Kwazulu-Natal Adventures and Safari (Part 2)

Our self-drive safari experience was better than the organised tour.  You could go where you wanted and got to spot the animals yourself! We even spotted a leopard during the first hour of driving ourselves at Hluhluwe! Many South Africans were very jealous of us for that find. We also managed to spot the Big 5 at Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park in the first two days, including the elusive black rhino. We stayed in a Rondavel at Hilltop camp grounds in iMfolozi where we cooked up a few traditional braai and got raided by baboons! The baboons hda figured out the door locks on the Rondavel units and got their grubby fingers on our bananas and cereal. Staying within the safari park was not cheap, but made it easier to get early starts and see many animals before most visitors even arrived at the park.

We went on another road trip and headed for Sodwana Bay to visit some pristine beaches and go scuba diving on one of South Africa’s best reefs.  Sodwana Bay was a bit difficult to find but after a few wrong turns we pulled into the sleepy town and found our bed. We woke the next morning and had an amazing dive with Pisces Dive Charters on two mile reef. We were a bit nervous as we hadn’t been diving for almost three years. We got back in the groove quickly and the afternoon dive on seven mile reef was even better.

We heard about a Cheetah and Cat Rescue Centre that was on the way to our next destination and we decided to have a look.  It was amazing to get so close to the big cats but we did have reservations regarding the whole experience. The cats were all cared for very well and had great relationships with the trainers but they were also no longer wild cats. It was meant to be a breeding program but sadly, at least for the cheetahs, the male cats were sterile so did not help the breeding program. These cats were also now tame and could not be released again into the wild. Needless to say we left the centre with mixed emotions.

We ended our safari experience in Leopard Mountain. This was a private reserve with all meals, game drives and watering hole hideouts included in our stay. Not something we would normally do but we enjoyed the experience. Self-drive is just as good and probably better if you prefer to find your own way. At Leopard Mountain we saw the Big 5, minus the Leopard, but witnessed a Cheetah kill and many Lions up close.

We had an amazing time on safari in South Africa and loved the experience. So much so we are already looking forward to the next time we can visit the big red continent.

Kwazulu-Natal Adventures and Safari (Part 1)

We had an amazing time on safari in South Africa.  We visited the St Lucia wetlands, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park and finished up at a private reserve called Leopard Mountain within the Zululand Rhino Reserve. Our first venture into a Big 5 safari park was with Monzi’s Safari in Hluhluwe game reserve. We also stayed at the Monzi Safari tented camp in St Lucia; lovely new accommodation with great facilities. Makes you feel like you’re having the real safari experience even though it was right in town.  Something we found very worthwhile was going on our first game drive with a tour operator (from the park or a private company) as you will gain valuable information.  On safari you will be entering the backyard of  the Big 5. Important things like:

  • How close to a group of elephants is considered safe? And what to do if surprised by them!
  • Temperament of white rhinos verses black and how they behave (black much more aggressive)
  • That solitary buffalo and wildebeest are very dangerous

All of this information was valuable and made us feel much more comfortable during some close encounters. Our relatively tiny Hyundai i20 got caught in the middle a rhino fight for 15min but luckily they were white rhino so did not attack us. We also laid very quiet in our car while a large group of elephants walked by just metres away. We turned the car around when a large male buffalo walked in front of us down a narrow lane. Thankfully we reacted wisely during these hairy moments because of the knowledge we gained during the organised tour we took on our first day safari.

Hyundai i20 you say…. yes, the car was fine during safari but the low clearance/elevation made it difficult to spot animals when the grass was high and front wheel drive made some steep hills into adrenaline pumping events with it skidding and sliding around. The compact car will suffice if you have a budget but an SUV would be better for safari. Greater clearance and height in seats to see over the grass!

Stay tuned for part 2!

Drakensberg Ranges and Beyond

When we first arrived in South Africa we stayed with cousins Chris and Debbie who Anneka first visited 10 years ago. They were extremely hospitable and it was fun getting to know their housemates, a jack Russell, basset hound, two cats, parrots and even a venomous spider called simon/e who lived in the bathroom! We indulged a little on amazing meat, wine and great company.

Our first stop after Johannesburg was the Drakensburg to visit our friends Pat and Sandy, who we met in hospital in rather trying circumstances when Alex broke his femur in Mauritius. Though every cloud has its silver lining, and in this case, it was meeting this energetic couple who really supported us to get through a difficult time. It was such a great experience to stay with Pat and Sandy on their beautiful farm in the Drakensburg mountains. The Drakensburg is a world heritage site due to its breathtaking beauty and also supports many endemic plants. It felt as though we were on a film set, which was quite ironic as Pat told us that their home was actually used for a Hollywood film recently! The acclaimed movie Lady Grey was partly filmed there. Pat and Sandy were lovely and as iconic to South Africa as vegemite to Australia. We had a wonderful time staying with them on their farm.

One day we ventured up the Sani Pass which is a road leading to Lesotho from Underburg in South Africa. The pass has an elevation of 2876m and is where you will find the highest pub in South Africa. The pass leads to vast Lesotho grasslands and at that elevation no trees are to be found. The Basotho people live in a beautiful wilderness that is covered by snow for half the year. They have strong traditional links with the area and provide treks and homestays for those interested to learn about their culture.

On a Sunday afternoon Pat and Sandy took us for a drive around their farm. We stopped on a mountain ridge that overlooked Pats ‘soul’ for a Braai that featured traditional farmer sausage called ‘Boerworst’ that tasted amazing. The countryside where they live was spectacular and we were so lucky to have it shared with us.

We were sad to leave Pat and Sandy’s but so excited to see more of South Africa and it was time to go on Safari!

Toliara and Mangily Beach

We spent our last 10 days on the coast in Toliara (Tulear) in the south west of Madagascar, mainly to chill out and recharge, but also to visit the spiny forest. We caught a taxi brousse from Isalo (Ranohira) to Toliara, which took 5 hours. We arrived late, just before 10pm and stayed a night at Chez Alain, which was very pleasant and had a good restaurant (luckily still open).

From Toliara, we travelled 40km north to a beach called Mangily. We checked into a lovely bungalow right on the beach, with incredible sunsets, at a hotel called ‘Bamboo Club’. It had a little family of mouse lemur living in the roof and one had made a little home in the back of a speaker. The days floated by surprisingly fast, as they always seem to do on holiday. We only ate, slept, snorkelled and lazed by the pool.

We did take a walking tour into the spiny forest one evening, which was very interesting and surprisingly cool considering the desert climate. The plants and creatures were out of this world, twisted baobabs, weird cacti, hissing cockroaches and spiky tenrecs (impossibly cute and look just like little hedgehogs).

After a week or so, we had to move back to Toliara. We decided to visit the Antsokay Arboretum, a hidden gem and a very pleasant surprise. This was a lovely way to end our time in Mada, what a find this was, in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Antsokay is an extremely well presented little resort that established an arboretum over 20 years ago. The arboretum displays the wonders of the spiny forest over a 2-3 hour walk. This place had a pool and great wifi in the restaurant, so we were very happy to spend our last few days here. We were also extremely lucky to spend a last evening with our friend, Barry Ferguson, an inspirational social and environmental justice warrior (hope you don’t mind that description Barry!) Thanks Barry for a memorable last evening, with a feast of whole sheep, goat and spirited dancing in the sand.

Sadly, this was our very last stop in Madagascar, before flying to Johannesburg. There were a few tears welling as we drove to the airport, passing typical Malagasy scenes of palm trees, rice paddies, friendly vendors in front of their shacks, more than a few potholes and stray dogs. We met many inspiring people and made amazing friends. Veloma Madagascar, mandra pihaona (see you again soon).

Misaotra Feedback Madagascar/Ny Tanintsika and Mandra Pihaona

After six amazing months in Madagascar, our time with Ny Tanintsika came to an end in March 2015. We were sad to leave this beautiful country and people. This island, named by some as the eighth continent, is so rich in culture and energy; despite being incredibly financially poor and politically unstable; the people really make the most of what they have with a strong sense of community. We made many good friends and learned so much from our experiences. Hopefully we contributed to the organisation at least partly as much as we gained. We really were so impressed that the staff manage to make so much progress with such little funding or government support. Their tireless effort was incredibly inspiring.

We had a great farewell, the staff organised delicious snacks and music. We received a lovely hat and a locally made bright orange handbag with photos inside of our time at Ny Tanintsika. We also went to karaoke and danced with the staff at a local nightclub; this was a lot of fun. We wish you all the very best Ny Tanintsika, but for now we can only say Misaotra betsaka (many thanks) for all your lessons and support and Mandra Piona (see you later). We are thankful to Eugenie for guiding us, providing feedback and spending time showing us projects in Ambositra. Thank you to Sam for her guidance, support and patience with our many questions, you are an inspiration! We would also like to send heartfelt thanks to all the staff. Thank you for your help, guidance, and Malagasy lessons. Without your support and assistance we would not have been able to contribute as we had hoped. And of course, a huge thank you to Jamie for saying yes to us in the first place! There are so many other people we are eternally grateful to, so thank you everyone at Ny Tanintsika, we really do hope to return to this colourful, energetic country in the not too distant future.

If you want know more about this NGO, please visit our page on Feedback Madagascar / Ny Tanintsika or

Ibity Massif – Priority area for Conservation

While working at Ny Tanintsika we were fortunate to be invited on a workshop to Ibity with Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) and Kew Madagascar (KMCC). Ibity is a small community in the central highlands of Madagascar located roughly 20km south from Antsirabe. The workshop was to identify critical ecosystem characteristics and other factors for consideration in developing a management plan for the area. This included fire regime, Tapia woodland restoration and the enhancement of existing gallery forests. Essential to a successful day we required an injection of caffeine. We shared morning coffees at a local bakery over introductions and a general discussion about MGB’s desired outcomes from the session. The charismatic Chris Birkinshaw is the project lead for MBG in Madagascar and led the discussions. He had invited local Kew environmental and restoration specialists, members from the worldwide MBG team and Stuart Cable, Kew Research leader for Madagascar.

The Ibity massif is a 6000ha quartz mountain that has been flagged as a priority area for conservation due to the large number of locally endemic plant species found there. The area contains diverse grasslands and regular rocky outcrops that lead to drainage gullies covered by some taller trees and shrubs known as gallery forests. On bands across the hillsides are small pockets of remnant Tapia woodland. Holcim (one of Madagascar’s largest cement producers) has a factory adjacent to the proposed conservation area. The company, after lobbying, has agreed to support the project and help the local community with funding to protect this unique landscape.

Our first stop at the Ibity project site was a remnant pocket of Tapia woodland. Tapia is important to the local communities as it provides edible fruit and silk cocoons. The cocoons are produced by a moth that feeds on Tapia leaves and is endemic to the highlands of Madagascar. Tapia woodland tends to occupy areas of shallow soils with rocky outcrops. This has also helped to protect the woodlands from deforestation for agricultural land as it typically grows around rocks on impoverished lands.

The field trip and workshop showed there is good understanding in the significance of numerous ecosystems/biomes in Madagascar however limited in detail to understand why some systems are failing. Madagascar has many varied environments which differ in their responses and adaptations to human interference.  More scientific investigation and experimentation is urgently required to develop detailed management plans for numerous areas of environmental significance.

Madagascar has a fast growing population that is largely impoverished and has dramatically changed the landscape at an alarmingly rate. More collaboration is required between organisations and departments with similar aims and objectives. Due to limited funding and participation, organizations needs to actively share information to avoid wasting resources on duplication. The trip to Ibity was rewarding and our sharing ideas and information will hopefully lead to better outcomes for the conservation of the Ibity massif and its stunning landscapes.

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