop on this incredible two-and-a-half week Passage to Africa itinerary was idyllic San Camp (www.unchartedafrica.com) perched on the edge of the ethereal Ntwetwe Pan in the midst of the sprawling Makgadikgadi saltpan complex. Although hampered by mediocre management and poor guiding, this stunning colonial-style camp of yesteryear does enjoy one of the finest locations of any safari lodge in Africa, sitting aside an arid, white wilderness like no other place on earth.

Brown hyena displaying

Brown hyena displaying

Despite being predominantly a scenic nature destination, Makgadikgadi is renowned as the place to visit for high quality sightings of less frequently encountered animals like brown hyena and aardvark. Our visit didn’t disappoint on this front when late one afternoon we bumped into a brown hyaena and spent the next half hour up close with the inquisitive creature, as it put on quite a show bristling a long shaggy coat to increase its size.

Habituated mobs of meerkats are another big attraction in this area. But, it was the chance to drive quad bikes out onto the great white openness of the pans on the final evening for an alfresco fireside dinner and sleep out under the stars that proved the proverbial ‘cherry on the top’ at the end an amazing Southern African safari with six really great people.

Enjoying sunrise out on Ntwetwe Pan after sleeping out under the stars

Enjoying sunrise out on Ntwetwe Pan after sleeping out under the stars

 

The birthday boy

The birthday boy

Aside from competing in Franschhoek’s Bastille Day Trail Run and tackling the brutally tough Hout Bay Trail Challenge, the only other big news to report for the past couple of months was that we have finally taken the plunge and bought our first home in Constantia. It’s a quaint four-bedroom house with a leafy garden, surrounded by greenbelts, and with easy access onto Table Mountain. We now patiently await transfer and look forward to moving in during November to begin the next exciting chapter of our life together as a young family.

And, finally, on a sunny Saturday in late August, we celebrated Charlie’s first birthday at Deer Park Café.  All his little mates, along with our close friends and family, attended the festivities and generously showering him with gifts and attention. Dressed in a little suit he charmed the socks off everyone during a wonderful celebration to mark the end of an incredible – and absolutely life-changing – year for both Katherine and me!

Celebrating Charlie's first birthday at Deer Park Cafe

Celebrating Charlie’s first birthday at Deer Park Cafe

Two of Singita’s Finest Safari Lodges, RSA & Zimbabwe – May & June 2014

The quintessential African sunset with baobab silhouette on Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe

The quintessential African sunset with baobab silhouette on Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe

The month of May got off to a rollicking start with a weeklong safari to two of Southern Africa’s top safari lodges.  Accompanied by fellow Passage to Africa private guide, Richard Coke, we led a Texan family on a highly enjoyable weeklong Singita safari.

The cliff-top view from Singita Pamushana Lodge

The cliff-top view from Singita Pamushana Lodge

The trip kicked off at Singita Pamushana (www.singita.com/pamushana-lodge/) on the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe. Managed by the not-for-profit Malilangwe Trust, the wildlife-rich private reserve is an extraordinary wilderness area adjoining the Gonarezhou National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe. Amazingly, Singita Pamushana Lodge is currently the sole camp operating on this stunning 60 000 ha reserve. Like a collection of vulture nests perched along the rim of a giant rocky koppie, the lodge offers unbeatable bird’s eye views over a unique landscape peppered with rocky outcrops and a sprawling lake down below.

The wildlife viewing was top notch, especially considering it was early May and the bush was still pretty thick. Aside from plentiful elephants, white rhino and huge buffalo herds, we enjoyed memorable sightings of cheetah on the prowl and a pack of wild dog drinking from Banyan pan. Aside from game drives and a short walk tracking rhinos, there was some high quality fishing on offer in the lake below the lodge, and our team caught a few small tigers along with more tilapia than they knew what to do with!

Our private charter pilatus jets turned a few heads wherever we landed

Our private charter Pilatus PC-12’s made for easy travel and turned a few heads wherever we went

 

Giraffe chewing on a shoulder bone

Giraffe chewing on a shoulder bone

From Pamushana we flew back to South Africa and Singita’s flagship Lebombo Lodge (www.singita.com/lebombo-lodge/). This world-renowned safari lodge boasts fifteen loft-style suites on a 14 000 hectare, exclusive-use concession deep inside the Kruger National Park. Built above the N’wanetsi River in the east of the park, Singita Lebombo stares out across the stream and onto an undulating savannah-woodland landscape that stretches across the unfenced border and into neighbouring Mozambique.  Imaginative wood, steel and organic interiors – all encased in glass – provide a stylish and modern feel to the luxurious Lebombo suites, which make the most of their lofty positions overlooking the river.

The basalt plains to the north of the lodge are well-known for their lion concentrations and it wasn’t long before we came across a coalition of four males resting up after devouring a waterbuck. Mating lions the following morning and a visit to a rocky hyena den were other highlights, but nothing could match the grand finale of watching a female cheetah stalk and take down an impala on our last evening drive: a great end to a wonderful week in the African wilderness.

An alert female cheetah surveys her surrounds to make sure no other predators steal her kill

An alert female cheetah surveys her surrounds to ensure no other predators sneak in and steal her kill

 

During a very hectic and intense second term on the MBA, there was only limited time available for undertaking photojournalism assignments. In amongst all the schoolwork and exams, I managed to keep up a fairly gruelling trail running schedule in order to maintain my sanity! The beautiful and brutal Heldeberg Challenge was followed by a perennial favourite, the Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge, but the highlight of June was undoubtedly snagging an entry to the fourth edition of the Grootvadersbosch Trail Challenge (www.quantumadventures.co.za/2013/09/12/grootvadersbosch-trail-run/).

Dad's biggest supporter

Dad’s biggest fan and trail running supporter

Taking place in the wonderfully wild and diverse Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and adjoining Boosmansbos Conservancy, this magical two-day trail run is synonymous with everything genuine trail runners wish for: natural beauty, pristine wilderness, no other people, and lots of flowing single track. Located right on Cape Town’s doorstep, it is a virtually unknown tract of Western Cape wilderness that eclipsed even my wildest expectations.

But don’t just take my word for it, the fact that the organisers of both the Otter African Trail Run and African X – two of South Africa’s premier trail events – chose to come and run Grootvadersbosch this year should convince you that this is a truly special place. So if you live in the Cape and enjoy trail running, hiking or simply spending time in nature, then be sure to check out my latest Do It Now feature on this incredible World Heritage Site: https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DIN-Grootvadersbos-Trail-Run-Final.pdf

Running wild on the mountainous trails of the scenically spectacular Grootvadersbosch World Heritage Site

Running wild on the mountainous trails of the spectacular Grootvadersbosch World Heritage Site

African X Trail Run & Karoo Nature Safari, South Africa – March & April 2014

The African X takes trail runners on a three-day adventure from Sir Lowry's Pass to Bot River

The African X takes trail runners on a three-day off-road adventure from Sir Lowry’s Pass to Bot River

In mid-March, the Groenlandberg Mountains – just outside of Cape Town – reverberated to the sound of more than a thousand feet pounding along pristine mountain tracks, as 275 two-runner teams went head to head during the three-day ProNutro African X Trail Run. While the vast majority of teams took part for the sheer pleasure of running wild along some of the Western Cape’s finest nature trails, the event also attracted the veritable who’s who of South African trail running and the battle for African X supremacy proved a tightly contested affair. When the dust finally settled, it was the unstoppable team of AJ Calitz and Bernie Rakudza that triumphed over defending champions Michael Bailey and Ben Brimble, who in turn relegated the Salomon pairing of Kane Reilly and Thabang Madiba to third spot on the podium.

Running through the Groenlandberg foothills

Running wild through the Groenlandberg foothills

It would be wrong to talk about the ProNutro African X event (www.africanx.co.za) without mentioning the dedicated Stillwater Sports team that organise and host this world-class event each year. Chatting to other runners out on the trail, everyone was in unanimous agreement that African X is considerably more than ‘just another trail race.’ Thumping tunes and tireless race announcers greeted us each time we trundled into one of the well-stocked replenishment stations strung out at regular intervals along the route. The logistics boggle the mind, yet the water tables were always staffed by a bevy of enthusiastic young volunteers who looked as genuinely thrilled as the rest of us to be out and about in the mountains.

With outstanding attention to detail, the African X experience is characterised by a professional, relaxed and friendly vibe. The facilities at Houw Hoek Inn (the event HQ) are excellent with a battery of hot showers, cold craft beers, professional sports massages, excellent medical support, top-notch security and absolutely delicious food. Exuding an intoxicating combination of challenge and fun, the African X is – in my humble opinion – hands down the most well-organised and exciting multi-stage trail race currently taking place in the wilds of South Africa.

Check out https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Do-It-Now-African-X-Trail-Run.pdf for the full feature article on this incredible event.

 

Exploring the self-guided Bossie Hiking Trail in the Karoo National Park

Exploring the self-guided Bossie Hiking Trail within the scenically spectacular Karoo National Park

After a demanding first term on the full-time MBA programme, it was with much excitement (and some relief) that we took a five-day family excursion up the N1 to explore the little known Karoo National Park near Beaufort West. The Great Karoo is a vast and unforgiving landscape with the Karoo National Park (http://www.sanparks.org.za/parks/karoo/) standing out as the crown jewel of this sprawling, semi-arid wilderness.

The endemic Cape Mountain Zebra

The endemic Cape Mountain Zebra

Dominated by the lofty Nuweveld Mountains and fringed by undulating plains, the park is home to a fascinating variety of specially adapted fauna and flora that is ideally suited to surviving in the Karoo’s harsh conditions. Wanting to restore the Karoo Park to its former glory, SANParks has re-introduced a number of locally extinct species to their former ranges, including lion, brown hyena, black rhino and Cape mountain zebra. Game drives and guided walks in the company of an armed and knowledgeable ranger were the order of the day for exploring the wide-open natural expanses of the reserve.

During our stay we made use of one of the park’s eight Cape Dutch style family units, comprising two en suite bedrooms (three beds in each), a fully equipped kitchen and dining room (although breakfast at the Salt & Pepper Restaurant is included) and a veranda with braai, comfy sofas and some incredible mountain views.

Each evening as the sun sank behind the hills and the light softened, setting the endless Karoo canvas ablaze with glorious hues of orange and crimson, we would light the braai fire and crack open a couple of Windhoek Draughts, toasting our good fortune at being able to recharge our city stressed souls amidst such stunning natural beauty. There’s no denying the picturesque Karoo National Park is a special place.

The Karoo Rest Camp nestles in a pretty mountain valley looking onto the cliffs and crags of the rocky Nuweveld Mountain Range

The Karoo Rest Camp nestles in a pretty mountain valley looking onto the rugged Nuweveld Mountains

Khutse and Central Kalahari overland adventure, Botswana – Dec 2013

Lioness at Piper Pan

The Kalahari is synonymous with lions and Piper Pan dished out daily sightings of these iconic predators

The Kalahari, ‘land of thirst’, is a parched wilderness and primeval landscape of sand, stone, sparse grassland and thorn-scrub. Echoing every night with the primordial roars of the black-maned king of the African savannah, the wide-open spaces and big skies of central Botswana’s Khutse and Central Kalahari game reserves are like no other place on earth. My brother-in-law joined me for an overland exploration of this oft-overlooked wild corner of the sprawling Kalahari and we discovered the ultimate wilderness escape for any nature-loving 4×4 enthusiast.

Moreswe Campsite

Moreswe Campsite

The name Khutse, which means ‘where one kneels to drink’ in Sekwena (the local dialect of Setswana), reveals that the area was once part of Africa’s largest inland lake. Today, however, the sun-baked reserve experiences drought-like conditions for most of the year, giving rise to a distinctive terrain of low dunes, sparse grasslands, thorny scrub and the occasional scraggly tree, peppered with more than 60 shimmering saltpans.

Despite being one of the most arid regions in all of Southern Africa, we were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to witness the truly awesome spectacle of the first Kalahari rains breaking across the parched African savannah.

We heard the wind before we saw it. A dust cloud around three kilometres tall raced across the desert landscape engulfing everything in its path before unleashing the first drops of rain to pelt Khutse’s parched pans in nearly a year. An eerie orange light filtered through the dust and clouds painting the landscape otherworldly colours such as I’d never witnessed before.

With only a couple of giraffe for company, we watched double rainbows melt and reform across a brooding sky while big raindrops thumped into the thirsty earth. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle that brings me goosebumps just thinking about it.

The rains arive

The first Kalahari rains were accompanied by otherworldly skies that seemed better suited to Mars

Although the Kalahari is home to a plethora of wild animals, animal densities are low and game viewing can be highly variable in the desert. While this might not be the best places to view wildlife, the timeless Kalahari is a genuinely wild place of soulful solitude. Boasting the ultimate get-away-from-it-all vibe, the Central Kalahari boast a desert wilderness experience bar none. So, if remote desert wilderness, self-imposed isolation and the sound of lions roaring in the night are your thing, then – like me – Khutse and the Central Kalahari will probably become one of your favourite 4×4 destinations in all of Africa. Check out www.botswanatourism.co.bw for more.

toilet

An unwanted visitor in the long-drop toilet!

Amazingly, during the week we spent exploring Khutse, we never saw another person or vehicle; and during our six-day stay in the southern section of Central Kalahari we saw no more than a handful of adventurous souls. Unfortunately, our desert adventure came to an untimely end at Piper Pan deep in the Kalahari when our Chinese-made Steed 5 double-cab inexplicably gave up the ghost one morning and set in chain an unbelievable sequence of events. In the end our vehicle recovery saga turned into an even bigger adventure than our originally planned Khutse-Kalahari desert sojourn!

In the end – after a four-day wait – the Trans World Motors recovery team finally located us and – after an accident and six breakdowns of their towing vehicle – we finally reached Maun. Escaping the clutches of the Kalahari was an unbelievable ordeal. By the time we finally reached Maun’s Old Bridge Backpackers (www.maun-backpackers.com), I could have sworn that the first bitterly cold Saint Louis I cracked was the tastiest and most refreshing beer I’d ever gulped down!

Driving across Marushele Pan under a fiery sky after the first big rains

Driving across Mahurushele Pan under a fiery evening sky after the first big rains had hit Khutse

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia – October 2013

Sunrise over the South Luangwa catches an breeding herd of elephants on the move

Sunrise over the South Luangwa catches a breeding herd of elephants on the move

October was dominated by a three-week assignment to Zambia’s flagship national park. The late dry season is an incredible time to be in the bush, especially a wildlife-rich place like the South Luangwa. The game viewing was outstanding; the people were friendly; and the conservation work was nothing short of inspirational.

Kindly assisted by Robin Pope Safaris (RPS), the trip focused on the outstanding work being done by the South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) – www.slcszambia.org – to support the dysfunctional wildlife authority in managing this important African asset. Working hand-in-hand with SLCS is another laudable NGO: the dynamic Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) – www.zambiacarnivores.org.

A ZCP research team fit a VHF radio collar to a lioness

ZCP researchers fit a VHF radio collar to a lioness

Headquartered in the South Luangwa, the ZCP is a non-profit research organisation dedicated to conserving Zambia’s large carnivore species as well as protecting the pristine ecosystems in which they reside. Under the leadership of the tireless Dr Matt Becker the organisation also focuses some of its seemingly inexhaustible energy on finding, training, mentoring and supporting promising Zambian wildlife professionals to attain internationally recognised graduate degrees based on their research data. The admirable long-term thinking being that competent, well-trained Zambians must take responsibility for their own wildlife heritage.

Zambia is an impressive country with relatively low population density and a rich wildlife heritage conserved within thousands of square kilometres of protected natural habitat. The country’s three most impressive national parks centre on its three greatest rivers – the Zambezi, Kafue and Luangwa – but it is the iconic South Luangwa that tops this list.

A joint SLCS-ZCP team removes a thick wire snare

A joint SLCS-ZCP team removes a thick wire snare

Sadly, however, things in paradise aren’t quite as perfect as they might seem at first glance. It didn’t take long to discover that the South Luangwa and its surrounding Game Management Areas (GMAs) are under ever-increasing pressure from hungry local communities and, more worryingly, the commercial bush-meat trade. Wire snaring is endemic and if current trends continue, this gruesome and indiscriminate form of poaching will ultimately finish Zambia’s wildlife.

I was fortunate enough to join a joint SLCS-ZCP team when they went out to locate and dart a snared lioness. It was a hectic experience to see a lioness so severely incapacitated by her deep neck wound; but also uplifting to see her resilience after the team had removed the wire snare and cleaned up her wounds. Rachel McRobb of SLCS estimated that this Chowo lioness was probably around the 300th animal they had successfully de-snared to date.

To address these challenges, real benefits and a dramatic mindset shift have to be achieved within the communities that surround the park. But considering the number of local people involved, it’s a monumentally difficult task. One shining light in this area is the donor-funded Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre – www.chipembele.org – which is actively educating secondary school kids in the Mfuwe area as to the value of wildlife and the importance of the wildlife-based economy to the region.

South Luangwa is home to some of the best wildlife viewing and animal encounters on the continent

South Luangwa is home to some of the best wildlife viewing and animal encounters on the continent

Fortunately, my South Luangwa assignment wasn’t all ‘work’ and no play… I was lucky enough to also sample a number of the Robin Pope Safaris – www.robinpopesafaris.net – lodges and bush camps.  After easing my way into the Luangwa lifestyle at Luangwa River Camp in the perennially popular Mfuwe area, I headed northeast and into the wilder Nsefu sector.  It was here that I sampled what I believe to be one of the finest African safari products currently available: Luangwa Bush Camping.

It's not just the 'big n hairies' that impress

South Luangwa is not just about the ‘big and hairies’

Restricted to a maximum of six guests and under the watchful eye of Kanga (our expert nature guide) and his team, I enjoyed a three-day walking safari from this mobile bush camp. We ate like kings and slept alongside the river in an unbelievably luxurious tented camp that moved site every day after we set out on foot. The animals were thick on the ground and aside from the ubiquitous hippos, crocodiles, puku, impala and baboons; we were treated to exciting encounters with elephant, lion and leopard almost every day. Luangwa Bush Camping was the highlight of my Luangwa safari and I would wholeheartedly recommend this (or one of RPS’s other mobile safari options) to any safari enthusiast who enjoys experiencing nature up close and personal on foot.

The RPS segment of my trip concluded with three nights at the newly renovated Tena Tena bush camp.  It was a great spot and the wildlife viewing was outstanding. Nothing more so than witnessing seven lions killing an adult male buffalo in an epic hour-long battle that saw the old dugga boy throwing lions off his muzzle and putting up a spirited fight. It was a never-to-be-fogotten sighting and a fitting way to end my assignment into one of Africa’s greatest game parks.

Survival of the fittest: he wilds of Africa are a harsh and unforgiving place

The wilds of Africa are a harsh and unforgiving place where only the strongest survive

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