Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Hermanus whale-watching and the Northern Cape, South Africa – Oct 2011

October has been a manic month.  Katherine’s arrival from Kenya proved to be the catalyst for an admin-filled couple of weeks as we searched for a new home in Cape Town, while simultaneously organising phones, bank accounts, credit cards, insurance, jobs and all the rest of that ‘fun’ stuff.

Anyway, after a couple of frantic weeks, we seem to have made good headway and are already feeling decidedly more settled (if somewhat exhausted as well).  Today we signed a lease on a lovely little two-bedroom apartment on Beach Road in Sea Point with awesome sea views and two balconies for my braais!  It has all the potential to become a great new base for us, as we start the newest chapter of our life together in Cape Town.

We did manage to sneak in a long weekend away with mates to check out the whales off the coast of Hermanus (www.hermanus.co.za/whales.asp).  It was a fun-filled and action-packed couple of days with lots of exercise, beach time, whale-spotting walks and rugby watching: an all round super-cool weekend away with good friends.

Tomorrow we depart on our much anticipated trip to the parks of the Northern Cape and Namibia.  First stop is Mokala (www.sanparks.org/parks/mokala/) where South Africa’s newest national park has already carved out a reputation as a stronghold and breeding ground for endangered herbivores and I look forward to discovering more about this little-known park, which lies a stone’s throw from Kimberly.

After three nights in Mokala, we head to the Kgalagadi (www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/) for the last week of October.  The Kalahari thirst-lands are undoubtedly my favourite wilderness area in South Africa.  It has been six long years since I last visited this iconic national park and I am extremely excited to finally be headed back there.

After reacquainting myself with the Kalahari, magazine assignments will take me into Namibia.  The trip will predominantly focus on the NamibRand Nature Reserve and Sossusvlei area, although it looks like we will also manage to squeeze in a couple of days in Swakopmund and a six-day river trip down the Orange River on our way home.

With so much to look forward to … this hardly classifies as ‘another tough month in Africa’!

Glacier NP, New York, South Carolina and Minnesota, USA – July 2011

Scenically spectacular Glacier National Park (www.nps.gov/glac/) is a very special place.  Impressive mountain panoramas, snow-capped peaks, icy blue glacial lakes and dense lodgepole pine forests come together and produce jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes that demand you get out the car and go hiking.

Especially memorable moments in the mountains of northern Montana included drifting off to sleep after lunch on a large flat rock in the middle of picturesque Snyder Lakes under a big blue sky surrounded by towering snowy peaks.  Hiking through the snow to reach Granite Peak chalet and enjoying the wrap-around mountain vistas from the lodge.  However, the roundtrip hike to Iceberg Lake definitely took the cake and topped my list of must-do walks in Glacier.  Scenic mountain terrain and excellent wildlife viewing – grizzly bear feeding, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats – combined to produce an extraordinarily rewarding hike that culminated inside an amphitheatre of mountains at a snowmelt lake peppered with drifting icebergs.  Didn’t I mention … Glacier is a pretty special place!

After eighteen days exploring three of America’s finest national parks it was time for the long drive back east with a final overnight stop in Teddy Roosevelt National Park to check out the Badlands of North Dakota.  After a hectic week playing catch up back in Minnesota we embarked on our next sojourn as we tackled the skyscrapers and unfamiliar territory of New York city.  We flew out to NYC primarily to visit my sister Nicki, followed that up with a family reunion at the beach in South Carolina and finished off a whirl-wind month of high adventure with a Pennsylvania road trip to see Katherine’s alma mater and attend her Bucknell college reunion.

It was an action-packed month of fun travels and exciting magazine assignments that took me from the wilderness and forests of the American West to the concrete jungles and beaches of the East.

London, Reykjavik and America’s finest parks, UK & USA – June 2011

While the travels have become mellower of late, our adventure has also evolved into an increasingly global sojourn that continues to delight at every turn with new destinations and an ever-increasing variety of action attractions.  After nine glorious weeks trekking and tramping to all corners of Nepal, Qatar Airways transplanted us from Kathmandu to London.  The change proved a real shock to the system … not to mention the sensory overload of returning to one of the world’s premier cities.  A ten-day whirlwind tour of England followed as we enjoyed theatre in the West End, test cricket at Lords, boozy pub lunches, a couple of festive birthday celebrations and I even managed to squeeze in a couple of meetings with magazine editors.  The London stopover culminated with a long weekend away with family where we stayed in a delightful little lock-keepers cottage in Rye (www.visitrye.co.uk) on the south coast of England.

My sisters (Carolyn and Sue) pulled out all the stops making sure we were treated like royalty, while my brother-in-law ensured we were fed like kings during our UK stay.  The braai meat was plentiful and beers were never in short supply – a real treat after all the noodles and rice of the last few dry months!

Next stop was Reykjavik en route to the USA.  We selected the very friendly and accommodating Hotel Sunna (www.sunna.is), which boasted an enviable hilltop location within easy walking distance of all the city’s major sights and restaurants.  With a mere 72 hours in Iceland we could only scratch the surface and Sunna was the perfect base for our explorations as we concentrated our limited time on the capital and its neighbouring attractions.  Spending the best part of a day at the idyllic Blue Lagoon hydrothermal spa (www.bluelagoon.com) was a real highlight, while the thrill of half-day whale-watching and puffin-spotting boat cruises came a close second.  Tours with both Elding (www.elding.is) and Special Tours (www.specialtours.is) provided me with my first glimpses of Minke whales, as well as impressive views of thousands of nesting puffins on the islands of Faxafloi Bay.

We arrived in America on June 15th and after a couple of days of feasting and catching up with family, we embarked on a long-awaited and much anticipated three-week road trip out west to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks (www.nps.gov).  My quest was to find and photograph wolves and bears in the backcountry while we soaked up the beautiful mountainous scenery.  The parks did not disappoint.

Record precipitation in the Rockies this winter meant the higher hiking trails were still buried under deep snow; however, this 300% higher-than-average snowfall forced the animals to congregate in the lower elevations.  We were thrilled to see black bears foraging, grizzly bears hunting, wolf and plenty of moose, elk, pronghorn and deer.  Absolutely idyllic weather conditions with deep blue skies, warm sunshine and barely a cloud in three weeks ensured we thoroughly enjoyed our time camping and hiking in Wyoming.

American parks are super-easy and affordable to explore with negligible park fees, cheap camping, free backcountry permits for overnight hiking deep into little-visited wilderness areas and wildlife-viewing that could tempt and woo even the most experienced African wildlife connoisseurs.

Next up we collect my sister-in-law from Bozeman airport and drive up to explore Glacier National Park in northern Montana before making our way back to Minnesota and heading east to visit friends and family in New York and South Carolina.

The Karnali River, Bardia NP and Everest, Nepal – May 2011

Like a fine red wine Nepal just gets better and better the longer we spend savouring this impressive country!  It is certainly proving to be an incredible and varied little Himalayan kingdom and the prefect playground for a couple of outdoor lovers and adventure sport aficionados.

After a gruelling two-day bus ride west, we reached the end of the road at Sauli Bazaar on the banks of Nepal’s biggest river – The Karnali.  We were part of a ten-man crew (including two ladies!) for a week-long river trip with Equator Expeditions (http://www.equatorexpeditionsnepal.com/).  It turned out to be a fun group and we had endless laughs on the raft as we skirted some big rapids and camped on sandy beaches next to the river.  Sleeping around a campfire under the star-studded heavens was a definite highlight for both of us.

The expedition ended at Chisopani on the boundary of Royal Bardia National Park and after a week on the river the comfort that awaited us at Tiger Tops’ Karnali Lodge was just what the doctor had ordered.  We soaked up the luxury, devoured great food and thrived off the quality wildlife experiences.  I was desperate to catch a glimpse of my first Indian one-horned rhino, so to end up having numerous close up sightings of five different rhinos feeding and swimming was very very special indeed.  Crouching in a bush watching a seven month old calf suckling from its mother while I was on a walking safari was the ultimate high of our wildlife-viewing extravaganza.  We topped the safari off with two tiger sighting – a young female with a hog deer kill and a handsome male escaping the pre-monsoon heat by sleeping in a pool of water.  What a great place Bardia turned out to be!

After a couple of days recuperating in Kathmandu we boarded a plane for Lukla and the start of our two-week Everest trek.  We chose a circuitous route to base camp via the sacred emerald green lakes of the Gokyo valley and over the Cho La pass to Gorakshep and Everest Base Camp. The weather gods smiled on us and we were treated to some idyllic weather for the epic Himalayan views from the summits of Gokyo Ri (5357m) and Kala Pattar (5545m).  Sitting on the top of these rocky vantage points gave us ringside seats to a jaw-dropping wraparound vista that defied belief … a host of snow-covered 8,000m+ peaks (Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, etc) rubbed shoulders and seemed almost close enough to touch.  These scenes of raw beauty exuded an overwhelming sense of mother nature’s awesome power.

After living in India for three years and enjoying nine weeks adventuring through Nepal, the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon (http://www.everestmarathon.com/) proved the genuine grand finale to our time in Asia.  It was with a combination of great excitement and a little trepidation that I approached the start of the race.  The 29th dawned grey and cold.  Mist swirled through Everest base camp (5360m) and thick grey clouds hung ominously overhead.  When I cracked the ice off my tent zips, I was greeted by a white world of snow and ice.  When the start gun fired at 7am the temperature was well below freezing and the unrelenting snow refused to let up until we were 16km into the race!  The start took place inside the infamous Khumbu Icefall and after jumping a small crevasse we ran over the frozen rocks and ice of the glacial moraine for 8km while my lungs continuously screamed for more oxygen.  My plan was simple – and borne of necessity – run everything that is flat or downhill but walk/climb the hills.  As we slowly descended towards the half-way mark at Dingboche the conditions improved and I found it a little easier to breathe.  Reaching the half-way stage in 3h10, I truly believed a six-hour finish was on the cards, but two viciously steep hills between the 32 and 37 kilometre marks killed that idea and in the end I was more than happy to finish in 6h34, which put me in a respectable 6th position out of 68 international participants.

With the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal wowing us in so many ways, the final chapter in our Asian sojourn has proved to be an absolute cracker!

The adventures for June appear to be somewhat tamer … our next stop is London to visit my sisters and then it’s onto Iceland and USA.  The journey continues and we’re loving the ride…

Good bye India and Nepal here we come, India – March 2011

It has been a hectically busy and enjoyable month with plenty of travel on the go … the month kicked off with a trip down to Chennai to watch South Africa choke against England in the cricket .  It certainly wasn’t fun to be seated in a sea of Poms as the last wickets tumbled, but it’s worth checking out this entertaining and accurate blog http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2011/03/07/supporting-england-is-a-health-risk/ that a friend Will did upon our return from the heart-breaking match.  I was then straight off to Assam in the northeast for some more CRS photographic work, followed by a highly enjoyable escape to Corbett Tiger Reserve and Camp Forktail Creek http://www.campforktailcreek.com/.  It was a highly memorable nine day wildlife safari in the Himalayan foothills that included plenty of great wild elephant action, a big male tiger and – the absolute highlight – a couple of days walking through the Loachaur Zone in the north of the park while accompanying a multi-day elephant-back safari.  An absolutely superb experience and a rare treat to be able to walk inside one of India’s premier national parks.

Somewhat surprisingly, all March’s travels and experiences have suddenly faded to a seemingly distant memory as we stare at our empty apartment knowing that after three action-packed and adventure-filled years in India, this chapter in our lives will draw to a close in less than 48 hours from now.  All our worldly possessions fitted into 49 boxes and they’re already loaded aboard a ship and headed for Cape Town and greener pastures.  So it’s with a surprising amount of sadness that Katherine and I bid farewell to our home in India and a country that has fascinated and frustrated us in equal measure.  On balance our time living in India has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but we feel ready to embark on the next exciting adventure and look forward to the next chapter in our life together.

After a braai and some beers watching India take on Sri Lanka in the much anticipated Cricket World Cup final, we fly out of Delhi bright and early on Sunday morning bound for Kathmandu and two months of exciting adventures in Nepal.  A month trekking in the Annapurnas (rated the number one trek in the world by National Geographic) will be followed by a rafting expedition down the wild waters of the Karnali River, a wildlife safari in Royal Bardia in search of Indian one-horned rhinos and perhaps a final tiger sighting.  We finish off our two month outdoor extravaganza with a trek into Everest Base Camp and I’m running the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon http://www.everestmarathon.com/ on May the 29th!  So much to look forward to in the Nepalese Himalayas … fresh air, the great outdoors and some long overdue quality time with my wife!

April is most definitely going to be a month to savour…

CWG, Kali-Sarda & Bandhavgarh’s Tigers, India – October 2010

October proved to be a great month in India!  After an incredibly wet monsoon, the rain eventually abated, the humidity disappeared and the weather became tolerable once more.  The changing seasons signalled that it was time to start travelling again and, hopefully, enjoy some fun-filled adventures along the way.

The month kicked off with a visit from an old Welsh friend, Huw Roberts, and his Australian girlfriend, Celi.  Their stay happened to coincide with the much-maligned Commonwealth Games taking place in Delhi, so we decided to brave the terrible traffic, collapsing pedestrian bridges, high security and a dengue fever outbreak, and headed to the main stadium to watch the Athletics finals.  It was without doubt the most spectator-unfriendly event I’ve ever experienced, highlighted by the fact that the stands were, at best, only 15% full for the men’s and woman’s 100 metre finals.  What a pity, especially for the athletes.

I decided to escape the rest of the CWG carnage in the capital and joined Aquaterra Adventures (www.treknraft.com) for a weeklong expedition down India’s most under-rated Himalayan river.  The Kali-Sarda traces India’s international border with Nepal as it snakes its way through deep valleys and a pristine wilderness dominated by wildlife, warm water, enjoyable rapids, idyllic weather and picture-perfect riverside beaches for camping.  Twice, when we beached our rafts and kayaks for the night, we found fresh leopard tracks criss-crossing the beach we were about to sleep on!  It was an action-packed and highly entertaining week on the water and I succeeded in collecting some great photographic material, as well as cool experiences on the ‘ducky’ (an inflatable kayak), for my book India Whitewater.

After a frenetic week back in Delhi processing photos and chasing magazine deadlines, it was time for the highlight of the month… A stay at the Taj Safaris luxury lodges of Pashan Garh and Marua Kothi courtesy of AndBeyond India (www.andbeyondindia.com).  After spending a day marvelling at the spectacular and erotically sculpted temples of Khajuraho, we headed to Pashan Garh: an ultra-luxurious bush retreat on the outskirts of Panna National Park.  Panna was a true wilderness experience and, with almost no other vehicles in the reserve, our enthusiastic naturalist guide, Dipu, shared the park’s secrets with us.  On top of some great wildlife viewing, quality birding, boating on the crocodile-infested Ken River and soaking up the beautiful mountain scenery, he also managed to track down a staggering four leopards during our 3-day visit!

From Panna we drove four hours across Madhya Pradesh to reach Marua Kothi, situated a stone’s throw from India’s premier tiger reserve.  Bandhavgarh was the antithesis of Panna.  Peace and solitude went out the window the second we entered the fray in the revered Tala tourism area.  This is India’s most famous tiger-viewing zone, renowned for having the highest density of relaxed tigers in all of Asia.  The frantic nature of the tiger search took some getting used to, but in the end Yugdeep tracked down a couple of the iconic cats for us.  We enjoyed an especially memorable sighting of a 4.5 year old male silently stalking cheetal (spotted deer) right past our vehicle.  When the spotted deer eluded him, the King of the Jungle proceeded to roar: an unbelievable sound that capped off the quintessential Bandhavgarh sighting.

The action looks set to continue throughout November with trips to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Amritsar in the Punjab, and a photographic assignment to Manipur in the remote northeast of India all on the cards during the upcoming month.  To top it all off, Katherine and I will be tackling the Delhi half-marathon on the 21st of November!

African Success Stories, Rwanda & Zambia – June 2010

During June I was privileged to travel to two of Africa’s most exciting conservation projects: Akagera National Park in Rwanda and Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.  These previously neglected reserves form part of African Parks Network’s (APN) portfolio of privately managed conservation areas across the Africa continent.  APN have pioneered an innovative approach to conservation with a park management model that combines sound conservation practices with solid business principles.  They only enter into management agreements for neglected conservation areas at the request of sovereign governments and in partnership with local communities and wildlife authorities.  Their management style is hands on and long-term with the goal of slowly building capacity and sustainability over time.  The end result is that neglected and abused chunks of wilderness are effectively rehabilitated into fully functioning ecosystems capable of sustaining themselves long after African Parks have pulled out.

After 36 hours of flight delays courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines, I finally arrived in Kigali and made my way east to Akagera National park on the Tanzanian border.  Akagera is the newest addition to APN’s portfolio of parks and the project is still in its infancy, yet there is an undeniable feeling that the tide has turned and the park is looking forward to a bright and exciting future.  New vehicles, uniforms and infrastructure development have raised morale, while training and capacity building are underway to mould an effective team capable of propelling Akagera onto the tourism map as a must-visit East African safari destination.  Under the direction of Bryan Havemann, the project looks to have made impressive headway in its first few months of operation.  A great accolade to the new team’s tireless efforts was being asked by the incumbents to please not work so hard!  A sure sign that things have changed for the better.

The park is made up of an incredible diversity of habitats from rolling hills and open grasslands to lakes, wetlands and woodlands.  The Kilala Plains in the north of the park still boast sizable herds of game with good numbers of topi, bohor reedbuck, zebra, buffalo and defassa waterbuck, as well as giraffe and eland.  Sightings of elephants near the lake shore and rare roan antelope in the surrounding hills, not to mention an incredible array of 525 bird species within its 110,100 ha, means that Akagera has the potential to rapidly bounce back from decades of heavy poaching and neglect.  With the committed support of the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and the resources and expertise of APN, there is little doubt that Akagera will soon realise its massive potential and emerge as a successfully rehabilitated and fully-functional conservation area.

My next stop was Liuwa Plain National Park in western Zambia; a park that already stands out as a rare African success story.  In 2004 APN partnered with the local Lozi people and the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to take over managerial responsibility for Liuwa.  During the last six years poaching has all but been eradicated from the park and animal numbers have swelled.  This is best illustrated by considering that the number of migrating wildebeest has more than doubled to over 40,000 during the last five years.  Liuwa is home to Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration, but boasts considerably better birdlife than the Mara or Serengeti can offer.  Predators abound.  Huge clans of hyaenas dominate the open plains, while wild dog packs and cheetah have returned to roam the grasslands in search of their favoured oribi and steenbok prey.  However, Lady Liuwa, the much publicised ‘last lioness in Liuwa’, inevitably steals the show.  After many years of solitude, this fine ambassador for Liuwa was recently joined by two majestic male lions from Kafue and it is hoped that cubs will once again stalk the plain before the year is out.

In the space 48 hours, accompanied by Craig Reid the Liuwa park manager, I witnessed some of the most amazing wildlife viewing of my entire career.  We watched lions stalk wildebeest, three wild dog kills (including one scrub hare chase viewed ‘Planet Earth style’ from the air in a microlight), hyaena-wild dog wars over the carcasses and all of this under a full moon on the wide desolately beautiful plains of Liuwa.  It has been my privilege to visit hundreds of parks through out Africa and indeed the world, so when I say Liuwa is in my top three parks worldwide,  I genuinely mean that this is a very special place and one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories.

Adventures in Darkest Africa, Congo & Zambia – May 2010

It took me a little while to get back into the swing of things after all the fun and festivities that dominated April.  However, there was no easing my way back into things and I hit the ground running with a three-week trip to Zambia and the DRC.  My assignment was to collect information and photographic material to document and publicise the good work that African Parks Network (APN) are doing to restore and manage some of Africa’s most valuable and neglected wilderness areas.

My first stop was the Bangweulu Wetlands where an old friend, Ian Stevenson, is managing a community conservation project to sustainably protect these valuable swamps in conjunction with the local fishing communities.  Bangweulu is Zambia’s Okavango Delta: a totally undeveloped and neglected chunk of watery wilderness.  The birdlife is spectacular and includes reliable sightings of the enigmatic shoebill.  Wildlife numbers have been depleted, although we still saw countless herds of endemic black lechwe (estimated to number in the tens of thousands), along with zebra, buffalo, elephant and hyaena!  While working with the communities can be challenging and the decision-making process can be excruciatingly slow at times, the wetlands undoubtedly have incredible potential and should take off as a unique Zambian safari destination in the near future.

After my week in northern Zambia, I travelled via Nairobi to Uganda driving from Entebbe diagonally across the country to Arua and across the border to Aru in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  An APN light aircraft with a crazy French pilot, Stephan, met me for the 50-minute flight into Garamba in the northeastern DRC.  Garamba is a World Heritage Site and one of the oldest national parks in Africa.  It is unique in that it is a rare savanna ecosystem hemmed in by the rain forests of Central Africa.  The result is a reserve characterised by vastly differing habitats and an incredible diversity of species.

Garamba was also the last stronghold of the critically endangered northern white rhino.  However, with no sighting since 2007, the rhino has almost certainly been relegated to the pages of history by Congolese and Sudanese poachers armed with automatic weapons.  The tyrannical Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) retreated into the Congo and set up their headquarters in Garamba in 2005 ensuring that there was no respite for the beleaguered wildlife sanctuary.  Not surprisingly, the worst poachers of all are the undisciplined soldiers that constitute the rag-tag FRDC (Congolese army), which is supposedly in Garamba to fight the LRA.

While rhino have been slaughtered into extinction, the elephant population that numbered over 40,000 in the 1960s has been blasted to 3,500 in less than fifty years!  There is no denying that Garamba has been ravaged by poachers; however, the park’s wildlife is stubbornly hanging on.  When I drove through and flew over Garamba, I saw huge herds of buffalo, elephant, hartebeest, kob, defassa waterbuck and hippo, along with even more spectacular sightings of rare Congolese giraffe, regal lions and an excited clan of hyaena noisily devouring a hippo carcass!

Although Garamba is undoubtedly one of the most difficult, logistically challenging and volatile parks in Africa, APN (somewhat surprisingly) agreed to come in and manage the desperate park.   They opened a new tourist lodge in the park this month providing an incentive to dedicated visitors who take the plunge and embark on the adventurous trek into wildest Africa.  Garamba is one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas, so, with the demise of the LRA and the dedication of APN, lets hope that it can finally embark on the long-awaited road to recovery.

After spending ten days delving into the history, challenges and quagmire that constitute Garamba, I bid farewell to the park and its dedicated APN team and headed for South Africa.  Knee surgery fixed a 16-month old running-induced ITB injury before I boarded a plane and returned to the brutally hot temperatures of pre-monsoon India where I was reunited with my very understanding wife!

Next month I will be back in Africa when I travel on an assignment to cover Akagera National Park in Rwanda and a carnivore research project in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park.  However, before I return to the wilds of Africa, it’s time to do some long-overdue work and get cracking on a growing list of magazine articles with looming deadlines.

Back to Africa, South Africa & Mozambique – April 2010

April was a truly memorable month jam-packed with weddings, travels and quality time catching up with friends and family.  There have been so many exciting experiences and great moments during the course of this month that it’s really difficult to do them all justice in this short blog, but I’ll give it a try…

The month kicked off with my sister Carolyn marrying Jean Marc Gaudin at Suikerbossie Restaurant in Cape Town.  A memorable evening of drinking and dancing provided an excellent catalyst for bringing our extended family back together from their various far-flung corners of the world.  The nerve-wracking job of being MC aside, it proved to be a very happy and fun-filled evening.

The following day I flew up to Johannesburg and travelled on to Mozambique for another wedding.  A good friend from Stellenbosch University, Garth Kingwill, was getting married in Tofu Mozambique.  We managed to squeeze in some superb diving with whale sharks and manta rays, but, in essence, Mozambique turned into a weeklong bachelor party with all our old Hombre Koshuis friends.  The week culminated in a rip-roaring wedding celebration that spilled out onto the beach in the early hours of the morning.  A superb reunion with old uni friends that we’ll all remember forever.

Upon my return from Mozambique, I managed to squeeze in one day of work in Joburg and had two very productive meetings with African Parks Network and &Beyond (formerly CCAfrica) before rushing back to Cape town to meet all of our American family who had just arrived on their first two-week holiday to visit darkest Africa!

The next two weeks were planned as a non-stop South African extravaganza aimed at providing all the visiting family with the quintessential South African experience.  The trip kicked off with five days in a house on Llandudno beach that provided the ideal base from which to explore Cape Town, climb Table Mountain, visit Robben Island and take a tour of the townships.  The next stop was luxurious Burgundy Bourgogne in Franchhoek for fine dining, wine tasting and Katherine and my South African wedding celebration at Cathbert Country Inn (www.cathbert.co.za).  After a short blessing ceremony amongst the vines, we enjoyed a fun-filled afternoon surrounded by all our closest friends and family.  The beautiful location, amazing food, great wine, good music and perfect weather resulted in a ‘garden party’ that lasted twelve hours!

A quiet Sunday allowed some recovery time before we headed for the game reserves and four days of outstanding game viewing in Addo Elephant National Park.  Memorable wildlife viewing included hundreds of elephants, along with a good hyaena sighting and lions feeding on a kudu!  With plenty of boerewors (farmer’s sausage) on the braai (barbeque) every night, this really was proving to be the ultimate South African experience for all the visitors.  After a last few days spent on the canals at Saint Francis it was time for all the family members to dodge the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud and take a long flight back to the USA bringing down the curtain on a thoroughly enjoyable and action-packed South African extravaganza!

Katherine and I flew from the Eastern Cape to the Lowveld where we joined two of my oldest friends for another week in the African bush.  We were treated to a very relaxing and indulgent holiday in the northern Sabi Sands Game Reserve.  In between all the beers and good food we saw great wildlife, including more leopards than you could poke a stick at…  Wow, wow, wow!  However, above all else, our time at Cruise Camp provided a great opportunity to catch up with friends, reflect on the last month and process a long list of back-to-back experiences that will, over time, become those special memories that last a lifetime.

In summation April has been an insanely enjoyable and action-packed month of weddings and travels with great friends and family.  I got married for the second time in less than a year (but to the same lovely lady!) and I managed to squeeze in just one day of work this month, which in itself tells the story of just how much fun its been…

Ranthambhore and the Ganga, India – March 2010

March delivered some spectacular wildlife viewing during two separate trips to Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan. Asia’s iconic cats treated me to a couple of superb sightings early in the month.  The first was a 2.5 hour sighting of a big male tiger on a territorial patrol through zone 4 of the park.  After marking his territory, he stopped to rest and scared some spotted deer half to death when they unknowingly grazed a little to close to him.  After taking an hours ‘cat nap’, he headed off again in search of some Sambar deer near one of the perennial waterholes.  Unfortunately, a setting sun robbed us of the chance to see him in action as he slowly stalked towards the unsuspecting deer.

A few days later, on a morning excursion in picturesque zone 3 of the park, I experienced my best game drive in India to date.  A well known tigress T17 (AKA ‘The Lady of the Lake’) was hunting and we were fortunate enough to witness her multiple attempts and stalking manoeuvres before she got lucky.

Fortune favoured us as we sat watching a herd of spotted deer grazing the green grass along the shore of Raj Bagh Lake.  A cacophony of tiger-induced distress erupted from the deer as the feline burst out of the forest at full tilt. However, somehow the chital managed to evade her best efforts and escaped. The tigress turned and retreated into the ruins of an old hunting palace before emerging out the other side to cross a thin strip of land cutting through the middle of the lake.  It was a spectacular sight to see her crossing shortly after sunrise with her reflection mirrored in the glassy lake.  After stopping for a noisy drink and rest in the water, she detoured to Padam Talau Lake where she spotted another unwary herd of spotted deer grazing along the lake shore. She bided her time until two rutting males engaged each other in a fight, then she charged.  Bursting out of the aptly named ‘tiger grass’ she was at full speed by the time the chital became aware of her.  The distracted male deer never stood a chance.  She barreled into one of them knocking him down and going straight for the throat.  Five minutes later his legs stopped flaying and peace once again descended on the scene as the tigress retreated back into the grass with her prize to feed.  What a sighting…

After enjoying such superb tiger sightings I doubted that anything could eclipse these great experiences.  However, as we raced for the gate one evening a pair of mating leopards tried their best to steal the honours for ‘the most spectacular sighting of the trip’.  Later in the month we spent over an hour with a big male leopard in zone 1 as he tried to escape the incessant alarm calls of some perplexed langur monkeys and sambar deer that shadowed his every move.  He was a brute of a leopard with a huge dew lap hanging from his neck and he walked with the swagger of a cat that knows he owns the place!

It wasn’t only tigers and leopards that entertained me royally while I explored Ranthambhore.  Khem Villas provided a luxurious and friendly base offering a pristine nature experience on the fringe of the park.  Extremely friendly staff, delicious food, beautiful cottages overlooking small lakes with a rich birdlife kept Katherine and me suitably entertained outside of game drive hours.  This lodge comes highly recommended for anyone fortunate enough to visit Rajasthan’s most famous wildlife sanctuary. Those with budgetary constraints should opt for the Ranthambhore Bagh, which is a great mid-range option.  Dicky Singh is the owner and a keen wildlife photographer.  His excellent images adorn the walls of the hotel ensuring that you will ‘see’ plenty of tigers as you dine!

I managed to fit in one more trip up to the Ganges River before the rafting season draws to a close next month.  A friend, Rory Pryde, was visiting from Australia and he joined Katherine, me and a couple of Delhi mates for a fun weekend of wild white-water just outside of Rishikesh.  The weekend culminated with us running The Wall – a grade 4+ rapid – in a little two-man inflatable ‘ducky’.  We surfed a big hole towards the end of a long stretch of white-water before getting cleaned up and washing out the bottom of the rapid.  Rory’s saucer-sized eyes greeted me when I popped up downstream and, after we realised we had survived, it was high fives all around!

As I look ahead to April, Katherine and I will be heading home for 5 weeks of ‘home leave’ to enjoy the ‘wedding season’ in South Africa.  My sister gets married over the Easter weekend, then a good University friend, Garth Kingwill, gets married the following weekend in Mozambique and, finally, Katherine and I will be having a South African wedding celebration for all our friends and family that couldn’t make it over to Minnesota last year.  So next month will see us enjoying a change of scenery back in Africa and a much-anticipated holiday back home to catch up with friends and family.  Watch this space for further details on this next adventure…

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