Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Rampaging through the Richtersveld, RSA & Namibia – May & June 2016

Within the space of less than two weeks Wildebeest numbers swelled to around 400,000 on the Singita Grumeti concessions

In two short weeks wildebeest numbers swelled to over 400,000 on the Singita Grumeti concessions

The world renowned wildebeest migration in the Serenegtei-Mara ecosystem is a spectacle like no other that rightly takes pride of place on many an avid African safari goers’ bucket list.

Wildebeest as far as the eye can see

Wildebeest stretch as far as the eye can see

Colossal columns of ungainly wildebeest invaded Singita Grumeti in mid-May on their annual pilgrimage north to the Mara. Within a matter of days our verdant 350,000 acre concession was overrun by hundreds of thousands of hungry wildebeest. After a good rainy season, the huge herds thrived on the nutritious green grass blanketing the wide-open plains. The cacophony generated by these massive aggregations is almost more spectacular than the sight of this surging mass of hungry herbivores. Almost. But not quite.

By all accounts May 2016 saw one of the densest concentrations of wildebeest to grace Grumeti in the past decade. And to sit atop a rocky koppie and watch this epic spectacle unfolding – as far the eye can see – in every direction around you must be one of the greatest safari experiences in all of Africa.

 

The Rishtersveld Wildrun averages a marathon a day for five days across inhospitable desert terrain

The Rishtersveld Wildrun averages a marathon a day for five days across inhospitable desert terrain

June marked a rather less glamorous milestone for me personally, as I entered my fifth decade on this planet. It’s not everyone’s birthday wish to spend five days running 200km across the stark and often inhospitable desert terrain of the Richtersveld, but I nonetheless chose this challenge as a memorable way to celebrate the milestone of my fortieth year… But in hindsight perhaps it was more of an attempt to prove to myself that I wasn’t getting old just yet!

Running wild in the Richtersveld

Running wild in the Richtersveld

The arid Richtersveld is unquestionably one of the most elemental landscapes on the planet. Few landscapes on earth can rival the Richtersveld for arid beauty, big skies, sizzling sunshine and absolute desolation. Hauntingly beautiful and scorched by an unrelenting sun, the screaming silence of the Springbok Vlakte and gargantuan boulders of the Tatasberg Mountains are the holy grail of trail running for true wildrunners.

Richtersveld Wildrunners are best described as a diverse and determined cohort of modern day adventurers and I was fortunate enough to spend five days getting to know this intrepid group of desert duellers. Accompanied our Richtersveld Tours support staff, fifty determined trail runners took on the new transfrontier route: a two country desert extravaganza that was designed to expose competitors to the very best the Richtersveld has to offer – on both sides of the border – with deep canyons, rocky ravines, boulder-strewn mountains and stony desert plains.

So, if exploring off-the-beaten-track desert wilderness and shooting the breeze with fellow adventurous souls around a campfire under star-studded night skies sounds appealing to you, then I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending you don your running shoes for the Richtersveld run of a lifetime in June 2017.

For further info on the Richterveld as well as this incredible annual event, check out the magazine story links below:

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Wild-Richtersveld-TFCA-Final.pdf

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/SA-4×4-Richtersveld-Wildrun.pdf

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Sawubona-Richtersveld-TF-Wildrun.pdf

Running across the parched desert landscapes of the ancient Richtersveld desert is a primordial experience

Running across the parched desert landscapes of the ancient Richtersveld is a primordial experience

Black rhino revival and Christmas in CPT, Tanzania & RSA – Nov & Dec 2015

Grumeti has witnessed an incredible recovery in the buffalo population of over 900% in the past 12 years

Grumeti’s buffalo population has witnessed a remarkable recovery of over 900% in the past 12 years

The first few months on the ground at Grumeti have been the proverbial baptism of fire. Arriving at the end of the dry season and with the migration returning south, it was all action from the word go. Poaching spiked with the unexpected return of the wildebeest herds. Our challenges were compounded by the fact that much of the game reserve’s grazing had burnt due to runaway wild fires and arson fires. The late arrival of the rains didn’t help matters. The shortage of food forced the wildebeest to move further west into the communal village lands as they went on a fruitless search for grass.

The wildebeest herds in search of grazing

Constantly on the move in search of fresh grazing

Local villagers – who consider the animals arriving in their backyard as free meat – butchered the hungry herbivores day and night. This caused a major law enforcement dilemma for our Grumeti Fund game scouts, as their authority and mandate to engage poachers officially ends at the boundary of the game reserve. By seconding police and conducting joint ops with government anti-poaching unit officers from KDU Bunda, we were able to engage and arrest a number of these bush meat poachers. The fact that a number of key management posts within the Grumeti Fund stood vacant added to the sleepless nights of those who remained to carry the workload. It was a very tough couple of months, but the experience immersed me into Grumeti Fund operations and will no doubt stand me in good stead for the future. It was also highly instructive in informing and developing my restructure plans for the Grumeti Fund, which will be enacted in 2017.

John is an old rhino at 38 years old

At the age of 37 John can be considered old for a rhino

But it certainly was not all poaching doom and gloom at the end of 2015, there were also a number of successes to celebrate. Undoubtedly the highlight of this period was the arrival of John the rhino. After years of negotiation, painstaking bureaucracy and never-ending red tape, Grumeti was finally rewarded with the translocation of a big bull rhino of the East African michaeli subspecies from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to our rhino intensive protection zone (IPZ) at Grumeti. After spending the first few days in a holding bona for observation purposes, John was released into a larger paddock where he will settle in and acclimatise to his new home before being released into the heavily guarded rhino sanctuary where we hope to see him mating with the young adult female, known as Laikipia.

Despite John’s advanced age, we remain cautiously optimistic that we will see some mating behaviour and breeding success upon his release. With East Africa’s wild black rhino population down to the hundreds – most of which reside in Kenya – this small satellite population and its breeding success are integral to the long-term survival of the michaeli sub-species of black rhino in the Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania and East Africa.

With only an estimated 800 East African black rhino remaining the michaeli sub-species is considered critically endangered

With a mere 740 East African black rhino remaining the michaeli sub-species is critically endangered

 

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

After an intense first three months, we were due for leave in December. All senior staff working at Grumeti are employed on a three months on (working seven days a week) and one month off rotation. This 3-1 system is fantastic in that it provides large chunks of time off in which to travel to see family in South Africa or America, or to go exploring.

For our two little boys the main attraction of being back in South Africa in the middle of summer was the beach. Sandcastle building and bashing, swimming, and running through the shallow tidal pools on the beautiful beaches of Cape Town were the order of the day.  We then traveled a couple of hours up the coast to spend a week holidaying in the quaint seaside village of Arniston where we rented a huge beach house for the whole extended family and thoroughly enjoyed catching up, braaing and beaching with my siblings and their partners. On the way back to Cape Town we detoured into the Hemel en Aarde valley above Hermanus where we shared a cottage with friends, although our combined contingent of four small kids seriously cramped our wine tasting style!

December is a very hectic – but also a very special – time to be home with family converging on Cape Town from London, the Serengeti and Johannesburg to celebrate Christmas all together, as well as to enable all the young cousins to get to know and play with one another. Special family times indeed.

From London to Tanzania, Christams in Cape Town gathers the family together from

Celebrating Christmas in Cape Town is a good excuse to gather the family from from far and wide

Gonarezhou and relocating to Grumeti, Zim & Tanzania – Sept & Oct 2015

The Hilux made short work of crossing the Runde

Sunrise is a very special time to be crossing the mirror calm Runde River in northern Gonarezhou

September was a month characterised by dramatic change. With my MBA completed and our family holiday in the USA done and dusted, it was time to return to gainful employment. With a couple of exciting SA4x4 photojournalism assignments on the cards, my old friend Duncan Gutsche agreed to accompany me on a three country mission to test drive the new Toyota Hilux. What followed was an action-packed two week adventure through northern Kruger, into Mozambique at Pafuri, before entering Gonarezhou National Park via the Sango border post.

Spotted hyena

Predator numbers are resurgent in Gonarezou NP

Rather than tackle the stereotypical northern Gonarezhou safari circuit to see the Chilojo Cliffs and Runde-Save confluence, we opted instead for more adventure and set out to explore the whole of this enigmatic park that I had last visited 19 years previously. The wildlife in the central region was sparse and skittish, but so were the vehicles, giving us the feeling of being properly immersed in a genuinely wild tract of African wilderness. There is no denying that the less visited south-central region of Gonarezhou provides an ideal landscape for true 4×4 exploration.It is the perfect place for anyone who enjoys their overlanding to be wild and soulful.

The view from the top of the Chilojo Cliffs is unsurpassed

The view from atop the Chilojo Cliffs is unsurpassed

Gonarezhou National Park is a scenically stunning protected area and – under the guidance of Frankfurt Zoological Society project manager Hugo Van der Westhuizen – the park’s infrastructure and wildlife have both experienced a dramatic resurgence. With FZS looking to sign a co-management agreement with park authorities during the months ahead, the potential for Gonarezhou to reclaim its mantle as one of the foremost protected areas in Africa is no longer a pipedream. For the sake of its rebounding wildlife, re-energised ZPWMA conservation staff, wilderness-loving 4×4 enthusiasts and safari aficionados from around the globe, lets hope this far-sighted agreement is signed without delay to unlock increased funding and technical expertise for more effective management of this amazing national park. Find out more about the park and our overland adventures at:

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SA-4×4-Gonarezhou-Final.pdf

Hilux

The new Toyota Hilux on the charge

After a week of self-guided Gonarezhou exploration and top quality camping at the sole-use wilderness sites of Chumulavati, Chilojo and Runde Gorge, we existed the park through the main northern gate at Chapinda Pools, traversed the wildlife-rich Malilangwe private game reserve and braved an inordinate number of police roadblocks and shakedowns en route to the relatively untrammelled eastern reaches of Botswana. Most people know very little about this unpublicised region of Botswana so – for anyone interested to learn more – the link below will educate you about a tourist-free destination of lush green gorges, large vulture colonies, great day hikes to San rock art sites, and so much more. There are a lot more reasons than Northern Tuli Game Reserve to venture into Botswana’s oft ignored eastern reaches, and this SA 4×4 cover feature is sure to enlighten and delight you in equal measure:

https://www.stevecunliffe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SA-4×4-Eastern-Botswana-Final.pdf

This tightly bunched herd of elephants speaks to the increased poaching pressure that Africa's pachyderms are encountering throughout the continent

A tightly bunched herd with trunks raised speaks to the poaching threat confronting Africa’s pachyderms

 

The Grumeti Fund is responsible for a

Responsible for 350 000 acres of the Serengeti

October marked the start of a very exciting new chapter in my life when I accepted a position with the renowned Singita Grumeti Reserves. After attending the annual Singita management conference in Cape Town, Katherine and I packed up and rented out our house before boarding an aeroplane and relocating with our two little boys to Tanzania. Sasakwa Hill in the western corridor of the world famous Serengeti ecosystem is where we will be based for the foreseeable future. I will be managing the Grumeti Fund: a dedicated conservation and community non-profit that oversees all conservation, law enforcement, community outreach, research and monitoring, and stakeholder engagement activities for the 350 000 acre Singita Grumeti Reserves concessions.

Community upliftment projects are an integral part of the strategy

Community upliftment projects are integral to success

Grumeti – one of the standout conservation success stories of the 21st century – is the brainchild of eco-philanthropist and US hedge fund owner Paul Tudor Jones. Having committed the next three years of my life to building upon the successes and hard work of my predecessors, I hope to see Grumeti continue to evolve and develop into one of the most widely recognised and respected conservation projects on the continent. The model of eco-philanthropy in combination with delegated reserve management – a form of conservation outsourcing if you like – to a well-resourced private sector partner may well be the saving grace and future of protected area management. It’s a model that offers a viable solution and ray of sunshine in the face of the relentless poaching onslaught currently confronting cash-strapped African governments that are woefully unprepared for dealing with it.

There are no shortage of challenges operating a complex conservation project of this nature, but being right at the coalface with an unequivocal mandate and  the necessary resources to truly make a difference is a very exciting place to be, so watch this space for further details as the Grumeti conservation story continues to unfold.

Singita Grumeti Fund 079 (Manchira)

An elite Grumeti Fund game scout team from the Special Operations Group conducts a training drill

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!

San Camp 023

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

 

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

Phinda Game Reserve 022

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

Africa Geographic goes bang and Angala getaway, South Africa – Nov 2013

The vista looking out from Angala Boutique Hotel  over Vrede en Lust wine estate

The stunning vista looking out from Angala Boutique Hotel over Vrede en Lust wine estate

The month of November kicked off with the sad news of the untimely demise of Africa Geographicwww.africageographic.com – after nearly 20 years in the care of the Borchert family. This world-class conservation and geographical magazine had been in financial trouble for some time, so the news was not totally unexpected. The liquidation of AFRIPUBLISH Printing (PTY) LTD and its successor Black Eagle Media (PTY) LTD did, however, leave a string of disgruntled creditors and contributors in its wake.

Africa Geographic - Nov issue

The final issue of Africa Geographic

Despite eleven different payment plans and umpteen promises of money from the editor, Sarah Borchert, it was 22 months since I last received any cash from the struggling magazine and they went bang still owing me in the region of R 43 000. Aside from the financial impact suffered by its freelance contributors, the magazine’s sudden departure from the newsstands has also robbed Africa (albeit temporarily) of its loudest and most respected voice in conservation and environmental matters. With the rhino genocide heading into overdrive and the slaughter of our continent’s elephants escalating almost daily, the termination of Africa Geographic at this crucial time is a terrible loss to wildlife and conservationists alike.

Thankfully, after its rocky start, the month improved with a much-needed family vacation to the recently upgraded Angala Boutique Hotel – www.angala.co.za – situated on the outskirts of Franschhoek. Formerly Cathbert Country Inn, rebranded Angala is a stunning retreat where luxury and opulence blend seamlessly with the pristine beauty of nature. With an enviable location on the verdant slopes of the magnificent Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of the Cape winelands, Angala is a destination of rejuvenation where you can revive your body, mind and soul. Although it’s a great base from which to explore the wineries of Franschhoek, Paarl and the Helshoogte Pass, it’s also a wonderful place to simply relax and do nothing at all, savouring the myriad amenities of this five-star guesthouse and its spacious suites. Wanting some downtime to recharge and catch up with the family, we opted for the latter and the idyllic weather ensured we had an incredible time and found it very hard to leave.

Supporting our Springboks against Scotland

Supporting our Springboks against Scotland

The end of the month sees Katherine brave two long-haul flights with an infant on the perennially poor KLM airline when she heads to America to see her family.  It has quite literally been years since we last experienced a drama-free flight on the hapless Dutch airline and Katherine is stealing herself for the almost inevitable challenges that lie in store.

[Postscript: After more than three hours of stress, tears and immense frustration at Cape Town International, Katherine was forced to buy Charlie a whole new ticket simply because KLM and Delta failed to communicate regarding his original reservation on the codeshare flights. The whole process was devoid of customer service with Maria, the KLM flight controller, being an especially unhelpful and unaccommodating old hag.]

While my wife and son are enjoying Thanksgiving in Minnesota, I’ll be taking a GWM Steed double-cab bakkie and my brother-in-law on a serious overland expedition through Khutse Game Reserve, Central Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi Pans for SA 4×4 magazine. Watch this space next month for more on this epic adventure…

The suites of Angala Boutique Hotel sit high on the slopes on Simonsberg with an impressive mountainous backdrop

The suites of Angala Boutique Hotel enjoy an enviable position high on the slopes of the Simonsberg

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